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This article is a portion of a dissertation by Kenneth Hullet. The source writing is over 250 pages in length. We share this in hopes that it will further the learning of level designers. The Table of Contents is listed directly below, within a spoiler. The parts marked in Orange are included here. Follow the link at the end of this article to read the full writing, as it contains much value. TABLE OF CONTENTS - In Spoiler ABSTRACT Level designers create gameplay through geometry, AI scripting, and item placement. There is little formal understanding of this process, but rather a large body of design lore and rules of thumb. As a result, there is no accepted common language for describing the building blocks of level design and the gameplay they create. This dissertation presents a set of level design patterns for first-person shooter (FPS) games, providing cause-effect relationships between level design patterns and gameplay. These relationships are explored through analysis of data gathered in an extensive user study. This work is the first scientific study of level design, laying the foundation for further work in this area. Data driven approaches to understand gameplay have been attempted in the past, but this work takes it to a new level by showing specific cause-effect relationships between the design of the level and player behavior. The result of this dissertation is a resource for designers to help them understand how they are creating gameplay through their art. The pattern collection allows them to explore design space more fully and create richer and more varied experiences. INTRODUCTION Level designers create gameplay through geometry, AI scripting, and item placement. There is little formal understanding of this process, but rather a large body of design lore and rules of thumb. As a result, there is no accepted common language for describing the building blocks of level design and the gameplay they create. This research creates a science of level design based on design patterns for first-person shooter (FPS) levels and data analysis to show cause-effect relationships between level design patterns and gameplay. Level design is often viewed as an artistic endeavor, so the applicability of purely scientific approach may be considered controversial. This research argues that level designers employ design patterns while creating FPS levels, whether advertently or inadvertently. Furthermore, analysis of gameplay data can show distinct patterns of behavior in different situations. If we control for all factors besides the design of the level, we can claim that significant observed differences are due to the level design. To show these cause-effect relationships, we conducted a user study and performed analyses of the collected data. The user study explores what effects the patterns, and variations within the patterns, have on players’ in-game behavior. Based on deviations from the expected results, we are able to adjust the theory, improving our understanding of the relationships, and increasing the usefulness of the taxonomy as a tool for level designers. For each pattern explored in depth, we created multiple instances of the pattern, each with a different set of affordances – for example, with a sniper location, some instances were high, some low, some with good cover, some without, etc. Based on our surveys of existing FPS level design, we expect a lower sniper location to have less of an effect on the level’s pacing; we should observe less of an effect than we would when subjects encounter a higher sniper location. These instances are placed in the user test levels played by the subjects. From the data collected during the user study we can determine how gameplay is affected by the pattern, and if this is different from what we expect. This research is necessarily reductionist in its approach. In practice, design patterns are rarely distinct, instead overlapping with other patterns or elements to create varied effects. Nonetheless we will argue that design patterns provide a useful analytic framework for thinking about level design in a scientific way. The lowest possible segmentation of level design elements, the actual placement of individual walls, floors, items, and entities, is far too granular to elicit any understanding of designer intent or to observe an effect on player behavior. The highest level, a complete level, is far too coarse, as FPS levels generally contain multiple subareas with different gameplay objectives. Design patterns are a small enough unit that a clear distinct purpose can be elicited, but not so small as to be overwhelmed with details of pixel by pixel placement of objects and geometry. THE FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER GENRE FPS games are combat-oriented games where the player engages other characters with a variety of projectile and melee weapons. The player navigates a 3D world while looking through the eyes of the main character (i.e., a first-person point of view), though some games where the camera follows the player character (third person shooter or TPS) have similar gameplay and are generally considered to be in the same genre. FPS games are one of the most popular genres of commercial digital games, with many published titles on multiple platforms. Seven of the top-ten all-time best-selling games for the Xbox 360 are FPS games. Due to the processing power needed to render realistic-looking 3D environments, FPS games are often credited as a driving force behind technological advancement in personal computers and gaming consoles. Beyond entertainment, FPS games have been used for a variety of training and other serious game applications. One of the most notable is America’s Army, a training and recruitment game released by the US Army. Its intent is to provide a realistic simulation to familiarize recruits with modern Army combat procedures. The platform has been used as the basis for more advanced Army training programs. As a popular and broadly relevant genre, any research that improves our understanding of FPS games is likely to have significant impact. There is also a large body of in-depth analysis which can be drawn upon, including books and articles on FPS design in general and level design specifically. While the results of this study are specific to FPS games, the techniques we propose are generalizable to other game genres. FPS games are also a desirable genre for this study as the level design is a major component of the game and has a significant impact on the player's experience. Levels in commercial games are designed largely by hand and play tested extensively by designers to create specific gameplay effects. It would be difficult to conduct research of this nature on a genre of games where the level design was not as impactful. Furthermore, while the player's experience is by the level design, the mechanics of the game allow for enough variation in individual choice that these impacts are apparent. For this research, we have chosen to focus on single-player levels, though multiplayer is increasingly becoming the dominant gameplay mode. In multiplayer, players are generally playing against other players, rather than environmental challenges created by the designer. For this reason, it would be more difficult to conduct an experiment like the one described here for multiplayer levels. However, it is likely that level design does have an impact on gameplay in multiplayer FPS. Early exploration of patterns specific to multiplayer level design is described in Appendix A. LEVEL DESIGN The precise definition of a level varies by game and genre, but it is generally thought of as a subdivision of a game. Specifically, it is a space where gameplay occurs. While the mechanics of the game define the choices available to the player, the design of a level defines what the player experiences at any given point. It is through level design that level designers craft gameplay experiences for players. Levels for FPS games are generally designed for single- or multi-player play, but not both. Single player levels tend to be a linear sequence of challenges the player must overcome to reach the final goal, whereas multi-player levels are designed to create areas for player-vs.-player combat to occur. While level geometry is the most noticeable aspect of the level designer’s work, other considerations are important in the creation of gameplay. Level designers place objects in the world, including weapons, ammunition, and power-ups. They must be sure to provide enough so the player can complete the level, but not so much as to remove all challenge. They also place Non-Player Characters (NPCs), both friendly and enemy, and use AI scripting to control their behavior. When designing an FPS level, there are many factors the designer must consider, including challenge, pacing, and ease of navigation. Though many FPS games have been made, and numerous books have been written on the subject, there is little formal understanding of their level design. The existing literature conveys design lore and industry practice without exploring how levels create gameplay. Experienced level designers draw from their extensive knowledge of existing games when they create a level. They have an intuitive feel for what features they should include in a level to create different types of gameplay. They may imitate and adapt elements they’ve observed in other levels. Presently, there is no structured way for experienced designers to pass on this knowledge to less experienced designers. A more formal framework would improve designers’ abilities to communicate design ideas as well as provide a reference for possible features to incorporate into levels. For example, one of the design patterns identified is a sniper location. This is an elevated position from which a character can engage other characters in relative safety. There are numerous variations on sniper locations, including their height, amount of cover available, and whether it is intended for use by either the player or an enemy NPC. The effect of an enemy NPC-occupied sniper location is to slow the pace of the level – the player must move slowly and be more cautious to avoid taking fire. While we can predict this behavior based on our understanding of FPS gameplay, it is unknown if the effect is consistent in all cases, or how it is affected by variation within the pattern. Would the effect be less if the sniper location was lower, as it would be easier for the player to engage the enemy NPC? User tests where a number of subjects play levels with different instances of sniper locations will provide empirical evidence of these relationships. The taxonomy of design patterns is a useful tool for improving designers’ abilities to communicate design ideas and as a reference for possible features to incorporate into levels. However, the process by which it was created is necessarily subjective. Designers’ intentions in using certain features may vary, and how players react to the patterns may vary. DESIGN PATTERNS As described above, our user studies are focused on single player levels. While we have explored design patterns in both multi- and single player levels, level design necessarily has a greater impact on single player gameplay, as the players' only interaction is with the environment, rather than with other players. As such, this research is primarily focused on the design patterns developed from analysis of single player levels. The patterns are described in terms of their intended use, effect on gameplay, and variations within the pattern. Examples from popular commercial games are given. The use of design patterns to describe levels is inspired by design patterns used in both software engineering and architecture (the latter of which also inspired the former). A set of design patterns form a language for describing design practices in the domain. Duffy et al. characterize patterns in software engineering by the following: “Noticing and naming the common problems in a field of interest, Describing the key characteristics of effective solutions for meeting some stated goal, Helping the designer move from problem to problem in a logical way, and Allowing for many different paths through the design process.” This research adapts these characteristics to the domain of level design in FPS games. For level designers the problem is creating an entertaining and engaging experience for the player, and the solution is in how they design the level. We adapt the above to define characteristics of a pattern language for the domain of level design, described in detail below: Noticing and naming common structures that produce specific types of gameplay The taxonomy presented in this dissertation was created by identifying design patterns in levels and the gameplay they produce. Examining existing levels and inferring the intended gameplay is the most common means of identifying design patterns, but other methods were employed, including interviewing designers about how they design to elicit certain types of gameplay and reading books and articles that describe common practices. Describing the key characteristics of these structures and how they affect gameplay In identifying the patterns, we noticed that significant variations exist within any given pattern, and those variations have an impact on the gameplay produced. As examples of patterns are identified, variations and their effects are noted, resulting in a more complete detailed view of the pattern and its parameters. Helping the designer address level design concerns in a logical way Armed with knowledge of level design patterns, the designer can tailor a level to the desired gameplay. For example, if a designer wants to change the pace of a level, they can add or alter instances of patterns that are known to affect pacing. If, during gameplay tuning, they discover a problem in a level, they can use the taxonomy to modify existing patterns to address the issues. Allowing for different approaches to create the desired gameplay The taxonomy identifies different design patterns that will affect gameplay in similar ways. If the designer wants to create a certain type of gameplay, they can identify multiple elements in the taxonomy that would be suitable, and pick one that is appropriate for that instance. They are not limited to repeatedly using the same patterns in the same ways; they can use different patterns, or variations with patterns. RESEARCH QUESTIONS The goal of this research is to use data analysis to develop the science of level design through a deeper understanding of FPS level design and how it creates gameplay. The research questions can be broken down into questions about design patterns, player behavior, and the applicability of the work. RQ1: Are level design patterns useful for developing levels, communicating ideas, and teaching about level design? We have already identified level design patterns to create a language for describing levels. The application of design patterns to FPS levels and the patterns themselves are described in Chapter 3. These descriptions provide insight into the designer’s intent and the gameplay that will result. It should be possible to take an existing level and describe it extensively in terms of design patterns. We give an example with a level from Bioshock, a popular commercial FPS. Such description often reveals sections of a level that are not describable with the existing taxonomy, leading to the elicitation of a previously undescribed pattern. Through study of FPS levels we can improve and expand the pattern collection. Besides expanding the pattern collection, it is important to validate the effects of the patterns. The results of this study have helped close the loop and improve the descriptions of the patterns and their gameplay effects. The end result of the study is a set of patterns that has been shown to create specific behavior in the player. RQ2: Can we use data analysis to understand player behavior in FPS levels? To test the cause-effect relationship of the patterns and their variants on gameplay, it is necessary to understand player behavior. What exactly does it mean, for example, when the tension of a level is increased? How is this reflected by the player’s in-game actions? Can this be observed and reported? While previous user studies provide some guidance, it was necessary to develop methods for identifying and classifying player behavior. How this was done in this research is described in Chapter 5. Subjects’ in-game behavior was studied in the video recordings of their level play-throughs and the logged gameplay data. This was correlated with the pattern variants that the subjects encounter to see what the effects are. RQ3: Do the identified design patterns and their variants create the intended gameplay effects? Patterns are used in levels to affect gameplay – for example, when a player encounters a choke point where they have an advantage over enemy NPCs, the expectation is for increased pace and reduced challenge. This should be reflected in the player’s behavior by traits such as engaging enemy NPCs more aggressively, using weapons more frequently, making less use of cover, and moving more quickly. In validating these relationships, we are developing the science of level design. Chapter 5 describes the user study we ran to explore these cause-effect relationships and Chapter 6 explains the results of the analysis. If the expected behavior occurs when a player encounters a design pattern variant in a level, then the theory is validated. In the example above, when the player encounters the choke point, their behavior should be close to our expectations. If for some variation of the choke point, they instead begin moving more slowly and playing cautiously, then there is something about that instance that is creating different gameplay. We can identify what affordances of the pattern vary from other instances and adapt the pattern description to match the observed results. To fully explain the impact of this research, this document is broken into multiple chapters. Chapter 2 covers related work in the existing literature on level design and data analysis in games. Chapter 3 presents the taxonomy of design patterns that we have developed for this research. Chapter 4 explains the major sources of data in games and their impact on game development. Chapter 5 describes the user tests performed, and Chapter 6 details the results. Chapter 7 summarizes the findings and the contributions of the research. RELATED WORK There are three broad streams of work related to this research. First, previous work on applying design patterns to games in general and level design specifically. Second, previous work on exploring, understanding, and communicating about level design in general, mostly from an industry perspective. Third, previous work on understanding player behavior and how data analysis can be used to identify such behavior. These three areas are described below. DESIGN PATTERNS The use of design patterns to better understand levels is inspired by their use in software engineering, which were in turn inspired by design patterns in architecture. Kreimeier was among the first to adapt the concept of design patterns to the domain of digital games by identifying game design patterns. Björk et al. extend this work by studying how players interact with games and how entities in a game interact with each other. They identify over 200 patterns in game design ranging from the basic building blocks of games, such as the game world, to abstract concepts like player collaboration and immersion. The patterns are organized in broad categories such as “Patterns for Goals” and “Patterns for Narrative Structure.” Patterns are described in terms of how they are used, the choices a designer must make when using them, their consequences and relationships to other patterns. These patterns do not specifically deal with level design, but do relate to some level design concerns, such as balancing, goals, locations, and objects. For example, one pattern identified by Björk et al. is Pick-ups, described as “elements that exist in the game world and can be collected by players.” They go on to describe how pick-ups are used in a variety of games and the considerations a designer must make when choosing whether to include them or not. They describe general consequences of pick-ups, but they do not describe the immediate effects they have on a player’s behavior or the flow of a game. The level design patterns presented in this dissertation address these considerations. Björk et al. suggest four ways patterns can be used to support game design: idea generation, structured development, solving design problems, and communication. The level design patterns identified in this dissertation support these same uses. Another application of design patterns to games is Plass et al.’s study of educational games. They identify common patterns in educational games that increase enjoyment and engagement in players. These are high-level conceptual goals for designers to pursue, not patterns of mechanics as in Björk et al.’s work, or patterns of level design as presented in this dissertation. Examples include “Constructing things is fun and helps learning” and “Time and resource constraints make games fun and can improve learning.” These patterns were discovered through observational studies and interviews with children playing educational games. LEVEL DESIGN There are many books on level design written from an industry perspective. They discuss common practices and provide instruction on tools for aspiring level designers. In his book, Co takes the reader through the process of designing an FPS level, from brainstorming initial ideas, building the level using Unreal Editor, to testing and improving the level . While useful references, neither this work, nor similar books by Bryne, Clayton, or Feil et al. present deep analysis of how level design creates gameplay. For example, Feil et al. describe the importance of overall pacing in a level. They discuss how a rhythm of rising and falling tension can contribute to the overall flow of a level without providing methods for creating these effects. Similarly, they discuss strategic considerations of terrain, such as access and height advantage, but do not discuss how they create gameplay. In contrast, the work presented in this dissertation provides specific, concrete idioms of level design described in terms of their direct impact on gameplay. Several shorter works examine single aspects of level design, from both academic and industry perspectives. The aspects examined can be broadly categorized as relating to gameplay – pacing, tension, and challenge – or space – spatial configurations and how the player navigates. PACING Pacing is the density of actions taken by the player in a level. Coulianos proposes methods to analyze and improve level pacing. Designers can plot the expected pacing as a sequence of gameplay elements. Playtesting can then be used to see how closely the player’s experience matches the designer’s expectations, leading to a series of iterative changes until the designer is satisfied. Davies also explores aspects of level pacing and suggests techniques designers can use to control pacing. For example, the player’s impetus to move is a key aspect of game pace, which the designer may want to increase or decrease. Movement impetus can be increased by elements such as a time limit or a threat from behind, or decreased by an obstacle or NPC interaction. TENSION Tension is the mental strain a game can create in the player as they struggle to survive or complete objectives. Level designers use tension to affect pacing. For example, NPCs can create tension by urging the player to move through the level faster. Its use is examined in depth by Wright, who conducted a study with subjects playing one of three levels that used NPCs to create tension differently. Completion times as well as the subject’s subjective impressions were compared to evaluate the methods. He found that urgency imparted from a friendly NPC was the most effective method, while chasing or being chased by enemy NPCs were less effective. CHALLENGE In his study of what makes games fun, Malone identified three main elements: challenge, fantasy, and curiosity . All three of these are useful to level designers, but challenge is the most critical. Malone found the best way to create challenge is to provide clear goals whose attainment is uncertain. If the goal is unclear, the player will become frustrated. If the goal is too easy to attain, the player will become bored. Furthermore, if the goal is long range, there should be feedback given to the player that communicates progress towards the goal. SEGMENTATION Segmentation is a broad concept that can be applied to the examination of levels both in terms of gameplay and space. It refers to methods for breaking down aspects of the game into smaller elements. Zagal et al. describe three types of segmentation: temporal, spatial, and challenge. Temporal segmentation is closely related to pacing, as increasing or decreasing the length of time allowed for gameplay can affect tension and challenge. In terms of spatial segmentation, levels themselves are a form of this, but they can be segmented internally as well. As a player moves into a distinct section of a level, their behavior may be affected. For example, moving into a large arena with enemy NPCs will increase tension and difficulty. The third type of segmentation, challenge, also relates to pacing. Breaking up the challenges presented to the player allows the designer to control the level pace. SPATIAL CONFIGURATIONS Within spatial segmentations, the configuration of the environment is also a key concept in level design. Chen et al. compares level design to the architectural design that is used in real world buildings. When designing a building, the architect includes architectural devices to create specific effects, such as customizing a space to a particular use. The authors identify some architectural principles that level designers can apply to create spaces for gameplay, including having a clear path through the level, how to use different spatial organizations such as linear or hub and spoke, or including unique elements to break up the design. An examination of how space is used in team-based multi-player FPS levels was presented by Güttler et al. They identified common spatial configurations and how they contribute to gameplay. The key elements they studied are collision points and tactical choice. In a team multi-player level, the designer provides multiple routes through the level, allowing players the chance to make a strategic decision. The choice of route determines where in the level the two teams will eventually clash; these collision points are the major contested spaces where the game is played. There are some significant empirical studies that evaluate the effects of level design on gameplay. Gee studied the use of dead-ends in FPS levels. He identified ways in which dead ends are used and built example levels that included them or not. Subjects were observed playing levels and their preferences and playing time were reported. Results indicated that dead ends did not negatively impact FPS levels. An empirical study by Gonzales explored directional choices in FPS levels. Similar to the Gee study, they identified different techniques for presenting alternate routes and performed user studies on a set of representative levels. Survey responses and subject observations contributed to their conclusion that choice improves player immersion, as the lack of choice in a linear level can break the illusion of being in large, dynamic world. NAVIGATION A key use of spatial configuration in levels is in providing navigational cues to the player. This is particularly true in FPS levels as they are generally large, complex environments. Nerurkar examines some means level designers use to aid player navigation. Some, such as maps and navigation markers, are separate from the level design, but many are a function of the level design. Examples include features that attract the player’s attention, use of light and contrast, and directions from NPCs. Hoeg performed an empirical study of player navigation and player types in FPS levels. He identified elements that designers use to influence pathing decisions, including lighting, sound, and resistance, and formed a theory about how Bartle’s player types would react in each case. He constructed a level with multiple decision points, using different navigation cues. Subjects’ player types were determined by a survey, and their routing choices were recorded while playing the level. The results were compared to see if the theory was consistent with the player’s behavior. They found that some elements, such as placement of doors and motion, had strong correlation, whereas other factors had weak or no correlation. DESIGN PATTERNS While our user study is primarily focused on the effects of design patterns in single player levels, we