Molecule Design

Iuliu-Cosmin Oniscu
5 min readAug 22, 2020

A level Design method.

Molecule design is a design method conceived with the simple reason of rationalizing Design Work.

The focus with this method is to try to apply a top down macro to micro approach to level design, with the purpose of keeping things going without getting bogged down in the small details from the very beginning.

Applying this method implies 4 Steps:

  • Abstractions
  • Deconstruction
  • Connection
  • Relation


There are 4 principles applicable to abstraction

  • Thinking big — By going for big bold ideas that could and would be cool to implement and play.
  • Keep it Simple — At this stage there is no need to for fine details. The scope is to articulate a simple large-scale concept that will be broken down into smaller segments. The importance of trying to keep things simple comes from the fact that by going to deep into details at this stage would deny you the opportunity of exploring other macro ideas as well.
  • Crystallize Abstract Concepts — Once the General Macro Idea has been decided it is then articulated into an Abstract Concept. An Abstract Concept is a simple name identifier that we apply to the concept.
  • Define Clear Boundaries — It is also very important that at this stage of the process boundaries will have to be defined. The scope of the concept needs to be articulated at this point (without any discussion) to ensure that it will be manageable as we move forward into the next steps of design.


When reaching the deconstruction phase the concept is broken down into smaller more digestible components for it to fit the boundaries that we have defined previously.

  • Work within the boundaries
  • Identify Needs
  • Find the inconsistencies
  • Adapt and overcome

This works almost like an iterative process where the concept is deconstructed to fit the needs of the project, the boundaries set.

Inconsistencies are fixed at this point and what comes out is a concept that fits exactly to our needs.


  • Concepts connect to each other. They communicate to one another leading to favorable synergies. In the situation where such a synergy is not available the concepts need to be adjusted for that synergy to become available.
  • They Create Webs of Complex Narratives. These webs also serve as player mind maps, that facilitate and lead the player towards making decisions in the context of this game, especially if you consider the concepts themselves as game components (see the previous blog post)
  • They form the backbone of your map.


Every bit is a:

  • Concept
  • Idea
  • Abstract Issue

These bits tie together in Graphs:

Mind mapping represents a complex relationship map between key topics

This complex relationship consists in:

  • Nodes (or Bubbles)
  • Edges (Lines/Arrows)

Both elements being equivalent to the Abstract Elements and Concepts we have defined previously.


  • Can represent Abstract ideas, concepts, places, game-play zones, destinations, landmarks, focal points.


  • Paths leading to Nodes, Relationships between nodes, factors that bind the nodes together in some way or another.

Nodes and Paths tie into complex webs and network. These provide:

  • Clean Design patterns
  • Readable Data
  • Easy to debug

We can attribute properties to such elements. Such as:

  • Direction — One way, Two ways.
  • Thickness — This can help with representation if we want an easy way to

Here is an example of what I mean by this:

I still need to mention that we are talking about abstract concepts, these kinds of elements can and will lead to varied results.

Therefore, it is important not to start with the block-out directly. A block out is just one way of interpreting a molecule design diagram.

Node Density

Node density affects how the player perceives the experience

  • Too many -> Cause Frustration.
  • Too few -> Cause Boredom.


  • This is relative to player level of skill.


  • Two connected nodes form a relationship
  • Do not necessarily imply a physical connection
  • Do not imply just one type of connection
Simple Room to room spatial relationship
Complex Relationship (Space and LOS)

Other examples:


  • This process is iterative
  • It only ensures structure to what you want to build
  • It should not be followed blindly. Fun gameplay should be the focus.
  • The only parameter you should care for is player feedback
  • The graphs theory can be applied to all kinds of game regardless how open or closed they might be.
  • The graph applies to all types of game genres regardless of how different they might be

Reference Documentation:

Also check these pdf files here:



Iuliu-Cosmin Oniscu

As a level designer I am not a creator, I am a facilitator. Senior Open World Designer. #Leveldesign #Open World #Design @notimetoulose.