Level specification

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This document presents the specification of level files (.lev). You will not learn how to make a level here. This will present you documentation that teaches you how Open Surge levels work and how can you use them to make your own games.

ATTENTION! If you just want to learn how to make a level, follow this link: How to make a level. Also read Level Design Document for tips on how to make great levels.


In Open Surge, a level is a scene. Usually, levels are playable: they have scenery and the player controls the heroes. This, however, is not a strict requirement: one may create a level that is actually a cutscene. Or perhaps a special menu. Or a bonus level. You decide.

Levels are represented by .lev files stored in the levels/ subdirectory, which is located inside the game folder. Level files are human-readable. You may open them with a simple text editor such as: Notepad, gedit, vim, etc.

If you want to play in a specific level of your choice, open the game, go to the options screen and enter in the STAGE SELECT area. Alternatively, you can save some time by using the command line:

Under Linux / OSX,

./opensurge --level levels/template.lev

Under Windows,

opensurge.exe --level levels/template.lev

And here's a secret for the initiates: as soon as you run the engine, you'll see the Open Surge Engine splash screen. Press RIGHT 3 times to enter the developer mode. From there, you'll be able to enter on any .lev file.

Level elements

Level objects

Levels objects are basically of two types:

  • bricks
  • entities


Bricks are level objects that are static: they can be platforms, walls, decorative objects (like trees or plants), breakable walls, and so on.

A detailed documentation about bricks can be found at: Bricksets.


Entities are level objects created via scripting. You can create pretty much anything your imagination tells you to: new items, new enemies, bosses, CPU-controlled agents, non-playable-characters, etc.

To create new entities, learn SurgeScript.

Other elements


A background is some image or animation that is displayed behind everything else. It could be some nice mountains in a far distance, a city with falling snow, or some nice moving texture for a menu screen.

Backgrounds have their own specification.

Groups of objects

In order to make level design simpler, we have invented the concept of groups of objects. You can pack up many level objects together and work with them in the level editor as if they were one.

Read more about groups of objects at Groups.

Legacy elements

The elements below were used in legacy versions of the engine, such as 0.2.0. They are no longer used.

Built-in items

Built-in items are "hard-coded" objects. These items are native to the engine. Examples of built-in items include: a life box, a checkpoint, a spring, spikes, etc. These objects allow no customization. The best you can do is to modify their sprites, but you should really use them the way they are.

Custom objects

Custom objects allow you to create pretty much anything your imagination tells you to - within the boundaries of the engine, of course. No, you can't create a last-generation MMORPG, but you can make pretty much anything "reasonable": different kinds of items, new enemies, bosses, cutscenes, special effects, simple intelligent CPU-controlled agents, non-playable-characters, menus, etc.

Custom objects are created via scripting.

The built-in level editor

Level Editor: click to resize

The Open Surge Engine was not always very modifiable. In the beginning, the most you could do was to create simple levels using built-in features of the engine. The built-in level editor was used to make levels.

Nowadays the Open Surge Engine is much more customizable, and the built-in level editor has gained much power. However, it has retained its principles: it is still very simple to learn and to use.

Whenever you're playing on any level, press F12 to activate/deactivate the editor. See also: How to make a level.


As we have already said, levels are represented by .lev files stored in the levels/ folder. .lev files are human-readable, that is, you can open them with a simple text editor like Notepad and understand what is written.

General properties


Syntax: name name_of_the_level

Available since: 0.1.0

Specifies the name of your level. Example:

name "Sunshine Paradise"


Syntax: author level_author

Available since: 0.1.0

Name of the person/people who made the level.

author "Your name"


Syntax: license license_name

Available since: 0.5.0

The license of the level file (.lev). You may pick any license you'd like. Examples: CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC-BY 3.0, CC-0 (public domain).

license "CC-BY 3.0"


Syntax: requires engine_version

Available since: 0.1.0

Specifies the minimum engine version your user has to have in order to play the level. You should not specify this property yourself: once you save the level using the built-in editor, the engine will assume that engine_version is the engine version you use. This guarantees that any engine features you use will also be available to your target player. Example:

requires "0.5.0"


Syntax: act number

Available since: 0.1.0

Specifies the act number (usually 1, 2 or 3). This property, an optional one, only makes sense for playable levels. Example:

name "Sunshine Paradise Boss"
act 3


Syntax: spawn_point xpos ypos

Available since: 0.1.0

(xpos, ypos) denotes the initial position of the player. Both xpos and ypos must be non-negative integers. (0,0) is the top-left corner of the level. This only makes sense on playable levels. Example:

spawn_point 40 5700


Syntax: readonly

Available since: 0.1.0

If the level is set to readonly, the user will not be able to access the level editor.