explored design patterns in multiple aspects of FPS games. Of particular relevance are the patterns for combat NPCs and for weapons. Weapon and NPC design in FPS games fall into a grey area between game design and level design. While they are aspects of the game mechanics, and therefore game design elements, they are greatly influenced by the work of the level designer. Tuning of weapons and NPCs generally occurs late in the development process, and is a function of the constructed levels. As the final tuning of these elements are dependent upon their placement and use by level designers, they can be considered an aspect of level design. As such, patterns for these elements are described here along with the single player patterns. Other pattern collections are presented in Appendix A. SINGLE PLAYER FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER LEVELS The descriptions of the patterns explain how they can be used, the concerns designers must address, and the gameplay created. The fields are listed below: Description – A high level description of the pattern and the major design considerations. Affordances – Aspects of the pattern that can be varied by the designer. Consequences – A description of the gameplay the pattern creates. Relationships – Some examples from popular commercial games that illustrate the pattern. The use of the term "affordances" in this research is a bit idiosyncratic. In the field of design, the word typically means "the perceived or actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used." For example, the presence of a doorknob is an affordance that signals that a door may be opened. For this research we modify this definition slightly, so affordances are aspects of a pattern that can be varied by the designer ("perceived or actual properties") to alter the effect on gameplay ("how the thing could possibly be used"). Essentially, affordances are the knobs a designer can twist within a pattern to dial in different gameplay effects. The patterns are grouped into one of four following categories based on the type of gameplay produced. The categories are Positional Advantage, Large-scale Combat, Alternate Gameplay, and Alternate Routes. These distinctions are not mutually exclusive, a pattern might be perceived as being in one category or another based on its affordances. Furthermore, specific patterns may overlap, resulting in different effects and described in the relationships sections of each pattern. Positional Advantage – Spaces where one entity has an advantage over another. Sniper Location – A protected, elevated location that overlooks some portion of the level. Gallery – An elevated area parallel and adjacent to a narrow passageway. Choke Point – A narrow area with no alternate routes, causing entities to be exposed to engagement as they move through. Large-scale Combat – Areas designed to facilitate combat involving large numbers of entities. Arena – An open area or wide corridor. Stronghold – A confined area with good cover and limited access points. Alternate Gameplay – Introduce new elements that break from the established mechanics of the game. Turret – An area with a high-powered weapon where one side has a clear advantage. Vehicle Section – Sections of alternate gameplay where the player drives or rides in a vehicle. Alternate Routes – Create alternatives for the player in how they approach the level. Split Level – A corridor with an upper and lower section, where those on the upper section can attack those on the lower section. Hidden Area – A small area off the main route that contains items for the player. Flanking Route – An alternate path that allows characters to gain positional advantage. PATTERNS FOR POSITIONAL ADVANTAGE These patterns all result in one entity gaining an advantage in position over another entity. A positional advantage usually affords opportunities to attack other entities without being exposed to counter attack. SNIPER LOCATION Description: Sniper locations are one of the most common patterns. A character in a sniper location can attack other characters with long-range weapons while remaining protected. Any elevated position that overlooks some portion of the level is potentially a sniper location. They may be intended for use by either players, NPCs, or both. Creating a sniper location for use by an enemy rather than the player requires additional consideration. Enemies positioned in the sniper location may require special scripting to create the desired behavior; they should remain in place, using cover if available, and engage the player with long range weapons. Affordances: The height of the sniper location over the main part of the level How large of an area is available for the sniper The amount of cover available for the sniper The size of the area that the sniper can cover from the sniper location How accessible the sniper location is from the area overlooked Consequences: When confronted with an enemy sniper location, the player is forced to make careful use of cover or seek alternate routes to avoid being exposed to fire. This can increase the tension and slow the pace of a level while creating a challenge for the player. A player sniper location generally slows the pace of a level while lowering tension as the player is able to engage enemy NPCs without being exposed to enemy fire. However, if the sniper location is not isolated from the rest of the level, the player will have to defend the access point as well, increasing tension. Relationships: Sniper locations interact with many other patterns. They may be placed to cover an arena or a choke point. Most stationary turrets are also sniper locations. A shooting gallery is specialized type of sniper location. A sniper location with access may be a type of stronghold. Examples: In the level “Route Kanal” of Half-Life 2, the player encounters an enemy sniper location, shown in Figure 1. It is high above the player’s position, but has very little cover. The player can engage the enemy NPCs, but is exposed and needs to be cautious. Figure 1: Sniper location in Half-Life 2 There is a sniper location in the level “Corinth River” of Killzone 2. The player is on an elevated walkway overlooking a medium-sized area containing enemy NPCs. Both the player and enemy NPCs have cover, but by looking down from above, the player is able to locate the enemy NPCs and engage them. PATTERNS FOR LARGE-SCALE COMBAT These patterns provide areas for combat gameplay, with the player either engaging large numbers of enemy NPCs or a single powerful enemy NPC (a boss fight). STRONGHOLD Description: A stronghold is a confined area, generally with good cover. Characters in a stronghold can defend against attackers while remaining protected. A stronghold has limited access points so the defending characters can cover them easily. Affordances: The size of the stronghold The amount of cover available in the stronghold The number and type of access points If defending/capturing the stronghold is a level objective Consequences: Generally a stronghold would be designed as a defensible location for the player. The effect is usually to reduce the pace of the level, but in some cases, a large number of entrances or advancing enemy NPCs can have the effect of increasing tension and challenge. Relationships: A stronghold can be considered a specialized type of arena or sniper location. Entrances to the stronghold may be choke points. Examples: The Halo 3 level “The Covenant” contains a stronghold. The player is in a large open area and engages enemy NPCs entering through multiple entrances. These entrances are choke points that help keep the player from being swarmed by enemy NPCs, but it is challenging to cover them all at once. There is an instance of a stronghold in the level “Fish in a Barrel” of Gears of War, shown in Figure 2. The player and friendly NPCs are in a central area with minimal amounts of cover while being engaged by enemy NPCs from multiple directions. The effect is challenging and high tension combat. Figure 2: Stronghold in Gears of War PATTERNS FOR ALTERNATE ROUTES These patterns provide players with choices about how they want to engage the level. SPLIT LEVEL Description: A split level is a corridor with an upper and a lower section. Characters on the upper section can attack characters on the lower level. Players can choose the upper or lower route, or switch between them. Affordances: The difference in height between the levels The degree of openness between the levels, in terms of empty space The number of paths between the levels Consequences: Allows for different strategies and can increase the pace of a level as the player moves back and forth between levels. Relationships: If the corridor is narrow, the upper section could be a gallery. Using one section to avoid enemy NPCs in the other section makes it a type of flanking route. Examples: There is a split level in the “Lowlife” level of Half-Life 2: Episode 1, shown in Figure 3. The player is moving through a large open area with elevated passageways. The player must switch back and forth between the two paths to avoid the most powerful enemy NPCs. Figure 3: Split level in Half-Life 2: Episode 1 The Halo 3 level “Crow’s Nest” features a long split level section. The player may stay on the upper level and engage enemies on the lower level, or use the lower section and engage them directly. COMBAT NON-PLAYER CHARACTERS IN FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER GAMES - The work presented in this section is based on material originally developed in collaboration with Gabe Rivera. The patterns presented in this section are for the enemy NPCs in FPS games. Enemy NPCs are controlled by the game engine and are the main source of conflict during gameplay. While they could be considered aspects of game design rather than level design, they are placed by designers and their tuning and behavior are highly dependent on how they are used. Designers can control not only where the NPC is placed but also the NPC’s scripted behavior, how they are equipped, their level of health, their level of armor, and other variables. For this research we explored elements that pertain to all NPCs within the shooter genre and then analyzed various games to see if NPCs consistently fell into patterns. Patterns were identified by observing NPC behavior and discerning which elements were combined in the same way within a number of games. Each pattern is accompanied by our observations about how it’s used by designers to create gameplay, as well as a list of elements that define the pattern. ELEMENTS OF A NON-PLAYER CHARACTER Below is a list of elements that make up a NPC as well as a brief description of how they can be used by a designer to create gameplay during combat. These will be used in the pattern collection to categorize the specific patterns. Movement Type – This describes the way the NPC will typically move in a combat situation. Many NPCs employ multiple Movement Types and can switch between them depending on the situation. Flanking Intensive – The NPC will move to attack from unexpected directions, i.e. the NPC tries to approach the player from a different side than where the player’s attention is directed. Passive – The NPC will not move when attacking. Never straying too far from that location and available cover. Slow Push – The NPC will slowly advance on the position of the opposing force, usually in a straight line. This can be without the need for cover, but it is possible for the NPC to utilize cover while making its way forward. This main difference between this and Cautious is that it will constantly try to close the distance from its target and not try to stay away. Rush – The NPC will make a dash at a specific target without any regard for their safety, typically in a straight line. However, the main aspect of this movement type is that they will attack very fast and often try to close the distance between themselves and their target as fast as possible Cautious – When used, it means that the NPC is opting to move around the battlefield but tries to maintain a distance from its target. Often trying to utilize cover when possible and not closing the distance when possible. This is different from a slow push because this NPC tries to maintain a specific radius around its target, without advancing. Movement Range – This is how far the NPC will move during an engagement. This can be Low, Medium, or High. Movement Frequency – This is how often the NPC will change their position during an engagement. This can be Low, Medium, or High. Attack Frequency – This describes how often the NPC will initiate an attack. This can be Low, Medium, or High. Weapon Type – The patterns include the following. They are described in more detail in the following section: Sniping Weapon Close Blast Assault Weapon Projectile Power Weapon Melee Weapon Weapon Damage – A general indicator on how much damage the NPC will do to the player’s Health, Shields, or Armor. This can be Low, Medium, or High. Armor/Health – This denotes how much damage the NPC can take before being killed. This will typically be linked to how hard the NPC is to defeat. This can be Low, Medium, or High. Motive – This is an indicator of what type of combat encounter the NPC would create and shows its purpose to the designer. This hinges on three main factors that an NPC can affect: Challenge – The degree of difficulty within a combat encounter. Tension – The degree of mental stress the player experiences during a combat encounter. Pacing – The degree of movement that the player will engage in during a combat encounter A pattern can affect each of these three factors by creating a situation where they can be at Low, Medium, or High. PATTERN COLLECTION Below is a list of all the patterns that we have collected during our research. Each base pattern specifies the primary function of that general type, while each sub pattern denotes how that function is carried out. Soldier – An NPC that pressures the player from range. Grunt – A weak enemy that attacks from a medium distance, often in groups. Elite – A strong enemy that works to contain the player from a medium distance. Grenadier – A weaker enemy that maintains long distance to encourage players to move forwards. Sniper – An enemy that deals high damage from a long distance to force players to move carefully. Aggressive – An NPC that attempts to close the distance between itself and its target in order to increase pressure. Suicide – An enemy that immediately rushes at the player, at the cost of its own life. Swarm – An enemy that rushes the player in groups, but deals low damage individually. Berserker – A strong NPC that deals a high amount of damage over a prolonged amount of time. Carrier – An NPC that will spawn more NPCs during an encounter. Sacrifice – An NPC that creates more NPCs in the case of its own death. Summoner – An enemy that spawns more NPCs at a distance Tank – An NPC that poses a significant singular threat and prevents the player from proceeding Stationary Tank – A slow-moving NPC that deals high damage at a long range. Shield – An NPC with a large amount of armor, but only in a single direction. The following sections detail all of the base patterns and at least one of their sub patterns. SOLDIER Soldier is a NPC that will pressure the player from long range. Its main strategy is to control the available space in the encounter. NPCs of this type make up the majority of units during an encounter. They are primarily used to control pacing by forcing the player to take particular paths through the environment. These NPCs will have a weapon type that is an Assault, Close Blast, Sniping, or Projectile. Grunt Description: The Grunt is a weak NPC that will try to maintain a medium distance away when attacking. The main function this serves is to draw the player to forward through the level and increase the player's confidence. This pattern is distinguished by always having medium movement range, medium movement frequency, and light armor. The motive of the Grunt pattern is to create a situation with low tension and low challenge. Affordances: Movement type can be Slow Push, Flanking Intensive, or Cautious. Attack frequency can be either Low or Medium. Weapon damage can be either Low or Medium. NPC Relationships: The grunt has a special relationship with the Suicide pattern, because sometimes a grunt may change to the suicide pattern in the middle of an encounter. Examples: Halo: Combat Evolved - The Grunt is a small unit that appears in every game within the Halo franchise. It has a low amount of Armor and is usually to be equipped with an assault weapon that does a low (Plasma Pistol) or medium (Needler) amount of damage. They exhibit the special relationship with the Suicide pattern in that they will self-destruct in times of desperation. The range it keeps is either short or medium but tries to pester the player by implementing the Cautious movement type. During the campaign they primarily occur within encounters to create a lower challenge but increase the pace of the encounter. As a consequence, the player feels more empowered and will pursue a route that contains a higher ratio of grunts compared to any other path. This occurs in the level The Pillar of Autumn; often the designers put grunts down a particular corridor to encourage the player to move in that direction. This signals to the player that it is the correct route to follow while lowering challenge, increasing the pace, and lowering player tension. Figure 4: A Group of Grunts in Halo: Reach Half-Life 2 - The Metro Police Officer utilizes a Slow Push or Cautious Movement Type and primarily is equipped with an assault weapon, typically a sidearm. They will shift between the movement types in an effort to move a player forward. Typically this means that they will begin in a cautious movement type and, if they player doesn’t pursue them, will move toward the player in order to get the player to move. This doesn’t occur in any particular instance but can be seen where there are Metro Police Officers in levels such as Route Kanal or Water Hazard. In the game, they basically act as bait to simply pull the player forward. They are primarily seen as the main enemy in the early game and are increasingly used as bait in the latter half of the game. Figure 5: Two Metro police officers in Half-Life 2 EXAMPLE ANALYSIS To show the usefulness of NPC design patterns we will use them to analyze a short encounter and generate a new enemy type. The level Winter Contingency in the game Halo: Reach contains an encounter in which the group is tasked with bringing a communications outpost back online. This sequence starts with the team landing in front of the communications outpost in order to secure the location. After starting the level, the player encounters their first group of enemy NPCs in an Arena with Flanking Routes to the left and right. The NPCs that populate the arena are a small force of Grunts and Jackals. This encounter has a low amount of challenge and allows the player to gain a foothold without much effort. It is fairly easy for the player to move forward and incapacitate the Grunts, which fall under the Grunt NPC pattern. However, it is much harder kill the Jackals in a head on attack since they are a part of the Shield NPC pattern. The interplay between the Grunt and Shield patterns help to create a much easier encounter for the player by driving them to explore the area and flank the Jackals. The player goes into the encounter and immediately recognizes that most of the Jackals were located in the Arena, where the player is at a disadvantage. Since that place is the hardest to break through, the player is drawn to the left because the Grunts offer a lower level of resistance. The Grunts signal to the player this path is safer and encourages them to move through the Flanking Route. The player can now flank the exposed back of the Jackals, which has a pattern specific weakness of only being able to withstand a large amount of damage from one direction. We can analyze this encounter and explain it through the enemy NPC patterns that we have created. The designers used Shield NPCs in order to bar the player’s way from one direction and give the illusion of a higher degree of challenge. However, by adding in the Grunt NPCs it allowed them to encourage the player to move into an advantageous position. The interplay between these two types helped to create an encounter with a low amount of challenge but high amount of tension. WEAPONS IN FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER GAMES *Note: The work presented in this section is based on material originally developed in collaboration with Rob Giusti. To define and discuss weapons, game and level designers have re-purposed an existing classification system: the terminology used to refer to real-life weapons, terms such as “Sub-machine Gun” and “Sniper Rifle.” Though these classifications do easily explain the mechanics of the weapon, the use of such terminology fails to accurately describe gameplay behaviors and to encompass the fictional aspects of digital games. Knowing how a particular weapon functions in real life does not actually give an accurate depiction of how the weapon functions within a game. For example, the shotgun in Halo has a much shorter effective range than its real-life counterpart. Many similar weapons fall into different weapon patterns depending on how designers implement them. Though many action and adventure games use weapons, shooter games are affected by this lack of terminology more than others due to the fact that weapons are at the core of gameplay. In the vast majority of first-person shooters, the player's weapon never even leaves their view. In addition, weapons are the central method through which players interact with the world in these games. With this pattern collection we hope to create a language that can be used to describe weapons in a way that encapsulates the gameplay behaviors that each pattern elicits. Each pattern is named in a way that aims to be inclusive of all weapons, fictional or nonfictional, that elicits similar player behavior. We accumulated these patterns through analyzing weapons in popular and historically significant first- and third-person shooter games. ASPECTS OF WEAPON PATTERNS To provide a basis for defining patterns in weapon design, the following template will be used: Name – A descriptive identifier used to refer to the pattern that is recognizable and imparts the core functionality of the pattern. Description – A brief explanation of the typical features of a weapon derived from this pattern. Affordances – Aspects of the pattern that can be varied between different weapons within the pattern. Consequences – How use of the weapon pattern affects gameplay. Level Patterns – Relationships between the weapon pattern and patterns in level design. NPC's – Relationships between the weapon pattern and patterns in non-player character design. Examples – Uses of the weapon design pattern from popular commercial shooter games. Patterns contained within another are considered to be super- or sub-patterns of each other. Patterns are not mutually exclusive from each other; a weapon can fit multiple weapon patterns. A large number of affordances can be considered universal among weapon patterns, including: How much damage the weapon deals The range of the weapon The area of effect of the weapon How often the weapon can be used ("Cooldown") How many times the weapon can be used before needing to be reloaded (“Capacity”) How much ammunition a player can carry How carrying the weapon affects the player’s movement How the weapon imparts damage to the enemy (On hit, delayed, continuous, etc.) Any special effects that the weapon has on the enemy Any special abilities that the weapon bestows Repetition of a Universal Affordance within a particular pattern description signifies that pattern differs significantly within the pattern in that aspect. PATTERN COLLECTION PROJECTILE Description: Objects thrown or fired in a physics-defined arch. Most often, Projectiles are explosives that deal damage in a large area of effect. Projectiles are also associated with long reload times and small capacities. Projectiles also often have a low amount of maximum ammunition. Affordances: The range of the weapon If the effect is immediate or delayed The area of effect of the weapon Any special effects of the weapon Consequences: Projectile weapons are useful for circumventing cover. Also, they heighten the challenge through being more difficult to aim than other weapons. Level Patterns: Projectiles can be used to harm enemies in Sniper Locations or guarding Choke Points without directly engaging them. Players using Projectiles are often vulnerable to Split Levels and Galleries, due to ammunition limitations and a lack of sufficient cover. NPCs: Grenadiers, Elites, and sometimes Tanks use Projectiles to force the player out of cover and impose a greater threat. Projectiles allow players to take on large groups of enemies, such as Swarms and Carriers, and fight against heavy enemies, such as Tanks and Snipers, without engaging them directly. The long recharge times and tendency for Projectiles to have large areas of effect make them less effective against Berserkers and Suicidals. Examples: The Demoman class from Team Fortress 2  has a Grenade Launcher that allows the player to fire pipe bombs at enemies. These pipe bombs explode on impact with an enemy; otherwise the bombs roll for a few seconds before exploding. In the Halo series, the rocket launcher is a weapon that is both a Launched Projectile and Power Weapon. The weapon launches a rocket at high velocity, creating a large explosion that can instantly kill targets, both those on foot and those in vehicles. However, the weapon carries very limited ammunition and takes up space in the player’s limited arsenal. A player firing Projectiles in Team Fortress 2 Thrown Projectile Description: A non-bullet object thrown by the hand of the player's character and categorized by short range and highly affected by gravity. Thrown Projectiles often have high damage or severe special effects, balanced by scarce ammunition. Affordances: Special effects associated with the physical object of the projectile Consequences: The player is able to attack opponents who are behind cover, however they are forced to keep in mind their ammunition and range limitations. Level Patterns: Thrown Projectiles allow players to defeat an enemy guarding a Choke Point, or players on another level of a Split Level. In areas with long distances, such as Sniper Positions, or with enemies at multiple angles, such as Arenas and Flanking Routes, Thrown Projectiles are not very effective. NPCs: Elites utilize Thrown Projectiles in order to pressure players who are taking cover. Some Summoners use their spawned units as a sort of Thrown Projectile as a way of deploying them. A player can use Thrown Projectiles much like normal Projectiles to attack heavy Tanks from behind cover. Thrown Projectiles are often more effective against solitary, close-range targets and less effective against loosely grouped Swarm and Grunt enemies. Examples: In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2 , the throwing knife is a powerful Thrown Projectile with harsh limitations. The weapon has a short range, however a hit with the knife immediately kills the enemy. A player also may only carry one knife at a time. Halo 3 offers players a handful of varied thrown projectiles. Fragmentation grenades can be thrown a good distance and rebound off any obstacles until they detonate after a set amount of time. Players also have the option of using plasma grenades instead, which attach themselves to level geometry and players on contact, but have a shorter range and smaller blast radius EFFECTS OF WEAPON PATTERNS ON LEVEL DESIGN By forcing the player to use particular weapons in certain parts of a level, the level designer utilizes the relationships between the weapon and level to best control the experience and gameplay. For example, in the Ravenholm section of Half-Life 2, the player begins the level with a weak Melee Weapon, Sidearm, and Assault Weapon. The player progresses through Arenas and Chokepoints with a numerous number of Grunt and Swarm enemies, resulting in high tension and challenge. Later, the player fights Berserker and Carrier enemies, but acquires a Close Blast weapon and moves into Choke Points where the player has the advantage. The tension and challenge drop to give the player a respite and allow them to learn how to utilize the weapon. As the player proceeds, the level patterns become more Arenas and Split Levels, forcing the player to use weapons accordingly, bringing the challenge and tension back up for the climax of the level. In multiplayer levels, weapon placement allows the level designer to direct players. The designer can hint at what weapons are best suited for a certain area, force players to carry an unsuitable weapon across an area to get somewhere where that weapon is more useful, or even make it more difficult to use a particular weapon