Note: this article does not emphasise neutral point of view. What type of level a person finds good depends on subjective point of view. The following tips are based on the level design principles of widely popular and well-received Doom levels.
Tips for creating good single player levels
If you intend to create a good, basic Doom level you should at the very least include some monsters, weapons, ammo and health pickups in it. How you place them is especially important. Some general tips for good item placement:
- If your level includes powerful monsters, it should also offer powerful weapons. Very few people want to fight a Cyberdemon with a pistol. (However, if the player has an alternate way to kill the monster they may be willing to forgive this; see Cyberdreams.)
- Do not give out the most powerful weapons right in the beginning. Giving the player a BFG and a large amount of cells right away is rarely a good idea, since it tends to lessen the suspense of the level by making the player feel all-powerful and the monsters much less of a threat.
- Items (especially the best powerups) should be used sparingly, except for ammo.
- Provide the player access to the corpses of killed Zombiemen, Shotgun Guys, Chaingunners and Wolfenstein SSs, so that the player can collect the ammo and weapons they dropped.
Make sure that your map is playable from a pistol start*. If you start the map with a fight with some tough monsters, make sure to give the player a more powerful weapon - or an escape route, so they can run away and engage the enemies later on.
When placing monsters, it should be kept in mind that well-received levels and levelsets usually get progressively harder toward the end. Placing ten Spider Masterminds in the first room of the first map is generally considered bad taste and too over the top design. Instead try to create balanced and imaginative fights that do not repeat themselves. This can be achieved by using different monster sets, varying level architecture and by giving the player only certain weapons, ammo and powerups.
* This is the same as when you first start Doom. I.E, with just a Pistol and Fist
It is often a good idea to visualize the basic layout of the level before actually building it in a level editor. After the layout is ready, you can build the actual map and add the details. Adding a huge amount of detailed architecture is not necessary (improperly detailed architecture can even snag a player), but few people like, for example, square and flat levels ala Wolfenstein 3D either. In the end it does not really matter whether you use very detailed architecture or a more simplistic approach, as long as the level looks good.
John Romero's design rules
When designing levels for Doom, John Romero came up with several rules, among them:
- Always changing floor height when I wanted to change floor textures.
- Using special border textures between different wall segments and doorways.
- Being strict about texture alignment.
- Conscious use of contrast everywhere in a level between light and dark areas, cramped and open areas.
- Making sure that if a player could see outside that they should be able to somehow get there.
- Being strict about designing several secret areas on every level.
- Making my levels flow so the player will revisit areas several times so they will better understand the 3D space of the level.
- Creating easily recognizable landmarks in several places for easier navigation.
- Do not create inescapable traps or areas, such as pits without exit, which force the player to noclip their way out of them or reload a saved game. (You may be able to get away with this if it is in the very beginning of a map, thus when the player dies, not much progress is lost when the player restarts.) An inescapable sector with a damaging floor or a crushing ceiling might be easier to forgive, but it is usually in good taste to include a teleporter out of the sector.
- Add some imaginative secrets to your map. While the simplest secret is simply a room hidden behind a hidden door (usually indicated by a different or misaligned texture), try to be creative when designing them.
- When you start a new map you should always keep your Linedefs and sectors aligned to the grid. This makes it easier to line up the light and floor textures so they look good. It makes the map look much more professional when the map is on the grid and the textures are perfectly aligned.
- Use connecting textures to help transition between the differently textured areas of the map. These textures help give the room a clean look to it.
- Consider strategically placing a Berserk pack near a difficult battle, to either heal or fight with.
- Carefully strategize boss battles. At the very least, provide Green armor and some health to fall back on. Soul Spheres, Megaspheres, and Blue armor could be given to the player at the start of the fight, or could be found later on during the fight. Depending on the difficulty of the fight, think about weapon placement. The rocket launcher, plasma rifle, and the BFG 9000 are the best choices. Also, be sure to provide sufficient cover for the player to hide behind.
Tips for creating good deathmatch levels
- Include a fair amount of weapons and spread them evenly across different sections of the level.
- Do not make the level too difficult to move around in. For example, do not use large amounts of obstacles that block players and prefer architecture that does not make player movement difficult.
- Create more than one way in and out of each area.
- If you create doors, make them automatically open when a player moves into their proximity. Also, prefer fast doors.