Half Life 2 Level Design

Half Life 2 Level Design

This was a project for my Level Design 2 class. It was a three person project, where we each made a level using Valve's Hammer editor. Mine is the second level in the series of three.

Scientists have been creating monsters and unleashing them into the public! Most of the city have been terribly murdered and turned into flesh-eating beasts! As the player, we need to infiltrate the evil science laboratory and blow it up, of course.

The first level has the player run through the monster infested city to reach the scientific research tower. It ends when the player reaches the lobby of the facility, which is where the second level (my level) starts.

The player’s goal in this level is to reach the third floor and plant explosives that will destroy the building. After planting the explosives, the player needs to reach the elevator and ride it up, triggering a transition to the third level. In the main rooms of the second and third floor, there are exhibits of the past experiments. These are a hit for potential evil investors when they are taking a tour of the facility. The stuffed creatures are not meant to be moving around or killable.

The first floor of this level is starting the player off a little slow. There are some enemies, but not as many as on the later floors. The other floors kind of force the player into more direct combat. There are also a few different ways to get through the level, some requiring a little exploration from the player.

Gameplay Walkthrough

For ease of description, I am assuming the player is following the pink line.

  1.  The player starts in the lobby of the building at point 1. As the player moves forward, enemies come out of the elevators straight ahead (points 1A and 1B). After killing those, reinforcements arrive from the stairwell to the left (point 1C). After clearing the first floor, the player proceeds up the stairs to the next floor.
    (Alternative Path) From the lobby, the door to right is locked. If the player so chooses, they can surprise an enemy in the bathroom at E1. There is also some ammo and grenades in the bathroom. On the wall of the bathroom, there is a vent that can be shot open. The player can jump on the toilet and into the vent. From there, the player can crawl through the vent and drop out at E2. Then, they can open that door that was locked from the lobby, defeat a few more enemies and proceed up the stairs on the right.
  2. On the way up the stairs, the staircase leading up to the third floor explodes, causing the player to be stuck on the second floor. The player turns and sees two enemies up on a ledge in the stairwell (2A). After killing those enemies, the player proceeds into the second floor. Straight ahead there is a heavy enemy. The player kills that enemy and while moving towards its position. Other enemies (at 2C) are shooting through the glass of the exhibits. The player proceeds through the unlocked door (2D). Right away there is a heavy enemy and a light enemy down the hall. There is another light enemy in the room to the left, and a turret guarding a health pack on the right. After defeating these enemies, the player can go up the stairs at the end of the hall and move up to the third floor.
    (Alternative Path) After the player kills those two enemies (at 2C), they can look out the nearby window find a third one standing on a ledge. The player can kill that enemy and then jump out onto the ledge. There is a rope hanging down from the roof that the player can climb up to reach the third floor (E3).
  3. The player starts the third floor at position 3. The player can run around the room planting explosives at positions 3A-D. While doing this, the player encounters five more enemies. After planting all of the explosives, an elevator opens and two more enemies walk out. The player kills those enemies and boards the elevator, which transitions to the next level.
    (Alternative Path) If the player chose to climb up the rope to get to the third floor, they will start on the ledge outside the windows.

Deconstruction of Duke Nukem 3D

To make this level, I first did some research on Duke Nukem 3D to gain inspiration. Duke Nukem 3D is a first-person shooter that was originally released on the MS-DOS, and later released on Game.com, Mac OS, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Windows, Mega Drive, Xbox Live Arcade, iOS, Maemo 5, and Steam.

Intended Audience

Duke Nukem is a game that is intended for people that like other FPSs and outrageous action movies. It is intended to be somewhat of a spoof on other old FPSs. Specifically it is probably targeted towards males between about 15-30 years of age.

Breakdown of General Gameplay

World Geometry

  • A lot of times you can see where you are supposed to go before you can get there. Many rooms have walls with windows, so the player can look in and know that they are supposed to get there. There are also often enemies in the windows that will shoot at the player to grab their attention. A lot of times, I’ll hear the sound of an enemy’s blaster and that causes me to look for the enemy and figure out where I’m supposed to be going.


  • Enemies are often just placed in rooms and waiting for the player to come kill them. Some enemies are introduced through a triggered event. For example, in the first level a jetpack enemy flies out of a dumpster when you walk near it. A lot of times, the player is able to look through a window to a future part of the level and see enemies there.