from a particular location. The multiplayer level Blood Gulch in Halo has Sniping Weapons atop each base at the ends of the map, overlooking large amount of the level and subtly hinting at the advantageous Sniper Position. A Power Weapon, the rocket launcher, is placed in the center of the map, forcing players to travel a long distance and expose themselves in order to procure the weapon. The multiplayer level Blood Gulch in Halo APPENDIX A - ADDITIONAL DESIGN PATTERN COLLECTIONS MULTIPLAYER FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER LEVELS *Note: The work presented in this section is based on material originally developed in collaboration with Chris Ueda. In our examination of multiplayer levels, we will be paying particular attention to their relationship to single-player levels and their associated patterns. Certain elements of multiplayer design patterns have parallels to their single-player counterparts. While these parallels suggest a large overlap in design principles for the design of levels in a (FPS) game, there is a difference in design goals between single and multiplayer levels. The goal of the level designer is to provide a specific gameplay experience to the player. Experiences such as a distinct gameplay experience or narrative diegetic effect can be produced by designers through the use of level geometry, item placement, scripted events, and other level design elements. A single-player level is designed as a linear space, segmented into rooms separated by corridors. This allows the designer to create highs and lows in player tension, pacing the gameplay and giving the player opportunities to experience moments of intensity without tiring themselves out. For example, Half-Life 2, a single-player FPS, often makes extensive use of open spaces in which the player is guided through the level while being given visual cues tying narrative and world space together. The level tells the story rather than large blocks of text or cutscenes, adding to a sense of immersion. The difference in player count between single-player and multiplayer affects the way in which the designer needs to approach level design. When crafting a single-player level, the designer aims to tailor an experience to one player, but in designing multiplayer levels, the game state is now based on the inputs of other players, whose game-playing experiences the designer must all consider. An example of the differences between single-player and multiplayer levels is apparent in spawning points for players versus spawning points for NPCs (non-player character). While they have similar purposes (introducing new entities into the level), in multiplayer levels additional players are spawned in place of NPCs. In a singleplayer level a NPC can be created whenever the designer chooses, but in a multiplayer level, the designer must equally consider all players when designing spawning points in a level. As the spawn points of each player affects the encounter rate, and therefore the pacing of the game. If too high, a player may get exhausted by constant action, or get bored between respawns if it's too low. Level design patterns are employed by designers to explore design choices and craft the desired gameplay for a level. These patterns vary based on the requirements of the game. For example, FPS gameplay involves the use of space and resources in real-time in a way that makes cover or item pickups useful. Therefore, patterns emerge that relate to the placement and frequency of these objects, and these patterns differ according to the unique features that distinguish multiplayer from single-player gameplay. KEY CONCEPTS CONFLICT POINTS A conflict point is a location in a level which is designed to bring opposing forces into an encounter. These locations are key in managing rhythm and flow in multiplayer levels. By designing a level with conflict points in mind, the intensity and pacing that a given player experiences can be adjusted. To do this, designers can utilize elements of a conflict point such as chokepoints, strongholds, pickups, and objectives. Chokepoints and strongholds change the movement of players in and about a conflict point, while pickups and objectives provide players a focal point for encounters. A powerful weapon or a bunker may motivate players to prioritize combat in that area, increasing the overall intensity of the location over others. Examples include the flag's location in a CTF game of Halo: Combat Evolved, Control Points in Team Fortress 2, or the Farsight XR-20 (an extremely powerful weapon) in Perfect Dark. These are objectives that players can obtain to get an advantage, and naturally conflict will occur in their vicinity. Use of conflict points is critical to many design patterns, as multiplayer FPS levels depend on them for creating player encounters. For example, bomb sites in CounterStrike serve as the objective destination for the Terrorist forces. The objective of the Counter-Terrorist forces is to prevent the Terrorist demolition mission, and both teams are aware of the state of the bomb sites through in-game HUD cues. These areas are often camped, with one team lying in wait to ambush the other team. The expected combat in the conflict point reinforces player planning and coordination followed by a burst of high-intensity combat. To support this style of gameplay, these bomb sites often contain various types of cover and are connected to the rest of the level via small, easily ambushed entryways serving as chokepoints. PATTERNS IN MULTIPLAYER GAME TYPES Multiplayer FPS games require a different set of game rules and objectives from single-player. Sets of rules collectively known as game types are defined in order to provide specific gameplay experiences. These may include rules such as a priority object or location, or a score objective. Level designers apply key concepts of multiplayer level design in the context of a specific game type in order to create a playable level. CAPTURE THE FLAG (CTF) This game type has both teams simultaneously on offense and defense, trying to claim the other team's flag and bringing it back to their own base while protecting their own flag. The game type is similar to Control Point, especially when the flag is located at a team's base. The flag's starting location serves as a point of conflict, and is often a strongly fortified location, making defense easy and requiring coordinated offense to capture. After claiming the flag, a player must bring the flag to their team's own base. The enemy team must prevent the flag from being delivered by attacking the carrier. Flag carriers are encouraged to use alternate paths and shortcuts in order to evade the opposing team. Levels are often symmetric to ensure balance. Respawn times are long, allowing a team to press their advantage after defeating opposing forces. Examples include Unreal Tournament - Facing Worlds (symmetrical) and CTF4 in Quake 3 Arena. Blood Gulch in Halo: CE is a classic example, set in a wide, open canyon with rolling hills. On the two far ends, a single bunker houses each team's flag. Teleporters quickly move players from a base to the middle of the stage, but not the other way, allowing respawned players to return to the action. Team Fortress 2's Payload maps are a variation of the CTF format. In this game type the offensive team moves a cart forward by standing besides it, while the defense sets up fortifications to prevent progress. The linear path of the cart and the respawn system of TF2 distinguishes this game type as being closer to CTF rather than Delivery, described further below. Team Fortress 2's Goldrush, a Payload map where the blue team moves the cart along to its destination PATTERNS IN MULTIPLAYER LEVELS Multiplayer level design strives to create a level playing field. To provide gameplay options while maintaining this balance, beneficial structures such as sniper locations and alternate routes need to be viable, while the opposing players are provided with a valid counterstrategy. In Halo: Combat Evolved single-player, a sniper location provided a significant advantage to the player. In the multiplayer game, players in sniper locations must also be wary of counter attack from the complementary sniper location on the other side of the level, or rely on their teammates to protect a poorly defensible position. Team strategy may be required to make the most of a given pattern's potential, often reflected in a strong offensive or defensive feature of a location. ARENA Description: Open areas with good sight ranges. Promotes encounters as a result of visibility or traffic – arenas are often conflict points Affordances: Can contain a Control Point. Pickups will increase traffic and conflict in the area. Can include features such as battlements and alternate paths to prevent overcongestion. Consequences: If surrounding area is confusing or congested, adding arena features may improve traffic flow. Has sporadic cover, providing good defense but not concealment. Examples: de_aztec (Counter-strike) - The terrorist force cross an open, unprotected area and take cover behind the crates located at demolition point A. A ramp up from a lower floor and a hallway with clear view of the bomb point threaten the terrorist force's objective. Hang em' High (Halo: Combat Evolved) - An extremely open map, with small blocks for cover, and ramps leading up to a second level which surrounds the map. Catwalks crisscrossing the level can be accessed from the second level. These lead to powerful weapons, but players are vulnerable to attacks from below. Halo: Combat Evolved, Hang em' High: Many catwalks cross the length of the map Follow this link for the full writing: https://users.soe.ucsc.edu/~ejw/dissertations/Ken-Hullett-dissertation.pdf Follow Ken Linkedin: https://ca.linkedin.com/in/khullett Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
'Map Design Theory' comes from the heyday of Halo 3's Forge Mode. This one holds a special place in my heart because it's one of the first articles that got me thinking seriously about level design. It covers all of the essentials of level design, and use examples to support the discussion points. This article was written exclusively with Halo 3 in mind, but is most definitely applicable to Level Design in other FPS games as well. Understanding map design can be a daunting task for anyone, but with a little perseverance and open mind it should be relatively easy to grasp. To start, design is all about having the right sets of mentalities and understanding, and three over-arching categories drive successful map design; Gameplay Knowledge, Vision, and Creativity. These three elements need to come together in unison for a map to work well on various levels. If you focus too heavily upon creativity and vision, the map may end up more aesthetically pleasing than it would have, but won’t necessarily play well. If you know gameplay and have a vision for map design, your map may come out a little dull even though it might be fun. I had a third point, but it left me, and now I have to pay alimony every month. Balance between the three separates the novice from the exceptional. There are no simple tricks to suddenly finding the balance; as with everything, it requires practice and mental familiarity.Knowledge:"Knowledge is power"Sir Francis Bacon said thatHe didn't work out.Knowledge boils down to understanding the various mechanics in Halo 3 in both general terms and specific ways such as; anti-camping concepts, getting a feel for the spawn system to encourage routes and flow, recognizing and preventing choke points (sometimes even effectively implementing them) and much more. However, the point isn't to be rehash previous ideas, rather to know WHY things are and WHY they are subsequently successful or not in their attempts. There's really no limit to what you can learn about map design. It’s just about taking the time to understand how each each aspect works in principle and how to use it effectively. Vision:Psychic map builder?That makes it sound difficult.Just think your map through.In a few words, vision can be described as being able to mentally visualize the next step like some sort of psychic map-builder. This can be difficult for people as not everyone is able to imagine in 3D, and the good news is, this isn’t always necessary for proper map design. Basic questions you should ask: What will the player movement be like? How do you want it to look and what are the major points of interest? Is it going to be mostly flat (too easy a joke) What of elevation changes? Will there be rooms, and if so how will you prevent camping? These are all things that you should think about while designing a map. Knowing what devices to envision results from a solid understanding of gameplay and design fundamentals. Essentially, the key to it all is trying to imagine how your idea will actually play out as a map within Halo 3, translating the physical form of the map you're imagining in to an actual gameplay environment, and determining whether or not it will work effectively. Creativity:Creativity, like any other expressive medium, is an important part of any effective map design. It determines uniqueness, flow, supported playstyles, weapon use, and key areas, if any. These should be minimally addressed in your design before you even start building.Thousands of downloadsfor a pallet conveyorCreative. 'Nuff said.It’s difficult to describe how to be creative or what spurs a design. Sometimes it’s a quick flash of inspiration; other times it’s a focal point that it is built off of. It varies on its creator, and from an ironically objective standpoint, it's luck. What complicates it even more is it can be often difficult to tie everything together, so having a clear vision of what you want to create before focusing on specifics is very important. A Haiku:Forge guides are fun, butdisclaimers are important.Please, please don't sue us.First, a few disclaimers before we start: the focus of this Forging 201 will not be to show you some new Forge tips or a solid set of information, in fact probably nothing will be particularly new. Everything that we'll be saying here you should think critically about; in other words, map design mentality.Second, while we'll try to leave things vague and open for you to think about, we'll be making our own assumptions and assertions throughout the piece. It's a guide, not a law, if you can give good reason for anything, supportive, contradictory or unrelated to the topics presented, and it helps your design, it's perfectly fine. Our assumptions are not necessarily fact, just keep that in mind.Map design is a puzzle; everything fits together to form one final product. All of the following topics are important interrelated factors in defining the resulting gameplay. Much as map design is being broken down in to various aspects and considerations for the purposes of this article, the real point of map design is understanding them not only in distinct terms, but most importantly how they interact to form the greater whole of a successful map.In no way is this discussion close to complete, nor can it ever really be. Map design is a constant learning and innovative process. There's no limit to what you can learn and do with it. As a whole, this guide has been a collaboration between Insane54 and MickRaider.Knowledge Player movement, often known as "flow" (and what it will henceforth be referred to as) is the base for map design. Player movement is how the players progress through your map in relation to the various objects in it, or in simpler terms, how players prefer to move about the map. There's no good or bad flow. Your map starts with a vision and the flow is the result. Different people have different ways of approaching obstacles in the environment, but as the map creator you can streamline (or expand) routes to better suit certain approaches. Flow is invariably affected by the map itself, so the design process should bring about the following questions: What's the ideal amount of players? How big is the map? What playstyles do you want to encourage? What weapons do you want players to use, and how often? i.e. weapon balance In Halo, players do not traverse the map on a cover-to-cover basis like Gears of War, nor do they move between random structures; open-area combat is a significant, if not defining, aspect of Halo 3's gameplay mechanic. Therefore, your map design should never be based off of cover or structures themselves, rather any cover provided should be a part of the larger scheme of things. In essence, the cover defines player flow (or choice of route) as opposed to giving them set paths to follow in order to remain behind cover. This will be expanded upon later.In general, every area on the map should be accessible by at least 2 paths. The more paths you put into an area, the more it will turn into a transitory area (as opposed to a camp spot). For example, players will more often traverse through Guardian's sniper area via the middle level than on the bottom, simply because it has four paths instead of two. Simple enough. That being said, you don't necessarily want to put many different paths for the sake of having them, just understand which areas call for it, and address them to prevent camping. After all, Halo is about movement, not "tactical waiting" as Sarge would say. Furthermore, your paths should have purpose as opposed to just diversifying routes, that is, they should affect gameplay in some way. Example: Guardian. A person is shooting from sniper spawn. Regardless of position, there are various ways to take him out, such as tactical BR shots or providing a distraction while teammates sneak from behind, among other avenues of attack. The point is, the map affords plenty of options, and each has a different level and type of risk associated with it, a balance of advantage and disadvantage. To summarize map flow (and subsequent player movement options) for a given situation should not only be suited to this situation, but also balanced with one another so that situations don't arise where one route is overplayed and the other, underused. Lines of Sight: What you can see at any given point, or rather, the damage you can inflict within your field of vision. In quantitative terms, it is your entire 360 degree viewing angle, adjusted by obstructions in your view (walls, barriers, etc).This can be accomplished due to a variety of weapon and grenades. However, the concept of 'good LoS' is somewhat misguided and inefficient in practical terms. In fact, lines of sight aren't particularly important in the first place. A player doesn't look directly at one point the entire game. Games are dynamic and have more to do with field of vision than lines of sight. Let's do away with the lines of sight idea (again, we'll continue to use the name for simplicity), and think about a very similar but much more important definition:Field of Vision is the angle at which the user can see enemy players. In normal circumstances, this angle is approximately 90 degrees. Unaffected "Field of Vision" Field of vision is, of course, different depending on the situation you're in, such as being in a tunnel with a shotgun or atop an open ledge with a sniper-rifle. Thus, determining what players will be able to see, and where, will have a significant effect on the routes they will use. In general, if the player can see the enemy at long range, a direct run is inadvisable by common sense. This changes at close range, especially with the use of the shotguns or assault rifles, as bullet spray is lessened. With this in mind, as a map builder, you can guide gameplay to preference in your map. On that note, you still want to include enough routes for escape, flanking, and other maneuvers.Height is important to lines of sight. People on towers have the advantage of cover from people below, and can use that to their advantage. Balancing power points with path and line of sight options is important and can be accomplished through clever grenade bounces and alternative paths.Players are dynamic and adjust to the situations they are in, and though you can't control their specific responses, you can set the stimulus that provokes those responses. In other words, you can't control the bee and its honey, but you can determine what flowers it has access to.Here are some of the generic comments you'll often see by forger and other players; "Cool structures", "needs more cover", "too open". A well designed map is not comprised of any of the above, or rather trying to understand map design in these simple terms is essentially flawed and misses the point of how larger design works in Halo 3. Structures, cover, and open areas are a part of map design, sure, but they are nowhere near the major focus of a map, they're more the result of design than an actual part of the design process. If you are ever finding yourself designing a map around random structures or cover, you should be going back to the drawing board and figure out how you are going to tie everything together.We've all encountered plenty of awesome structures out there. Structures are capable of defining a map, such as "Relic". You must be careful to have the map tie together though. Structures can be beneficial to a map design by directing players where you want them on a map. An interesting central structure that also has a tactical advantage can direct attention towards that structure and create interesting hot spots and gameplay opportunities. Let me take this moment to say that the goal for map design is not always to create some perfectly designed map that plays exactly evenly or balanced. Your goal should be to create a fun and unique experience that's balanced enough for both teams to have fun. Most importantly your design should offer different options to the player and allowing each of these to have a variety of possibilities. Therefore, there is plenty of room for structures to be a big part of your map design, but don't let that overshadow the overall design, any structure should instead be thought of in terms of whether or not it compliments the overall design. The most notable problem you'll find in structure-based maps is that they are reliant on players to run around in those structures. There should always be advantages and disadvantages to various flow routes, as explained before. Forcing players to be on some kind of structure to do well should be avoided at all costs. Players on the ground should be able to have fun, and people playing on structures should have some sort of advantage and disadvantage against those players.Cover can be thought of in the same regard. A map should never be defined by it's cover. Though at some point you will likely be giving players a chance to get out of a line of fire. Never, ever randomly place cover in a "middle" areas to make it "less open". When players make a decision, such as to go one route versus another, there should be another driving force. Throwing down a block in the middle that he can hide behind turns that into bland and repetitive game. In a good design the natural cover is often more than adequate. Though chances are at some point you'll need some kind of additional cover. Specific cover objects should be used as a last resort if a natural approach could not be found. Keep in mind that what you build should be what players will use to move around the map. In general, objects should be used to compliment lines of sight and flow. If you find that players are getting cut down in an undesirable crossfire, cover might then be necessary to break up the action. An area you designed should never be "too open". The amount of an open area varies depending on several factors, and quite often an open run might be desirable as opposed to the same area littered with unnecessary structures and cover. If you find that players are not using your routes as you had originally planned, cover can be used to help solve this issue if nothing else will work.Though spawns and objectives are generally placed once your map is already built, it is still good practice to keep them in mind when designing. This foresight can make the difference between a good map or a great map, and if you build a whole map without considering how you want spawning to work, then when you come to placing spawns you may find it hard to implement an effective spawning system.In general, it is important to have, at a minimum, two major areas for each team to spawn at. Applying what we learned before, try and visualize what the players will think once they spawn. How many route options do they have? Do they encompass the necessary possibilities that will allow the player to make proper use of this life? Will they be aware which direction they need to travel without taking the time to analyze their surroundings?While planning spawn points in advance can be difficult; it is important to remember that the way spawn points are placed is vital to how the map will flow. A player should have options straight off of his spawn, thus it is important to make sure that there is at least two paths from every spawn. Also it is important to check each and every spawn. Stand directly over the spawn, exactly copying what it will look like when the player spawns, and then consider exactly what a player could do with the spawn you have given them against various scenarios. Alternatively, you could kill yourself repeatedly. Things to keep in mind when placing spawn points. You should be pointed towards a possible path; you should be able to run straight forwards for 2-3 seconds without turning at all. In addition, put yourself in the shoes of a player who doesn't know the map. What options do you have? The player should never be completely hopeless. In general a spawn point should point towards a point of interest, such as an objective or a power weapon. It is bad form to point a player towards their own base and will often confuse and frustrate a player by doing so. Always give them an objective when they spawn. This can be especially useful in situations where players are not finding your weapons, having a spawn pointed at them will almost guarantee that they will happen upon it. The counter to this is that if a power weapon is over used, don't have spawn points directed at it or too close to it and it's use will decrease. Objective planning is similar. Make sure attacking and defending teams both have at least three options, and that each of these options have varying pros and cons. Often this fits directly into flow, but objectives offer some variations on the normal flow. A flag can be thrown down a higher area into a more open run, or can sneak around. The defense should have options as well. Once a flag is taken or a bomb is armed, what possibilities do they have? Again, make sure they are all different. There should rarely be a case where the defense has very little chances of success of returning or disarming. And of course, neutral objectives should be even for both sides. One last point we'd like to make: in most cases, don't put your objectives in corners! It's amazing how many maps make this mistake, not only does it limit flow possibilities for both teams, it turns the corners into camping areas and renders them highly susceptible to grenades. Some map designs require it, but this a rare occasion and should be avoided unless you've really thought about making this decision.Aesthetics often play a major role in the player's decision on where they choose to go. If we look at typical play styles, a player is generally reluctant to move from a normal hot spot of the map, even if it means getting to a higher point. This tends to only happen if they have a long ranged weapon. There are some important points to think about here also. Players want roam to run around, even if only in a small area. A cramped tower is much less likely to be used than one that is well spaced and flows well with the rest of the map. Never throw a random sniper tower to the side of a map, assuming that people will want to use it because it's a high tower. Expanding on this; a bland, basic area of the map will often be used less than a nice looking one, particularly by new players. The designer can use these visual cues to direct players to places they want. One mistake often made is "mounting" weapons on walls. Though this looks great and can often work wonderfully for more basic items, if the weapon or equipment is poking out sideways it can get in the way, and if the item is pushed to the wall (as it normally is), it can be hard to find if the player does not know the map. Therefore, if you want players to go to your power weapons, make them obvious to find. Exhibit them to the whole map, not just those who are standing right next to it. Consider the Rockets on The Pit, for example. They can't be seen from a large amount of the map's area, but as long as you are on the long hall/needler area you can see when they have respawned without being right next to them.Continuity is an "uninterrupted connection or union", and should not be confused with our earlier discussions on cover and structures or flow. Continuity means players make choices based on