Interview Level Designer - Laure Gilli

How would you define the job of Level Designer at KT? Can you tell us more about your role at Kylotonn?

As a level designer on racing games, and more specifically at Kylotonn, my role is to design the areas where the player will be driving, progressing, etc. So we'll map out the circuit, the road or the area... and everything else that will have an impact on the gameplay. So we design the circuit, the road or the area... and everything else that will have an impact on the gameplay. For example, we have a decisive influence on everything around the roads: rocks, vegetation and so on. We lay the road, and then the graphic designers come and dress it up. We're constantly going back and forth with the designers.
As Associate Lead, I also spend a lot of time helping my team, providing support, reviewing their work and so on.


The primary objective of an LD is to get the player into a state of "flow" (you know, that state where you launch a game, you start at such and such a time, you look at your watch and say to yourself "that's all right, I've only played 20 minutes!"and in fact you've played for 3 hours without realising it): in other words, the level must be neither too easy, because otherwise the player will get bored, nor too difficult to avoid creating frustration, which is the worst feeling a player can have for us.

Can you tell us about your background?

Ever since I was a little girl, I've wanted to be a vet! But I'm not very good at maths. Since high school, I've been modding on Counter Strike, creating maps. And when I found out that it was a profession, I said to myself "since I can't do my first passion, I'll do my second"!
At first, my parents didn't quite agree, they didn't think it was a 'real job'. So we came to an agreement, and first I had to do a BTS in IT to get a 'real diploma' and reassure them. After that, I was accepted at the IIM in La Défense (near Paris), where I specialised in game design. In 4th year, I went to Dublin to develop my skills in storytelling and object-oriented programming, because it's very important for a designer to understand what devs do. And finally, I did my final year placement, where I went from level designer trainee to Associate Lead in 2 years! 

Can you explain how the levels are created? Or in your case, how a piece of map is created?

We always start by taking a colossal number of references, until we know the place by heart. Then we take the satellite data for the place, trace the roads, and depending on what we want to do, we'll either modify, add or delete some of them. Then we trace the roads, and work with the graphic designers to design them. We work by production region, and one LD will be in charge of a region.

I can take a concrete example, with the road network of Hong Kong Island: in real life, Hong Kong Island is an ultra-dense city in terms of the road network. It wouldn't make much sense to take it as it is. So our main role as LDs is to rework the road network so that it's fun and interesting, but so that when players drive over it they think "oh yeah, I'm in Hong Kong! We're not trying to copy and paste Hong Kong Island, but we don't want to distort the island. There are areas of Hong Kong Island that I know by heart, so if one day I go there I'll know how to find my way around without maps or a phone (laughs)!


We also do the interiors of buildings. We call this "blocking" or "blockout". We represent an interior with what we call 'primitives', but basically they're cubes. In short, we create the architecture of the room using large grey cubes of the right proportions. For example, we'll place cubes to indicate a piece of furniture (to block the player's path, for example). Then we send the cubes to the designers, who take care of making them look nice. It doesn't matter if the designers replace our cube with a desk or a planter, as long as the object is equal to the suggestions we've made.

To sum up, what we can say is that everything we do is ugly, but it's functional (laughs), and it's up to the graphic designers to make it pretty, so we work in constant collaboration with them.


What do you like the most about your job?

Well...My team! The LD and TDU team is just amazing. Every morning when I know I'm going to see my colleagues I'm so happy to spend the day with them and it's so good, we're so close.
Otherwise, in terms of LD, it's really the 'jack of all trades' aspect because you have an impact on so many aspects of production. I've talked about roads and blocking, but I've also done AI, race layouts, etc... And that's what I love about it too, this happy medium between tech and art. I love getting my hands dirty and I hate documentation, so it's a great balance.

Tell us about your typical day?

The day always starts with a first daily (editor's note: short meeting held every morning) between the LD and the Graphic Designer, where we talk about what we did the day before and what we're going to do during the day, and we set out any problems. Then I have a second daily meeting with the AI developers, this time for the same reason. And then... I get to work! So I work on my current task, and since I've become Associate Lead, I spend a lot of time reviewing the work of my team and helping them with any problems they may have. I also have a lot of meetings, and I get on with my tasks when I have gaps in my schedule. 

What qualities do you consider essential for your job?

First of all, you have to be very, very pragmatic. You have to be able to be critical of your own work and that of others, and not take criticism badly by knowing how to challenge yourself. You also need to be curious and interested in what others are doing. There's always a game that's going to revolutionise something, whether on a small or large scale.
It's also important not to rest on your laurels and to know how to work as part of a team. You need to know how to communicate with others, and not be afraid to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, it's normal, and you shouldn't be afraid to ask for help. 

What was your favorite project to work on?

TDU is still a very interesting project, it's a huge open world and it's great to shape a world from scratch. It's kind of the baby of the whole team and it's a very important game for me.
Otherwise, my student project, called Elypse. It's a fairly demanding metroidvania platformer. The team was really great, and they kept the project going! In fact, the game is coming out this year, so my first two games are coming out this year and I'm really proud to see what the game has become and the work that's gone into it. (Editor's note: You can watch the trailer here!) !)

The last word ?

We need more women in our jobs. I think there is a real problem in the video game industry. Yes, things are evolving, but it’s not over yet. We still have issues in universities as well, and it’s important to be able to question ourselves. It's 2023, life is changing, you have to know how to adapt. Women are not there because there is a real underlying problem, not because of a lack of will. The only way to improve this is through education and by having more women in the industry, as well as talking about it. It’s important.
In a nutshell, come join us girls!


And the real final word: goat (my team will understand)

April 11, 2023