With development on the second and soon third chapter going at a steady pace, I thought I'd step back a bit and show you what's in store for the first chapter (and quite honestly, I need to post something here before the masses think I've gone and croaked), and also go over a bit of what I know about level design.
First up I have three concept art pictures for various areas around the first chapter, Ascent.
Developing a level in a structured manner involves more than laying down brushes here and there. It is a process that begins with planning, ends with planning, and involves planning somewhere inbetween..... Yea, there sure is a lot of planning.
For the beginning you need a layout. How is the level going to work? Where are players able to go? Where are players NOT able to go? What kind of obstacles are there along the way? Those questions and more need to be regarded in order for a solid concept to be roughed out, but there's also the game-specific aspect of it all that you must consider before all else. In this case it's Left 4 Dead. Where could I hide from the survivors where I can surprise them when they least expect it? Where could I hide from the zombies where I can be as safe from them as possible? What's the fastest, safest route from point A to B?
In the middle is where all the fun stuff is. Building the map according to plan, adding new and interesting paths and stuff along the way that you wouldn't have thought of on paper, compiling and testing every step, adjusting, readjusting, adding, testing, moving, removing, shortening, lengthening, it should.... It should never be overwhelming so long as you have a plan, and as long as you continually plan while you work. Things that looked good or sounded good on paper may not work so well in-game, and vice-versa. Try everything, it's a sandbox at this point.
After all the hard work of building, planning, testing, compiling, the map is ready for release! But do not under any circumstance think you're finished, no way! Even if you think you've filled every gap, playerclipped every unreachable area off, sealed every open room, people will find a way around it. People are CLEVER, they love to break stuff and see how it works. Offer threads on several different forums where people can report bugs in your maps, if something doesn't look right or if something's broken or amiss, and follow the progress on every single one. This way you have a comprehensive documentation on everything that doesn't work and can plan around how to go about resolving the issue.
I suppose one of the final things I should mention about map design in general is to never get discouraged or take the lazy way out, always look for new ways to do things and don't be afraid to throw a little variety in your work. Look at tutorials over and over and build on what you learn and already know. Learn the "wrong" way to do things and avoid those methods wherever you can. After all that though I believe the most important thing to do though, is to just simply have fun. :)
Stay steady! I'm not the only one waiting for the SDK before I can really kick into high gear.
As always, you can email me at: grabbinpills [at] hotmail [dot] com