the choices available on the map. Good continuity lets players choose routes that will always lead to the destination they had in mind. Whether the destination is to flank an enemy position or a route to the opposing team’s high ground. Every part of the map the player can walk on has a specific purpose and eventually leads to a specific place on the map. A path/tunnel or corridor that appears, in terms of its direction, to lead to a given area of the map, but actually curves around and leads to a different area, can be confusing to players.The Pit is truly one of the greatest Halo maps of all time. There has never been a design that uses so many staple Halo weapons and play styles and combines them so well. You could spend a week looking at every part of it and appreciating it for how great of a map it really is. For this example we'll try and analyze what the designers were thinking and how this great map came about. FlowThe Pit generally plays towards BRs and Snipers, or mid to long range weapons. That doesn't exclude anything else, like the Sword, but close range is obviously not the main gameplay focus. There is enough variety of close, medium, and long range routes to keep the player on their toes. Let's take a look at some closer examples. How many times have you been rushing through the long hallway and just get demolished by grenades? Wouldn’t it make sense for Bungie to have put a block there so that wouldn’t happen? We realize that this aspect is built in to the design. By having the longest and straightest path to the enemy base, this encourages the player to subconsciously try to get there as fast as possible, although they know the risk. This is made fair and fun due to the fact that you’re rewarded by getting there faster than anyone else with the rockets, but with a high risk of dying. This is bluntly called "risk vs. reward." When looking at The Pit there are either 3 or 4 main routes. Each route should have a different advantage and disadvantage, height advantages, weapon spawns, line of sight to popular areas, etc. The hard part is not just balancing these, not to encourage even use, but so that each one has a different and interesting playstyle that all come together for a fun experience. A great example of this is "Runway" on The Pit (where the overshield is); it obviously is not a place that's good for slaying, being it has few lines of sight and field of vision to anything important, however it is an excellent flank, most particularly to the sniper tower. A sniper usually has his field of vision trained on the more traffic-heavy parts of the map on the opposite side. Another interesting point is that routes to an area have an effect on how it’s used. For example, let's examine the shotgun cave or sniper tower from The Pit. It is obvious that these places encourage players to use their respective weapons. These only have two main routes to them thus the foot traffic is naturally low, but increases due to the power weapons effect. If you want players to be moving to other areas of the map, they tend to have more paths such as each sides "Training" on The Pit). Knowing where you want players moving is what player movement is all about. Lines of SightWe can see how The Pit has a wide variety of sight lines. Though the cross map sniper battles from the tower, to the narrow and dangerous sword room. Each of these sight lines allow for a good variety of gameplay and excitement. We can learn a lot about the effect the sniper has on the map by examining one point in particular, the sniper tower. From the sniper tower the player can have a view of essentially their entire side, though the view of the oppositions base is drastically limited. This accomplishes two things, the first being so that the player is not able to dominate the entire map from one spot the entire game, which lends itself to the second, that the player is forced to leave his perch to find the enemy when they become wise and avoid his position. By providing a series of safe routes for the players to use the sniper tower's power is severely limited. This encourages map flow by directing players to certain areas to both prevent and defend against snipers. The sword room also provides an interesting assortment of lines of sight. The first and most obvious is the back hallway where a sword can dominate. This is cleverly countered by a long line of sight from training and green box where players can throw grenades and shoot in at a safe distance. This balance allows the area to be both powerful and vulnerable in a way that makes the gameplay fun. CoverThe Pit is a great example of a map that uses natural cover very effectively and in a way that works well throughout. Only in a few notable places do we see the addition of cover. The first obvious point is training's "Corner." This simple design allows for a safety area from the sniper tower or sword room, but as it has opening it is very easy to detect when a player is there. This makes it so the player must move from the area quickly or risk being spotted and grenaded out. The natural cover of The Pit shows us how important elevation changes are in a map. Simply by lowering the middle parts of The Pit it allows the player an alternate route to move around without being easily detected from other areas on the map. The height of the sniper is countered by the elevated height of the rocket tunnel entrance. This use of high and low areas allows The Pit to play dynamically and uniquely every time. Spawns and ObjectivesThe spawns on The Pit are well laid out to encourage the flow of the map. In general the spawns are weighted such that the players will spawn at the higher portion near green box or the shotgun tunnel. This is by design as this area is intended to be the highest trafficked area. The designers knew that as most battles would take place in this are they want to allow players the quickest routes back upon respawn. In order to prevent spawn trapping the second alternate spawn area is below the sniper tower. This area is less used, though serves important functions to separate the base into two distinct spawn zones. If we analyze the spawns further we'd notice how they always point towards a main route or looking at a power weapon/equipment. Even in some cases spawning directly on the overshield. The objectives on The Pit were obviously something the designers had in mind from the start. Getting the iconic callout, "The Pit," describes the room in which the objective will spawn. If we look closer at this we can see how the objective is located in the center of the room with two main routes in or out. The third route is through the front but requires a teammate to catch the objective or a box to jump out on. This balance makes it a challenge to get the objective both in an out, but not an impossible one. Points of Interest and ContinuityThere are a few main points of interest on this map. The first plays a crucial role in the map design even though it could be argued it was added as an afterthought, "The Green Box." This point on the map plays a very crucial role. It offers a safety zone from the sniper tower while still providing a variety of routes. The player could choose to continue through green tunnel to acquire the Active Camo, continue to the long hallway to get the rockets, or move down the map towards Training to flank the opponents. This point is something that the player is naturally drawn to due to it's color and size. This simple use of aesthetics plays a huge role in how the map ultimately plays. Continuity on The Pit is rather obvious. A friend said it best when he described a map as being "Wheel Chair Accessible". Every point is walkable by more than one route, even though every route is not necessarily connected. If we look again at the "Runway" we can see how this route connects both sniper towers through a safety route, while still having a connection to the middle of the map. If that middle route was not there this route would have been dangerous to the point where it would rarely or never be used. Guardian is a spiritual successor to Lockout of sorts. Being primarily designed around a center "circle" the map itself plays very uniquely to even it's predecessor and is definitely amongst the top ranking halo maps.FlowIf we look at an overview of Guardian we can see how the major player movement is designed to move in a counterclockwise circle. Now this doesn’t mean that it’s the only way people will go, but it’s actually the basis on which the map runs. The uniqueness of Guardian - it's counterclockwise movement, use of low and high routes, and successful mancannons - is what makes it so intriguing and fun to play. From this we can see an emergence of 4 major "bases". The sniper tower, Green platform, Gold room, and blue room. Each of these areas plays a major role in how Guardian flows. In general the play tends to focus heavily around controlling sniper tower or gold lift, but as Guardian has a tendency to support close range combat this is not it's only function. There is plenty of opportunities for flanking due to the assortment of low and high routes. Lines of SightBeing a room-based map the lines of sight on Guardian are broken up well and efficiently. There is a good assortment of long line of sights from the sniper tower and bottom of sniper tower to gold. The number of long lines are contrasted by the increased number of short ones such as green platform, blue room, and gold room. These short sight lines help to encourage the use of short range weaponry, which outnumbers the long/medium range weapons. The shotgun, hammer, and mauler play a critical role in how the map ultimately plays out. However, controlling the sniper rifle is very important as essentially the entire upper portion of the map can be controlled with it. CoverGuardian is another example of a map that relies on it's natural cover without the need for extra cover in most cases. Only in a few points do we see the addition of cover which is cleverly blended into the map itself. The first of which being the cover around the hammer.This cover is useful in a number of ways. The first being that it slightly breaks up the lines of sight between the bottom of sniper tower and the bottom of gold room. The second being that it provides cover in the likely event that a battle takes place between green platform and hammer. This cover is definitely an important element of the map design and without it the map would play very differently in these areas.The second use of cover is the trees on green platform. Again a very important use of cover to break up the sight lines between elbow and green platform. This makes it more difficult for a sniper to control the map from elbow and thus forces him to a higher location, where everyone on the map can easily see him. Without this cover it would be possible for a sniper to control elbow very easily and make a flank extremely difficult. The third use of cover is the glass window that protects blue room from the sniper tower. Without this critical piece of cover the sniper would be able to dominate the entirety of the upper portion of the map. By using this glass window a player could place shots on a sniper in the tower while still having a safety zone to retreat to when the situation turns against them. This window is very vulnerable from the green tree thus has a good balance of power and weakness that forces players to act fast and move on. Spawns and ObjectivesAs Guardian is an asymmetric map, spawning and objective balance is much more difficult. One team should not feel at a disadvantage by spawning at one side versus another. It is also important to have a good spawn spread so that predicting the spawns is difficult. Each of the main area on the map has a balanced assortment of spawns, with the main rooms having a higher weighting than the connecting walkways. This means that players will tend to spawn in one of four critical areas, while still having backup spawns in the event that each of these rooms is compromised. The objectives on Guardian are definitely something to take notice of. If we look at the transition between Lockout and Guardian we can see why they chose to take it in a different direction. In Lockout the flag spawned on the elbow, which made it difficult to move it away from. This played well due to the emphasis on short range combat. In Halo 3, the emphasis is more on medium to long range and if the flag was placed on the elbow then the player would have had an incredibly hard time moving it to a safer location. To help fix this problem they made the elbow the return point and placed the flag underneath blue room. By doing this they accomplished a balanced location that provides the player with a multitude of possibilities. The player could choose to run it towards the lift, which would take them to sniper and a short safe route to the flag. The downside of this being that that they would be very vulnerable while traveling through the man cannon. The second alternative is to take it up the ramp to blue window and run across the middle. Another short route but this requires that the attacking team controls the upper portion of the map. The final possibility is to take it back down towards gold room. This is the "safest" of all the routes as the flag runner is well covered, though the danger being that they will be running into the defense's major spawn areas. Points of Interest and ContinuityThe two main points of interest on Guardian are the sniper tower and gold room. The sniper tower is a very important location as it houses the sniper rifle and a sort of sniper perch. With the right skill set a player could control a large portion of the map from this location. This makes it very important to either control or prevent the other team from controlling this area. The gold lift is also an important point of interest as it provides a good variety of close and medium range combat and houses the active camouflage. The camo plays an important role in balancing the sniper's power so it is important that the player controls one or the other of these power items. It is also easy to defend gold room as they are somewhat protected from the sniper tower and can monitor 2 of the 4 main routes in by listening for the lift sounds. Being a circular flow map, the continuity is easy to identify. As the player could walk in a complete circle around the map it is important to connect routes together to provide enough variety so that they don't. The middle platform is an obvious connection point that connects the four main rooms with the quickest routes. As these routes are vulnerable from the sniper tower another combination of lower routes help to connect the map together without being too vulnerable. This combination of quick and dangerous, and slow and protected is one of the reasons that Guardian plays so well for almost all gametypes. While map design is of course an abstract business, designing of your own maps is even more so. We'll go through the process that the authors go through, and it should be noted that any way works fine if it works for you.Designing your map requires an understanding not just of what we've put above, but of the mentality that it gives you. You should be able to take any given map and break it down to it's core elements, and say what parts are what, why, and how it works. Depending on the person, this will often take anywhere from a day or two to weeks or months to truly understand. Once you've got that under your belt, you're ready to start designing your own maps.The first thing you want to envision is how the players will move through the map, or path planning. This can be done as simply as a 2D sketch with major path lines planned. The idea is that it's vague, but shows where I want my players to be moving around, and shows the basis of map movement. It's quite simple, but without one of these at least in your head, your map can be significantly worse. Your basic paths should be simple and well-thought out, from our example, The Pit has 3 or 4 major paths. All of these offer wildly different possibilities. Alternative paths are wonderful, and you're free to work with those, but for now we're only talking about major flow.Once you've got your flow down, you'll want to think about how people will interact with each other by lines of sight, field of vision, and height differences. Try to envision yourself in this kind of blocky, empty map, and what kind of gameplay you'd like to see yourself playing. Then, just think about how that gameplay can be encouraged by your design. Lines of sight, field of vision, and height differences can help that enormously.Well, we hope you've enjoyed our Forging 201 on the knowledge portion of map design. Remember that the point of this isn't to give you a set of information, but to start you in the right mindset. There's no way to ever know everything in map design; it's a constant learning and thinking process that we're hoping this may possibly spark.If it's clear you've got the drive and enough smarts to think through all the stuff above, that's all you'll need to be great at map design. Source: https://www.forgehub.com/threads/map-design-theory-knowledge.97349/ Follow Insane54 Website: https://halocustoms.com/ Follow Mick Raider Twitter: https://twitter.com/VincentTorre Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
"An article describing how to make a multiplayer level from scratch to the end for a realistic setting“Index: Introduction Small Tale Used Level Design Terms Basic Strategy Balance Introduction The first basic Layout Settings Making it more complex General Area Settings Special Talk about open Battlefields Strategic Summary Improvements With Tactic Elements Introduction Battelareas Introduction Basic Rules CTF Example BOMB Mission Example Mission areas Introduction Basic Rules Moving Mission areas CTF Example BOMB Mission Example Movement Modifiers Hallways or what happened between the Areas Spawn points Stopping the Player Tactical Summary Navigation/ Orientation in the Levels Introduction Eye Catcher/ Special Areas Overview/ Understanding of the Level Different Level Sizes Art for Gameplay Introduction Lighting Textures Architecture & Geometry What about Details & Beauty? Sound for Gameplay Round Based vs. Reinforcement Game modes Mirrored vs. Uneven Map Layout Realistic & Arcade Game design vs. Level design Creativity Final Words & Questions IntroductionI am writing this article to share my personal experiences and opinions about realistic multiplayer level design. Some of my old maps don’t follow these rules and I made mistakes myself, but I learnt from my failures and by sharing this knowledge with you I hope you will make better maps without going through the same arduous learning process.You should have a basic understanding of level design and I`ll try to explain everything as simply as possible. Experienced mappers, even if you don’t make multiplayer maps with realistic settings, should read it, too, because you might find some interesting aspects you didn’t think about and as a good level designer never stops learning you may well learn something new. Personally, I am not limited to realistic settings but that is what I’ve worked on for the last few years. The level design for a sci-fi/ Wild West/ Stone Age/ cartoon multiplayer game with some tactical elements and team play is very similar.For anybody who thinks these rules/schemes might be too systematic always remember: “You can only break the rules if you understand them in the first place!”, in this aspect it is very similar to the art world.In this article, I’ll explain how to make a multiplayer map from scratch and then tell you how to improve it. At the end of the article we’ll take a look at different game modes/layouts and how they might affect the levels design. As usual, I tried to write this article in an interesting fashion and added a lot of pictures and illustrations. Please don’t be lazy and skip the examples, because I explain some important concepts in them. When I talk about players and teams I assume they all have similar skills and experience. It’s not down to luck that hard-core gamers usually win against noobs, but in a balanced team match if one side consistently wins it might be because the level designis bad and that is what I want to talk about. In general, the article is for team based multiplayer with fixed spawn points. Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch with random spawns is not what is this article is about.Small TaleWhen I first played multiplayer games I started to think about why some levels are more fun to play than others. All of my first MP experiences were maps made by professional designers. I started to analyze them and I compared the good ones with the bad ones. When I started to spend more time in the MOD community with maps from fans, the most important fact of map design was proved: Gameplay beats everything! Some ugly looking action quake 2 maps were the most played maps on the servers and the nicer looking maps were rarely played. I know that this sounds a little too easy but if you think seriously about the maps out there you will notice that most level designers care more about the aesthetics than the gameplay of their maps. If you’re thinking about professional map design, the aesthetical quality of your maps is very important. However, if you don’t care about gameplay you shouldn’t start a professional career at all.I have worked with a lot of different level designers, from absolute noobs and MOD mappers to professional designers and some who just thought that they’re professional. A lot of them work without a real schematic system and if they created a good map, more often than not, it was down to good luck rather than skill. Used Level Design TermsIt might be silly to explain these terms to an experienced mapper or gamer but I have noticed that everyone has different associations with these terms. So I just want to explain my interpretation of these terms so we are on the same level of understanding.CQB: Close Quarter Battle; Even closer than short range; normally lots of cover; ideal range for shotguns or sub-machine guns; scoped weapons are useless; this game-play supports fast movement and reflexes.Short range: Similar to CQB but not so close; ideal range for shotguns or sub-machine guns; scoped weapons are still useless; supports fast movement and reflexes; maximum range to throw grenades.Medium range: Ideal range for normal rifles; shotguns become useless and sub-machine guns become weaker; scoped weapons start to become effective; from now on only possible to fire grenades with a grenade launcher; reflexes and movement are still important but aiming becomes more difficult.Long range: Snipers paradise; ideal range for all weapons with scopes; for weapons without scopes it’s really hard to hit anything; normally only with a small amount of cover; you should have good aim instead of running/firing skills.Stealth areas: Areas where silent/unnoticed/tactical movement gives you a big advantage; normally with lots of cover; several dark spots to hide. You can move through the whole area without being seen by a camping enemy.Roamers: Players who prefer to be between the two; instead of real defense or assault; they need a lot of room and combinations of quick connections between the areas to react to the different game situations.Rusher: People who just want to run through the whole map as quickly as possible; they want to reach the mission goal as fast as possible; surprise the enemy with speed/reflexes is their mottoCampers: Most hated kind of player except cheaters; you can find them in all realistic multiplayer games so you will have to learn to deal with them; they prefer to hide/stay in real nasty positions until an enemy runs into their line of sight; prefer short and CQB situations because then they don’t need a lot aiming skill, natural enemy of the rusherSnipers: Guys who prefer to run around in long/medium range areas with scoped weapons. It is a misconception that snipers are the same as campers because a smart sniper will change position after each shot, normally long range fights between snipers are more tactical, there are snipers who run around like rusher guys except obviously they avoid CQB/short range fights.CTF: Game Mode: Just for the few unworldly people who never heard about Capture The Flag. Two teams have to protect their relevant flag while having to steal the flag from the opposition. They can only score if they bring the enemy’s flag to their own one which has to be in its home position. BOMB: Game Mode: One team attack and have to place one bomb at one of several spots which another team is guarding. They need time to place the explosives and until the bomb blows up (timer), the original defending team still has the chance to disarm it.DOMINATION: Game Mode: I use several variations of this gamemode in this article. In general you have to control of one or more areas/spots which you have to protect. You score regarding the time you hold them.VIP: Game Mode: One team has to escort a special player on their team to one or more specific point(s). The other team has to find and kill the VIP on his way to the rescue point(s). Basic Strategy BalanceIntroductionThe strategic plan behind every map is the key to a good map. These first deliberations will determine if the player can roam without real confusion. If the mission is basically balanced, then you will help yourself a lot because you will not have to make major alterations to the map at a later date. Everything you will read in this chapter is in the conceptual game world. Here we don’t care about the positions of trees, houses or rocks. Stay in this basic world as long as possible and only continue with more detailed sketches when you are 100% sure that the basic strategy concept behind your map kicks ass!The First Basic Layout SettingsSetting the basic layout of your map is the first and most important step in level design, and one that is often overlooked. Just picture all the possible paths of the player as simple lines and you will begin see a basic geometric layout. Normally you can make a basic sketch for every game mode. The sketches should contain only the most important facts and rules of that game mode, nothing more. Some explanations of the example sketches: The quality/accuracy of the sketches is very rough and basic and art skills are not important here, gameplay rules. If it looks symmetrical it should be assumed it is symmetrical. Based on these sketches I want to show several possibilities for the round and reinforcement game modes. The first sketch is for a normal CTF game and not for a round based game mode. The stars mark the spawn point and the point of the flag. These are very simple example sketches and should only show the main intentions of these game modes, e.g. for CTF there should be three ways to every flag and the layout is usually symmetrical and balanced for both teams. The horizontal line between the three ways is the minimum amount of freedom you should include to switch between the routes.The second sketch is for a standard BOMB mission. Team blue has to place a bomb at one of the bomb spots and then has to defend that area until it explodes. Team red has to prevent team blue from accomplishing its mission. The plan is for a round based game mode. For the bomb mission we have two bomb places where team blue can place the bomb and every bomb site has three entrances. Team red is able to reach the spots faster because they have to defend these positions. This is the reason why it usually shouldn’t be symmetrical for both teams.Making it more complexNow let’s improve the basic sketches because every one of your maps shouldn’t be like my first example. The following examples are just one of a million possibilities and you will design many alternatives.We start to analyze the changed CTF mission. The basic intentions are still the same but the left and the right way have changed. The left side became more complex in the center. This should avoid strong concentrations of enemies in the middle defense positions. Even if it is easier to come through the middle part it is still hard to get directly to the opposite base. You can come with a large amount of fast and good players very close to the enemy’s base but the ‘last few meters’ can be very hard. The right side is still unchanged in the middle area which might raise the danger in that area but as soon as you come close to the enemy’s base you get more possibilities to react to the enemies defending strategies or to bluff the enemy on one side and switch quickly to another entrance.Now the bomb mission for the round based gameplay: the two main ways for team blue to reach the bomb spots still have the same length but they now come from different directions and give the player the possibility for a third way to get to the bomb spots to make it more interesting. On the left side team blue has a chance to take a longer and less flexible way but coming in from behind. For team red this way is less interesting because there is no direct way to the bomb spots. Remember that