What are a level designer's roles in the development of a game, what are an environment artist's, and how do they compare? Are they overlapping roles? Does a game development team typically have both roles?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Wouldn't a level designer set out that NPC X should be here, and that passage Y should be locked; whereas an environment artist would create the model of the door in passage Y? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 15, 2011 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes that is a good practical example of the difference. Most people seem to think the word "design" implies visual design, but it actually pretty much just means "making decisions about X." \$\endgroup\$
    – jhocking
    Apr 21, 2011 at 14:28

3 Answers 3


It depends on the studio. There are two fundamental camps. The terms are ones I've used, but probably aren't common elsewhere.

"Dallas-style" level designers typically do everything, typically using some kind of engine that has heavy brush editing (i.e. quake based). Usually from layout, texturing, placing props, lighting, NPC placement, scripting, etc. "Environment artist" isn't really a position that exists. Usually the art department are involved with making textures, ancillary props, skyboxes, and occasionally some integrated hero props (that are usually first roughed out with brushes and then exported into a format where the artist can make something over top of it in something like Max). You'll occasionally do things like paintovers from concept artists to give the LDs some artistic inspiration for the final art passes. The LD is primarily the one responsible for maintaining performance. A lot time this is with older engines that require a bit more care and technical knowledge because these engines are portal based.

"California-style" level designers mostly do layout and scripting only. This is more common with engines that are based around art tools (i.e. the LDs are also using Max). After gameplay is proved out, the environment artists go in and do the rest. Texturing, props, particles, sometimes lighting, and pretty much anything that isn't gameplay specific is done by the artists. They usually work pretty close with the concept artists. The artists have a good amount of responsibility with performance in this mode as well, usually in the form of "keep this number in the green" for a given scene.

Fortunately, "Dallas style" level designing seems to be going away. Splitting up responsibilities means that you aren't putting as much on the shoulders of the LDs. Plus you have a higher theoretical artistic bar if your artists are the ones doing the "arting up".

Why is "Dallas style" still popular at all? Mainly due to the engines being used. Artists generally are averse to learning LD tools. They can be very comfortable with Max/Maya, but trying to get a not-very-technical artist to use something like Radiant can be a bit of a disaster. Some studios have solved this as a culture issue.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I like your term "dallas-style" so I will probably adopt it. I teach classes in level design and on the first day usually open with an explanation about how the early FPS companies in Texas (id, 3D Realms, Ritual, etc) temporarily derailed the definition of "level design." \$\endgroup\$
    – jhocking
    Apr 21, 2011 at 17:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think "derailed" is the right word. I think "invented" is the word you're looking for. As one of the Dallas area game developers who was involved in that invention, and as a fellow teacher of game development, I'd urge you not to diminish what the early FPS companies contributed and still contribute. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 24, 2012 at 12:59

An environment artist would focus on building the ambient nature of the world, ideally intended to immerse the player. This would probably range from the colours of the sunset, to the placement of non-gameplay oriented objects. A level designer would be implementing the placement of Ai, vehicles and necessary game objects.

If you think of a game such as Crysis, an environment artist would likely design the world in an artistic sense, then revise it based on changes made by the level designer after.

Contrary to what CommunistDuck mentioned, world objects such as doors and plants would probably be done by a 3d artist.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That's what he said, I think you mis-read his comment. \$\endgroup\$
    – jhocking
    Apr 21, 2011 at 14:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ He said Env. Artist did models, I said 3D artist would do models; and Env. Artist. does see above. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 21, 2011 at 15:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your distinction between "3D artist" and "environment artist" is non-sensical to me, because an environment artist is a kind of 3D artist. Character artists are the other main kind of 3D artist. That is, a 3D artist can specialize in environment or characters. What you described is more of a concept artist (ie. person who paints pictures to define the aesthetic of the game.) \$\endgroup\$
    – jhocking
    Apr 21, 2011 at 16:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ In summary: Environment Artist: World Object Placer, Sunset tweaker | 3D Artist: Model maker/Texturer | Level Designer: Objective A must be completed b4 Objective B, put AI behind building x, and inside building y. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 21, 2011 at 17:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environment_artist \$\endgroup\$
    – jhocking
    Apr 21, 2011 at 17:03

Level design is not really about visual design, although in many studios level designers do end up doing a lot of visual design work (eg. applying textures to the level.) Level design is really about planning the flow of the level, making decisions about gameplay, and laying out challenges for the player to overcome. Level design as a discipline starts with written plans and drawn schematics before firing up a level editing tool.

"Pure" level design is embodied by a workflow called "white-boxing" where the level designer places blank (not necessarily white, anymore than blueprints have to be blue) geometry in the scene to establish scale and structure, places all the dynamic items and enemies around the scene, and then environment artists go through and replace all the stand-in geometry with polished assets.

Here are a few links about game design and level design collected on my webpage: http://www.newarteest.com/game_dev.html

Especially take note of the link "evaluating game mechanics for depth" because that is a really informative article about level designers.


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