Mirror’s Edge Level Design: What we can Learn – Part 2


In part 1 we talked about the importance of keeping the player’s goal in mind; why we should teach, test, challenge and surprise the player; and why we must be consistent in our designs to create a common language within the game space. I will continue to use the Flight mission to demonstrate where you can see examples of each principle.

Balance Risk and Reward

Risk and reward in games refers to risky actions players can take in game and the rewards they receive for taking these risks. For example, in Mirror’s Edge a player may choose to take an alternate path than the one that has been laid out for them resulting in them finding short cuts or gaining the upper hand in a fight.

At the end of the Flight mission, the player is confronted by two cops. At this point, the player can confront them head-on, try and avoid them, or use the environment to take them down. Each option presents its own inherent risk as well as appropriate rewards as outlined below.

The trick here is balancing these options so that the risk or reward does not overpower one another.

The concept of risk and reward does not just apply to the player, level designers should take risks with their designs and try to do something that makes use of existing mechanics; the reward for this is creating a memorable experience for the player.

Allow the Player to Act, Recover, and React – The importance of metrics

Any level designer worth their salt knows how important it is to establish a set of metrics when creating a game. Metrics help tell us for far a player can jump, how wide we should make roads and doorways etc, relative to the player character. It is important to have these guidelines as they help us efficiently create levels, minimizing the trial and error of placing objects and maximizing the amount of time we have to build and iterate on a level.

Having a list of metrics also allows us to plan out encounters since players need to be given the space and time to complete an action, recover for that action and then react to their new surroundings or circumstance. Having these metrics goes along way to planning out the pacing of a level.

 It is also worth noting here that allowing some down time for the player is important. If they are playing a game that requires them to constantly shoot enemies (high stress situations) then it is our job as designers to provide them with a rest so that the stress does not wear them down. In Mirror’s Edge elevators are especially useful, they allow the game to load while providing a lull in the action allowing players to breathe.

When starting, ask yourself the following:

  • How high can the player jump?

  • How fast is the player?

  • What is the ceiling height for a jump?

  • What is the maximum jump distance?

  • What is a comfortable metric for a beat of gameplay (Act, Recover, React)?

Build some small tests and record results to determine the answers.

A Level should be Functional, Usable, and Fun

A level should be functional, usable, and fun, this sounds fairly self-explanatory right? Well, regardless it is important to keep this in mind when assessing your level and having others test it. Be critical of your work and let others be critical too; rather than always taking what player say at face value ask yourself what made them think something was awful or great.

For a level to be functional designers must see if it works and not just in the technical sense. Does the level take into account story, pacing, progression, mechanics, programming, aesthetics? If your level meets its required criteria in these fields then good job, though these are varying fields and depending on the stage your level is at some will not apply.

In terms of usability, a game or level must allow the player to complete what is being asked of them. Can a player make that jump? Can they take on more then two enemies at a time, and if not could they if they were given more room? If the player is not able to complete the level there might be something wrong.

Games are fun right? But fun is subjective so what we are looking at here is whether or not the level is rewarding, challenging, or balanced. Does the player ever have to push themselves to try something new? Are they rewarded for doing this? If they are not able to complete the challenge, why? Perhaps the risk and reward are not as balanced as you once thought. If a game is fun you will know it, it will entice you to play more.

Can we say that the Flight mission is functional, usable, and fun? Consider what the designer’s goal might have been for this level and based on the above criteria asses whether or not the designer achieved this goal?

Header image from Elisabetta Silli’s talk in the GDC Europe 2010 panel about level design.

References/ Resources

Jeffrey Pidsadny | 3D Level Design and Environment Development |Sheridan College 2014

Elisabetta Silli | Level Design Challenges & Solutions

Dan Taylor | 10 Principles of Good Level Design


Mirror’s Edge – Chapter 1: Flight [Video file]. (2015, December 19). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSi8jWVNo8Q

THEORY OF THEME PARKS: Wayfinding in Themed Design: The “Weenie”. (2015, August 16). Retrieved from http://theoryofthemeparks.blogspot.ca/2015/08/wayfinding-in-themed-design-weenie.html

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