The level design process for most of the multiplayer first person shooter maps I have authored over the years has largely been the same. Start with a rough sketch on paper, construct the level with large blocky shapes (what is commonly called grey-block) which forms the basic layout, then test and iterate the level all the way through to completion.
The level design process for Pukka Golf was very different. Rather than starting with an entire level idea or layout, levels were built one shot at a time. This is not how I started working on Pukka Golf levels; it took me a couple of weeks to figure it out.
This became my first level design pillar: Design one shot at a time.
Building the first shot for a level naturally led to my second level design pillar: Players should know where to go.
Struggling through my first couple of weeks trying to find a system that would work for me, it became clear that unless you knew where to shoot, players would find themselves guessing the angle and power of a shot. This lead to the frustration of having to memorize a level (by playing it repeatedly) before being able to finish it and achieve either the star for Time or Par. I found several ways to solve this problem, the most obvious being the destination of your shot is on-screen (you could see where to shoot). The next solution was the level geometry itself. I could create a shot that was off-screen by using the surrounding geometry to help guide the player. Some of the early levels do this in a very obvious manner, like Longshot or Eye of the Needle.
Third level design pillar: Reward a good shot with a good “lie“.
This process provided a small amount of variation in the level’s design. Rewarding the player for making an accurate shot meant having more than one “path” to the goal. While I did try to avoid making multiple routes through the map, getting the ball onto a little ledge might give the player the advantage of avoiding a hazard or make it easier to make Par. This also provided enough variation (certainly in later levels) for achieving the Star for Time more interesting.
These three pillars have guided my design process throughout the development of Pukka Golf. Design pillars act as a great sounding board. You ask yourself “does this level hold true to the three pillars?” Most of the time, levels will reflect this, but not always. There is always an exception to the rule and some levels may only adhere to two of the three pillars. These levels are examined and tested to ensure that they are still fun. Sometimes they are, sometimes they are not. When they are not, you address and fix the problem areas of the level, and in some cases you delete it and start again.