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Timothy Ryan, Blogger

November 14, 2009

5 Min Read

MP Map Design Guidelines

Why guidelines and not rules? Because if you’re going to break a rule, you should do it well and for a good reason. Any given map may present some unique flare that breaks a rule but acknowledges it and has good reasons – exchanging one con for a pro. Symmetry, for example, is important in map design to seem fair in team-based games, but asymmetry may be appropriate for the look and feel of a particular map.

  1. The size of the map should be inversely proportional to the amount of occlusion. Experience has taught us that finding players is the number one concern in any map. You can have a very wide and long map as long as it’s wide open enough for players to see each other. You can have a lot of occlusion (buildings, walls, etc.) if the map is small and players can use their radar and audio clues to find each other.

  2. Symmetry in distances, path choices, navigation difficulty and pick-ups are very important for team-based games. This is hard to accomplish in topographically asymmetrical maps. Designers should time each path and assess the difficulty in navigation and acquisition of pick-ups working from each side. They need not be the same exact challenge, but they should take about the same amount of time and effort and offer the same reward. A strategic advantage to one side should be given to the other is some fashion.

  3. The unique selling point for the game should be featured prominently. This is the core niche game mechanic that will not only set your game apart but also set one level apart from another in how it’s incorporated.

  4. Account for every navigation method and provide a reason to choose one method over another. If a player can crawl, dig, climb or jump, then some paths should only be accessible by using that method. Just be careful that by doing so you’re not creating bigger problems (i.e. like trying to support a vehicle in a map that’s too small for it).

  5. Provide multiple paths and differentiate them with different risks and rewards. Whether it’s as simple as some paths are faster, while some have more cover or better pick-ups, the paths should provide a real choice for the player. No one path should be the best and hence ONLY choice (i.e. like one path that is the fastest, has good cover, and good pick-ups).

  6. High vantage points should not also have ammo and wide line of fire. The height advantage means cover and wider field of view. Players will want to move to them as a position of power. Try to aim the field of view by orienting the high point toward a smaller arc of the map, so that it covers only one path. If you allow a player on a roof, don’t leave sniper ammo up there for him to continuously replenish his supply. (i.e. avoid sniper’s paradise perches)

  7. For base-oriented match types, limit the number of access paths to 3. If there are too many ways to get into a base, then it’s too porous and hard to defend. Generally, there’s a straight-up path that’s the default path, a tricky path that’s not so obvious or easy to get to, and a more protected but longer path.

  8. Pick-ups should be categorized into high-value and low-value pick-ups and be placed accordingly. Part of learning a map is learning where the health, grenade and weapon pick-ups are. But a player shouldn’t be spending all his time looking for an upgrade or more ammo. Place low-value pick-ups in easy reach and higher-value pick-ups (the BFG’s) in areas that are a little trickier to find or get to – rewarding exploration, experience and the extra effort. Do not place any high-value pickups right next to player spawn locations. Spread the best weapons and upgrades about to encourage greater use of the map and to avoid monopolizing situations and mid-map frag-fests.

  9. Spawn points should be many and in locations with visual landmarks. The larger number of spawn points, the faster the players can find each other and get back into the action. The spawning code looks within a radius from a calculated center of action and tries to select spawners in that radius. However, if there are not enough spawners, players will spawn on top of each other or get pushed out of the action. If it’s important to spread players out on the initial spawn, then a designer can enable “middle spawners” a few seconds into the match. The orientation and location of the spawner should have a visible landmark so players can almost immediately orient themselves.

  10. Create a unique sense of place for your map and areas within it. At its core, a map should be a fairly unique location that offers some intriguing opportunities for game play and a sense of place. Each area within the map should also have some unique look & feel to help set it apart. This is particularly hard to do with limited art assets and symmetrical maps. However, a lot can be done with team colors, lighting and texturing to differentiate. For example, one area could be pristine while another area is in rubble; or one has a visible landmark, like a water tower, while another has a huge pit. Ideally the areas will be different enough so that strategies and game play will vary, but it’s equally important for players to understand where they are to orient themselves and coordinate with other players.

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