Triggering Events

  • Enemies attack when they see the player. Other environmental changes occur based on player location. For example, a chunk of wall explodes in the movie theater in the first level when a player walks near it.


  • Exploration is rewarded by giving the player fancy weapons or health and ammo. Right at the beginning of the first level, the player can jump onto a crate and run along a ledge to find a RPG and some atomic health.
  • Objectives usually have bright colors to show the player where they are supposed to be going.
  • A lot of the levels have multiple pathways that promote exploration and replayability.

Level Design Elements Interaction

The goal of most of the levels is for the player to get from point A to point B while killing a whole bunch of enemies. There are multiple paths through environment and the player is rewarded for exploring. The gamespace is filled with monstrous aliens that will shoot the player on sight.

Breakdown of Level 1

Player Path

  • This level takes the player through a couple different places, both indoors and out. This creates a more varied and enjoyable environment to walk through. Players start out on the top of a building and, after killing some guys, they jump down to the street.
  • The player kills a few enemies on the street and attempts to get into a movie theater. It’s locked, so the player must go around to the back door.
  • The player is let into the actual screening room. Now the player can explore the theater while killing tons of enemies. There are many different paths through the environment, so gameplay is kept fresh. At one point the player finds a key card that allows them to leave the theater and proceed to the next level.

Player Containment

  • The player is contained mostly by the buildings lining the city streets and the walls of the movie theater. In the movie theater this makes sense, but out on the street, people expect there to be more freedom, so it’s difficult to block off every exit on a street and still have it feel natural.


  • The level is pretty action packed throughout. Much of the time is spent with the player in active combat with enemies.
  • Between enemy encounters can be slower paced. The player is usually looking for the next place to go. Something I noticed was that when I was looking for the next place, I would get shot at by an enemy that would lead me to where I was supposed to go. It was still more of a slower paced spot, but it used combat (which keeps the theme of the game) to lead the player.

Combat Spaces

  • Inside the movie theater, combat spaces seem well sized. The spaces are conducive to combat and they still feel organic, as if we were really in a movie theater.
  • Out on the street, sometimes I feel that the size of the space is too large. This works with some of the enemies, though, such as the enemies with jetpacks that fly around in the sky.


  • I was amazed by the amount of secret spots in the level. There are hidden rooms all over the place full of ammo and different weapons. After playing through the level, I watched a walkthrough from someone else, and they took a completely different path than I did. They were able to jump through windows, into apartments, on the street at the beginning of the level. Later they shot a hole through the movie screen and found a jetpack that let them find more secrets toward the tops of buildings. I had no idea about those things!

Breakdown of Aesthetics of Level 1


  • There is soft action music in the background. Not really enough to get my blood pumping, but it gets rid of those awkward quiet moments.
  • When the enemies start attacking, they usually let out a grunt. This oftentimes lead me to where I was supposed to be going, or at least lead me to the enemies that were shooting at me.


  • There is not much story that was told. At the start of the level, a space ship falls out of the sky and the enemies are aliens, so that leads me to believe that there is some sort of alien invasion.


  • This level takes place at night. There are some lights coming from windows in the buildings, but for the most part the outside is dark.
  • Some lights are used to guide. For example, the cinema sign is lit up and flashing.
  • A lot of the rooms have lights that can be turned on and off with a light switch. Some of the lights start turned on, which leads the player.


I think that this is a great level and it can help influence where I am going with my project, especially the indoor movie theater portion. I have added in multiple path ways and a few secrets that will hopefully make my level feel more lifelike and interesting
Something else I learned from this that I’ve tried to implement is leading the player with enemies. In Duke Nukem, the player will get shot by an enemy and that will tell them where they should be going. I have some similar encounters, such as with the Metro Police soldier I have stationed outside the window on the second floor.
The developers didn’t do too much in the way of lighting or sound. They did do some guiding with flashing signs and alien grunts, which was helpful. Probably due to technology limitations, they didn’t go too in-depth with aesthetics. They have enough to get by and that’s enough for gameplay. They also had some nice little additions like being able to turn lights on and off in the cinema.
Overall, I think this level is great and I can learn a lot from the whole game.