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Elbee23
12-01-2008, 02:36 PM
So I finally did the last section of this level was building. It seems to be working correctly and there are now just a few minor bugs to be ironed out. Everything is in place, you can go from start to finish and get to the end without any major dramas.

So... I should publish it, right?

Well, judging from the bulk of the published material out there, the answer would be yes. If you can get from the start to the end once it should be good enough to publish.

I disagree with that suggestion though. Let me outline the things I hope to do before I publish the level.

I need to revise some sections that are already working.

One needs a major overhaul as it's just plain boring, and 2 sections need to be tweaked to play better. No, it's not the big sled ride this time. I keep finding issues, but it seems to starting to work the way I plan it to for a change.

The major overhall thing I need to emphasis. You might have a section that works... but well, it's just a bit ho hum. There are ways I can improve it, so it makes sense to go over those parts and make them work even better. :rolleyes:

What this means in practice is to go over major known bugs and fix them. This point will be updated further down.

I need to add artwork decorations, and basically make it look nice.

Sure, everything functions alright, but it looks quite bland, with long sections of just plain old material background. Objects can look better than they do, stickers can be applied, reviewing some of the art design to make it look more consistent with the story and theme... In short, it can look a lot better than it currently does. I've been focusing on functionality, but it's important to look at appearance as well. Good story and contraptions will only get you so far if it does not actually look good. :p

I need to include music and sound effects

On top of the art revision is the need to revise sound as well. Music makes it more interesting to play, as having a big empty level can be just... boring to the ears. The pre-built music might have all been heard before, but it can expression emotion, including wonderment, curiosity, progression, a challenge... it would be a shame to ignore this point.

Go to the in game music you have and play it with your eyes closed, and try not to think about the level it originally came from, whether good or bad. Try and think of an emotion that comes to your mind. If your level is trying to express that emotion, put that sort of music into it. :)

Sound effects can be overlooked even more. Having a story character that is silent, unless there is a reason for it, again makes things boring. It's not that hard to pick a voice for your magic mouths, at least try and match it with the personality you want to portray.

Sounds can also add drama or humour to various actions, and once again draw the player into a more enjoyable experience. You can have sounds when you jump, when things activate, when the player is near... the possibilities for sound are quite large, and they increase player immersion into your level. Take for example, some spring jumps. Which is more interesting: silent ones, or one's that go "Boing!" :rolleyes:

Next comes adding additional point bubbles and evaluating and balancing prize bubbles and rewards.

Again, I feel this is another overlooked level design. Think of it like this in regards to the score. Let's say you have 1,000 people play your level. "Sure, everyone wants that" you might reply. But think about what seperates the players at the end of the day. It's the points they see when they reach the final score board.

This is a positive thing in two ways. It can allow people to compare themselves to other players. If they think there score is too low, then it can be a subtle way of encouraging them to play your level again. If you just have a few score bubbles at easy to access points, or no score bubbles at all, then you are missing out on that free incentive. Some people MUST top a scoreboard, and will replay things just to do that. :D

The other positive point to the score is it gives players a comparison for when they play again. If they missed some score points and were to play again they might try harder to get them. Again, it's all building a positive experience.

Just one more side point in regards to point bubbles. I hope we have moved on from the million point trophy levels by now (unless you have some incredible new take on the concept). Don't make points too easy to get, or too clogged in a few areas. Space them out to make it interesting. You can also use point bubbles to guide the player – both in a direction to go as well as leading them into unsuspecting traps. ;)

Now in regards to prize bubbles. Some people hate them, and there are indeed a lot of crap prizes out there. I've had the dreaded "Your profile is too full to save" error appear a few times since I started this level, and I've cleared out a lot of crap to get my objects to a more bearable amount. But I think there is value to prizes.

One might be the sticker switches you have added which people need to activate secret areas. If you have a sticker as a level complete prize, and then use it for a sticker switch somewhere in the level, then it can encourage people to play your level again and experience it in a new way.

If you make something interesting, then it's not a bad thing to give it away. People can delete it afterwards, but they might use your designs to inspire them to build better ones. That's not a bad thing, in my opinion. :)

The last part is doing a big bug hunt.

Try and break your own level, and think of everything you could possibly do wrong, then try and fix them. This point again has two advantages.

Let's say you are playing through a level, and you have already spent 10 minutes playing and the end is in sight. You have enjoyed the story. You have laughed, cried, faced challenges that you have overcome... but then you find a bug. Maybe it's a ledge that you accidently fell off and can't get back to a playable area. Maybe you went half way along an elevator, fell off, and now can't get the elevator back. Maybe you got into a vehicle, but then something goes wrong and you die before you reach a checkpoint. You end up on side of a chasm you can't cross, and the vehicle to cross it is on the other side. Or maybe it's just some terrian bug that keeps randomly killing you no matter what you try.

