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  1. Introduction The number of quality books on Level Design has grown by one with the release of Let’s Design: Combat – A Level Design Series by Max Pears. The book is comprised of 25 subjects organized into 3 different sections (Planning, Blockout, Iteration) over the course of 80 pages. It brings us through concepts such as Metrics, Enemies, Decision Points, Combat Fronts, Verticality, and Local Landmarks. These subjects are presented in bite sized nuggets of insight from Mr. Pears, and supported with fabulously unique graphic depictions. We recently met up with Max to pick his brain about level design, and more specifically about his book on designing for combat. Interview Hey Max. Good to talk to you again. You’ve definitely been one of the most active level design content creators in recent years, putting out numerous articles and videos, along with mentoring others in the community. When and why did you decide to do a level design book? Hey mate, thank you very much for having me and great to be talking with you again. Aha cheers mate, yeah I had not stopped to think about being one of the most active. I guess it’s because more and more people are getting involved in our great Level Design community. It’s a funny one, as honestly I did not think I would write a book. I’m sure some of you who have read my articles on Next Level Design will know I am not the best writer, but I’ve gotten better, haha. My bad writing and jokes aside, it is because people kept asking me to write a book. After the combat article series I wrote and you published here, the demand increased. I thought well let’s give it a go and see what I can do. Another reason I think people were asking was/is because I’m so active. We have many great Design Books, but a lot of them are written by those who are outside of the industry, which does not take away from their value, I just think students and Jr designers want to hear from those who are in the industry. Plus I feel that level design is still not fully understood. So if I can help to reach students or Jr Designers to help them get a clearer picture in a more tangible form, I think a book may be the best way to do it. Yeah, for sure. It's awesome having a full collection of tips and tricks all in one, rather than taking bits and pieces from different places. Speaking of your experience within the industry, that reminds me that there may very well be people reading this that are just getting into level design, and may not be super familiar with you. How long have you been working as a level designer, and can you share some of the projects you've worked on? I have been making games for just about Seven Years now, crazy to think how fast time has flown by. I originally started in mobile games at a studio called FOG (Free Online Games) Media, where I made around 7 games in total, a couple made it to the app charts (Very proud of that). After I left went to Ubisoft Reflections, in which I worked on Tom Clancy's The Division, and the DLC Underground. Once that wrapped up I headed to where I currently am which is CD PROJEKT RED, where I am currently working on Cyberpunk 2077. Sadly right now I can not talk much about CP, but I am sure we will talk again after the game launches. But yeah that is my career so far, I am very happy with the projects I have been able to work on and the other developers I have had the pleasure to work with. Great. Thank you for that. Now let’s talk about this book of yours. Let’s Design: Combat – A Level Design Series is organized into 3 chapters – Planning, Blockout, and Iteration, in that order. I can’t help but point out that this exactly mimics the typical design process order. I assume that was intentional? Do you feel It’s important for level designers to follow a strict process? Should they always (or nearly always) be addressing the subjects covered in the Planning section of the book before moving on to the ‘Blockout’ phase of the process, or should a process be more fluid than that? Also, you’ve worked on games that differ greatly in style, and I’m curious about how process and priorities might change to align with the type of project you’re working on? Glad you noticed mate, yeah I made sure to break it up to make it feel as close to the overall game development process as possible. I think it is important for students to understand how games are made as well as levels, at some parts of your career you might jump into a project at a different stage, so I feel this is a way to help those understand how the overall process looks. Yes, these are the stages everyone should learn, now someone's planning may differ from the next, but the overall experience in terms of big milestone structures are roughly the same. The process of how we design our levels should be roughly the same, but games and plans change throughout development so you might be at a point where an area is already art-ified so you can not block it out with your LD blocks. Yet you can still use the art assets for that area to use as cover instead. There are some adaptations that may be tweaked or less time invested into due to the stage of the project, however, if this book can help up and coming LDs understand how important these stages are to making great levels, then I will be happy as well. I am really glad you pick up on that, as I did think about how to best represent the overall process when coming up with this book, as there are some subtle details and others less subtle in the presentation & structure of this book. I hope other readers notice this as well. Your comment on understanding the importance of the various stages of designing levels brings to mind a semi-related question that I'm really eager to hear your thoughts on. I've noticed that as designers are in the learning stages of understanding level design (and we're basically all always at the learning stage), we tend to focus really heavily on particular concepts as we learn about them, perhaps to an extent that isn't really justified by their actually usefulness. One obvious example in the level design community would be 'leading lines'. Now while this is a cool concept, in the grand scheme of things it's probably not amongst the most important concepts to understand and incorporate. I won't ask you to call out the most over-hyped concepts in level design (but feel free to do so if you really want to, haha), but what are one or two of the concepts covered in your book that you think are undervalued, and really important in the level design process? Aha, yeah leading lines. I won’t lie, I have highlighted these before in my tweets and use them as an example in a few talks I have done. Now is this part of level design over exaggerated? Yes, by a country mile, haha. The element of why to consider is because it is easy to highlight over social media. It’s harder to break down more detailed topics over 280 characters or in a picture. Now that does not mean that we should ignore leading lines, as they are a useful tool, but think of it more as an additional tool. On its own it’s not the best, but when combined with negative space or lighting it really helps. As for a topic of level design that is not spoken about enough, I believe that has to be metrics. When I graduated and started working at Ubisoft, when they started showing me the metrics graph and making sure I stuck to metrics (I was a renegade haha) I was so confused as to how some created them. Why? Because it was not taught to me. Metrics is so crucial for your LD process, we need to be much more aware of how metrics work, how to use it communicate with the player, and when to bend the metrics to craft an emotional response from the player in our spaces. To any up and coming LD, do try to find out more about metrics. Metrics for sure are important and overlooked. I suppose that's part of the reason why it's the very first subject covered in your book. Moving on to a different subject, one of the first things that jumped out at me as I was reading through the book is the graphics in the example depictions. I personally really like the style you went with. It's very unique. There must be a story behind how this graphic style came to be? Yeah exactly mate, hopefully when people read and see it as point 1, they will take notice and prepare as best they can to understand more on metrics. I am glad you liked the graphics, I think it is for sure one of the coolest elements we nailed down for the book. Haha yeah, there was a lot of thought which went behind it. What you might notice with the grey grid and ui in the top right hand corner, is that we wanted it to look like it was taking place inside a game editor. Really ground it to the fact that you as a reader can feel that what you see on the pages can be instantly transferred into say Unity, UE4 Or whatever editor you are using. Which is why the text is window shaped boxes. It is making it not only give information you can apply but feel like it is already applied for you. The process of the pictures was super cool as I would actually block the Out layout, to then give to my artist J. She would then translate it to the beautiful images you see on the pages. She also brought those characters to life, as we wanted to make it super clear what everything was as well as throw in our sense of humor. As learning can always be fun. But I think one of the biggest inspiration for the art style was my Twitter (not in an egotistical way). I found that a lot of people would like to see my early blockouts or 2d layouts for my layout. With that in mind I wanted it to feel like that. I am really glad you liked