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  1. Follow Core Ideas Twitter: https://twitter.com/CoreIdeasYT YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLLJDyZ7kmJ8sgbuuc3oazg Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/CoreIdeas 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. Level design is something you almost always have to go through when making a game, but it’s one of the most overlooked segments of game production, especially on small/indie production teams. Here I’ll try to give some advice on how to make a good level design, by using examples from my own experience. I’ll mostly use recurring games as references (Bad Company 2 and Mirror’s Edge), because they are games I played a lot and feel comfortable mentioning, and because they have fairly different gameplays.WHERE TO START ? Mirror’s Edge The first step before making any “real” level design, is to put everything in perspective before going blindly in any direction. Define what actions are allowed (and what aren’t) by the game design of your specific game, then what intentions or constraints you want on your level. Focus on what makes your game unique. What can the player(s) do in the game? What elements of my game can harm, kill or put the player(s) close to the losing conditions? Is there a theme, or a particular focus I want to put in this level/area of a level? What mechanic stands out in my game? USE GUIDELINES TO TEST & CREATE YOUR LEVEL When making MAZE’s safe zone, we put some clear guidelines down: “We want the safe zone to be square-shaped, with one door on each side of this square, and it should not take more than 30 seconds to run from one side to the other. The safezone is also a “vegetation backup” so it should contain… vegetation.” From these precise directions, we made a huge, square shaped forest, with all the liberty to put any type of vegetation, terrain modifications, little landmarks… Editor view of the safe zone (the train wreckage at the left can be used for scale) Before asking a playtester, or just other people to give you feedback on your level, you must be able to clear your own mistakes and correct your level accordingly. To do so, define key points to help you create your level. It can also help you when testing the level on your own. Having precise constraints allows you to take more liberty to design around them. In my opinion, it’s better to have some rock-hard, definite constraints than no constraints at all, especially when making a game aimed at someone other than just yourself. It gives you directions, and you can be as free as you want on every other part of your level when creating it. DESIGN LEVELS SPECIFICALLY FOR YOUR GAMEThe more you design your level while keeping in mind your game design, the better it will be. An example of this can be seen clearly on Source games. When playing Counter Strike, try to play 2Fort (a Team Fortress 2 map) on a community server. You can also find any classic CS map on a custom TF2 server. If the map has not been altered, you’ll see that most of the depth of each map loses its value. It’s not as fun playing de_dust2 on TF2 as it is on CS. This is because dust2 was (brilliantly) designed with Counter Strike’s gameplay in mind, which is very different from Team Fortress 2’s. 2Fort — Team Fortress 2 Try to do the same for your levels: If your environments are imported in other games, they should not be as equally rewarding to experience than in their original game. If your level seems really classic, well, you fucked up. No harm done, but my advice at this point would be to delete completely the faulty level, erase its dullness from existence and start again, from scratch.USE REFERENCES FOR YOUR FUTURE LEVEL The most obvious references when designing a level are the visual ones. Find architectural drawings or photos who capture well what you want to implement in your environment. If you have some references & concept art used in your art direction, be sure to include them. Your artist(s) will be happy to see their work was not only used to be put on the studio walls to look cool. A reference for a level I’m working on(Photo by Asia Chmielewska) Here’s an easy trick that often pays off when I’m looking for references: If you find an image that you want to use as a reference, try to find the author of the picture. The artist’s style, eye, whatever you want to call it, will not be in the one picture you randomly found on Pinterest. Use it to your advantage. This is what I did with the photo above, and looked at other photos from Asia Chmielewska (check her out if you like architectural/urban photos she makes awesome photos). The main problem I had when making a paper level design (I’ll talk about it in literally one paragraph), is that slopes are cool, but they need to lead somewhere. So I found other references I can use to create what’s at the summit of the slope, and it will probably be super coherent because it was in the same photo collection. Neat.DESIGNING ON PAPER Once you have all this preparation part down, you can start actually designing the level… on paper. It’s way faster to iterate on paper than recreate your level digitally.  My point here is that you should find a "way" allowing you to design your level quickly, so you can iterate swiftly and easily change layouts, details etc. Most people would use paper, but if you prefer using Photoshop, Paint or woodworking, go for what is best for you. From this point on, I’ll drop different points and things I use to design levels, without any ranking. Once you are designing your level, iterating over and over again, you can use or focus on these points to help you enhance your design: VERTICALITY The intro cinematic of The Shard, Mirror’s Edge’s last level. The Shard is the tallest building in Mirror’s Edge’s city, and also the last level of the game. The introduction cinematic of the level gives you the feeling that you are against your biggest challenge, like if the building itself is the final boss. How? By making you enter from the parking underneath the overwhelmingly tall building. You haven’t even started playing this level, but you already know the stakes are high. One of the simplest elements that often separates a good level design from a bad one is verticality. Verticality creates, vantage points, Landmarks, Occlusion and Focal Points (see the other points below). Vantage points are really important to give exposition to your players. They are probably best used when creating a multiplayer map, as they can be fully utilized by players, whereas AIs usually aren’t advanced enough in games to use vantage points at their fullest. It still is important in single player games to give exposition to your players, give them a better view of what challenges will come next. It’s also a really easy way to give your player a powerful feeling. Anyone standing on top of something will tell you: you’re better here than if you were standing at ground level. Anatomically accurate representation of Verticality In MAZE, we use verticality to convey the aggressiveness and strength of the maze itself: The walls stand tall, trapping the players. The maze walls would look inoffensive if they were just too high for the player to vault over. In Mirror’s Edge, verticality is also used as an “enemy”: You have the cool, powerful feeling I described before when you are on top of a building, but you also know that if you slip, you’ll die. In short: Verticality is easy to use because it’s a natural feeling. Utilize it and don’t overthink too much.LANDMARKS Screenshots from the 3rd and 7th level, located at different places in Mirror’s Edge’s city The Shard (the big rectangular building) and the “multiple white tips” building are visible throughout the game and help players locate themselves inside the city. Valparaiso’s lighthouse (Bad Company 2) Most of Bad Company 2’s maps have a singular building, or setting, to help player differentiate the maps and also give them more personality. For example, Valparaiso’s landmark is its lighthouse. It’s probable that most players refer to Valparaiso as “the lighthouse map”. Landmarks are unique and memorable locations in your level. They help players locate themselves, in the level but also inside the whole game, and will make your area/level stand out.FOCAL POINTS The clear focal points (and landmarks) of Heavy Metal are the wind turbines. Heavy Metal is the biggest map in Bad Company 2. Heavy tanks fight each other while infantry tries to escape the firefight and go from one flag to another through areas with little to no cover, all while being careful about the choppers hovering over them. Wind turbines are scattered all along the area. Apart of being a memorable landmark, they are a really practical focal point: by looking at them, players watch the sky, and thus are reminded to be careful about the choppers in the area, as well as the many snipers who are waiting on top of the mountains on the edges of the map (and sometimes on the wind turbines). A simple focal point can change a lot on how people will experience a level. Put focal points wherever you want to guide the player’s eyes. From that point, you just have to choose how to make your focal point stand out. Going to extremes is the easiest way to go: Big, bright, colored.COVER/OCCLUSION Panama Canal — Bad Company 2 The Bad Company series offered a new way of designing cover, with a fully destructible environment. As you’re playing, walls explode, leaving players more and more vulnerable. Shootmania grids In Shootmania, you’ll often find grids in levels. You can’t shoot through them but can watch your opponents movements and give the info to your team. These grids offer cover, but no occlusion. Cover is about providing… cover (yay!) to the player(s), but can also be used to hide informations from them. It’s called occlusion. Cover and occlusion naturally happen whenever you put some solid object on your map, like a wall. You can’t shoot or see through them. You can create cover/occlusion with verticality (like the canal in the Bad Company 2 screenshot above), but also less tangible ones with lights, shadows, sounds, etc. Just think about providing interesting situations to your players. The more cover and less occlusion they’ll have, the safer they’ll feel. A simple situation involving cover in Mirror’s Edge: Players must take cover to the right to avoid being shot by the cops in the main hallway WORLD COHERENCE This industrial area seems functional. (Mirror’s Edge) Buildings in Bad Company 2 lack coherence. You can’t imagine that someone was living here. Make sure your environment is coherent with the game’s reality. To hem your level in the game world, it should always stay coherent: If your enemies are supposed to exist (as in “living THE LIFE”) inside a level, make sure the hallways are wide enough for them to use, that they have toilets and stuff like that. In the photo above, you can see that Bad Company 2 lacks coherence in its building interiors. It was probably done on purpose to offer better situations in mutliplayer. You sometimes have to sacrifice coherence to offer a better experience, but try to avoid finding yourself in these position. DESIGN COHERENCE Red is used to suggest a way to go to the player. The cop is in red too, so you know you’ll have to deal with him at some point. (Mirror’s Edge) In Mirror’s Edge, the red color is associated with Faith, the character embodied by the player, contrary to usual game codes with red being the color of negative stuff (enemies, traps…). Some areas are highlighted in red too guide the player in case he doubts what he should do. You’ll never see red used for something not related to Faith/the player. If the player is used to shooting red barrels every time he sees them because it has always given him some kind of reward, DO NOT create a new situation in the same level / area of the game where he might kill himself if he shoots a red barrel. It is important to be aware of the “codes” you put down on your game. Players are used to playing this way. Their behavior in games are heavily influenced by other games they previously played before trying yours. They will then confront these global video game codes to the first situations of your game, to try and figure what codes are applying to your game. You must be aware of the messages you convey, especially in your first levels, as they will be the bases the player relies on while experiencing the rest of the game. Think of your player as a child, with your game being his upbringing. If you send mixed messages to your kid early on, he’ll be really confused later. Be clear about your messages. Have great kids. One way to fix our red barrel problem, could be to change the color of the new barrel, so the player is aware that he should approach the situation a bit differently.CHOICES “Arland”: The first part Mirror’s Edge’s first level There are at least 4 possible routes to go over the electric fence: 1. Use the easy, suggested route and use a springboard (the red pipe) 2. Jump over on the right from the little chimney-thing 3. Wallrun then walljump from the wall on the left 4. Go to the middle roof on the left and jump over the fence from there These 4 choices are presented to the player in a smooth, binary way: you first have to choose whether you want to go to the right (1. and 2.), or to the left (3. and 4.). Then another binary choice is presented. It adds a lot of value to the level, while still leading to the same place. The player doesn’t feel trapped, or lost, when seeing this situation. Games are mostly about making choices, and Risk/Reward situations. Be sure to offer your players multiple approaches to the same situation. It adds replayability, and gives the player a better sense of freedom. Putting minor choices such as the one in Arland is also an easy way to prevent boredom for the players. Side note: Arland is at a point in the level where the player can take the time to choose his approach. On a chase scene later in the level the player shouldn’t, and doesn’t want to stop running: a unique & clear route is presented. ASSET LIST/ PRODUCTION LIST The same building is used all over the same area. And it’s not really a problem: people just want to shoot at each other. At some point you’ll have to start listing what props, sounds, effects and whatever other thingies you want to use on your level. That way, you can ask the qualified people if they can make these assets for you, or not. In this case, you’ll have to think about optimization, and modularity. Your assets should fit well with other assets, in order to have as many combinations as possible among them. FLOW Flow is a very important part of game and level design. I recommend that you check Jenova Chen’s thesis on flow. I can’t explain it better than him. Flow is mostly about making a level challenging enough for the player , without it feeling too hard to overcome. It is also about making sure the player doesn’t experience any snag: You have to make sure your player doesn’t get stuck on corners, or fails to interact with something etc. RHYTHM Rhythm is something I really like to focus on. It’s very close to the Flow and the Game Design itself. And just like Flow, it’s kinda hard to explain, as it’s really about feeling it. One way to feel it for me is to think about the inputs the Player will most likely do. Mirror’s Edge is very good for this. Most of the game revolves around muscle memory, and being in rhythm when doing runs over and over. Putting rhythm in your game will help players get into the Flow. CHOKE POINTS Isla Innocentes’ 2nd base — Bad Company 2 To arm the two objectives from Isla Innocentes’ 2nd base, infantry has to go through a narrow road, heavily defended by the opposite team. They can also try to attack by sea or land, but time has shown that the victory for this base is almost always determined inside the yellow zone on the image above. Whoever controls it wins the round. Choke points are the areas of your level where your opponents will most likely meet, and a big part of the fight will go there, with restrained movement. Counter Strike maps are all designed with choke points in mind. I would suggest you study these maps if you want to learn more about it. MULTIPLE I wrote “MULTIPLE”, all caps and everything, on my draft. It must have seemed very crucial at the time. So it’s staying here until I find what important piece of knowledge MULTIPLE refers to.CONTRAST — OUTSIDE INSPIRATION Mirror’s Edge Contrast is something vital in black & white photography. In order to have a more pleasing photo, and add depth, you have to think about alternating between dark and white zones. It’s a really precise thing, but a good segway to talk about using other medium’s rules. If you know rules used in photography, painting, cinema, or something else (gardening or sports for example), put them to use when designing your level! Of course every medium has its own rules and it’s better to design with them, but some of these rules may overlap, and it probably won’t have been done before.COLOR THEORY, COLOR HARMONY Same game, different areas, different moods, different colors. (Mirror’s Edge) The same level (Isla Innocentes) can relay a drastically different mood when changing atmospheric colors (Bad Company 2) Colors convey different emotions, and can be used to transcribe a specific mood you want to emphasize on your level. Having the same palette used in similar areas of your world is a good thing to do. You don’t need to use extremely different colors by level like in Mirror’s Edge, nuances always are a good option, and better than just throwing random colors around.BALANCE Balance is more important in multiplayer games than in solo ones. It’s about providing a fair encounter for all the players. The easiest way to balance your level is to use symmetry. But it’s been used over and over since the beginning of level design, so now we’re kinda forced to get more creative, and it’s for the best. If you give an advantage at one area of the map, using verticality or cover for example, be sure the other side also has the same kind of area somewhere else. N.B.: Most Counter Strike maps are not balanced (and mostly CT-sided), but the halftime alternation in the game design provides some sort of balance to the whole game. Seeing the big picture is important. Visual balance is also important in levels. Just like composition in other visual arts, most of the time you want to present balanced images to your player, and sometimes surprise him with a very harsh composition. Here again, symmetry is always the easy and sure way, but getting more creative to find balance is way more interesting for you and your players. DON’T TRY TO DO EVERYTHING AT ONCE Side note: During this scene, walls are left naked to encourage the player to use powerful wallrun kicks instead of pick a gun and shoot his way out. Mirror’s Edge run & gun gameplay is shitty: it lacks feedback, slows you down and is overall very limited and boring. It’s like the designer didn’t want you to use guns. And it’s the case. They made a design decision, and it payed off. The game distanced himself from other FPSs, by emphasizing the lightweight running and hand-to-hand combat. Your level and your game don’t need to be the best at every possible thing you can find in games.MENTAL MAPPING Arica Harbor — Bad Company 2 Arica Harbor is one of the most played map in Bad Company 2. There are many reasons to that, and one of them is the depth and various situations it offers, while staying simple. Players can locate themselves really easily. They have a mini-map, the A,B,Cflags appear at all times on the screen. Flags are aligned along the main road. There are different heights in the map (to add verticality), but it is painless to remember: It goes down like a stair, from the mountain to the sea. You should always be careful about your players mentally mapping your layouts, especially when making a game aimed at a large audience. The easier it is for a player to remember where he went, how the level is arranged, the better his experience will be. To facilitate mental mapping you can provide unique props or details to help differentiate between two almost identical hallways, put floor numbers in stairs, vantage points, landmarks, focal points etc. Keeping the same logic throughout a level also helps a lot. If your game involves backtracking, mental mapping goes from important to REALLY FUCKING IMPORTANT. No-one wants to get lost in a game, trying to find an exit. Make sure you are helping the players as much as possible to avoid frustration.CUT THE NOISE As fun and tempting as it can be for a level designer, you shouldn’t add too much to your environment. Having dull and empty areas is not a good thing, but over-saturating it with props everywhere will just make it worse. Details in your map must not come in the way of playability. DO WHAT YOU ARE “Leper Squint” At the end of the day, you should still feel that the level you designed comes from you. These points are important, but it’s the only one you should always respect. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to make your level/game feel different, or look like a particular style, it will never feel unique unless you invest a part of yourself in what you create. . . . . . Alright, that was my advice on level design. I’m a piece of shit, so some of these points might seem wrong to other gamedevs, or wrongly named etc. But hey, feel free to call me out on it, or write your own advice piece. I like talking about LD in general so whether you have a different opinion, or are a beginner seeking advice, drop me a DM, a comment, a mail, shout my name really loud… be original, I’m not going to list all your options. Although they’re here. - Niels . . . . . *This article has been posted in its entirety with permission from the author Original Source: medium.com/ironequal/practical-guide-on-first-person-level-design-e187e45c744c Follow Niels: Website: fuckgamedev.itch.io/ Twitter: twitter.com/fuckgamedev
