design-map-rating v1-15-2004 Release 2 © RTCM Andrew Orman , Corvin
Designing a good map for any game is a difficult task, even for the experienced. Its alot of hard work that consumes alot of your time. To becoming a decent Builder you need many hours of experience with the editor and examining different worlds others have designed, including reviewing the commercial maps that where included with your game. Of course some Builders have a natural gift at designing maps or have had previous experience. If your not one of these users fear not and read on.
Be advised that in general this information has in mind realism and realistic effects and details for a map of good quality. You may find that you will have to bend some of these rules, in effect doing the opposite of what a specific article specifies. Take great care when doing so and make it tasteful.
Determining the theme of a map before hand may prove to be one of the hardest parts of making a great map. Themes can be anything from picking a time period to the location of the setting. Themes can center around anything you imagine, a futuristic world, planet scape, medieval times, maybe something related to todays world. The setting could be within a city, jungle, compound, factory, castle, outside or inside, maybe both since BUILD is capable of large scale environments. You may want to stay away from settings like bars, houses and todays city streets. These settings are overused, sometimes built inaccurately and become receptive after awhile. Real world maps are really a no no. There boring and usually don't have any design issues that would relate to a first person shooter.
Once you have the theme and setting, you'll want to set the mood. Such as time of day, how much sun or moon light, what kinds of sounds will you eventually use,will ambiance sound play a big role, will there be noises far off in the distance giving the player notice of what may lye ahead, will things look ere or inviting, will there be movement in the map, movement from sprites, movement in the distances, lightening and weather.
Visual scans are normally used to help one set moods. You would in memory visually scan an area to set little details. To get the entire picture use both senses, smell, sight and hearing. Until theres "smell-a-game" we can use Scents as an imaginary substance. Think of what kinds of things one will "smell" while moving through a map. Would you see these smells as vapor or gas or would it just be something thats there but we can't see it. Lets say your moving through a map that has a pond in it. As you walk along the edge you will smell the various vegetation,grass, small flowers, cat tails that get in your nose, frogs and pond scum, perhaps dead fish or frogs. Some of these things would exist but wouldn't be in plain site when one visualizes a setting. These fine details would enhance your map upon close inspection. Using all three senses will help you find something to add that you wouldn't have normally.
Developing the layout of your map will be much easier after having developed a theme. Rectangles are easy to do in build but can also be very boring. Be inventive. Make your rooms more than just square boxes, make them interesting. if your a beginner, keep the rooms tight and small, don't make the mistake of going big. Its just to much work to do for someone new. You may find drafting your map out on graph paper will help you to achieve a much better looking layout and you'll beadle to build your level in the editor much quicker. It doesn't need to be all that impressive 'cause no matter what you will be making changes on the fly as you build your map. Once your inside your map with the BUILD Editor things will look and feel different and this is something that is unavoidable. Use it to your best advantage. Always build from outside to the inside, place your outside walls up first then worry about interior wall placement. Details like windows and textures would be something to worry about last. Seems like common scents.
Details are very important. Keeping attention to detail is much easier in smaller areas. Examine the room your sitting in, notice things like molding where the ceiling meets the wall. Same thing with the wall and floor. Don't try to build something that you know nothing about. Go visit a structure that may have areas similar to your theme. Other examples would be little things like empty bottles laying around, blood on the wall where maybe something got fragged, slime dripping from the ceiling, a puddle of water, rats running around. You do not need to get carried away with all the fine details but when you add a some detail the players will respond to them. They will play your map and play it longer if it's fun to move around in. Build in your own tweaks, turns, and obstacles. Don't forget to decorate the ceiling. Its easy to overlook this type of details. The extra time you put into your layout will be well worth it. You will eventually develop your own "style" and "look" to your maps that others will recognize.
Architecture is easier to deal with once you have the layout figured out. You don't just have open rooms, theres things hanging from the ceiling and structural members may be visible, Wooden beams, steal rafters. Doorways are recessed into the walls and structural frames petrude. Insure your swinging doors don't look as if they move into a wall at any point. Windows are similar to doorways, the glass area is placed in the center of its frame. Use two sectors instead of one so the windows look recessed. If the frame is large enough this would allow a player to use it as a small ledge, allowing one to interact with the structure.