it, as I feel anyone who reads this book will be delighted with not only the information written but also with the presentation. It's been really nice talking to you again Max, and getting some insight into your book, Let’s Design: Combat – A Level Design Series. Can you share some logistics with us? When and where will the book be available for purchase? What can we expect the price to be? And also, one final question... I can't help but notice that the books subtitle says "A Level Design Series". This would seem to suggest that it's part of a series of level design books. Do you have plans for a follow up book/s? Always a pleasure talk with you buddy, thank you so much again for us sitting down giving me a chance to be on your site. Yes, so the book releases 21/07/2020 so not long, of us doing our interview. Very excited and nervous haha, I hope everyone who purchases it will enjoy it. In terms of picking it up, you can buy either a physical or ebook copy of the book, which can be found here: Ebook £15 ($18.84 USD) - https://bit.ly/2WvrTUR Physical Book £25 ($31.38 USD) - https://bit.ly/3fBQ2k9 The book will be available on other stores like Amazon, but the best way to support me is to buy it from the links in the article (Gumroad and Lulu bookstore) as most of the money goes to me so I can reinvest into.....your second part of the question. Yes I intend to aim for three right now, the next one will be about Traversal/Exploration and I will start work on this around November and try to release it around Q1 of 2021. I want to make ‘Let’s Design:’ the best possible series I can so aspiring LDs can be better prepared for when they arrive into the industry as well as help those who are already on their great design path. It is an exciting time, I hope those who do pick up ‘Let’s Design: Combat’ truly enjoy it and find it helpful. Resources Looking for more content from Max? Here are links to all of his articles shared on Next Level Design: - Level Design for Combat Part 1 - Level Design for Combat Part 2 - Level Design for Combat Part 3 - Shape Theory in Level Design - The Illusion of Space - Do Your Research: Where’s the Toilet - Game Design: Introducing Mechanics Follow Max/Level Design Lobby Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaxPears iTunes: https://apple.co/2CwAkqD Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2ybMelK YouTube: https://bit.ly/2XUXcLf SoundCloud: https://bit.ly/2XYIo9K 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. 'Map Design Theory' comes from the heyday of Halo 3's Forge Mode. This one holds a special place in my heart because it's one of the first articles that got me thinking seriously about level design. It covers all of the essentials of level design, and use examples to support the discussion points. This article was written exclusively with Halo 3 in mind, but is most definitely applicable to Level Design in other FPS games as well. Understanding map design can be a daunting task for anyone, but with a little perseverance and open mind it should be relatively easy to grasp. To start, design is all about having the right sets of mentalities and understanding, and three over-arching categories drive successful map design; Gameplay Knowledge, Vision, and Creativity. These three elements need to come together in unison for a map to work well on various levels. If you focus too heavily upon creativity and vision, the map may end up more aesthetically pleasing than it would have, but won’t necessarily play well. If you know gameplay and have a vision for map design, your map may come out a little dull even though it might be fun. I had a third point, but it left me, and now I have to pay alimony every month. Balance between the three separates the novice from the exceptional. There are no simple tricks to suddenly finding the balance; as with everything, it requires practice and mental familiarity.Knowledge:"Knowledge is power"Sir Francis Bacon said thatHe didn't work out.Knowledge boils down to understanding the various mechanics in Halo 3 in both general terms and specific ways such as; anti-camping concepts, getting a feel for the spawn system to encourage routes and flow, recognizing and preventing choke points (sometimes even effectively implementing them) and much more. However, the point isn't to be rehash previous ideas, rather to know WHY things are and WHY they are subsequently successful or not in their attempts. There's really no limit to what you can learn about map design. It’s just about taking the time to understand how each each aspect works in principle and how to use it effectively. Vision:Psychic map builder?That makes it sound difficult.Just think your map through.In a few words, vision can be described as being able to mentally visualize the next step like some sort of psychic map-builder. This can be difficult for people as not everyone is able to imagine in 3D, and the good news is, this isn’t always necessary for proper map design. Basic questions you should ask: What will the player movement be like? How do you want it to look and what are the major points of interest? Is it going to be mostly flat (too easy a joke) What of elevation changes? Will there be rooms, and if so how will you prevent camping? These are all things that you should think about while designing a map. Knowing what devices to envision results from a solid understanding of gameplay and design fundamentals. Essentially, the key to it all is trying to imagine how your idea will actually play out as a map within Halo 3, translating the physical form of the map you're imagining in to an actual gameplay environment, and determining whether or not it will work effectively. Creativity:Creativity, like any other expressive medium, is an important part of any effective map design. It determines uniqueness, flow, supported playstyles, weapon use, and key areas, if any. These should be minimally addressed in your design before you even start building.Thousands of downloadsfor a pallet conveyorCreative. 'Nuff said.It’s difficult to describe how to be creative or what spurs a design. Sometimes it’s a quick flash of inspiration; other times it’s a focal point that it is built off of. It varies on its creator, and from an ironically objective standpoint, it's luck. What complicates it even more is it can be often difficult to tie everything together, so having a clear vision of what you want to create before focusing on specifics is very important. A Haiku:Forge guides are fun, butdisclaimers are important.Please, please don't sue us.First, a few disclaimers before we start: the focus of this Forging 201 will not be to show you some new Forge tips or a solid set of information, in fact probably nothing will be particularly new. Everything that we'll be saying here you should think critically about; in other words, map design mentality.Second, while we'll try to leave things vague and open for you to think about, we'll be making our own assumptions and assertions throughout the piece. It's a guide, not a law, if you can give good reason for anything, supportive, contradictory or unrelated to the topics presented, and it helps your design, it's perfectly fine. Our assumptions are not necessarily fact, just keep that in mind.Map design is a puzzle; everything fits together to form one final product. All of the following topics are important interrelated factors in defining the resulting gameplay. Much as map design is being broken down in to various aspects and considerations for the purposes of this article, the real point of map design is understanding them not only in distinct terms, but most importantly how they interact to form the greater whole of a successful map.In no way is this discussion close to complete, nor can it ever really be. Map design is a constant learning and innovative process. There's no limit to what you can learn and do with it. As a whole, this guide has been a collaboration between Insane54 and MickRaider.Knowledge Player movement, often known as "flow" (and what it will henceforth be referred to as) is the base for map design. Player movement is how the players progress through your map in relation to the various objects in it, or in simpler terms, how players prefer to move about the map. There's no good or bad flow. Your map starts with a vision and the flow is the result. Different people have different ways of approaching obstacles in the environment, but as the map creator you can streamline (or expand) routes to better suit certain approaches. Flow is invariably affected by the map itself, so the design process should bring about the following questions: What's the ideal amount of players? How big is the map? What playstyles do you want to encourage? What weapons do you want players to use, and how often? i.e. weapon balance In Halo, players do not traverse the map on a cover-to-cover basis like Gears of War, nor do they move between random structures; open-area combat is a significant, if not defining, aspect of Halo 3's gameplay mechanic. Therefore, your map design should never be based off of cover or structures themselves, rather any cover provided should be a part of the larger scheme of things. In essence, the cover defines player flow (or choice of route) as opposed to giving them set paths to follow in order to remain behind cover. This will be expanded upon later.In general, every area on the map should be accessible by at least 2 paths. The more paths you put into an area, the more it will turn into a transitory area (as opposed to a camp spot). For example, players will more often traverse through Guardian's sniper area via the middle level than on the bottom, simply