The Basics Of Level Design (In Game Maker)

Designing levels for your games may sound easy and fun but it is actually one of the hardest things to do well. After reading this, you hopefully will be able to produce levels of higher quality in less time, or at least be a bit more knowledgeable on the subject.

Level One

This should be by far the easiest level of the entire game. Everything should be clear to the player. The controls can be explained here instead of with separate instructions. The obstacles should start very simply, a small hole or one zombie. As you progress through the level, there should be wider holes or more zombies. But you still have to remember this is level one, so remember to keep the difficulty incensement to a bare minimum.

Remember to only use a few game elements in the first level. Keep the moving platforms and fire-breathing zombies for later. If you use too many things, the player may feel overwhelmed and you’ll run out of ideas later.

New Elements

New game elements should be introduced slowly, about one for every three short levels, to let the player have time to adjust. Before you introduce the next element into the game, think for a moment and ask yourself “Can the existing elements be used together to create something else?”. Take a moving platform and lava. Moving platforms are hard at the best of times, but what if it went under the lava for a second or two? The player would have to jump at various intervals to avoid getting burnt. A good example of this would be New Super Mario Bros. Wii, World 8 Level 7.

The new elements should be introduced by themselves, with nothing else interfering. The fire-breathing zombie should be encountered by itself first. After the player knows what it does in an unstressed environment it can be encountered with a few other zombies as well.


Using them can speed up your game immensely, but are a real pain to put down. Having some code to do this automatically helps immensely. Of course this should only be attempted if you are fluent in GML and understand the workings of GameMaker. My old game Jelly Box does this. In the create event of the 32×32 walls, four instances of a special object (16×16) are made. The instances check for other instances of the same object and depending on what they find, they create a certain tile. The instances are then destroyed to speed up the game. If you want really amazing environments, you’ll have to do the tiling yourself.

Difficulty Incline and Game Length

The easiest level should be the first one and the hardest the last. Every level should be a bit harder than the previous one. If you feel the levels are out of order, just rename the rooms and swap them around. Remember that you made the game and know all its secrets. Your players have probably never seen it before. If your levels are short, there should be lots of them. Games with longer levels should not have as many.

Stuck For Ideas?

If you have run out of ideas or simply can’t design any more half-decent levels, get some of you friends to help. If you don’t have any friends then you have a major problem.

Final Words

Creating levels still requires a lot of time and effort but it is time well spent if you use it wisely.

About the author:
DXsmiley was a frequenter of the YoYo Games Sandbox with a number of games and he used the GMC, but I haven’t heard from him in a while.

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