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Level Design Basics
In this post, I will talk about the rules and principles of level design that I have learned over the years during my travels in the mod community. These pointers are from my own experience, and may be different from the ones used by professional studios.
February 1, 2016
7 Min Read
I have been making multiplayer maps in the Call of Duty modding community for past 8 years. Over the years, I have learned a lot of design rules and principles that I have successfully integrated in my level design process. I will take you through all the steps that will help you make a fun multiplayer map.
For the purpose of this blog, I will talk about designing a multiplayer map for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Lets name this map 'Tugurios' and set it in slums. Now we can talk a little about the story and setting of the map.
Tugurios means slums in Spanish and the map is based around slums in Venezuela
Gold was discovered in hills and slums developed close to the hills to provide labor
Years later the hills dried up. With jobs no more available, the slums became the hub for weapons and drug trafficking
When things got out of control, the government sent in special forces to deal with the situation
The match takes place at noon time and one team spawns in the slums while the other team spawns on the road on the other side of the map
Here is the top down view, to give you a clear picture of the map
Here are all the locations in the map:
Hills and surrounding areas will be shown dry and dusty with a lot of corners and jagged edges to show effects of mining
Any buildings in this area will resemble corrugated metal sheds with windows which were once being used as offices
Ditch will have a muddy ground with water flowing in the middle and vegetation growing on slopes and banks. Few large rocks will be placed on the bed to provide cover
Small shanties made out of red brick, cinder blocks and corrugated sheets
Piles of rubbish and debris everywhere which can also be used for cover
Some shanties are piled on top of other shanties to make 2 or 3 story shanties
Hanging electrical wires everywhere
Walls have a lot of grime and graffiti
Ground is either made up of broken concrete with open drains or green grass with plenty of vegetation
Road is where Team A will spawn. It is made up of broken, dusty asphalt with cars parked at places to provide cover.
It is half or one story above the ground so that it is not visible from ground and the player has to either climb the stairs or mantle up at certain locations
A large concrete base for a crane that was used during mining operations. The crane is gone but the concrete base is still there.
Looks like a concrete bunker with rebar and metal rivets poking out of broken corners and surfaces
Has a large circular bracket on top that hides one entry location from another.
The base resembles the concrete bases used for heavy anti aircraft guns during Second World War
The area marked in red shows the slums
Small, irregularly placed shanties piled on top of each other and some are 3 stories high
The area marked in green is the road next to the hills. Hills have blocky appearance because of mining
Both areas are separated by a deep ditch, marked in yellow. It is one story deep and has to be crossed to get on other side of the map
There are a lot of height variations in the map. These are used to block long lines of sight and make the map more interesting.
1 is considered ground or first floor which is about 10 feet high from floor to ceiling. It will be used as reference. Ditch is at height 1.
Other numbers represent the height as number of floors
For example, the road is 3 floors high from ditch
Special forces, or Team A, spawn on the road shown by the green patch
Militia, or Team B, spawns in the slums shown by red patch
I have always designed Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer maps keeping Domination game type in mind. This helps a lot in designing a well balanced map to make sure that one team does not have unfair advantage over another.
Three points in the map shown as A, B and C represent the three flags in Domination styled gameplay
Teams can capture A and C easily as they are close to their spawns
B will be the hardest to capture and hold as it is in the middle of the map and covered by many positions
The red line connecting the two sections of the map shows the Critical or the shortest path
The path is shortest, but goes through the most dangerous areas of the map
The green lines show the secondary paths
Both of these paths are longer than Critical path, but offer flanking positions and bypass the action zone in the center
These paths, however, have long lines of sight making it easier for snipers to pick targets off
Points of Interest
There are several points of interest or hotspots in the map that give advantage to the team occupying them
The first spot in circled in red. This is a ledge overlooking the ditch. It is 3 stories high from the ditch
Players can cover the ditch and two other hotspots from here which will be shown next
It is more accessible to the team A spawning on the road
The spot is circled in red and is 3 stories high from the ditch
It is accessible only from the back side therefore players playing as militia can reach this spot quickly
This spot covers the ditch, the hotspot on the opposite side and one on the upper right side shown in the next slide
The spot is circled in red. This is a large concrete base for a crane that was used during the mining times
This spot can be accessed from both sides by stairs
The spot overlooks the ditch and is 3 stories higher than ditch.
The players can cover the whole length of the ditch from here and also two other hotspots shown in the previous slides
The spot is circled in red. Here the three passages meet and is also the Critical path
A 2 story tall building on the right side of the spot can be used by team A to overlook the critical path
Enemy team players can go to the ledge on the left from here and take out friendly players overlooking the ditch
If the enemy controls this spot, they can control the ditch and domination point A
The spot is circled in red. It overlooks the domination point C and also the paths coming from the ditch
Its a 2 story tall building that can be accessed from both sides by stairs. A passage on the back side of the building can provide safe passage to attacking enemy players
Team B has to hold this point to watch the paths leading to base and also lay down fire on domination point C
Lines of sight
Lines of sight are very important in a multiplayer map as they decide the engagement lengths and also control cover and AI placement in a map. I have integrated the lines of sight in the top down view of the map for better understanding.
Blue cones show the players’ sight from ledges or 2nd or 3rd story windows
The cones are shown small just to demonstrate players’ sight. Actual lines of sight will be much longer in the level
This helps in understanding where windows and other high places are located in the map and which areas they cover
These are just some of the basic design principles that I have discussed here, but they will help you start your level design journey. Later I will include other design elements like cover mechanics, level flow, and weapons and vehicle placement.
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