because it has four paths instead of two. Simple enough. That being said, you don't necessarily want to put many different paths for the sake of having them, just understand which areas call for it, and address them to prevent camping. After all, Halo is about movement, not "tactical waiting" as Sarge would say. Furthermore, your paths should have purpose as opposed to just diversifying routes, that is, they should affect gameplay in some way. Example: Guardian. A person is shooting from sniper spawn. Regardless of position, there are various ways to take him out, such as tactical BR shots or providing a distraction while teammates sneak from behind, among other avenues of attack. The point is, the map affords plenty of options, and each has a different level and type of risk associated with it, a balance of advantage and disadvantage. To summarize map flow (and subsequent player movement options) for a given situation should not only be suited to this situation, but also balanced with one another so that situations don't arise where one route is overplayed and the other, underused. Lines of Sight: What you can see at any given point, or rather, the damage you can inflict within your field of vision. In quantitative terms, it is your entire 360 degree viewing angle, adjusted by obstructions in your view (walls, barriers, etc).This can be accomplished due to a variety of weapon and grenades. However, the concept of 'good LoS' is somewhat misguided and inefficient in practical terms. In fact, lines of sight aren't particularly important in the first place. A player doesn't look directly at one point the entire game. Games are dynamic and have more to do with field of vision than lines of sight. Let's do away with the lines of sight idea (again, we'll continue to use the name for simplicity), and think about a very similar but much more important definition:Field of Vision is the angle at which the user can see enemy players. In normal circumstances, this angle is approximately 90 degrees. Unaffected "Field of Vision" Field of vision is, of course, different depending on the situation you're in, such as being in a tunnel with a shotgun or atop an open ledge with a sniper-rifle. Thus, determining what players will be able to see, and where, will have a significant effect on the routes they will use. In general, if the player can see the enemy at long range, a direct run is inadvisable by common sense. This changes at close range, especially with the use of the shotguns or assault rifles, as bullet spray is lessened. With this in mind, as a map builder, you can guide gameplay to preference in your map. On that note, you still want to include enough routes for escape, flanking, and other maneuvers.Height is important to lines of sight. People on towers have the advantage of cover from people below, and can use that to their advantage. Balancing power points with path and line of sight options is important and can be accomplished through clever grenade bounces and alternative paths.Players are dynamic and adjust to the situations they are in, and though you can't control their specific responses, you can set the stimulus that provokes those responses. In other words, you can't control the bee and its honey, but you can determine what flowers it has access to.Here are some of the generic comments you'll often see by forger and other players; "Cool structures", "needs more cover", "too open". A well designed map is not comprised of any of the above, or rather trying to understand map design in these simple terms is essentially flawed and misses the point of how larger design works in Halo 3. Structures, cover, and open areas are a part of map design, sure, but they are nowhere near the major focus of a map, they're more the result of design than an actual part of the design process. If you are ever finding yourself designing a map around random structures or cover, you should be going back to the drawing board and figure out how you are going to tie everything together.We've all encountered plenty of awesome structures out there. Structures are capable of defining a map, such as "Relic". You must be careful to have the map tie together though. Structures can be beneficial to a map design by directing players where you want them on a map. An interesting central structure that also has a tactical advantage can direct attention towards that structure and create interesting hot spots and gameplay opportunities. Let me take this moment to say that the goal for map design is not always to create some perfectly designed map that plays exactly evenly or balanced. Your goal should be to create a fun and unique experience that's balanced enough for both teams to have fun. Most importantly your design should offer different options to the player and allowing each of these to have a variety of possibilities. Therefore, there is plenty of room for structures to be a big part of your map design, but don't let that overshadow the overall design, any structure should instead be thought of in terms of whether or not it compliments the overall design. The most notable problem you'll find in structure-based maps is that they are reliant on players to run around in those structures. There should always be advantages and disadvantages to various flow routes, as explained before. Forcing players to be on some kind of structure to do well should be avoided at all costs. Players on the ground should be able to have fun, and people playing on structures should have some sort of advantage and disadvantage against those players.Cover can be thought of in the same regard. A map should never be defined by it's cover. Though at some point you will likely be giving players a chance to get out of a line of fire. Never, ever randomly place cover in a "middle" areas to make it "less open". When players make a decision, such as to go one route versus another, there should be another driving force. Throwing down a block in the middle that he can hide behind turns that into bland and repetitive game. In a good design the natural cover is often more than adequate. Though chances are at some point you'll need some kind of additional cover. Specific cover objects should be used as a last resort if a natural approach could not be found. Keep in mind that what you build should be what players will use to move around the map. In general, objects should be used to compliment lines of sight and flow. If you find that players are getting cut down in an undesirable crossfire, cover might then be necessary to break up the action. An area you designed should never be "too open". The amount of an open area varies depending on several factors, and quite often an open run might be desirable as opposed to the same area littered with unnecessary structures and cover. If you find that players are not using your routes as you had originally planned, cover can be used to help solve this issue if nothing else will work.Though spawns and objectives are generally placed once your map is already built, it is still good practice to keep them in mind when designing. This foresight can make the difference between a good map or a great map, and if you build a whole map without considering how you want spawning to work, then when you come to placing spawns you may find it hard to implement an effective spawning system.In general, it is important to have, at a minimum, two major areas for each team to spawn at. Applying what we learned before, try and visualize what the players will think once they spawn. How many route options do they have? Do they encompass the necessary possibilities that will allow the player to make proper use of this life? Will they be aware which direction they need to travel without taking the time to analyze their surroundings?While planning spawn points in advance can be difficult; it is important to remember that the way spawn points are placed is vital to how the map will flow. A player should have options straight off of his spawn, thus it is important to make sure that there is at least two paths from every spawn. Also it is important to check each and every spawn. Stand directly over the spawn, exactly copying what it will look like when the player spawns, and then consider exactly what a player could do with the spawn you have given them against various scenarios. Alternatively, you could kill yourself repeatedly. Things to keep in mind when placing spawn points. You should be pointed towards a possible path; you should be able to run straight forwards for 2-3 seconds without turning at all. In addition, put yourself in the shoes of a player who doesn't know the map. What options do you have? The player should never be completely hopeless. In general a spawn point should point towards a point of interest, such as an objective or a power weapon. It is bad form to point a player towards their own base and will often confuse and frustrate a player by doing so. Always give them an objective when they spawn. This can be especially useful in situations where players are not finding your weapons, having a spawn pointed at them will almost guarantee that they will happen upon it. The counter to this is that if a power weapon is over used, don't have spawn points directed at it or too close to it and it's use will decrease. Objective planning is similar. Make sure attacking and defending teams both have at least three options, and that each of these options have varying pros and cons. Often this fits directly into flow, but objectives offer some variations on the normal flow. A flag can be thrown down a higher area into a more open run, or can sneak around. The defense should