Level design whizz Maggie Mojsiejuk builds and creates levels for Dreams. She also has a real affinity for trolls, but that’s beside the point. Here, we chat to her about going from coMmunity member to Mm staff member, her impressive troll collection, and watching faces explode for work.
Hi Maggie! What do you do here at Media Molecule?
I’m a level designer, which means that I design levels and create environments to explore in our games and events. A lot of level design work in general is about making sure the game is pleasant, accessible, and comfortable to play and that it creates the best play experience possible for all players. You have to make sure that the level you're designing isn’t seen as unfair, and make sure that the level feels good to play from both a play and architectural point of view. So I'll often make the level, then I get feedback and iterate on it until it is as pleasant to play as possible.
How have you found working at Media Molecule so far?
It’s great. It really feels like everyone is just so friendly and like, whatever you do, you feel very welcomed - everyone at Mm has this very friendly attitude. I definitely don’t mean this in a romantic sense, but everyone seems to have a chemistry here. Like we all instantly get on and everyone understands each other. Everyone at Mm that I have met so far (and I’ve met basically everyone) is fine with me sitting down with them to chat about something because we have something in common. Everyone's just so approachable and friendly and it's just a great place to work. I also had the chance to play a lot of really cool dreams since I helped out with the Impy Awards last year, which was a nice surprise.
Were you always interested in level design?
I mean, I was most interested in just general game design, but level design is a huge part of it. It’s something that I'm very passionate about as well. But most of all I’m passionate about how we can make games be more friendly and accessible for the player, and obviously level design is a really important part of that which I am lucky enough to be able to work on.
How challenging is it to be working on level design within Dreams? How is it different to other game creation software that you've used before?
It's for sure different when you come out of the industry from somewhere else and you're being given a task like, “Hey, build me that level”, and instead of getting the traditional mouse and keyboard and the three-monitor setup, you’re given a wireless controller and told to create with just that instead. But obviously because I already played Dreams when it came out, I already had the experience of building levels in Dreams. It's great because I can either work at my desk professionally, or sit on the sofa, pick up the controller and just build something. And it's so much more comfortable - when I felt a little bit sick one day I went to my couch and I built levels from my couch instead and it was fine. And if anyone knows how long it can take to boot up a professional game development tool, just rest assured that Dreams is sooo much quicker.
From booting it up to prototyping levels, it’s all so easy. On a specific game dev engine, it takes ages to launch it. Like, you come to work, you put on your engine, you go and make coffee, you chat with someone, you come back, you press on the project you want to load, then you go again. You go to the bathroom, then you grab some water, you come back and it's still not loaded. But here I just sit on my butt and I put on Dreams and I can build a level in, like what? Less than a minute, from the point when I turn on my my dev kit, it's so easy. I also enjoy building environments with the motion controllers, that's so cool. Basically you can build [the level] around yourself so quickly, and in VR it's even more impressive.
You said you were part of the Impys judging team, right? Did you have a lot of fun playing through a bunch of different creations?
Oh yeah totally, it was so much fun. I was a Dreams creator before I joined Mm so it was so cool to sit down with everyone else and discuss Dreams in depth. What we like about this creation and what we don't like about that creation, what's better about this one, and so on. Just having this very cool, constructive discussion about every piece we played made me feel really involved. Especially as someone who was a part of the coMmunity, it was nice to see that there are people who literally get excited about dreams every day.
Given that you were a coMmunity member before joining Mm, how have you found the transition from being a member of the coMmunity to actually being a member of staff?
It was very weird at first. Sometimes I still think that I was a coMmunity hire, as I played Dreams before joining Mm. But then I remember that I’m not a coMmunity hire because I have previous experience in game development too. I remember when I was coMmunity member and I released my first Dream, and I watched Mm staff playing it on Twitch - that got me thinking about how much I would love to work for this company. When I had the interview, I was sat in the office thinking 'Have they played it ? Did they like it?' I mean, obviously they must have because I got an Mm Pick. But it was funny because I know that people usually don't stress over those things. But yeah, it's just it's very cool. Obviously I'm a bit salty that I won’t have the chance to win an Impy Award anymore, but at least I got this job. I really enjoy working at Mm and I'm very proud to be part of the dev team.
When I joined Mm, my partner Callum told me that when he was very young he played LittleBigPlanet. I never played LittleBigPlanet as a child, I only played later in life, maybe a few times - but I've never been big into the games from Mm. But he was. And he's British, so I guess in Poland it wasn't as big a deal. When I was growing up it wasn't normal to get a games console as a child. Like, I never had a console, but he told me that when he played LittleBigPlanet as a child, that was the first moment in life when he actually realised that he could make games for real. He realised that games are not just like, I don't know, magic tricks that just appear on your screen. They are made somehow, and that kind of probably helped him in a way to get a job in the game industry later. So he made his level [in LittleBigPlanet], and now he's also a game developer, so I'm very proud to be part of Mm because we create something cool that can really influence people's lives in that regard.
