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  1. For years I’ve been taking a pretty standardized approach to designing each new map in Cogmind, and although we have dozens of them now, it’s one of the few topics I’ve never covered on the blog. This is essentially because a serious in-depth look at the entire process would require spoiling a lot of content, considering that all the most interesting maps have been located beyond the early game. But with the recent release of Beta 8, which adds a very interesting map right to the early game, we now have a good opportunity to discuss map design without worrying too much about spoilers, since for the most part it’s easily accessible content anyway. This article will walk through every stage of the design and implementation process, from start to finish. I took a lot of notes about the process itself as I was building Beta 8, specifically so I could share them here and to ensure that what I write is an accurate representation of what actually went down. Note that unlike the majority of maps in Cogmind, due to its nature this particular map has a mostly static layout and content rather than drawing heavily on procedural methods. As such the process is missing a few steps, but I’ll cover those separately in an addendum. A mostly static map, on the other hand, provides some unique discussion opportunities of its own. Conception Before even starting, each map idea needs one or more concepts to build around, and in this case we have several goals: add more potential variety, especially to the early game provide more early plot hooks help new players For a very long time my notes for potential Cogmind features contained the concept of “derelict labs,” a way to access strange and fun technology, so when I started feeling we’d need a new area of the game to achieve all those goals, this concept seemed particularly fitting. Once I’d decided this was likely to happen (several months before actually doing it), I began intermittently revisiting that section of my notes to expand it with new ideas and considerations. On each new visit to add more ideas, I’d intentionally avoid rereading previous notes on that topic, instead just appending any new thoughts at the bottom. This keeps me in the unique frame of mind I’m in at the time, allowing me to come up with potentially very different ideas, or even perhaps the exact same ideas again without realizing it 😛 (this because usually days or even weeks have passed and I’ve forgotten the details of my earlier ideas). Note that coincidentally repeating notes on the same ideas can actually be valuable, because it validates them, perhaps with different reasoning, or even fleshes them out in different directions I hadn’t thought of in previous note-taking sessions! This process resulted in a total of about 2,600 words of rough notes on the topic, which like all of my notes are organized as nested lists in a TXT file. The entirety of rough notes on the new map, as seen in my editor Normally I just delete rough notes once their contents have been implemented or converted to more permanent notes elsewhere, but this time I saved them to share with you. Download/read the original notes here (you’ll need line wrapping off to view them properly!). Since the notes are a top-to-bottom process, you can see how they kept getting longer and longer with each extension as I apparently went back and forth on various points. There’s even “final summary” followed by the typical “final final notes” followed by “no wait, final final reverses that” xD In short, a new mini-faction of “Exiles” from another community has their own lab, offering the player both a new sensor ability (dubbed “FarCom”) and access to prototype gear from among a pool of possible items. Story-wise, they become the player’s earliest significant exposure to the world’s lore. As such, it’s good that I’ve circled back around to add this map after the rest of the world is already completed, so they can hook into it properly based on my knowledge of how everything can play out both in terms of story and gameplay. The alternative, trying to build this map from the start, would’ve likely meant repeatedly updating or changing its contents as the rest of the world was built. (Cogmind’s world was almost entirely built from beginning to end, rather than skipping around.) I’m not a fan of ripping out or making significant changes to old content, preferring to get it right the first time. So back in late October when it came time to add the Exiles, the first task was to reorganize those rough notes. This normally means reading back over them to remove the stupid ideas, refine rough ideas, and generally consolidate the notes while expanding on any unclear points, making sure it all fits together in support of my vision for the map. I didn’t spend very long in this phase, though, because there were simply too many notes this time around, and more importantly they were just going to be converted to a new form shortly afterward anyway. After just deleting some unnecessary chunks and making a few modifications, I quickly started on the proper map design doc. Map Design Doc The last planning stage before actually working on a map is to finalize all its relevant notes into a basic format I’ve been using since the beginning of Cogmind Alpha. Each map generally has its own text file describing its design. I call these text files “supplements,” since the idea originated when I started using these external files to supplement Cogmind’s original design doc, a massive file which started to get a little unwieldy by the time the first public Alpha was released after two years (plus I didn’t like the format/program that was used to create the original doc and wanted to start moving away from that, and by then the entire primary design doc had been implemented anyway). Supplements for various maps added over the years. “EXI” is the code for Exiles--note its size relative to the others. It happens to be one of the more complex maps, with a lot of possible content and various scenarios. Map design docs break down their contents into a number of common sections, including at the very least the following: goal: Main purpose(s) behind adding the map to begin with layout: An overview of environmental factors including the terrain and any props the player will see inhabitants: Descriptions of all the entities (in Cogmind’s case, essentially robots) found on that map gameplay: Primary interactive elements of the map, including any cause and effect related to dynamic content These are the main four, but some maps have one or two additional note categories applicable to that map in particular. For example the Exiles design doc adds a “location” section, because unlike most maps there are a number of important comments to make regarding how to access this map in the first place, and its general position in the world. There’s also a large “part concepts” section for collecting ideas for their stash of prototypes. You can read the entirety of the Exiles map design doc here (again, turn off line wrapping). If you checked out the rough notes earlier, you can see how they evolved into the proper design doc, which weighs in at three times the size (about 7,500 words). Some of the minor details in this doc may not be the same in the final implementation since I sometimes make last-minute changes that aren’t necessarily reflected back in the notes, but it’s mostly accurate. High-level Design It’s extremely important to expand the initial map design process to include considerations beyond the map itself. How that map fits into the bigger picture with regard to overall player strategy should be determined in advance, since it can have a broad impact on a map’s content, and if not careful a poorly planned map could end up needing more significant changes later on if players find that it’s either not very interesting or useful to them in the long run.* (*There is currently one optional map in Cogmind which unfortunately fits this description: Recycling. It’s a relatively simple, small map with some unique mechanics of its own, but its advantages aren’t really as enticing for players as I had first envisioned them when it was created early in Cogmind Alpha. Back then I was just getting started adding optional maps, and have learned a lot since then, including by way of the player community as it’s matured. I have plans to improve it one day, but it’s not a pre-1.0 priority since it’s rather out of the way anyway.) I wouldn’t want to waste player time, or my own, so the Exiles map in particular has a number of long-term strategic implications, and properly building them into the experience as a whole involved addressing different kinds of player needs, goals, and… um, craftiness 😉 Like pretty much all of the many optional branch maps in Cogmind’s world, the Exiles offer tradeoffs, making certain areas easier while increasing the challenge level in others. Primary long-term strategic decisions related to the Exiles. Note that some “drawbacks” may even be seen as good (or at least neutral) by certain players, so there are alternative interpretations to this graph as far as coloring goes. (I’ve chosen the most common view.) There are other random Exiles scenarios which can affect the available options, but I’m covering just the most common one here. Also, graphed above are only the major strategic considerations--individual prototypes can change a player’s potential route or even suggest builds depending on what they are, because they’re selected randomly from a pool of possibilities. Overall this one map has really opened up a lot of new options! I’ll talk about these options in more detail later. As designed, the standard Exiles benefits (one free prototype + FarCom) are especially noticeable in the short-term, at the expense of long-term drawbacks, making them a great choice for new or inexperienced players. That’s not to say they can’t be useful for experienced players as well--already one player won an extended run despite using FarCom, which essentially makes late-game Research branches off limits, even though that’s where one normally accesses a lot of the most effective tools for tackling extended game challenges. Having tradeoffs makes visiting the Exiles much more interesting, and they’re essential, too, because without tradeoffs it would be easy for a player to become overpowered, and a no-brainer to route a run through this map. Naturally not every map needs such explicit drawbacks, since in a lot of cases the drawback is the inherent cost of reaching and/or fighting whatever is in the given map, but here I should emphasized that the inhabitants of this particular map are all friendly, and reaching it is quite easy, so stronger measures were required. Okay, planning is over, time to start doing. Building Blocks As we already have our high-level analysis and relatively complete plans to guide construction of the new map, the first stage is to put together its entities and items, basically any individual objects that can be created in isolation. This would be the “pieces before the puzzle” approach, breaking down a large project into its smallest parts and working on each of the latter first. But I’m not even adding them to the new map at this point--it doesn’t even exist yet. Since there’s a lot of work to do for such a giant chunk of content, trying to add each new element to the map as it’s finished would often involve thinking at multiple levels (local area, map-wide, game-wide…), which is a lot less efficient than focusing on as few aspects as possible without constantly bouncing around. Working efficiently is not only faster, but also gives better results. So the plan here is to get all the pieces in order, then put them together all at once. Personally I like to start with the pieces that require the most time to implement, which for me includes most importantly anything that I think would be fun and interesting but is ultimately “optional” when it comes down to it, such as certain rare special events, items, etc. Stuff like Beta 8′s time travel-enabling “Chronowheel” item took forever, one of those things where I’d say “okay I’m going to tackle this one today,” then at the end of the day it’s “okay, I’ll just have to finish this tomorrow…,” and then a couple days later I’m like “uh, really gotta finish this thing up today!” (and maybe still don’t xD) But this is the type of content that really makes the project feel more like what it really is, a world built out of passion rather than just a “good enough game to sell and keep the lights on.” If I leave this tough optional stuff until later in the release cycle, it’s more and more likely to get dropped as I see the deadline approaching and there’s still so many other necessary tasks left to do, not to mention the fatigue of what it took to get near the end of the release cycle in the first place. In the end I’m always glad I’ve done these parts of the content, but I have to essentially force it through proper planning to make sure it actually happens 😛 Items Items are the smallest building blocks of a map, so we start there. The notes and design doc originally listed them in completely random order, but again in the interest of efficiency I somewhat reorganized the list