Have you ever been been playing video games and woundered how in the world they make these stunning levels? It almost seems magical how the levels in the game are made, but its far from magic! A Lot of blood,sweat, and tears are poured into those levels. But, there are major tools that make this process easy somewhat. I'm taking about the game engines baby! A game engine is set of tools already programmed out the box! Simaler to a framework for the internet coders like jQuery or jQuery moblie. I'm going to talk about three of these engines, but be forewarned. Even though these are pre-programmed tools for game development use, these engines are very powerful and can be very hard understand without broud understanding of multiple disciplens in the digital and fine arts. Before any polygon is layed out, a lot of work goes into the planning stages (or pre-production). It's best to splash out all of your ideas in a mind-mapping format. Once your ideas are out of your head and onto paper you can start layout your map.
Now with you're data planed out you need to start blocking in the your level, lets look at the easiest engine to use and then the most powerful!
The Unity Game Engine is one of the most flexible game engines on the market. It has support for many 3D modeling programs like 3Ds Max and Maya. Along with this great terrian creation tools, support for shaders and normal maps, programming in JavaScipt, C#, and Boo. There is also support many audio and video formats, great particle effects tools, and much more! Unity is also free to use, but there is also pro addition worth $1,500. This such a great entry level engine its hard not to reccomend it!
When Unity begins to get small for you (really?) then check out the Cry Engine! They named this engine right because of the sheer graphical power this thing has is unbelievable! Like Unity, the Cry Engine has support Maya and such programs, but at much stricter and more powerful way for example; a more powerful audio system (7.1 anyone?) S-3D veiwing, the sandbox editer, and more!
The Unreal Engine is pretty much the most popular engine to date. Epic Games really put a lot of pain into making this engine avalible to all that wish it. The Unreal Enigne is just as powerful as the Cry Engine, but Unreal is used for more game productions then Cry. This has ton of features, but also has support for Adobe Flash! Yes, the means that all Ureal developed games can be exportable to Flash in full 3D Glory!
As you can you can see, these are very powerful tools! I think it's a good idea for you to take each tool step-by-step, and be ready to have an understanding of programming fundamentals. These tools give you a great chance to make amazing games! Make sure you done your're homework by going to sites like http://www.worldofleveldesign.com/. Be safe and keep gaming!