All of the recent level design work, as can be seen in the Gravitum Teaser posted the other day, has been taking a considerable amount of time, and has led to some toolchain improvements.
Early on we invested in custom tools, one of which is Loki our tile based level editor.
We decided to develop this technology in-house vs going with one of the many open source and free tile editors available.
This had both advantages and disadvantages.
The primary disadvantage in my opinion, is of course the time investment to make the tool, support it, and update it as needed.
The advantages in our case, was having a map editor that you could actually place interactive objects with, set their specific properties, turn on preview mode, watch the platform or enemy move, or the laser barrier flicker on and off at a given time interval, and easily adjust as needed visually.
This was combined with a robust plug-in system, where it was relatively easy to write any new type of special object and plug it into the editor. Ideally all of this would decrease actual game development time, as more of the level mechanics could be set and seen inside of the editor.
Of course like all internal tools, Loki was never really finished, let alone polished, due to other deadlines and time investments.
As such a major feature for working with tiles has been missing for a long time, and this is the ability to create essentially custom brushes by copying existing tiles.
This is a huge time saving feature, especially when working with more complex tile groupings like animated lavas and such. It's also a feature which I implemented yesterday, which took most of the day to do, but has already made up for the implementation time.
Writing in-house tools always is a cost-benefit calculation, and one you should think about greatly, but its hard to deny the extra productivity that can come from a custom tailored pipeline and associated tools.