to keep certain categories together. For example all projectile weapons should be worked on in succession, since they would all involve similar parts of the data and code. This makes working down the list flow more naturally, without having to jump between too many different areas throughout the source/data, mentally loading extra scopes. Before starting on any code or data at all, however, I worked with a completely different scope: art. All the art for the new items (more than 30 of them) was done together over a several day period, since again it makes sense to tackle like tasks in bulk. It can be harder to bear when a process like this stretches on for weeks or more, but as a solo dev who can only do one thing at a time, despite game development being a huge long-term undertaking, the efficiency gains are pretty vital. Art for some EX-tech prototypes found in Beta 8. Each of the new primary NPCs I’d planned for the new map have “signed” their prototypes with their name. Immediately after the art came the lore. Each of the new items has some lore text associated with it, and seeing how that would in some cases help define or refine the item capabilities themselves, I wanted to make sure they were all accurate and consistent. So all of those entries were written at once, also important here since because they’re generally meant for the player to discover/read them in a particular order. And finally it was time to create the dozens of items themselves--adding the data, balancing their stats, etc., which altogether took a couple weeks. Some items can be added in as little as 30 minutes or so, while others like the Chronowheel mentioned earlier could take several days. The “Latent Energy Streamer” weapon adds a whole new resource in the form of “latent energy” which could potentially be more widely used later, but for now the entire thing was added specifically for just that one weapon, despite taking several days to complete xD Latent energy is found throughout the environment, more often concentrated around stationary props like machines and doors. Activating the LES, which also reveals latent energy nearby. The LES draws on that energy and focuses it for devastating amounts of electromagnetic damage over an area, but also has side effects such as destabilizing nearby explosive machines, breaking automatic doors, and even corrupting the user. In fact, a number of the Exiles prototypes have negative side effects, which is what makes it possible to give the player such powerful parts early on in the game. Firing the LES. The firing animation took a while to perfect, too, being different from normal weapons in that it more closely ties into the surrounding environment, tracing lines through the latent energy that it’s actually using to fire. The LES itself also has a unique tag which displays the amount of nearby accessible energy in number terms, as well as shows the actual range of damage it can convert that energy to, values which change as the local energy naturally ebbs and flows, or is used up and slowly rebuilds. I’m really glad the LES is in game (and can’t wait to get a chance to use it myself during a regular run :D), though if I’d waited until late in the dev cycle to add it I’m not sure it would be a thing. NPCs After items comes another basic building block: NPCs. Some of these bots make use of the new items so they couldn’t come first, but once the items are ready we’ve got everything we need to put bots together, and an entity (robot) is a pretty self-contained little unit of development that doesn’t rely on the map itself (but will become a part of it), so they’re a good candidate for getting out of the way early. They take a while to build and balance, but focusing on them individually now means it will be easy to drop them all in on short notice when and where we need them later. The Exiles map includes four new core NPCs, each of which has a line of data defining their properties. It’s a fairly long line! As a demonstration, here’s the data for one of the new NPCs, 8R-AWN. (I’ve wrapped the line a couple times here so as not to force quite that much horizontal scrolling :P) When their data is complete, I run them through a separate program that can analyze robot designs and tell whether they’ll be overweight, have resource problems, overheat in combat, or any number of other issues. Their stats can be adjusted as necessary before moving on to the actual map 😛 Actually no… At this point I also decided that before the map itself I’d implement the FarCom sensor ability they can give you. This, too, could be worked on as an isolated system since I could test it explicitly rather than immediately developing the proper method of obtaining it in game. It could be hooked in as a piece of the puzzle later. FarCom in action, showing a faint circle within which hostile 0b10 combat bots are detected. (The circle has a slow pulse to it, but the gif doesn’t capture that well.) From an overall design perspective, there are enough types of differences between FarCom and normal attachable Sensors that there is no clearly superior form of detection in all scenarios. Each has their own benefits and drawbacks. A comparison of standard Sensors vs. FarCom. Green cells are a positive, red are negative. That said, FarCom is definitely a clear boon for new players, who get a free way to locate threats from afar without relying on any items for that knowledge. New players don’t have an easy time finding (and knowing to use!) Sensors, and parts can be destroyed, while FarCom cannot. The unquestionably most significant benefit from FarCom, one that’s quite attractive even to non-beginners, is that it doesn’t occupy any part slots at all. This is especially true in the early game where two slots is a larger relative portion of Cogmind’s available slots. Sensor users can try to get away with one slot (just the array without an interpreter), but getting the same level of detail that FarCom offers requires two slots devoted to sensor data. Freeing up a slot or two means extra armor, more storage, better targeting, and/or any number of other utility options, and this is a benefit that extends throughout much of the run, wherever FarCom is active. Of course, using FarCom is still not something everyone will always want to do, as per the earlier chart showing the serious late-game drawbacks. Overall I’m pretty happy with how it’s turned out. Layout and Integration Time to build a map! Sort of 🙂 I always start on blank sheets of loose paper since I find it the most natural, fast, and free-form. Exiles map general layout, content, and world connection planning. Most of that page is actually occupied by graphs considering how to connect this new map to the rest of the world. The route the player has to take to reach a map, and return to other areas, are important factors in setting the related rewards and challenge level. The Exiles are accessible from either -10 (essentially the lowest/earliest depth!) or -9, by the way of the Mines at that depth. They will only appear at one depth, though, and as the entrance is somewhat tucked away inside the Mines, I added a special indicator that lets observant players know when they’re at the same depth as the Exiles. I didn’t want players potentially wasting their time scouring an entire Mines depth for an entrance that might not even be there, so I drew on so-called “level feelings,” a mechanic found in a number of classic roguelikes such as NetHack, ADOM, and Angband whereby on entering a new map you get a log message reflecting a special aspect of that map. Cogmind’s first application of “level feeling,” added to save players time when searching for the Exiles. Players can also read lore in the Exiles Terminals which explains the scanning. As for the return trip after visiting the Exiles, I had thought to maybe send the player back to the main path through the Lower Caves, but that was when I was initially trying to restrict the design to existing options. Instead I ended up deciding to add a new Mines depth at -8, one that can only be reached while returning from the Exiles. This is both better gameplay (Mines are the smallest and easiest maps, suitable for weaker players) and more logical (the Exiles shouldn’t feel quite that close to the Complex, hence no immediate return to it from their map). In-game world map showing a player route having visited the Exiles and come back to -8/Materials through -8/Mines. That Mines depth is not normally directly accessible in the reverse direction, from -8/Materials, to avoid adding unnecessary exits in that map. The little nondescript blob at the top right of the note paper is actually quite important, determining the general locations of entrances/exits for the map itself, which in turn can affect the whole map design (terrain layout, content positioning, event timings…). These most vital points determine the flow of the experience. The player enters from the lower-right, and almost immediately there’s a junction leading to an exit out (mainly necessary to provide an avenue for other robots to enter the map from this side--more on that later), then the main content area would be in the middle, and further to the left is a second “back exit” from the map. Lastly, on the left* of the notes is a list of ideas for things I’d need to add to the actual map layout, which I’d sketch out next… *I’m left-handed and tend to orient my paper horizontally and fill pages of notes from right to left 😛 Confident in the connections, it was time to sketch the map layout in more detail! First pass on a reference sketch for Exiles map layout. As a static map with important NPC interactions, the layout really had to take into consideration the flow of a new player coming in and experiencing it for the first time--who will they see first and what will they say so that the order of everything makes sense? So after doing the quick tentative sketch above (based on the earlier general list), I had to take a break from this and jump ahead a bit to work on content for a day, specifically dialogue. True, the NPCs haven’t been placed yet, nor is there even a map to place them in, but by writing out the dialogue in advance I could make sure no single NPC was saying too much or otherwise needed to offload some lines onto another, which might affect the layout. (It did.) After the dialogue detour, I did another pass on the map sketch, creating this second more specific iteration to match it: Second pass on a reference sketch for Exiles map layout. The player enters from the bottom right, sees another corridor leading to an exit but no hostiles in view so it’s safe to continue exploring. Also there are some “rigged” power sources in the tunnel forward, a mechanic only made available via Exiles tech and therefore will be new to the player--anyone curious will want to check them and out and continue exploring, first meeting 8R-AWN in the corridor there for a friendly welcome/intro chat. Then they’ll move into the central area and spot the second main NPC, EX-HEX, who introduces a bit more of the lore and invites the player to seek out EX-BIN to help with a project. From there they can go anywhere, either learning more about the place from prototype tester NPCs in the south area, or head north to get the main benefits of the map, FarCom and the prototype(s). Either direction is fine for a first experience. Then they can leave by heading back to the east side, but are more likely to take the rear exit. At this point I went ahead and put together all the extra terminal lore and minor NPC dialogue as well, since there might be something in there which could affect the map layout as well (there wasn’t, but anyway having just finished the dialogue it was good to keep up the pace while still in “writing mode”--efficiency!). Then comes time to break out my next tool: REXPaint. I turn the reference sketch into a general layout in REXPaint, measuring out cell distances to make sure everything will fit just right--not too squished and not too open, and that the average player FOV from a given position will reveal the right amount of content. Exiles map taking shape in REXPaint. For now it’s just a single layer containing the general layout, entrance, and exits, still no objects or other details yet. It’s also lacking some layout details that might emerge/become necessary as objects are added. And with that file saved it’s ready to drop into the game! (This map happens to have a fully static layout, so it skips some steps here that many other maps might require. I’ll cover those in an addendum.) Content It’s now time to build the actual experience, starting… outside the map 😛 As a beginner-friendly map which is still kind of out of the way, I wanted there to be some ways to help funnel new players in that direction. So before working on the map itself, I again wanted to develop along the flow of the experience by beginning with how players are most likely to find it the first time. 8R-AWN, the brawn to the Exiles’ brains and the first NPC players meet on entering their lab/cave, is sometimes out running errands for them, and the player might meet him while on one of these errands. In one of the first Materials floors, whichever matches the Exiles depth, 8R-AWN can be found making his way across