Level design

Viewing 5 posts - 1 through 5 (of 5 total)

  • Tijn

    Back when we played Doom, we talked quite a bit about its level design. In Doom, a lot of the levels are set up as an arena, with some central areas and corridors connecting them. The player typically has to go through these areas multiple times, opening up more paths as they make progress, until the way to the exit is revealed.

    In essence, Duke Nukem 3D’s levels follow much the same format. Paths are locked off by doors which require key cards, just like they are in Doom.

    Yet Duke Nukem 3D’s levels feel massively different to Doom. First of all they are largely set outside. Where Doom can feel a bit cramped, Duke feels open and free. Also there are large height differences in Duke, adding to the feeling of openness. Don’t forget that in Doom, you can’t even jump 😮

    Another distinct difference is that in Doom, the levels for the most part consist of quite abstract rooms. It’s often unclear what their purpose is other than setting the stage for combat. In Duke, it’s the polar opposite: the levels are often coming from a realistic setting and most of the rooms have a clear function. There are cinemas, bars, prison cells, etc. etc. These rooms are often also very interactive and offer tons of little details which aren’t needed for the game directly, but add to the atmosphere. Although this stuff is often highly inappropriate, they do offer the signature and unique Duke Nukem vibe.

    It can be a bit harder in Duke than in Doom to find your way through the levels. They tend to be quite large and complex, consisting of multiple buildings and using the destructible terrain feature to open up walls and floors to travel in unexpected ways. Where Doom tries to keep up the pace, in Duke you often have to stop and think a bit in order to progress. There’s constantly new stuff to discover, things are blowing up all the time and it’s easy to get lost.

    So although some basic concepts are shared between these games, they feel massively different when playing them.


    Come to think about it, all of the most famous Build Engine games (Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior, Blood, Redneck Rampage) feature much more realistic level design compared to the DOOM and Quake games.

    Thus it’s got to be something more than just the style of the designers who worked on the levels (because these were different people); there must be something inherent to the engine, or the editing tools, that make it much easier to pull off realistic-looking environments.


    Yes glad you brought it up. I don’t do well with vertical and full 3D movement in games. See Wing Commander or Homeworld. Or Descent!

    Doom couldn’t do rooms above other rooms. There are elevation differences but you are never standing “on top” of another room. That was one of the big engine limitations and it informed their level design. Another thing is that Romero and Carmack went for a “gameplay above all” approach. I don’t think they cared what the levels looked like. For them it was function over form. Romero recently (Edit: April 2016) made a new level for classic Doom and it’s exactly like that: no idea what it is or where you are, but fun to play.

    Duke Nukem started out as a 2D platformer so when they made the transition to 3D I think it makes sense that the gameplay would be more vertical. We think of Duke3D as a FPS now, but I wonder if back then the designers were thinking “so how do we make a jump&run from a first-person view?”.

    That’s also why I struggle with Duke3D more than Doom or Blood. I can’t for the life of me control the jetpack 😀

    Blood plays a lot more like Doom. Shadow Warrior is more Duke.


    More on this topic:

    Build engine also cannot do full room over room, because the map is still 2D. There are ingenious tricks in the engine that allow the feeling of room over room.

    One is silent teleporters that basically take you to a different place in the map (this is what happens every time you dive under water – check it).

    The second key element has to do with the way the engine renders sectors – it does not care about their absolute position in space, only the connections between them. So two sectors can really overlap or occupy the same area in space, as long as they are not visible at the same time. So you can “feel” room over room, but you can never see room over room.

    The latter feature allows some amazing things that are almost unheard of in 3D games. I encourage you guys playing it right now to check the following secret levels to understand what I’m talking about and to be deeply impressed:

    E2L11 – Lunatic Fringe (exit from E2L08 – Dark Side)

    E3L10 – Tier Drops (exit from E3L05 – Movie Set)


    The verticality is interesting, especially when you get the jetpack, lots of secrets (and a few clips used in speedrunning)

Viewing 5 posts - 1 through 5 (of 5 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.