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I'm currently attending school in a Level Design program, and I was wondering how important programming really is in being a Level Designer?

I'm apparently incapable of learning programming (despite my best efforts), and tend to do very well in all other courses 3D modelling, story/character design, narrative and dialogue writing, environmental and conceptual design etc.

I'm wondering if my strengths in the other areas are enough (with practice) to let me become a Level Designer, or I'm wasting my time if I can't program?

I really want to be a Designer, but I just can't seem to wrap my head around the "language" of programming in general (Java kicks my teeth in even with tutoring and additional work on my own).

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If your tutor started by teaching you inheritance, overloading methods and creating useless abstract classes just to create them, then it's probably not your fault you don't understand much. You could start with learning an "easier" language first, like Javascript. Check this out: jsfiddle.net/tZTXS/6 You can freely edit it and refresh changes by pressing RUN button, and save them by pressing update and keeping the URL. Have fun with the code, modify it, try to delete parts of it to keep the game working, just without some functionalities. –  Markus von Broady Nov 1 '12 at 23:10
    
I'd say you can be pretty good as a level designer without any programming experience. The catch is, I think most game development companies hire designers with some programming background... –  Marton Nov 2 '12 at 9:05
    
@Marton don't think most places look for programming designers in my experience. However I think they should, it's extremely helpful to have a designer who can prototype or script on their own, and it's always going to be another string in your bow if you can. –  tenpn Nov 2 '12 at 12:17
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@WryGrin like Markus says, maybe start with a simpler language. Scratch (scratch.mit.edu) is designed as an education lang and there are lots of resources to get you started. Once you've managed that move onto to textual langs and you'll soon get the hang. –  tenpn Nov 2 '12 at 12:19
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I've been pointing beginning level designers to codeacademy.com –  jhocking Nov 2 '12 at 17:37

4 Answers 4

The answer is: it depends. Unfortunately that's probably the best you're going to get. While a level designer isn't as likely to be using Java (but it's possible), they're commonly going to implement some form of scripting language. Depending on the type of level design you're doing, scripting may be all you do. It's good that you have the skills in art and language, and you may find a job that's all about using only those talents. Wasting your time? No, you're pursuing what you want to do, that's not a waste of time. However, you should continue to pursue your programming. Since, while you may be able to find work only doing the tasks you're good at, it narrows your opportunities quite a bit. Keep at the programming. If a tutor is not helping you understand the basics, then you probably need a new tutor. If you're still struggling there are a lot of programming resources for young children that may be useful for you to crack the barrier that's keeping you from understanding the process.

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Thanks for your answer, Byte56. It seems to be an equal divide between your answer and "If you can't program basic AI, get lost." I hope I can find a niche for myself somewhere... "Feeling Ways about Stuff", won't feed me lol, and if I can't program, I might have trouble convincing employers I can do more than that. But I shall keep trying! –  WryGrin Jan 20 '13 at 5:01

No matter what field in game design you pick, programming is going to appear in some shape or form. For example in Maya it is used to create nifty functions for exporting or manipulating geometry. In level design you will see it when you are creating events to occur, like scrolling to the next screen in a classic Zelda game. I am however, by no means trying to discourage you for looking into being a level designer, just know that sooner or later you will have to use some programming.

Being good at art and story telling is fantastic and an area I have yet to master, but since you are so confident in your skills there you should continue trying to branch out as a jack of all trades. But like you said, programming is not really your thing so you should start with something nice and easy (not JavaScript as that is way over complicated by being poorly written).

The simplest form of programming I have found so far is the event scripting in RPG Maker XP. Although there is a new version out, I suggest you download that and just do some simple stuff, make the screen change to a new map, add items when you walk over squares, initiate NPC chatting, etc. RPG Maker does almost everything for you minus the scripts to kick it off the events, so I find it's a great place to start if you just want to muck around with things.

If you want to skip the cute stuff and get into some basic raw programming, try taking a spin over to Khan Academy they have a lot bunch of videos you can check out about some of the basics. You don't really need to become a master of programming (stuff like threads and manipulating the gpu) but if you can understand the basics of if statements, for/while loops, and a handful of other commands, you should be fine in pursuing a lite-programming game design career.

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Another language I'd strongly recommend for 'programming for designers' is Processing, as that offers the benefit (for some) of being an immensely visual language with immediate feedback but much less of JavaScript's overhead: it's easier to see how what you're doing matters, how results change with changes in code, than virtually any other language I've seen. –  Steven Stadnicki Nov 2 '12 at 2:22
    
+1 Processing is great. –  tenpn Nov 2 '12 at 12:20

Programming experience is a highly desirable trait for a level designer looking to enter the industry. While there are certainly positions available which do not include any scripting responsibilities, these positions are not as numerous as those that would require scripting.

To put it in a different perspective, given the choice between two candidates for a design position, one with scripting experience and one without, studios would be much more inclined to hire the person with scripting experience. Even if they are being hired for a position which would not initially require scripting, responsibilities in game development change rapidly, and that additional scripting experience is valuable.

Something you might be interested in looking at are the requirements listed for job openings throughout the industry. You'll find things like the following:

  • Programming or Scripting experience (C++, Lua, other proprietary scripting languages, or similar).
  • Experience creating first-person levels using Unreal, Quake, Half-Life, or similar technologies
  • Excellent written and verbal communications skills

Some listings have all of these, some leave out the scripting experience. Overall though, I would say that the listings that require or prefer scripting greatly outnumber those that do not. In addition, having programming experience also opens the possibility of fitting into a Technical Designer's role, further expanding the list of potential jobs you could take.

I'd also throw in that having programming experience can help strengthen communication between you and the engineers you work with, and good communication between disciplines is crucial in game development.

To sum up, I'd strongly encourage you to continue to put your best efforts into learning how to script. If anything, your determination in doing so will be a desirable trait when you go in for a job interview :)

As for an easy language to get started in, I'll make my plug here for Python. Super simple to learn and use.

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I would say that programming is non-essential for a typical level design position. Of course more knowledge about the game development process is always helpful, but I'm sure there are many level designers who don't have to do any scripting at all.

Personally I expect you probably could pick up the basics of scripting anyway, because it is usually less demanding than regular programming, and because anybody can learn if they put their mind to it.

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