  3. This is the second part of a three part series of articles dealing with level design in action adventure games. Part 1 described Level Flow Diagrams, that act as the core of the level brief provided to a team by the Leads. Part 2 describes a process of expanding that brief into a detailed level plan. This stage of the process is most often carried out by a cross-discipline team of designers, artists and coders, who will expand the level brief into a detailed level plan, but this process can equally be the next step that an individual designer takes when designing a level solo. A Note on CollaborationDelegation and teamwork are vital given the scale of modern console development. Without them, leads become bottlenecks that slow development and sap motivation.The current trend is towards agile development whereby scrums are given ownership of individual problems. This has many advantages over the old waterfall methodology, but there is one pitfall to watch out for with peer-only teams.If a group of peers go into a room with the goal of making design decisions, the tendency won't be towards a design that everyone loves, but rather towards the design that everyone least hates.The psychology goes this way:1. Person X suggests a new idea that he thinks might be mint. It's not a complete idea yet, but he believes it has a kernel of goodness that could make for a unique piece of gameplay.2. Persons Y and Z who have not seen anything like this idea before quickly point out all the flaws in the idea.3. Person X, whose idea still needs nurturing, responds defensively, firing off hastily-thought out solutions that people also don't like.4. The idea is shut down and the group moves on. If person X brings it up again, people are going to think he is beating a dead horse.5. If person X brings it up again, people are going to think he is beating a dead horse.6. Next, Person Y suggests something that he has seen in a game before.7. Person X and Z both remember that being pretty mint in that other game, and they know it can be done, which means low risk.8. Everyone feels good as they write the tired, overused mechanic/scenario up on the whiteboard.9. Repeat.There is little to no way to get vision from a peer-only group unless they have worked together long enough that they are all on the same wavelength.There are two potential solves to this:1. Separate brainstorm and decision meetings.2. Employ a group design method I tested at Crystal Dynamics called a "The Thunderdome" (as coined by Mr. Ron Rosenburg.)Thunderdome!A "Thunderdome" gives each member of the level team the same deadline to propose a complete, individual solution to the entire design problem (in this case a paper map.) Once that (tight) deadline is up, the whole level team comes together and shows their individual solutions to their teammates, and everyone discusses the pros and cons of each one in a respectful way.Then the team (and the lead) cherry picks the best ideas from all the proposals and merges them into a unified team plan.This is the equivalent of forcing lateral thinking techniques in an individual. Humans naturally solve problems by brainstorming solutions until they find one that works, at which point they generally stop thinking about the problem. Lateral thinking techniques push us to go beyond that first working answer and try to find three to five more, to see if there is a better solution out there before moving on.When each individual in a "Thunderdome" creates their own solution, I guarantee that none of them will be the same, and the group will have multiple working solutions to pick from instead of one compromise solution. Of course this is not in the agile way -- which probably makes me a heretic who must be burned or something.Stage 2, Building Through FictionWith the Level Flow Diagram in hand, the next stage is to fill in the details.Architecting the level through storiesThis is the time to explore the level's stories because from them, the juiciest parts of the level's design will emerge.Regardless of the narrative of the game, each level has the potential to tell many layers of its own background story. Even an empty office has the potential to tell little stories that transform it from a dull set of plain rooms into a real place through artfully placed builder's tools, scrounged furniture, used cups, and discarded rubbish.But the real power of level stories has nothing to do with set dressing; it is in their ability to provide you with context-relevant gameplay scenarios that the story-based method really shines.To make the level real to the player though, first it must be real to you.A Cautionary Aside: Gather and Study ReferenceI would argue that the power to immerse the player, to absorb his attention completely, is the common attribute of the greatest and most successful games.Gathering and studying reference is critical to creating immersion for the player. It is something that the entire team should do, not just the artists.Everyone stores simplified constructions of reality in their mind; schemata that codify the critical features of the world around us. We use our schemata to recognize and interpret everything we experience.We also use those same simplified representations of reality to recreate it through art. Because no two people use precisely the same critical features to build their schemata, every person's art has a unique look, filtered through the lens of their uniquely simplified representations of reality.While schemata allow us to rapidly process the deluge of information we receive each day, they come with the cost of a blindness to data that does not fit with them. That data gets stripped away and left unprocessed. Because we rely on them constantly, we tend to trust them implicitly.But the fact that no two people have precisely the same schemata is all the clue we should need to realize that they cannot be trusted at all.When we are creating worlds in games, immersion is only possible for the player if we can convince the players that the space is authentic (whether stylized or not.) If the critical features on screen don't match up with the critical features of the player's schemata, then he or she will not be fooled by it.So as game makers we must have really precise schemata to convince the widest selection of players.When designers or artists rely on their standard schemata to judge their own creations, they are mistakenly assuming that others will judge their work using similar standards as they do. This can be particularly egregious when people from one country try to reproduce locations from another. American dumpsters sitting in the back streets of Paris or French road signs on the streets of Chicago might seem acceptable to the developers because they do not mismatch with their very simple schemata of those distant locations, but these contextually inappropriate placements will be laughably inaccurate to people really familiar with those places.Given that games are released worldwide, it is difficult to overestimate the damage to audience immersion and perception done by poorly researched levels for a large percentage of your audience. Remember, it's your worldwide reputation on the line.Case Study: Kung Fu Zombie Killer!!Blurb: When the living dead smash up his martial arts studio, Wu Shu master Ken Kong must punch, kick and chop his way through the zombie apocalypse while gathering humanity's remaining survivors on his quest to save the You Tube celeb of his dreams. Style:'70s exploitation movie visual themes mixed with a Japanese anime-inspired visual language. Highly stylized over-the-top combat, unrealistic physics, fun gaming conventions reign over realistic game rules. Street Fighter meets Pikmin in this zombie-filled romance beat 'em-up. Game Pillars:Fluid Environmental Kung FuThink Jackie Chan: Ken Kong picks up and uses everything around him to dispatch his zombie foes.Whether he is slamming doors into their faces, or ripping off one zombie's arm to bludgeon another to death, Ken Kong's simple multi-lock, rhythmic fighting system turns combat into a bloody storm of body parts and flailing fists.Protect the survivors!As Ken Kong saves the living from the living dead, they join the crowd that follows him, urging him on to greater feats of martial prowess. Different types of survivors can either bolster Ken Kong's abilities or can be applied to tasks throughout the game:Police - Shoot any zombies they see.Nurses - boost to Ken's health recovery.Martial artists - increased survivor resilience.Workmen - repairs.Geeks - hacking.Civilians - Cheering (boosts Ken's damage) and fortification building.Etc.The more there are of a given type of survivor, the better the crowd's abilities become. The crowd will stay together and can be ordered around by Ken, but they must be protected from being bitten by the zombies or the whole crowd could become infected.Secure each levelKen must shepherd the survivors to a location that can be fortified so that they will be safe.This could mean securing the entire level, or just one section of it. The crowd itself does the fortification, barring doors and boarding up windows. The more survivors there are, the faster repairs are done. Essentially they are closing enemy spawn points, and Ken must stem the flow of enemies while the fortifications are in progress or the crowd will be eaten by zombies.ThemeWhile the film Planet Terror is a good starting point for the mock '70s horror exploitation movie feel, Kung Fu Zombie Killer has a more lighthearted Viewtiful Joe feel at the same time.MotivationKen is in love with the YouTube vlogger jenna126xyz. In fact, he is her only fan. Throughout the game, Ken forces everyone he saves from the zombies to sign up as fans of jenna126xyz in an attempt to win her heart.Given the ludicrous nature of this game concept, it might at first seem that there would be little point in rigorous research or fictional development, but I contest that there still is.Even a world with a silly premise will resonate more fully when effort is made to realize it in its entirety.Example Level: Hospital Second FloorAfter watching jenna126xyz's most recent tearful videocast, Ken Kong is now trying to rescue Jenna's grandmother from a hospital overrun by the undead. The idea is that you see Grandma almost immediately, but can't get to her without the Hospital Director's keys, found near the end of the level, giving you an objective and a goal. The Hospital Director, on the bottom floor, will not come out of his secure office until the building is secure, forcing your secondary goal (save the survivors) before you can open the way to grandma.A Boss fight is worked into Grandma's room, and once that is done the level can pretty much end -- a fairly bog standard level flow.The section of the level we are going to focus on is the Second Floor, highlighted in red on the Level Flow Diagram above.A hospital is hardly an original setting, especially in this context. Hospitals are obligatory whenever there are zombies around: Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Left 4 Dead, and Planet Terror are just the tip of the iceberg. So the challenge is to walk this well-trodden ground and still make something somewhat fresh. The key to that is to look around you.Preparation: Designing from lifeWhen deciding how to tackle this hospital level, it would be tempting to begin by looking at the many other examples of hospitals in competing games, and while it is useful to learn what has already been done, it wouldn't help us get original ideas for this particular level.You are likely to be able to rattle off a list of areas from your head that you would expect to find in a hospital, from waiting rooms and restrooms to operating theaters and canteens. Most likely the overriding impression you will have in your mind will be long, seemingly endless hallways with single or multi-bed wards off them.But when you actually go to a hospital, there is so much more to see. There are gift shops, libraries, kitchens, rehabilitation areas with gyms or pools.There are auditoriums, children's play areas, janitorial closets, elevators and their associated maintenance areas. There are courtyards, roof gardens, underground parking lots, and changing rooms for the doctors and nurses, with lockers and showers.You also see just how many more off-limit areas there are than public ones. Some are secured with passkeys, others with ordinary locks.These locked doors lead to record rooms, office spaces, drug and equipment storage rooms and all manner of other administrative areas. Their doors are either solid or have very small reinforced glass windows. A great deal of research can be done from books, movies, and the internet but nothing can replace personal experience. While not everyone can go to the pyramids or an abandoned space station whenever they feel like it (unless you're Richard Garriott, of course), most people could visit an abandoned or ruined place near them (as long as is safe to do so) that will evoke a similar mood and mystery on a smaller scale. For our purposes that means there are many places where people could potentially survive a zombie attack, along with lots of opportunities for us to realistically gate the player. The key is you must look, in order to find inspiration. The trap of arbitrary spaces There is nothing more amateurish than arbitrary architecture, by which I mean spaces obviously only built for the player by the game designer. Whether it is a city street or an ancient ruin, it is the designer's job to build spaces with a fictional purpose as well as a gameplay purpose. When a player enters a temple that has no space for worship, or a tomb with no burial chamber nor rhyme nor reason behind its layout, he or she will not be convinced that they are exploring a real place. The worst starting point for a level is a series of featureless, functionless boxes joined by corridors into which gameplay is inserted from a list of gameplay goals. Levels built that way may as well be randomly generated. Even if you are creating an outside space, studying ordinance survey maps to see how real world topology looks and going for a stroll in the hills will let you turn a bland height map into a believable outside space. The difference between a height map that has been pulled up and down randomly, and one that appears to have simulated real weathering is enormous. Looking at real spaces for inspiration will bring the physical rules of building construction to the forefront of your mind, it will inevitably bring truth to your work and give you ideas that you would not otherwise have thought of. You must design the spaces of your level primarily for the people living in the game world and then adapt it for the player. Starting Point: Floor Plan I'm going to use this section of a hospital floorplan, based on a general admissions unit from a real hospital, to show how one floor of the level might be constructed through fiction. First off you can see that while the majority of the areas are not designed for the public to wander around, access to them is relatively easy. For instance, the admin area is easily accessible by climbing over the reception desks from the waiting room, even if the two doors were closed and locked. The only rooms that are likely to be kept locked at all times are the workrooms, the records room, and the storage room. They would most likely have keycard or combination locks so that staff could relatively easily get in and out but patients couldn't wander in willy nilly. The examination rooms would most likely have been unlocked when the zombies arrived, but along with the nurses room, the manager's office and the W.C, they could have been locked by survivors trying to escape the living dead. Red and Blue Keys There have been an untold number of physical key card puzzles in games, and almost as many broken-down elevators. The hardest challenge in design is avoiding the clichés when trying to disguise the keys and locks in the levels. Kung Fu Zombie Killer is a beat em up, so most rooms on this floorplan are probably too small to fight effectively in. The rooms can be scaled up to an extent without becoming ludicrously oversized, but it is general note that as games lean towards more believable spaces there is a greater need for better camera and animation systems to cope with confined spaces. The reality is that without unique abilities, there is little that hasn't already been done a hundred times when it comes to player gating. The standard options have been so thoroughly explored, re-dressed and reskinned, that many games these days have simply begun to do away with them altogether. Games like GTA let you go almost anywhere and attack problems from any angle. Their gates are metagame gates; the beginning and end of missions, the opening of new city areas. They don't struggle to mask the opening of the game world in fiction -- they make it very clear. I'm not arguing for one way or the other; both can be done well or poorly. In this game, I'm using NPCs as keys; they are keys that can be eaten by your enemies. If your keys die, then you won't be able to achieve some (or potentially any) of your goals. Populating the level Now that we have a better understanding of our location, it is time to look to any ramping documents and decide what sorts of scenarios have to be fit into the level. Kung Fu Zombie Killer's NPCs are also used as the game's help system, pickups, power-ups, quest givers, quest items, achievements, secret items, traps and puzzles. They are ultimately flexible from a gameplay point of view, but even better, they add life and narrative to the game. We want to place the following in this section of the level based on a ramping plan: NPC's to save: • A security guard - who shoots zombies and has a security pass • ~2 doctors - who heal the crowd and lower chance of crowd infection • ~4 nurses - who increase Ken's health • ~18 civilians - who contributes to Ken's damage bonus by cheering Items to use: • toilet • letter openers • sinks • heavy swinging lamps • dishes of scalpels • table lamps • windows • flower pots • wooden chairs • head-height glass cabinet doors Zombies to Kill: • Tons of them. Sculpting the play path When working into realistic spaces the first thing to do is work out how much you want to modify the physical flow from room to room. This comes down to how linear or open you want a level to be. For the sake of this example we are going to funnel the player fairly heavy handedly just to illustrate some of the ways it can be done. In this case I used two standard techniques; the permanently blocked door and the hole in the wall. The fiction for these changes is fortifications that are so drastic that they can't be undone, and walls that a large number of zombies have burst through. These two types of permanent changes to the floor plan can dramatically change the way you move around a realistic space. The first step is to define the primarily play path. I have funneled the player in a big circle all the way round to the storage closet above the entrance, where the security guard is hiding with a nurse. The security guard is necessary to unlock the door on the east wall, the only way through which you can reach the staircase and exit this floor. The barricades can be disassembled by any survivors if you approach from the side where the crosses are. The fortification point is this floor's zombie spawner. Ken has to fight on the patio while the survivors build the barricade, before jumping back into the building at the last second. The more survivors Ken has released, the faster that the barricade can be built, but the player needs to make sure that there are no (or few) zombies left inside the building because the survivors are vulnerable while fortifying. Everything else is fairly self-explanatory; there are four bonus civilians and a nurse that can be unlocked from the manager's office if the player backtracks with the security guard, lots of zombies to kill, and a second barricade that can be dismantled to create a shortcut if backtracking is necessary through this space. Set dressing The simplest examples of level stories are told through the "forensic" placement of art; bloody hand prints on the walls, discarded children's toys, and overturned tables and chairs. They don't affect gameplay, but they provide mood and richness to the level. For masterful use of storytelling through set dressing, look at Fallout 3. Every area had its own stories to tell from depravity through to insanity, all laid out in the artful placement of everyday objects. Those small forensic clues can be expanded to full narratives describing the fates of characters you may never meet in the game. For instance, you might find graffiti scrawled in blood on the walls describing somebody's final moments, but finding a room with its doors off its hinges, a toppled pile of tables and chairs just behind it and a fat, satisfied-looking zombie sitting in a puddle of blood, tells a similar story while also offering you the chance to respond. This level is filled with possibilities for those details and they can all be pulled out of the backstory of these survivors. The Backstory As I sculpted the play path I wanted, I was coming up with the following back story: Zombies first came into the waiting room from the stairwell. The security guards managed to fight them off and managed to permanently block that door. Meanwhile, two patients ran and locked themselves in the toilet. Next, zombies started coming in through the entrance. The hospital staff moved everyone out of the waiting room and barricades were set up trying to secure the admin area. Meanwhile, the zombies in the stairwell manage to smash through a wall into one of the examination room. Another permanent barricade was set up, and just to be sure, a security guard locked the next examination room's door as well, just to be safe. By this point zombies have started climbing over the reception desk and break through the right hand door into the admin area. Everyone evacuated further back into the offices except one doctor who hides under a desk. A nurse was already hiding in the manager's office, and she let four patients in as the zombies swarmed the admin area. The rest of the survivors ran towards the patio, but a mass of zombies smash their way in through the patio door and the survivors find themselves surrounded. Groups crush into any nearby room and lock the doors behind them, leaving some unlucky people locked out in the corridor. Almost the entirety of this story -- plus the stories of the other humans that didn't survive this attack -- can be carefully laid out in the artwork. The more questions you ask, the more stories can be hinted at: • Is there a reason that the security guard ends up with that particular nurse in the storage room? • Is there a reason why one nurse has access to the securely locked manager's office? • Who shut the door of the North East workroom, shutting the zombies in there with a group of (now dead) nurses? The upshot of using this method will be a sense of authenticity during play that you cannot achieve any other way. While players may not consciously pick up even half of the detail you are putting in, they will feel it. They will be drawn into your world in a way that more laissez-faire methods simply cannot achieve. Thunderdome Part 2 Now, were I a member of a level building team, the map I've created above and the back story that goes with it would be presented along with all the others: one from each team member. They would be reviewed by the whole level team, who having all thought it through deeply, are now informed critics, under the watchful eye of the lead that wrote the Flow Diagram. Each design would be unique and all would have their plusses and minuses. No one design will be so perfect that it will be better than everyone else's in every respect. I know there would be better ideas on the table than mine because I work with talented people. But perhaps some of my ideas would be end up being selected and they would go into a final level layout that would be better than anything any one of us could do alone. Fact. And that's magic. Summary • Research thoroughly; there are many people who will know if you skimp. • Always visit a real location for inspiration. • Always start from an architecturally sound floor plan. • Sculpt the play space with events that occurred before the player arrived. • Define the back story through the design and let them feed each other. • Write down the back story so that as the design is realized on screen; all departments can express it through art, animation, and sound. *Note: This article is posted on Next Level Design with permission from the author Source: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/132801/action_adventure_level_design_.php Follow Toby Website: www.focalpointgames.com Twitter: https://twitter.com/mechabadger
