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Level Design Lesson 19: Threat Zones

Today's lesson discusses the concept of threat zones to help maneuver players around your maps.

[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.]

When playing a map if you set a set of explosives you tend not to worry too much about them until you are in their proximity. If you see a player with a shotgun you tend not to be too worried until he gets up close and personal. If you see someone on a turret from sniper distance they tend to not bug you due to the turret’s spread of fire. All deterrents have a set area where they are most effective and where they aren’t very scary. I call these areas around a deterrent a Threat Zone.

Threat weighting

Understanding the threat zone of a deterrent is important to placing them effectively throughout your map and controlling their effectiveness. A threat zone is more than just an area that a deterrent affects. Imagine the zone being cover by a very opaque color where it is most effective and the zone getting more transparent in areas where it is most ineffective. For example a shotgun has a very opaque center at point blank range, but as you observe the zone farther out it gets more and more transparent until it is completely ineffective. Sniper type weapons tend to have an opposite style for their threat zones. Typically the closer you are to the origin of a sniper the more difficult it is for the sniper to kill you. So in this scenario the area around the sniper would be very transparent but as you get farther the zone would get more opaque up to its max range and the get more transparent to represent the more difficult longer shots.

Static vs dynamic

Static zones are typically the easiest to manipulate and control. They typically don’t move from where you place them. Good examples of these static zones are explosives, turrets, poisonous areas, etc. The real difficulty is learning to control dynamic threat zones. All players are threat zones as long as they hold the ability to disturb you in your pursuit of a goal. The problem with players is that they are technically uncontrollable and unpredictable. The best way to control a player is to use path manipulation and path maps in order to best observe how they will move. Keep in mind where you place weapons or anything that may change the player’s threat zone. If you place a sniper rifle on the top of the base it is a good chance that a player up there will pick up the sniper rifle and have their current threat zone be weighted more towards long range. If a shotgun is in a hallway it is probably safe to assume that any player that is down there may have the shotgun and has a very heavily close range weighted threat zone.

Assumption of threat zone

Players will make decisions based on assumed threat zones. If players see a person in the shotgun tunnel there is a certain distance away from that area that they feel safe traversing by assumption. The reverse is true if a player sees someone around or near the sniper spawn. He assumes that the player has the sniper and is more cautious at long range but more aggressive at close range. Use this knowledge to help adjust certain areas of your map. If you know a certain area is vulnerable to the sniper’s threat zone that originates where the sniper spawns then add things accordingly. Understanding what sort of threat zones a player may have in certain areas will help you make decisions on how and where you want to push players on the map.

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