The external of buildings are not always a single construction with doors and windows. They have complex sections that petrude from the main structure. They built at different angles and are placed in locations that favor the use of the new wing. Making the building more complex makes for a realistic appearance. Theres also outside platforms, walkways and porches. Some may even have low walls separating meeting areas, they could be made out of brick, concrete and even walls of bushes. Trees are placed in areas that would most benefit the structure, not to close and just far enough away where it won't grow over the roof.
Review your theme and insure buildings and surrounding areas fit the period of time you have chosen. In medieval times you wouldn't see huge machinery, nor would a steel wall be present. Your theme effects what textures you'll be using, you wouldn't see city walls inside a castle or space station walls in a city.Work on your architectural skills.
Once you have a good idea what your theme and layout will be, you should determine what type of gameplay you'll want. Choosing a game type can ultimately change your layout so shoot for something that works well with your map. These are realy the standard types, Single Player, CO-operative, or Deathmatch.
Single Player levels are usually huge maps full of details and things to do. They don't normally have large open areas. Remember most single players are just that, for one player. There usually the easiest to make considering your not adding in a bunch of special BUILD tricks. Enemy placement is must be placed correctly to avoid not over doing. Each enemy behaves different and some our designed to behave based on the map design. So its upto you to place them correctly. Surprising the player is always a good idea. Ambushes are nice to give the player something to sweat over. Place weapons, health and ammo in locations that would just give the player enough to survive on, if you want the player just to have an all out fight give him more than the usual. Item placement typically is used if the player is going to need them shortly after they have picked up the item. On the other hand if you want the player to have an advantage you can give him a bonus item that will help with the odds. With Key cards place them strategically around the map, make the player work for them. Put the player in a route that will lead them near the cards, but once they are there make them think on what to do next, does he have to find a hidden switch, jump a large gap or find a secret wall. You want the player to explore the entire map, try to avoid unnecessary locations that have little meaning to what needs to be done next. There are instances more often than not that a single player map can be made supportive of CO-OP game type. Don't worry about this though, the end result of your map will determine this automatically. Things like size of the map and the layout will be factors that will be considered.
CO-OP only levels are similar to single player levels but much larger and contain for enemies. There should be plenty of surprises so all players get a chance to experience some excitement. A very good CO-OP map has different routes team mates must travel to let other teammates escape from traps or to pass through locked doorways. Maybe a few switches need to be press in order but are located away from each other. Maybe some switches must be press quickly and would require a few players standing in front of these switches. Each assigned there task. True CO-OP levels are defiantly hard levels to make but I tend to believe they are very fun to play. You can always turn most single player levels into CO-OP by adding in more enemies, but this is the easy way out of making CO-OP. You don't always need to take the easy way-out of building maps. There are very few true CO-OP levels, so if you decide on it be creative and build a great CO-OP level.
Deathmatch levels tend to be the smallest levels of them all but hardest to make. They should be fast paced and full of action. Its all against all. You don't want the players to get hung up alot on things or make near impossible jumps. Use those tricks less often in a deathmatch map. Save them for making hard to reach a high powered weapon like a rocket launcher or that atomic health. You can make the action slower if you want a bunch of sniping, hiding and camping locations, but you really should only do this with maps that support the maximum amount of mutil-players, Normally eight in BUILD Games. This way the action will be variable, changing from fast to slow, slow to fast. Avoid using long corridors and routes that leave one choice to escape by doubling back the way you came into an area, through the long corridor. Use a mixture of open areas and pathways, but avoid making mazes. Team Deathmatch, If you can get your game to support it then do it, there fun aswell. Most BUILD Games can do this, but it usually requires more than a mapper to do the work. You'll need special cons and artwork if the game doesn't directly support this.
If your not sure what type of gameplay you want, just re-examine your map as your creating it, this will help you determine the type of gameplay. You should do this fairly soon after you have started building the map.
