by Riven (view all articles)
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An interview series focusing on the art and science of level design and those who have experience in it. Sampled from around the level design community, a mixture of amateurs and professionals alike divulge their insights into what makes a successful level and what it takes to get there.
This is series entry #6 with Jefferey McDowell (Muhnay).
Welcome to The Official SnarkPit Interview Series of 2011. Here we're looking to interview individuals who have at least two years experience designing levels for games. We accepted entries from amateurs and professionals alike in an effort to enlighten the masses, especially those who are aspiring level designers or hobbyists. From new to old, there is something to be learned by all. People from around the world talk about what got them into level design, and what they do to push the limits and explore the possibilities. Level design has always been a collaborative effort spent conversing with others for critiques and opinions, and it is in this spirit that these interviews are presented to you.
This is Interview #6 out of the series as given by Mr. Jefferey (Muhnay) McDowell.
Jeff has seen many mappers come and go. His history with level design sets him apart as a commentator in helping to assist amateur mappers and support the community. He has worked with several games engines over the years since the original Doom, and lends his efforts in expanse of other creative fields including web graphics where his work includes the current Snark Pit header you see today! (SnarkPit v6.0). He has released several maps for Counter-Strike and other Source games. He frequents the forums of SnarkPit as the user Muhnay, and has supported a couple of mapping competitions for the site in the last couple of years. For this, we're glad he stopped to send his responses. Jeff currently works for the US state of Texas as a police officer.
If you'd like to reach Jeff, you may contact him through our PM system on his SnarkPit profile page: Muhnay's Profile
(You will need to register and/or sign-in as a SnarkPit member to send him a 'personal message' through our system).
1. SnarkPit: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with level design?
Jeff: Sure, I am Jeff McDowell aka "G4MER" or "Muhnay" depending on the server or website I am on. I just turned 40, I am a police officer, an avid gamer and level designer (NON-PRO). I have only released a few maps on the Snark Pit, I am never happy with my work, even though many have said I do good design. I have a creative mind and if I am not working on some idea in mapping, I am building furniture, remodeling my home or doing something creative. I guess that's how I got involved in level design, it was a perfect outlet for my creative side.
2. SnarkPit: How long have you been mapping or doing level design work?
Jeff: I first got started on level design back when Doom first came out. That was the first time I delved into level design. The Doom map builder was limited to just one plane; there were no 3D capabilities, so you had to use tricks like an elevator that moved side ways to fool players into thinking they were moving to a new level.
3. SnarkPit: What games and game types do you map for?
Jeff: I mainly map for Counter-Strike Source, but have recently been working on Natural Selection 2 levels with their really awesome tool set.
4. SnarkPit: If level design is currently a hobby for you, What do you plan to do, or continue doing with your experience and skills in the near future?
Jeff: I would have to say, pretty much what I am doing now; I have no desire to be a pro mapper or work for someone else.. with my freedom I am allowed to work at my pace, and there is no pressure of release dates and so forth.
de_cssmuseum - An original map for Counter-Strike Source
5. SnarkPit: Where do you look for inspiration or whom do you look to for ideas and in what mediums?
Jeff: Everywhere. I see stuff in movies, along the road or online. I have even posted many of these influences on the Snark Pit for others to draw inspiration from.
6. SnarkPit: What is your current level design method work flow? How do you start a level and then bring it to completion?
Jeff: This is an ever changing thing with me. There are times I have drawn the map out on paper first and then went in and mapped it. But mostly I let the map talk to me and build it as I go. I have a start in mind, but an end is almost always decided by the map itself. Once I have the game play (flow) laid out I go in and add the decore and models. I have an advantage there, my wife is very talented in the modeling department and makes me many custom models to add to my levels.
7. SnarkPit: What is the most important step or aspect in designing a level for you?
Jeff: Playability and good use of space.
An unnamed original map for Counter-Strike Source
8. SnarkPit: What three pieces of advice would you have for an aspiring level designer?
-Always try new things, never stop learning.
-Ask questions, even when you have to deal with know-it-all pricks, they can at times give some great advice.
-Explore others' work, and draw inspiration from it.
9. SnarkPit: What other hobbies or careers do you work/study in and do you think they compliment your level design knowledge and or skills?
Jeff: I am a police officer, and I see crimes on a daily basis; I think part of dealing with the more heinous of crimes is I can take the crime scene and see it as a level in a game. That may sound a bit morbid to some, but it does help me cope and gives me an outlet for such matters.
10. SnarkPit: What should a beginning level designer focus on the most in attempting to develop their skills?
Jefferey: The grid, and working on scale. I see many maps that are not held to the grid and have overlapping brushes and areas you can see though that are not supposed to be. Get the basics down before you move onto the harder stuff.
A custom model for the Source engine
11. SnarkPit: What's the most valuable lesson you've learned about level design?
Jeff: Scale and line of sight. Both play a very big part in level design.
12. SnarkPit: What are some of your "level design philosophies?"
Jeff: Be true to you, don't try to be what someone else thinks; map and design for you, and then the added benefit is others get to play in your playground. That does not mean to ignore good advice, we all can use that from time to time.
13. SnarkPit: Is there a particular level or custom map from any game that stands out as an excellent example of craftsmanship? Why?
Jeff: I think the map that the Snark Pit did for HLDM is a great example of how you can take many different designers and combine them into a workable, playable map. and it inspires me most of all.
fy_lasertag - An original map for Counter-Strike Source
14. SnarkPit: What other skills do you think are imperative for a modern level designer?
Jeff: Models are the future, know how to make models. I have seen a growing trend where whole maps are 80-90% models. Also know how to do your own custom textures; seeing the same old textures for each map gets boring after a while and players will notice and make rude comments.
We'd like to thank Jeff for taking the time to sit down and answer our questions. His perspective is a valued one, and we appreciate him sharing it. Thank you Jeff.
If you're interested in giving an interview and feel that you qualify, feel free to check out our questions and criteria for submitting an entry here. We'd love to hear what you have to say!