I've been thinking a lot about level design recently. I use the term "recently" in the relative sense; it's effectively consumed every free thought for at least the entirety of 2008, but... something's changed.
I realized the change when I was playing Super Mario Galaxy this weekend. Somehow 6 months ago I was unable to appreciate the sheer genius of the game's level design; so simple, so purposeful, so charming, yet so complex. Why can't other games live up to what SMG has done? Maybe it has to do with sheer dedication and time spent in development (the game was in production for nearly four years, and I’m sure was conceived of long before that). Maybe it has to do with Miyamoto’s overall vision. Without having worked with large development teams, that's not a question I can yet answer, but hopefully soon…sooooon.
These days when I walk into a room I think about how it would fare as a gamespace. What type of game would this space lend well to (if any)? How would I change the layout? What is this space’s intended function and was it designed with that in mind?
When looking at these IRL spaces, one difficulty arises in my mind over and over again, namely, if I were to recreate this space as a level, would I still include the obvious architectural flaws? For example, in the hallway of the building I live in, between my apartment and the elevator, this is an area where the beam running along the ceiling is misaligned, creating a ledge in the ceiling with a gap about one foot wide. It may have been the building was remodeled, or possibly poor architectural design (judging from the rest of the building, I have a feeling it was the latter).
So the question is, should this obvious error be included in a gamespace recreation of my apartment building, and in what context would it be most appropriate? If I were to recreate it as it was, it would probably look like my world modeling skills were sub-par, or at the very least it would be a little distracting.
As level designers we create a world for which the player to lose themselves in, and we want that world to be as believable as possible in the context of the game. At the same time, as level designers we must ask ourselves the purpose of every detail, and unless it adds to the believability of the gamespace, my instincts tell me that a flaw like this should probably not be included (unless of course the goal was to do an exact recreation, warts and all).