Case study

Level designer — Tom Pugh

Tom used a speculative approach to land his current job as a level designer within the games industry. Find out the challenges he faces and what he finds most rewarding about his job

How did you get your job as a games designer?

I sent a speculative CV to the company and hoped that they had a position coming up that I could fill. I then attended two interviews where my skills were examined and I was offered the job.

How relevant is your degree to your job?

My degree in Game Design from the University of Bolton had several level design modules in it, which helped prepare me for my current job. It also gave me an understanding of the whole design process, providing me with additional skills outside of level design, which help me to be a more versatile developer.

What are you main work activities?

My day varies depending on where in its development my level is. In the early stages, I'll spend most of my day gathering reference images for inspiration, drawing sketches and creating top-down plans in an attempt to get a feel for the level I am trying to create, before starting in a 3D editor.

After this I go into what is called the 'whitebox' phase. This is essentially the bare bones of the level. There's no artwork involved here - it's purely to ensure the level plays properly and provides the player with a fun experience. It's possible to be in the whitebox stage a while, as this is when you really find out what does and doesn't work in the design. A lot of iterations and changes happen to the initial paper designs while in whitebox.

Some days I'll spend lots of time play testing and reviewing my level. At this stage the level is given to other members of the team. This is when issues will appear that I'll spend time fixing. I need a thick skin while the level is being tested and reviewed, because people will be honest and critique the work harshly. I embrace this critique because it helps me to a build a better level.

Once I'm happy with the level, I hand it over to the art team who go ahead and create it using polished art assets. The cycle then starts again with a new level.

How has your role developed?

I started as a junior level designer at a different company. I have since progressed onto level designer and would like to advance into a lead role one day.

What do you enjoy about being a games designer?

I enjoy every aspect of my job, but if I have to pick something, it's finding good solutions to various game design problems.

What are the challenges?

The harsh critique can be challenging, but is extremely useful in helping to build something that players will find testing and enjoyable.

Any tips for someone who wants to get into games design?

  • Start looking at games in a different way. Try to see all the systems at work, as they've been designed to interlink and form the game you are playing.
  • Be prepared before starting university, get books early and read ahead. Download engines like Unreal, get to grips with how the engine works and try building simple games in it.
  • Once you have a portfolio and CV, start applying for jobs. Get your name out there and try to find work experience. Internships and volunteer quality assurance (QA) testing are great ways to get your foot in the door. Sign-up with recruiters and websites that specialise in advertising game jobs.
  • Take advantage of every opportunity your university offers, including competitions and game jams. These help you to network and meet people in the business.

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