No matter what it is, bugs can be frustrating to the player. The player has two options now. They can replay the level, hoping the bug won't come back, or they can go back to their pod, give your level a worse rating and word than what they might have given, and never come back to your level again, as they are too busy playing other people's levels. Even if they do decide to retry, they still need to spend 10 minutes getting to that bugged point, and it might just end up doing it again. :(

Hopefully I've made my point clear for the first point. The second is this. Some people play levels with the aim of breaking them. Maybe they are trying to get a short cut to points. Maybe they just want to skip to the end. Maybe they... well, I don't know, maybe they like breaking things...

No matter what the reason, these people are likely playing your level in a way you did not intend. They might be missing out on the story or cool effects you spent so hard working on. Maybe they will just laugh... and still give your level a low score. It's broken, I've proved it, why would I come back?

So try and find bugs that address these problems as well. Unaligned platforms that allow you to skip challenges that you have placed in the way. Breaks in platforms above that allow you to skip stuff when you land below. Unglued items that are meant to be stuck down, especially jet packs. There might be grabbable background material that will allow them to avoid things that you did not think of. Hopefully you get the idea.

In my last blog, I mentioned some ways that people could have avoided my upside down U section and some ways that I tried to fix those problems. Try and think outside the square while you bug hunt, because other people certainly will be thinking differently to you, whether intentional or otherwise. If you want to read that blog entry in detail, it is here: http://www.lbpcentral.com/forums/blog.php?b=78

This is different however to the fixing up sections point that was made at the start. The idea is that you are coming into your level from a fresh point of view, and trying to think of everything that might go wrong, rather than fixing issues you already know don't work. Some might say the difference is minor, but in general it's good to make your level as bug free as you can.

This of course does not mean that you stop listening to players when they complain about bugs, nor will the release of a level mean that you never touch it again. But it's not a bad thing to try and make things working well before they even knew the bugs existed. :D

So... what's the answer to the question, “When should I publish my level?” When it looks and sounds good, everything is in place as you want it to be, and it's realitively bug free is how I would reply. :)

---

This article is a rewrite from my third blog entry, originally entitled "When is a level complete?". It's meant to be a checklist for level creators to think about things they can do to improve their level before they publish it. Certain sections have been changed from the original blog, but you can find my blogs either in my profile information or here: http://www.lbpcentral.com/forums/blog.php?u=1328

And for the moderators reading this, if you find it helpful, please sticky it! :)

Risen
12-01-2008, 04:37 PM
This is a good list. I hope we see a few more polished levels because of it.

If a level can be broken, I tend to break it. At least it my case, I'm usually trying to see where I can get to because you never know if there's some secret to be found. Some secrets are cleverly hidden, and in the fact that these exist in the story mode helps set a precedent. Usually though, I just end up breaking it. Hopefully the author has set things up so that I can continue playing the level after this happens, otherwise I don't normally try to play again.

BinkTGH
12-02-2008, 04:31 AM
great list. :D
theres been so many times i've played somebodys level and its a bug fest. Its like they publish the level without even playing it.
elevators that dont go back down, ziplines that dont respawn, impassable jumps, mobs, vehicles that turn over and dont respawn. No checkpoints?
its to a point now where I would just leave the level without attempting it a second time. Which is a shame because I know some of those levels would be great with out the bugs.

Ive probably spent more time bug testing my levels then actually creating them.

BassDeluxe
12-02-2008, 04:39 AM
This is a great list. You would think most of it would be obvious, but from most levels, apparently not. I hope it gets stickied!

Whalio Cappuccino
12-02-2008, 04:42 AM
Mods should sticky this immediately, I'm definately going to use this list when finishing up my levels.

Mark D. Stroyer
12-02-2008, 04:46 AM
Yup. I'd say so. Nice and general enough, yet also specific at the same time.

*You heard a sound suspiciously like that of an object covered at one end in glue being pressed firmly against another object. You hope the forums don't fall apart.*

GuyWithNoEyes
12-02-2008, 01:09 PM
Sticky this. Sticky this. Sticky this.
You are definitely getting rep for that.
I realised that using stickerd, sound effects and the other small things make the level so much better......
STICKY THIS.

UmJammerSully
12-03-2008, 01:26 AM
Very informative. I hope people make good use of this. ;P

Linque
12-03-2008, 10:34 AM
Yes, this is good. Making the level work gameplay-wise is really only the beginning if you want to make levels that feel professional. This is a very good write-up.