  4. "An article describing how to make a multiplayer level from scratch to the end for a realistic setting“Index: Introduction Small Tale Used Level Design Terms Basic Strategy Balance Introduction The first basic Layout Settings Making it more complex General Area Settings Special Talk about open Battlefields Strategic Summary Improvements With Tactic Elements Introduction Battelareas Introduction Basic Rules CTF Example BOMB Mission Example Mission areas Introduction Basic Rules Moving Mission areas CTF Example BOMB Mission Example Movement Modifiers Hallways or what happened between the Areas Spawn points Stopping the Player Tactical Summary Navigation/ Orientation in the Levels Introduction Eye Catcher/ Special Areas Overview/ Understanding of the Level Different Level Sizes Art for Gameplay Introduction Lighting Textures Architecture & Geometry What about Details & Beauty? Sound for Gameplay Round Based vs. Reinforcement Game modes Mirrored vs. Uneven Map Layout Realistic & Arcade Game design vs. Level design Creativity Final Words & Questions IntroductionI am writing this article to share my personal experiences and opinions about realistic multiplayer level design. Some of my old maps don’t follow these rules and I made mistakes myself, but I learnt from my failures and by sharing this knowledge with you I hope you will make better maps without going through the same arduous learning process.You should have a basic understanding of level design and I`ll try to explain everything as simply as possible. Experienced mappers, even if you don’t make multiplayer maps with realistic settings, should read it, too, because you might find some interesting aspects you didn’t think about and as a good level designer never stops learning you may well learn something new. Personally, I am not limited to realistic settings but that is what I’ve worked on for the last few years. The level design for a sci-fi/ Wild West/ Stone Age/ cartoon multiplayer game with some tactical elements and team play is very similar.For anybody who thinks these rules/schemes might be too systematic always remember: “You can only break the rules if you understand them in the first place!”, in this aspect it is very similar to the art world.In this article, I’ll explain how to make a multiplayer map from scratch and then tell you how to improve it. At the end of the article we’ll take a look at different game modes/layouts and how they might affect the levels design. As usual, I tried to write this article in an interesting fashion and added a lot of pictures and illustrations. Please don’t be lazy and skip the examples, because I explain some important concepts in them. When I talk about players and teams I assume they all have similar skills and experience. It’s not down to luck that hard-core gamers usually win against noobs, but in a balanced team match if one side consistently wins it might be because the level designis bad and that is what I want to talk about. In general, the article is for team based multiplayer with fixed spawn points. Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch with random spawns is not what is this article is about.Small TaleWhen I first played multiplayer games I started to think about why some levels are more fun to play than others. All of my first MP experiences were maps made by professional designers. I started to analyze them and I compared the good ones with the bad ones. When I started to spend more time in the MOD community with maps from fans, the most important fact of map design was proved: Gameplay beats everything! Some ugly looking action quake 2 maps were the most played maps on the servers and the nicer looking maps were rarely played. I know that this sounds a little too easy but if you think seriously about the maps out there you will notice that most level designers care more about the aesthetics than the gameplay of their maps. If you’re thinking about professional map design, the aesthetical quality of your maps is very important. However, if you don’t care about gameplay you shouldn’t start a professional career at all.I have worked with a lot of different level designers, from absolute noobs and MOD mappers to professional designers and some who just thought that they’re professional. A lot of them work without a real schematic system and if they created a good map, more often than not, it was down to good luck rather than skill. Used Level Design TermsIt might be silly to explain these terms to an experienced mapper or gamer but I have noticed that everyone has different associations with these terms. So I just want to explain my interpretation of these terms so we are on the same level of understanding.CQB: Close Quarter Battle; Even closer than short range; normally lots of cover; ideal range for shotguns or sub-machine guns; scoped weapons are useless; this game-play supports fast movement and reflexes.Short range: Similar to CQB but not so close; ideal range for shotguns or sub-machine guns; scoped weapons are still useless; supports fast movement and reflexes; maximum range to throw grenades.Medium range: Ideal range for normal rifles; shotguns become useless and sub-machine guns become weaker; scoped weapons start to become effective; from now on only possible to fire grenades with a grenade launcher; reflexes and movement are still important but aiming becomes more difficult.Long range: Snipers paradise; ideal range for all weapons with scopes; for weapons without scopes it’s really hard to hit anything; normally only with a small amount of cover; you should have good aim instead of running/firing skills.Stealth areas: Areas where silent/unnoticed/tactical movement gives you a big advantage; normally with lots of cover; several dark spots to hide. You can move through the whole area without being seen by a camping enemy.Roamers: Players who prefer to be between the two; instead of real defense or assault; they need a lot of room and combinations of quick connections between the areas to react to the different game situations.Rusher: People who just want to run through the whole map as quickly as possible; they want to reach the mission goal as fast as possible; surprise the enemy with speed/reflexes is their mottoCampers: Most hated kind of player except cheaters; you can find them in all realistic multiplayer games so you will have to learn to deal with them; they prefer to hide/stay in real nasty positions until an enemy runs into their line of sight; prefer short and CQB situations because then they don’t need a lot aiming skill, natural enemy of the rusherSnipers: Guys who prefer to run around in long/medium range areas with scoped weapons. It is a misconception that snipers are the same as campers because a smart sniper will change position after each shot, normally long range fights between snipers are more tactical, there are snipers who run around like rusher guys except obviously they avoid CQB/short range fights.CTF: Game Mode: Just for the few unworldly people who never heard about Capture The Flag. Two teams have to protect their relevant flag while having to steal the flag from the opposition. They can only score if they bring the enemy’s flag to their own one which has to be in its home position. BOMB: Game Mode: One team attack and have to place one bomb at one of several spots which another team is guarding. They need time to place the explosives and until the bomb blows up (timer), the original defending team still has the chance to disarm it.DOMINATION: Game Mode: I use several variations of this gamemode in this article. In general you have to control of one or more areas/spots which you have to protect. You score regarding the time you hold them.VIP: Game Mode: One team has to escort a special player on their team to one or more specific point(s). The other team has to find and kill the VIP on his way to the rescue point(s). Basic Strategy BalanceIntroductionThe strategic plan behind every map is the key to a good map. These first deliberations will determine if the player can roam without real confusion. If the mission is basically balanced, then you will help yourself a lot because you will not have to make major alterations to the map at a later date. Everything you will read in this chapter is in the conceptual game world. Here we don’t care about the positions of trees, houses or rocks. Stay in this basic world as long as possible and only continue with more detailed sketches when you are 100% sure that the basic strategy concept behind your map kicks ass!The First Basic Layout SettingsSetting the basic layout of your map is the first and most important step in level design, and one that is often overlooked. Just picture all the possible paths of the player as simple lines and you will begin see a basic geometric layout. Normally you can make a basic sketch for every game mode. The sketches should contain only the most important facts and rules of that game mode, nothing more. Some explanations of the example sketches: The quality/accuracy of the sketches is very rough and basic and art skills are not important here, gameplay rules. If it looks symmetrical it should be assumed it is symmetrical. Based on these sketches I want to show several possibilities for the round and reinforcement game modes. The first sketch is for a normal CTF game and not for a round based game mode. The stars mark the spawn point and the point of the flag. These are very simple example sketches and should only show the main intentions of these game modes, e.g. for CTF there should be three ways to every flag and the layout is usually symmetrical and balanced for both teams. The horizontal line between the three ways is the minimum amount of freedom you should include to switch between the routes.The second sketch is for a standard BOMB mission. Team blue has to place a bomb at one of the bomb spots and then has to defend that area until it explodes. Team red has to prevent team blue from accomplishing its mission. The plan is for a round based game mode. For the bomb mission we have two bomb places where team blue can place the bomb and every bomb site has three entrances. Team red is able to reach the spots faster because they have to defend these positions. This is the reason why it usually shouldn’t be symmetrical for both teams.Making it more complexNow let’s improve the basic sketches because every one of your maps shouldn’t be like my first example. The following examples are just one of a million possibilities and you will design many alternatives.We start to analyze the changed CTF mission. The basic intentions are still the same but the left and the right way have changed. The left side became more complex in the center. This should avoid strong concentrations of enemies in the middle defense positions. Even if it is easier to come through the middle part it is still hard to get directly to the opposite base. You can come with a large amount of fast and good players very close to the enemy’s base but the ‘last few meters’ can be very hard. The right side is still unchanged in the middle area which might raise the danger in that area but as soon as you come close to the enemy’s base you get more possibilities to react to the enemies defending strategies or to bluff the enemy on one side and switch quickly to another entrance.Now the bomb mission for the round based gameplay: the two main ways for team blue to reach the bomb spots still have the same length but they now come from different directions and give the player the possibility for a third way to get to the bomb spots to make it more interesting. On the left side team blue has a chance to take a longer and less flexible way but coming in from behind. For team red this way is less interesting because there is no direct way to the bomb spots. Remember that team red needs fast/short and good possibilities to switch between the two bomb spots at any time. At a minimum I would make two ways or one big way which they might come from as soon as team Blue has placed the bomb. On the right side team blue has got a tunnel which leads them to the back entrance of the mission area. This way is shorter than the new way on the left side but in general a tunnel is more dangerous for attackers and has a higher risk. These were easy examples but in this stage of development you should be thinking about the main battle areas in the middle and the mission areas of the different teams. A more complex middle area shouldn’t have a lot of ways to the mission goals. On the other hand several good entrances to a mission spot shouldn’t have very easy ways to reach them. It has to be balanced through the ways and between the ways itself. We will discuss later in this article how the size of the map should affect your basic design.I imagine you already have enough of your own ideas and if not it really helps to analyze current well known maps to understand what I’ve explained above. Normally you shouldn’t create extremely complex path systems because the player wants to learn his environment quickly and shouldn’t be confused by too many different routes. Please don’t think that you have to translate these geometric lines exactly in 3D! Of course you should change, for example, the angles of the corners, and the straight lines later, as you need it to be in your specific situations.General Area SettingsAfter these two first steps you should bring your vision of the look/setting/environments into play by adding it to the basic sketch. Still a very rough sketch but it might help you to get a better feeling of what your map might look like.For the CTF mission I chose a jungle setting and thought of some different environments which I can use for the different ways and areas. The light blue is for a beach (ocean, river or lake), the bright brown is for a stony mountain area with few plants but with bigger rocks as hard cover, the dark brown are caves or tunnels. Dark blue green is for deep jungle with several big trees and a lot of sight cover. The dark green is for normal jungle and the bright one for grass. The environment layout is symmetrical but the combinations are always different especially in the middle area and the way to the base. These areas should have a lot of landmarks because the player should always know where he is and where he is going, it helps for orientation and is very important to the immediate feel of the map. The left will be long range, the middle way is close combat with a dangerous way over the grass to the base and the right way is middle range and stealth in the tunnel. Be sure that you implement different areas for the different kind of players like normal roamer, stealth players, rusher, sniper and CQB freaks. Of course with some settings like on a ship you can’t support snipers very well. This will be understandable for the player but if you make a big desert map without having some mid range areas it might confuse the players of that type because they will not find a location they are happy with. It is the same if you call your 45 horse power car a ‘sports car’ and then being surprised when people laugh at you or don’t take you very seriously 😉 Now take another look at the third bomb mission sketch and you will see that I have used the same system to allocate my environments. The mission areas have very different combinations of environments and the ways to these spots are different for each team. For the general setting I chose a harbor/urban environment. The dark blue is a small river with concrete walls around it, the bright blue is directly at the harbor, and the brown defines warehouse areas. For the urban part on the right side I chose a normal street (green), inside of houses (pink), sewer (dark red) and backyards (purple). It doesn’t matter if you are a stealth CQB freak or rusher, now every bomb spot has the possibility to make you happy but you can still orientate yourself just by the different settings around you.Sewers are normally something for stealth players (e.g. caves or dark back routes, warehouses, apartments, machine rooms, etc. for CQB freaks). On the other side, you can have open areas (e.g. streets, open fields or beaches for the sniper fans). Generally, every environment is for a specific kind of gameplay. Be sure that you mix it well and retain a balance because after a long beach there shouldn’t be suddenly a hard-core CQB area unless the route was already too easy and you need some kind of difficulty here for the player. Assigning the environments is almost independent of the kind of game mode you have chosen, just be sure that it is very different. You find a lot of different sub-settings for the different kind of players and for orientation. I hope you are smart enough not to make every warehouse area identical to all the other warehouse areas in the levels. These areas should be different even if only subtle changes are made e.g. lighter/darker, empty/crammed, completely different kind of crates, more/less machines, no/some offices, decayed/clean, really tall/thin.Special Talk About Open BattlefieldsI understand if people think that this kind of level design is strictly for that ‘old fashioned’ tunnel system or especially for ‘Quake based games’ but what about the open battlefields you have in “Battlefield 1942”? It is actually quite similar because even on big battlefields you are leading the players along main routes, but there is more freedom of movement in-between. Therefore, I would suggest that you first paint the main routes as plain surfaces, already with their specific environment. Then you should paint the tunnels and valleys, and the blocks between the main routes. You can also see open fields as battle areas and mission areas which have no real connection between them. It is just one large area which is so huge that it already has strategic elements in place. I’ll talk later in this article about battle and mission areas so don’t get impatient.Strategic SummaryIt doesn’t really matter how you make your sketches at this point, it is more important that you really think about the strategic game mechanic and the flow of your level before you start with more detailed ideas. Believe me; I saw enough sketches from other designers who already put every waterfall or tree in their very first sketch, even before they noticed that the gameplay in that level might be really unbalanced or boring. Of course, it is not wrong to think about where you want to put your waterfalls or other nice ideas for your level but, for the moment, keep your ideas where they are as you will use them later on. The most important thing to remember when you are making a basic sketch is that it has to be balanced! An unbalanced map is always bad; especially if you are making non-symmetrical maps. If the strategy is balanced you are already on the safe side but it still might be a funny map if a few tactical elements are not 100% equal for each team.Another thing I would really like to emphasize is the originality of your map layout. Try to develop your own ideas, be experimental, and always try to create something new and unique. Normally you have enough time at school or work, in a traffic jam or on the bus just to think about some new basic level layouts. If you are really stuck for ideas and you decide to copy an existing map then please at least be smart! Nobody really needs a Mongolian version of de_dust with just different textures and the same boring architecture. If you really want to copy de_dust then try to make it original in your own way e.g. change some tunnels to open areas (and inverse), replace level limitation-walls with cliffs, improve the variation in the main battle spots, add a new stealth way, mirror the layout or certain parts of it, or better still, change everything! Improvements With Tactic ElementsIntroductionSo far I have been talking mainly about strategic elements, but the player also needs some really good tactical possibilities. The player doesn’t necessarily see your strategic deliberations but he directly sees your tactical ones, so be sure that they are good and fresh.After forming your basic plan, you can already build a very rough version of your map in your editor. It is a good idea to test your map by running around while timing how long it takes to get to different areas of the map. If you find that it takes you 2 minutes to run to the allocated battle zone and the other team takes only 30 seconds, then you should really change your strategy layout. Move the battle zone or slow down/speed up the players in certain areas so that everything works fine again. This will be explained in more depth later in the article; just never forget to test your map at an early stage with a clock.Battle Areas IntroductionBattle areas are the places where the two teams meet if they start running from their spawn points with the same speed. If you have a game where not every player has the same speed, you should think carefully about where to place your battle areas. You need to make them big enough so that; if the slowest player and the fastest one want to reach the field, the faster one should have an advantage (e.g. reaching a good sniper spot without any real danger or jumping into the alternative tunnel without seen by the enemy). Here, you can already see that tactical elements are really important to support the different kind of players you have. A large sniper area should normally have an alternative route inside for really fast scouts. Even a big CQB warehouse should have a longer hallway between the crates for some mid range fighting.Basic RulesBefore we take a look at your example maps, we must learn some basic rules of battle areas. I’ll try to explain the basic intention of these rules in small, understandable sketches, feel free to improve them and don’t use so many crates like I’m doing it here. These sketches are solely for the intention of demonstrating these rules. The rest of the design might not really be perfect, but it’s is the intention that really matters. If I am talking about entrances, it is not always simply a doorway into a big room; it could also be a roof, a canyon, or a hill. It just depends on the situation.1) There should be always more than one entrance to a battle area for each team (or the only entrance should have enough cover in front so there are at least two possibilities to appear in the area).There is nothing more stupid than when the player knows that in 12.3 seconds the opponent player will come through that specific door. If the level design makes