Author Archive

Level With Me: Play Cohort 2 Now

Level With Me was a series of interviews with game developers about their games, work process, and design philosophy. At the end of each interview, they designed part of a small first person game. You can now download and play the final resulting game!…
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Level With Me, Thomas Grip

Level With Me is a series of interviews with game developers about their games, work process, and design philosophy. At the end of each interview, they design part of a small first person game. You can play this game at the very end of the series.

Thomas Grip is creative director of Frictional Games, based in Helsingborg, Sweden. They’re known mostly for the Penumbra (a first person horror game series) and Amnesia (another first person horror game series), and they’re currently working on another first person horror game called SOMA (a first person horror game). Astute readers may sense a pattern.
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Level With Me, Liz Ryerson

Level With Me is a series of interviews with game developers about their games, work process, and design philosophy. At the end of each interview, they design part of a small first person game. You can play this game at the very end of the series.

Liz Ryerson is a game developer and composer based in Oakland, California. She did music for Dys4ia, Crypt Worlds, and MirrorMoon EP. Most recently, she made Problem Attic, a 2D platformer about real and imaginary prisons. Oh, and she also blogs about level design in Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, among other things.
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Level With Me, Steve Gaynor

Level With Me is a series of interviews with game developers about their games, work process, and design philosophy. At the end of each interview, they design part of a small first person game. You can play this game at the very end of the series.

Six years ago, Steve Gaynor started as a level designer at Timegate Studios on the F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate expansion pack. Then at 2K Marin he worked on BioShock 2 and lead designed Minerva’s Den, one of the few respectable DLCs ever made. After a stint at Irrational Games to help with BioShock Infinite, he went indie with some former teammates to form The Fullbright Company. They all made a lovely thing called Gone Home that has won oodles of awards and emotional acclaim.
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Level With Me, Alex Austin


Level With Me is a series of interviews with game developers about their games, work process, and design philosophy. At the end of each interview, they design part of a small first person game. You can play this game at the very end of the series.

Alex Austin, an indie developer based in Berkeley, CA, has steadily pumped out physics sim games since his original Bridge Builder in 2000. More recently, he made the first person sport Hockey? and vehicle strategy game A New Zero (“Red Baron meets Tie Fighter meets Mechwarrior 2 meets Joust”) — and now he’s refining Sub Rosa, an ex-7DFPS about tense deals, betrayals, and car chases.
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Level With Me, Richard Flanagan


Level With Me is a series of interviews with game developers about their games, work process, and design philosophy. At the end of each interview, they design part of a small first person game. You can play this game at the very end of the series.

Richard Flanagan is the main designer on FRACT, a first person exploration puzzle game and/or electronic music studio. He collaborates with his producer and/or wife Quynh as Phosfiend Systems, based in Montreal, QC — they’ve also been working with indies Henk Boom and Devine Lu Linvega.
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Level With Me, Andrew Weldon

Level With Me is a series of interviews with game developers about their games, work process, and design philosophy. At the end of each interview, they design part of a small first person game. You can play this game at the very end of the series.

Andrew Weldon started as a Half-Life 1 modder and made the notorious ns_eclipse and ns_veil maps for Natural Selection, then worked at Raven on Quake 4, Wolfenstein, and Singularity, then worked at Gearbox on Borderlands, then helped prototype some of the first test levels for Natural Selection 2, then (inhale) worked at Lightbox on Starhawk — and now he’s at Bungie, working on Destiny.
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Level With Me, Auriea Harvey

Level With Me is a series of interviews with game developers about their games, work process, and design philosophy. At the end of each interview, they design part of a small first person game. You can play this game at the very end of the series.

Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn make provocative games and game-like artworks as Tale of Tales, based in Ghent, Belgium. Together, they’ve made The Endless Forest, The Graveyard, The Path, Fatale, and Bientot l’ete. Their most recent project is Luxuria Superbia.

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Specially Level With Me, Adam Foster – Part Two

In this very special installment of “Level With Me”, Robert Yang speaks with former celebrity modder / current Valve level designer Adam Foster about his work and process. In Part 2, we cover his work on Portal 2, game architecture, and how to design for players.

Robert Yang: Let’s talk Portal 2. It didn’t have any health-kits or power-ups, so how did you go about guiding players without those breadcrumbs?

Adam Foster: The game often worked best when it kept to the basic structure of the ‘test-chamber’ – walking through a door, GLaDOS says a funny line, you complete the test, GLaDOS says another funny line… It’s that constant, near-ritualised loop which can be subverted now and then, but you have to show the normal routine before the abnormal becomes surprising.
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Specially Level With Me, Adam Foster – Part One

In this very special installment of “Level With Me”, Robert Yang speaks with former celebrity modder / current Valve level designer Adam Foster about his work and process. In part 1, we cover his early Half-Life 1 mods, Valve’s / his approach to storytelling, and his work on the Portal 2 announcement ARG.

Robert Yang: I want to talk about your first mod, Someplace Else. It’s a Xen level without any jumping puzzles. What makes a Xen level a “Xen level” to you?

Adam Foster: Being set in Xen, of course!
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A People’s History Of The FPS, Part 3: The Postmod


“A People’s History” is a three part essay series that argues for a long-standing but suppressed tradition of non-industry involvement in the first person genre. This is part three. [Part one. Part two.]
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A People’s History Of The FPS, Part 2: The Mod

“A People’s History” is a three part essay series that argues for a long-standing but suppressed tradition of amateur involvement in the first person genre. This is part two. Here’s part one.

“Amateur” may mean unprofessional or of lower quality, but it’s also French for “lover.” Even if it’s difficult and time-consuming, even if you’re 15 years old and you have to figure out this complex physics engine to try out a cool idea you have — it’s because you love it.