have options as well. Once a flag is taken or a bomb is armed, what possibilities do they have? Again, make sure they are all different. There should rarely be a case where the defense has very little chances of success of returning or disarming. And of course, neutral objectives should be even for both sides. One last point we'd like to make: in most cases, don't put your objectives in corners! It's amazing how many maps make this mistake, not only does it limit flow possibilities for both teams, it turns the corners into camping areas and renders them highly susceptible to grenades. Some map designs require it, but this a rare occasion and should be avoided unless you've really thought about making this decision.Aesthetics often play a major role in the player's decision on where they choose to go. If we look at typical play styles, a player is generally reluctant to move from a normal hot spot of the map, even if it means getting to a higher point. This tends to only happen if they have a long ranged weapon. There are some important points to think about here also. Players want roam to run around, even if only in a small area. A cramped tower is much less likely to be used than one that is well spaced and flows well with the rest of the map. Never throw a random sniper tower to the side of a map, assuming that people will want to use it because it's a high tower. Expanding on this; a bland, basic area of the map will often be used less than a nice looking one, particularly by new players. The designer can use these visual cues to direct players to places they want. One mistake often made is "mounting" weapons on walls. Though this looks great and can often work wonderfully for more basic items, if the weapon or equipment is poking out sideways it can get in the way, and if the item is pushed to the wall (as it normally is), it can be hard to find if the player does not know the map. Therefore, if you want players to go to your power weapons, make them obvious to find. Exhibit them to the whole map, not just those who are standing right next to it. Consider the Rockets on The Pit, for example. They can't be seen from a large amount of the map's area, but as long as you are on the long hall/needler area you can see when they have respawned without being right next to them.Continuity is an "uninterrupted connection or union", and should not be confused with our earlier discussions on cover and structures or flow. Continuity means players make choices based on the choices available on the map. Good continuity lets players choose routes that will always lead to the destination they had in mind. Whether the destination is to flank an enemy position or a route to the opposing team’s high ground. Every part of the map the player can walk on has a specific purpose and eventually leads to a specific place on the map. A path/tunnel or corridor that appears, in terms of its direction, to lead to a given area of the map, but actually curves around and leads to a different area, can be confusing to players.The Pit is truly one of the greatest Halo maps of all time. There has never been a design that uses so many staple Halo weapons and play styles and combines them so well. You could spend a week looking at every part of it and appreciating it for how great of a map it really is. For this example we'll try and analyze what the designers were thinking and how this great map came about. FlowThe Pit generally plays towards BRs and Snipers, or mid to long range weapons. That doesn't exclude anything else, like the Sword, but close range is obviously not the main gameplay focus. There is enough variety of close, medium, and long range routes to keep the player on their toes. Let's take a look at some closer examples. How many times have you been rushing through the long hallway and just get demolished by grenades? Wouldn’t it make sense for Bungie to have put a block there so that wouldn’t happen? We realize that this aspect is built in to the design. By having the longest and straightest path to the enemy base, this encourages the player to subconsciously try to get there as fast as possible, although they know the risk. This is made fair and fun due to the fact that you’re rewarded by getting there faster than anyone else with the rockets, but with a high risk of dying. This is bluntly called "risk vs. reward." When looking at The Pit there are either 3 or 4 main routes. Each route should have a different advantage and disadvantage, height advantages, weapon spawns, line of sight to popular areas, etc. The hard part is not just balancing these, not to encourage even use, but so that each one has a different and interesting playstyle that all come together for a fun experience. A great example of this is "Runway" on The Pit (where the overshield is); it obviously is not a place that's good for slaying, being it has few lines of sight and field of vision to anything important, however it is an excellent flank, most particularly to the sniper tower. A sniper usually has his field of vision trained on the more traffic-heavy parts of the map on the opposite side. Another interesting point is that routes to an area have an effect on how it’s used. For example, let's examine the shotgun cave or sniper tower from The Pit. It is obvious that these places encourage players to use their respective weapons. These only have two main routes to them thus the foot traffic is naturally low, but increases due to the power weapons effect. If you want players to be moving to other areas of the map, they tend to have more paths such as each sides "Training" on The Pit). Knowing where you want players moving is what player movement is all about. Lines of SightWe can see how The Pit has a wide variety of sight lines. Though the cross map sniper battles from the tower, to the narrow and dangerous sword room. Each of these sight lines allow for a good variety of gameplay and excitement. We can learn a lot about the effect the sniper has on the map by examining one point in particular, the sniper tower. From the sniper tower the player can have a view of essentially their entire side, though the view of the oppositions base is drastically limited. This accomplishes two things, the first being so that the player is not able to dominate the entire map from one spot the entire game, which lends itself to the second, that the player is forced to leave his perch to find the enemy when they become wise and avoid his position. By providing a series of safe routes for the players to use the sniper tower's power is severely limited. This encourages map flow by directing players to certain areas to both prevent and defend against snipers. The sword room also provides an interesting assortment of lines of sight. The first and most obvious is the back hallway where a sword can dominate. This is cleverly countered by a long line of sight from training and green box where players can throw grenades and shoot in at a safe distance. This balance allows the area to be both powerful and vulnerable in a way that makes the gameplay fun. CoverThe Pit is a great example of a map that uses natural cover very effectively and in a way that works well throughout. Only in a few notable places do we see the addition of cover. The first obvious point is training's "Corner." This simple design allows for a safety area from the sniper tower or sword room, but as it has opening it is very easy to detect when a player is there. This makes it so the player must move from the area quickly or risk being spotted and grenaded out. The natural cover of The Pit shows us how important elevation changes are in a map. Simply by lowering the middle parts of The Pit it allows the player an alternate route to move around without being easily detected from other areas on the map. The height of the sniper is countered by the elevated height of the rocket tunnel entrance. This use of high and low areas allows The Pit to play dynamically and uniquely every time. Spawns and ObjectivesThe spawns on The Pit are well laid out to encourage the flow of the map. In general the spawns are weighted such that the players will spawn at the higher portion near green box or the shotgun tunnel. This is by design as this area is intended to be the highest trafficked area. The designers knew that as most battles would take place in this are they want to allow players the quickest routes back upon respawn. In order to prevent spawn trapping the second alternate spawn area is below the sniper tower. This area is less used, though serves important functions to separate the base into two distinct spawn zones. If we analyze the spawns further we'd notice how they always point towards a main route or looking at a power weapon/equipment. Even in some cases spawning directly on the overshield. The objectives on The Pit were obviously something the designers had in mind from the start. Getting the iconic callout, "The Pit," describes the room in which the objective will spawn. If we look closer at this we can see how the objective is located in the center of the room with two main routes in or out. The third route is through the front but requires a teammate to catch the objective or a box to jump out on. This balance makes it a challenge to get the objective both in an out, but not an impossible one. Points of Interest and ContinuityThere are a few main points of interest on this map. The first plays a crucial role in the map design even though it could be argued it was added as an afterthought, "The Green Box." This point on the map plays a very crucial role. It offers a safety zone from the sniper tower while still providing a variety of