player movements too predictable, then it is a bad level design!In the first situation I placed some crates in front of the entrance. Now the other player can either come around the right or the left side of the boxes, or perhaps he can even jump on the top of them and perform a surprise action. Of course, there is a mass of different possibilities to enhance it, not just two or three ways but especially with nice architecture.The second possibility is similar but a little bit more confusing for the player. At the beginning he might think there are two completely different ways. Soon he will notice that both ways lead to the same result. Of course, this depends on the distance between the two entrances and the distance to the lurking enemy. For a sniper who is 150m away, it’s quite a lot easier to protect these two entrances than for a rifleman who can only be 20m away. If you really only have two ways for each team to enter the battle area, it is always good if one of the enemies can never see both entrances clearly from an advanced position.2) Campers should never have an easy life!When you place your tactical elements, always take a look at where there might be typical camper positions. If you have such a situation, be sure that he can never see all entrances to the battle area, and that the opponent always has a fair chance to move around him and shoot him from behind. If you have an important door which a camper might hide behind, make a second door near the first one. If there is a good position to see both doors, place an object (e.g. a crate/pillar/bush) in front of one of the doors to obscure the camper’s vision. Always remember that sniper positions might also make very good camper positions, so they should be treated the same way! If you want sniper positions in your field, every team should have a minimum of two, and they all should be able to see each other. A sniper position, in this case, is a single spot. If you have a big hill or a house with some windows for snipers, it is enough because you can never predict exactly where they will appear. The best way to defeat a sniper is with a countersniper. Both snipers should have more than one position to attack from, otherwise it might become boring and the only challenge is to reach the position as quickly as possible. At least one sniper position should be bad, and every sniper position should have a counter sniper position. If one sniper position is too powerful, then it could easily become very frustrating.The first example is typical. The player wants to run out of the battle area but there is a nasty camper behind the crates. In this situation he might have some problems. The player is able to jump on the big crate in the middle or he can go around the big crate from the left and the right side. The left side has an additional way to appear from another situation. It is impossible for a camper to hide next to the crates and protect himself from all areas of attack.For the second situation I chose another well-known problem. A camper might be able to hide very well in the yellow field (bushes/rocks/etc.) and protect the north entrance. Even the small crate in front won’t change a lot, but a simple walk around reduces the advantage of this camper area drastically, especially if the east entrance is on a higher level than the north one.Another good solution to weaken campers is to give the players a chance to use their special equipment or to use the special features of your engine. For example, you have to cross a long tunnel and you know that there is someone with a sniper rifle at the end just waiting for you to jump down. Why not make it easy for the player to throw a flash-bang inside or quickly run to the entrance of the tunnel into an alternative route which you can only reach with the help of a smoke grenade? Of course the smoke can also come out of a pipe or you can switch off the light, etc. It is the same with windows; a grid always looks nice but if it makes it too difficult to blow out the sniper with a grenade then it is bad for the gameplay.In my sketches, I only work with easy elements like walls and crates. With more complex architecture and interesting terrain, you should find enough new situations to avoid the widespread camper problem. You will never prevent it completely but this will make it more fair and fun. 3) Give the player enough tactical possibly, make him unpredictable.If there is only one big cover in the middle of your area it’s quite easy to know where your enemy might be. If you see a grenade falling next to your foot, it would be cool if the enemy doesn’t always know that you have to come around a certain corner to find him. The player should be able to move less predictably through the field. It is quite boring to know that in every round/match, very similar situations will happen.If your area is just flat without any higher levels, it doesn’t just look boring, it is also bad for cool tactics and the enemies normally always know at which height is/are your head/nuts. A good terrain and architecture with different floors is really a blessing! You can prevent a lot of complex cover placement with some hills and valleys. Firefights between levels of different height are always fun in urban environments, especially if you can switch them quickly. Terrain levels might give a fresh variation of different views (e.g. from a high hill you can see behind the rocks where you presume a nasty camper is hiding, or down in the valleys you can see below the car and shoot at the feet of enemies who might hide behind it). You really have to check all different kinds of positions and their tactical possibilities and be sure that everything is fun & balanced! Use alternative kinds of cover; soft cover (e.g. bushes, grass), half cover (e.g. small boxes, trees), and full cover (e.g. big rocks, house). For example, if you want to prevent the sniper in the upper window seeing the roof on the right side, just place a tree in-between. Now only lucky hits and covering fire through the tree might be a success and in a lower level, the tree trunk is a nice half cover. If you want one team to be able to pass easily from one big cover to another, just place several bushes there. However, as soon as they are spotted, they might have a real big problem. Such elements can not only be tactical and funny for the stealth player, they can also be exciting too. Sadly, it is true that a lot of level designers forget to include these soft cover elements (bushes etc).This is just a simple example of tactical variations. The player is coming out of the south entrance. He can choose between the left and the right way around the crates (full cover), to reach the other boxes. Behind this crate he has four different possibilities: the two different sides of the box (normal), the tunnel which leads into the house (surprise change, higher level) or jumping into the trench to sneak forward (stealth way and higher level). If he chooses the right way at the beginning he can go into the house (CQB and windows are half covers), in the watch tower (sniper point) or he can climb on the roof of the house (high level) with a few air-conditioning ducts (half cover). At the end of the house he has some bushes (soft cover) which might help him to sneak forward but won’t help him if he is on the roof.4) Include special ways for special players.No, I don’t want to tell you again that you should include stealth and rush ways. Real special ways should support people who like to take extreme risks or absurd ways to really surpass the enemy. I wouldn’t say that this is a must to have in every battle area, but a few in your level would really increase the fun factor. I’m thinking about hard jump combinations (e.g. to reach another floor which you can use to walk around your enemy, or to reach the upper part of a tree to hide inside). Other special ways would be secret and hard to find; climbing tracts or areas which you can only reach together with a teammate (i.e. a ladder). I don’t think I have to make a special sketch for this last rule, just don’t forget the pro and hard-core players might really thank you for such small ideas.Imagine a main battle area like a large room which gives the player a lot of different possibilities to cross it. If you add some more, smaller routes to improve the tactical possibilities in your battlefield, then treat them the same as you would the strategic routes. For example, the short way is fast but more dangerous and the longer/more difficult one could make it easier to avoid campers. There should be never an ultimate route (or routes) or an ultimate position. Everything must have advantages and disadvantages depending on the type of player! Keep this in mind and try to follow these rules as closely as possible, and the players will have some really exciting firefights in your level.Don’t be afraid to force the players to move fast on some ways or to stop them if you have to. If you don’t want the players to cross the square very quickly, just place the only good cover at the border (in the middle there is some kind of ‘death zone’ every smart player will avoid). If you want the player to move a little bit faster, just make a bigger hallway with no cover and you’ll see that every clever guy starts running here. Okay, you don’t always need to make it so hard but sometimes you have to, especially if you have moving missiongoals like VIPs or flag carriers. I’ll talk more about this topic later.CTF ExampleOkay let’s start talking about the main battle areas of your CTF example map. Normally, you don’t have to draw the areas in your sketch. I guess you are smart enough to imagine it yourself. The following explanations about the areas are just examples to help you get the right idea about how to make it in your own map. The size of the areas have nothing to do with the sight/fight range inside, they just mark them. #1: Beach, long range, bright area, less cover:At the beginning the player can appear at a lot of different spots behind some rocks and bushes. The large part in the middle beach has much less cover and you need some backup support and cover from behind to reach the other side. If you take the high risk option, you can swim to a bigger rock on the left side in the middle. There, you can climb up and you have a greater advantage against the opposing forces. Imagine some fast-moving scouts and the player will have some real thrilling sniper battles here. It is a high risk to choose that way if you want to flee with the enemy’s flag, but this can be your advantage because nobody would expect it. “No risk no fun”#2: Cave & rocks, short range & CQB, dark light, a lot of hard cover:This is completely the opposite of #1. The dark light, the short range & CQB drastically reduce the advantage of a scoped weapon. There are so many rocks and bushes that two really lucky teams can pass without even seeing each other. At the beginning of the area there is less cover so these places are more dangerous. But you can start running over these ‘dead zones’ from a minimum of two positions to avoid too powerful camper positions. The middle part is a little bit higher than the entrances to that area. This is to avoid sniping possibilities for too long a distance between the rocks/bushes. This is a very good route to choose if you have the opposing flag because the enemy might lose you inside.#3: Deep jungle & ruins, medium range & short range, medium light, some sight cover:Because this will be the main battle area, the number of tactical possibilities in this large, long field should be very high. I chose to add ruins because it increases the tactical variations, and because urban elements and nature dominate the environment which helps the orientation. Tall trees and ruins provide the hard and full cover here. A tunnel and a small creek around the decayed buildings increase the number of tactical variations and make the area more interesting for stealth players. Even if you have some sight cover, there should always be some small fields without a lot of cover. It would be bad if, in the main battle zone, two teams could pass each other while running into the enemy’s base without seeing each other. In the main battle zone, the players should really have a fair chance to find each other and have a lot of exciting firefights. The sight cover and the medium light should increase the thrill factor but it shouldn’t become too dominating. #4: Medium hill, medium range, good light, mainly hard cover with a few sight cover:The whole battle zone is on the top of a small hill, so the opposing players can’t see each other until they come closer. Due to the mountain setting there are a lot of rocks and just a few bushes. The gameplay will be very basic: to run from stone to stone while fighting with the enemy. The area is medium-dangerous or easy and not for the special kind of player. A few more bushes on the right side or a small ruin exactly in the middle would make the area more tactically interesting. Then the fastest team can gain control of the ruin and have a good position to fight against its enemies. Of course the slower team should have a fair chance to blow out the snipers/campers in the ruin e.g. with several spots where they appear, more sight cover at the beginning, or some really good counter sniper positions.BOMB Mission ExampleThe bomb mission has one more battle zone but in general they are much smaller than the battle zones of the CTF example. If the strategic possibilities are higher than the battle zones are getting smaller. This is a very simple rule and if u don’t believe it just imagine a BOMB mission with 10 battle zone where everyone is as big as the beach zone in the CTF example. I guess a majority of people would say: “Whoo damn big map but I thought the intention of the designer was to create some cool fights/matches instead of a sight-seeing tour through North America”. Of course this depends on the expected number of players for your map. I’ll explain this in more depth later so let’s continue talking about the battle zones of the BOMB mission example.#1: Harbor next to the sea, medium/short range, good light with some dark spots, mainly hard cover:In the normal harbor setting we can use what I like to call the ‘mapper’s crate disease”. Please try to place your cover objects only where they fit. If you are using crates and boxes, they should be next to warehouses, storage areas, market places or harbors. If you see whole Arabian/Italian cities covered by wooden boxes or islands/deserts overflown by crates then it is normally a leveldesigner with a low poly engine or someone without enough imagination. Hey you can blame me, too, but I got sick of too many crates and learned to avoid them. Just find other cool cover elements especially architecture. You won’t believe me but recreating can be done WITHOUT using crates all the time.Never mind, now we are in a harbor area and we can use a mass of containers here. The battle zone shouldn’t be linear. The player should have a lot of merged/linked routes that he can take e.g. jump into the water (slow but very stealthy) move between the crates (fast but might be risky because the enemy appears at a very short range) or through some nearby warehouses (darkness is stealthy but risky). To avoid a “liaison” with the enemies should be almost impossible but as soon as the fight starts the game-flow shouldn’t slow down due to the many small tactical possibilities. Additionally, it’s always cool to give the player some extraordinary playgrounds e.g. freighters, cranes or ferries. If you have the possibility to include such objects, then they should be part of the gameplay, e.g. the crane as a wonderful sniperposition, the top of a freighter as an alternative way, or a decayed, resting ferry as a connection between two sides of the water. It depends on the harbor setting, but a few plants are never wrong, except if it’s a real high-tech/new industrial harbor next to a nuclear power station or chemical waste depot.#2: Warehouse, short/CQB range, dark/medium light, mainly hard cover:One of the smaller warehouses in area #1 has a big entrance to some real storage areas. This directly leads to the left mission area. I guess for some of the level designers out there this might be the best place because they can place even more crates . In big storage's you can easily add different high levels which might cause really cool fights between the metal walkways and the wooden boxes. Be sure that there is a real advantage to use a higher floor because normally it’s difficult to find a safe way down again. Light can be a really powerful game-play factor in these areas. Fast and easy routes are illuminated by moonlight through big windows in the ceiling or artificial light in the lower levels. If you balance the upper and the lower levels in the right way (avoid too powerful sniper-positions, give the player a little bit of freedom to roam through the big rooms), you can expect some enjoyable firefights in here.#3: Street/indoor, long/medium/short/CQB range, good/medium light, mainly hard cover with a few soft cover:To make a long street both fun to play and balanced is very difficult. Normally, long streets cause boring sniper battles if the street is narrow and doesn’t have a mass of cover, (e.g. cars, doorframes,trees, etc.) or alternative ways through apartments/backyards/gardens or over roofs and balconies. Such urban battlefields are normally not in harmony with the engine used. Balance, fun and performance are the understandable reason why most level designers would choose many more corners instead of a mainly straight street. If you still want cool street fights like in the movie “Heat”, plan it seriously and think carefully about the snipers and campers. Make sure that the attackers have a fair chance to reach their mission areas. Shortcuts or stealthy ways through indoor areas are a good solution to this problem. Snipers are normally useless in a CQB situation and if you have some more small ways than usual, campers avoid camping in alternative routes. In the game world, you can compare it with a sniper battle in a long hallway which is rarely always great fun. Sniper fights, especially in urban areas, should be in wider spaces rather than narrow ones. So let’s place a few low poly cars and several trees on both sides. Additionally, the entrances to the houses provide really good cover. Several stairs and cellar entrances increase the amount of normal cover on the street. Now we add some places to make the attacker more unpredictable, like some balconies/windows or shortcuts through parks/gardens/backyards. The defenders shouldn’t have a mass of cover at the end of the street. It is better if the defenders have to move around a lot and choose different cover objects further away to be a real danger to the attacking troops. Defending positions should never be so powerful as to see the whole street. Use the trees as sight cover to force the defenders to occupy a minimum of two or three positions in order to watch the whole street or battlefield. Of course, the enemy must also have some nice counter-positions.#4: Sewer, medium/short range, dark/medium light, a few hard cover:Normally if people think about tunnels in multiplayer maps, they think about nasty guys who wait at the end of the duct with a scope until an enemy walks around the corner. So if you really want to make a longer sewer system, try some of the following ideas: don’t make the tunnels too narrow, the background of the corner for the attackers should be darker, the corners where the defenders might wait should have a bright background, try to make more than one tunnel (or other alternative ways e.g. through cellars or let the players go up and down through a backyard), avoid really long tunnels and think about the special equipment in your game, especially all kinds of grenades! For the players, tunnels normally always look the same and they might lose the orientation very quickly. So add, for example, some obvious graffiti, unique trash constructions (e.g. toilet paper which points into specific directions, newspapers always lie on one side of the sewer, etc.) or, for the attacker, the tunnel always goes upwards.