team red needs fast/short and good possibilities to switch between the two bomb spots at any time. At a minimum I would make two ways or one big way which they might come from as soon as team Blue has placed the bomb. On the right side team blue has got a tunnel which leads them to the back entrance of the mission area. This way is shorter than the new way on the left side but in general a tunnel is more dangerous for attackers and has a higher risk. These were easy examples but in this stage of development you should be thinking about the main battle areas in the middle and the mission areas of the different teams. A more complex middle area shouldn’t have a lot of ways to the mission goals. On the other hand several good entrances to a mission spot shouldn’t have very easy ways to reach them. It has to be balanced through the ways and between the ways itself. We will discuss later in this article how the size of the map should affect your basic design.I imagine you already have enough of your own ideas and if not it really helps to analyze current well known maps to understand what I’ve explained above. Normally you shouldn’t create extremely complex path systems because the player wants to learn his environment quickly and shouldn’t be confused by too many different routes. Please don’t think that you have to translate these geometric lines exactly in 3D! Of course you should change, for example, the angles of the corners, and the straight lines later, as you need it to be in your specific situations.General Area SettingsAfter these two first steps you should bring your vision of the look/setting/environments into play by adding it to the basic sketch. Still a very rough sketch but it might help you to get a better feeling of what your map might look like.For the CTF mission I chose a jungle setting and thought of some different environments which I can use for the different ways and areas. The light blue is for a beach (ocean, river or lake), the bright brown is for a stony mountain area with few plants but with bigger rocks as hard cover, the dark brown are caves or tunnels. Dark blue green is for deep jungle with several big trees and a lot of sight cover. The dark green is for normal jungle and the bright one for grass. The environment layout is symmetrical but the combinations are always different especially in the middle area and the way to the base. These areas should have a lot of landmarks because the player should always know where he is and where he is going, it helps for orientation and is very important to the immediate feel of the map. The left will be long range, the middle way is close combat with a dangerous way over the grass to the base and the right way is middle range and stealth in the tunnel. Be sure that you implement different areas for the different kind of players like normal roamer, stealth players, rusher, sniper and CQB freaks. Of course with some settings like on a ship you can’t support snipers very well. This will be understandable for the player but if you make a big desert map without having some mid range areas it might confuse the players of that type because they will not find a location they are happy with. It is the same if you call your 45 horse power car a ‘sports car’ and then being surprised when people laugh at you or don’t take you very seriously 😉 Now take another look at the third bomb mission sketch and you will see that I have used the same system to allocate my environments. The mission areas have very different combinations of environments and the ways to these spots are different for each team. For the general setting I chose a harbor/urban environment. The dark blue is a small river with concrete walls around it, the bright blue is directly at the harbor, and the brown defines warehouse areas. For the urban part on the right side I chose a normal street (green), inside of houses (pink), sewer (dark red) and backyards (purple). It doesn’t matter if you are a stealth CQB freak or rusher, now every bomb spot has the possibility to make you happy but you can still orientate yourself just by the different settings around you.Sewers are normally something for stealth players (e.g. caves or dark back routes, warehouses, apartments, machine rooms, etc. for CQB freaks). On the other side, you can have open areas (e.g. streets, open fields or beaches for the sniper fans). Generally, every environment is for a specific kind of gameplay. Be sure that you mix it well and retain a balance because after a long beach there shouldn’t be suddenly a hard-core CQB area unless the route was already too easy and you need some kind of difficulty here for the player. Assigning the environments is almost independent of the kind of game mode you have chosen, just be sure that it is very different. You find a lot of different sub-settings for the different kind of players and for orientation. I hope you are smart enough not to make every warehouse area identical to all the other warehouse areas in the levels. These areas should be different even if only subtle changes are made e.g. lighter/darker, empty/crammed, completely different kind of crates, more/less machines, no/some offices, decayed/clean, really tall/thin.Special Talk About Open BattlefieldsI understand if people think that this kind of level design is strictly for that ‘old fashioned’ tunnel system or especially for ‘Quake based games’ but what about the open battlefields you have in “Battlefield 1942”? It is actually quite similar because even on big battlefields you are leading the players along main routes, but there is more freedom of movement in-between. Therefore, I would suggest that you first paint the main routes as plain surfaces, already with their specific environment. Then you should paint the tunnels and valleys, and the blocks between the main routes. You can also see open fields as battle areas and mission areas which have no real connection between them. It is just one large area which is so huge that it already has strategic elements in place. I’ll talk later in this article about battle and mission areas so don’t get impatient.Strategic SummaryIt doesn’t really matter how you make your sketches at this point, it is more important that you really think about the strategic game mechanic and the flow of your level before you start with more detailed ideas. Believe me; I saw enough sketches from other designers who already put every waterfall or tree in their very first sketch, even before they noticed that the gameplay in that level might be really unbalanced or boring. Of course, it is not wrong to think about where you want to put your waterfalls or other nice ideas for your level but, for the moment, keep your ideas where they are as you will use them later on. The most important thing to remember when you are making a basic sketch is that it has to be balanced! An unbalanced map is always bad; especially if you are making non-symmetrical maps. If the strategy is balanced you are already on the safe side but it still might be a funny map if a few tactical elements are not 100% equal for each team.Another thing I would really like to emphasize is the originality of your map layout. Try to develop your own ideas, be experimental, and always try to create something new and unique. Normally you have enough time at school or work, in a traffic jam or on the bus just to think about some new basic level layouts. If you are really stuck for ideas and you decide to copy an existing map then please at least be smart! Nobody really needs a Mongolian version of de_dust with just different textures and the same boring architecture. If you really want to copy de_dust then try to make it original in your own way e.g. change some tunnels to open areas (and inverse), replace level limitation-walls with cliffs, improve the variation in the main battle spots, add a new stealth way, mirror the layout or certain parts of it, or better still, change everything! Improvements With Tactic ElementsIntroductionSo far I have been talking mainly about strategic elements, but the player also needs some really good tactical possibilities. The player doesn’t necessarily see your strategic deliberations but he directly sees your tactical ones, so be sure that they are good and fresh.After forming your basic plan, you can already build a very rough version of your map in your editor. It is a good idea to test your map by running around while timing how long it takes to get to different areas of the map. If you find that it takes you 2 minutes to run to the allocated battle zone and the other team takes only 30 seconds, then you should really change your strategy layout. Move the battle zone or slow down/speed up the players in certain areas so that everything works fine again. This will be explained in more depth later in the article; just never forget to test your map at an early stage with a clock.Battle Areas IntroductionBattle areas are the places where the two teams meet if they start running from their spawn points with the same speed. If you have a game where not every player has the same speed, you should think carefully about where to place your battle areas. You need to make them big enough so that; if the slowest player and the fastest one want to reach the field, the faster one should have an advantage (e.g. reaching a good sniper spot without any real danger or jumping into the alternative tunnel without seen by the enemy). Here, you can already see that tactical elements are really important to support the different kind of players you have. A large sniper area should normally have an alternative route inside for really fast scouts. Even a big CQB warehouse should have a longer hallway between the crates for some mid range fighting.Basic RulesBefore we take a look at your example maps, we must learn some basic rules of battle areas. I’ll try to explain the basic intention of these rules in small, understandable sketches, feel free to improve them and don’t use so many crates like I’m doing it here. These sketches are solely for the intention of demonstrating these rules. The rest of the design might not really be perfect, but it’s is the intention that really matters. If I am talking about entrances, it is not always simply a doorway into a big room; it could also be a roof, a canyon, or a hill. It just depends on the situation.1) There should be always more than one entrance to a battle area for each team (or the only entrance should have enough cover in front so there are at least two possibilities to appear in the area).There is nothing more stupid than when the player knows that in 12.3 seconds the opponent player will come through that specific door. If the level design makes player movements too predictable, then it is a bad level design!In the first situation I placed some crates in front of the entrance. Now the other player can either come around the right or the left side of the boxes, or perhaps he can even jump on the top of them and perform a surprise action. Of course, there is a mass of different possibilities to enhance it, not just two or three ways but especially with nice architecture.The second possibility is similar but a little bit more confusing for the player. At the beginning he might think there are two completely different ways. Soon he will notice that both ways lead to the same result. Of course, this depends on the distance between the two entrances and the distance to the lurking enemy. For a sniper who is 150m away, it’s quite a lot easier to protect these two entrances than for a rifleman who can only be 20m away. If you really only have two ways for each team to enter the battle area, it is always good if one of the enemies can never see both entrances clearly from an advanced position.2) Campers should never have an easy life!When you place your tactical elements, always take a look at where there might be typical camper positions. If you have such a situation, be sure that he can never see all entrances to the battle area, and that the opponent always has a fair chance to move around him and shoot him from behind. If you have an important door which a camper might hide behind, make a second door near the first one. If there is a good position to see both doors, place an object (e.g. a crate/pillar/bush) in front of one of the doors to obscure the camper’s vision. Always remember that sniper positions might also make very good camper positions, so they should be treated the same way! If you want sniper positions in your field, every team should have a minimum of two, and they all should be able to see each other. A sniper position, in this case, is a single spot. If you have a big hill or a house with some windows for snipers, it is enough because you can never predict exactly where they will appear. The best way to defeat a sniper is with a countersniper. Both snipers should have more than one position to attack from, otherwise it might become boring and the only challenge is to reach the position as quickly as possible. At least one sniper position should be bad, and every sniper position should have a counter sniper position. If one sniper position is too powerful, then it could easily become very frustrating.The first example is typical. The player wants to run out of the battle area but there is a nasty camper behind the crates. In this situation he might have some problems. The player is able to jump on the big crate in the middle or he can go around the big crate from the left and the right side. The left side has an additional way to appear from another situation. It is impossible for a camper to hide next to the crates and protect himself from all areas of attack.For the second situation I chose another well-known problem. A camper might be able to hide very well in the yellow field (bushes/rocks/etc.) and protect the north entrance. Even the small crate in front won’t change a lot, but a simple walk around reduces the advantage of this camper area drastically, especially if the east entrance is on a higher level than the north one.Another good solution to weaken campers is to give the players a chance to use their special equipment or to use the special features of your engine. For example, you have to cross a long tunnel and you know that there is someone with a sniper rifle at the end just waiting for you to jump down. Why not make it easy for the player to throw a flash-bang inside or quickly run to the entrance of the tunnel into an alternative route which you can only reach with the help of a smoke grenade? Of course the smoke can also come out of a pipe or you can switch off the light, etc. It is the same with windows; a grid always looks nice but if it makes it too difficult to blow out the sniper with a grenade then it is bad for the gameplay.In my sketches, I only work with easy elements like walls and crates. With more complex architecture and interesting terrain, you should find enough new situations to avoid the widespread camper problem. You will never prevent it completely but this will make it more fair and fun. 3) Give the player enough tactical possibly, make him unpredictable.If there is only one big cover in the middle of your area it’s quite easy to know where your enemy might be. If you see a grenade falling next to your foot, it would be cool if the enemy doesn’t always know that you have to come around a certain corner to find him. The player should be able to move less predictably through the field. It is quite boring to know that in every round/match, very similar situations will happen.If your area is just flat without any higher levels, it doesn’t just look boring, it is also bad for cool tactics and the enemies normally always know at which height is/are your head/nuts. A good terrain and architecture with different floors is really a blessing! You can prevent a lot of complex cover placement with some hills and valleys. Firefights between levels of different height are always fun in urban environments, especially if you can switch them quickly. Terrain levels might give a fresh variation of different views (e.g. from a high hill you can see behind the rocks where you presume a nasty camper is hiding, or down in the valleys you can see below the car and shoot at the feet of enemies who might hide behind it). You really have to check all different kinds of positions and their tactical possibilities and be sure that everything is fun & balanced! Use alternative kinds of cover; soft cover (e.g. bushes, grass), half cover (e.g. small boxes, trees), and full cover (e.g. big rocks, house). For example, if you want to prevent the sniper in the upper window seeing the roof on the right side, just place a tree in-between. Now only lucky hits and covering fire through the tree might be a success and in a lower level, the tree trunk is a nice half cover. If you want one team to be able to pass easily from one big cover to another, just place several bushes there. However, as soon as they are spotted, they might have a real big problem. Such elements can not only be tactical and funny for the stealth player, they can also be exciting too. Sadly, it is true that a lot of level designers forget to include these soft cover elements (bushes etc).This is just a simple example of tactical variations. The player is coming out of the south entrance. He can choose between the left and the right way around the crates (full cover), to reach the other boxes. Behind this crate he has four different possibilities: the two different sides of the box (normal), the tunnel which leads into the house (surprise change, higher level) or jumping into the trench to sneak forward (stealth way and higher level). If he chooses the right way at the beginning he can go into the house (CQB and windows are half covers), in the watch tower (sniper point) or he can climb on the roof of the house (high level) with a few air-conditioning ducts (half cover). At the end of the house he has some bushes (soft cover) which might help him to sneak forward but won’t help him if he is on the roof.4) Include special ways for special players.No, I don’t want to tell you again that you should include stealth and rush ways. Real special ways should support people who like to take extreme risks or absurd ways to really surpass the enemy. I wouldn’t say that this is a must to have in every battle area, but a few in your level would really increase the fun factor. I’m thinking about hard jump combinations (e.g. to reach another floor which you can use to walk around your enemy, or to reach the upper part of a tree to hide inside). Other special ways would be secret and hard to find; climbing tracts or areas which you can only reach together with a teammate (i.e. a ladder). I don’t think I have to make a special sketch for this last rule, just don’t forget the pro and hard-core players might really thank you for such small ideas.Imagine a main battle area like a large room which gives the player a lot of different possibilities to cross it. If you add some more, smaller routes to improve the tactical possibilities in your battlefield, then treat them the same as you would the strategic routes. For example, the short way is fast but more dangerous and the longer/more difficult one could make it easier to avoid campers. There should be never an ultimate route (or routes) or an ultimate position. Everything must have advantages and disadvantages depending on the type of player! Keep this in mind and try to follow these rules as closely as possible, and the players will have some really exciting firefights in your level.Don’t be afraid to force the players to move fast on some ways or to stop them if you have to. If you don’t want the players to cross the square very quickly, just place the only good cover at the border (in the middle there is some kind of ‘death zone’ every smart player will avoid). If you want the player to move a little bit faster, just make a bigger hallway with no cover and you’ll see that every clever guy starts running here. Okay, you don’t always need to make it so hard but sometimes you have to, especially if you have moving missiongoals like VIPs or flag carriers. I’ll talk more about this topic later.CTF ExampleOkay let’s start talking about the main battle areas of your CTF example map. Normally, you don’t have to draw the areas in your sketch. I guess you are smart enough to imagine it yourself. The following explanations about the areas are just examples to help you get the right idea about how to make it in your own map. The size of the areas have nothing to do with the sight/fight range inside, they just mark them. #1: Beach, long range, bright area, less cover:At the beginning the player can appear at a lot of different spots behind some rocks and bushes. The large part in the middle beach has much less cover and you need some backup support and cover from behind to reach the other side. If you take the high risk option, you can swim to a bigger rock on the left side in the middle. There, you can climb up and you have a greater advantage against the opposing forces. Imagine some fast-moving scouts and the player will have some real thrilling sniper battles here. It is a high risk to choose that way if you want to flee with the enemy’s flag, but this can be your advantage because nobody would expect it. “No risk no fun”#2: Cave & rocks, short range & CQB, dark light, a lot of hard cover:This is completely the opposite of #1. The dark light, the short range & CQB drastically reduce the advantage of a scoped weapon. There are so many rocks and bushes that two really lucky teams can pass without even seeing each other. At the beginning of the area there is less cover so these places are more dangerous. But you can start running over these ‘dead zones’ from a minimum of two positions to avoid too powerful camper positions. The middle part is a little bit higher than the entrances to that area. This is to avoid sniping possibilities for too long a distance between the rocks/bushes. This is a very good route to choose if you have the opposing flag because the enemy might lose you inside.#3: Deep jungle & ruins, medium range & short range, medium light, some sight cover:Because this will be the main battle area, the number of tactical possibilities in this large, long field should be very high. I chose to add ruins because it increases the tactical variations, and because urban elements and nature dominate the environment which helps the orientation. Tall trees and ruins provide the hard and full cover here. A tunnel and a small creek around the decayed buildings increase the number of tactical variations and make the area more interesting for stealth players. Even if you have some sight cover, there should always be some small fields without a lot of cover. It would be bad if, in the main battle zone, two teams could pass each other while running into the enemy’s base without seeing each other. In the main battle zone, the players should really have a fair chance to find each other and have a lot of exciting firefights. The sight cover and the medium light should increase the thrill factor but it shouldn’t become too dominating. #4: Medium hill, medium range, good light, mainly hard cover with a few sight cover:The whole battle zone is on the top of a small hill, so the opposing players can’t see each other until they come closer. Due to the mountain setting there are a lot of rocks and just a few bushes. The gameplay will be very basic: to run from stone to stone while fighting with the enemy. The area is medium-dangerous or easy and not for the special kind of player. A few more bushes on the right side or a small ruin exactly in the middle would make the area more tactically interesting. Then the fastest team can gain control of the ruin and have a good position to fight against its enemies. Of course the slower team should have a fair chance to blow out the snipers/campers in the ruin e.g. with several spots where they appear, more sight cover at the beginning, or some really good counter sniper positions.BOMB Mission ExampleThe bomb mission has one more battle zone but in general they are much smaller than the battle zones of the CTF example. If the strategic possibilities are higher than the battle zones are getting smaller. This is a very simple rule and if u don’t believe it just imagine a BOMB mission with 10 battle zone where everyone is as big as the beach zone in the CTF example. I guess a majority of people would say: “Whoo damn big map but I thought the intention of the designer was to create some cool fights/matches instead of a sight-seeing tour through North America”. Of course this depends on the expected number of players for your map. I’ll explain this in more depth later so let’s continue talking about the battle zones of the BOMB mission example.#1: Harbor next to the sea, medium/short range, good light with some dark spots, mainly hard cover:In the normal harbor setting we can use what I like to call the ‘mapper’s crate disease”. Please try to place your cover objects only where they fit. If you are using crates and boxes, they should be next to warehouses, storage areas, market places or harbors. If you see whole Arabian/Italian cities covered by wooden boxes or islands/deserts overflown by crates then it is normally a leveldesigner with a low poly engine or someone without enough imagination. Hey you can blame me, too, but I got sick of too many crates and learned to avoid them. Just find other cool cover elements especially architecture. You won’t believe me but recreating can be done WITHOUT using crates all the time.Never mind, now we are in a harbor area and we can use a mass of containers here. The battle zone shouldn’t be linear. The player should have a lot of merged/linked routes that he can take e.g. jump into the water (slow but very stealthy) move between the crates (fast but might be risky because the enemy appears at a very short range) or through some nearby warehouses (darkness is stealthy but risky). To avoid a “liaison” with the enemies should be almost impossible but as soon as the fight starts the game-flow shouldn’t slow down due to the many small tactical possibilities. Additionally, it’s always cool to give the player some extraordinary playgrounds e.g. freighters, cranes or ferries. If you have the possibility to include such objects, then they should be part of the gameplay, e.g. the crane as a wonderful sniperposition, the top of a freighter as an alternative way, or a decayed, resting ferry as a connection between two sides of the water. It depends on the harbor setting, but a few plants are never wrong, except if it’s a real high-tech/new industrial harbor next to a nuclear power station or chemical waste depot.#2: Warehouse, short/CQB range, dark/medium light, mainly hard cover:One of the smaller warehouses in area #1 has a big entrance to some real storage areas. This directly leads to the left mission area. I guess for some of the level designers out there this might be the best place because they can place even more crates . In big storage's you can easily add different high levels which might cause really cool fights between the metal walkways and the wooden boxes. Be sure that there is a real advantage to use a higher floor because normally it’s difficult to find a safe way down again. Light can be a really powerful game-play factor in these areas. Fast and easy routes are illuminated by moonlight through big windows in the ceiling or artificial light in the lower levels. If you balance the upper and the lower levels in the right way (avoid too powerful sniper-positions, give the player a little bit of freedom to roam through the big rooms), you can expect some enjoyable firefights in here.#3: Street/indoor, long/medium/short/CQB range, good/medium light, mainly hard cover with a few soft cover:To make a long street both fun to play and balanced is very difficult. Normally, long streets cause boring sniper battles if the street is narrow and doesn’t have a mass of cover, (e.g. cars, doorframes,trees, etc.) or alternative ways through apartments/backyards/gardens or over roofs and balconies. Such urban battlefields are normally not in harmony with the engine used. Balance, fun and performance are the understandable reason why most level designers would choose many more corners instead of a mainly straight street. If you still want cool street fights like in the movie “Heat”, plan it seriously and think carefully about the snipers and campers. Make sure that the attackers have a fair chance to reach their mission areas. Shortcuts or stealthy ways through indoor areas are a good solution to this problem. Snipers are normally useless in a CQB situation and if you have some more small ways than usual, campers avoid camping in alternative routes. In the game world, you can compare it with a sniper battle in a long hallway which is rarely always great fun. Sniper fights, especially in urban areas, should be in wider spaces rather than narrow ones. So let’s place a few low poly cars and several trees on both sides. Additionally, the entrances to the houses provide really good cover. Several stairs and cellar entrances increase the amount of normal cover on the street. Now we add some places to make the attacker more unpredictable, like some balconies/windows or shortcuts through parks/gardens/backyards. The defenders shouldn’t have a mass of cover at the end of the street. It is better if the defenders have to move around a lot and choose different cover objects further away to be a real danger to the attacking troops. Defending positions should never be so powerful as to see the whole street. Use the trees as sight cover to force the defenders to occupy a minimum of two or three positions in order to watch the whole street or battlefield. Of course, the enemy must also have some nice counter-positions.