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Level / Area Themeing


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So, environmentally-themed levels have been a staple of games since early on in their existence.
You got your cave levels, your ice levels, your fire levels, your basic bitch grass levels, your womb / meat levels, etc.

Let's talk about em!
Got any favorites? Got any you groan at the mere indication of?
Got any specific way you prefer them to be executed? Aesthetic preferences? Music preferences?
Specific instances in games where they were more memorable for you than others?


Personally, some of my favorites have always been womb and fire levels.

Womb levels (or meat levels, as I called them growing up) generally came at or close to the tail end of a game, and signified that you were getting into "the weird alien shit" (probably taking inspiration from the Alien movies and things like it).


Blaster Master always had a particularly unsettling one with really creepy music that got to me every time I got that far in the game.
I always looked forward to the alien lair stages in the Contra series, and Super C delivered them pretty much at the halfway point and going forward.

And Lifeforce and Abbadox were pretty much womb level games in their entirety.

And then fire levels.
I love how high-energy fire levels are. They're usually really pretty, with some of the best music in their respective games, too.
They're also generally where the difficulty ramps right the fuck up.

Going through Norfair (and lower Norfair) was always one of my favorite parts of Super Metroid. The music's nice and calm, if foreboding, before it kicks right into high gear once you get to Ridley's specific section.
The Lava Reef Zone of Sonic and Knuckles is still one of the ones I find the most visually appealing, with some really nice music. It also cools and turns into crystal once you beat the halfway boss, which is kind of neat as shit.
Shovel Knight used some pretty interesting mechanics with this theme, and the Lost City's music is, again, my favorite in that respective game.

Special bonus mention goes to ice levels, because I love the music in them.
But they don't get a feature, because they also infinitely piss me off.

[Here's some good ice music if you wanna listen to it, instead.]

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Oh man, I couldn't possibly say what my faves or most hated are. Though what I find annoying in games is when the environment appears so samey all the way through, in spite of actually being in totally different environments, especially if they're the same colour grade.

Like you can have a sci-fi shooter that starts out in grey cities that have freaking awesome gothic architecture or something. And that's really cool. But then you go into hi-tech factories or labs that are also very grey. Grey sewers. Grey caverns. Even the dense forest is kinda grey with the dirt, the tree trunks, the rocks, and the weather. That sucks so much and I hate it.

Contrast makes all the difference. The best level environments hit you with an initial "wow," IMO. That said I like the first Spyro the Dragon game. The different levels had themes based heavily on the theme the hubworld had. I should play it again.

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I'm not sure I have a favorite theme, but I know a couple of my least favorites- Ice and anything deep-sea themed.
Some water levels are ok, but deep-sea? No. Go away.
And ice levels being annoying goes without saying.

Actually, I guess I've kinda liked music and casino-themed levels in games. They're kinda fun and bright, and bouncing around pinball bumpers/drums/what have you can be fun (as long as you don't get trapped and have to reset like I did in a damn Bubsy game).

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Ahhhh meat zones.... Nothing says awesome gaming quite like flying a space ship up a gigantic alien's butt and blowing up its heart. <;




Aesthetically, I've always loved water levels. They're so peaceful and pretty. In practice though I find water levels to be infinitely frustrating due to usually having the worst puzzles/controls and at times downright terrifying by virtue of how fucking scary the actual ocean is <;

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Factory levels, first and foremost! Dour, smoke-filled nightmares of endless mechanical contrivances, conveyor belts, and (usually) pretty good music.




Space settings. Whether with gravity gimmicks or just in general. They can be quite beautiful, even haunting, or wacky and really out there.


Bonus points for combining it with factory levels



Colorful caves, and strange alien landscapes:


Bonus points for combining space settings or factory settings :P




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52 minutes ago, GarthTheWereWolf said:

Ahhhh meat zones.... Nothing says awesome gaming quite like flying a space ship up a gigantic alien's butt and blowing up its heart. <;



That's like my favorite level on loop 2 of the game on Very hard. I love organic levels to death. 


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I've always really liked mineshafts and subterranean things, especially the way everything is strictly utilitarian, hewn from the stone and furnished only at the absolute bare minimum. Gloomy, filthy, with sparse lighting and loads of exposed conduits and pipes. Bonus points if the computer consoles (if present) look about three decades out of date.

Realistic industrial things (Dead Space in particular had great level themes and aesthetics) are also nice.

Doom 3's Caverns 1 is the "trope codifier" for me (and in fact has, thus far, directly inspired four of my HL1 maps)


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Large fields/Glades, with landmarks such as larger stones or dens.
Not really present afaik in older games, but newer games, especially RPGs, nail it pretty well.

Also, not really an area/level but some of the abandoned highways in Fallout: New Vegas have a wonderful atmosphere to them. They pass by locations that genuinely feel like people lived there and also give it the cowboy/western feel it was aiming for.

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