Links to various level editors, moddable games, engines, and art tools
This page contains several lists of links to useful tools, both ancient and modern:
- Moddable games (recommended). Short list of moddable games for "serious" level design, with active level design community tied closely to the game industry.
- Moddable games (all). A much longer list of known games with modding tools. For various reasons, we don't recommend using these tools.
- But in the end, the best tool is whatever is most interesting to you.
- We also list general 3D game engines, 2D level editors, 3D art tools, 2D art tools, and planning tools common in the game industry.
When you mod a game, you get to re-use graphics, sounds, code, and most importantly, core game design and tuning. We strongly recommend learning level design by modding.
This is a list of recommended games with well-supported toolsets and active communities. Download the tools, build levels, ask for help, and share your work.
We generally recommend Quake and Doom since these games have large active communities, free stable multiplatform tools, and proven design.
static, dynamic (Horde)
Left 4 Dead 2
Team Fortress 2
- Static: pre-placed enemies, arcade style, "fire and forget"
- Scripted: pre-placed enemies with some control over AI behavior
- Dynamic: high level "director" manages enemies automatically
- Multiplayer: combat centers around other players
screenshot of TrenchBroom, a standalone brush-based 3D level editor for Quake-based game engines
These moddable games are NOT part of our recommended list, for one or more reasons:
- player or modder community has died off
- OR the tools are too old, unsupported, broken, or painful
- OR the tools are seen as "illegitimate" by the industry (even though the industry is wrong)
But what matters most is your enthusiasm and energy. The best tool is the one that you will actually use and finish projects.
CoD: MW (2007)
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Far Cry 5
Gears of War
static / dynamic
code (Java Eclipse+Forge)
Quake 3 Arena
Stalker: Call of Pripyat
X-Ray Engine SDK
Thief 1 / Thief Gold / Thief 2
visual (Actors, Triggerscript)
Unreal Tournament (1999) ("UT99")
Modern all-purpose game engines almost never have good level design tools by default, so you should expect to download and install additional plugins to aid construction.
screenshot of Godot v3.0, rapidly emerging as a popular free and open source community alternative to Unity and Unreal
If your engine already has a built-in 2D level editor, then use that. But if you're using a homemade engine or web-based framework, you'll need a standalone 2D level editor.
Unlike the fragmented 3D editor ecosystem, all standalone 2D level editors are open-source, stable, and engine-agnostic with easily parsed JSON file formats. Here we generally recommend Tiled, with its many features and widespread engine support.
2D level editor
more recent tool, streamlined, lots of features
not actively developed, but still simple + solid
screenshot of Tiled, a free open source standalone 2D tile-based level editor
In most cases, we don't recommend using 3D modeling tools to build levels. That said, all these tools basically do the same thing, and you should use whatever tools you like using.
We generally recommend Blender, free open source software that now rivals commercial tools. Older artists often prefer Maya or 3DS Max because they already learned it + industry pipelines are tightly coupled. But let's be clear -- Blender is basically the future, and Autodesk's days are numbered.
free and open source; steadily getting more popular in industry with rich feature set
Good 2D art tools are vital for drawing level layouts and diagrams, and essential for making your own graphics and textures. Some of these tools even run online in your browser for free.
cheap Photoshop / Illustrator alternative
free ad-supported Photoshop clone, in-browser (!)
free open source Photoshop alternative
free open source Photoshop alternative
free old school Photoshop alt with bad name
cheap popular pixel art painting tool
free open source Illustrator alternative
free online Illustrator alternative, runs in browser
free (PWYW) moodboard tool / reference image manager
free open source moodboard manager with PureRef-like drag and drop
Good note-taking and writing tools can help you write design documentation, plan a project, track work tasks, and collaborate with others.
a notebook (real-life, paper)
many designers keep personal notebooks; think of it as a portable always-on browser tab
popular freemium service for collaborative whiteboarding / "mindmap" / planning
popular freemium service for notes, lists, wikis, documentation
popular freemium service for "kanban" style project planning in games
cheap ($50) writing tool popular among authors, rich outlining features
free open-source lightweight personal wiki that lives in a single .HTML file on your device
sometimes it's best to keep it simple
- but anyway, you should use whatever you feel good about, because making and finishing stuff is more important than social consensus
- the ultimate level design tool is "giving a shit"