In the future I would like to work as an environment artist in one of the AAA title shipping studios. Learning all the required art and technical skiils is a must to achieve it. Although art comes before technical skills. Level design is a very important part in being an environment artist. To create believeable, playable and interactive designs one must master all possible knowledge starting from architecture principles , traditional art skills and ending up on the technical side which is knowing the tools that can help you achieve the goal. Those tools are mainly game engines like Unreal Development Kit but before even starting using it we must know the rules and principles of level design.
First of all an artist or a level designer must know his industry. What people need and what players expect from the next new AAA title. Believability and attention of the player is very important. The level has to convince the player that he is inside a different world, different to his or hers reality. Once this is acomplished and you have the full attention of the audience the game or lavel was designed for then an artist can move to the other aspects of level design. Interactivity and entertainment. There is nothing much more boreing in a game than a static and dull environment. Most of the modern day next gen titles involve alot of work in the level design's visual and interactive apperal. Although some things have to be secreficed for that. Developers have to limit themselves with the budged and time that they have. There hasn't been a perfect product yet on the market that haven't secreficed something in order to achieve another aspect. For exampe the scale of an environment has to be secrediced for the graphic's and vice versa. That kind of "perfect" title is imposiible to make becouse either it would took a lifetime to create, through wich the game industry standards could change or it would colst horrendous ammounts of money. Good example here would be Duke Nukem Forever. How long has it been 12 years ? or more ... and finnally gearbox took the game over from 3D realms. Tho I still don't think of it as a perfect game but wanted to give an exaple of a game that is taking forever to create becouse of the studio which wanted to create an "epic" game without sacreficing anything. I sitll remember a trailer from the year 2001 with the first sneak peak preview of the game and the release date 2002 !
There has been plenty of jokes around that topic. Things that took less time during Duke Nukem Forever's development or things like "It took less time for the Beatles to form, release all of their albums, tour the world several times, and finally break up" or "Stephen King has written 16 novels" etc etc. There is a huge list on that ! But let's get back to the actual topic.
Level design has changed and will be changing with each year and more demanding customers. But how to be a good level designer ? Another key feature is "Uniqeness". There is alot of repetition in some game titles that players are already bored of. How many Modern Warfares we have already seen ? How many same racing games, strategy games or sport games? The industry keeps producing them continuesly each year and people buy it. Same games each year. Average console player either plays Fifa or Call of Duty .... why ? I think I don't want to hear the answer to this one. I still want to think that this community has some understanding of good games but the facts are opposite.
All game levels are done in pretty much the same ways these days. Apart from new graphics and amazing art side of them there isn't anything new in them. For some time now I've been playing games not mainly for the gameplay in most cases but selecting interesting titles to see the art side of the game. Well to sum it up about the level design here is a picture how the FPS level design worked in the past and how it is now ;)
Gamasutra Level Design