Scale is one of the things that most mappers overlook. Theres really two different scales, perspective and third-person. The perspective is the scale that a player sees through the characters eyes. This is hopefully set by the developers accurately. The thirdperson scale is when you hit the F7 view. You can see how things are sized based on the characters height. This isn't available in all BUILD Games so one would have to rely on the perspective view. The thirdperson view also depends on the accuracy of the developer so it may/does slightly appear differently than the perspective view. Never the less you can use it to help you size things such as wall heights, thickness, size of door knobs and there height etc...
Considering most tiles in the editor are oversized one would have to scale them down to obtain the correct size. The only exception is the enemies, there normally scaled correctly. The best view to finalize the scale of things is to use the perspective view. Much to often I find things like door heights, door knobs, windows are placed to high and oversized. You ever play a map that someone made a building or short wall that protects you but is intended to be shot over from your position only to find out that its to high to be used for that purpose and you need to jump to shoot over. Its crazy, Some mappers scale there maps big. Sometimes this is intentional if the designer wants the perspective view to look 'oversized' like the world is coming down on you. That works if thats what your aiming for. But don't build a map that is intended to be highly interactive like bunkers and sandbag walls, sniperslots and gunnerpits and there all to high to actually use them. And those doors where the handles are as big as the characters head and are placed right in ones face. Not to mention walking into a room where all the furniture is as tall as the character.
The BUILD Editor allows you to scale objects and textures to any size you want. Most are scaled down. This is so the artwork is done in a high resolution and once scaled down it looks much better. Just make sure you use the feature and size sprites like tables and chairs so they look in proportion the the player character. Doors are also something to worry about. Don't make a giant door with the knob as high as the player character, they should be at the height that your legs meat your torso, or slightly lower. Normal windows are not suppose to look like there six feet high by four foot wide. Normal windows would be about as wide as the player character or in perspective view up close should possibly fit to the edges of the screen or slightly small. I remember this one map where to toilet was as high and wide as a desk. I didn't know if I was suppose to go swimming or take a leak. Anyhow don't do that it looks terrible and kills the mood. Keep the proportions, don't size them to much in one direction and not enough in the other. Use the F7 key(if available) to help bring the sizes down. Make sure your structures are all within believable limits as well. Remember in many cases the size of your levels compared to real world are sometimes smaller. for an example a huge room make only be a third of that in the game. But again it all depends on what your going for. Speed of the character if adjustable also plays in the factor of size.
Surprising a player makes things challenging and exciting at the same time. Placing enemies right behind doors, using mines that are activated by touch plates, testing the players reflexes with moving sectors, try making the player jump around quickly from small platforms or places to stand on, add a few enemies during tense player movement, place a single enemy out of the normal path one would move through. Use height changes with stairs, ledges and lifts so the player can't always see whats coming at him. The list of things to do can go one and on. Re-play some commercial made levels and see what they have done. Review a bunch of user made maps to determine techniques.
Enemies are commonly found right behind a door, this is an old technique but its lasting. One of the best doors to put a rapid firing enemy behind is a door that opens from the middle. You simply make it like you would a regular Up&Down door. Just raise the floor and lower the ceiling. When they meet in the middle hit ALT-F3 for closed position. Then lower the floor and raise the ceiling. Then press ALT-F4 for the opened position. Spawning in enemies is usually not a great idea, but if the map would call for it, such as you don't want preplaced enemies to activate as soon as it sees the player, find a corner or recess ceiling and spawn them from there when a player activates upon entering a certain sector. If you do use spawning make it so if the player investigates how the enemies go into the area place a fake or locked door or a chute from the ceiling. Better yet have a hidden door open and spawn the enemies out of sight in that room, this way the player can actually find a place where the enemies actually came from. Same thing with a ceiling chute, spawn them somewhere up in it. Placing enemies on lifts and elevators the is always a surprising situation. Gives the player the feeling that the enemies is in the process of coming to get him. Place a sneaky enemy inside a secret area that the player discovers, "surprise you found a challenging enemy." Oh, and don't forget you can use enemies in a multiplayer map aswell. You may find placing enemys is best left after the map has been completed. You may find occasionaly you designed a section of the map for a specific reason pertaning to an enemy, its a good idea to place your enemy then.
