CS/INFO 3152: Introduction to Computer Game Development

Communication Lab 10
Design Patterns

The focus of today's lab is to start thinking about your level design. This is a low impact way to resume the semester after your long break. And this material will be useful for you later in the semester -- both for future releases and the level design document.

The main thing you are to do in this lab is to brainstorm building-blocks for your level design. We ask that someone take notes or sketch these ideas while the lab is ongoing. Because this will be done remotely on Discord this means that the person sketching needs to be sharing his or her screen. While you will not turn anything for a grade, we be holding a critique session this Friday to review your work.

Before working on this lab, you might find it useful to review the online lecture on level design.

Building Blocks

A building block is a mechanic/challenge pairing that represents a single something that the player must overcome to solve the level. It is not the entire level, but only part of the level. Most levels are a sequence of building blocks. Sometimes, building blocks are put on top of each other so the player must overcome them simultaneously. But either way, the key to level design is understanding your building blocks.

To give you an idea of what we mean, consider the following storyboard from the 2014 game Beck & Chuck. In this picture, the player has to make it past a missile launcher. The missile launcher is placed at a choke point, restricting the players maneuverability. So the player must either destroy the launcher or time his/her actions very carefully.


When building blocks appear in a lot of games, they get called a design pattern. Many of your favorite genres are defined by their design patterns. Here are a few examples:


The classic design pattern for a platformer is the high-precision jump. The gap between two platforms is so large that you must make a running jump just as you reach the end of the first platform. Jump to early (or stop running before you make the jump) and you will not clear the distance. Jump to late and you fall off the first platformer.

Another design pattern are monsters and mobile hazards. Goomba-stomping aside, most monsters in platformers are to be avoided. The challenge is to time your jump to make it over the (moving) monster.

When you combine these design patterns together, you get a particularly insidious challenge. You have to jump just at the right time to make it across, but avoiding the monster may cause you to jump to early or break your timing.

Stealth Games

The basic design pattern in a stealth game is cover. Guards cannot see you while you are behind walls, crates or other obstructions. You therefore need to move quickly from cover to cover so that you are never seen by the guards.

Stealth games also have patrol patterns. This is a loop that the guards make about the level. You learn this pattern, and take advantage of it to keep your player actively out of the line of sight of the guards.

Good stealth games combine these two patterns together in a single level. You move to cover to keep from being seen. It is only safe to come out of cover when the guard moves away from the open space between you and the next cover position.

Cover Shooters

As the name implied, cover shooters also use cover as a design pattern. While enemies can see you behind cover, they cannot hit you with weapons either. Of course you cannot hit them while in cover either. So the challenge is to come out of cover at just the right time to hit another enemy.

Cover shooters often have an arena layout as part of their level design. This is a design pattern to keep the player from "turtling". Cover only protects you from one side, and in an arena, and enemy can flank you behind the cover. So these two design patterns combine to force the player to move about the arena.

Creating your own Building Blocks

We want you to spend this lab time coming up with building blocks for your own game. We do not want complete levels; we want simple challenges (or pairing of challenges) that you will later use to build your levels. A good indication of whether a challenge is a building block is if you can sketch it in a single storyboard frame.

To give you some idea of what we are looking for, here are some building-blocks from semesters past, when we still had the level design document.

Squeak & Swipe

Winner of Most Innovative (Mobile) Game in the Spring 2016 Showcase, Squeak & Swipe does a good job at identify a large number of basic patterns. They also clearly identify the patterns in each of their levels.


Another popular game from the Spring 2016 Showcase, Aphelion was a puzzle game that consisted of a large number of challenging levels. This document is longer than some of the others, so be sure to look at others besides this one for guidance. Despite its length, it still maintains clarity without overload. In particular, they do an excellent job of identifying complex patterns and incorporating them into their game.


Since 2017 was a one of the great years for mobile games, it was easy to overlook the minimalist game Canon. However, they did really well at Showcase and were accepted to Boston Festival of Indie Games because of strong level design. This document shows exactly how to come up with patterns and assemble them together to make a level.