#4: Sewer, medium/short range, dark/medium light, a few hard cover:Normally if people think about tunnels in multiplayer maps, they think about nasty guys who wait at the end of the duct with a scope until an enemy walks around the corner. So if you really want to make a longer sewer system, try some of the following ideas: don’t make the tunnels too narrow, the background of the corner for the attackers should be darker, the corners where the defenders might wait should have a bright background, try to make more than one tunnel (or other alternative ways e.g. through cellars or let the players go up and down through a backyard), avoid really long tunnels and think about the special equipment in your game, especially all kinds of grenades! For the players, tunnels normally always look the same and they might lose the orientation very quickly. So add, for example, some obvious graffiti, unique trash constructions (e.g. toilet paper which points into specific directions, newspapers always lie on one side of the sewer, etc.) or, for the attacker, the tunnel always goes upwards.#5: Backyard, medium/short range, medium light, mainly hardcover:A typical backyard is the place where the criminals in an ordinary police series nearly always run away from the cops, climb over a mass of fences and walls and finally fall over some plastic trash bags. I think this already explains the key elements that make a typical backyard. You need a lot of up and down in combination with fences and a lot of small cover like garbage bags/boxes. If the setting fits then even some decayed ruins, pipes or balconies increase the amount of possibilities Ben‘s small bible of realistic multiplayer level design for the level designer here. Just follow the basic rules, make some cool positions and always add another counter position so the enemies can force the opponent to keep moving. Be sure that the backyard has its typical lighting, make it really wet & dirty, and avoid placing too many crates. Mission areas Introduction I guess you guys still don’t have enough about battle zones but now we have to talk about something new. Mission areas are similar to battle areas except for two things: they are more critical/important and normally one team don’t just walk/run/’bunny hop’ through it, they are actually doing something there. The mission area is the zone around the flag in CTF, the place of the hostages in HOSTAGE RESCUE, the bomb spots in the BOMB mode, etc. All the time one team has to do something in a map, aside from ‘only kill enemies’ (DM/TDM). Because of this, they need some special attention. In general, you might say: “It doesn’t matter what happens in the whole match as long as the two teams come together in the mission areas”. I wouldn’t agree with this because the map needs a high fun factor across the whole map. On the other hand, it is true that in the end the two teams should at least meet in the mission areas.Normally, one team is defending and the other team is attacking or every team has to attack/defend. If only one team has to defend, it’s harder for the attackers. If they have to attack and defend, it assumes some basic allocation of available work in the team like roamers, defenders or rushers. Think about the different roles of the different teams before you start building your mission areas. A stupid example would be a building without any entrance, absolutely great to defend but kind a dumb to attack.If you compare the walk of an attacker through a map with the escalation of a classic drama, then the mission area is the climax. The adrenaline of the player has to pump through his veins if he is 10m away from the flag, he has to sweat like a pig while he is placing the bomb or has to collapse after he brought the VIP to the rescue point with 1% health. Mission areas have to be exiting and risky but never unfair! “No risk no fun!”Basic RulesLike for the battle zones, I have set out some basic rules for the mission areas and their placement. These rules can be very different and are strongly affected by the game mode you use. So please read them carefully and only use the ones which might fit with the mission goals of your level.1) The difficulty of the mission area depends on the time the attacking team has to stay there.In the standard CTF mode you just have to grab the flag and continue running to your home base. Normally you only have to stay in the mission zone for a few seconds but, during the last time mission, objectives become increasingly difficult and more tactical. This means the designers have to change their old design opinions. If you lose 90% of your teammates & ammo just to reach the DOMINATION point, and you have to hold it for the next 10 minutes against a superiority of 10:1 without any good defending positions, something is obviously wrong.You have three possibilities to solve that problem. The first one is to make it really easy for the attacking team to reach the spot but then make it hard as hell to hold it. If the defenders have no real defending positions then it is obvious that the original attackers will find it difficult to protect their mission spot.The opposite would be that it is really hard to get control of the area but then it’s quite easy to hold it. It is always hard to attack a well-guarded fortress but if your team was able to do it, then why shouldn’t the old defenders have a tough run against it as well?The third solution is to make the difficulty of the attack and the subsequent control almost balanced. Of course, this sounds like the best solution but it is also the hardest to achieve. I suggest that you should try to make your own mix and don’t use too extreme situations.2) The difficulty of the mission area depends on the number of possible successful strikes from the attacking team.Okay, it sounds weird but just imagine a CTF match where my 85 year old grandmother can easily defend the base for 4 hours against 20 hard-core, bloodthirsty, professional Quake players. It might seem ridiculous and frustrating but, believe me, something might have gone seriously wrong with the design of the mission area.In a CTF map, for example, there should be a fair chance that a good run against the opponent’s base is a success. This doesn’t mean that every time you walk to the enemy’s flag you can grab it and move back. Normally, defending something is easier than attacking it. This is the reason why not every assault should be a success. A good tactic and a little bit luck should be the key for a successful strike and the level designer should give the teams a fair chance to do this. Remember: “The best team should always win!”Now you can say that in a real mission based map (e.g. with a BOMB objective) the challenge for the attacking team is always harder than for the defending one. In my opinion, in a round based game with clear attacker and defender roles for the teams, the ratio should be something around 2:3 or even 1:2. If every team has to attack and defend, the ratio should be of course equal like in CTF or DOMINATION.3) If the defender team has more than one mission area, they have to stay close together.Normally, if the defenders have more than one point to protect they have to split the team. The attackers can stay together and, if the skills between all of the people on the server are about equal, the attackers can win against the outnumbered defenders. So the other teammates have to run to the other mission area and try to rescue whatever they can.Now imagine a BOMB mission where the bomb timer is 20sec and the fastest player need 40sec to run/jump/bunny from one bomb spot to the other one (and we shouldn’t forget the disarming time). As I already mentioned earlier in this article, always run around in your map with a stop watch. Take care to look at the routes between the mission areas.For example, if the bomb time is 60sec and the disarming time is 20sec, then the minimum two ways between the mission spots shouldn’t be longer than 10-20sec. You should always give defending team some extra time to fight against the original attacking team, depending how hard it is to reach the bomb.4) A defender should never see all of the entrances to the mission area from one good position; keep the hot spots free from campers.This automatically means that every mission spot has a minimum of two entrances. Actually, there is no problem if the camper decides to keep all entrances in his field of view, as long as he stands in the middle of a big open space. This important rule is for the defenders and maybe for the attackers, too, which depends on the game mode. If the attackers have to stay in the zone for a few seconds/minutes, they quickly become campers too. This is absolutely normal but just don’t make it too easy for them.Just imagine a hill with a mass of sight cover next to a mission spot where the attacker first has to run 30m over an open field. At least, you have no real fun checking all of the thousand possible sniper positions whilst making sure that you reach the hot area alive. The argument that mission areas should be really challenging is okay but it shouldn’t be frustrating!If you have a lot of hard cover around your defended objective (e.g. crates/pillars/rocks), make sure that the camper can never hide in one position where he can see all entrances. There should always be one side open which he can’t protect when he is watching another possible route to the mission spot.5) More mission areas for the defending team automatically means higher difficulty for the attacking team.I guess that is very obvious, as soon as the defenders have to take care of more than one position they have a big disadvantage and need a small bonus (or the attackers a small disadvantage). Just imagine a team which has to protect five different bomb spots or a very big DOMINATION area. They should have an easy job defending the area(s). An unpredictable enemy is always the most dangerous one because they have to encounter something equally challenging (e.g. a fast connection for the defenders between the objectives with a very good fortification). Now the protectors have to move a lot but as soon as they detect the attackers, they can beat them easily. This means the tactics/strategies of the assault team have to come behind enemy lines, unseen, instead of playing Rambo. 6) The mission goal has to be absolutely obvious in the area!Make absolutely sure that the mission spot is very easy to detect. For CTF, this is more or less a minor problem because a flag is normally very easy to spot, except if you hide it deep down in a dark pit. Designers for a BOMB mission, for example, should be much more careful. If the player reaches the large mission area, which is a big warehouse full of wooden crates, and he knows that he has to blow up the brown crate with the drugs, it might cause frustration. Make the drug box green, with special bright light around it, a big red cross on the ground or place some unique and obvious objects around it. Every noob player which enters the warehouse must say: “Hey these single green crates in the middle of the bright room, with the red flags around and with all the red arrows pointing at it must be my mission objective.” Okay, this might be a little bit extreme in a realistic setting but I think you get the point.Moving Mission areasYou can forget most of the text I wrote in the previous chapter if you have a level with a moving mission objective like a VIP or train which one team has to protect and the other team to kill or destroy. There are normally two kind of moving mission objectives. A player controlled character/vehicle and a scripted objected which always uses the same route.Firstly, take a look at similar VIP game modes. You should find a minimum of two rescue points or one bigger area; otherwise the defending team would just heavily camp around one spot instead of roaming/moving around. Calculate the areas where the two teams encounter each other for the first time. These battle zones have to be quite complex or there has to be a high number of different, smaller battle zones. All of these battle zones need at least one alternative way out besides the obvious short way to the rescue points. As soon as the defending team knows where to find the VIP, they will try to intercept him on his way to the next rescue point. If it is absolutely obvious which route will be taken by the VIP, it is too easy for the defenders and not really much fun. There still should be some kind of exciting challenge after the first encounter. When the defending team has no real clue which will be the chosen rescue point, they have to roam around again and hope that they get the right one. Good team play is the key to success here, for both teams. The second possibility would be an object which moves on a scripted route. One team must try to defend the train/truck/ship until it arrives at a certain area and the other team will attack it and try to foil the opponent’s plan. As soon as the two teams see each other for the first time, a long battle zone begins. Along the way there are usually several small defending positions and main battle zones. Around these spots, the fights are particularly hard and between them, fights are more infrequent. Because the objective is very predictable, there should be several alternative ways for fast guys to attack these defending positions from the side. If the defending team has to do small missions at these hot spots, treat them like normal mission areas.Take care about snipers and campers as I have already explained. The rescue points, in particular, are very critical. Some positions that are too powerful can destroy the whole fun of roaming and searching for the VIP in the areas before. Everyone would just stay next to the extraction spots if it is that easy to protect them.CTF ExampleFor the CTF example, both mission areas have to be similar so I only need to explain one of them. The area starts shortly after deep jungle in the middle, after the cave, and after the rock/mountain area. The whole area has a ‘military base’-setting with some small huts, tents, bunkers, and watchtowers etc.The cave exit is already very easy to defend because it is quite small compared to the two canyon entrances. So it doesn’t have any special defending constructions unlike the main/short way through the middle. This route is the fastest one and, because of this, the defending positions here have to be the strongest ones. Of course, it should not be impossible to attack, but some obvious bunkers, sandbags, etc. are definitely okay to slow down the enemy here. One watchtower has a main sniper position where you can just about see the cave entrance and most of the way down the middle. He can’t see the last entrance because there are several trees as sight cover on that side. It might be a good sniper spot but everyone knows that the watchtower is there and the sniper has no real possibilities to hide himself very well. The way from the beach is one of the longer ways to the base but, because the sniper tower can’t see it, there should be a few weaker special defending positions.The flag itself is not on a very big open place. It has some huts around which have no windows so the campers inside the buildings cannot protect the area to all sides. The players inside the watchtower can see the flag from above but if you don’t kill the guy up there until you reach the flag it’s your own fault. Around the mission area, sight cover (e.g. bushes or long grass) should be rare otherwise they might become favorite spots for campers.BOMB Mission ExampleOf course we already know two mission areas for the BOMB example. Let’s say the attacker’s team has to blow up some special crates with electricity for SCUD rockets, whatever, just something easy to detect.At spot #1 we have a warehouse (brown), a street (green) and a backyard (purple). For the attackers, the fastest and easiest way is obviously the street. So the defenders have several very good defending positions behind cars, inside shops and windows to make it very hard for the attackers to come closer. Especially high defending positions are very good because attackers have problems finding good cover behind cars or other low objects. Several sniper positions should make the defending sharp-shooters more unpredictable. Remember that the defending team might start an assault in the back of the attackers force if they come from spot #2 and this shouldn’t always be a massacre. The warehouse area should have less good defending positions because CQB, stealth, and short range battles through the warehouse are normally hard enough. The different high levels in the warehouse create different ways out of the mission area. From the upper ones it shouldn’t be possible to go down very quickly but these are still very good positions to support the rest of the attacker’s squad and to surprise your enemy. The backyard area is normally a very rare route of the attackers but some stealth/scout players might give it a try and should have a reward for the long and risky walk.Spot #2 is a less open space than spot #1 because on the left side it has a CQB indoor section and, on the right side, a backyard part. Only in the direction of the defender spawn point do we have a more or less long/medium range section. So the majority of areas surrounding the mission spot # 2 are CQB and short range. This will mean that it might be harder for the attackers but they can appear very quickly very close to the bombing area. It is definitely more of a stealth and tactical challenge for the attackers to reach it. The indoor part could be something like a decayed flat with all the nice possibilities you can have in such an environment. Broken holes in the wall, kitchen, furniture, and several alternative ways should spice it up to a high thrill factor. Lighting here shouldn’t be very dark; especially the corners should be bright enough so that no campers can hide here. In general there must always be two ways for the attackers to enter the room or another way around the room; otherwise campers have a huge advantage in this close battle area. The hard part for the attackers here should be to enter the house because it is still a very short and quick way. Several open windows and doors give the defenders a lot of possibilities to appear, and they can still attack from spot #1. The backyard part should have several different high levels because the houses are very close together. Jumping over bigger metal trash bins, climbing up on balconies or a small shortcut in a cellar is really the minimum if you want to make this section fun. Light should be gloomy but definitely not too dark because it is a very tight area. It is okay if the middle of the backyard is a little bit darker, or there are some spots which are really dark, as long as the background from both sides is bright enough that you can see the shape of the player. The third possible way is the complete opposite of what the attacker had before. He is coming out of a gloomy/creepy tunnel in a medium and long range section. This won’t be very easy for the attacker and, additionally, it is a very long way compared to the other ones. So it should be much easier for the attackers if they choose this way, otherwise nobody will take this way and building it was just a waste of time. Movement Modifiers Now I just want to talk a little bit about different situations which the player can pass and what you have to take care about. Of course, un-climbable walls, pillars or containers are movement modifiers, too, but I already talked about them at length and, in the next part, I would like to concentrate on typical passable sections.Small hills or stairs:Here I mean smaller situations where a passable section blocks the view between two players (e.g. longer stairs inside a building or a small hill which is just a little bit higher than a player). They are quite common in levels and are a good solution if you need cover but it shouldn’t really slow down the game flow, and the action between different high levels is much cooler than just on a flat ground. Due to its small distance, there is no real disadvantage for the player who has the lower position unless the enemy can see his legs before he can shoot back. Such situations can be very frustrating on main ways so please try to avoid them as much as possible. In houses, or on more sneaky alternative routes, they are more or less allowed but not really welcome. If you have serious problems with such a passage, create some good possibilities to throw grenades (especially flashbangs) or build a window next to it where you can see the nasty camper position in his full beauty.Bigger uphill or downhill sections:If the high level is not very big just treat them gameplay-wise like flat ground. Especially outdoor maps should never be just flat because it looks/feels unnatural and boring. In my opinion, even bigger streets or places should never be 100% flat; small changes really create a completely different feeling. As soon as the height differences and distances become bigger, and the player really has to look up or down for a longer time, it can quickly become such a ‘D-day feeling’. I think that in general, it is harder to defend/assault from a low position against an elevated position. In this case, good cover and possibly alternative ways or specials are necessary. On the other hand, a lot of people forget the sight factor in such a situation. If you look downhill it is normally harder to spot a player than if the enemy is at the top of the hill with the sky in the background. Of course, taking into account the usual camouflage factor of your game. If you have just red T-shirts versus blue T-shirts, the last point is less important.Jumping passages:They can be used to spice up your level but please don’t use them too much because jumping in a FPS is always a mess. Jumping up some crates or rocks is no real big deal but jumping from one house to another one, especially if the jump is not very easy, can quickly become very frustrating for the majority of players. On the other hand, hard-core games really like such passages so it can be cool to have a few less obvious situations like these in your levels which make the good gamers happy. There are two things you should always remember if you are going to have the player jump somewhere. The first point is that you normally only look in the direction where you want to jump. On flat ground it is no big deal to strafe or to walk backwards but if you jump you normally don’t have a lot of time to look around and search for enemies. So be careful with longer and harder jumping parts in hot areas. The second point is sound. If the player wants to pass such a part in your level he is normally making specific jump sounds which can be located by better players very easily. Try to be sure that after the passage there is a little bit of cover regarding its danger level so it doesn’t become an absolute death zone all at once.Doors and holes:Such situations are very common in multiplayer levels but as soon as they are in battle areas without alternative routes they become bottlenecks. The size of them should normally regard the amount of people that pass this section and its environment. For example, if the main way into a warehouse battle zone goes through a door, it should be more like a gate instead of a thin scratch in the wall. However, nobody will really complain if the sneaky alternative route leads through a normal door into a common house. Sometimes they very quickly become death zones if they are very small and lead directly into a hot battle area or mission area, especially without useful cover behind it. If there is absolutely no real solution (e.g. due to a performance reason), then the minimum is some bushes as sight cover against campers from the other team.Doors which you first have to open are always elements which slow down your game flow and should only be used due to performance reasons or as a tactical element. Personally, I am not a big fan of usable doors in multiplayer maps because I always try to speed up the gameplay. It is rare that I really want to slow down my play speed unless I notice that one of the routes is too fast or that one team needs a disadvantage in one area.Small tunnels and air vents:Every time the player has to crouch or go prone he is weak. He cannot react very quickly (e.g. running to cover or turning around if he is prone). So place such situations carefully. Normally, a small hole is not a big deal except if it is in view of an enemy defending a position. If the player has to crouch or prone for a longer time (e.g. in an air vent), in most cases it is a trap as soon as he is noticed. The enemy can easily throw a grenade in the tunnel or shoot through the thin walls. Surviving such a section should be rewarded (e.g. coming out behind the enemy’s lines or with a very good position to stalk opponents without a lot of risk). The risk factor of entering and exiting should depend on the advantage the player will get.Ladders:They are a quick and a very easy method to connect two different high levels. Ladders have the huge advantage, for the level designer, in that you don’t need a lot of space. On the flip side, being on a ladder is a disadvantage in most realistic games because you can’t shoot. This is the reason why you shouldn’t often place them in hot battle areas, unless the player can reach a very good position (e.g. a sniper tower or a sneaky shortcut). Additionally, they slow down the game flow so you should think carefully about whether this is what you want in this specific situation. Normally you should try to solve it with stairs if it is easily possible.Hallways or what happened between the AreasI think you have probably noticed that I am always talking about zones and areas but rarely about what happens between then. In general, you should try to keep the passages between battle- mission areas very short because they can be bottlenecks and just walking isn’t as fun as fighting. The width should always regard the amount of players that will pass the section. A main route should be much bigger and maybe have some small alternative routes nearby and inside the connection and also a sneaky, alternative route. There are three typical kinds of connections depending whether you want to slow down, speed up, or just want to keep the game flow neutral.The first way is to slow down the game in hallways or canyons. If you want to achieve such a situation, do not create alternative ways, just a normal, more or less wide hallway or canyon. Then the cover elements like rocks or pillars should be placed at the sides without an opportunity to walk around. As soon as players from two teams meet each other here, they normally take cover behind your objects. They have to stop unless they go in the middle again and start fighting. At least this slows down the gameplay and makes this section more dangerous. You shouldn’t use such a type in routes which are already very long because these ways are more often used by faster players and they don’t like it if they are suddenly in a slow gameplay section.The second way is to keep the player moving and therefore speed up the game flow. One possibility is to create small alternative ways or shortcuts very nearby and with several connections to the main route. For example, a cellar which leads parallel to the road or a second route over balconies while the rest of the players keep running on the street. The second possibility to increase the flow is intelligent cover placement. If the cover (e.g. trees, walls, pillars) is in the middle or built so that you can continue walking in the original direction, then you can keep on moving if you see an enemy. Just switch the side of the wall and for a few seconds the enemy can’t see you because you have changed your position. At the end, it doesn’t really matter exactly what you build as long as both sides have the opportunity to change their positions erratically as soon as they see each other. It makes the fights between them more interesting, and the areas more fun. If you build it well, the player won’t really notice the difference between the areas and the connections and this is the way it should be. The last way is actually the worst one and should be used carefully. It is simply a hallway without any alternative routes or really good cover (e.g. a normal, boring hallway which goes around a corner). No team has cover and the fights are