the floor towards an exit the Mines. The chance he’ll be around is higher for new players who’ve never met the Exiles before (unless they’re using a seed, since seeded content should be consistent, irrelevant of player history). On spotting the player, 8R-AWN invites them to follow, and proceeds to trash hostiles all along the route to the exit. (Or if the player is on the far side of the map, they may simply find a trail of destruction left in his wake from earlier, and 8R-AWN is long gone.) He’ll take the exit himself, and if he spoke with the player earlier will be waiting there when the player arrives before some more dialogue and continuing to lead on to the Exiles’ hidden entrance. Another possible encounter with 8R-AWN occurs during the Mines infestation. Assembled suddenly swarming into the area is a pretty deadly encounter for the unprepared, so it’s nice that 8R-AWN might show up to save the day, using special tech to shut them all down remotely. In this case if he spots the player he’ll also lead them back to the hidden entrance. This hidden entrance actually took a few attempts to design, since there needs to be a wall that opens up automatically for a friendly player, but I didn’t want the player to see a wall from a distance, conclude that it was a dead end, and never bother approaching, so the trigger was placed such that the walls would open immediately as they came into view. Exiles entrance layout design in Mines. To the player it will appear as if the corridor continues forward until they round the corner, at which point the hidden doors open automatically to reveal the exit as long as the player is friendly. This entrance is placed as a guaranteed prefab using the pre-mapgen method described here. Exiles That same post describes the data/scripting methods used to define the contents of Exiles, which as a static map is simply one giant prefab 🙂 At this point we can start dropping in all the objects that were created earlier--items, NPCs, dialogue, lore, etc. So it’s a relatively quick process since the objects are all ready, which is better than having to repeatedly stop what I’m doing to implement them. Instead I can focus on how everything is fitting together at the macro level, rather than worrying about low-level details. Once again we’re following the flow of the experience into the map from the right side, only this time using additional layers of the REXPaint to draw machines (gray lines) and mark entity and item positions (green letters and green numbers, respectively). Machines and other props, including invisible triggers, are identified using uppercase green letters. Final Exiles prefab in REXPaint with all data layers visible. The corresponding data goes into a text file, the features of which I’ve provided a breakdown before in “Map Prefabs, in Depth.” Complete Exiles prefab data in image form, since it’s easier to read with syntax highlighting enabled. (Some of the lines are really long but not worth extending the image for, so they’re just cut off.) The file is also available in text form. As I’m going through adding the objects, I make a list of all the related explicit tests that will be necessary to confirm the content is working as intended. I’m also constantly thinking of all the things that could go wrong and need to be looked into once everything is in motion. This list will be quite important later, and is better put together while each element is on my mind rather than trying to remember these points later, or coming up with tests from scratch. Despite my best efforts at the initial implementation, usually a number of things don’t work as intended, and it’s certainly better to work through it all systematically rather than wait for a stream of bug reports from players 😛 This is a fairly large map so I didn’t wait until everything was placed before testing, instead stopping a few times to test in batches, generally clearing out the list in the process. Bling With most of the main content done, I moved on to more superficial elements of the kind that can be tacked on. The FarCom mechanics were already implement much earlier, but it was still missing the animation played when you first receive the ability from the Exiles. There are a number of full-screen animations throughout Cogmind which occur when major abilities are conferred, so FarCom shouldn’t be an exception. EX-BIN using the FarCom Aligner to add you to their system. One element I also always leave for the end of the content phase is audio. Working with sound effects involves concentrating on tasks other than code, including managing a bunch of audio files and messing with them in Audacity. It’s more efficient to do all of them together, so whenever I come across something that needs audio I just leave a placeholder and add it to a list, one that gets taken care of after the rest of the content. Ambient audio visualization of the area around the FarCom Aligner, where brightness indicates volume. For those who want to read more on this, I’ve written about ambient sound before. There were other non-ambient sounds to handle as well. Variants I keep saying the Exiles map is “static,” but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a little variety! There’s the usual variety created via the prefab data shared above: Common items in store rooms are randomized, as are the prototypes (where there is quite a large amount of variety since the items can change up gameplay significantly, but appear in different combinations each run). There’s also some variety created via the fact that you may or may not meet 8R-AWN before reaching the Exiles, in different situations, so that makes for unique dialogue options. But the most significant variety comes from players not always finding the map in its default state at all. There are actually four different scenarios, the above text describing only the first. As part of the world generation, a random state for the map is chosen from among the following: 51%: The default scenario, as described. This state is also always forced under a number of other world conditions outside the map, so the effective percentage is somewhat higher. 12%: Deserted. The Exiles have already wiped their terminals and abandoned their lab. 12%: Destroyed. Complex 0b10 has already attacked the Exiles, leaving the place scarred from battle. There are no survivors to be found, but the area contains other useful remains. 25%: This is equivalent to the default scenario, except forces from 0b10 will attack while the player is there. I built the base map first, then implemented the 0b10 attack (essentially an event tacked on), then moved on to the other two variants last since they were less complicated. More complicated map variants should come first in case they require changing parts of the map concept itself to work right, whereas doing complicated variants later could mean having to waste time changing a bunch of earlier work! It’s hard to predict all the changes that might be necessary in advance, so prioritizing like this is important. The deserted and destroyed variants were easy to manage since they were basically just modified data and REXPaint maps. “Destroyed” Exiles prefab in REXPaint with all data layers visible. A comparison to the earlier default scenario reveals newly destroyed machinery, randomized (and randomly shifted) debris, exploded areas, and other different procedural content like possible salvageable robots. The attack scenario was the most time-consuming variant, since I had to watch the same battle again and again to see all the possible outcomes and whether they met expectations. I spent a couple hours just watching attacks, repeatedly tweaking various parameters to get the desired results. The Exiles are attacked by 0b10, with the map fully revealed for observation/debugging purposes. 8R-AWN covers the retreat, and EX-DEC drops a sentry turret before taking off. Special Considerations Finally almost done! The “normal” way to play is complete at this point, but there’s one more important stage: anti-cheese measures 🙂 Naturally some players will try to gain every possible advantage they can think of, even those requiring outright thievery or murdering allies, so it’s necessary to balance those possibilities, too. Aside: Not all roguelikes need to be balanced like this--some even revel in being totally unbalanced, but for the most part Cogmind is meant to be a tightly balanced experience. Even though some players do still manage to stretch the limits through extreme cunning, which is fine, I want to be careful about allowing specific actions to be so rewarding over others that players always see it as “the proper way” to do something, to the detriment of all other possibilities. Sure the Exiles are a friendly bunch, but players who see them as a means to an end will likely… try to end them. Handling this was a bit more complex than usual because the Exiles experience isn’t limited to a single map--player hostility could begin wherever they see 8R-AWN, thus behaviors could change during future meetings, including on the map itself. Earlier I charted the strategic decisions a player can make with regard to the Exiles, and the whole reason these are decisions to begin with is that each comes with an associated cost. Players can choose to… 1) Use the default approach, by taking a single prototype from the Exiles vault and using that and FarCom scanning support to just tackle the main areas of the Complex. This is the easiest option, good for new players. They’ll lose the chance to get imprinted in Zion (normally another good crutch for newer players but one that doesn’t appear until the mid-game), and they’d have to avoid the late-game Research branches which are very deadly for players with FarCom. Balance-wise, this is because those branches contain alien tech and many of the most powerful items in the game. FarCom makes many other maps easier, at the cost of not having access to these resources. 2) Take one prototype and FarCom, and enter the Research branches anyway. This is extremely difficult. Entering a Research branch with FarCom triggers “Maximum Security,” the strongest response from the Complex so far, which is essentially like an instantly triggered version of “High Security” with even more assaults (basically endless increasingly strong waves of hostiles entering the map). This mode was added to Cogmind specifically as a response to FarCom, but also made sense to trigger in a few other special scenarios, so I applied it to those as well. You can see in the rough design notes that the original anti-FarCom plan for Research branches was to dispatch Trackers, a new type of fast and deadly prototype bot. Later I decided that Maximum Security was a better solution there (mainly as an even stronger deterrent), but having already done all the preparations for adding Trackers, I decided to at least make them part of a revamped Intercept squad system. Intercept squads are another form of tradeoff in Cogmind, originally intended to be very challenging, but players had gotten so good at strategizing that they weren’t quite challenging enough anymore--now the good players have to think long and hard about whether they really want to risk Intercepts 😛 Ideally like the FarCom sensor mechanic and other building blocks, something as fundamental to the overarching design as MaxSec and new Intercepts should’ve been determined much earlier in the map design process, but I hadn’t yet come up with a good solution and needed to let it sit for a while, and couldn’t wait any longer to start Exiles work for Beta 8, so it had to be postponed and wasn’t even decided until close to this final stage. Some major changes are best left in waiting 🙂 3) Steal all three prototypes from the Exiles vault and add some challenge to the mid-game caves. For those who really want more than one prototype, this is possible albeit with a bit of a drawback. For one, FarCom will no longer work since by stealing all the prototypes you didn’t follow their instructions, although for some players this may be a positive since entering Research branches then becomes a possibility (as does imprinting, if they want to!). The prototypes are quite powerful, so there needs to be a clear cost associated with stealing them. For this scenario I added a new drawback: Master Thieves. Although they’re not too common, Cogmind already has thieves hiding in caves, so I made a special variant which is even more effective and specifically tracks a thieving player any time they’re traveling through caves. If you steal from the derelicts, they steal right back--it’s an “eye for an eye” sort of deal 🙂 (Thieves race up and try to rip a part off their target, then run away and eventually disappear forever once out of sight.) Beta 8 has been out for a little while and the current meta among the better players seems to be preferring this route more often than others. I’m not sure if it’ll be necessary, but if this route is always superior there are other tweaks to consider, such as allowing Master Thieves to rip parts out of the player’s inventory as well ;). That said, I don’t want to make this tradeoff as expensive as the FarCom-Research thing--it should be something that players are willing to face under certain circumstances. 