Our team has created map art for some casual games: match-3, bubble shooting, slot games, etc. And in fact the map style of these different games are quite similar, they all have a linear level progress, this progress is presented as level nodes on a meandering path.
After we have done these jobs, I have a few points about the map planning, and art creation to share. I think they might be useful to people who need these types of maps in their games, and artists who create the maps.
At this point, we can’t yet disclose what games we’re working on, so I find some pictures publicly available to elucidate my points.
In this article, I would put my discussion into maps of a few popular formats.
Games use this format: Bubble Safari, Bubble Witch Saga
The world map is shown in a natural fashion, with terrains, seas, and a path runs through. This style comes from old RPG games, while the players are allowed to roam freely in the world, the map gives a good idea of where they are.
And this type of maps has inherited many advantages from their predecessors: a good feeling of the world, and a good connection to the story. But the current match-3, bubble shooting games have a linear progress, other than free roaming, this format may not fit the them well.
On this type of map, the world or part of the world come out as a whole. There are themed regions, for example, volcano, desert, village. And each region is a big level. For the regions are hooked to each other, the map needs careful planning, and it is not flexible to change regions or make new level updates. This type of map is best for games need infrequent updates of new levels or no updates at all.
And for mobile games, the user experience of this type of map is not very good. For the screen of a phone is small, you would either see a small portion of the map, and scrub hard to find other portions; Or zoom out to see a whole map with details compromised.
And from the angle or art production, this type of map is expensive. To meet the demand of HD devices, you would have to create a map of monster size, because you need to zoom in. A whole map could easily reach 3x3 full screen size.
This type of map brings a budget saving trick. If the game is a match-3 or slot game, you can cut piece of the map image, to use it as the in-level background. For these two types of games, the screen center is always covered by the game pieces. Obviously this trick could not be used for bubble shooter games, you know why : )
Small Island Format:
Games use this format: Candy Crush Saga, Bubble Blaze
This format inherits the general layout of the Traditional Format, along with its pros and cons. Instead to have the regions hooked to each other, the map split them into small “islands” (they would not be actual islands in the sea). Each themed region/big level is represented by a land mark, and a path go around it. The advantage is that you can change and add land marks/levels with great flexibility.
Lots of games need monthly update of new levels adopt this map format.
And the art production could be simple and cheap. Some games use a simple background, and the cost mainly come from making the land mark art. And the downside, as you can see, the map usually looks not as charming as the Traditional Format.
The cut-map-as BG trick often doesn’t work here, for the map is not rich in contents.
Big Island Format:
Games use this format: Cookie JAM
As we know the biggest short coming of Traditional Format, is the lack of flexibility to edit and update. Big Island Format offers another solution. Each big level, which often contains 10~20 small levels, is presented as a giant island floating in air or sea.
And you can think such an island as a miniature of the Traditional Format map. And when you need to add new levels, you would just create a brand new island for them.
The cut-map-as BG trick works well with this format too.
Vertical Scroll format:
Games use this format: Bubble Witch Saga 2, Farm Hero Saga
Perhaps this is the most popular format presently, and the developers are keen to convert their old maps of the above formats to this style.
In this format, the themed regions/big levels are arranged in a vertical strip, with each region on top of another. This type of map doesn’t allow zoom in & out, and the left-right direction is locked, you can only scrub up & down to navigate across regions.
For mobile phones with a narrow screen, this format offers better user experience than the above formats: it naturally fits into the screen.
And when you want to add new levels, you can always add them on top of the map.
Just like Small/Big Island Format, you can develop regions independently, and non linearly arrange their order.
Another concert for this format is that you should make the path seamlessly connect between adjacent regions. So on each region, you need to mind the in and out position of the path. Don’t let it deviate too much, in a range that still could be fixed by 2D artists.
For Small/Big Island Format, the main body of the islands are not physically connected, so transition won’t be a problem. In this format, we need blend between two adjacent regions. The simplest solution is not to put many things on the transition area, that you can simply make a color gradient on the ground. Or you can add mists/clouds to cover the transition.
About cost, making a region, which often occupies one screen, is nearly the same amount as making an island of the Big Island Format, of comparable art quality.
Again, the cut-map-as BG trick works well with this format too.