#5: Backyard, medium/short range, medium light, mainly hardcover:A typical backyard is the place where the criminals in an ordinary police series nearly always run away from the cops, climb over a mass of fences and walls and finally fall over some plastic trash bags. I think this already explains the key elements that make a typical backyard. You need a lot of up and down in combination with fences and a lot of small cover like garbage bags/boxes. If the setting fits then even some decayed ruins, pipes or balconies increase the amount of possibilities Ben‘s small bible of realistic multiplayer level design for the level designer here. Just follow the basic rules, make some cool positions and always add another counter position so the enemies can force the opponent to keep moving. Be sure that the backyard has its typical lighting, make it really wet & dirty, and avoid placing too many crates. Mission areas Introduction I guess you guys still don’t have enough about battle zones but now we have to talk about something new. Mission areas are similar to battle areas except for two things: they are more critical/important and normally one team don’t just walk/run/’bunny hop’ through it, they are actually doing something there. The mission area is the zone around the flag in CTF, the place of the hostages in HOSTAGE RESCUE, the bomb spots in the BOMB mode, etc. All the time one team has to do something in a map, aside from ‘only kill enemies’ (DM/TDM). Because of this, they need some special attention. In general, you might say: “It doesn’t matter what happens in the whole match as long as the two teams come together in the mission areas”. I wouldn’t agree with this because the map needs a high fun factor across the whole map. On the other hand, it is true that in the end the two teams should at least meet in the mission areas.Normally, one team is defending and the other team is attacking or every team has to attack/defend. If only one team has to defend, it’s harder for the attackers. If they have to attack and defend, it assumes some basic allocation of available work in the team like roamers, defenders or rushers. Think about the different roles of the different teams before you start building your mission areas. A stupid example would be a building without any entrance, absolutely great to defend but kind a dumb to attack.If you compare the walk of an attacker through a map with the escalation of a classic drama, then the mission area is the climax. The adrenaline of the player has to pump through his veins if he is 10m away from the flag, he has to sweat like a pig while he is placing the bomb or has to collapse after he brought the VIP to the rescue point with 1% health. Mission areas have to be exiting and risky but never unfair! “No risk no fun!”Basic RulesLike for the battle zones, I have set out some basic rules for the mission areas and their placement. These rules can be very different and are strongly affected by the game mode you use. So please read them carefully and only use the ones which might fit with the mission goals of your level.1) The difficulty of the mission area depends on the time the attacking team has to stay there.In the standard CTF mode you just have to grab the flag and continue running to your home base. Normally you only have to stay in the mission zone for a few seconds but, during the last time mission, objectives become increasingly difficult and more tactical. This means the designers have to change their old design opinions. If you lose 90% of your teammates & ammo just to reach the DOMINATION point, and you have to hold it for the next 10 minutes against a superiority of 10:1 without any good defending positions, something is obviously wrong.You have three possibilities to solve that problem. The first one is to make it really easy for the attacking team to reach the spot but then make it hard as hell to hold it. If the defenders have no real defending positions then it is obvious that the original attackers will find it difficult to protect their mission spot.The opposite would be that it is really hard to get control of the area but then it’s quite easy to hold it. It is always hard to attack a well-guarded fortress but if your team was able to do it, then why shouldn’t the old defenders have a tough run against it as well?The third solution is to make the difficulty of the attack and the subsequent control almost balanced. Of course, this sounds like the best solution but it is also the hardest to achieve. I suggest that you should try to make your own mix and don’t use too extreme situations.2) The difficulty of the mission area depends on the number of possible successful strikes from the attacking team.Okay, it sounds weird but just imagine a CTF match where my 85 year old grandmother can easily defend the base for 4 hours against 20 hard-core, bloodthirsty, professional Quake players. It might seem ridiculous and frustrating but, believe me, something might have gone seriously wrong with the design of the mission area.In a CTF map, for example, there should be a fair chance that a good run against the opponent’s base is a success. This doesn’t mean that every time you walk to the enemy’s flag you can grab it and move back. Normally, defending something is easier than attacking it. This is the reason why not every assault should be a success. A good tactic and a little bit luck should be the key for a successful strike and the level designer should give the teams a fair chance to do this. Remember: “The best team should always win!”Now you can say that in a real mission based map (e.g. with a BOMB objective) the challenge for the attacking team is always harder than for the defending one. In my opinion, in a round based game with clear attacker and defender roles for the teams, the ratio should be something around 2:3 or even 1:2. If every team has to attack and defend, the ratio should be of course equal like in CTF or DOMINATION.3) If the defender team has more than one mission area, they have to stay close together.Normally, if the defenders have more than one point to protect they have to split the team. The attackers can stay together and, if the skills between all of the people on the server are about equal, the attackers can win against the outnumbered defenders. So the other teammates have to run to the other mission area and try to rescue whatever they can.Now imagine a BOMB mission where the bomb timer is 20sec and the fastest player need 40sec to run/jump/bunny from one bomb spot to the other one (and we shouldn’t forget the disarming time). As I already mentioned earlier in this article, always run around in your map with a stop watch. Take care to look at the routes between the mission areas.For example, if the bomb time is 60sec and the disarming time is 20sec, then the minimum two ways between the mission spots shouldn’t be longer than 10-20sec. You should always give defending team some extra time to fight against the original attacking team, depending how hard it is to reach the bomb.4) A defender should never see all of the entrances to the mission area from one good position; keep the hot spots free from campers.This automatically means that every mission spot has a minimum of two entrances. Actually, there is no problem if the camper decides to keep all entrances in his field of view, as long as he stands in the middle of a big open space. This important rule is for the defenders and maybe for the attackers, too, which depends on the game mode. If the attackers have to stay in the zone for a few seconds/minutes, they quickly become campers too. This is absolutely normal but just don’t make it too easy for them.Just imagine a hill with a mass of sight cover next to a mission spot where the attacker first has to run 30m over an open field. At least, you have no real fun checking all of the thousand possible sniper positions whilst making sure that you reach the hot area alive. The argument that mission areas should be really challenging is okay but it shouldn’t be frustrating!If you have a lot of hard cover around your defended objective (e.g. crates/pillars/rocks), make sure that the camper can never hide in one position where he can see all entrances. There should always be one side open which he can’t protect when he is watching another possible route to the mission spot.5) More mission areas for the defending team automatically means higher difficulty for the attacking team.I guess that is very obvious, as soon as the defenders have to take care of more than one position they have a big disadvantage and need a small bonus (or the attackers a small disadvantage). Just imagine a team which has to protect five different bomb spots or a very big DOMINATION area. They should have an easy job defending the area(s). An unpredictable enemy is always the most dangerous one because they have to encounter something equally challenging (e.g. a fast connection for the defenders between the objectives with a very good fortification). Now the protectors have to move a lot but as soon as they detect the attackers, they can beat them easily. This means the tactics/strategies of the assault team have to come behind enemy lines, unseen, instead of playing Rambo. 6) The mission goal has to be absolutely obvious in the area!Make absolutely sure that the mission spot is very easy to detect. For CTF, this is more or less a minor problem because a flag is normally very easy to spot, except if you hide it deep down in a dark pit. Designers for a BOMB mission, for example, should be much more careful. If the player reaches the large mission area, which is a big warehouse full of wooden crates, and he knows that he has to blow up the brown crate with the drugs, it might cause frustration. Make the drug box green, with special bright light around it, a big red cross on the ground or place some unique and obvious objects around it. Every noob player which enters the warehouse must say: “Hey these single green crates in the middle of the bright room, with the red flags around and with all the red arrows pointing at it must be my mission objective.” Okay, this might be a little bit extreme in a realistic setting but I think you get the point.Moving Mission areasYou can forget most of the text I wrote in the previous chapter if you have a level with a moving mission objective like a VIP or train which one team has to protect and the other team to kill or destroy. There are normally two kind of moving mission objectives. A player controlled character/vehicle and a scripted objected which always uses the same route.Firstly, take a look at similar VIP game modes. You should find a minimum of two rescue points or one bigger area; otherwise the defending team would just heavily camp around one spot instead of roaming/moving around. Calculate the areas where the two teams encounter each other for the first time. These battle zones have to be quite complex or there has to be a high number of different, smaller battle zones. All of these battle zones need at least one alternative way out besides the obvious short way to the rescue points. As soon as the defending team knows where to find the VIP, they will try to intercept him on his way to the next rescue point. If it is absolutely obvious which route will be taken by the VIP, it is too easy for the defenders and not really much fun. There still should be some kind of exciting challenge after the first encounter. When the defending team has no real clue which will be the chosen rescue point, they have to roam around again and hope that they get the right one. Good team play is the key to success here, for both teams. The second possibility would be an object which moves on a scripted route. One team must try to defend the train/truck/ship until it arrives at a certain area and the other team will attack it and try to foil the opponent’s plan. As soon as the two teams see each other for the first time, a long battle zone begins. Along the way there are usually several small defending positions and main battle zones. Around these spots, the fights are particularly hard and between them, fights are more infrequent. Because the objective is very predictable, there should be several alternative ways for fast guys to attack these defending positions from the side. If the defending team has to do small missions at these hot spots, treat them like normal mission areas.Take care about snipers and campers as I have already explained. The rescue points, in particular, are very critical. Some positions that are too powerful can destroy the whole fun of roaming and searching for the VIP in the areas before. Everyone would just stay next to the extraction spots if it is that easy to protect them.CTF ExampleFor the CTF example, both mission areas have to be similar so I only need to explain one of them. The area starts shortly after deep jungle in the middle, after the cave, and after the rock/mountain area. The whole area has a ‘military base’-setting with some small huts, tents, bunkers, and watchtowers etc.The cave exit is already very easy to defend because it is quite small compared to the two canyon entrances. So it doesn’t have any special defending constructions unlike the main/short way through the middle. This route is the fastest one and, because of this, the defending positions here have to be the strongest ones. Of course, it should not be impossible to attack, but some obvious bunkers, sandbags, etc. are definitely okay to slow down the enemy here. One watchtower has a main sniper position where you can just about see the cave entrance and most of the way down the middle. He can’t see the last entrance because there are several trees as sight cover on that side. It might be a good sniper spot but everyone knows that the watchtower is there and the sniper has no real possibilities to hide himself very well. The way from the beach is one of the longer ways to the base but, because the sniper tower can’t see it, there should be a few weaker special defending positions.The flag itself is not on a very big open place. It has some huts around which have no windows so the campers inside the buildings cannot protect the area to all sides. The players inside the watchtower can see the flag from above but if you don’t kill the guy up there until you reach the flag it’s your own fault. Around the mission area, sight cover (e.g. bushes or long grass) should be rare otherwise they might become favorite spots for campers.BOMB Mission ExampleOf course we already know two mission areas for the BOMB example. Let’s say the attacker’s team has to blow up some special crates with electricity for SCUD rockets, whatever, just something easy to detect.At spot #1 we have a warehouse (brown), a street (green) and a backyard (purple). For the attackers, the fastest and easiest way is obviously the street. So the defenders have several very good defending positions behind cars, inside shops and windows to make it very hard for the attackers to come closer. Especially high defending positions are very good because attackers have problems finding good cover behind cars or other low objects. Several sniper positions should make the defending sharp-shooters more unpredictable. Remember that the defending team might start an assault in the back of the attackers force if they come from spot #2 and this shouldn’t always be a massacre. The warehouse area should have less good defending positions because CQB, stealth, and short range battles through the warehouse are normally hard enough. The different high levels in the warehouse create different ways out of the mission area. From the upper ones it shouldn’t be possible to go down very quickly but these are still very good positions to support the rest of the attacker’s squad and to surprise your enemy. The backyard area is normally a very rare route of the attackers but some stealth/scout players might give it a try and should have a reward for the long and risky walk.Spot #2 is a less open space than spot #1 because on the left side it has a CQB indoor section and, on the right side, a backyard part. Only in the direction of the defender spawn point do we have a more or less long/medium range section. So the majority of areas surrounding the mission spot # 2 are CQB and short range. This will mean that it might be harder for the attackers but they can appear very quickly very close to the bombing area. It is definitely more of a stealth and tactical challenge for the attackers to reach it. The indoor part could be something like a decayed flat with all the nice possibilities you can have in such an environment. Broken holes in the wall, kitchen, furniture, and several alternative ways should spice it up to a high thrill factor. Lighting here shouldn’t be very dark; especially the corners should be bright enough so that no campers can hide here. In general there must always be two ways for the attackers to enter the room or another way around the room; otherwise campers have a huge advantage in this close battle area. The hard part for the attackers here should be to enter the house because it is still a very short and quick way. Several open windows and doors give the defenders a lot of possibilities to appear, and they can still attack from spot #1. The backyard part should have several different high levels because the houses are very close together. Jumping over bigger metal trash bins, climbing up on balconies or a small shortcut in a cellar is really the minimum if you want to make this section fun. Light should be gloomy but definitely not too dark because it is a very tight area. It is okay if the middle of the backyard is a little bit darker, or there are some spots which are really dark, as long as the background from both sides is bright enough that you can see the shape of the player. The third possible way is the complete opposite of what the attacker had before. He is coming out of a gloomy/creepy tunnel in a medium and long range section. This won’t be very easy for the attacker and, additionally, it is a very long way compared to the other ones. So it should be much easier for the attackers if they choose this way, otherwise nobody will take this way and building it was just a waste of time. Movement Modifiers Now I just want to talk a little bit about different situations which the player can pass and what you have to take care about. Of course, un-climbable walls, pillars or containers are movement modifiers, too, but I already talked about them at length and, in the next part, I would like to concentrate on typical passable sections.Small hills or stairs:Here I mean smaller situations where a passable section blocks the view between two players (e.g. longer stairs inside a building or a small hill which is just a little bit higher than a player). They are quite common in levels and are a good solution if you need cover but it shouldn’t really slow down the game flow, and the action between different high levels is much cooler than just on a flat ground. Due to its small distance, there is no real disadvantage for the player who has the lower position unless the enemy can see his legs before he can shoot back. Such situations can be very frustrating on main ways so please try to avoid them as much as possible. In houses, or on more sneaky alternative routes, they are more or less allowed but not really welcome. If you have serious problems with such a passage, create some good possibilities to throw grenades (especially flashbangs) or build a window next to it where you can see the nasty camper position in his full beauty.Bigger uphill or downhill sections:If the high level is not very big just treat them gameplay-wise like flat ground. Especially outdoor maps should never be just flat because it looks/feels unnatural and boring. In my opinion, even bigger streets or places should never be 100% flat; small changes really create a completely different feeling. As soon as the height differences and distances become bigger, and the player really has to look up or down for a longer time, it can quickly become such a ‘D-day feeling’. I think that in general, it is harder to defend/assault from a low position against an elevated position. In this case, good cover and possibly alternative ways or specials are necessary. On the other hand, a lot of people forget the sight factor in such a situation. If you look downhill it is normally harder to spot a player than if the enemy is at the top of the hill with the sky in the background. Of course, taking into account the usual camouflage factor of your game. If you have just red T-shirts versus blue T-shirts, the last point is less important.Jumping passages:They can be used to spice up your level but please don’t use them too much because jumping in a FPS is always a mess. Jumping up some crates or rocks is no real big deal but jumping from one house to another one, especially if the jump is not very easy, can quickly become very frustrating for the majority of players. On the other hand, hard-core games really like such passages so it can be cool to have a few less obvious situations like these in your levels which make the good gamers happy. There are two things you should always remember if you are going to have the player jump somewhere. The first point is that you normally only look in the direction where you want to jump. On flat ground it is no big deal to strafe or to walk backwards but if you jump you normally don’t have a lot of time to look around and search for enemies. So be careful with longer and harder jumping parts in hot areas. The second point is sound. If the player wants to pass such a part in your level he is normally making specific jump sounds which can be located by better players very easily. Try to be sure that after the passage there is a little bit of cover regarding its danger level so it doesn’t become an absolute death zone all at once.Doors and holes:Such situations are very common in multiplayer levels but as soon as they are in battle areas without alternative routes they become bottlenecks. The size of them should normally regard the amount of people that pass this section and its environment. For example, if the main way into a warehouse battle zone goes through a door, it should be more like a gate instead of a thin scratch in the wall. However, nobody will really complain if the sneaky alternative route leads through a normal door into a common house. Sometimes they very quickly become death zones if they are very small and lead directly into a hot battle area or mission area, especially without useful cover behind it. If there is absolutely no real solution (e.g. due to a performance reason), then the minimum is some bushes as sight cover against campers from the other team.Doors which you first have to open are always elements which slow down your game flow and should only be used due to performance reasons or as a tactical element. Personally, I am not a big fan of usable doors in multiplayer maps because I always try to speed up the gameplay. It is rare that I really want to slow down my play speed unless I notice that one of the routes is too fast or that one team needs a disadvantage in one area.Small tunnels and air vents:Every time the player has to crouch or go prone he is weak. He cannot react very quickly (e.g. running to cover or turning around if he is prone). So place such situations carefully. Normally, a small hole is not a big deal except if it is in view of an enemy defending a position. If the player has to crouch or prone for a longer time (e.g. in an air vent), in most cases it is a trap as soon as he is noticed. The enemy can easily throw a grenade in the tunnel or shoot through the thin walls. Surviving such a section should be rewarded (e.g. coming out behind the enemy’s lines or with a very good position to stalk opponents without a lot of risk). The risk factor of entering and exiting should depend on the advantage the player will get.Ladders:They are a quick and a very easy method to connect two different high levels. Ladders have the huge advantage, for the level designer, in that you don’t need a lot of space. On the flip side, being on a ladder is a disadvantage in most realistic games because you can’t shoot. This is the reason why you shouldn’t often place them in hot battle areas, unless the player can reach a very good position (e.g. a sniper tower or a sneaky shortcut). Additionally, they slow down the game flow so you should think carefully about whether this is what you want in this specific situation. Normally you should try to solve it with stairs if it is easily possible.Hallways or what happened between the AreasI think you have probably noticed that I am always talking about zones and areas but rarely about what happens between then. In general, you should try to keep the passages between battle- mission areas very short because they can be bottlenecks and just walking isn’t as fun as fighting. The width should always regard the amount of players that will pass the section. A main route should be much bigger and maybe have some small alternative routes nearby and inside the connection and also a sneaky, alternative route. There are three typical kinds of connections depending whether you want to slow down, speed up, or just want to keep the game flow neutral.The first way is to slow down the game in hallways or canyons. If you want to achieve such a situation, do not create alternative ways, just a normal, more or less wide hallway or canyon. Then the cover elements like rocks or pillars should be placed at the sides without an opportunity to walk around. As soon as players from two teams meet each other here, they normally take cover behind your objects. They have to stop unless they go in the middle again and start fighting. At least this slows down the gameplay and makes this section more dangerous. You shouldn’t use such a type in routes which are already very long because these ways are more often used by faster players and they don’t like it if they are suddenly in a slow gameplay section.The second way is to keep the