4) Steal all three prototypes but just tackle the main areas of the Complex, avoiding the caves. While not the easiest option, this is still easier than a non-Exiles run. Stealing all the prototypes means losing FarCom, but using sensors instead and avoiding the caves means staying safe from thieves, and still being able to stealthily raid Research branches for the best parts. Avoiding the caves does means losing access to some potential mid-game benefits, but those are optional and there are helpful non-cave branches to consider anyway. 5) Kill the Exiles, specifically 8R-AWN to salvage his own excellent prototype loadout, and also steal all three prototypes. This is basically the strongest result for the player (assuming no need/desire for FarCom), though also the most dangerous option since 8R-AWN is pretty powerful and Cogmind is weak at the beginning. Players are already doing this, though, because of course they are 😛 I did add the possibility of a Hero of Zion attacking the player as a result of their hostilities, but didn’t make it guaranteed since that, too, could be gamed by players for more cheese potential. I’d rather it just happen in some cases as more of a lore-related surprise. As you can see there are quite a few special considerations when adding a new map! Gotta think of how players will react to each possibility, and whether they’ll think certain tradeoffs are worth it. In making these judgements it helps that I play a fair bit of my own, and that I’m also always reading about player experiences. The next pair of articles are addendums to this one, covering steps specific to procedural level design, and a comparison of static vs. procedural maps. Source:https://www.gridsagegames.com/blog/2019/02/level-design-shaping-cogmind-experience/ Source:https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/JoshGe/20190313/338510/ Follow Josh Website:https://www.gridsagegames.com/blog/ Twitter:https://twitter.com/GridSageGames 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
  2. The following is portion of a massive guide on designing levels for CS:GO, written by Exodus. They represent the current edition of the guide, as of October 30th, 2019. The full contents of the guide are shown in the index directly below. This article consists of portions that should be applicable to many different games and editors. Please follow the link at the end of this article to read through the original guide. Index 1. Prologue 2. Layout 2.1 Meeting points/Battlefronts 2.2 Chokepoints 2.3 Staging Areas 2.4 Bombsite entrances 2.5 Post plant areas 2.6 Simplicity > Complexity 2.7 Unused Space / Areas without serving a purpose 2.8 Negative space 2.9 Support various playstyles 2.10 Allow advanced tactics and teamwork 2.11 Wingman specific chapter 3. Routing 3.1 Avoid obstructions 4. Flow (Chapter written by @oliver_irl) 4.1 Natural guidance 4.2 Decision-making 4.3 Loops 5. Navigation/Intuition 5.1 Landmarks 5.2 Roof detailing/Alignment hints 5.3 Detailing 5.4 Consistency 5.5 Visual indicators for plant zones 6. Timings 6.1 General 6.2 Battlefront timing 6.3 Avoid wasted time 6.4 Rotation time 6.5 “Around the world” 6.6 Measuring timings 7. Risk and Reward 7.1 General 7.2 Risk and Reward via route design 7.3 Risk and Reward via sound design 8. Sightlines 8.1 Long sightlines 8.2 Tight angles 8.3 Pixel angles 8.4 Vertical sightlines at ramps 9. Verticality 10. Auditive Design 10.1 Spatial awareness 10.2 Environmental Audio 10.3 Sounds of interactable Objects / Triggered sounds / Positional hints 10.4 Allow sneaky plays 11. Cover 11.1 Avoid Head peeks 11.2 Natural Cover 11.3 Overpowered Cover 12. Models/Props 12.1 Model shape and model collisions 13. Scale/Dimensions 14. Grid 15. Visibility 15.1 General 15.2 Environmental Lighting 15.2.1 Colouring 16. Spawns 17. Buy zones 18. Clipping 19. Basic Optimization 20. Presenting your map 21. Playtesting 22. Dealing with feedback 23. Further guides and tutorials 1. Prologue Playing multiplayer games on well-designed levels is usually a great experience while playing on flawed maps often leads to frustration. If you’re designing levels, you obviously want people to enjoy the levels you create. However, if you’re new to the scene, it’s hard to start out without prior experience of what’s good and bad. This guide aims to assist you in your design choices by providing ‘good measures’ in moments of uncertainty during map creation. This guide isn’t meant to be a fixed ruleset, rather it’s supposed to be a piece of reference material to lead you in the right direction. Since I joined the mapping community back in 2014, I’ve witnessed a lot of unique and interesting maps – good ones, bad ones and most of them in between. Almost every level can become a good one, if enough time and the right changes are put into it. Iteration is the key for a good layout. Hopefully this paper will assist you in making the correct decisions and adjustments to your current and future projects. It’s designed to help you succeed in mapping and as a paper of facts and tips to revisit later. While this guide is aimed at the classic defuse game mode in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive it can still be beneficial for other game modes and games with a similar style. 3. Routing 3.1 Avoid Obstructions Players in Counter-Strike are always focusing on positioning, crosshair placement and tactics. This implies, that basic movement around the level mostly works on an intuitive level without actually looking where players are going. To allow players concentrate on the greater things, movement should be hindered as little as possible. Main travel routes must be free of obstacles and collisions as smooth as possible. Keep floors in these areas smoothly even and move detailing to the sides to keep paths clean. 4. Flow (Chapter written by @oliver_irl) The kind of flow important in CS:GO level design is about flow of movement and action. 4.1 Natural guidance Examples of flow of movement is when the player is lead forward and not backwards. You want to move towards the opponent and the objective so the level shouldn't be designed in a labyrinth kind of way, but instead one area should flow naturally into the next. You want the player to feel like they are in control and give them the opportunity to make decisions on the go, so the overall goal should be to make the flow of movement smooth so that the player can always be in motion. Examples of flow of action is what options the player has in the event of an encounter. In CS:GO you have to think about the map holistically [/as a whole]. Everything is interconnected, so every area can be an isolated "war zone". If the level has enough cover and options to use utility, then that contributes to good flow. 4.2 Decision-making Flow is about decision-making. Do you let your players play the way they want? Do you feel in control when you enter a bomb-site? You don't really notice when levels have good flow in them. Bad flow can be recognized once certain parts of the map feel uncomfortable for the player and the map doesn’t allow the player to make decisions. You can see that the movement is disrupted in the second example and the player is moving backwards for a moment. Guiding players naturally in the environment contributes to good flow, and players don't have to stop and think about where to go. In addition to that it keeps the movement going forward. 4.3 Loops Loops are especially important for CS:GO, since you can use them to get better positioning on your opponent. They are so elegant they work when you want to take a bombsite as a terrorist, or hold the site as a terrorist. Players use them to fall back if you lose an engagement, and loops give players more than one option at any given time. 5. Navigation/Intuition 5.1 Landmarks Subconsciously, players take in the rough look and shape of their surroundings to find their way through an environment more intuitively. Therefore, many maps rely on landmarks. Landmarks are unique, mostly large, structures which are visible from large portions of a map. Having a large focal point like this available makes it easy for players on a new map to get the grasp of a layout quicker than without such a landmark. A great side effect of landmarks is the possibility to align grenade throws by putting their crosshair somewhere on the structure. A prime example for landmarks is the TV tower on Overpass. 5.2 Roof detailing/Alignment hints Learning how to use utility grenades on many maps can be quite a time intensive task. In order to make the learning process as accessible as possible, make use of detailing above the playable area in a way, that objects help aligning grenade throws. One example how to it, is the placement of antennas on rooftops. 5.3 Detailing Contrast and detailed areas attract players. Use this knowledge to guide players through a level as much as possible. Highlight and detail accessible doors, corridors and other points of interest. Tint usable doors in a certain colour while leaving inaccessible doors in shades of grey or rather muted colours. Keep the detailing and contrast in non-accessible areas at a low level to avoid disorientated players. 5.4 Consistency Players should never be confused by all kinds of aspects in level design. Intuitive navigation through gameplay space requires consistency in design decisions. An example for this is the colour coding of interactable elements such as doors. If you decided that an openable door is tinted in a vibrant colour such as red, all openable doors should be tinted with the same colour. Highlighted accessible door on the community map Thrill 5.5 Visual indicators for plant zones Intuition can be further improved by placing visual indicators on bombsites which show where the C4 can be planted. This indication can be achieved by placing decal sprays around the bomb target trigger or - more elegant – incorporate the indicator into the visual design of the bombsite architecture. Do: Highlighted plant zone on the community map Breach Highlighted plant zone on the community map Iris Don't: Missing plant zone indicators on Mirage 8. Sightlines Lots of fights in Counter-Strike take place around corners, therefore you, the mapper, must pay some special attention to the various angles in the level. 8.1 Long sightlines It’s recommended to avoid super long sightlines, where it’s only possible to make frags with a sniper rifle. The Dust 2 spawn to spawn sightline is ignoring this, but it is working fine there, because early round picks shouldn’t happen with every type of assault rifle. You must own a rifle dedicated for long range battles. The Terrorists also have an option to avoid this sightline and enter the mid through a more central path. The remaining sightline is so long, that you can achieve frags with an assault rifle as well. Since CTs aren’t supposed to get active mid control early in the round, they don’t need the possibility to frag enemies from spawn to spawn with an assault rifle. That being said, I personally do not recommend to create such a spawn-to-spawn sightline. 8.2 Tight angles When blocking out a map, it often happens that tight angles are created by accident and enable long and overpowered sightlines. Luckily they are easy to fix by moving the causing corners a bit. 8.3 Pixel angles Like tight angles, pixel angles are a result of slightly misplaced corners. These types of angles are questionable for multiple reasons including optimization, unintuitive gameplay and unfair advantages. An example for such an angle is in the sightline from the B balcony on Mirage all the way through apartments: 8.4 Vertical sightlines at ramps When creating ramps or elevation changes, it is important to think about the line of sight between players. If the player on the upper part of a ramp is standing behind cover, he might be able to see the player on the lower part, without being seen by the opponent - if it’s done wrong. To show this off more clearly, I found these examples on Dust (1) and Cobblestone. When a Terrorist on Dust is coming straight through the underpass area, the Counter-Terrorist on the upper area is able to see the enemy’s feet without being seen himself. On Cobblestone on the other hand, the underpass area is created in a way that the attacking players are side-peeking towards the upper area of the big ramp. This way both parties have the same chances in a firefight without massively unfair advantages. Don’t: Do: 11. Cover 11.1 Avoid Head peeks When a player is barely able to look over cover, it is called a head peek. If an opponent is encountering a player behind such cover, barely half of the player’s head will be visible to the opponent. As a result, the encounter between these players leads to a frustrating and unfair firefight. Creating head peek cover is one of the most common mistakes mappers do. The reason for this is simple. The default grid size in Hammer is 64 units and the height for head peek cover is 64 units as well. Gameplay, sightlines and firefights around these are very strange and not enjoyable at all. It’s recommended to use below-head cover (~56 units) and above-head cover (~72 units) like on Dust2 A site instead. But not only those classic cubic boxes are enabling them, misplaced ramps and stairs often create head peeks, too. Try keeping them to a minimum. 