BOSS Sprites - These monsters when killed end the entire game, so use them sparingly - remember they're supposed to be the big bad-asses at the end of the episode so show some respect! :) There is almost no point in putting in more than one boss sprite. Remember that BOSS2 can be turned into a smaller version of himself that wont end the game by setting his palette to 21. The same is true of the other BOSS sprites, though some may be killed with a single shot! Test this for yourself.
Try using the method of a story building to a climax, this technique is primarily for single player or co-op levels but multiplayer maps can benefit from this type of change or transition aswell. What you do is build a 'story' start off with the unknown, make the player wonder what the heck is out there, use ambient sounds and shadows. Bring the player to some action without revealing the climax. Let the player regain his health with power ups. Once the player past the test of the action, scare them or surprise them with enemies shooting him in the back or have them poor out of a doorway, have him face a boss or anything. Make the player sweat. Allow the player to get health before starting this routine over again. you can have several climaxes in a single map or it can be drawn out once throughout the map. Its your choice and you could do whatever you want.
Sprites are very versatile. They can almost be called your friend. Sprites make up almost all objects in a map, trees, roots, grass, weeds, bushes, slime and structures like bridges, walls and floors(second floors if the game doesn't support sector over sector.) Furniture can be made from sprites even form a 3D object, such as tables, chairs and shelves. Even textures can be used as standard sprites.
BUILD games are famous for making things breakable. BUILD Games allow you to "spawn" particles off of textures using sprites, placing them in common areas where one would shoot. Make all things that break breakable.Some examples would include plates, glass, windows, bottles. Some breakables would require explosives rather than projectiles to break it. Walls, bridges and statues. Having a sprite spawn paper is always an action touch, such as a bunch of paper in a box or on a table top.
Sound is another way to add realism to your map it will greatly enhance any map. You have ambient sound that can be used to describe an area of the map by the way it sounds, allowing the player to recognize they not only by the way it looks. Its useful to help the player get his bearings aswell. The use of common sound in multiplayer can greatly aid in knowing where an opponent is at a given time. Doors with different sounds, glass that must be broken, and water are only a few examples of this. If you use sprites that activate sounds such as wooden bridges that creak, or grass and bushes that whip these will also help locate a near by player.
Continuity is used in conjunction with Theme, Layout, Sounds, Scale, Surprise and all other design issues. Having a map so erratic and disruptive in design makes for a lousy map. You loose the sense of realism. Textures should be used correctly and countering. Looking at the textures and you should pick a few that work well with each other for walls, floors, and ceilings. Too many times map makers place one type of texture on all the walls throughout the entire map leaving the player lost and confused, not to mention bored. Another common mistake is using too many combinations of textures leaving the map looking messy and unplanned. It's not uncommon to get good ideas form other good maps while working on your current one. Try not to deviate too far from your original theme, if you have some new wild ideas that don't match up with the continuity of the current map, save them for another map. Keep all the design elements you have read about above in mind at all times, stick with the layout, balance and story. Don't go overboard on combinations of effects, balance, and details, you want smooth transitions from point A to point B.
Some tips for balance in multiplayer levels: Weapons should be spread out so that all players can stock up within a reasonable amount of time. Strategic placement of weapons and ammo is a good way to ensure that players will explore the entire level. You may want to test the level out once you have temporally placed the weapons and ammo to see if all areas of the level get used, if you find some unused portions on the map you don't always need to redesign the walls and doorways. Check if there is enough ammo, health, etc. for all players. Player start positions should be fair. Equaly distance from special items and powerfull weapons. Poor player start positions can serously disrupt a good map. Make sure players can move about the level freely. Players should beable to move fast and unobstructed. You can build into the designs, slow down areas, where you want players to breifly navigate an area. You would want to place such an area in a place where it may be necessary for a player to get to a frequently used area. Ensure its balanced so it doesn't provide an adavantage over on direction to the over. Many times more than one entrance and one exit to and area can greatly enhance the play ability of a multiplayer map.