So what made you want to get involved in the game industry?
I really like games for starters, which helps a lot. But when I was a child growing up in Poland, we didn't have a PC. And I remember when I was very little, my cousin would come to visit our family and he would bring a massive PC with him. And one time when it was around my birthday, he brought his PC and surprisingly, my aunt bought me my first game ever. It was Rayman 2 on PC and I was so excited. I know it's not the best game ever made, but I was just so happy to have something to play.
But he was like an older brother to me, so he never let me play it. I just sat there next to him watching him play and looking at the box of the game. I was thinking, like, 'Oh my god, this is amazing'. The whole time, I was making up these amazing stories to go alongside the game. Like, okay, so Rayman collects these masks, but what are they about? Why is he collecting them? Who are they for? Who is that fairy, and why is she so important? I was just thinking about that game all the time. I was literally obsessing over that game.
Later I obsessed over other games, like Flash games. Now you cannot play Flash games anymore. But I remember playing a lot of Flash games because it was quite expensive to get console games in Poland, and high-end PCs weren't that popular. Especially if like me, you grew up in a village, we never really had friends who had consoles. So I played Flash games and every time I played a Flash game, I was always asking questions about it like I did with Rayman. I was analysing these Flash games all the time - I was so weird back then. When I got older, I realised that the people in the credits of games actually made this thing, so I guessed this was a viable career path.
When I was thinking about my next steps, someone told me that in England there was a company that would help Polish people apply to universities in England and Scotland and I was like, yeah, I should speak with them. And that's how I learned about university and how there are game design courses where you don't have to know that much math - you just learn about the games theory, level design, game design. Now that's what I'm doing, and I’ve never been happier. I can't imagine myself doing anything else.
Where did you work before joining Mm?
Yes, so when I graduated, I worked as cinematic designer at Supermassive Games and I helped to finish The Quarry. Which is weird, you know - I left in November and the game came out like what, like two months ago [at the time of the interview]? But I'm very proud because I saw this game from the beginning to almost the end. And I remember at the start, every character was just a blob on the screen without a face. They were just like, a body mesh with different colours and a name across their chest. So I'm proud of that.
Working on Dreams must be really different to working on something like The Quarry, which is a very narrative-focused horror game.
Oh yeah, of course. I mean, obviously when I left Supermassive on my last day, I saw this face exploding on the screen, you know, typical gory stuff that you see all the time in a game like in The Quarry. And I thought to myself, 'I wonder when will the next time in my career be where I can look at and admire a gory face exploding on my screen?'
Mm staff seem to have a lot of interesting items on their desks. What's on your desk at the moment?
So I have this character, which I got from my friends. This is a troll, and she kinda reminds me of me because once I had green hair like this troll. So I got the troll, and one time I had that on my desk and my friend asked me about Halloween. And I said, 'Oh, I'm going to dress as a troll for Halloween because I have green hair already. But obviously I'm not going to be naked.' And then my friend said, 'I hope you won't have a pencil up your butt too!', because there's actually, like, a pencil that they sit on. I also have glasses wipes, you know, for wiping. [The glasses. - Ed.] But I try to keep it quite clean. [The desk. - Ed.] There’s also a water bottle - like, you know, boring stuff. I think the troll is the best thing. But looking at the troll is making me think that maybe I should change my hair again, as right now it’s pink, not green.
To wrap up, what are your favourite Dreams, and are there any that you'd like to recommend?
When I started playing Dreams in general, I played Pig Detective (by SebastianTeamPD and Lotte_Double). I especially like the second one in the series, it’s so funny! I love old style point-and-click adventure games where everyone is mean to you, it’s hilarious. I don't know why in those old games if you walk around the environment and speak with people, most of them will be mean to you and will be like, 'Stop talking to me'.
Another one is Let me Dream by Gianni_no_Mitaka. That's a short, concert-style music video. It's about robots in a variety of scenarios, and it's like really nicely done. If you like robots at all, you should definitely check it out.
And the third one is The Vengeful Eyes 2, by InsaneAlphaBeta. It’s a very good and very well-executed horror game. And very spooky - I was really scared while playing. If you haven't already done so, you should also check it out. I'm just always so impressed by how talented the coMmunity is: even before I joined Mm, just watching people create as a coMmunity member was always so inspiring!
The Dreams User Guide is a work-in-progress. Keep an eye out for updates as we add more learning resources and articles over time.