11.2 Natural Cover Most Counter-Strike maps utilize crates and boxes to create cover. Unfortunately, some of them rely too much on it, which feels unrealistic and repetitive pretty fast. Whenever it seems possible to integrate cover into the architecture of a map, do it. This does not mean using boxes as cover is a bad thing. It just should be balanced out, so the map is looking like a believable space.   11.3 Overpowered Cover When adding cover to a map, it’s important to not overdo things. Some level designers mistakenly create too many powerful spots without playtesting beforehand to see if there’s even the need to do so. A possibility to limit the strength of a hiding spot is to be not covered towards all possible angles. A good example for this is the Dust 2 A site. Most of the common positions offer cover for 2 of the 3 bombsite entrances. This way the defender has enough cover to work with, but not enough cover to always feel safe. A lot of maps prove that some more powerful cover is working as well though. If you really want to add some powerful cover to your map, there are still possibilities to handicap it. These areas could be crafted like a death trap, without an easy way to leave them - shall they be contested with an incendiary grenade for example. This disadvantage will even out the fact, that players hiding there can’t be seen from any of the entrances into the corresponding area. A fitting example for this is the “ninja” corner on Mirage A site. 19. Basic Optimization In the very early stages of prototyping, optimization is not really an important thing. Until the very basic shape of a layout is created, it’s ok to work with no proper skybox, because changes are way faster and easier to apply. This can quickly be achieved by using the cordon tool. However, as soon as the basic brushwork is completed, it’s good to start caring about it. Set small and non LOS (=line of sight) blocking brushes as func_detail and start creating a proper skybox. Another rather simple optimizing technique is to disable collisions on props further outside the playable area. Doing these things will not only improve performance but also reduce the compiling times of a map significantly. A well optimized map can run well on a low-end system while poorly optimized maps often have trouble on medium to high-end systems. A detailed guide on optimization is linked down below since this is not the main goal of this guide. 22. Dealing with feedback Mapping newcomers often crave for feedback, but don’t really know how to deal with it. What you secretly expect, are people saying that your layout is awesome and could be the next Dust 2. Unfortunately, this will most likely never happen. Sometimes feedback will be harsh, but you shouldn’t let yourself be discouraged by that. If people are harsh with their feedback, there must be some reason for it and only shows the urgency of changes and that things can’t stay as they are. Counter-Strike is a competitive game and therefore people might become emotional very quickly. If you ask these people to explain their feedback a bit more detailed, most of them will respond nicely and help you fix the flaws a layout may have. Don’t respond that you feel mistreated. It’s in the nature of CS that players get annoyed by poor design decisions. You, the mapper, must learn to deal with feedback like this. “Feedback” à la “Valve, add this pls” is pretty much useless. Sure, it’s nice to read, but this is no useful feedback at all. Personally, I’d rather see someone complaining that the map’s balance is “crap”, than just telling me “good map”. Level design is very iterative and therefore every mapper should be happy when people showcase the flaws a layout may have. Accept feedback and consider changes. Don’t be ignorant with a mindset, that your layout is already perfect. If all you want to see are compliments, don’t ask for feedback. The above being said obviously only applies, if you actually did receive feedback. This is one of the reasons I created this guide. Aspiring mappers should have some guidelines to work with, while missing feedback from other players. 23. Further guides and tutorials CS:GO 6 Principles of Choke Point Level Design (World of Level Design): GDC Talk about CS:GO level design by Volcano and FMPONE: Follow this link to read the full guide: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=1110438811 Follow Exodus Twitter: https://twitter.com/El_Exodus 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
  3. Hello all of you fantastic and wonderful people, I am BACK! I just want to say thank you all so much for the support and kind words from part 1 of my article. Great to see that many of you enjoyed it and feel like you have learnt something from it, but we can not linger in the past, instead we must look forward to the second part of what makes good level design for combat. Introduction In the first part, I discussed how important it is for you to understand your metrics, scale, weapon, etc. All this planning helps you to create great levels, now that we have an understanding of these crucial elements, it is on us as LDs to crafts spaces that players can have a great amount of fun and enjoyment with. In this article I will be breaking down the next steps of the process of the 2d design, then looking at a level I created and breaking down what I think made it a good level for combat. Pre-production - Research Now that we have gathered all the useful information to help us we need to move through to the research stage of our level design. This stage can not and should not be skipped, it is crucial to not only making a good level but also a believable level (A quick side tangent, always keep in mind and to quote my friend Stuart Scott we are creating ‘Believable not realistic spaces’ meaning we do have creative freedom within our levels) Now you will be set a location for your level, this could be a castle, maybe a hotel or even a space station. Regardless of what that location may be you will need to make sure that you have an understanding of how these spaces work such as: What rooms do this area normally contain? Where is the toilet? How do people interact with this location before the player arrives? How does it connect to other spaces? What is its architectural style? Where can you find this location? Which country is this location located? And other such questions, in order to answer these then you must first do research. You can do this by googling pictures, then entering google maps to find a real life example, you can start to see how the location looks in real life. Videos are also a great help, or there might even be an example in other games. I strongly recommend of gathering not just images of the location but also floor plans as well. The reason for this is it helps you see the overall picture of a location as well as how some typically look. Not only that but this is a great starting point for your own level, as you can use this as a basis for your level. Even better with this, you can not start to see which rooms in a floor plan can be kept, removed or altered. Maybe there are too many rooms that are dead ends which do not give a good loop for combat, or there are not enough spaces for hidden loot, well now you can tweak these in your floor plan but still keep that location based in reality. From doing your research not only will you have a basic understanding of how the locations flows together but you can grasp the theme of location, how it looks at certain times of days, How it will look if it is abandoned or when it is fully functional. Now the gathering resources is in full motion, you can use many different cool tools to store them, from it either being a folder on your computer or Pinterest or Google Docs as long as you have easy ways to access your files that is the most important thing. It is important because you will need to make sure you have access to them while creating your level to constantly reference. Yet it is not only important for your beautiful LD eyes but it will come in handy in reviews, so that when leads or directors are checking your work they can see why it looks the way it does but also helps them understand how you got to this layout and why, also this will really help your teammates in Enviro Art so they can get a much more vivid vision of how the location should look. As for example you may be asked to build a level set in a church, but this church is built in a Latin community. Yet when I think of a church I visualize a huge Gothic church in the shape of a cross, but that would never fit inside a Latin community. By doing your research you can see how different areas and communities view the same space, making sure you create more authentic and believable spaces. Once you have gathered enough references (50 images minimum in my opinion) you can start to move to the next step. Pre-production - 2d Map One of the most commonly asked questions I receive is “Max should I do 2d maps, is that the right way?” now for me the answer is yes. I used to do them and then stopped and just jumped straight into the blockout, but I noticed that my quality of my work decrease as well as it taking longer when staring at that ominous blank screen. There are many reasons I believe 2d sketches to be important, such as: Quicker to start work on blockout Easier to address feedback Allows you to see the flaws quicker Helps you go through multiple iterations before choosing and starting a blockout Now I know some of my other friends and other designers I have met use Google Sketch-Up before creating their blockout as it helps get a better sense of scale. Honestly both are great, the point you should take away from this section is that you need to plan before your blockout. People also feel that when they do a 2d map or a form of planning they feel that they are trapped? I put a ‘?’ because you should not. This is a plan meaning this can and should change, this is your starting point! Meaning that you can and must make changes as you see fit, I even did this in a recent level I made, do not be afraid to change from your plan if it does not feel right. Now with these points added to your pipeline of level creation we are going to do a break down of a combat level I created and break it down. (Before we do this though, do make sure to check out this great article which is fantastic for what to think about when creating your levels and brings forth some additional points on things to consider when making your levels) Case Study - Part 1 Okay, you now know how important pre-production is to your level, we are now going to get to the sexy part, which is the level itself. I created a small combat level for a task, now we will be breaking down the level and showing what I believe helps make this level good for combat. Quick side note, all of those documents in part one were my design rules and metrics and those were what I was referring to when I created my level. This level was not built or set on any particular location, we had a week to create Three combat spaces, so there is no reference images, just more of me creating a space that felt right. With no research I had my restrictions for space of 30x30m as well I could only use five enemies, with cover spacing of 2m and with that I created my 2d map. As you can see, it is not the prettiest of sketches but it gets the job done. It is very important when you do a sketch that you do use grid paper. The reason for this that you can get a sense of scale as well when it comes to putting it in the editor it you can translate the cube on the paper for 1m and use that to block out your level in the editor. When creating the level (and hopefully you can see this) that I wanted essentially split the space into quarters, so that the player could feel a difference in each section, but also feel a sense of progression. Quartering the level allowed me to reveal information to the player slowly, not just throwing them into the middle of a battle ground. It allows the player to focus on the task at hand, before showing more slowly, also by hiding certain information from the player it also plays to their disadvantage making the challenge feel even stronger. Another reason I was splitting up the space is the fact that it can and will reduce Long lines of sight. This way it forces players to move through the space in order to engage in combat, while also making them move to get an understanding of how the space is connected. Part of how I quarter the level is by dividing the space between interior and exterior spaces, most of the right hand side is set in the interior space, while the left hand space is kept in the open space to the exterior. This is handy for combat as players will have a different feel in each of the spaces. Exterior - players will have bigger spaces to engage in combat, having flanking opportunities, as well as having a larger line of sight to deal with and keep an eye on as enemies progress. Interior - players will be kept in a much more narrow space forcing them to focus on the front of combat as they battle with the enemies to move forward. Not only is this designed to have a visual separation but also designed like this to provide a number of ways in which players have to deal with the