Three Basic Rules of Level Design

Having just attended GDC (Game Developers Conference) I feel the rather normal rush of desire to make games and to note down my feelings about making games.

As part of GDC I had a discussion with someone about what is important as a game designer. What are the “rules” of game design that one must always keep in the forefront of your mind. I smiled at the gentleman asking the question as I remembered seeing Jeff Perryman, a professor of level design, leap up and down shouting “Gameplay!” at the top of his lungs.

This was his way of telling us the most important rule of level design, which counts as the most important rule of game design. Games are called such because they are about the play. The special rules and setting we create to play in.
Rule #1: Gameplay is the MOST important part of your game. Period. End of story.

This leads us to rule number 2:
If anyone (producer, artist, programmer, lead) tries to override the gameplay in defense of their specialty, refer to rule number 1. Fight for your gameplay, not art, story, or system. Trust these people to do their jobs and make good decisions, as they should trust you.

Finally, Rule #3: If you are overruled by any of the said above, remember Rule #1. It is still your job to make sure the gameplay is solid, fun, and engaging. Learning to adapt the gameplay to any changes in the game’s art style, limitations of the system, story, etc, and come out on the other side with your gameplay fun and intact. This is truly the challenge of every designer. Anyone can design in a vacuum, but can you design within the constraints, as they change over the course of a project and still have it be a good game?