Thoughts on Editing

First off, it is absolutely necessary to draw a sketch and plan out every level, single player or multi-player. I was working on this step, designing an underground level for a Single Player story I'm working on, and I ran into a tough situation. I had great ideas for great looking areas, very interesting level to say the least. But then it hit me, great looking and well laid out levels aren't anything without interesting gameplay. What do I mean? Well, I have the player navigating through a river, through small caverns and large, and on multiple levels, but what I don't have are things that spice up the gameplay, things that make the player think. Remember the ending few levels of JK? There were neat things to DO, not just shoot people. For example, you cut the rope with your light saber, and it drops a huge weight down, clearing your path. Single player levels NEED stuff like that to make them stand out and be interesting.

So, what types of things can do that? We brainstormed a few, and thought we'd share them. Of course we don't expect that you will use these exact suggestions, but maybe they will bring on some ideas.
1. Create something that blocks the path of the player. This something has to be moved, blown up, or a way found around it. This should not be something easy like finding a tunnel – it should be fairly difficult, like finding a crowbar to throw into gears or something.

2. Make the player find more than one thing to be able to continue. For example, have 3 different paths that the player can take, but he must go on the first two and retrieve something before he can pass the third one.

3. Use keys for doors. Jedi Knight levels were made to be a lot longer when the player had to find keys to gain access to areas. This is one of the more boring suggestions, but it definitely allows you to make longer, more interesting levels.

4. If you do not use one of the above suggestions, or something that has the same effect, please at least create interesting architecture and gameplay. Don't just have the player navigate through a bunch of rooms. Remember what Jedi Knight did. Make the player navigate through moving crates, or underwater with currents, or through the floor or ceiling. Remember, people want to play interesting levels, not just a bunch of rooms.
Now, we'd just like to share some general editing techniques and observations.
1. If you've read any JK editing articles, you've probably heard this. Build not only horizontally but also vertically, this is a 3D game! This applies to both single and multi-player maps. Up and down is equally as important as sideways – remember that.

2. Details, Details, Details. How you ask, and why? The first is easy. Look around you, are all the rooms square? I don't think so. Check out those door and window frames. Go into a big building, is it square? Maybe. Do the insides consist of a giant square? I doubt it. Ever wondered what the insides of a hangar looked like? I'm in the Air Force, trust me, they are not smooth. They are riddled with beams and supports and catwalks. If you watch the Star Wars movies, you will also notice that the places they are in are full of interesting architectural designs. The goal here is to be true to Star Wars right?

3. Make use of COGS. Cogs make or break a level. A simple, well-placed cog can make a level stick out, while a poorly placed cog sticks out like a sore thumb. Adding cogs to you levels increases the depth of the level. Create obstacles for the player (see above), add traps, or just simply provide realism. If you want your level to really stick out, I suggest you use cogs throughout.

4. Sounds! Sounds can add a whole new aspect to your level. Listen around you... Sounds abound everywhere. Look at your level and think what sounds you would hear in real life and add some sounds to that area. In Single Player levels, have AI talk or even the player himself. Making the player say something can add some humor to the game. Anyway, use sounds throughout your level!

5. Don't release your first level! A good suggestion: spend a lot of time learning the ways of JED before even attempting a real level. Go through the tutorials and work on adjoining, make a whole level with different sizes and types of adjoins. Then throw it away and learn doors. Then learn elevators, beams, anything that can make a level interesting. Once you know how JED works, and how cogs work, and how lighting works, then work on a level to release. The best thing you can do for yourself and the community is to wait until you feel you have a level that will be played, and then release it!

6. This is very important. Get everyone you know to beta test your level before you release it. Allow a good week or two for this process. Play it over and over, and if anyone reports problems, fix them! Errors in a level drive the playability way down. I hate disappearing catwalks, and I don't understand why people release levels that have them! They are very easy to take care of, as are most problems. Also refer to 8t88's version article. Please DON'T come out with alpha's, beta's, etc… make a level FINAL! We all hate it when we get a game home and see that we have to download the updated patch. Take heed.

7. Read all the information you can, and be at least familiar with all aspects of JK. It's not necessary to be expert at everything, but at least knowing what these things are about will definitely help you. Most people specialize. If you go to the different editing groups, you will find specific coggers, level editors, 3do artists, etc. If you at least know what these other areas are about, you will be able to more effectively use them in your levels.
That's about it for this information dump, please take care and read it a few times. Of course none of this is FACT, it is all opinion. If you disagree, feel free to contact us and we can talk about it. We by no means claim to be the end-all of level editing :-)

Brian Lozier