different encounters as well, making the space feel different too. You have now seen why I have decided to quarter the layout but it would not be much of a plan if I did not think about how the enemies occupy this space. Here is the plan I had for my enemies in the space as well: (The enemies are the Red Diamonds with the giant E, inside them. While the player is the Green Circle, with the P inside it) Before I jump to why I have placed the enemies in this position I want to talk about the players position first. This is sometimes an oversight when designing a level but trust me when I say, how the player first sees the level will inform how they play your level. One of the biggest/basic mistakes I see in beginners work is that the designer places the player facing the wrong direction, so make sure you place the players avatar facing the direction you want them to move towards. Look at how Mario always faces the right as players must move right. With that same context I have it so my player faces forward leading them towards the window and to the turning on the left (we will break down why that is important later) but a big reason why I have placed the player a bit away from enemies is for safety. Players can start my level without feeling pressure right away. Allowing them to find their bearing before entering combat. Switching gears now, we will look at enemy placement, now I have only showed you their starting off placement not their patrol route. We will talk about their route when it comes to the blockout phase. One of the key things I have tried to do here is that I have tried to hide enemies from the players initial view. If you look at both the top right and bottom left, there are two enemies in each section, yet only one is visible in the players initial LoS. The reason behind this is: To surprise the player, this way it keeps the engagement interesting Reward the players who do not go in guns blazing, those who statergise and truly take in the level will be able to not be caught off guard. Conclusion From this article I hope you have understood the importance of research and planning, this is a necessary stage to make great levels, as well as seeing some questions you should as yourself as you start working on your level. Always make sure to build up a library of references because the more you know the more authentic and believable your space will become. Floor plans are a great place to start when it comes to creating your own 2d maps, as you can use them to help ground your level or even the foundation of your own level. 2d maps don’t need to be art, as long as it is understandable and makes sense then that is the most important thing. Plan the position of your player and your enemies as that will help you get an even better understanding of how the level will actually flow with your objectives. I was planning for us to start looking over the blockout of the level but honestly I think it has turned out better that we have focused solely on the planning phase of development. Because now you can understand how important it is, as well as see my thought process when creating this level. Next will be the concluding part of this mini-series on making a combat level. I did not want to explain all of my design choices in this post as you will see in the next part that some of changed, but also I believe it will be better to see them within the level I have built. Please Support Thank you everyone for taking the time to read this, hope you have found it useful. If you do want to hear more about my thoughts on level design, then please checkout my podcast: iTunes: https://apple.co/2CwAkqD Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2ybMelK YouTube: https://bit.ly/2XUXcLf SoundCloud: https://bit.ly/2XYIo9K Read Part 3 Here: Follow Max Level Design Lobby: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCncCrL2AVwpp7NJEG2lhG9Q Website: http://www.maxpears.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaxPears 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
  4. Several years ago my work tasked me to build a cooperative dungeon themed around a volcanic palace. We wanted the dungeon’s difficulty to rise across a series of rooms and end with a fight against the Fire King. At the half-way point through the level, we wanted to challenge the players with a combat-puzzle encounter.For my prototype of this encounter, I locked the players in a room with several waves of combat and environmental hazards. Each wave, the players needed to complete an increasing number of objectives in order to survive lava that would rise through the floor.Outside the specifics of the theme, I designed this encounter to test player coordination across multiple objectives under pressure. The encounter also served as a gear check through the enemies. In the abstract, this encounter is typical of raid design, which was our goal. The problem was the theme and converting my prototype to final art without losing clarity.In one of several meetings dedicated to solving this problem, another designer asked why the Fire King would have this hazardous room in his palace at all. This led to question about who (within the game’s fiction) built this room, why they built it this way, and what happened since it was built.When a level is able to answer these questions, it passes a test I think of as “architectural realism”. If a level does not hold up to this scrutiny, and we’re left saying “no one (within the game’s fiction) would have built this place or built it this way”, it fails the test of architectural realism.This concept overlaps with environmental storytelling, world-building, and immersion, all of which are important for high-fidelity AAA narratives games like Last of Us and God of War (2018). As an industry, we place a lot of value on these concepts.But my level was not for that kind of game. We used a distant 3rd-person camera, larger-than-life characters with exaggerated proportions, and abilities that worked at massive scales. We built our levels and the environment art to match.So, when one of these design meetings entered a third hour of argument to solve the problem of architectural realism, I was ready to ship the level as it was, in Mario-like abstraction where primitive meshes clearly conveyed their function. Immersion be damned.Architectural realism had no place in the problem we were trying to solve, and the efforts to pass its criteria wasted development time and made the encounter’s mechanics opaque. A bad application of best practices made my level worse.Now, when I see the ideas of architectural realism described as best practice, I remember how it can harm the development process when it does not serve the intended experience. Here for example, Mark is correct when referring to most real-world architecture, but most real-world architecture ports badly to video games. This is obvious for those of us who learned level design through modding; our rite-of-passage was to build a replica of our house—or school, or office—in Counter-Strike, Doom (1993), or one of so many other games with mod tools. This was a rite-of-passage because it was a painful realization that we can’t just copy what works in the real-world because the context is different. Even within the same genre, the context of Quake 3: Arena was different from Unreal Tournament 2004. An excellent level in one game will be different, often terrible, in another.The act of design is to recognize a context, its local needs and constraints, and find a solution that fits best. The practice of greyboxing is a way to prototype a solution, evaluate how well it fits the context, and—in professional game development—communicate the solution to the team. The study of level design is too often concerned with the skills of building and not the skills of design, which persist across genre convention. Christopher Alexander wrote about design this way in his 1964 essay “Notes on the Synthesis of Form”, where he created a visual metaphor of constraints and relationships. The dots each denote a constraint, and the lines denote relationships. The + and – along each line indicates whether the constraints support or conflict with each other. This visual metaphor is powerful because it lets us step aside from convention and any dogma around best practices to instead face the specific needs of the problem.In real-world manufacturing, material and production—what Alexander labels “economy”—are real constraints. Even in our digital world of level design, material and production are constraints we need to consider. We have our level construction processes, our art asset pipelines, and our production methodologies. We also have our studio cultures and divisions of responsibilities. All of these factor into the local context within which we solve our design problems.For my lava palace encounter, the values of architectural realism diminished once we recognized the whole context of our production process. Solving the encounter for world-building and immersion conflicted with too many other constraints. // Around the assumed best practices of AAA development, there are assumption of roles and responsibilities. In some studios, level designers are also layout artists, world builders, environment artists, content designer, scripters, and quest designers. Each game and studio has its own needs. (Jeff also clarified in a later tweet that his advice “can be true or false depending on the situation”) On another project as a professional level design, I spent several months sculpting and painting terrain. I placed foliage and props. Again, I did this work as a level designer. For the experience we intended to provide, we needed rolling hills and grass, and someone had to implement that solution to the design problem. This is level building, but we still call the job level design.As another example, look at Dear Esther. Where does the level design end and the environment art begin? This division is artificial until we separate design from building. To provide the right experience, the design of Dear Esther called for an island with terrain and foliage; it doesn’t matter whether it was a level designer or an environment artist who did the work of building.All of that said, when I see talk of “best practices” that don’t specify their context, I get grumpy. And when these “best practices” are directed at students, I get angry. I think about the days of my life wasted solving the wrong problems, and I think about all of the work I shipped that was less than it could have been. // What remains if we throw out “best practices” and say the quality of a design depends on its context?There are fundamentals we can still apply. Gestalt psychology has value. There are also psychological models like Self-Determination Theory to help us better recognize our players’ needs. I personally am skeptical of any application of shape- or color-theory that says “[x] will make the player feel [y]”, but there is still value in studying these areas as well.What remains is local level design, where our work serves a specific context to the best of its ability. To me, this enriches the many forms our levels can take, frees us from the International Style of AAA best practices, and returns us to our position as experience designers instead of overspecialized level builders. This lets us escape high modernism and enter postmodernism (and maybe we’ll catch up with the rest of the art world eventually).For students, my suggestion is that you shouldn’t greybox levels in Unity or Unreal by imagining a context that you can’t playtest. Doing this is making fan art levels, replicating solutions that already exist rather than learning how to solve. Instead, take a game with mod tools and an active community and design a level for that context. Seek feedback, not to hear how your level is good or bad, but to better understand who your level is for. Then build another level with this knowledge. This is the only best practice I know to learn the skills of design. *Note: This article is posted on Next Level Design with permission from the author Source: https://andrewyoderdesign.blog/2019/02/23/against-best-practices/Follow Andrew:Website: https://andrewyoderdesign.blog/Twitter: https://twitter.com/Mclogenog