routes. The player could choose to continue through green tunnel to acquire the Active Camo, continue to the long hallway to get the rockets, or move down the map towards Training to flank the opponents. This point is something that the player is naturally drawn to due to it's color and size. This simple use of aesthetics plays a huge role in how the map ultimately plays. Continuity on The Pit is rather obvious. A friend said it best when he described a map as being "Wheel Chair Accessible". Every point is walkable by more than one route, even though every route is not necessarily connected. If we look again at the "Runway" we can see how this route connects both sniper towers through a safety route, while still having a connection to the middle of the map. If that middle route was not there this route would have been dangerous to the point where it would rarely or never be used. Guardian is a spiritual successor to Lockout of sorts. Being primarily designed around a center "circle" the map itself plays very uniquely to even it's predecessor and is definitely amongst the top ranking halo maps.FlowIf we look at an overview of Guardian we can see how the major player movement is designed to move in a counterclockwise circle. Now this doesn’t mean that it’s the only way people will go, but it’s actually the basis on which the map runs. The uniqueness of Guardian - it's counterclockwise movement, use of low and high routes, and successful mancannons - is what makes it so intriguing and fun to play. From this we can see an emergence of 4 major "bases". The sniper tower, Green platform, Gold room, and blue room. Each of these areas plays a major role in how Guardian flows. In general the play tends to focus heavily around controlling sniper tower or gold lift, but as Guardian has a tendency to support close range combat this is not it's only function. There is plenty of opportunities for flanking due to the assortment of low and high routes. Lines of SightBeing a room-based map the lines of sight on Guardian are broken up well and efficiently. There is a good assortment of long line of sights from the sniper tower and bottom of sniper tower to gold. The number of long lines are contrasted by the increased number of short ones such as green platform, blue room, and gold room. These short sight lines help to encourage the use of short range weaponry, which outnumbers the long/medium range weapons. The shotgun, hammer, and mauler play a critical role in how the map ultimately plays out. However, controlling the sniper rifle is very important as essentially the entire upper portion of the map can be controlled with it. CoverGuardian is another example of a map that relies on it's natural cover without the need for extra cover in most cases. Only in a few points do we see the addition of cover which is cleverly blended into the map itself. The first of which being the cover around the hammer.This cover is useful in a number of ways. The first being that it slightly breaks up the lines of sight between the bottom of sniper tower and the bottom of gold room. The second being that it provides cover in the likely event that a battle takes place between green platform and hammer. This cover is definitely an important element of the map design and without it the map would play very differently in these areas.The second use of cover is the trees on green platform. Again a very important use of cover to break up the sight lines between elbow and green platform. This makes it more difficult for a sniper to control the map from elbow and thus forces him to a higher location, where everyone on the map can easily see him. Without this cover it would be possible for a sniper to control elbow very easily and make a flank extremely difficult. The third use of cover is the glass window that protects blue room from the sniper tower. Without this critical piece of cover the sniper would be able to dominate the entirety of the upper portion of the map. By using this glass window a player could place shots on a sniper in the tower while still having a safety zone to retreat to when the situation turns against them. This window is very vulnerable from the green tree thus has a good balance of power and weakness that forces players to act fast and move on. Spawns and ObjectivesAs Guardian is an asymmetric map, spawning and objective balance is much more difficult. One team should not feel at a disadvantage by spawning at one side versus another. It is also important to have a good spawn spread so that predicting the spawns is difficult. Each of the main area on the map has a balanced assortment of spawns, with the main rooms having a higher weighting than the connecting walkways. This means that players will tend to spawn in one of four critical areas, while still having backup spawns in the event that each of these rooms is compromised. The objectives on Guardian are definitely something to take notice of. If we look at the transition between Lockout and Guardian we can see why they chose to take it in a different direction. In Lockout the flag spawned on the elbow, which made it difficult to move it away from. This played well due to the emphasis on short range combat. In Halo 3, the emphasis is more on medium to long range and if the flag was placed on the elbow then the player would have had an incredibly hard time moving it to a safer location. To help fix this problem they made the elbow the return point and placed the flag underneath blue room. By doing this they accomplished a balanced location that provides the player with a multitude of possibilities. The player could choose to run it towards the lift, which would take them to sniper and a short safe route to the flag. The downside of this being that that they would be very vulnerable while traveling through the man cannon. The second alternative is to take it up the ramp to blue window and run across the middle. Another short route but this requires that the attacking team controls the upper portion of the map. The final possibility is to take it back down towards gold room. This is the "safest" of all the routes as the flag runner is well covered, though the danger being that they will be running into the defense's major spawn areas. Points of Interest and ContinuityThe two main points of interest on Guardian are the sniper tower and gold room. The sniper tower is a very important location as it houses the sniper rifle and a sort of sniper perch. With the right skill set a player could control a large portion of the map from this location. This makes it very important to either control or prevent the other team from controlling this area. The gold lift is also an important point of interest as it provides a good variety of close and medium range combat and houses the active camouflage. The camo plays an important role in balancing the sniper's power so it is important that the player controls one or the other of these power items. It is also easy to defend gold room as they are somewhat protected from the sniper tower and can monitor 2 of the 4 main routes in by listening for the lift sounds. Being a circular flow map, the continuity is easy to identify. As the player could walk in a complete circle around the map it is important to connect routes together to provide enough variety so that they don't. The middle platform is an obvious connection point that connects the four main rooms with the quickest routes. As these routes are vulnerable from the sniper tower another combination of lower routes help to connect the map together without being too vulnerable. This combination of quick and dangerous, and slow and protected is one of the reasons that Guardian plays so well for almost all gametypes. While map design is of course an abstract business, designing of your own maps is even more so. We'll go through the process that the authors go through, and it should be noted that any way works fine if it works for you.Designing your map requires an understanding not just of what we've put above, but of the mentality that it gives you. You should be able to take any given map and break it down to it's core elements, and say what parts are what, why, and how it works. Depending on the person, this will often take anywhere from a day or two to weeks or months to truly understand. Once you've got that under your belt, you're ready to start designing your own maps.The first thing you want to envision is how the players will move through the map, or path planning. This can be done as simply as a 2D sketch with major path lines planned. The idea is that it's vague, but shows where I want my players to be moving around, and shows the basis of map movement. It's quite simple, but without one of these at least in your head, your map can be significantly worse. Your basic paths should be simple and well-thought out, from our example, The Pit has 3 or 4 major paths. All of these offer wildly different possibilities. Alternative paths are wonderful, and you're free to work with those, but for now we're only talking about major flow.Once you've got your flow down, you'll want to think about how people will interact with each other by lines of sight, field of vision, and height differences. Try to envision yourself in this kind of blocky, empty map, and what kind of gameplay you'd like to see yourself playing. Then, just think about how that gameplay can be encouraged by your design. Lines of sight, field of vision, and height differences can help that enormously.Well, we hope you've enjoyed our Forging 201 on the knowledge portion of map design. Remember that the point of this isn't to give you a set of information, but to start