[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 sometimes just having the will is not enough to complete the objective at hand. Sometimes you need new weapons, or sometimes powerups will make winning easier. And now that there is danger at hand that wall to your right looks quite appetizing as cover. As you strive to win the game at hand there are many things around a map that encourage you to detour away from your main objective. These things that encourage us to move around… we call them Incentives.
More than the obvious
Most people understand a base concept of incentives when they think about weapon placement. If you place a rocket launcher here people are going to want to head to it to pick it up, right? Well a sniper rifle or spartan laser isn’t the only thing that can get you to move. Maybe ahead of you there is a turret acting as a deterrent on the main objective path. You see a bunker slightly ahead so instead of being discouraged by the turret’s threat zone, the cover acts as an incentive to continue moving forward. An incentive isn’t always an item, sometimes it is an area or some other type of advantage. The height advantage is definitely seen by many as an incentive to travel up a ramp. Items are just the obvious incentives.
Now while incentives are great for moving players around a map, some may not be there forever. Most incentives only exist until they are used up. If the only incentive on a path is the sniper rifle then when it is not there then there is no use in going down that path anymore is there? Sure you have the rocket launcher off on the side but that rocket launcher isn’t always going to be there. Using the previous turret example, if no one is on the turret then that bunker is not much of an incentive anymore and you can just continue down the center path. A key skill to master when utilizing incentives is taking the time to realize when incentives are turned on and when they are turned off. After mastering that you can follow that up with learning how to effectively control that trait of an incentive by moving players down a path when you want them to go down there and then stopping them from going down there whenever you want. It is a very handy skill to have and one that is well worth the investment in time. That skill alone can fully control the traffic on the map.
Taking account for the advantage
Something that designers tend to forget is what effect that particular advantage has on the player. When a player picks up active camouflage, do you take the time to consider that he can now travel for a certain distance without being seen? Do you consider that when a player picks up a feather in Mario that they can now fly through the whole level with no opposition? Do you consider that if they gain the high ground that they have full control of this half of the map? It is one thing to offer an advantage to the player. It is another to account for that advantage and make sure that you don’t give the player too much of what they want. Always keep a good balance, any time you give the player an advantage make sure to compensate. If you don’t find that balance then you will end up pulling away from other incentives on the map and pushing too many players to that one incentive. You ever fight over one piece of cake? It’s not pretty.