Hello everyone, Ruski here.
As per request, I will be going over a very broad topic that many struggle with–map design & layout. In this tutorial I will be going over the basics of map design, and provide some additional tips & tricks I use. I have also designed a small, low detail map that almost anyone of any skill level should be able to replicate. Without further ado, let’s jump in!
What makes a good map?
I’m sure you’ve all seen this picture before. Maps over the years seem to have become… over-simplistic. Players start in point A and they must get to point B. There’s no real middle ground. Even looking at large & popular game franchises like Call of Duty we’re seeing the same maps being used every. single. year.
So, how can you make your map stand out from all others? Here’s a few simple things to think of before you even open studio:
What genre is your game? - An FPS map should be very fluid with little to no “dead ends”, whereas an open-world game needs to have certain locations or spots around a large-scale map to draw players into those areas.
Does your game have a theme? Perhaps a certain date in the future or past? Games based in Imperial Japan will have a much different style than one in modern America!
How many players will the server host? Is it a 6v6 shooter like CoD where the maps are compact & fluid, or 32v32 like in Battlefield where maps are large and open? Is it team based or free-for-all?
What level of detail are you going with? Realism or cartoony? Will your map be colorful? Will it be based in the day, night, evening, or run off a 24/h period? What about the weather in the game, will the map be snowy or in a desert?
What shape should your map be? For example, a “horseshoe” shape allows players to see the objective but must work around obstacles to get there. A circle shape will direct players back to the start. There’s many ways a map can be shaped. Try not to do it too “boxy”, curves and jogs help make the map feel more fluid.
REMEMBER: Go outside! See how real roadways are, how trees and plants grow on buildings, where litter collects- nothing is uniform in real life. Life is random!
So now that you’ve taken into consideration your map and theme, we’re ready to hop into studio right? Nope! Bust out that pen and paper & take the time to sketch some designs out! This will save you a lot of time. Even if you don’t use any of your drawings completely, it will at least get your brain in gear. I also like to compile a file of a few dozen photos of similar map concepts to get me inspired. Here’s some photos I sketched when I was designing the 2019 Bloxy Awards game maps:
Turning Drafts into Maps
As stated before, I designed a very simple ‘blocky’ map to use as an example. I could go into the science behind it all but hey, I’m sure you’re bored of reading already. So here’s my basic process from start to finish and the Q&A’s that I ask myself when designing maps, using the blocky map as an example:
Q: What’s the map for?
A: It’s for an ‘infection’ game mode. Players get guns, Zombies only get knives but are faster. Once a player dies they also become a Zombie.
Q: So what would make a simple and fun theme?
A: City maps work well in these style of games. I can make it compact in most areas which would benefit the Zombies- but also have some open areas and places that are accessible by only one or two entries to give the players an advantage as well. That should help balance the map.
Q: How many spawn locations are there?
A: All players will spawn in first, then after 30 seconds the Zombies will spawn in. So there’s no real need for any specific spawn points. Maybe just an open part of the map big enough to fit 12-20 players?
So with this map plan, the red buildings are enterable, purple buildings are non-enterable background buildings. This is critical: players should ALWAYS be looking at something intriguing. Whether it be a nice vase, a building, or anything else, it should never be just an empty space or wall. You need to keep players interested in the map by exploring, finding new spots, etc.
Now let’s decide where we will place doors & windows. This is a VERY important step for this game mode because these will be all the places that you can enter a building from.
There, now there’s about two or three places per building that Players & Zombies can enter from. This will keep things balanced. Although it does have a few short dead ends which may be utilized by ‘campers’, they will also make a prime location to be attacked since it’s out in the open. This is called the risk & reward system. You may defend the dead end as a team and be safe, OR one mishap could lead to everyone there being taken out, since there’s only one way in!
Let’s start building the walls & heights.
Q: What sort of city should it be? Any specific season or theme?
A: Since I’m keeping it simple, let’s do a more south-east style with flat rooftops, a summer feel, and lots of bright colors. The map will only need to work with daytime lighting. I want buildings to be only about 2 or 3 levels high. Since it’s first person perspective, they won’t be able to zoom their camera out to see the out of bounds areas, so there’s no need for massive high-rises.
Cool, so now the map is looking good. I want to now start adding in some textures, colours, and filling up the map with props.
Q: What sort of props might be nice?
A: Since the players get guns, lots of cover would be nice, especially in the open areas. Some cover in the outskirts and alleys might be good as well for both Players and Zombies to hide behind.
Q: The buildings aren’t massive, so what should we do to make sure there’s adequate spots to hide?
A: Most buildings will have a second level or access to a roof. They will also have holes in the walls, balconies, and other ways to quickly jump to other buildings or areas. We can also add a basement connecting to the outside, and add in some walls and closets to make it feel like there are different rooms in each house.
A vital step in both game design AND your personal life: setting boundaries! I’ll use bright green bricks and place them around all the rooftops and areas I DON’T want players to go.
Looks like the map is in the final ‘simple’ stages. The only way to tell how it plays is to start testing & make adjustments to the map as needed. Once I am satisfied with the results, I can finish detailing the map & get it organized and flowing.
You should be grouping/naming things as you go. This makes organizing much easier later on. Here’s how your Workspace should look by the end of a project map:
Alright, this concludes my basic tutorial and thought process when it comes to designing maps. I could write a whole book on the topic & will probably end up simplifying this post in the future (Updated 2022/02/08!). But for now, here you go! I hope this helps you folks. Remember that practice doesn’t make perfect–but it surely makes us better!
FOR A SECOND TUTORIAL ON HOUSE LAYOUT DESIGN, CLICK HERE