you in the right mindset. There's no way to ever know everything in map design; it's a constant learning and thinking process that we're hoping this may possibly spark.If it's clear you've got the drive and enough smarts to think through all the stuff above, that's all you'll need to be great at map design. Source: https://www.forgehub.com/threads/map-design-theory-knowledge.97349/ Follow Insane54 Website: https://halocustoms.com/ Follow Mick Raider Twitter: https://twitter.com/VincentTorre Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  4. Introduction The purpose of this document is to provide guidance and insight for designers who are creating or working on a multiplayer level. I will address such topics as Flow, Item Placement, Initial Design, Architecture, and Testing. Although Capture the Flag and other team games are rarely addressed specifically throughout this document, because they are typically for a minimum of four players (two teams of two), with a higher number more often being the case (e.g. 4 on 4, 6 on 6). That being said, many of these guidelines will apply to those types of games as well. (The major new issue in a cooperative/team game is how the new goals will affect gameplay. For example, if capturing the flag and returning to your base is more important than killing your opponents, then a speed power-up may become more important than a better weapon. For another example, consider a location in the map that might be very difficult to hold in free-for-all play, but would become very easy to control for two teammates.) There are many accepted design principles that apply to level design in general. These will not be discussed in depth in this document, and include such things as: Attention to detail. Use of a consistent theme. Effective use of sound and lighting to convey an atmosphere. Sufficient time on either end of the design curve (i.e. planning and testing). However, there are many aspects of the multiplayer experience that can be handled incorrectly if approached from a single-player point of view. This will often result in the production of lower quality, unbalanced, poorly planned levels that will provide a disappointing multiplayer experience. For emphasis: You cannot reliably design good multiplayer levels from a single player point of view. Since overall level flow and item placement are two of the ways in which multiplayer level design differs most dramatically from single player level design, these two aspects will be mentioned first, then followed by more general design principles. Important: The following design guidelines in this document are general rules. As with all general rules, there are always exceptions and special cases. Sometimes good level designers can ignore some of these guidelines and produce excellent levels... but it's not the way to bet. Flow For purposes of this document, flow is defined as a combination of direction of movement, speed of movement, and pace of movement through a level. In a level with an extremely high degree of flow, a player will be able to move at a relatively consistent pace from any area of the level to another with a minimum of dramatic changes in direction and speed. In a level with poor flow, there will be starts and stops, awkward geometry to navigate, edges and corners to get stuck on, and many dead-end areas. Multiple entrances and exits Ideally, any major area in a level should have at least two (and preferably at least three) ways in or out (e.g. a room might have two hallways leading into it, a ledge above it that the player can drop from, and hole in the floor that a player can jump into to get to another area (three ways in, three ways out). To explore the idea of multiple entrances and exits, and the resulting effects on gameplay a bit further, imagine a room like the one below. "W" is a powerful weapon, and "H" is a health kit, and the room has exits/entrances on the north and east walls, and is somewhat flat and unremarkable: It's relatively simple in this particular example for a player to "camp" the weapon by standing in the corner and keeping a sharp eye on both doorways, attacking any player who tries to enter, and using the health kit to counterbalance any damage he or she might have received. Keep in mind that this "camper" does not have quite the same advantage that he would in a typical first person shooter (i.e. It's much more difficult to be sneaky in a game where the other player can easily look at your part of the split screen to see where you are), but it's still a tactic that can have a significant effect on gameplay. Consider the change below: Another door has been added on the west, the health has been moved to the NW corner, and the weapon has been moved to the south wall. Three doorways across a much wider field of view are more difficult to watch than two, and if the player still tries to camp the weapon, he or she has to move back and forth a bit more to obtain the health. This also leaves the camper open to attack by two or more other players from radically different directions (and it's much more difficult to watch what two or three people are doing on the split screen than it is to watch what one person is doing). For another approach, consider the following: The weapon has been moved to a spot between the two doorways where any player who moves through that corner of the room can quickly grab it, and the health is now by itself in the SW corner. Above the health is a shaft from the room above--impossible to travel up, but easy to see down and jump down. This produces some interesting gameplay possibilities and tactics. If a player is camping the weapon, he can be attacked easily through either doorway, and will find it difficult to watch both doorways at once. Suppose he decides to wait in the far corner, picking up health if he needs it, and ambush a player trying to get the weapon? It may work once or twice, but when his opponent catches on, the player will be attacked from a position of relative safety above, or his opponent will simply pay more attention to the player's position via the split screen. Relatively simple changes in room design and item placement can produce much more complex and flexible gaming situations. Note that teleporters, which instantly whisk a player from place to place, can serve to increase connectivity and flow within a level if the level geometry itself is uncooperative. However, teleporters are also easily abused by being used as a quick fix for substandard level design that shouldn't have seen the light of day in the first place. Clipping Geometry "Invisible boxes", "clip brushes", "see-through walls"--different terms for unseen geometry that aids the player in navigating through the level with minimal difficulty. Ideally, this aid should be of the subtle variety--anything that is too intrusive might distract the player from any immersion in the game world that has been created. For example, if there is a slightly protruding arch in a hallway that players tend to get caught on when moving down the hallway, the designer could place an invisible box along the length of the hallway on both sides with the inner plane of the box flush with the inner edge of the arch. What if the arch sides didn't protrude slightly, but instead stuck quite far into the hallway? A box that kept the player from getting anywhere near the wall would be an obvious and blatant "fix", but the designer could place a wedge-shaped brush on the near and far edges of both sides of the arch to gently force the player out and around the arch as they passed by. *Note: The use of clipping geometry will differ somewhat depending on whether the game in question is first person or third person. Something that might work well, and feel relatively unobtrusive from a first person point of view, might be very obvious and clumsy when experienced from a third-person perspective (and vice versa). This is just one area where a great deal of playtesting and feedback is essential. Dead ends In general, dead ends are a bad idea in any multiplayer level for a number of reasons: Dead ends promote poor flow. If a player has to stop or do a U-turn at the end of a dead end passage, then that area is somewhat awkward and clumsy. Dead ends are boring and/or frustrating. The player has to travel back through an area that he or she has just seen. Dead ends can easily result in "no-win" situations for a player. If he or she is trapped in a dead-end, there is no option for a tactical retreat. However, although the preceding points are generally true, in specific situations dead-ends can be useful (e.g. a powerful weapon or item can be placed in a dangerous dead-end in order to properly balance the value of the item with the risk involved in obtaining it). Summary: Have two (and preferably three) ways in and out. Think "outside the box". There are always multiple solutions to a level design problem. Use clipping geometry to aid flow and navigation. Use dead ends sparingly and for very specific reasons. Keep lines of sight in mind, and be aware that different camera views can produce unusual situations. Item Placement Poor item placement can turn an otherwise solid multiplayer level into an unbalanced and irritating gaming environment and can interfere dramatically with flow. Excellent item placement can add much-needed spice to an otherwise forgettable level, and accentuate the architecture and environment that has been created. The items in a multiplayer environment can be divided into four basic types: Offensive Items (e.g. weapons, ammo) There is generally a maximum amount of damage that a player is able to inflict in a given period of time