  5. Lately I've been studying the connectivity in classic and modern duel maps and I'd like to share what I've found in this article. I was motivated to study connectivity when I noticed that almost all competitive maps have highly complex junctions between their rooms, especially on the low level. Of course the rooms play well independently, but it's the serpentine way they are woven together that really elevates the gameplay to the next level. The junctions are so intricate that you can almost think of them as additional rooms unto themselves. I think this is what turns a good map into a great one that can be played competitively for years and still not be fully solved by the players. First, if you haven't read my “fundamentals” articles you may want to check them out below because I'll be referencing them from time to time. Fundamentals of Gameplay: Part I & Part IIConnectivity is definitely the most complex topic I have written about yet so I won't be making as many de facto conclusions as my previous articles. What I'm going to do is just observe the connectivity systems using top-down diagrams, classify them into a few groups, explain how the different systems affect flow and map control, and talk a little about which systems I like the best. Of course I'll leave it up to you to make your own conclusions about what you prefer. Ultimately I'd just like to give you and entertaining read that improves your ability to analyze the connectivity in any map whether you are a player or a mapper, and maybe we can have a nice discussion at the end. Also, some of the principles I laid out in my fundamentals articles can only truly be applied to individual rooms, so hopefully this article will make for a more comprehensive model that better describes the big picture of these maps.Analyzing and classifying connectivity systemsConnectivity can be difficult to describe because in a way it exists everywhere, but in order to study connectivity we have to break the maps down into simpler parts. Like my previous articles, I am going to do this using the different levels of the map (low, middle, high), and the level we are going to be focusing on the most is the low one. My main reason for classifying the connectivity systems based on the low level goes back to the height-and-continuity relationship. Basically this states that the low level is the most continuous and the high level is more fragmented. Therefore, the low level will be the driving force that lays the foundation for the connectivity system and the high levels will serve to support it. We are going to see a couple slight exceptions to the height-and-continuity relationship with the maps Furious Heights and Dismemberment. In those maps the continuity is more balanced between the high and low levels, but for consistency I am still going to analyze them the same way. Really it isn't that important which level we choose since the levels of a map are like cousins to one another, we just need to pick one that plays a dominant role and study it.I think of connectivity systems as a collection of branches and loops which form more intricate shapes. A branch is defined as any significant one-directional path and a loop is any path that has a circular flow. I am going to categorize the eight maps in this study into three groups: branched layouts, top-loop layouts, and bottom-loop layouts. Branched layouts have many one-way paths on the low level which usually end in forced transitions to higher levels. (By “forced”, I mean the player has to do a complete 180 to avoid taking them.) Top-loop layouts also have branched lower levels, but have an unusually expansive upper level that connects the majority of the map. Bottom-loop maps have a roughly circular path running through the lower level and have very few branches or forced transitions.A few other odds and ends to mention: Although transition points are colored in yellow in my diagrams, I am going to include the stairs on the low level leading up to the middle level as part of the low-level connectivity system. Basically everything up until the middle level cutoff point will be thought of as the low level. Also, for simplicity I am not going to be doing to much analysis on across-the-map teleporters like in Blood Run, but this would be an interesting thing to study another time. Finally, I have to mention that my model for studying connectivity only holds up for multi-atrium maps. Maps that are primarily made of one large central atrium, e.g. Aerowalk, can't be studied in this way. It's just too hard to distinguish the junctions from the rooms they are connecting. I'll post a diagram of Aerowalk below in case anyone is interested in studying it.Branched layouts: (Blood Run, Toxicity, Lost World, Campgrounds)Blood Run by ztnNumber of rooms: 3Connectivity system: T-shaped junction Blood Run is a great starting point for this article because it's a very obvious example of a branched connectivity system. If you look at the purple level, it creates a simple T-junction with the three branches of the T leading each leading to an atrium. (Note that this means each room can only have one door on the low level. Any other doors must lead to forced transition points within that same room or to teleporters leading elsewhere.) The T-junction makes for a really interesting connectivity system where players have many chances to cut each other off from passing between rooms. As a result, Blood Run has some of the most dominant positional map control of all the maps in this study.The problem with the T-junction is it doesn't have very much flow. In Joel McDonald's Competitive Level Design Guide, he states, “Generally, a map needs to have a circular flow on the macro level.” That's where the top levels (green and red) come in. The top levels connect the branches and create a perfect figure-8 flow for the whole map. Now you have a map that flows AND gives opportunity for interesting control of areas by allowing players to cut each other off between rooms. Blood Run is a perfect example of a connectivity system where the low level lays the foundation and the high level serves to complete the circular flow of the whole map by tying together the loose ends where the low paths branched out. Of course it's not a totally linear layout either. Some paths still overlap such as the top path above the T-junction and this allows the rooms to have interesting multi-level gameplay.Toxicity by thefuryNumber of rooms: 3Connectivity system: U shape with two branches Toxicity is another classic branched layout and it has a unique and complex low central junction. I'd describe the top-right portion of the low path as a U-shape and the rest of the low level as two branched paths sticking off of it. (I suppose you could also call it an X-junction.) The branches lead into the MH and RA rooms and both ends of the U shape lead to the high YA room. This kind of isolates the RA and the MH from each other while keeping them both well connected to the high YA room. The low passage also allows players to see straight across the map and this can be exploited by the dominating player for lining up spawn kills. The high paths generally sit on the sides of the low branches rather than being directly joined to them and they turn the overall flow into a triple-ring shape. This is a good point to talk about door placement and introduce a principle that I call the rule of two sides. If you look at the three rooms in this map as simple rectangles, you will notice that each room has its doors stacked on at most two sides of that rectangle. Exceptions to the rule can be found in maps with a large centralized room such as Lost World or Campgrounds. Central atriums tend to have doors on three sides. Otherwise, the rule holds up quite well. You may have to use your imagination a bit as to where exactly the boundaries of a room are, but directionally speaking in almost all cases you will only enter/exit a room from two of its four sides.At this point I can imagine some Q3 players scratching their heads thinking, “Well, DUH!” Pointing out the doors-on-two-sides rule or saying that the rooms in branched layouts can only have on door on the low level may be overstating the obvious to some, but I think this could help a lot of mappers during the gameplay-planning phase of their maps. Understanding the consequences of door placement allows mappers to be a lot more intentional with their designs. If a mapper starts a layout by designing a room that has entrances in three different directions, he knows that this room is going to have to be centrally placed. If he wants his map to have a branched connectivity system, he knows that he can't have more than one door entering/exiting his rooms on the low level. This could save mappers a lot of headaches during planning and allow them to make intentional rather than random decisions when connecting their rooms together.Lost World by id SoftwareNumber of rooms: 3Connectivity system: loop with three branches In the case of Lost World I am going to analyze the connectivity system on the green level since the two levels below it are negligible. Lost World is a three-atrium map with the largest of the atriums centralized. The connectivity system is composed of a looped path which connects the central and top room and three branches sticking off of the loop. Each of the branches ends in a forced transition upwards. Interestingly, the YA room with the curved staircase only has two doors and is quite isolated from the rest of the map, so players have to be very wary about getting trapped there. The connectivity on the upper level is similar to the lower level except it doesn't have a complete loop. The complexity of Lost World's connectivity system leads to slower games, but its heavily branched layout provides a lot of interesting opportunities for map control and I think this is a key reason for its longevity in the pro map pools.Campgrounds by id SoftwareNumber of rooms: 3Connectivity system: loop with two branches People have talked about the flow and connectivity of Campgrounds for years so I won't spend as much time discussing it here. Campgrounds used to be a staple in pro duels and it was my favorite layout for a long time, but in recent years it has been all but abandoned for being too easy to dominate. This is mainly because the map only has three armors and the dominating player can occasionally run all of them, but it's also because the map is so well-connected that the out-of-control player has nowhere to hide. Campgrounds is unique because it's like two connectivity systems built into one map. The low system is a loop with two large branches leading to YA and RA, and the middle system is a large figure-8 with another branch sticking off. If I was going to make a Campgrounds remake, I'd be interested to see how the map played with a more fragmented middle level system. Any of the three middle level paths between the RA and MH rooms could easily be removed and the map would still flow fine. (Don't worry though, I'm not going to make a Campgrounds remake.)Top-loop layouts: (Furious Heights, Dismemberment)Furious Heights by id SoftwareNumber of rooms: 3Connectivity system: hip junction with two branches Dismemberment by HubsterNumber of rooms: 3Connectivity system: hip junction with three branches I'm going to talk about both of these maps at the same time because they both employ the same tricks to balance their extensive top routes. I remember these maps were an enigma to me when I first saw them because I didn't think they could possibly be balanced. Why on Earth would the dominating player ever drop down to the low routes of the map when he can get to every room using the top level? Well, from a continuity standpoint, both maps use a lot of stairs, choke points, and forced jumps to balance the upper level. From a connectivity standpoint, both maps have a direct connection between the RA and MH rooms which I call a hip junction. The hip junction makes it extremely fast to run the main items using the low level, which makes the dominating player more inclined to use it. The upper paths are much slower, for example in Furious Heights the high path to the low-YA room actually forces the player to meander out and behind the armor before dropping down to it. One other thing I'd like to point out which is not connectivity related is that Dismemberment has only two levels and Furious Heights barely has a third level between high and low. In maps with only two levels, top loops seem to be less of an issue but they still need to be balanced.Bottom-loop layouts: (Sinister, Cure)Sinister by yellack & akmNumber of rooms: 3Connectivity system: loop with one branch Cure by cityyNumber of rooms: 3Connectivity system: loop with two (small) branches Sinister and Cure are two popular duel maps that I have identified which have little to no branching in their connectivity systems. (My map Goldleaf is another example.) You can see that the rooms are connected on the lower level by a simple loop. This means that there are two ways to enter/exit any room on the lower level which makes it a little harder for players to cut each other off between rooms. It also means the transition points are not forced because there is a functioning circular flow on the lower level. In other words, the levels on the map function more independently compared to branched layouts where the levels are woven together by the transitions between them.Although maps like Sinister and Cure have proven that bottom-loop systems can work well, this is probably the type of connectivity system I prefer the least. I think branched layouts incorporate the different levels together more naturally and also encourage exploitation of the connectivity system for map control. Loop layouts also just feel less complex in general. That's not to say that I don't enjoy fragging in Sinister and Cure – I do. I also don't think any one formula exists for optimal map making and I'd much rather have variety in the map pools anyway. I'd be really interested to hear what other people enjoy the best!Here are a couple more examples that were added after the fact:Aerowalk by Preacher & Hubster Trespass by Pat HowardNumber of rooms: 3.5 (maybe 4)Connectivity system: Jughandle branch That's all for now. For any players reading this, I hope you now have a slightly better understanding of the connectivity systems in your favorite maps. For mappers, hopefully this gives you more foresight and saves you some headaches about how to connect your rooms together. Rather than thinking about connectivity as simple hallways from point A to point B, I suggest you consider it to be just as important if not more important than the gameplay of each individual room. With this in mind, we can think about connectivity less in terms of the quantity of connections in a map and more in terms of the quality of them.Source: https://www.quake3world.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=51102 Follow Patlvlword: https://lvlworld.com/author/Pat%20HowardTwitter: https://twitter.com/lvlpathoward 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
