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I am looking for articles on level design and particularly for techniques to imply a direction the player to go in, instead of another.

Like which game mechanics can be used, how graphics, sound, etc. can influence the player to go where you want.

For example in Donkey Kong Country bananas were used to show other paths or hidden areas, in Alan Wake, there were orange markers to show weapons caches.

If anyone has ideas, I'd be grateful to hear them too!

Edit: For anyone that is interested, I found a huge resource with thesis on this question, and others related to Level Design; happy reading!

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Thanks for the link, I did not know about that resource. – jhocking Jun 17 '11 at 15:07
up vote 19 down vote accepted

This isn't an article, but there is a chapter in the book The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell that discusses a concept that Walt Disney referred to as "weenies" in reference to dog handlers holding up a hot dog to control where the dog is looking. The most famous weenie Disney used was the castle in the Magic Kingdom; visitors to that theme park were inexorably drawn toward the center by the castle visible right from the entrance and throughout the park. In the book, Schell talks about using this technique in the Magic Carpet VR ride by painting a stripe on the floor to guide player's to the throne.

More generally, a "weenie" is anything that draws the player's attention. Once their attention is drawn in that direction, they tend to move in that direction. One of the best ways to draw attention is to place a desired item over there. Your example of the bananas falls under this; a lot of games will put gems or ammo or health packs on the path they want the player to take. In fact, the bananas in Donkey Kong Country are discussed at length in a couple articles on

Most of the other ways to draw the player's attention are specific examples of using contrast. For example, a bright spot in a mostly dark level will draw the player's attention. Similarly, a sudden change in the audio will draw the player's attention. If you think about those old Hannah Barbera cartoons then you'll recall how a different colored bush (or something in the scenery) told you something was about to happen there.

When done sparingly, it can be fun to play with this trope. For example, when the player is suspicious that the desired item or differently colored door is tricking them into taking a more dangerous path. You don't want to overdo that though, or the player will feel like the level designer is just a sadist.

ADDITION: Oh yeah and enemies can be placed to guide the player. Enemies are an interesting sort of guidance tool because they can be either attractive (the player tends to go towards the enemies) or repellent (the player tends to avoid the enemies) depending on context. How powerful the player is relative to the enemies, what kind of reward the player gets for defeating the enemies, etc. are all factors affecting how enemies affect the player's choices.

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Nice answer, thanks. But how is this possible without special objects? The player can often realize that objects mean certain things, and this is when I'm trying to stray away from. For example in FFIV near the start of the game when you are on the world map, you just walk in what is seemingly a random direction, yet you end up going the right way; this is the kind of behaviour I'd like to reproduce. :) – Jonathan Connell Jun 10 '11 at 14:51
Well I have two responses. One, "special" could be as simple as different colored terrain or a road leading to the town or whatever. Anything that creates contrast will draw the player's attention. – jhocking Jun 10 '11 at 15:00
Two, you could design your game such that ANY direction is the "right" direction. For example, no matter which way they go you could have them hit a town or a dungeon and start a quest. – jhocking Jun 10 '11 at 15:01
Your second answer reminds me of 'The Path' by A Tale of Tales :). I agree totally with your comments, but I wonder why I didn't feel like I was being influenced during play, maybe I should go back and replay, or maybe I was young and ignorant at the time? – Jonathan Connell Jun 10 '11 at 15:05
In the case of FFIV (and many of the japanese RPGs of the time), you were actually pretty limited as to the direction you could take, or rather, most directions led to a dead end, or resulted in circling back to the important areas. They also limited players to small sections of the map early on. Conversely, FFII let players go anywhere, and most people died early on due to wandering into a 'high level' area without knowing it. – thedaian Jun 10 '11 at 15:56

not sure if the is relevant to what your doing but I remember some games panning or jumping the camera the first time you enter an area showing you there were secret paths available if you wanted to go find them.

another thing I remember from blue dragon was the enemy placement. a path to a treasure room or the like would have different types of enemies guarding it from the story path.

having to unlock a path also works. finding a locked door but being told the key is here somewhere and I can get in there always drives me to explore.

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I think you should specify a bit more about your game. Whats your game about? What genre?

But a common technique is to use game elements to "guide" the player. For example, if your game is bloody, you can use blood splashes in the floor. If your game is dark you can use light spots. Yoy can also trigger some event that gets the camera attention.

If the point is to avoid player to go somewhere, try always to do it with game elements or distracting the player. For instance, if you want to avoid the player to pay too much attention to one scenario that is not the best of your game, you can try to create a frenetic scene there, so the user don't have time to check the defects of the scenario.

You can also place rewarding things to pick-up. You can place a bot calling your attention... etc etc but depends a lot of the game.

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I agree, but what I'm looking for is more general and 'theoretical'. I'd really like the player not to realize I'm guiding him... – Jonathan Connell Jun 10 '11 at 15:11

try to make things point in the direction you want the player to go, Grass, angles, clouds, like in a painting. put a focus in a circle or arch, use s-curves as they are pleasing to the eye. hide the area slightly to create a sense of mystery. those kinds of things, but dont spend too much time and effort on that or it might not get done.

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If you want to force the player down a path, just create one path and let them go at it! Any other paths must logically end in dead-ends or else route back to the main path.

It depends a lot on the type of game, too. In a rogue-like, for example, you can generate a single path of rooms leading to the exit, and just branch out dead-end rooms.

In an RPG, you can (as is typically done) block wrong routes with objects/people/etc. so that the user can't take them.

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The question is about implicitly forcing the player to go where you want him to, if you want him to explore, find hidden treasure, etc. Your answer just states the FFXIII method ;) – Jonathan Connell Jun 10 '11 at 14:09
-1 A good answer, but to a question that wasn't asked here. – doppelgreener Jun 10 '11 at 14:16

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