normally very quick. They are very simple, less interesting and not a lot of fun. You can use these for less important connections or just keep them very short. The really big problem appears if they are long because then they turn into death zones. Make absolutely sure that you avoid long hallways without any alternative ways or enough cover, especially between important areas. Spawn pointsPlacing the spawn points is a very important part of your level design but a lot of people simply finish their levels and throw in their spawn positions sloppily. A good placement is the base of your levels and is normally the first experience the player has in your level. Okay, I hope that points 30m above the ground were due to not enough sleep or a wired code bug. In general, the spawn points should have a minimum of 0.5m - 1m (different from game to game) between each other and the people should spawn as a solid group, and shouldn’t appear somewhere else (e.g. at the 2km long beach.)Additionally, it is important to avoid spawn campers (people who wait next to the spawn points and kill player as soon as they appear) because this is extremely frustrating. One possibility to avoid spawn campers is to split into several smaller groups with different positions. Another solution is placing a lot of spawn points so it is difficult for the camper to predict where the player will spawn. Of course, you should try hard to avoid camper positions next to the spawn points (e.g. with walls, sight cover or one way doors). Placing the spawn points in the middle of a big open field where a mass of campers just have shooting practice against completely helpless players is obviously stupid. You should also take care about the direction of the spawn points. If the player first has to make a 180° turn until he knows where he is and which direction he has to go, even the worst camper has all the time on earth to kill him. The killed player might be a little bit frustrated and confused. The easiest way is to let the player look in the direction he has to go and have absolutely nothing to camp for behind him. Especially people who play a map for the first time normally just start walking in the given direction. If the first seconds of the map are already frustrating and confusing, the map will be rated badly and people will give up playing very quickly.Also, keep the spawn point a little bit away from the mission objective, otherwise you die while defending it and respawn next to it again. This is simply not fair to the attackers who have managed to come so far. On the other hand, the attackers can quickly move a few additional meters and become spawn campers because they can see the start positions from the mission spot. If they have to move a few more seconds to the spawn points, it’s very rare that they wouldn’t prefer to win the match or to get a point at the mission goal instead of becoming spawn campers. Of course, there will be always kiddies who will do it but just try to follow some of the hints above and it shouldn’t be as much of a problem.Stopping the PlayerI guess a lot of designers don’t really think how to stop the player until they are already deep into building their level. The barriers to stop the player leaving the level or to reach special spots sometimes look like quick solutions. In general, you can say that invisible walls should be prevented as much as possible. Personally, I have fewer problems using an invisible wall to block a street which would lead out of the map if there are some other obvious elements which show the player that the street is blocked. Some simple, easy to see road blocks where the player can’t jump over is, in my opinion, okay. The same goes for special fences which I only use to surround the level and are impossible to pass. Of course, a natural or realistic border is much better, like houses, high walls, mountains, etc. but if your map is a village which is surrounded by rocks it feels unrealistic. Especially in maps for non-arcade games, you should really try to prevent that ‘arena-feeling’. Other smarter solutions are, for example, water which pushes the player back with the flow, or to create a mix out of the different elements. Other barriers can be used to stop the player reaching spots inside the map (e.g. to prevent them from jumping on a roof which wasn’t planned to be reachable). If the player can reach such spots by just jumping or using special moves, it is normally bad level design! As soon as the player uses 0.1 cm wide trims, just add an invisible ramp that he slides down. If the trim is obviously passable, then please don’t use invisible walls, just make the trim smaller. The same goes for slopes; if the player can jump up the hills in your game, make them steeper or stick a rock inside. Adding invisible walls here is just lame. Something different is if the players use some kind of ‘human ladders’ to reach higher positions. To a certain degree it is cool to support teamplay but if you need 4 or more people to reach the roof of a house, it will completely destroy your game design and balancing. I think it’s fair to use invisible walls to stop these extreme possibilities. Unlikely arcade games places which you can reach with extreme moves like rocket or grenades jumps should be prevented in realistic games, too. On the other hand, it’s quite rare that a game calls itself ‘realistic’ and you can survive such moves.Tactical SummaryThe player might feel your well balanced strategy plans but he will always see and get in touch with your tactical elements as well. Balancing them is much more difficult because players will always give their best to find weak spots and use them for their advantage. It doesn’t matter if they find an extremely advanced sniper position where you didn’t intend to have one, or if they start to camp in the hallways instead of fighting in the battle zones. On one hand, players seem to be stupid because they don’t do what you want but, on the other hand, they are smart enough to destroy your map if you haven’t planned it well.Try to ask friends how they would move through your map, where they would camp or which area is, in their opinion, unbalanced. Don’t be surprised that multiplayer is normally played by several human beings and they all play/feel it differently. If you have played a lot you should know what normally works in other designer’s maps and what kind of elements are good and bad. Experience and fair criticism from your fans/friends/teammates are still the best way to polish your map. A good map simply has to grow like a good painting and it won’t get better by itself.Especially today, multiplayer is bigger and more complex in terms of gameplay and level design so it is impossible that your very first version is already perfect. Ignorance and arrogance are the poison of the community. Of course, people will always fight and argue but please try to be more or less fair and try to respect the opinion of your friends and fans. Navigation/ Orientation in the Levels IntroductionI think it’s nothing new for level designers that they have great concepts for a really complex and cool map but as soon as they release it, nobody is playing it on the servers. Especially big maps are simply too large and misleading. Of course, the designer knows the map inside out but people playing it the first time get lost, are frustrated and will never give the map the chance it might deserve. Not without a reason, small levels with very simple design are often the most successful ones. This is the reason why it is very important to give the player a lot of guidance and landmarks which helps them to orientate. Of course, if the game you create the level for supports big open fields, maps in his HUD, or compass with waypoints, it’s less important. But even here you should never neglect adding navigation spots and to split the level into recognizable parts. Never forget that, if the player gets lost in your map the first time, it doesn’t matter how great your gameplay ideas are because he will never experience it and will switch the map/server in frustration. Orientation and navigation are very important for the success of your map, I can tell you this from my own personal experience. Eye Catcher/ Special AreasAs I have already mentioned above, one of the best ways to help the player orientate in more complex levels are special eye-catchers or special areas which the player will remember. If you remember the last examples for the BOMB and CTF modes, I split the level into different, very unique parts which gives the player the first basic understanding of where he is. As soon as he knows that he is around the harbor area and not in the backyard he might remember what to do if he comes here again. Especially for team communication, it’s a great help. After a few minutes or rounds, there will be a simple pattern of different areas in the mind of the player and he will start to use this for tactics and he can choose his route with purpose. For example, he knows that the harbor area is more medium and long range but after it there are the warehouses which will lead directly to the mission objective. He knows it is short range and CQB so he should be careful and take the right equipment. If the whole map looks very similar, it doesn’t really matter if the designers have placed a few more rockets here and a few more plants there. For the first impression of the player, everything will look the same and the map will become uninteresting or at least frustrating. Light settings, architecture, vegetation, styles, textures, furniture, visual range, and sound should vary as much as possible in your map but should also be consistent in the different areas! On the other hand, don’t make it too extreme because if the player has to remember too many different areas or styles it becomes confusing and the result would be the same if everything looked the same. There have to be just a few easily memorable and very distinguishable landmarks.This is the first step for the player to get a very rough understanding. It is similar to your strategic planning, but now the player needs help to orientate himself in more detail. In the end, it doesn’t really matters if the player knows he is on the beach or in the jungle if he doesn’t know where to go. What is the right direction or where might the enemy come from? Now you should add some special objects or elements which help the player to navigate in detail. For example; the player runs into a house and around some corners and as soon as he comes out he already lost orientation. If he then sees a nice looking red car at the right side and cool graffiti on the wall on the left side, he might remember. The next time he might choose the left side because the way passing the red car only leads back around the house. Of course, this only works if you only have one nice looking red car and one such special graffiti in your level. Other objects can show the direction: if the blue player runs out of the jungle on the beach and he sees a boat wreck he might remember that the nose of the sailboat leads to the red base and he had better use the other direction. Such small clues and unique elements can be extremely helpful. Things which the player can already see from a long distance or things that are visible the whole time are even better. A big crane which is visible and always points in the same direction, a skybox with a sunrise on the right side, or a big tower with several bright lights in the middle of the maps are other examples. At least at every cross or on every big area you should have such elements.Overview/ Understanding of the LevelSuch hints mentioned above might help the player remember the map quicker but the very first time he still doesn’t know exactly where to go. That’s why overview and quick understanding of the map is even more important. Try to think about that when you make your strategy plans.First of all, when the player starts he should already spawn in the right direction so he only has to go straight. Around the spawn points the layout should be quite simple and absolutely not complex! Really try to strongly guide the player in the first seconds or let the player see several exits/entrances which he can choose from but then no more cross-routes before he comes to the first battle areas. A good, recognizable part of the level at the beginning without any conflict with the gameplay also helps a lot.The main routes should be very obvious. If you play the map for the first time, the chance that you first follow the bright bigger hallway is much higher than if you choose the darker, smaller alternative route into the battle area. At the beginning, the player should be guided by easily recognizable routes and, as soon as he knows the map a bit better, he will start to try the other ways and with the elements in the previous topic he will quickly be able to connect the different ways. This is the reason why you should split your levels with urban settings in battle areas and have connections between them. The player will go into the area and the only exits are easily visible. Logically, a level with just a mass of small rooms and hallways is much harder to learn than a well-structured one.Different Level SizesThe size of your level has a huge impact on your gameplay and is heavily influenced by the game mode, whether you have vehicles, and the game you create the maps for. For example Battlefield 1942 maps simply has to bigger than a normal Raven Shield map because in one game you have vehicles and in the other game you play some kind of a S.W.A.T. team.Okay, vehicle maps should be obviously big and quite open. So what kind of criteria should these big maps have? They should be very open because a big map with static routes is either very complex with a lot of alternative routes (which only confuse the player), or they are boring because you can’t switch the route for half a minute. Short maps should be very compact but be careful that they don’t become too boring by limited possibilities. You have to find the perfect compromise between pliability, navigation, orientation and still guiding the player somehow. Bigger maps are generally for more players but please make them wider instead of longer! Nothing is more annoying than having to walk for half an hour before something happens. On the other side, it is bad to create maps which only start to flow if the server reaches the maximum number of player for the game. If the game only supports 32 players then a big map should already become really fun with 20 people and even with 10 people it should still be entertaining. It’s better to create maps which are really fun with just half of the players so you are flexible and the chances of the map being played on both small and large servers is much better. Let’s first talk about non-symmetrical mission based game modes like BOMB and discuss how big you want to build your map. The times you can see here are just examples and in the real game they will never so exact.In general, the attacker team should need two times longer to the mission goal than the defending team. So I’ve drawn three examples which you can see above. The first third of the attacker’s route is where tactical possibilities should really start at the latest. Here, the ways should start to split. The amount of cover increases and the player should start to take care instead of just blind rushing. In the first third there should be absolutely no possibility for base campers! In the first example the attackers need 90 sec to reach the mission objective. Some people might say that this is not a long time for a really big map but if you look at the time where the player might have their first encounter then you see it is 67.5 sec! Do you really want to walk/drive for over a minute before the action might start?! Probably not, so a 90 sec map is definitely too big for the mass player who wants to have quick action. For the second example the attackers need 60 sec to reach the mission spot and the first action might take place at around 45 sec. For me, that sounds like the maximum passage of time for a map that will have some success. Of course there will be always hardcore tactical players who don’t care how long they walk, but this won’t make your map universally popular. The last example is shorter with 30 sec to the mission goal. With 22.5 sec to the first encounter, it is a pretty fast one. If you make it even shorter, there is a high risk that fast defenders will come too close to the attacker’s spawn positions so be careful. Some good advice is that short/fast maps should have a lot of urban elements because in purely outdoor maps it’s very hard to control the speed and the routes that the players take. If it’s not really a swamp map with a lot of fog, the distance a normal player runs in 22.5 sec is definitely shorter than the normal view distance in modern outdoor maps. So be very careful with snipers/campers around the spawn points.Now let’s look at how the same numerical example looks like with symmetrical maps and with no clear defenders and attackers like CTF.The times are from a case where, when the match starts, a perfect player from team B makes an attack against team A, grabs the flag and runs back to score with it. In the first example you would ideally need 90 sec to reach the mission goal. After around 45 sec you might meet your first enemy. If the dead player respawns at once and starts running straight away, the attacker from team A can encounter him again after 67.5 sec if he hasn’t lost any time in the first fight! After another 22.5 sec, he can finally reach the flag and might already kill another player and now has to run back for another 90 sec. All in all, these are three minutes of an absolutely perfect attack and, as we all know, a perfect run without any lost time in a normal CTF match is almost impossible. So if you try it very often and walk around a lot you will usually need longer than 180 sec which is, in my opinion, already too long. Remember that in a normal CTF match you cannot even roughly calculate where the players will fight because of the normal re-spawning system in such game modes. The second example also takes a long time if we think that this is the most perfect way. But here, the action is already much more packed. The two minutes of intensive possibilities for action sound much better for a big, enjoyable map. However, it is realistic that for a normal run you might still need around three minutes which is borderline. Now in the last example, 30 sec to the enemy’s base seems to be suddenly very short but they remind us more about the fast, thrilling CTF matches which we had with the Quake and Unreal games. Personally, I have less problems to run a between one and two minutes to capture a flag but they should be loaded with action which can only be achieved in medium or small CTF games or in big maps on big servers. So the bigger you plan such a map, the more open the map should be, otherwise the action would be too rare. On the other hand, small maps should be more compact because then tactical gameplay is even less important than pure combat skills. Art for Gameplay IntroductionIn this section I don’t want talk how to make your level look beautiful. It is more about how art elements like lighting (Visibility), textures (Orientation) and architecture (Movement) might affect your gameplay.It might be that I’ve already talked about some of these tricks in some of the earlier examples but now I want to complete the list and bring some of those ideas together.Such elements can be in harsh contrast with the art factor which will make your level look nice and the art will support gameplay. Like in single player games, discussions between the art department and game designers or AI programmers can be daily. In general, the gameplay should rule over aesthetic aspects because fun is more important than “visual brain wanking”. First design your levels and if you are the first time somehow satisfied with the final playability, start to make the level look nicer with less important details and color arrangements.LightingLike I already mentioned above, the main intention of using light for gameplay is definitely visibility. The brightness of an area affects the general speed of action and movement. In a gloomy/stealth part of your level, the player will normally move more slowly and carefully than in a bright one, except in the case of quick surprise actions from an ambush or a camper. Also, dark areas give the player a higher chance to navigate through the area unseen but not completely unheard. I will talk later about sound for gameplay but, for now, don’t forget that in darker areas, sound become more important than in strongly illumined ones. So your stealth ways should be generally darker then the fast ways for rushers. Even in outdoor maps with a day setting, you can influence the brightness with shadows from hills, buildings or trees. The darker a section is, the better camouflage works. So even a little bit of shadow can help a lot in the jungle. In some examples, darkness can almost completely eliminate cover. Just imagine a bright base which one team has to assault which is surrounded by pitch black night. The attackers can move around it almost unnoticed without losing sight of their goals. They will become big problems as soon as they come closer, but this offers them a completely different style of tactics than the normal “running-from-cover-to-cover”. Don’t forget that such ideas can become weaker if the game you design for supports night vision, flashlights, flares or similar equipment.I think it is slowly becoming clear that darkness can be used as a tactical element so let’s talk about brightly lit areas. In these areas it is much harder to hide so a player might move faster. Because he can see the enemy much better, the action will be generally much cleaner and faster. Visual detection is much more important than sound detection so these bright ways are the preferred ones for rushers where reflex and good aiming are more effective than tactics. For the ambitious tactical hardcore player, this might seem frightening at first blush. On the other hand, real team play can now really be the difference. While moving from cover to cover, other team mates have to be wary of possible spots where the defenders appear and make quick pop-up attacks. Such quick defending strikes are much easier in bright areas so while running forward you simple have to trust your back-up team. Good real-world examples are actually indoor paintball matches. Camouflage is normally absolutely useless because of the colorful sports suits and the fact that you can die after one hit. Fast reflexes are of high importance but you need good support guys to keep the enemy busy and behind their cover.The second gameplay factor of light is the help for orientation. If the player jumps down into a big cellar, he can quickly recognize it by the lighting. Bright light can lead the player on the main route, and color shemes can show him on which side of the CTF map he is located.TexturesTextures affect the gameplay completely differently to lighting because the main purpose is navigation and orientation instead of visibility. Of course, the textures also affect visibility but first let’s talk about its main intention.In arcade CTF maps, the bases have normally blue or red textures and not without good reason. As everybody knows, it helps the player to know exactly which base he is located in. In maps with a realistic setting, it might very stupid if the terrorist base has blue stripes and the S.W.A.T. spawn point has blue ones as well, so let's think about other solutions to use the textures as an help for orientation. The best way is actually to separate the maps in clearly different areas like we already did during the strategy planning phase. For example, a harbor area uses a completely different texture set to a backyard. Try to make sure that the textures are really different. For example; red, clean bricks and a gray, dirty concrete are much easier to recognize as different settings than two standard house textures with slightly different colors. Additionally, the chosen materials have to fit to the area; a wooden high-tech industrial complex simply doesn’t look right. Now the player comes into an area which is dominated by brick textures and knows exactly which area he is in. Large areas with memorable surfaces are even noticeable in a stressful fight or hunt because this is what fills most of the player’s screen. Of course these simple hints and only work in maps with a lot of urban elements. In bigger, complex outdoor maps, where the navigation might be different due to a low view range, you should try to use your vegetation as orientation help. Palm trees at the beach, high trees in the big jungle, and small trees in the mountain are just an example, the same goes for grass, bushes or even flowers. For a lot of designers (especially if they’ve created a lot of SP maps), consistency is very important. In multiplayer, however, it is overruled by gameplay aspects, especially if it helps the player to understand the map much easier. Please don’t make the borders between the areas too extreme otherwise it looks cheap. Remember: “In realistic maps the gameplay elements should be hidden as much as possible to create a believable scenario.” As I have mentioned above, textures can also affect the visibility of the player. It is quite obvious that the right surfaces support the camouflage effect of the player skins. A black player is very well hidden in dark, night, urban maps, etc. These things don’t need a lot of explanation. If you have a dark cellar and the walls are bright, the stealth effect becomes much weaker. So if you really want to modify the visibility by using light, make sure that the textures fit, too. Architecture & GeometryIn general, architecture directly affects the movement of the player and, of course, his visibility. One of the main intentions of geometry is actually giving the player cover, so let’s talk about the different kinds you can use.You can create half cover which is only really useful if the player is crouched or prone. It is harder to use and this decreases the effect of it. For balancing a defend/attack position this is a better solution than removing the cover completely because it is better to have weak cover than no cover at all. The second kind is full cover which protects the player completely whether he stands or crouches. This is actually the most powerful and frequently used cover in games; like bigger trees, columns or edges of houses. Behind such a structure, the player only has to fear indirect fire like grenades and air strikes so try to make sure that the enemy has at least a small chance to counter such a position or to shoot through. For example; a way around, enough cover in front so he can come very close, sniper and support spots to make sure that he stays behind the cover while the rest of the team move forward, or sight cover to sneak close. Cover doesn’t automatically slow down the game flow because here we have two kinds of cover. The first one has only one way around, like a column next to a wall or the edge of a big house. If the player hides there, he is much more predictable for the opposing player. He can only come out at one spot or stay where he is, so move ment in such areas will be much more careful and therefore slower. For fast attackers, a route with such cover would become less attractive so move cover next to the walls/borders or make it bigger if you think that the defenders have a disadvantage. The other kind is cover where the player has much more possibilities to surround e.g. a column in the middle of a room, a stone/tree on an open field or a small house. Here, the hiding the player has many more ways to surprise the enemy; he can appear at two sides and sometimes he can jump at the top or even go inside. An area with mainly such cover is an eldorado for quick tactical players and normally it’s harder to defend. Personally I like such situations with a variety of different possibilities but be careful regarding the balancing. A good counter against it for the defending team are some positions from where you have a good view of almost the whole area like towers, windows, etc.I think I have already mentioned this above but please don’t always use the same kind of cover, especially crates! Of course, they are very easy to build, are very friendly to the performance, and you can get them in almost every size but just try to be a little bit more innovative. Okay, even I used it a lot in my harbor and warehouse maps in this article but only because it is very easy to explain and it is a short word ;-). I’ve already tried to build maps intending to use as few crates as possible just to see if it’s feasible. I mainly used stones, trees, edges, columns, doorways, furniture, big machines, trenches, railings, windows, etc. Of course, it was possible and the only crates you can find are more decoration than part of the gameplay. If I can do it, you can do it too. Architecture doesn’t always mean cover so use