Learn often. You need to learn what your doing and how to do things you don't know to help produce a great map. A major mistake in most cases is un-aligned wall textures. Un-aligned wall textures are when you have half of a window on the corner of a building or its half submerged under ground. There might be a brick wall that abruptly ends and looks as though the corners where not done properly. You may have mulptibale walls right next to each other and they have the same texture, why not align them so it will look like one texture expands across the entire wall. Everything will match up and knowone wants to see a texture cutoff at an unrealistic location. There are a few occasions when you won't want to do this, maybe to make a wall standout or when its obvious that the same texture wouldn't line up. Anyhow get to know the [.] key (period) this will auto-align your textures for you. Use the [O] key on walls where there is a window, that way the texture will be equal and aligned above and below the window. Also use [O] on the sides of up/down doors so that the door frame doesn't move up and down with the door. Use the [R] key on sector floors at an odd angle so the texture will look right.
To help you learn you should examine many maps to see how they work. Play them in the game and pick out things of interest and review there construction in BUILD. The idea here is to find all the good ideas and learn them. Experiment, do things alittle different and see what happens. That will help you understand how or why an effect works. A little tip; write an faq on how you did an effect so you will remember how to do it and then improve on it, publish it online.
Heres some tips and things to learn:
Frame Rate is something we always use to worry about and we still should. Low frame rates slows done the game and we miss so many displayed frames it could actual effect are ability to hit something and we can get jerky movement of sprites and sectors. During a multiplayer game this can cause big problems, including the performance of the connect between games.
Things that effect Frame Rate are maps that are to big or are very complex in design. Many sprites and many different textures also effect FPS. On the other hand if you keep the map so all that the player sees is up and personal view, you could get away with a very complex map. Large open areas filled with sprites will defiantly have a negative affect. To many sounds played at once can screw will the performance, they can cause brief lockups or jerky frames to be displayed. To solve the low FPS and performance simply reduce the amount of detail, including sounds in a particular area.
Now that we know what can cause these low frame rates and poor performance we need to test our maps out. If we don't the map automatically becomes somewhat a failure, defiantly in multplayer type maps. Checking the frame rate consist of view how the map is performing in the editor and then double checking it in the game, since there will be more load factors present in the game than in the editor. If either become sluggish we know there are potential problems.
To do a decent FPS check in the game we need to back the player in a corner facing the largest area of the map and scan the view from one side to the other at medium speed. Don't forget to turn on your FPS counter with your games cheat or console commands. Most BUILD Games have this readily available. Monitor this number has you make your scans across your map. We need atleast 25FPS for single player maps and 35 to 40 for multiplayer maps. If you don't have a FPS counter back the player in a corner facing the center of the map and turn the view all the way around so your view will come across the wall that your backed into. You should notice a change in the speed of the display from the view of the wall to the open view of the map. You sorta have to feel the difference and if its a big change in speed you have low frame rate problems. Another test anyone should do is run around in the map, jumping and firing. Try to get as many sounds to activate all at once, explosions, ambient sounds, door opening, all that. 'Duke Talk' and RTS are the most demanding on the sound engine. While your running through the map view your FPS counter and watch the screen for small stutters in the display. If you come across walls that seem to separate a bit and become mis-aligned that can be a problem. You'll notice something similar with sprites that form something like a bridge or table, they may mis-align briefly. It will be slower in manner. This isn't to mistaken for BUILDs ocasanual mis-alignment problems, those are very brief and are fast in movement. If after all this your still not sure, test your map out in multiplayer and see how the game runs and ask your buddy to keep an eye out for display trouble. If its single player give it to a close buddy and see how it runs for him.
