Level design books
Recommended level design books... other than this one
On this page, we recommend various level design books.
  • As discussed in the introduction, remember that there's different types of level design. Thus, there's different types of level design books.
  • We generally don't recommend any pre-2000s level design book. A lot has changed in 20+ years. The game industry and culture is very different, not to mention the tools, workflow, and language.

Generalist level design books

Generalist books approach level design as one aspect of a much larger design problem. These types of books are usually written by academics who have studied this topic from multiple angles.
If you are more of a big picture type of thinker, or if you're suspicious of the game industry, then these are the books for you. However, zooming-out also means missing out on more specific technical details.
  • An Architectural Approach to Level Design (2014) by Christopher Totten is a theory-heavy generalist level design textbook. Totten brings in a lot of core architecture education (basic drafting, parti, prospect and refuge, etc.) to connect its 101 Things I Learned In Architecture School styled approach to some game examples. A good roundup of conceptual design that stops short of technical details and 3D construction.
  • Level Design: Processes And Experiences (2017) edited by Christopher Totten is a collection of case studies covering many level design topics from a variety of academics, critics, and developers. This broad survey is useful for gauging our collective understanding of level design, but all these different contexts vary greatly in aim and approach. What does a Yakuza player's personal essay have in common with a research overview of PCG methods? It's an interesting question, but the answer won't be obvious nor readily applicable. Still, an interesting snapshot of the industry today.
  • A Game Design Vocabulary (2014) by Anna Anthropy and Naomi Clark is a robust all-in-one introductory game design textbook with streamlined game design language and several good chapters relating to platformer level design. Probably the best 2D level design book. Great for a junior high / high school / teenager with an interest in game or level design but might not know where to start.

Industry level design books

Industry books are written by working level designers who have shipped some 3D AAA action shooter games. They tend to have a narrower focus than generalist academics, zooming-in on specific techniques and situations.
To become this specific, there is a price -- these books must make a lot of assumptions about game genre and audience, and they rarely imagine any larger overarching theory. It reads like a pile of do's and don'ts.
But if your creative goals match the industry's, then you will find a lot of useful advice here.
  • Hows and Whys of Level Design (2008) by Sjoerd "Hourences" De Jong is among the best 3D level design books available, though a bit dogmatic and Unreal 3 specific, and so some of it has aged rather poorly since 2008. However, De Jong is an experienced industry developer who has built lots of 3D levels, and much of that work experience shows through in this book's straightforward advice and tailored examples. Note that De Jong is more of a classical golden age level designer, so you should familiarize yourself with the history of the level designer, or else his fascination with low poly construction might not make any sense.
  • Let's Design: Combat (2020) by Max Pears is maybe the only encounter design book ever written. It has lots of illustrations and diagrams but the cartoon style may or may not appeal to you. Pears also assumes you're not just making a shooter, but a fairly specific military-themed shooter with specific enemy types and weapons, etc. Still, it offers a lot of useful language and patterns for combat games.

Level design reference books

  • Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar
  • one of those Dishonored books?
  • Virtual Cities

Architecture books

Understanding the basics of real world architecture is useful for level design.
  • 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederic is the classic architecture and design primer
  • Architecture: Form, Space and Order by Francis Ching
  • A Pattern Language

Architectural reference

  • Grammar of Architecture
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