I was 15 when I joined Nightwatch, an epic Half-Life 1 mod made by a dream team of veteran modders, replete with new weapons, voice acting, monsters, scripted sequences, and a 10 hour single player campaign with 99% custom art. We were the Black Mesa Source of the Half-Life 1 community, except we never released anything.

Maybe that’s because we didn’t really love modding. In fact, we hated modding.
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A People’s History Of The FPS, Part 1: The WAD


“A People’s History” is a three part essay series by Robert Yang. He told us that he wanted to write an alternate view of the traditionally accepted history of the FPS genre as entirely dominated and driven by the mainstream, commercial industry, and to “argue for a long-standing but suppressed tradition of non-industry involvement in the first-person genre”. This is part one.

In 1994, the New York Times filed a review of a first-person game under its “Arts” section, proclaiming it to be “a game that weaves together image, sound and narrative into a new form of experience.” It sold millions of copies and inspired dozens of imitators. It seemed poised to define an era.

That game was Myst and it failed to define an era. Instead, a game called Doom came out three months after Myst — and then it shot Myst in the face.
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Level With Me, Level With Me.


Level With Me was a series of conversations with level designers like Dan Pinchbeck, Jack Monahan, Magnar Jenssen, Brendon Chung, Davey Wreden, Ed Key, and Richard Perrin. At the end, we all collaborated on a Portal 2 mod. You can download that mod here. Liner notes, installation notes, and screenshots are after the jump.
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Level With Me, Richard Perrin.


“Level with Me” is a series of conversations about level design between modder Robert Yang and a level designer of a first person game. At the end of each interview, they collaborate on a Portal 2 level shared across all the sessions – and at the very end of the series, you’ll get to download and play this “roundtable level.” This is Part 7 of 7.

Richard Perrin is currently working on Kairo, a slow-cooked first person puzzle game where you explore monumental ruins of a past civilization – it’s a game without words or dialogue, just spaces. He’s shown the game at Develop, Notgames Fest, and PAX to generally favorable reactions and has one of those alpha pre-order thingies up too.

(There are some moderate spoilers for Kairo, but the final game will be so different / you’ll have forgotten it by the time you play it.)
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Level With Me, Ed Key

“Level with Me” is a series of conversations about level design between modder Robert Yang and a level designer of a first person game. At the end of each interview, they collaborate on a Portal 2 level shared across all the sessions – and at the very end of the series, you’ll get to download and play this “roundtable level.” This is Part 6 of 7.

Ed Key worked for 8 or 9 years in the game industry, then took a slightly less exciting software engineering job and moved out to the countryside. When he isn’t wandering through sweeping vistas, he’s collaborating with musician David Kanaga on his first official indie game: Proteus, “a game of pure exploration and discovery.”
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Level with Me, Davey Wreden.


“Level with Me” is a series of conversations about level design between modder Robert Yang and a level designer of a first person game. At the end of each interview, they collaborate on a Portal 2 level shared across all the sessions – and at the very end of the series, you’ll get to download and play this “roundtable level.” This is Part 5 of 7.

When Davey Wreden made The Stanley Parable, a Source mod about the dissonance between game narrative and free will (among other things), it quickly went viral and surprised a mod community that thought Source mods were already dead. Now, he’s currently collaborating on an extended remake / reboot of The Stanley Parable and other projects.
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Level With Me, Brendon Chung.

“Level with Me” is a series of conversations about level design between modder Robert Yang and a level designer of a first person game. At the end of each interview, they collaborate on a Portal 2 level shared across all the sessions – and at the very end of the series, you’ll get to download and play this “roundtable level.” This is Part 4 of 7.

Months before releasing Atom Zombie Smasher to acclaim, Brendon Chung exploded onto the indie scene with the stylish FPS sketch Gravity Bone – but before then, us loyal followers (“Chungers”) had already been enjoying his short-form forays into FPS-dom for years. His Barista series, especially Barista 2, is proof that Brendon was doing this “indie FPS” silliness long before any of us. Damn.

(Be advised, there are substantial *SPOILERS* for Barista 2 and Gravity Bone, which are both freeware, so you should play them.)
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Level with Me, Magnar Jenssen

Level with Me” is a series of conversations about level design between modder Robert Yang and a level designer of a first person game. At the end of each interview, they collaborate on a Portal 2 level shared across all the sessions – and at the very end of the series, you’ll get to download and play this “roundtable level.” This is Part 3 of 7.

Of everyone I spoke to, Magnar Jenssen is the only one still actively working in the game industry as a level designer at Avalanche Studios. Before, he also worked on Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 (GRAW2) and Bionic Commando at GRIN, up until the studio’s demise. When he isn’t raking in all that sweet map-stamp money from arena_offblast for Team Fortress 2, he tinkers with some less profitable but absurdly polished single player Half-Life 2 mods.

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Level With Me, Jack Monahan

Doesn't look so dark to me.
“Level with Me” is a series of conversations about level design between modder Robert Yang and a level designer of a first person game. At the end of each interview, they collaborate on a Portal 2 level shared across all the sessions – and at the very end of the series, you’ll get to download and play this “roundtable level.” This is Part 2 of 7.

Upon visiting the game artist forum Polycount, the first thing you’ll see will be Jack “Gauss” Monahan telling someone the rail mount on their M4A1 gun model is misaligned by a few millimeters. He was also lead level designer on the 2009 shooter Darkest of Days, a well-intentioned time-traveling adventure where you annihilate entire Roman legions in the face with a laser rifle. Now, he blogs at Design Reboot and works on his indie UDK shooter, Animal Memory.
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