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Level Design Lesson 12: Path Maps

Today's lesson offers you a tool to analyze your maps path manipulation at certain points of the map at certain points in time.

[This was originally posted on my personal blog www.reachingperfection.com]

[Forge Lessons is a level design series that I have written for the halo forge (the simplistic in-game level editor) communities. While it is tailored towards Halo multiplayer map design I feel that it covers general level design very well. I would love everyone's opinions on how these lessons can translate into other games and genres like the Call of Duty series, the Unreal Series, RTS games, platformer games, etc.]

So we know we can move players around using different techniques in path manipulation, but how do we observe that? How do we analyze a player’s movement? How do we visualize a player’s movement? The tool that I tend to use is a little something that I like to call path maps.

An intro to path maps

A path map is a map of all the possible paths that can be taken on a designate level based on a given position of the player. There are two different types of paths that exist in a path map. Objective paths are the shortest paths possible to the player’s current goal from the player’s current position on the map.

Divergent paths are paths towards other possible goals that force players to “diverge” from the main objective path. As players move around the map and make decisions, objective and divergent paths change accordingly. Being able to observe a path map at any given point in time is essential to truly mastering path manipulation.

When to use path maps

The basic time to observe a path map is typically based on a particular spawn point. This allows the designer to analyze where a player plans on moving as soon as they spawn and allows the designer to adjust that to his/her liking. Another popular use of the path map is from incentives or landmark areas to understand where a player will move after arriving or acquiring what they traveled there to achieve.

The current direction of the player is important when drawing a path map from a designated position on the map. Divergent paths are typically based on the player’s current perspective. Divergent paths may also exist behind the player if the player possesses enough knowledge of the map.

Keep in mind that there is typically one objective path and many divergent paths. Divergent paths are just simply all the possibilities that the player may choose to take based on certain situations.

For example if a player is going for the rocket launcher, and knows that the sniper is around the corner there would be a divergent path to the sniper. It is the designer's job to decide what paths are most likely to exist in various situations.

From divergent to objective

To reiterate, objective paths is the shortest path to the player’s current goal. A player’s goal is ever changing as they traverse around the map and make decisions. When a player spawns his initial goal is to get to his winning objective.

Now imagine that while traveling down the objective path a rocket launcher or other incentive catches his eye. He now changes his current goal to achieve the rocket launcher. The new objective path is now the shortest path to the rocket launcher, and the old objective path is now a divergent path.

Now imagine that a player has beaten him to the rocket launcher. His goal no longer exists so now his objective path must change. If the player that grabbed the rocket launcher is a teammate then it is more than likely that his old objective path will become the objective again. However if the player is an enemy, then the enemy is a deterrent.

The player’s new objective path may now be to the nearest piece of cover. At that point the player may choose to remove the deterrent or seek safe passage and his objective path will change accordingly. Utilizing path maps is a strong tool in observing specific situations when analyzing your path manipulation. Use it well.

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