Ruski's Tutorial #1 - How to design a map layout

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!

Some of my examples I have built

What makes a good map?

Photo comparison


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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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?

  4. 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?

  5. 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!

Getting Started

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:

Photos of Bloxy sketches

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?

Photo of basic floor plan

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.

Photo with door locations in

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.

Photos of map (1)

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.

Photos of map (2)

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.

Photos of interior

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.

Photo of boundaries

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:

Photo of Workspace


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!

Stay Cheeky,




Woah, this is pretty useful, you informed me on some facts that I should know and don’t use! Ex:

I never thought about shapes, thanks for all this helpful info! Good luck to you on future projects!


I’ll update this more in the future as well, I came up with a lot of this on the fly :sweat_smile:

If you got any questions or comments, feel free to drop em here and I’ll do my best to answer them all. If you want to follow my projects feel free to check out my Twitter:


Amazing guide!

It’s a shame to see a lot of maps being very bland and comparable to others now-a-days. Sure it’s cool if you’re making a zombie game and you’re remaking maps from the Call of Duty franchise and like you stated, Ruski, even the big dogs are reusing previous work however this world lacks originality these days. This guide will surely help aspiring builders and developers spark ideas and certainly creativity because I know it has just for me alone!


I’ve been working on a map and found myself struggling a lot with it. This will surely help me out a lot. Huge thanks for the time you have put into this!


I am FOR SURE bookmarking this. I used to just think of a theme and just go for it. But I believe I can improve off this. Thank you!


You make it seem so easy! I’ll give it a go, very motivational.


This will surely do the trick with improving my builds in the future! Thank you for this post!


Question: i suck at drawing so is skipping that part a good idea?


Amazing tutorials. Best of all, the builds, definitely.


Now this is an amazing guide!
But what do i do if i suck at drawing xd


Hey Ruski!

Awesome tutorial! I love seeing your process. I had a question: Any advice for those of us who are absolute garbage at hand sketching to better plan out our maps? I end up just using studio or blender to make simple mock ups because I can’t sketch to save my life.


Fabulous guide, I’m sure many people including myself will find this useful either now or in the future!


You don’t need to sketch out your stuff on paper, you can use whatever works best for planning! Sometimes even just writing up some notes as to what you want the map to look and feel like is enough. I myself on some maps might scribble a rough plan then slowly build off it and draw over my studio screenshots to think up how I’ll add on or adjust the map.

Example photos


Amazing tutorial, I aren’t well experienced at building, but using this tutorial I know how to work on it.


Really loving this guide, this will definitely improve my map builds.


Excellent tutorial, I have always been a great admirer of your constructions and projects

Hope one day we could work together!


Oh. My. Lord. Thank you SO much! I honestly think that because of you, my games I’ve showcased look a lot better then before. I’m so glad I found this tutorial. I just can’t thank you enough.

Very good tutorial, very well thought out, very well described, and all steps are very clear and straightforward.

10/10, would recommend


Thank you a lot for this! I will definitely be using some of these tricks while designing levels for my game.


Hey I have a question. When working with smooth terrain, do you typically sketch the terrain first on paper? Just wondering cause ive started working with smooth terrain but unsure how to plan the layout of the terrain.

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