your creativity not only to find different kinds of cover. Try to vary ways to go up and down, not always stairs or ladders e.g. with slopes/piles of dirt, ramps, broken pipes, elevator shafts, crates (or other objects) to jump up, cranes, planks or one way holes to jump down. Then you should think also about ways through walls, not always doors. Try to use windows where the player has to jump through, broken holes in ruins, bigger half open gates or pipes which the player has to crawl through or air ducts. The same counts for ways over trenches or cliffs. Instead of normal bridges, think about planks, fallen trees, pipes, cranes or situations where you can only jump over while running/sprinting.All of this variety can be easily used to balance the difficulty and speed of routes and to make areas more different from each other. Orientation and navigation becomes much harder if you always use crates, ladders, doors and the same looking bridges. Every time you place such elements, remember if you’ve already used something similar in your level think about something else instead. Another important factor of placing architecture or other geometry is the comfortable movement around. Very narrow passages in a battle field should be avoided. If you make gaps between objects then make sure that is obvious that you can’t go between. A gap where the player is 2cm too big to fit through is just frustrating. Run around your level and make sure that even for an inexperienced player, the movement is easy and you can’t get stuck anywhere.What about Details & Beauty?I can’t stress enough that performance and gameplay are always more important than the beauty of your map. Of course a nice looking map will get more attention at the beginning but if people notice that the bad performance makes the map unplayable with more than four players, nobody will play it anymore. Obviously the same goes for the gameplay, especially if all of your small details make the player get stuck or cause a very uncomfortable movement. So the main intention of details should be small gameplay elements like a hole/gap in a ruin, curtains around windows, a branch of a tree to jump on or a thin metal railing. The next intention of details is to create the right atmosphere. For example, break walls in ruins and place dirt on the ground, use metal support pieces in warehouses or clean looking furniture in mansions. If you and the players/testers are happy with your map and you have a good performance, start to add unimportant details like broken tiles on the wall/floor, adding a knob to your cupboard, folds in your carpet or make the pipes even more smooth. Don’t go crazy with adding details in your multiplayer maps, normally player just runs through your rooms and as soon as the action starts nobody cares that you wasted 3000 polygons for the picture frame around your favorite FHM model. If you think that an area has a lack of details then first try to use textures or shadows. You can easily combine it with gameplay e.g. a cellar room: Place your lights so that the cover casts a lot of shadows on the walls/floor, use different wall textures, make the unimportant and boring areas much darker then the good looking ones, add some simple structures under the ceiling and throw some dirt on the ground. Normally that’s already enough to make a room prettier using the existing elements without wasting a lot of time adding scratches in the walls/floor or placing high poly objects. Of course such hints are very general and I absolutely don’t want you to make your maps ugly. Especially the main areas need special attention art wise because beauty is also very important for the first impression but pure art aspects are not part of this article. If you are interested in beautification, don’t forget to check my other article(s) (more will come in the future) regarding art.Sound for GameplayPersonally, I rarely used sound in multiplayer maps except to create atmosphere. Maybe because I created my maps in the good old days when surface textures with different walking sounds were something pretty new. Especially in areas where visibility is less important than sound detection. For example, in a dark room where you can normally sneak through very silently, some louder metal/glass plates are interesting and fresh gameplay elements. The same can be said for water passages because it doesn’t only makes you slower, it is also a different, louder sound and every enemy in the vicinity can hear that there is someone in the water. Such small gameplay elements will become more interesting with better technology so don’t forget about them if you create maps for the new cutting-edge games.I also saw that several designers used to trigger sound elements if you move through specific areas, like a barking dog if you use the route through the backyard. Personally I don’t like such things because there is no fair way to avoid them ... hmm unless you can throw a grenade over the fence to blow up the stupid mutt ;-). Something different are mission/game specific sound events like an alarm siren triggered by the enemy or pick up sounds of the flag/mission objective. They can of course be used to balance bigger maps with several objectives. Round Based vs. Reinforcement Game modesThere are two main differences in making levels for round based game modes and game modes where the players re-spawn constantly. The first one is the size of the maps. If the player spawn in the same positions every round, he doesn’t want to walk for very long before the fights start. Of course this is similar to maps for reinforcement game modes but in a round based mode, the people stay dead until one team wins. So the number of possible fights is much more limited and so is the size of the maps. Especially the rounds should be quite short because dead people have to wait for the round to end before they re-spawn again. So a bigger map will become quite boring, people have to walk a lot and dead people stay dead for a long time and get frustrated. On the other hand, round based game modes can be much more tactical because the start situation is always equal in every round. You can calculate tactical situations much better because you know more or less where the main battle areas will be. For you as a level designer, this makes the design easier but bad places have a much bigger impact on the level design then in re-spawn maps. On such maps an unbalanced area is less critical because almost the whole map can be a battle ground. For example, a powerful defending sniper position can ruin the fights around a mission area every round, and the attackers will avoid the area as much as possible. If the player re-spawns continuously, such a sniper can be nasty, too. But as soon as he is finally dead, the fights might start to move to other places or they never really happen. Fights in such maps are less focused on certain areas but this doesn’t mean that you are allowed to create a few unbalanced parts of the map. Both game types require a different design philosophy. One needs perfect focus on certain areas while the others must be a unit of well combined battle areas or just one huge battle area. Mirrored vs. Uneven Map LayoutIt is a well-known fact that the arcade game modes like CTF must have a mirrored map layout. This is okay as long as the maps stayed small with no vehicles and the gameplay was very arcadey. Since we can build bigger maps with vehicles and the main intention is to create a realistic feeling battle field, even unmirrored layouts became usual for CTF and similar game modes. This is, of course, nothing new for round based games with normally clear attackers and defenders. If the role of the team is clear, it is easier to calculate the balancing progress. Mirrored maps are generally easier to build and to balance. They should be used for open and arcade game modes where the realistic feeling of the level is less important than the pure gameplay itself. For example, if you play CTF it is already unrealistic and then it doesn’t really matter if one side of the city has blue paintings and the other side is almost the same with more red on the walls. The biggest problem now is to find a good solution to increase the orientation and navigation because you have two parts which are very similar. Of course you could make all the trees on one side red and the other side blue but I hope we all agree that this would look stupid even in fun maps. For a realistic scenario you should try to find much smarter solutions. Like I’ve already mentioned above, variation is quite important so why shouldn’t the bridge on one side be a couple of pipes and on the other side a few wooden planks. This can be used almost everywhere as long as the gameplay at both places stays the same, for balancing reasons. Another idea, which can be well combined with the previous one, are different styles in the areas. One side of the map is dirty with broken old cars and a lot of graffiti and the other side is a more clean, noble area where the house owners wash their cars every weekend. I think it is logical that the break between the two styles shouldn’t be very abrupt and should make a little bit sense. If there is absolutely no way to separate the two parts style-wise, you can still go back to the old school “color solution”. Using blue and red should only be your last way. Just don’t make it so extreme and artificial like you know it from pure arcade games like Quake. Colorful banderols around trees, graffiti on house walls, marks on crates, cars or even flags are not great ideas but still better than any extreme solutions like blue vs. red grass.Just make sure that it fits as well as possible or that it looks like a paintball team marked their combat areas. A completely blue stone looks way too freaky but if it looks like that someone painted a big blue square on the stone it is already much better.Unmirrored levels have the complete opposite problems than the mirrored ones. On one hand, if you do it a little bit smart and follow the basic rules in the previous chapters above, navigation and orientation won’t be a big problem. On the other hand, now balancing is your biggest issue. That is the reason why unmirrored levels are much harder to design than mirrored ones. Making a few different textures and placing a few detailed objects doesn’t need a lot of design skills compared with making a perfectly balanced map with two different sides. I’ve already talked a lot about how to balance unmirrored maps for round based game modes so this time I will concentrate more on how to do this for reinforcement levels. If your battle fields are very big and open, it is easier because a flat hill is almost the same as a flat valley. As soon as the terrain is really different and you have a lot of bigger objects, balancing starts to become difficult. For example, if at one side you have a bigger hill in front of the regular base defense, the attackers might have an advantage but on the other side you have a valley. Now you need to think about what you have to change so that the attackers have more problems with the hill, or how much cover you have to place in the valley so it is balanced again. You have to think about almost every place in the map and how to balance it differently to the other side. This is very critical and because it is almost impossible to calculate all kinds of combat situations, it is actually impossible to balance it perfectly. The only real solution is a lot of experience and a mass of testing the map if you want to create an unmirrored level where both teams have the role of attackers and defenders. Expect that the first versions of your maps get a lot of bad feedback and you will have to tweak it a lot. So stay in close contact with your test team and make a detailed test plan. After the first general tests you should start to concentrate on certain areas and let the QA focus on these areas until the feedback is detailed enough so you can really balance them. If you and the test team do the job well, nobody will really notice the small balancing problems. Of course some fans will always complain about this and that area but it will be the minority and is simply the calculated risk of unmirrored maps. Just do it as good as possible. Realistic & Arcade Even if your setting is realistic, the game itself can be very different. It can be something ultra-realistic like American Army or something more arcadey like Action Quake. The strategic design for both kinds of extremes is almost the same. They all need a balanced basic structure and good navigation/orientation. The real differences are in the tactical elements.If the player can only move realistically for the majority of the game the player it is quite slow. If the player dies very quickly, tactical team play und unpredictable gameplay are the key game elements instead of rushing and making crazy stunts. Cover should be closer together and in bigger battle areas, support/cover spots for the attacking squad become very important. Always think about camper and sniper positions and how the opposing team can counter them with tactics. If one hidden sniper can cover the edge of an important house and the attackers can only peek around the corner and get a headshot or run for four seconds over an open field with no support from the back, it might become quite frustrating. If the first three squad mates have to die before you know where the damn sniper is lying, you should increase the tactical variation heavily. On the other hand, if one 40mm grenade can be fired accurately over 200m and kill everyone in a radius of 5m, the defenders also need the possibility to become unpredictable. In a realistic game it is simply a fact that the defenders have a huge advantage. So if the attackers want to be successful they have to change the tactics very often, use smoke grenades, counter sniping, covering fire, etc. to break through the defense lines. You as the designer, have to give them all these possibilities and if the players don’t use them and keep playing like Rambo's it is simply their fault. On the other side, if the player can run with 50 kilometers an hour, he has to care less about snipers if he has to sprint four seconds to another cover spot. Taking the risks and cool stunts are strong elements for the fun factor of more arcade game modes. Yes, it was simply cool in Action Quake to strafe, jump 20m to the next roof and surprise the other team. Just make sure that such cool stunts are possible in your maps, the fans will really like to make completely crazy actions. Now campers and lame phlegmatic base defenders have no chance and the whole game becomes faster and more aggressive. Now a single Rambo player can wipe out a complete noob team with less problems, but hey that is Hollywood action and the player’s problem, not yours. As long as the Rambo player can do it in every team because your map is well balanced, it should be okay. It is your job as a level designer to support the features of the game you build for. If you make your map so extremely hard and boring for attackers and defenders, that it is the same as playing an ultra-realistic game, you definitely did something wrong.Game design vs. Level designI guess what I am telling some of the level designers out there might come as a bit of a shock. From my experience of working with a lot of other designers, quite often they would complain about the game design without thinking that something with their level design might be wrong. Normally there is a fine line between game design and level design but smart people are able to think in the right way and know where the problem might be. So my advice for the level designer with problematic areas in their maps is to consider that there is a fair chance that it can be his fault, too. For example, the game designer decides that all thin wooden planks are destroy-able. Now the level designer complains that he sometimes needs indestructible boards because otherwise the opponent can destroy the only cover in that area very quickly. He decides that some of the planks in his level cannot be damaged. Okay, if something has special features it should be obvious that all similar objects have the same abilities. Continuity is an old school design rule and should never be changed. If you have problems with one of the special objects in that specific situation then you simply shouldn’t place it there. Just use your brain and think about another solution like a lower stone wall as cover or whatever. Causing frustration and perplexity is the last thing you want in your level.I know that you are now waiting for an example where the game design is wrong instead of the scolded mapper. Especially the problem of badly designed/balanced weapons shouldn’t affect the level design. If a flash-bang blinds everyone in a radius of 50m, the designer shouldn’t make too many small areas in the level. Frag grenades which you can throw through the whole level and it remember more about artillery shouldn’t produce levels where every wall is 30m height. Before the sub machine-gun is too powerful and the mappers only design wide open fields in their levels, they should start a small revolution against the game designers. I guess since you’ve read the article this far, you have enough experience to remember enough of the other examples. Discussions are good as long as both sides are able to accept that they might be wrong, and are able to make compromises. CreativityI could probably write a completely new article on the subject of creativity but I would like to keep this short. If you read through the whole article, please don’t expect that you can now build the greatest levels of all time. Perhaps you can now create some quite solid multiplayer maps but they are still nothing really special without your own creative input! Every good designer has his systems which he uses to create levels but even the best didn’t have their greatest ideas on command. Normally you think about a problem or something which might spice up your level until you get a headache and then suddenly, when you least expect it, you find the solution. Great ideas can come to you; under the shower, on the toilet, smoking on the balcony, before you fall asleep or whenever you are relaxing. This is normal and nobody can expect you to come up with ideas to order.Great ideas are born if you don’t think about the problem and suddenly it pops up into your mind so try to make sure that you work in a peaceful, inspiring environment without a lot of stress around you. Go out for a walk, customize your desk like a greenhouse (an extreme example but I’ve seen it done), relax or do something completely different as long as you don’t have to think very hard. If you have no real idea about your strategy plan, just use an already approved old school one, modify it a little bit and then you might have cool ideas for the tactical parts. At least this is how it happens to me very often.It is nothing really new that level designers take their ideas from movies, music videos or even from some cheap B-movie style TV series. A single scene in any action movie can already give you the idea of a tactical scene in your new level. Take this as a base and complete it with a strategy plan, do some research about the environment and you will get enough other ideas to fill the level. In the end nobody knows that it was a Bon Jovi video which gave you the mental kick for a kick ass map because it was just the first impulse for your own creative work.Final Words & QuestionsWho am I writing this for? Definitely for the level designers out there. Sharing his own knowledge so that everyone might learn something and improve their skills is becoming a rare virtue in that community. I hope even more people start to write about their experiences because even I still want to learn something new and I bet you guys have even more cool ideas. On the other hand, I hope a lot of non-level designers are reading this long article to get a better idea about the work we are doing every day. It is already science and almost an art to make good multiplayer levels and it seems that the majority of people still don’t understand that.I guess several designers might say that everything they have read here is just a waste of time because it was all logical and everybody knows the basics. However, I think there is a big difference between knowing something and doing what you know! If I think back to some of my maps, I would find many failures even though I was already clear about all of these rules. Writing these basic rules helps me to internalize it and it might also help you to think more clearly about them after you have read this article.Building a multiplayer map shouldn’t normally be a really big deal but to design a good one is even harder than designing a single player map. On the other hand, it is normally harder to build a good, solid single player level. I don’t want to start now with the never ending discussion about whether it is harder to make a single player or multiplayer maps. If you have ever built for both for a long time, or even designed them professionally, then you will have your own opinion which you simply have to respect. Other people’s opinions have a smaller impact on my one but, of course, I always welcome fair discussions.Why are you reading this article? ... I guess you should have a good answer by now because you’ve already read through my small bible and if you didn’t read anything, shame on you ;-). I hope after reading about the well-known or boring aspects, you have learned something new and enjoyed reading it.Thank you for reading,Benjamin Bauer*This article has been posted on Next Level Design with the authors permissionSource: http://www.benb-design.net/Articles/benb_article02.pdfFollow Benjamin:Website: http://www.benb-design.net/Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_qb1MnHEV4xaVBpQaigspQ
Next Level Design has been given permission from the author to host this entire book in PDF format. Download the attached PDF at the bottom of this article for the entire book, or view it here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1uB3pUjPkHuWWOYEc70nkVjVlR09ua70zStill not sure? Read through this section on lighting that was recently posted on Next Level Design: In addition, we've included another small section of the book right here: pg. 25 INTRODUCTION Due to games’ ever-increasing complexity and the expanding nature of levels in general, it can certainly be said that levels are not easy to design. Levels, as said before, are combinations of dozens of different aspects, the conglomeration of which render them complex by nature. This combination of complex systems itself requires good design from the start in order to avoid an inconsistent and downright messy result. Because the different aspects are so interdependent, it’s very important not to lose sight of a level’s ‘big picture’. This chapter highlights some of the issues that can pop up when designing a level, as well as some more minor aspects to keep in mind. The overall design is the foundation for a level. Without a clear, strong design, there is no solid base on which to build the level. THE CREATION OF A NEW WORLDThe most important part of a successful level is its beginning. The way a level starts will determine a great deal about how the rest of the level will evolve and how quickly. In these days of growing complexity, efficiency and speed are valued highly. Getting off to a bad start or using bad work methods can cost time which is usually at a premium to begin with. Part of starting a good design is foreseeing potential problems before anything is created. By doing this early in the process, a good level designer can quickly and easily modify the design to better fit the available time, workload, difficulty, technical limits, or all of the above.How one begins a new level is different for every person. One designer may write everything down in a design document while another, like me, just plans it out in their head. The method used also depends upon if one is working in a team environment. Working with a team means that the level’s design must be communicated throughout the team which usually means some sort of written, drawn, or quickly modeled design that can be passed around and/or presented. How it’s done isn’t important as long as several key aspects are kept in mind and the end product is of a sufficient quality. If the technology used cannot create lush jungles, for example, then this must be recognized before starting.A design should progress only when exactly what is wanted and how to accomplish it is known. Exact information is the key to this. Again using the jungle example, one must know what the jungle will look like, the colors it uses, the overall style, how the player will move through it, if the engine can render thick vegetation, what kind of physics will be involved, and too many more to list here.To assist in this task, I have developed a type of checklist that is at the base of everything I design. The list compares several key values against each other to see if they are possible and if they should be modified. It also helps define the values better. The list checks to see if the rules of, for example, lighting and composition are contrary to each other and if the goal is possible and what direction to take. This extensive chapter will mostly be about the latter.A level is complex and it takes increasingly more time and effort to successfully complete one; thus failure is not an option. All the areas that could potentially cause a problem should be identified before starting any work. Once the design process starts it should go smoothly; design dilemmas should not occur or, if they do, should be easily overcome with few modifications to the overall plan. Getting stuck can be very demoralizing and time consuming. pg. 26THE CHECKLISTA level always begins with a goal, a theme, or both. The goal may be that the game requires a medieval castle, or that it’s missing an ominous environment, or that the level is to be the central hub of the game.After identifying the basic idea, certain key information needs to be pinned down before starting the level. This ‘key information’ will be referred to as ‘the keys’. The keys communicate important properties about the level. They are the key words the level is built around and provide more information on the level’s requirements.The following are questions to determine the key information for the level-to-be: • (1-Time) How much time is there available? Is there a deadline? • (2-Tech) What tools and game engine will be used? • (3-Limitations) What limitations are there? Is there a shortage of art assets or staff/personal skill limit? Can anything be made or are some aspects beyond the scope of the project because of their complexity? • (4-Requirements) What kind of requirements are there? Are there any specific elements, for example, special buildings or areas that have to be in the level? When compared to the rest of the game what visual style or theme must the level adhere to? • (5-Purpose) What is the overall purpose? For example, is it a multiplayer practice level or a singleplayer boss arena? • (6-Gameplay) What should the gameplay be like? How should it be played? Should there be enough room for a large boss encounter? Or does it need to be large enough to contain a large number of enemies attacking the player? Perhaps it’s a vehicle level? Or it is a stealth level? And so on. • (7-Theme) What theme and/or style will the level have? Will it be a castle or a jungle? Will the style be cartoonish or realistic?This is all essential information for a level. The order of the list is not as important as the answers. Once the essential elements of the level have been identified it can be run through a checklist to see if it holds up. Will it work? Look right? Play right?The keys provide the information while the checklist determines if it is possible or not. The checklist combines two or more keys in order to determine if they fit together or not. If the desired theme is a jungle, but the engine can’t handle rendering dense vegetation, then these are two keys that do not fit together and the design will need to be adjusted accordingly. This is the type of information the keys provide: essential information that design decisions can be based on before actually starting work on a level. Thinking ahead is the key to success.The checklist itself is a system for asking questions and making comparisons. The questions are different each time, but the comparisons remain the same. Verify that the individual elements compliment each other.Here's the entire Table of Contents: Download the attached PDF below, or view it here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1uB3pUjPkHuWWOYEc70nkVjVlR09ua70z *The Hows and Whys of Level Design is hosted on Next Level Design with permission from the authorFollow Sjoerd De JongWebsite: http://www.hourences.com/Portfolio: http://www.hourences.com/portfolio/Twitter: https://twitter.com/HourencesYoutube: https://www.youtube.com/user/Hourences/feed The Hows and Whys of Level Design.pdf