Running maps on one game may run faster on another game. Thats if your map is intended for use among more than one game. Also two different computers of two different speeds may run the game better or worse, even no change at all. Something you need to look out for is just because the map runs super fast on a computer doesn't necessary mean its performance is good. Sometimes mappers reach the limit of what the game can actually handle, this is rare but I seen it happen. The technology of the game engine isn't tweaked for fast running systems and can give poor performance but still read a high frame rate.
These long paragraphs may have you overly concerned. Most of the time maps turn out fine as far as FPS and performance. Only during times when one is intentionally pushing the limits the performance will suffer. So don't sweat it.
Choosing the correct combination of textures, Light and shadows are the most important factors to creating realism in your map. The more a player feels they are in a real place the more immersed they will be in your map. Don't go and place textures where they don't look the part. You might have to rotate, resize or stretch a texture to make it look as something else. Light and shadows create an atmosphere for the player. You need to use shading alot for this to work. Using sprites on walls, ceilings and floors can help add to the realism of the map. Such as a dirty spot on a wall, cracks in wood or brick, blood or slime etc... If you want a realistic world you should obey the physics and properties of this world.
Using lighting effects really bring out the life of a map. To get familiar with some light and shades look around you and notice placement of lamps and exposed light bulbs. They produce different strengths of light. Examine how the different shades of shadows are present. Some Shadows are very dark, a shadow right next to them may be a bit lighter. It all depends on what and where your light source is coming from that helps you determine your shading techniques.
Placement of light sources are usually placed out of the way of someones normal path they move around in a room. A torch for an example would be higher than ones height to prevent burning. Candles tend to be placed on table tops or in the height of a ones torso. Fires are usually at the height of the floor or ones legs. Just check out real world light placements since its been perfected for ages by mankind. Ask yourself where would the light be and where would it not be.
When you place your light source your shading will range from light to shadow, shadow
to light. Start off with one of the extremes, the darkest or brightest shades. Once you
have those in place you can work on shading between the extremes. Make it convincing, use
different levels of shadows that taper off into darker or brighter areas. You'll have to
break up alot of sectors and insert alot of points in walls to achieve the most realistic
effect. Don't let this bother you, You may choose to use the simple method of providing a
maximum of 4 shades or less even, so that would only call for 4 sectors or points in the
walls. This will allow you to save time and still achieve decent results.
If your using a light source that isn't all that powerful don't start with the brightest shade, tone it down to fit the power of the light. If a weak light is placed closer to one set of walls than the others you'll want to make the two opposite adjoining walls much darker than the two near the light. The light is the brightest right at and near the location of the light. Again you want to taper the light off along the wall by inserting points. If your unsure of what your doing or you have a room where light is not directly effecting it say in a four walled room you can make two opposite walls slightly darker or brighter than the other two. The floor and ceiling should match the brighter set of walls. This is a failsafe method of providing some realistic appearances and depth. If your dealing with more than four walls just think of them as four, temporally imagine a couple of walls on the same side as being a single wall.
Overall shade everything like in the real world. Shades should be appropriate. How much light would you find in a standard basement or a unused hallway? When you want to provide shadows for and object, use the same sprite and lay it flat against the floor or wall, and darken them. You may have to use two sprites if a shadow splits from floor to wall, resize the sprite so the top half only appears on the wall and the other sprite on the floor would be the bottom half. When your dealing with outside objects like trees and bushes they cast shadows if its sunny or a full moon out. Depending on the level of light present, say like the sun, the shadow wouldn't be all that dark. Theres still light hitting where the shadow is. If its night time and the moon is shining down, you would make the tress shadow ultra dark. Just take your time, take a walk around your house and the outdoors at different times of the day and check those shadows out.
Finely don't forget that any fire sources produce some level of flicker in its sector. We must see the flicker.
The following compiled level-building offences are assigned an arbitrary point cost. This is "The Tovanen Scale." You can apply the point loss for each infraction or just the once is up to you. But before continuing decide which method you prefer.
Descriptions of these infractions are listed below. This is provided if you don't know what to look for.
Of course, to be completely fair, the following items deserve bonus points;
Tally the total number of (remaining) points for the level and compare to the list below;