  6. "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
  7. 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
  8. About Ben Burkart I initially became interested in level design as a full time career at the age of 12 when somebody gave me a copy of the original Unreal Tournament. I do not recall exactly how it happened but I ended up stumbling upon the level editor and quickly became fascinated with it. Above all the thing that stood out to me and fascinated me the most was the idea of creating my own levels. The authors names were under the properties of each level in the game and because I was so interested in level design these people in a very large way became my role models even though I had no idea who they were. One name that appeared on several of my favorite maps was Cliff Bleszinski. I knew nothing about him other than that he made a lot of my favorite maps and that I also wanted to become a level designer so I set out to contact him. I sent an email with one single question “How much money do you make a year?” I was not aware that this was rude to ask, I was just a clueless kid in the country who wanted to make video games… I received a response that simply said “3 billion“. I do not remember if I actually believed him at the time but it was enough to make me excited to push forward with making levels. After making levels for a couple of years I got my first phone interview at Nintendo at the age of 15. I do not know what they saw in my work but I was told that my work stood out to them and it was all I needed to hear to push myself to getting my first job in the industry which eventually happened in 2007 at Gearbox Software. At Gearbox Software I worked as a level designer on Brothers in Arms Hell’s Highway. They had an amazing cog program that really helped me get my foot in the door initially. After Gearbox Software I worked at a studio named Blue Omega Entertainment where I worked on a game called Damnation. I came in towards the end of the production of Damnation so my responsibilities were more in the direction of polishing the levels and improving upon the multiplayer maps in terms of both layout and visuals. Lake Scene by Ben Burkart After Blue Omega I started at a small indie studio named Trendy Entertainment working on Dungeon Defenders1/firstwave/second wave, and Dungeon Defenders 2. I stayed at Trendy Entertainment for 4 1/2 years and then got a job at Empire Studios working on an unannounced Unreal Engine 4 title. Overall my responsibilities in each studio were generally the same with the exception that I was given more responsibilities as I became more experienced and I eventually took a lead level designer position at Trendy Entertainment. Responsibilities at each studio generally came down to creating the level layouts and bringing them to final visual polish, including gameplay passes, decoing the levels, lighting them, and in many situations optimizing and finalizing them.The Best Tools for the Level Designer Forest Scene by Ben Burkart I use Unreal Engine 4 for one very important reason, it empowers its users. One of the most important advantages I believe Unreal Engine has always had over other engines is a superior workflow. Tools are always robust and empower the developers to save hundreds of hours of development time even over the previous Unreal Engine 3. In Unreal Engine 1 and 2 if a level designer or artist wanted to do some fun scripted stuff that the code didn’t currently support they would need the help of a programmer. With the additions of kismet and Blueprint the engine has basically upped the possibilities that a developer can pull off allowing for not only quick prototyping but also quick implementation, bug fixing, and overall just general production. The most important thing when it comes to game engines is that they allow the developers to do what they want. The less time you spend fighting technical stuff and trying to get buggy software to work the quicker you can get an amazing project finished. And for this reason I have stuck with Unreal Engine since 2001 through all of its iterations. Generally a level designer can get away with knowing nothing more than the Unreal Editor and still be an amazing level designer. However several level design job positions will require some knowledge of 3D modeling software such as 3ds Max, or Maya so I would suggest learning one of these as a secondary skill to at least an intermediate level. If you are just starting out I would definitely suggest putting all of your time and effort into only learning UE4 to start off as it can easily be daunting all by itself. Companies will prefer somebody extremely efficient in UE4 vs somebody who is mediocre in both UE4 and 3D modeling.The Tricks of Building Levels in 3D Daoist - Unreal Tournament 3 Level from Ben Every project should be approached differently when it comes to planning out your level but generally there are a lot of points that remain the same. Spending a few days worth of planning out your level can save you weeks or headaches and reworking later on. There are a few main things you need to get down before you even begin thinking out your layout. It is always important to have a goal and purpose for your level, deciding this early on should influence how you make decisions regarding layout/visuals/balancing through every step of your levels creation. When preparing to design your level you should have a clear indication as to what kind of visual theme you are going for as it should influence your layout as well as allow you to get the right assets together or to get a better idea of what kind of assets you are going to need.Multiplayer Maps: The Main Staples of Level Design Vicinity - Unreal Tournament 3 Level from Ben The way you approach multiplayer maps depends very heavily on what type of multiplayer map it is going to be and what game it is being developed. Let’s imagine you’re building a DeathMatch level for an arena game such as Unreal Tournament.Flow: Flow is above and beyond the most important thing in any multiplayer map, while the other things on this list have a possibility of not breaking the map if they are done somewhat poorly your map will always fail if your flow is bad.Item Placement: As with most of the things on this list the Item placement in a map can make or break your layout.Vertical Spaces: Any good Death Match level will have multiple floors/stories. Having several overlapping floors makes the gameplay a lot more interesting as well as exciting.Spawn Points: Spawn points should never be obvious to other players or be marked visually to allow players to camp and spawn kill players. Level Designers should place a minimum of 2-3 times more spawn points throughout the level than the player count its designed for, for instance if your level is designed for 4 players you should be placing a minimum of 8-12 spawn points in your level. Make sure spawn points are set so that players are spawned facing in an interesting direction or towards a nearby weapon. The sooner you can get the player back into the action the better!Using Sound: One often times overlooked feature most newer level designers overlook is using sound cues to trigger at specific spots in a level when a player runs over them. This allows players to hear where other players are at and react to the sounds they hear. A few simple ways to do this are, placing water puddles, creaking boards, clanging metal, etc.. In the case of games such as Unreal Tournament you should also use some of the health pickups in this way such as a health vial that makes a very unique sounds when picked up. Also if you have a level with several lifts/elevators it helps giving each a unique sound effect.Visual Clarity: Any competitive multiplayer game should have two things in common, good frame rates, and a very good visual clarity. Levels should be lit very well and player pathways should be extremely obvious and clear. Overall maps should be mostly devoid of noisy details as you want the players to stand out from the environment. Generally when it comes to making multiplayer maps it pays to under deco vs over deco your maps. As much as a lot of people enjoy making their levels a visual masterpiece players will often times pick the more simple maps with a better layout.Utilizing Gameplay Mechanics: Most games will have something that makes them unique. As a level designer it is your job to ensure that players are made to use these unique abilities often. For instance, in Unreal Tournament 4 players have the ability to dodge off walls, climb ledges, lift jumping, piston jumping etc… So giving players areas cool areas they can only reach by jumping at the right time at the top of a lift would be a good example of taking advantage of the gameplay mechanics.Size: The overall size of a map doesn’t always play into the final deciding factor on if it is easier or harder to create as it all depends on what the overall goal of the map is and how detailed each will be but generally a larger map will come with more challenges. For instance, making a giant MMO style map that is mostly open spaces with very little detail will for the most part be easier to create than a full city block that’s 10X smaller with 100X the detail. However, creating very large maps will have their own unique challenges, such as performance and memory restrictions. Things that are generally easier to maintain in a smaller map. However in some instances creating larger environments may be easier, but they are also easier to mess up and generally take a lot more experience from both the level designers and artists to get right. Original Source: https://80.lv/articles/8-secrets-of-a-great-multiplayer-map/ *This article has been posted in its entirely with permission from the author Ben's Website: http://www.evilmrfrank.com/ Ben's Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/evilmrfrank/videos Ben's Twitter: https://twitter.com/evilmrfrank
  9. In this Blog Post, Zi Peters discusses what he considers the basics of level design in First and Third Person Shooters: There are some considerable differences between single player and multiplayer level design. In a single player game you have a lot more control on how the player is manipulated, but with multiple human players you can’t as accurately foretell how they will act and react to each other. This is also the beauty of it all, as it generates a lot of tension and increases the excitement of the experience. Outsmarting another human opponent is far more rewarding that taking down AI. Single player levels are created with a limited amount of objectives in mind that once completed the player will then progress to the next level. The player may choose to replay this level on subsequent play through attempts, but even then the amount time spent playing it will still be fairly little. The amount of time to be spent by a player in a multiplayer level is to be quite extensive, meaning that there is the risk of boredom if the level doesn’t provide enough options. Also the time spent in these levels means that any faults or weaknesses of the map will be discovered and exploited, leading to unbalance. From here, Zi goes on to cover the following aspects of level design in some detail: Process - What should you focus on? Core Mechanics - Leverage the unique mechanics of the game you're designing for Player Tactics - Accommodating various playstyles Game Modes - What are you designing for? High Concept - A big idea Size - Why size matters Layout - Balancing complexity Flow - Layering flow patterns Choke Point - Where and when Combat Areas - limiting predictability Navigation - Landmarks Weapons/Items - Ideal locations Balance - Crafting fairness Terrain/Architechture - Building variety and verticality Navigation - Visual distinction Playtesting - Identifying problems Summary The desired achievement of a multiplayer map is: Durability to still remain fun even after countless hours of play Accessibility through clear navigation of the map Allow players to get into the action quickly Provide options for countering the enemies position Design around the core mechanics of the game Allow for variable tactics to lead to success Support multiple modes of play Minimise the advantage of players who know the maps well Read the complete article to find out how to achieve these goals - zipeters.com/2012/10/31/fps-and-tps-multiplayer-basics/ Do you agree with the goals Zi has listed? What other goals do you set for your levels?