player moving and therefore speed up the game flow. One possibility is to create small alternative ways or shortcuts very nearby and with several connections to the main route. For example, a cellar which leads parallel to the road or a second route over balconies while the rest of the players keep running on the street. The second possibility to increase the flow is intelligent cover placement. If the cover (e.g. trees, walls, pillars) is in the middle or built so that you can continue walking in the original direction, then you can keep on moving if you see an enemy. Just switch the side of the wall and for a few seconds the enemy can’t see you because you have changed your position. At the end, it doesn’t really matter exactly what you build as long as both sides have the opportunity to change their positions erratically as soon as they see each other. It makes the fights between them more interesting, and the areas more fun. If you build it well, the player won’t really notice the difference between the areas and the connections and this is the way it should be. The last way is actually the worst one and should be used carefully. It is simply a hallway without any alternative routes or really good cover (e.g. a normal, boring hallway which goes around a corner). No team has cover and the fights are normally very quick. They are very simple, less interesting and not a lot of fun. You can use these for less important connections or just keep them very short. The really big problem appears if they are long because then they turn into death zones. Make absolutely sure that you avoid long hallways without any alternative ways or enough cover, especially between important areas. Spawn pointsPlacing the spawn points is a very important part of your level design but a lot of people simply finish their levels and throw in their spawn positions sloppily. A good placement is the base of your levels and is normally the first experience the player has in your level. Okay, I hope that points 30m above the ground were due to not enough sleep or a wired code bug. In general, the spawn points should have a minimum of 0.5m - 1m (different from game to game) between each other and the people should spawn as a solid group, and shouldn’t appear somewhere else (e.g. at the 2km long beach.)Additionally, it is important to avoid spawn campers (people who wait next to the spawn points and kill player as soon as they appear) because this is extremely frustrating. One possibility to avoid spawn campers is to split into several smaller groups with different positions. Another solution is placing a lot of spawn points so it is difficult for the camper to predict where the player will spawn. Of course, you should try hard to avoid camper positions next to the spawn points (e.g. with walls, sight cover or one way doors). Placing the spawn points in the middle of a big open field where a mass of campers just have shooting practice against completely helpless players is obviously stupid. You should also take care about the direction of the spawn points. If the player first has to make a 180° turn until he knows where he is and which direction he has to go, even the worst camper has all the time on earth to kill him. The killed player might be a little bit frustrated and confused. The easiest way is to let the player look in the direction he has to go and have absolutely nothing to camp for behind him. Especially people who play a map for the first time normally just start walking in the given direction. If the first seconds of the map are already frustrating and confusing, the map will be rated badly and people will give up playing very quickly.Also, keep the spawn point a little bit away from the mission objective, otherwise you die while defending it and respawn next to it again. This is simply not fair to the attackers who have managed to come so far. On the other hand, the attackers can quickly move a few additional meters and become spawn campers because they can see the start positions from the mission spot. If they have to move a few more seconds to the spawn points, it’s very rare that they wouldn’t prefer to win the match or to get a point at the mission goal instead of becoming spawn campers. Of course, there will be always kiddies who will do it but just try to follow some of the hints above and it shouldn’t be as much of a problem.Stopping the PlayerI guess a lot of designers don’t really think how to stop the player until they are already deep into building their level. The barriers to stop the player leaving the level or to reach special spots sometimes look like quick solutions. In general, you can say that invisible walls should be prevented as much as possible. Personally, I have fewer problems using an invisible wall to block a street which would lead out of the map if there are some other obvious elements which show the player that the street is blocked. Some simple, easy to see road blocks where the player can’t jump over is, in my opinion, okay. The same goes for special fences which I only use to surround the level and are impossible to pass. Of course, a natural or realistic border is much better, like houses, high walls, mountains, etc. but if your map is a village which is surrounded by rocks it feels unrealistic. Especially in maps for non-arcade games, you should really try to prevent that ‘arena-feeling’. Other smarter solutions are, for example, water which pushes the player back with the flow, or to create a mix out of the different elements. Other barriers can be used to stop the player reaching spots inside the map (e.g. to prevent them from jumping on a roof which wasn’t planned to be reachable). If the player can reach such spots by just jumping or using special moves, it is normally bad level design! As soon as the player uses 0.1 cm wide trims, just add an invisible ramp that he slides down. If the trim is obviously passable, then please don’t use invisible walls, just make the trim smaller. The same goes for slopes; if the player can jump up the hills in your game, make them steeper or stick a rock inside. Adding invisible walls here is just lame. Something different is if the players use some kind of ‘human ladders’ to reach higher positions. To a certain degree it is cool to support teamplay but if you need 4 or more people to reach the roof of a house, it will completely destroy your game design and balancing. I think it’s fair to use invisible walls to stop these extreme possibilities. Unlikely arcade games places which you can reach with extreme moves like rocket or grenades jumps should be prevented in realistic games, too. On the other hand, it’s quite rare that a game calls itself ‘realistic’ and you can survive such moves.Tactical SummaryThe player might feel your well balanced strategy plans but he will always see and get in touch with your tactical elements as well. Balancing them is much more difficult because players will always give their best to find weak spots and use them for their advantage. It doesn’t matter if they find an extremely advanced sniper position where you didn’t intend to have one, or if they start to camp in the hallways instead of fighting in the battle zones. On one hand, players seem to be stupid because they don’t do what you want but, on the other hand, they are smart enough to destroy your map if you haven’t planned it well.Try to ask friends how they would move through your map, where they would camp or which area is, in their opinion, unbalanced. Don’t be surprised that multiplayer is normally played by several human beings and they all play/feel it differently. If you have played a lot you should know what normally works in other designer’s maps and what kind of elements are good and bad. Experience and fair criticism from your fans/friends/teammates are still the best way to polish your map. A good map simply has to grow like a good painting and it won’t get better by itself.Especially today, multiplayer is bigger and more complex in terms of gameplay and level design so it is impossible that your very first version is already perfect. Ignorance and arrogance are the poison of the community. Of course, people will always fight and argue but please try to be more or less fair and try to respect the opinion of your friends and fans. Navigation/ Orientation in the Levels IntroductionI think it’s nothing new for level designers that they have great concepts for a really complex and cool map but as soon as they release it, nobody is playing it on the servers. Especially big maps are simply too large and misleading. Of course, the designer knows the map inside out but people playing it the first time get lost, are frustrated and will never give the map the chance it might deserve. Not without a reason, small levels with very simple design are often the most successful ones. This is the reason why it is very important to give the player a lot of guidance and landmarks which helps them to orientate. Of course, if the game you create the level for supports big open fields, maps in his HUD, or compass with waypoints, it’s less important. But even here you should never neglect adding navigation spots and to split the level into recognizable parts. Never forget that, if the player gets lost in your map the first time, it doesn’t matter how great your gameplay ideas are because he will never experience it and will switch the map/server in frustration. Orientation and navigation are very important for the success of your map, I can tell you this from my own personal experience. Eye Catcher/ Special AreasAs I have already mentioned above, one of the best ways to help the player orientate in more complex levels are special eye-catchers or special areas which the player will remember. If you remember the last examples for the BOMB and CTF modes, I split the level into different, very unique parts which gives the player the first basic understanding of where he is. As soon as he knows that he is around the harbor area and not in the backyard he might remember what to do if he comes here again. Especially for team communication, it’s a great help. After a few minutes or rounds, there will be a simple pattern of different areas in the mind of the player and he will start to use this for tactics and he can choose his route with purpose. For example, he knows that the harbor area is more medium and long range but after it there are the warehouses which will lead directly to the mission objective. He knows it is short range and CQB so he should be careful and take the right equipment. If the whole map looks very similar, it doesn’t really matter if the designers have placed a few more rockets here and a few more plants there. For the first impression of the player, everything will look the same and the map will become uninteresting or at least frustrating. Light settings, architecture, vegetation, styles, textures, furniture, visual range, and sound should vary as much as possible in your map but should also be consistent in the different areas! On the other hand, don’t make it too extreme because if the player has to remember too many different areas or styles it becomes confusing and the result would be the same if everything looked the same. There have to be just a few easily memorable and very distinguishable landmarks.This is the first step for the player to get a very rough understanding. It is similar to your strategic planning, but now the player needs help to orientate himself in more detail. In the end, it doesn’t really matters if the player knows he is on the beach or in the jungle if he doesn’t know where to go. What is the right direction or where might the enemy come from? Now you should add some special objects or elements which help the player to navigate in detail. For example; the player runs into a house and around some corners and as soon as he comes out he already lost orientation. If he then sees a nice looking red car at the right side and cool graffiti on the wall on the left side, he might remember. The next time he might choose the left side because the way passing the red car only leads back around the house. Of course, this only works if you only have one nice looking red car and one such special graffiti in your level. Other objects can show the direction: if the blue player runs out of the jungle on the beach and he sees a boat wreck he might remember that the nose of the sailboat leads to the red base and he had better use the other direction. Such small clues and unique elements can be extremely helpful. Things which the player can already see from a long distance or things that are visible the whole time are even better. A big crane which is visible and always points in the same direction, a skybox with a sunrise on the right side, or a big tower with several bright lights in the middle of the maps are other examples. At least at every cross or on every big area you should have such elements.Overview/ Understanding of the LevelSuch hints mentioned above might help the player remember the map quicker but the very first time he still doesn’t know exactly where to go. That’s why overview and quick understanding of the map is even more important. Try to think about that when you make your strategy plans.First of all, when the player starts he should already spawn in the right direction so he only has to go straight. Around the spawn points the layout should be quite simple and absolutely not complex! Really try to strongly guide the player in the first seconds or let the player see several exits/entrances which he can choose from but then no more cross-routes before he comes to the first battle areas. A good, recognizable part of the level at the beginning without any conflict with the gameplay also helps a lot.The main routes should be very obvious. If you play the map for the first time, the chance that you first follow the bright bigger hallway is much higher than if you choose the darker, smaller alternative route into the battle area. At the beginning, the player should be guided by easily recognizable routes and, as soon as he knows the map a bit better, he will start to try the other ways and with the elements in the previous topic he will quickly be able to connect the different ways. This is the reason why you should split your levels with urban settings in battle areas and have connections between them. The player will go into the area and the only exits are easily visible. Logically, a level with just a mass of small rooms and hallways is much harder to learn than a well-structured one.Different Level SizesThe size of your level has a huge impact on your gameplay and is heavily influenced by the game mode, whether you have vehicles, and the game you create the maps for. For example Battlefield 1942 maps simply has to bigger than a normal Raven Shield map because in one game you have vehicles and in the other game you play some kind of a S.W.A.T. team.Okay, vehicle maps should be obviously big and quite open. So what kind of criteria should these big maps have? They should be very open because a big map with static routes is either very complex with a lot of alternative routes (which only confuse the player), or they are boring because you can’t switch the route for half a minute. Short maps should be very compact but be careful that they don’t become too boring by limited possibilities. You have to find the perfect compromise between pliability, navigation, orientation and still guiding the player somehow. Bigger maps are generally for more players but please make them wider instead of longer! Nothing is more annoying than having to walk for half an hour before something happens. On the other side, it is bad to create maps which only start to flow if the server reaches the maximum number of player for the game. If the game only supports 32 players then a big map should already become really fun with 20 people and even with 10 people it should still be entertaining. It’s better to create maps which are really fun with just half of the players so you are flexible and the chances of the map being played on both small and large servers is much better. Let’s first talk about non-symmetrical mission based game modes like BOMB and discuss how big you want to build your map. The times you can see here are just examples and in the real game they will never so exact.In general, the attacker team should need two times longer to the mission goal than the defending team. So I’ve drawn three examples which you can see above. The first third of the attacker’s route is where tactical possibilities should really start at the latest. Here, the ways should start to split. The amount of cover increases and the player should start to take care instead of just blind rushing. In the first third there should be absolutely no possibility for base campers! In the first example the attackers need 90 sec to reach the mission objective. Some people might say that this is not a long time for a really big map but if you look at the time where the player might have their first encounter then you see it is 67.5 sec! Do you really want to walk/drive for over a minute before the action might start?! Probably not, so a 90 sec map is definitely too big for the mass player who wants to have quick action. For the second example the attackers need 60 sec to reach the mission spot and the first action might take place at around 45 sec. For me, that sounds like the maximum passage of time for a map that will have some success. Of course there will be always hardcore tactical players who don’t care how long they walk, but this won’t make your map universally popular. The last example is shorter with 30 sec to the mission goal. With 22.5 sec to the first encounter, it is a pretty fast one. If you make it even shorter, there is a high risk that fast defenders will come too close to the attacker’s spawn positions so be careful. Some good advice is that short/fast maps should have a lot of urban elements because in purely outdoor maps it’s very hard to control the speed and the routes that the players take. If it’s not really a swamp map with a lot of fog, the distance a normal player runs in 22.5 sec is definitely shorter than the normal view distance in modern outdoor maps. So be very careful with snipers/campers around the spawn points.Now let’s look at how the same numerical example looks like with symmetrical maps and with no clear defenders and attackers like CTF.The times are from a case where, when the match starts, a perfect player from team B makes an attack against team A, grabs the flag and runs back to score with it. In the first example you would ideally need 90 sec to reach the mission goal. After around 45 sec you might meet your first enemy. If the dead player respawns at once and starts running straight away, the attacker from team A can encounter him again after 67.5 sec if he hasn’t lost any time in the first fight! After another 22.5 sec, he can finally reach the flag and might already kill another player and now has to run back for another 90 sec. All in all, these are three minutes of an absolutely perfect attack and, as we all know, a perfect run without any lost time in a normal CTF match is almost impossible. So if you try it very often and walk around a lot you will usually need longer than 180 sec which is, in my opinion, already too long. Remember that in a normal CTF match you cannot even roughly calculate where the players will fight because of the normal re-spawning system in such game modes. The second example also takes a long time if we think that this is the most perfect way. But here, the action is already much more packed. The two minutes of intensive possibilities for action sound much better for a big, enjoyable map. However, it is realistic that for a normal run you might still need around three minutes which is borderline. Now in the last example, 30 sec to the enemy’s base seems to be suddenly very short but they remind us more about the fast, thrilling CTF matches which we had with the Quake and Unreal games. Personally, I have less problems to run a between one and two minutes to capture a flag but they should be loaded with action which can only be achieved in medium or small CTF games or in big maps on big servers. So the bigger you plan such a map, the more open the map should be, otherwise the action would be too rare. On the other hand, small maps should be more compact because then tactical gameplay is even less important than pure combat skills. Art for Gameplay IntroductionIn this section I don’t want talk how to make your level look beautiful. It is more about how art elements like lighting (Visibility), textures (Orientation) and architecture (Movement) might affect your gameplay.It might be that I’ve already talked about some of these tricks in some of the earlier examples but now I want to complete the list and bring some of those ideas together.Such elements can be in harsh contrast with the art factor which will make your level look nice and the art will support gameplay. Like in single player games, discussions between the art department and game designers or AI programmers can be daily. In general, the gameplay should rule over aesthetic aspects because fun is more important than “visual brain wanking”. First design your levels and if you are the first time somehow satisfied with the final playability, start to make the level look nicer with less important details and color arrangements.LightingLike I already mentioned above, the main intention of using light for gameplay is definitely visibility. The brightness of an area affects the general speed of action and movement. In a gloomy/stealth part of your level, the player will normally move more slowly and carefully than in a bright one, except in the case of quick surprise actions from an ambush or a camper. Also, dark areas give the player a higher chance to navigate through the area unseen but not completely unheard. I will talk later about sound for gameplay but, for now, don’t forget that in darker areas, sound become more important than in strongly illumined ones. So your stealth ways should be generally darker then the fast ways for rushers. Even in outdoor maps with a day setting, you can influence the brightness with shadows from hills, buildings or trees. The darker a section is, the better camouflage works. So even a little bit of shadow can help a lot in the jungle. In some examples, darkness can almost completely eliminate cover. Just imagine a bright base which one team has to assault which is surrounded by pitch black night. The attackers can move around it almost unnoticed without losing sight of their goals. They will become big problems as soon as they come closer, but this offers them a completely different style of tactics than the normal “running-from-cover-to-cover”. Don’t forget that such ideas can become weaker if the game you design for supports night vision, flashlights, flares or similar equipment.I think it is slowly becoming clear that darkness can be used as a tactical element so let’s talk about brightly lit areas. In these areas it is much harder to hide so a player might move faster. Because he can see