[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 have you figured out what you are trying to do with your map? Do you have a list of goals that you are trying follow to fulfill your map’s essence? Are they prioritized and ready to go?
Good, because they need to be followed every step of the way. Everything that goes into your map needs to have one or more of those goals supporting it. Why put something into a map that doesn’t support your cause?
Why my friend?
So why is that wall down there? Is there a reason you have that massive structure up there? What’s your reasoning behind this path back here? If you can’t answer any of those questions with your list of goals then it most likely serves no purpose on your map.
While this may seem like common sense, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten the answer “because it looks cool”, “I don’t know”, or something else along those lines. You should be able to answer with something like “because one of my goals is to give this map a medieval feel” or “this path serves as a backdoor into the blue base to allow for flanking and another route out for the flag”.
Be prepared to answer the why while you build your map. Ask yourself questions as you build something like “why am I adding this to my map?” or “how does this help create the map’s essence?”
If you find yourself trying to make an excuse with no solid answer then you should probably rethink about what you are trying to do.
The power of prioritization
I mentioned briefly how important it is to prioritize the goals of your map. I cannot stress this enough. On the most basic level it will help you decide what things are the most important to have in your map. It will help you decide whether you want a sniper rifle in this corridor or a shotgun in the adjacent room.
While this too seems simple, sometimes it needs to be pointed out. Something you can do to help improve your map is trade one idea for another that has a purpose with a higher priority.
If you have a goal of long range combat that has a higher priority than the medieval thing you are going for then maybe it would be beneficial to trade out that draw bridge in order to add more long range combat elements into your map.
This is a very effective way of improving your map based on its essence and concentrating the focus of your creation. Sometimes it is worth trading a path for a new aesthetic castle tower if your medieval goal is a higher priority than your path manipulation goals.
Learning to juggle
So far I have talked about ideas and objects that only serve a single goal in order to teach in a simplified manner. In reality however one structure or idea can serve multiple goals for your map.
That sniper tower can help your long range goal greatly. But adding a draw bridge instead could help your path manipulation as well as help your medieval goal. This is where making decisions gets difficult. Long range could be a high priority for you while multiple paths have mid priority and medieval theme has low priority.
Do you choose the tower to meet a higher priority or do you get more “bang for your buck” by serving a mid priority as well as a low priority? This is where the designer shines. It is up to you to juggle the pros and cons. Good luck.