in a given situation. Offensive items increase that amount. Defensive Items (e.g. health, armor) Defensive items increase the amount of damage that a player is able to endure, make that damage have less effect on the player, or allow the player to avoid those effects. Special/Other Items (e.g. binoculars, mine sweeper, jet pack) These are items that can somehow change the balance of the game in a way that isn't purely offensive or defensive (but could strengthen offense or defense for a player, depending on the player's particular situation). Team Items These are items that somehow affect game goals in cooperative play. The best-known example would be the flags in traditional two-team Capture the Flag. Flags are traditionally placed in two opposing bases that often have the same layout, geometry, and item placement (to more easily avoid giving one team a subtle advantage over the other). As a side note: As previously mentioned, this document does not focus on capture the flag (and similar games) to any great degree. However, one of the simplest ways to introduce a CTF-like element into a map for fewer players is to have some single power item or power spot on the map that a player gets points for holding or capturing. Item Quantity and Placement There is a fine balance to item quantity. There should be enough items to make it relatively easy to get the most basic necessities (e.g. basic weapons, some degree of health/protection), but not so many items that the challenge is eliminated and the player is stumbling over some new item every few steps. Generally, there should be fewer of the more powerful items in a level. There would be no reason to pick up the weaker items if there was a better item nearby. The more rare and powerful items can also be placed in locations that are more difficult and/or more dangerous to reach. There is nothing necessarily wrong with placing a powerful item in plain sight in the middle of the level where it is easily reachable by all the players. This placement in itself can add an element of danger as players wait nearby, simply watching the item, and attack other players as they approach. Just realize that much of the action will occur around that powerful item, and that there should be sufficient incentive for players to travel to other parts of the level. Powerful items can also be used to "balance" the level. In other words, if there is a powerful item or weapon at a certain location within a level, a good designer will be likely to put a similarly powerful item or weapon in another area of the level. This accomplishes three things: It makes it less effective to try to "camp" either item. It encourages players to move gameplay around the level. It makes it harder for a player to continually have both items and more easily control the game. Finally, some weapons can be placed in such a way that they are not only balanced to some extent, but also encourage more game flow and movement through a level. One simple example would be to place a sniper rifle in an enclosed area in the depths of a level--in order to make the best use of it, a player would have to get the item, and then travel up to the top of a high tower to get the best vantage point from which to snipe at other players. Ammunition and Minor Item Placement The placement of ammunition (if it exists in the game separately from the weapons), and the placement of minor items can be a much more subtle process then the placement of powerful items, and can be approached in different ways. Furthermore, many of the fine points will be very dependent on specific game mechanics. For example, a game with differing levels of health (or healing potion, or whatever generic "more life" item it happens to have) can have a much more complicated and "fine-tuned" item layout than a game with only one type of healing item. If a game has multiple weapon types and multiple ammo types (or even multiple ammo types for each weapon), this will result in more fine-tuning and more complicated decisions for the designer. A good general rule to remember is that if a player has everything he/she needs in one area, then there's little reason (gameplay-wise) to leave that area and explore the rest of the map. Item Setting It can add significant atmosphere and "feel" to a level if the items are placed in appropriate settings, and not just strewn about in relatively equidistant spots. One good (albeit subjective) rule of thumb: Every area of a level should be attractive enough for a player to want to visit it. Creating a proper item setting is a much more subjective process than some of the ideas that have been mentioned previously, as it deals with artistry and aesthetics rather than easily quantifiable factors such as damage and movement. Items, especially powerful items, are best placed like a gemstone placed in a ring. Impressive and/or detailed geometry, eye-catching lighting, or even props and other items can all be combined to create a memorable setting for items. Camping Revisited As was touched on above, it is very easy to create a situation in a multiplayer level wherein a powerful item (or even a not-so-powerful item) is placed in such a way that it is very easy to defend once it's obtained, and a player can "camp-out" at that location and dominate others who attack that position or try to get that item. For example, a machine-gun with a large supply of ammo and a health kit are placed at the end of a long corridor, behind a pillbox with a small "gunner slot" to shoot through. A player can stay there for a long time racking up victories with relative ease. While this example is an extreme one for illustrative purposes, it is easy to make this mistake in more subtle ways. This mistake becomes less likely if the designer uses the "at least two ways out" guideline, and incorporates some sort of vulnerability into every major item placement. Item Placement and Player Start Locations There seem to be two schools of thought on placement of player start locations relative to weapons and items, the first being: "Players should have to work to get good items/weapons. Gameplay becomes boring when players always have access to all the good items immediately upon starting a level." The opposing point of view goes something like: "When it's a difficult process to get good items and weapons, then the player who wins any particular skirmish always has the advantage, since he/she already has all the good stuff, and the defeated player has to restart, recollect items, and possibly fight off a beefed-up opponent while doing so." There is no clear answer or definitive formula to resolving this issue. Both points have some validity, and it will usually be safest to try to place your player spawn points while keeping both these points in mind. This is an issue that is usually resolved best with a great deal of playtesting. Ideally, player start locations should be placed with the following additional things in mind: Player starts should not be in a direct line of sight with each other. If they are, this potentially eliminates a major part of a good multiplayer game: maneuvering and responding based on where your opponent is (or where you think he is), and reacting to his movements with appropriate strategy or tactics. Player starts should be placed in places that are "off the beaten path" to some extent. It can put a player at an unfair disadvantage if he/she appears in the middle of a central combat area in the level, and can be frustrating if he/she is immediately defeated before gaining any real momentum. There should always be at least two nearby exits from any player start location. A player spawning into the game in a no-win situation (because a beefed-up opponent has them trapped in a dead end) is simply a result of poor level design. Secrets Finally, placing items in "secret" locations is generally a bad idea in multiplayer levels, since there will often be one or more players who don't know how to obtain the item (bad enough), but may be unaware that it even exists (worse). This sets up a dynamic wherein one player can easily dominate another player or players, only because of the "insider" knowledge that he or she possesses, and results in a blatantly unfair situation which can frustrate and anger players. (Note that I am not referring to items that are simply very difficult to obtain. If everyone knows where it is, it isn't a secret.) Again, although the preceding is generally true, there are some ways to make secrets work in a limited way in multiplayer games: The secret shouldn't be a "game-winner". A secret that gives someone an overwhelming advantage in a game = bad idea. A secret that helps a player slightly, or that simply gives some background color, or information of some kind about the game world = good idea. Secrets that are a relative "one-shot" (i.e. once the secret is discovered, pretty much all the players will know about it) are much less unbalancing. Secrets that have a random factor can work. These can be fun without being too unbalancing. For example, suppose there's a somewhat out-of-the-way spot where a powerful weapon will appear 5% of the time instead of the regular health that appears the rest of the time. Further suppose that there is no additional ammo for the weapon, and that there is no other weapon of this type in the level. This results in a player randomly finding this weapon on rare occasion and only using it for a very short time (thus being likely to establish no serious advantage). In a situation like this, "insider" information can be fun and can produce some interesting gameplay situations (as players begin to shadow the other player trying