the enemy much better, the action will be generally much cleaner and faster. Visual detection is much more important than sound detection so these bright ways are the preferred ones for rushers where reflex and good aiming are more effective than tactics. For the ambitious tactical hardcore player, this might seem frightening at first blush. On the other hand, real team play can now really be the difference. While moving from cover to cover, other team mates have to be wary of possible spots where the defenders appear and make quick pop-up attacks. Such quick defending strikes are much easier in bright areas so while running forward you simple have to trust your back-up team. Good real-world examples are actually indoor paintball matches. Camouflage is normally absolutely useless because of the colorful sports suits and the fact that you can die after one hit. Fast reflexes are of high importance but you need good support guys to keep the enemy busy and behind their cover.The second gameplay factor of light is the help for orientation. If the player jumps down into a big cellar, he can quickly recognize it by the lighting. Bright light can lead the player on the main route, and color shemes can show him on which side of the CTF map he is located.TexturesTextures affect the gameplay completely differently to lighting because the main purpose is navigation and orientation instead of visibility. Of course, the textures also affect visibility but first let’s talk about its main intention.In arcade CTF maps, the bases have normally blue or red textures and not without good reason. As everybody knows, it helps the player to know exactly which base he is located in. In maps with a realistic setting, it might very stupid if the terrorist base has blue stripes and the S.W.A.T. spawn point has blue ones as well, so let's think about other solutions to use the textures as an help for orientation. The best way is actually to separate the maps in clearly different areas like we already did during the strategy planning phase. For example, a harbor area uses a completely different texture set to a backyard. Try to make sure that the textures are really different. For example; red, clean bricks and a gray, dirty concrete are much easier to recognize as different settings than two standard house textures with slightly different colors. Additionally, the chosen materials have to fit to the area; a wooden high-tech industrial complex simply doesn’t look right. Now the player comes into an area which is dominated by brick textures and knows exactly which area he is in. Large areas with memorable surfaces are even noticeable in a stressful fight or hunt because this is what fills most of the player’s screen. Of course these simple hints and only work in maps with a lot of urban elements. In bigger, complex outdoor maps, where the navigation might be different due to a low view range, you should try to use your vegetation as orientation help. Palm trees at the beach, high trees in the big jungle, and small trees in the mountain are just an example, the same goes for grass, bushes or even flowers. For a lot of designers (especially if they’ve created a lot of SP maps), consistency is very important. In multiplayer, however, it is overruled by gameplay aspects, especially if it helps the player to understand the map much easier. Please don’t make the borders between the areas too extreme otherwise it looks cheap. Remember: “In realistic maps the gameplay elements should be hidden as much as possible to create a believable scenario.” As I have mentioned above, textures can also affect the visibility of the player. It is quite obvious that the right surfaces support the camouflage effect of the player skins. A black player is very well hidden in dark, night, urban maps, etc. These things don’t need a lot of explanation. If you have a dark cellar and the walls are bright, the stealth effect becomes much weaker. So if you really want to modify the visibility by using light, make sure that the textures fit, too. Architecture & GeometryIn general, architecture directly affects the movement of the player and, of course, his visibility. One of the main intentions of geometry is actually giving the player cover, so let’s talk about the different kinds you can use.You can create half cover which is only really useful if the player is crouched or prone. It is harder to use and this decreases the effect of it. For balancing a defend/attack position this is a better solution than removing the cover completely because it is better to have weak cover than no cover at all. The second kind is full cover which protects the player completely whether he stands or crouches. This is actually the most powerful and frequently used cover in games; like bigger trees, columns or edges of houses. Behind such a structure, the player only has to fear indirect fire like grenades and air strikes so try to make sure that the enemy has at least a small chance to counter such a position or to shoot through. For example; a way around, enough cover in front so he can come very close, sniper and support spots to make sure that he stays behind the cover while the rest of the team move forward, or sight cover to sneak close. Cover doesn’t automatically slow down the game flow because here we have two kinds of cover. The first one has only one way around, like a column next to a wall or the edge of a big house. If the player hides there, he is much more predictable for the opposing player. He can only come out at one spot or stay where he is, so move ment in such areas will be much more careful and therefore slower. For fast attackers, a route with such cover would become less attractive so move cover next to the walls/borders or make it bigger if you think that the defenders have a disadvantage. The other kind is cover where the player has much more possibilities to surround e.g. a column in the middle of a room, a stone/tree on an open field or a small house. Here, the hiding the player has many more ways to surprise the enemy; he can appear at two sides and sometimes he can jump at the top or even go inside. An area with mainly such cover is an eldorado for quick tactical players and normally it’s harder to defend. Personally I like such situations with a variety of different possibilities but be careful regarding the balancing. A good counter against it for the defending team are some positions from where you have a good view of almost the whole area like towers, windows, etc.I think I have already mentioned this above but please don’t always use the same kind of cover, especially crates! Of course, they are very easy to build, are very friendly to the performance, and you can get them in almost every size but just try to be a little bit more innovative. Okay, even I used it a lot in my harbor and warehouse maps in this article but only because it is very easy to explain and it is a short word ;-). I’ve already tried to build maps intending to use as few crates as possible just to see if it’s feasible. I mainly used stones, trees, edges, columns, doorways, furniture, big machines, trenches, railings, windows, etc. Of course, it was possible and the only crates you can find are more decoration than part of the gameplay. If I can do it, you can do it too. Architecture doesn’t always mean cover so use your creativity not only to find different kinds of cover. Try to vary ways to go up and down, not always stairs or ladders e.g. with slopes/piles of dirt, ramps, broken pipes, elevator shafts, crates (or other objects) to jump up, cranes, planks or one way holes to jump down. Then you should think also about ways through walls, not always doors. Try to use windows where the player has to jump through, broken holes in ruins, bigger half open gates or pipes which the player has to crawl through or air ducts. The same counts for ways over trenches or cliffs. Instead of normal bridges, think about planks, fallen trees, pipes, cranes or situations where you can only jump over while running/sprinting.All of this variety can be easily used to balance the difficulty and speed of routes and to make areas more different from each other. Orientation and navigation becomes much harder if you always use crates, ladders, doors and the same looking bridges. Every time you place such elements, remember if you’ve already used something similar in your level think about something else instead. Another important factor of placing architecture or other geometry is the comfortable movement around. Very narrow passages in a battle field should be avoided. If you make gaps between objects then make sure that is obvious that you can’t go between. A gap where the player is 2cm too big to fit through is just frustrating. Run around your level and make sure that even for an inexperienced player, the movement is easy and you can’t get stuck anywhere.What about Details & Beauty?I can’t stress enough that performance and gameplay are always more important than the beauty of your map. Of course a nice looking map will get more attention at the beginning but if people notice that the bad performance makes the map unplayable with more than four players, nobody will play it anymore. Obviously the same goes for the gameplay, especially if all of your small details make the player get stuck or cause a very uncomfortable movement. So the main intention of details should be small gameplay elements like a hole/gap in a ruin, curtains around windows, a branch of a tree to jump on or a thin metal railing. The next intention of details is to create the right atmosphere. For example, break walls in ruins and place dirt on the ground, use metal support pieces in warehouses or clean looking furniture in mansions. If you and the players/testers are happy with your map and you have a good performance, start to add unimportant details like broken tiles on the wall/floor, adding a knob to your cupboard, folds in your carpet or make the pipes even more smooth. Don’t go crazy with adding details in your multiplayer maps, normally player just runs through your rooms and as soon as the action starts nobody cares that you wasted 3000 polygons for the picture frame around your favorite FHM model. If you think that an area has a lack of details then first try to use textures or shadows. You can easily combine it with gameplay e.g. a cellar room: Place your lights so that the cover casts a lot of shadows on the walls/floor, use different wall textures, make the unimportant and boring areas much darker then the good looking ones, add some simple structures under the ceiling and throw some dirt on the ground. Normally that’s already enough to make a room prettier using the existing elements without wasting a lot of time adding scratches in the walls/floor or placing high poly objects. Of course such hints are very general and I absolutely don’t want you to make your maps ugly. Especially the main areas need special attention art wise because beauty is also very important for the first impression but pure art aspects are not part of this article. If you are interested in beautification, don’t forget to check my other article(s) (more will come in the future) regarding art.Sound for GameplayPersonally, I rarely used sound in multiplayer maps except to create atmosphere. Maybe because I created my maps in the good old days when surface textures with different walking sounds were something pretty new. Especially in areas where visibility is less important than sound detection. For example, in a dark room where you can normally sneak through very silently, some louder metal/glass plates are interesting and fresh gameplay elements. The same can be said for water passages because it doesn’t only makes you slower, it is also a different, louder sound and every enemy in the vicinity can hear that there is someone in the water. Such small gameplay elements will become more interesting with better technology so don’t forget about them if you create maps for the new cutting-edge games.I also saw that several designers used to trigger sound elements if you move through specific areas, like a barking dog if you use the route through the backyard. Personally I don’t like such things because there is no fair way to avoid them ... hmm unless you can throw a grenade over the fence to blow up the stupid mutt ;-). Something different are mission/game specific sound events like an alarm siren triggered by the enemy or pick up sounds of the flag/mission objective. They can of course be used to balance bigger maps with several objectives. Round Based vs. Reinforcement Game modesThere are two main differences in making levels for round based game modes and game modes where the players re-spawn constantly. The first one is the size of the maps. If the player spawn in the same positions every round, he doesn’t want to walk for very long before the fights start. Of course this is similar to maps for reinforcement game modes but in a round based mode, the people stay dead until one team wins. So the number of possible fights is much more limited and so is the size of the maps. Especially the rounds should be quite short because dead people have to wait for the round to end before they re-spawn again. So a bigger map will become quite boring, people have to walk a lot and dead people stay dead for a long time and get frustrated. On the other hand, round based game modes can be much more tactical because the start situation is always equal in every round. You can calculate tactical situations much better because you know more or less where the main battle areas will be. For you as a level designer, this makes the design easier but bad places have a much bigger impact on the level design then in re-spawn maps. On such maps an unbalanced area is less critical because almost the whole map can be a battle ground. For example, a powerful defending sniper position can ruin the fights around a mission area every round, and the attackers will avoid the area as much as possible. If the player re-spawns continuously, such a sniper can be nasty, too. But as soon as he is finally dead, the fights might start to move to other places or they never really happen. Fights in such maps are less focused on certain areas but this doesn’t mean that you are allowed to create a few unbalanced parts of the map. Both game types require a different design philosophy. One needs perfect focus on certain areas while the others must be a unit of well combined battle areas or just one huge battle area. Mirrored vs. Uneven Map LayoutIt is a well-known fact that the arcade game modes like CTF must have a mirrored map layout. This is okay as long as the maps stayed small with no vehicles and the gameplay was very arcadey. Since we can build bigger maps with vehicles and the main intention is to create a realistic feeling battle field, even unmirrored layouts became usual for CTF and similar game modes. This is, of course, nothing new for round based games with normally clear attackers and defenders. If the role of the team is clear, it is easier to calculate the balancing progress. Mirrored maps are generally easier to build and to balance. They should be used for open and arcade game modes where the realistic feeling of the level is less important than the pure gameplay itself. For example, if you play CTF it is already unrealistic and then it doesn’t really matter if one side of the city has blue paintings and the other side is almost the same with more red on the walls. The biggest problem now is to find a good solution to increase the orientation and navigation because you have two parts which are very similar. Of course you could make all the trees on one side red and the other side blue but I hope we all agree that this would look stupid even in fun maps. For a realistic scenario you should try to find much smarter solutions. Like I’ve already mentioned above, variation is quite important so why shouldn’t the bridge on one side be a couple of pipes and on the other side a few wooden planks. This can be used almost everywhere as long as the gameplay at both places stays the same, for balancing reasons. Another idea, which can be well combined with the previous one, are different styles in the areas. One side of the map is dirty with broken old cars and a lot of graffiti and the other side is a more clean, noble area where the house owners wash their cars every weekend. I think it is logical that the break between the two styles shouldn’t be very abrupt and should make a little bit sense. If there is absolutely no way to separate the two parts style-wise, you can still go back to the old school “color solution”. Using blue and red should only be your last way. Just don’t make it so extreme and artificial like you know it from pure arcade games like Quake. Colorful banderols around trees, graffiti on house walls, marks on crates, cars or even flags are not great ideas but still better than any extreme solutions like blue vs. red grass.Just make sure that it fits as well as possible or that it looks like a paintball team marked their combat areas. A completely blue stone looks way too freaky but if it looks like that someone painted a big blue square on the stone it is already much better.Unmirrored levels have the complete opposite problems than the mirrored ones. On one hand, if you do it a little bit smart and follow the basic rules in the previous chapters above, navigation and orientation won’t be a big problem. On the other hand, now balancing is your biggest issue. That is the reason why unmirrored levels are much harder to design than mirrored ones. Making a few different textures and placing a few detailed objects doesn’t need a lot of design skills compared with making a perfectly balanced map with two different sides. I’ve already talked a lot about how to balance unmirrored maps for round based game modes so this time I will concentrate more on how to do this for reinforcement levels. If your battle fields are very big and open, it is easier because a flat hill is almost the same as a flat valley. As soon as the terrain is really different and you have a lot of bigger objects, balancing starts to become difficult. For example, if at one side you have a bigger hill in front of the regular base defense, the attackers might have an advantage but on the other side you have a valley. Now you need to think about what you have to change so that the attackers have more problems with the hill, or how much cover you have to place in the valley so it is balanced again. You have to think about almost every place in the map and how to balance it differently to the other side. This is very critical and because it is almost impossible to calculate all kinds of combat situations, it is actually impossible to balance it perfectly. The only real solution is a lot of experience and a mass of testing the map if you want to create an unmirrored level where both teams have the role of attackers and defenders. Expect that the first versions of your maps get a lot of bad feedback and you will have to tweak it a lot. So stay in close contact with your test team and make a detailed test plan. After the first general tests you should start to concentrate on certain areas and let the QA focus on these areas until the feedback is detailed enough so you can really balance them. If you and the test team do the job well, nobody will really notice the small balancing problems. Of course some fans will always complain about this and that area but it will be the minority and is simply the calculated risk of unmirrored maps. Just do it as good as possible. Realistic & Arcade Even if your setting is realistic, the game itself can be very different. It can be something ultra-realistic like American Army or something more arcadey like Action Quake. The strategic design for both kinds of extremes is almost the same. They all need a balanced basic structure and good navigation/orientation. The real differences are in the tactical elements.If the player can only move realistically for the majority of the game the player it is quite slow. If the player dies very quickly, tactical team play und unpredictable gameplay are the key game elements instead of rushing and making crazy stunts. Cover should be closer together and in bigger battle areas, support/cover spots for the attacking squad become very important. Always think about camper and sniper positions and how the opposing team can counter them with tactics. If one hidden sniper can cover the edge of an important house and the attackers can only peek around the corner and get a headshot or run for four seconds over an open field with no support from the back, it might become quite frustrating. If the first three squad mates have to die before you know where the damn sniper is lying, you should increase the tactical variation heavily. On the other hand, if one 40mm grenade can be fired accurately over 200m and kill everyone in a radius of 5m, the defenders also need the possibility to become unpredictable. In a realistic game it is simply a fact that the defenders have a huge advantage. So if the attackers want to be successful they have to change the tactics very often, use smoke grenades, counter sniping, covering fire, etc. to break through the defense lines. You as the designer, have to give them all these possibilities and if the players don’t use them and keep playing like Rambo's it is simply their fault. On the other side, if the player can run with 50 kilometers an hour, he has to care less about snipers if he has to sprint four seconds to another cover spot. Taking the risks and cool stunts are strong elements for the fun factor of more arcade game modes. Yes, it was simply cool in Action Quake to strafe, jump 20m to the next roof and surprise the other team. Just make sure that such cool stunts are possible in your maps, the fans will really like to make completely crazy actions. Now campers and lame phlegmatic base defenders have no chance and the whole game becomes faster and more aggressive. Now a single Rambo player can wipe out a complete noob team with less problems, but hey that is Hollywood action and the player’s problem, not yours. As long as the Rambo player can do it in every team because your map is well balanced, it should be okay. It is your job as a level designer to support the features of the game you build for. If you make your map so extremely hard and boring for attackers and defenders, that it is the same as playing an ultra-realistic game, you definitely did something wrong.Game design vs. Level designI guess what I am telling some of the level designers out there might come as a bit of a shock. From my experience of working with a lot of other designers, quite often they would complain about the game design without thinking that something with their level design might be wrong. Normally there is a fine line between game design and level design but smart people are able to think in the right way and know where the problem might be. So my advice for the level designer with problematic areas in their maps is to consider that there is a fair chance that it can be his fault, too. For example, the game