GuyWithNoEyes
12-03-2008, 11:45 AM
Haha. I see this did get stickied. Well deserved too.

OCK
12-04-2008, 09:59 AM
Lost of useful stuff here, thanks. I have been applying pretty much everything you wrote to my levels before I read this post (particularly use of decorations/stickers, sound and music) and I hope more creators pay attention to what has been said here as it will result in a lot more polished levels that will rise above what was thought to be their full potential.

Elbee23
12-10-2008, 03:36 PM
The level that inspired the writing of this article, "A journey through a digestive tract" has finally been released on LBP. As an added bonus, if you play through to the end, you can find a level key that will unlock the same level but at the time of writing the article. You can see what a huge difference polishing can make first hand. ;)

The official level thread is here:http://www.lbpcentral.com/forums/showthread.php?t=5828

I'll just put through some inital reactions to playing the old version from my blog. You can see for yourself what a change polishing can make first hand though. :rolleyes:


The biggest thing I noticed was a lack of sound. No music, almost no sound effects. It just sounded hollow and empty, like it lacked a soul.

The section that I did a major rework on was, well, empty and boring. A few seconds and it's done, and there was no sense of achievement like the current version.

Finally, at the short sled right at the end, the vehicle tipped when I hopped on it. I mentioned earlier in these blogs that this was a known bug, but when I had put the final scoreboard in I had not got around to fixing it. I probably was not even aware of it as a bug. With no one shot emitter system in place, I was dead with no chance of finishing the level and the prospect of going through 10 minutes of gameplay to get back to that point. :(

I know it's a shameless plug, but play the level first hand and see the difference an extra few days of polishing can do! ;)

Hamsalad
12-27-2008, 12:24 AM
great thread. I made the mistake of publishing mine right away when it wasnt completely polished. I pretty much did it just cause i wanted to take my game over to my buddies and show him w/o lugging my PS3 w/ but i left it up there and just updated it

Elbee23
12-28-2008, 03:20 PM
On reflection I think this information is even more helpful than I originally thought it would be. Now with the search engine being able to be sorted by "highest rated", it means that you want to be putting your best foot forward first.

Let's say you publish a level but it's not that polished. People may play it, but find all sorts of things wrong with it. They will likely rate it lowly, even if the level has a great concept.

You might update the level in response to feedback, fixing bugs and making things run smoother as time goes on. The initially low rating may be difficult to recover from, however. I believe the default rating score people sees is the average from all the previous ratings. If they are just clicking through these pages, they will keep your level rating at 3 stars, when things might have changed and it's really worth 5 stars.

There are three ways to get around the problem of an initially low rating from what I can work out. The first can be done with an established level, the other two really only work with levels that are coming out.

One is to republish the level in a new spot and delete the old one. You will lose all your hearts and played stats, but you will also lose the low and out of date rating. It's a hard call to make to do this though, especially if you are going for the various create and share trophies.

The second is to be more cautious about publishing your material. Use closed betas where you send copies of the level keys to people who will give good feedback. Sometimes you playtest your level to death and just get content with bugs, but new people might not be so willing to forgive such things. Having a fresh set of eyes can help point out these problems and they may even suggest ways to fix them. ;)

Finally, you can polish your level yourself but call it "Beta" or some other such thing in it's title. Let the wider audience give you some feedback, and make changes on that beta. When you are happy with all the feedback and changes, and the level seems to be all it can be, republish the level with the same name. You could leave the old version if you want, but the new one will get fresh stats and hopefully be better recieved as it's had a lot of feedback from others as you keep working on it. You could also lock or delete the old version, but again, that's up to you.

I believe if you do lock an old "beta", however, and don't make the key readily accessible, people who have hearted that level will not be able to access it any longer. I would need confirmation of this point though.

I might add all this stuff to the original article... stay tuned! :)

aer0blue
12-28-2008, 03:41 PM
Elbee, this is some really, really good information out there for every Creator. Might I suggest if you tweak the original post? Simply presentation-wise. Maybe add Spoiler Tags for sections or something to make it easier on the eye, because that's one looong post. Anyway, good stuff.

King_Tubb
01-24-2009, 08:40 PM
This a great list, i wish every LBP creator could have a general idea of this list is saying. Ive played several levels were there are some terrible bugs, and they were one i was trying to exploit.

One idea to add on how to find bugs is to have a friend play your level before you publish it, or publish it,lock it and only give the key to a friend to play. This way you dont automatically recieve a bad rating for a bug, and your friend may pick up on a bug you didnt. Since you've played the level a million times over testing it you know exactly what to do. Your friend wont, so you can have him/her be a true tester for your level. My friend has found several bugs for my levels and i always have him play my levels before publishing them.