Look and feel


Syntax: theme path_to_brk_file

Available since: 0.1.0

Tells the engine which brickset to use in this level. Example:

theme "themes/template.brk"


Syntax: bgtheme path_to_bg_file

Available since: 0.1.0

Tells the engine which background theme to use in this level. Example:

bgtheme "themes/template.bg"


Syntax: grouptheme path_to_grp_file

Available since: 0.1.3

Tells the engine which group collection to use in this level. Example:

grouptheme "themes/template.grp"


Syntax: music path_to_ogg_song

Available since: 0.1.2

This property is optional. If you specify it, the engine will play the specified song, looping it when it's over. Musics must be in the .ogg format. Example:

music "musics/title.ogg"

Setup & players


Syntax: setup object1 [object2 [object3 ... [objectN] ... ]]

Available since: 0.5.0

The setup command takes one or more object names as parameters. It simply creates the objects specified in the list when the level loads. If no setup command is specified, then an object named Default Setup will be created by default.

The Default Setup object takes care of basic game elements such as: pause, quit, default camera and displaying the HUD (Heads-Up Display). Therefore, it should be specified in the setup list in most cases (unless you want to change these basic elements).


1) create only the Default Setup object (the default)

setup "Default Setup"

2) create two setup objects

setup "Default Setup" "Example Setup"

Note: in version 0.2.0 of the engine, this command was available under the name startup. Setup objects created with the legacy scripting system must specify the always_active flag.


Syntax: players player1 [player2 [player3 ... [playerN] ... ]]

Available since: 0.2.0

The players command takes one or more parameters. It will create the list of characters specified on the list. If no players command is specified, then Surge, Neon and Charge will be spawned by default.


1) regular team-play with Surge, Neon and Charge

players "Surge" "Neon" "Charge"

2) a Surge-only level

players "Surge"

3) Tux the Penguin

players "Tux"

4) no players

// None is a special character that does not move and does not appear in the screen
players "None"

Level objects

You should not worry about specifying the level objects manually. Let the Level Editor take care of them for you.


Syntax: brick brick_id xpos ypos [layer] [flip]

Available since: 0.1.0

Creates brick brick_id at the specified position. Example:

brick 101 6917 1316

If a layer is specified, the brick will appear in that layer (green or yellow):

brick 101 6917 1316 green
brick 221 7212 3281 yellow

If flip is specified, the brick will be flipped. The possible values for flip are: noflip, hflip, vflip, vhflip.

brick 101 6917 1316 hflip
brick 101 6917 1316 green hflip

Note: the optional layer parameter is available since 0.2.0. The optional flip parameter, since 0.5.0.


Syntax: entity entity_name xpos ypos [entity_id]

Available since: 0.5.0

Spawns the specified entity at world position (xpos, ypos). Parameter entity_id is an optional hexadecimal code that is used to uniquely identify the entity in the level. Example:

entity "Collectible" 240 9936 "be647e181fcd7513"



Syntax: waterlevel ycoord

Available since: 0.2.0

Specifies that there should be water at every point with y-coordinate greater or equal than ycoord. Example:

// at y-position 6410 and below, there is water
waterlevel 6410


Syntax: watercolor red green blue

Available since: 0.2.0

Specifies the color of the water, where 0 <= red, green, blue <= 255. Please see the Colors page for more information.


// the water should start at y-coord 6410 and it must be green
waterlevel 6410
watercolor 0 128 0


The commands below were used in previous versions of the engine. You must no longer use them. They have been kept in this page for historical purposes.


Syntax: item builtin_item_id xpos ypos

Available since: 0.1.0

Deprecated since: 0.5.0

Creates builtin_item_id at the specified position. Example:

item 0 3322 774


Syntax: object object_name xpos ypos

Available since: 0.1.0 | 0.1.4

Deprecated since: 0.5.0

Creates object_name at the specified position. Note that this refers to custom objects (created with scripting), not to built-in items! Example:

object "Basic Pipe System: Pipe Master" 831 2046

Objects created with legacy scripting whose name start with a "." (examples: .hidden, .secret, .internal) will not be available for selection in the built-in level editor. This is useful to make objects that are only supposed to be spawned by other objects.

Note: in versions prior to 0.1.4, this command was called enemy.


Syntax: dialogbox xpos ypos width height title message

Available since: 0.1.0

Deprecated since: 0.5.0

Whenever the player enters in the rectangle described by xpos, ypos, width and height, the engine will show a message box with the given parameters: title and message. Example:

dialogbox 190 2400 200 200 "WELCOME" "Welcome to the Dark Forest, a place where everybody enters but nobody leaves."

Note: use an Event Trigger to display a message instead. Native message boxes are not as flexible as what you can do with scripting nowadays.