Hi, I thought I'd make a thread for this so everyone get's a chance to read; here is an email recieved from American Mcgee after asking him about his mapping process:
Hmmm... well, for one thing a LOT of time was spent on the details. In the depths of these developments myself, Romero and the other level editors would spend 12+ hours per day strapped to our desks and cranking out map content. We were seriously fast with the tools - and there was an internal rivalry (positive) that drove a lot of the excellence - each level designer trying to outdo the other on quality, design and fun factor. I often think the lack of that rivalry and time dedication is what leads to the visual/design differences between "professional" and "non-professional" maps. Really well made maps, no matter who is making them, require time, attention to detail and a plan that leads to a clearly defined goal.
In terms of specific feedback... I always started my maps with a design goal in mind. It might have been abstract like "a map designed specifically for really fast and fluid deathmatch" or functional like "a map designed to convey narrative, a shipping warehouse connected to a space dock where it's clear a lot of workers died". From that design goal would come the constraints that led initial selection of textures, materials and architectural design features. A pure DM map meant fewer textures with clear highlights on edges/geometric features, clean layout built for player movement/strategy and flow built around placement of items critical to DM. A narrative-driven map meant thinking about the utility of the space, how people would work/live in that environment, what story could be told through signs, decals and lighting; a sense of progression (start, middle, end) as player moved through the space and a consistent logic to the design choices (as if they entire area had been designed by a single architecture firm and built by a single construction firm).
Though these spaces we build are off-world and fantastic, the design choices made need to look/feel like they've come from NASA engineers or modern architects. Tadao Ando and Ron Cobb were my two biggest inspirations when it came to clean, functional but futuristic design when we were working on the DOOM series. Ando works with materials and light in a really simple, beautiful and functional way. Cobb is the master of "functional fictions" - the creation of futuristic machines that look like they'd really work. Heavy, simple, solid stuff.
And yes, I paid a lot of attention to stuff like texturing. It's the little details that sell the fiction. Choose a border texture for inset lights (always inset your lights!) and stick with it whenever you put a light into a certain type of material. Same goes with steps and height transitions. Never transition from one texture to another one the same plane - always create a height break or other 'explanation' for the transition (door, light, joint, structural seam, etc). Don't do these things after the fact - choose your materials first, based on your design goal. Same as if you were constructing a real house/building. And use the materials as if they were real (i.e. don't create 1 inch thin concrete hanging overhead with no support). Don't use big, busy textures in small spaces. That's one reason I tended to prefer metal, concrete and other "real" materials - because they made more visual sense and were easy to apply constraints to.
For me, it always came back to that... constraints. Nothing real exists without limitations and inventions forced by constraints. Things look real because there are limits to what we can do with materials and expectations for the way things should behave. Build your maps as if the spaces and uses within them are real - and the results will feel real.
Hope that helps :)
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Last edited by phobosdeimos1 on 07-29-11 at 04:05