When creating a level you need a focus and a goal to work with. Let’s say you see your dog run away, he’s booted over the fence and is running off in the horizon. As you step outside to run after him you notice the entire neighbourhood has become over run by giant people-eating frogs. Not 2 seconds later you see the dog pound county van drive past with your dog yelping out the barred window at the back of the van. So you have your focus, your precious dog who clearly loves you that much to run away while giant man-eating frogs appear, and your goal, go rescue your dog from the county pound before he gets put down amidst and amphibian take over.
You start at your house which I will call base. You have the county pound which I will call GOARU! To plan this level you have to take into account where it’s set, the features in this area and the enemies that appear in it. So we can have the first section as your street. The next section can be called side alley, we can then move onto main street and then so on with a few more streets leading to GOARU. I linear map would lead you straight where you need to go which is fine but some games studios like giving you the option of exploring while confusing yourself before you finally give up and restart. In the short version you’re given the focus and goal at the very start of the level before you are directed around the level by conveniently placed buildings and turned over cars. Also enemies tend to spawn in the areas that lead to the goal signalling you’re going the right way if you no such building or car exists.
The way a level is decorated can be done a number of ways but it all must fit the theme of the game. As mine is about a boy finding his dog during a frogoplyse then a generic American neighbourhood is what you would stick down. Nice pretty houses with their white picket fences and 2 people carrier cars parked side by side in the driveways. You’ll have the nice orange burnt over tone showing it’s almost sun-down which the few crumpled and burning houses fit nicely into as you just notice the smoke first before the horrifying damage. As you enter different streets or alleys these lighting conditions would change and the general openness and style would change. For example in the alley way you would have a small cramped, confined area that is much darker, not quite so orange as it’s overcast by the surrounding houses. You would have cold, silver trash cans lined and a couple of screeching cats clinging onto the high fences as you run past. You might also have a little mini boss here. If you were to go out onto the main street you would have a much wider area to run about in. You could have a central park area where a lot of frogs would be frolicking in the local fountain with the orange over tone appearing here. You’d have much taller buildings, business buildings, little local shops all burning. You would have that one street that wouldn’t be blocked off but it would be placed on the other side of the park so you HAVE to fight those damned frogs!
An example of an environment that I quite liked was in Resident Evil 5 in the village of Kijuju. Now I have a complete fear of zombies but what I thought was great about this environment was how well it represented a poverty stricken area. The way the houses and buildings were created reminded me so much of the townships I used to pass in South Africa and the way the colours just blended together like a dead earthy area made it all the more fitting. You had the areas you could explore but you also had the directional areas that pushed you further in the game.