to find out where the "odd" weapon came from). Summary: • Balance item quantity carefully--enough items, but not too many. • Use powerful items sparingly and in a balanced way. • Spread minor items out, and avoid all-in-one locations. • Place items in a setting to be more aesthetically pleasing. • Make locations of powerful items dangerous or vulnerable. • Handle secrets with care to avoid unbalanced gameplay. Initial Design The initial design process can be a dramatically different one for different designers. Some individuals greatly enjoy it, because it allows them to visualize the level in broad strokes and come up with various ideas without necessarily needing to address some of the more "tedious" or "exacting" details that will appear near the end of the construction process. Other designers struggle to come up with a new and creative idea, or a broad outline, but excel in providing the fine points of a level's look and feel. Some level architects plan out their levels in exacting detail on grid paper beforehand, or work from detailed concept sketches, while others simply start from scratch, allowing ideas to evolve as they work. Both approaches have their pros and cons: A high level of preplanning assures that the designer won't wander off down the wrong track and possibly waste a great deal of time and energy, but can also stifle creativity and force a designer into "mental blinders" that reduce his or her potential. Summary: Everyone has their own way of working... but don't be afraid to think "outside the box" of your own habits, and possibly discover methods that will work better for you. Also, don't assume that work habits that were effective with one set of tools/one game/one design process will work well all the time. General Testing and Game Mechanics Testing is at least as important in multiplayer levels as it is in single player levels, and some would say that it's more important because the actions of a group of players are more unpredictable than the actions of a single player. While multiplayer levels are simpler in some ways than single player levels, players in a multiplayer setting can try new things (and find new problems) that might not have occurred if they were playing alone. Some design questions become exponentially more complicated when designing levels with a multiplayer focus. A few of the basic points to consider in testing and game mechanics: Testing Start Locations If you are one person testing a multiplayer level, it's easy to overlook non-functional or flawed start locations, especially if the start location is not always randomized, and if you do not have any sort of artificial opponents. Always make sure all start locations work consistently and correctly. Gameplay habits We all have a tendency to do things in a certain way, and repeat habits. The only way to be sure that the gameplay in a level isn't broken in some major way is to have the level playtested by someone (preferably many players) other than the designer. That being understood, you can at least playtest better as a designer by doing everything you can to break up your habits--if you find yourself always following a particular path in a level, then consciously go another way. Pretend that you haven't memorized every nook and cranny, and try to play like a new player: "Gee, I wonder what's over here..." Try to look at your map with new eyes, and you will often find problems or possibilities that you didn't realize were there. Gameplay mechanics Be aware that all games--even all multiplayer combat games--have different (sometimes radically different) gameplay mechanics. A couple of notable examples: Camera Angle Lines of sight are as important in multiplayer level design as they are in single player level design. Being able to see an enemy, or be seen by an enemy, is a key factor to victory. When playing from a third-person perspective (again, depending to some extent on camera movement) it's relatively easy to see where players are in relation to one another, and, if you are in a relatively high position, to potentially get a bird's-eye perspective on the entire field of play. In addition, when you are in a low position in a third-person game, it can be quite difficult to see what is above you when compared with a first-person game. When playing a first-person game, your field of view is limited horizontally to approximately 90 degrees, so losing track of your opponent can happen in the literal blink of an eye. In a first-person game, it's pretty much impossible to see anything that your in-game character wouldn't be able to see (i.e. you see through the character's eyes). In a third-person game, the circumstances involved in having a third-person camera view that doesn't necessarily change consistently with player movement can result in a variety of unusual possibilities at any given moment: If it's a console game, no players can see the others directly, but everyone still knows where all the players are by looking at split screens. No players can see the others directly, but players can shoot the other players (e.g. with a weapon like the grenade launcher or mortar that can shoot in an ascending-descending arc). Players can see each other directly, but players can't shoot each other. (This can happen if the players are positioned in such a way that the camera sees around a corner or over an obstacle for each player.) One player can see and shoot at another player without it being possible for the other player to see him directly, or hit him with return fire. (This could happen if, for instance, a player had a high vantage point, and was behind an obstacle of some sort. Direct fire from the other player would hit the obstacle, and arcing fire would either overshoot or collide with other geometry.) Line of sight issues are further complicated by the fact that any player might be able to kneel or drop prone at any time, which could change any of the above situations. It is also possible in some third-person games for a player to change the camera angle without actually moving (by rotating the camera in place). This makes it possible to stand facing in one direction, but keep a 360-degree watch. This would, of course, only provide an advantage in certain situations, and if you have the control skills to make it useful. Also, consider the effect of ground cover on combat. In a first-person game, the heavy use of ground cover (e.g. bushes, low walls, obstacles) can easily obscure the field of play and add a hide-and-sneak element, emphasizing the importance of accurate prediction of an opponent's tactics. In a third person game with any sort of height to the camera angle, this sort of ground cover is more of a simple obstruction to movement than a serious influence on tactics and strategy. These issues become very important to a level designer when questions about gameplay, balance, and tactics arise. Auto-Aiming For another example, consider the subject of auto-aiming. Auto-aiming (when the computer/game system does some of the work of aiming for the player), gives a very different feel to a skirmish, and a player must concentrate more on positioning, movement, and any other ways in which he or she can help the auto-aiming system along, and less on accurate crosshair positioning and shot-timing. Summary: Test extensively with real gameplay. Break up habits. Get another point of view. Alter your design to best utilize the specific gameplay mechanics and tactics that will be involved. Research To make good multiplayer levels, and to continue to grow in his or her skills, a designer needs to play lots of good multiplayer levels, and, unfortunately, the only way to play lots of good levels is to wade through even more levels that aren't so good. While you're playing a particular level, analyze what is working in that particular level--very simply, what makes that level good and not bad? If you don't know quite specific answers to that question, then you may not be able to create the same great gameplay and fun experience in your levels, and if you do, it may be by accident rather than by design. Finally, write things down. That may sound obvious and slightly juvenile, but you will not remember important things if you don't. I have a simple text file called "tips" that I just copy and paste tidbits of various kinds into--technical tips, design tips, interesting gaming anecdotes, "here's a great idea for a level" bits, obscure design facts, and so forth. If you have any doubt if you should put something in, go ahead and put it in, then review the file periodically and weed out things that are outdated, have lost their usefulness, or were just never quite as useful as you thought they might be. Summary: • Keep looking. • Keep learning. Source: http://www.robotrenegade.com/articles/multiplayer-level-design-guide.html *Note: This article is shared in full on Next Level Design in accordance with the Creative Commons Guidelines noted on the source site. Follow Patrick Website: http://www.pjwnex.us/ lvlworld: https://lvlworld.com/author/pjw 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 .galleria, .galleria-container { height:480px !important }
  5. Using CS:GO and Overwatch as the main foundations upon which to builds his case, Flusher shares his views on what makes a good competitive FPS map in this video: Here are the main points of discussion: Level Design is tied to Game Design Mobility and Perception (or Movement and Lines of Site) Loops Timing Management Skill Opportunities Follow Flusher Flusher on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSFm1rKp0SlfwFRowlFyq9Q/ Flusher on Twitter: https://twitter.com/FlusherTheDude?lang=fr