designer decides that all thin wooden planks are destroy-able. Now the level designer complains that he sometimes needs indestructible boards because otherwise the opponent can destroy the only cover in that area very quickly. He decides that some of the planks in his level cannot be damaged. Okay, if something has special features it should be obvious that all similar objects have the same abilities. Continuity is an old school design rule and should never be changed. If you have problems with one of the special objects in that specific situation then you simply shouldn’t place it there. Just use your brain and think about another solution like a lower stone wall as cover or whatever. Causing frustration and perplexity is the last thing you want in your level.I know that you are now waiting for an example where the game design is wrong instead of the scolded mapper. Especially the problem of badly designed/balanced weapons shouldn’t affect the level design. If a flash-bang blinds everyone in a radius of 50m, the designer shouldn’t make too many small areas in the level. Frag grenades which you can throw through the whole level and it remember more about artillery shouldn’t produce levels where every wall is 30m height. Before the sub machine-gun is too powerful and the mappers only design wide open fields in their levels, they should start a small revolution against the game designers. I guess since you’ve read the article this far, you have enough experience to remember enough of the other examples. Discussions are good as long as both sides are able to accept that they might be wrong, and are able to make compromises. CreativityI could probably write a completely new article on the subject of creativity but I would like to keep this short. If you read through the whole article, please don’t expect that you can now build the greatest levels of all time. Perhaps you can now create some quite solid multiplayer maps but they are still nothing really special without your own creative input! Every good designer has his systems which he uses to create levels but even the best didn’t have their greatest ideas on command. Normally you think about a problem or something which might spice up your level until you get a headache and then suddenly, when you least expect it, you find the solution. Great ideas can come to you; under the shower, on the toilet, smoking on the balcony, before you fall asleep or whenever you are relaxing. This is normal and nobody can expect you to come up with ideas to order.Great ideas are born if you don’t think about the problem and suddenly it pops up into your mind so try to make sure that you work in a peaceful, inspiring environment without a lot of stress around you. Go out for a walk, customize your desk like a greenhouse (an extreme example but I’ve seen it done), relax or do something completely different as long as you don’t have to think very hard. If you have no real idea about your strategy plan, just use an already approved old school one, modify it a little bit and then you might have cool ideas for the tactical parts. At least this is how it happens to me very often.It is nothing really new that level designers take their ideas from movies, music videos or even from some cheap B-movie style TV series. A single scene in any action movie can already give you the idea of a tactical scene in your new level. Take this as a base and complete it with a strategy plan, do some research about the environment and you will get enough other ideas to fill the level. In the end nobody knows that it was a Bon Jovi video which gave you the mental kick for a kick ass map because it was just the first impulse for your own creative work.Final Words & QuestionsWho am I writing this for? Definitely for the level designers out there. Sharing his own knowledge so that everyone might learn something and improve their skills is becoming a rare virtue in that community. I hope even more people start to write about their experiences because even I still want to learn something new and I bet you guys have even more cool ideas. On the other hand, I hope a lot of non-level designers are reading this long article to get a better idea about the work we are doing every day. It is already science and almost an art to make good multiplayer levels and it seems that the majority of people still don’t understand that.I guess several designers might say that everything they have read here is just a waste of time because it was all logical and everybody knows the basics. However, I think there is a big difference between knowing something and doing what you know! If I think back to some of my maps, I would find many failures even though I was already clear about all of these rules. Writing these basic rules helps me to internalize it and it might also help you to think more clearly about them after you have read this article.Building a multiplayer map shouldn’t normally be a really big deal but to design a good one is even harder than designing a single player map. On the other hand, it is normally harder to build a good, solid single player level. I don’t want to start now with the never ending discussion about whether it is harder to make a single player or multiplayer maps. If you have ever built for both for a long time, or even designed them professionally, then you will have your own opinion which you simply have to respect. Other people’s opinions have a smaller impact on my one but, of course, I always welcome fair discussions.Why are you reading this article? ... I guess you should have a good answer by now because you’ve already read through my small bible and if you didn’t read anything, shame on you ;-). I hope after reading about the well-known or boring aspects, you have learned something new and enjoyed reading it.Thank you for reading,Benjamin Bauer*This article has been posted on Next Level Design with the authors permissionSource: http://www.benb-design.net/Articles/benb_article02.pdfFollow Benjamin:Website: http://www.benb-design.net/Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_qb1MnHEV4xaVBpQaigspQ
  5. Next Level Design has been given permission from the author to host this entire book in PDF format. Download the attached PDF at the bottom of this article for the entire book, or view it here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1uB3pUjPkHuWWOYEc70nkVjVlR09ua70zStill not sure? Read through this section on lighting that was recently posted on Next Level Design: In addition, we've included another small section of the book right here: pg. 25 INTRODUCTION Due to games’ ever-increasing complexity and the expanding nature of levels in general, it can certainly be said that levels are not easy to design. Levels, as said before, are combinations of dozens of different aspects, the conglomeration of which render them complex by nature. This combination of complex systems itself requires good design from the start in order to avoid an inconsistent and downright messy result. Because the different aspects are so interdependent, it’s very important not to lose sight of a level’s ‘big picture’. This chapter highlights some of the issues that can pop up when designing a level, as well as some more minor aspects to keep in mind. The overall design is the foundation for a level. Without a clear, strong design, there is no solid base on which to build the level. THE CREATION OF A NEW WORLDThe most important part of a successful level is its beginning. The way a level starts will determine a great deal about how the rest of the level will evolve and how quickly. In these days of growing complexity, efficiency and speed are valued highly. Getting off to a bad start or using bad work methods can cost time which is usually at a premium to begin with. Part of starting a good design is foreseeing potential problems before anything is created. By doing this early in the process, a good level designer can quickly and easily modify the design to better fit the available time, workload, difficulty, technical limits, or all of the above.How one begins a new level is different for every person. One designer may write everything down in a design document while another, like me, just plans it out in their head. The method used also depends upon if one is working in a team environment. Working with a team means that the level’s design must be communicated throughout the team which usually means some sort of written, drawn, or quickly modeled design that can be passed around and/or presented. How it’s done isn’t important as long as several key aspects are kept in mind and the end product is of a sufficient quality. If the technology used cannot create lush jungles, for example, then this must be recognized before starting.A design should progress only when exactly what is wanted and how to accomplish it is known. Exact information is the key to this. Again using the jungle example, one must know what the jungle will look like, the colors it uses, the overall style, how the player will move through it, if the engine can render thick vegetation, what kind of physics will be involved, and too many more to list here.To assist in this task, I have developed a type of checklist that is at the base of everything I design. The list compares several key values against each other to see if they are possible and if they should be modified. It also helps define the values better. The list checks to see if the rules of, for example, lighting and composition are contrary to each other and if the goal is possible and what direction to take. This extensive chapter will mostly be about the latter.A level is complex and it takes increasingly more time and effort to successfully complete one; thus failure is not an option. All the areas that could potentially cause a problem should be identified before starting any work. Once the design process starts it should go smoothly; design dilemmas should not occur or, if they do, should be easily overcome with few modifications to the overall plan. Getting stuck can be very demoralizing and time consuming. pg. 26THE CHECKLISTA level always begins with a goal, a theme, or both. The goal may be that the game requires a medieval castle, or that it’s missing an ominous environment, or that the level is to be the central hub of the game.After identifying the basic idea, certain key information needs to be pinned down before starting the level. This ‘key information’ will be referred to as ‘the keys’. The keys communicate important properties about the level. They are the key words the level is built around and provide more information on the level’s requirements.The following are questions to determine the key information for the level-to-be: • (1-Time) How much time is there available? Is there a deadline? • (2-Tech) What tools and game engine will be used? • (3-Limitations) What limitations are there? Is there a shortage of art assets or staff/personal skill limit? Can anything be made or are some aspects beyond the scope of the project because of their complexity? • (4-Requirements) What kind of requirements are there? Are there any specific elements, for example, special buildings or areas that have to be in the level? When compared to the rest of the game what visual style or theme must the level adhere to? • (5-Purpose) What is the overall purpose? For example, is it a multiplayer practice level or a singleplayer boss arena? • (6-Gameplay) What should the gameplay be like? How should it be played? Should there be enough room for a large boss encounter? Or does it need to be large enough to contain a large number of enemies attacking the player? Perhaps it’s a vehicle level? Or it is a stealth level? And so on. • (7-Theme) What theme and/or style will the level have? Will it be a castle or a jungle? Will the style be cartoonish or realistic?This is all essential information for a level. The order of the list is not as important as the answers. Once the essential elements of the level have been identified it can be run through a checklist to see if it holds up. Will it work? Look right? Play right?The keys provide the information while the checklist determines if it is possible or not. The checklist combines two or more keys in order to determine if they fit together or not. If the desired theme is a jungle, but the engine can’t handle rendering dense vegetation, then these are two keys that do not fit together and the design will need to be adjusted accordingly. This is the type of information the keys provide: essential information that design decisions can be based on before actually starting work on a level. Thinking ahead is the key to success.The checklist itself is a system for asking questions and making comparisons. The questions are different each time, but the comparisons remain the same. Verify that the individual elements compliment each other.Here's the entire Table of Contents: Download the attached PDF below, or view it here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1uB3pUjPkHuWWOYEc70nkVjVlR09ua70z *The Hows and Whys of Level Design is hosted on Next Level Design with permission from the authorFollow Sjoerd De JongWebsite: http://www.hourences.com/Portfolio: http://www.hourences.com/portfolio/Twitter: https://twitter.com/HourencesYoutube: https://www.youtube.com/user/Hourences/feed The Hows and Whys of Level Design.pdf
  6. About Ben Burkart I initially became interested in level design as a full time career at the age of 12 when somebody gave me a copy of the original Unreal Tournament. I do not recall exactly how it happened but I ended up stumbling upon the level editor and quickly became fascinated with it. Above all the thing that stood out to me and fascinated me the most was the idea of creating my own levels. The authors names were under the properties of each level in the game and because I was so interested in level design these people in a very large way became my role models even though I had no idea who they were. One name that appeared on several of my favorite maps was Cliff Bleszinski. I knew nothing about him other than that he made a lot of my favorite maps and that I also wanted to become a level designer so I set out to contact him. I sent an email with one single question “How much money do you make a year?” I was not aware that this was rude to ask, I was just a clueless kid in the country who wanted to make video games… I received a response that simply said “3 billion“. I do not remember if I actually believed him at the time but it was enough to make me excited to push forward with making levels. After making levels for a couple of years I got my first phone interview at Nintendo at the age of 15. I do not know what they saw in my work but I was told that my work stood out to them and it was all I needed to hear to push myself to getting my first job in the industry which eventually happened in 2007 at Gearbox Software. At Gearbox Software I worked as a level designer on Brothers in Arms Hell’s Highway. They had an amazing cog program that really helped me get my foot in the door initially. After Gearbox Software I worked at a studio named Blue Omega Entertainment where I worked on a game called Damnation. I came in towards the end of the production of Damnation so my responsibilities were more in the direction of polishing the levels and improving upon the multiplayer maps in terms of both layout and visuals. Lake Scene by Ben Burkart After Blue Omega I started at a small indie studio named Trendy Entertainment working on Dungeon Defenders1/firstwave/second wave, and Dungeon Defenders 2. I stayed at Trendy Entertainment for 4 1/2 years and then got a job at Empire Studios working on an unannounced Unreal Engine 4 title. Overall my responsibilities in each studio were generally the same with the exception that I was given more responsibilities as I became more experienced and I eventually took a lead level designer position at Trendy Entertainment. Responsibilities at each studio generally came down to creating the level layouts and bringing them to final visual polish, including gameplay passes, decoing the levels, lighting them, and in many situations optimizing and finalizing them.The Best Tools for the Level Designer Forest Scene by Ben Burkart I use Unreal Engine 4 for one very important reason, it empowers its users. One of the most important advantages I believe Unreal Engine has always had over other engines is a superior workflow. Tools are always robust and empower the developers to save hundreds of hours of development time even over the previous Unreal Engine 3. In Unreal Engine 1 and 2 if a level designer or artist wanted to do some fun scripted stuff that the code didn’t currently support they would need the help of a programmer. With the additions of kismet and Blueprint the engine has basically upped the possibilities that a developer can pull off allowing for not only quick prototyping but also quick implementation, bug fixing, and overall just general production. The most important thing when it comes to game engines is that they allow the developers to do what they want. The less time you spend fighting technical stuff and trying to get buggy software to work the quicker you can get an amazing project finished. And for this reason I have stuck with Unreal Engine since 2001 through all of its iterations. Generally a level designer can get away with knowing nothing more than the Unreal Editor and still be an amazing level designer. However several level design job positions will require some knowledge of 3D modeling software such as 3ds Max, or Maya so I would suggest learning one of these as a secondary skill to at least an intermediate level. If you are just starting out I would definitely suggest putting all of your time and effort into only learning UE4 to start off as it can easily be daunting all by itself. Companies will prefer somebody extremely efficient in UE4 vs somebody who is mediocre in both UE4 and 3D modeling.The Tricks of Building Levels in 3D Daoist - Unreal Tournament 3 Level from Ben Every project should be approached differently when it comes to planning out your level but generally there are a lot of points that remain the same. Spending a few days worth of planning out your level can save you weeks or headaches and reworking later on. There are a few main things you need to get down before you even begin thinking out your layout. It is always important to have a goal and purpose for your level, deciding this early on should influence how you make decisions regarding layout/visuals/balancing through every step of your levels creation. When preparing to design your level you should have a clear indication as to what kind of visual theme you are going for as it should influence your layout as well as allow you to get the right assets together or to get a better idea of what kind of assets you are going to need.Multiplayer Maps: The Main Staples of Level Design Vicinity - Unreal Tournament 3 Level from Ben The way you approach multiplayer maps depends very heavily on what type of multiplayer map it is going to be and what game it is being developed. Let’s imagine you’re building a DeathMatch level for an arena game such as Unreal Tournament.Flow: Flow is above and beyond the most important thing in any multiplayer map, while the other things on this list have a possibility of not breaking the map if they are done somewhat poorly your map will always fail if your flow is bad.Item Placement: As with most of the things on this list the Item placement in a map can make or break your layout.Vertical Spaces: Any good Death Match level will have multiple floors/stories. Having several overlapping floors makes the gameplay a lot more interesting as well as exciting.Spawn Points: Spawn points should never be obvious to other players or be marked visually to allow players to camp and spawn kill players. Level Designers should place a minimum of 2-3 times more spawn points throughout the level than the player count its designed for, for instance if your level is designed for 4 players you should be placing a minimum of 8-12 spawn points in your level. Make sure spawn points are set so that players are spawned facing in an interesting direction or towards a nearby weapon. The sooner you can get the player back into the action the better!Using Sound: One often times overlooked feature most newer level designers overlook is using sound cues to trigger at specific spots in a level when a player runs over them. This allows players to hear where other players are at and react to the sounds they hear. A few simple ways to do this are, placing water puddles, creaking boards, clanging metal, etc.. In the case of games such as Unreal Tournament you should also use some of the health pickups in this way such as a health vial that makes a very unique sounds when picked up. Also if you have a level with several lifts/elevators it helps giving each a unique sound effect.Visual Clarity: Any competitive multiplayer game should have two things in common, good frame rates, and a very good visual clarity. Levels should be lit very well and player pathways should be extremely obvious and clear. Overall maps should be mostly devoid of noisy details as you want the players to stand out from the environment. Generally when it comes to making multiplayer maps it pays to under deco vs over deco your maps. As much as a lot of people enjoy making their levels a visual masterpiece players will often times pick the more simple maps with a better layout.Utilizing Gameplay Mechanics: Most games will have something that makes them unique. As a level designer it is your job to ensure that players are made to use these unique abilities often. For instance, in Unreal Tournament 4 players have the ability to dodge off walls, climb ledges, lift jumping, piston jumping etc… So giving players areas cool areas they can only reach by jumping at the right time at the top of a lift would be a good example of taking advantage of the gameplay mechanics.Size: The overall size of a map doesn’t always play into the final deciding factor on if it is easier or harder to create as it all depends on what the overall goal of the map is and how detailed each will be but generally a larger map will come with more challenges. For instance, making a giant MMO style map that is mostly open spaces with very little detail will for the most part be easier to create than a full city block that’s 10X smaller with 100X the detail. However, creating very large maps will have their own unique challenges, such as performance and memory restrictions. Things that are generally easier to maintain in a smaller map. However in some instances creating larger environments may be easier, but they are also easier to mess up and generally take a lot more experience from both the level designers and artists to get right. Original Source: https://80.lv/articles/8-secrets-of-a-great-multiplayer-map/ *This article has been posted in its entirely with permission from the author Ben's Website: http://www.evilmrfrank.com/ Ben's Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/evilmrfrank/videos Ben's Twitter: https://twitter.com/evilmrfrank