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hardcore_gamer

The logic of map flow

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By map flow i mean the directions in which the player moves. How linear or not the map is. How often the player re-visits pre-existing locations etc. How important do you think map flow is? Does it matter all that much or is it vital to a map? How much does it matter vs just having good encounters? Will most players even care what the map flow looks like as long as the encounters are fun?

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I agree with Marcaek, map flow is important. The specifics1 of that map flow don't matter as much, but it does matter how the map unfolds as the player goes through it, because it will inform what they think of the map. Does it matter more than good encounter design? No, but that's not the point, because flow and encounter design tend to work hand-in-hand.

 

Overall, though, map flow is important.

 

1 By specifics, I mean, is the map basically a straight shot to the exit, or do you have to loop around through a central area 3 times, or you're faced with 4 doors and you can criss-cross the map in 5 or 6 different ways, or etc. etc. etc.

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Map flow is very important. Backtracking is one of the most obnoxious things that can exist in a map, and any level that forces the player to backtrack too much is bad imo. Though it can be used well in some situations, which it hardly ever is.

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Hmn I never thought much about it tbh. I just go from a layout I've found interesting and then develop from here. I try to make the experience somewhat light (without too much grinding) and hopefully the player will know where to go, even if it's a non-linear level.

 

This is indeed important though...

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Map flow is one of the things that Doom does particularly well.  The reason many people dislike modern AAA shooters is because they merely bounce from set-piece to set-piece, and have little interest in creating a physical space for you to properly explore and exist in.

 

All the best Doom maps, from the original E1 maps to the biggest slaughtermaps, are good because they understand good map flow.  It's such a crucial part of Doom mapping I'd almost argue debating it is redundant, it's like asking "Are good enemy encounters important"?

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I had a professor once say that when giving feedback on writing, saying that something flows well or flows poorly is meaningless and unhelpful. It rang true to me then, and still does.

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It's a strange topic. There are levels like The Grid, Nexus, or Map14 of Squadron 417, where you just go through a series of teleporters, never returning back. That sounds like the laziest design possible, and yet I have nothing but praise for these maps. Sometimes you only need to place the things well...

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Posted (edited)

Map flow affects everything: The mechanics of battle, the ability to navigate and not get lost. Map flow is what prevents the player (and monsters) from travelling in a straight line to any point on the map. Therefore, map flow (or the lack of it) determines where you can go - it's as simple as that. Because of this, decision-making is based on how the map is constructed: "How do I get from here to there? Do I have to pass a horde of monsters? Do I have to jump across a pit? How difficult is it to get to the red door from the red key?"

 

Without map flow, you have an open space. All objects and monsters can be seen by turning. Map flow restricts this wide open space, hiding line of sight and forcing non-straight-line navigation. Map flow is at least half of what makes maps interesting, as it controls every other decision made by monsters, players, and mappers alike.

 

Edited by kb1

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9 hours ago, Marcaek said:

map flow is important

 

Be water, my friend

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Players who can not cope with excessive non-linearity, say that such maps have "bad flow", in case they have no other arguments.

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1 hour ago, riderr3 said:

Players who can not cope with excessive non-linearity, say that such maps have "bad flow", in case they have no other arguments.

 

Non-linear levels can still have good flow, however. In that case, it is simply making sure landmarks are obvious, so no matter the players choices, they end up making progress.

 

It's generally why I dislike excessive encounters; no matter how well a level flows architecturally, if you're stuck in a place fighting for more than 30 seconds, except on places where there are obviously supposed to be big set-pieces or bosses, then the flow has also been stopped in the same way as a head-scratching moment staring at the automap.

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4 hours ago, riderr3 said:

Players who can not cope with excessive non-linearity, say that such maps have "bad flow", in case they have no other arguments.

 

Excessive non-linearity sounds like a legit complaint to me. I don't like not having a sense of direction.

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, hardcore_gamer said:

Excessive non-linearity sounds like a legit complaint to me. I don't like not having a sense of direction.

 

Yea, this time totally agreed. The more difficult progression gets due to a confusing layout, cryptic puzzles or whatever the more unpleasant it is. Excessive backtracking and endlessly revisiting the same areas only adds insult to the injury as well, it just gets frustrating and tedious after a while. Having no sense of direction is a nightmare.

 

So, map flow is of course crucial for an enjoyable experience. I've had the "pleasure" of wasting almost entire days on certain maps that made me want to hang myself at every step...

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Some maps have a very maze like structure, but guide the player incredibly well, be it by switches, visual cues or monster closets. Those are the maps that have the nicest "flow" for me. Other maps are also maze like but give the player immense freedom and thus the feeling, that you accomplished something by "finding your own way", if that makes sense. The "Alpha Accident: Terra Nova" maps were like that.

 

Whenever I get stuck and wander around hunting for a single stupid switch, though, that's where the flow just completely breaks for me.

 

@Ribbiks Great map layout and thoughts about guiding the player through a map. I am trying myself on my very first map and this is very inspiring. Thanks!

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Posted (edited)

hmm IDK, I actually enjoy some levels that require some good navigation sense, especially if it's non-linear and it has lots of differents ways to approach the same areas. (Struggle and Urania comes to my mind as examples, although some on Urania are too much haha) Sometimes I end up watching a playthrough of a map I've made and it surprises me when the player goes for routes I never thought it was possible... As long as the setpieces works well, I find more interesting to watch non-linear levels playthroughs.

 

However, If the player doesn't enjoy much exploring, non-linearity doesn't work for him at all. Some players will just wander for 10 minutes in circles in a small map when all he needed to do was to stop a bit and look around to find a very visible switch... :/

Edited by Deadwing

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Adding "Non-linearity" or "Navigational challenge" to a map does a couple of nice things. First, it gives players a sense of agency regarding how they tackle a map on a macro scale, it adds an extra layer of decision making on top of the combat. It also provides some nice downtime in between big set piece encounters by letting the player use their brain in a totally different way, which helps a lot with pacing and player engagement.

 

To me,  creating a map with good map flow means understanding player psychology and good pacing enough to create a map that DOES: engage players in multiple ways, provide an extra sense of space to the map, give players the joy of discovery, and pace encounters well. And DOES NOT: Confuse the player with mixed messaging, ask players to make any unreasonable assumptions about which way is progress, or make players use baseless trial and error to discover a singular viable path through the level.

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16 hours ago, riderr3 said:

Players who can not cope with excessive non-linearity, say that such maps have "bad flow", in case they have no other arguments.

 

No they don't.

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Directions, revisiting locations, non linearity... None of this means anything without context. Non-linearity does not by default mean that players will have no sense of orientation whatsoever, it can happen, but sense of direction and non-linearity aren't mutually exclusive. I bet everybody has dozens of ways to get from one point in town to another, and infrastructure isn't always the most convenient, yet still people manage to get where they need to be, because there are enough things that provide a sense of orientation. Why would a map be any different?

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just tell me where to go because i get frustrated easily

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Arguably, map flow is the most important part of a quality map. If it's just a super linear path from the beginning to the end, it can be extremely boring. But if the map is a complete maze and players have no idea where the hell they're supposed to go, it could be super frustrating. The key is to make it interesting with plenty of areas to explore and some twists and turns, but not so many that it's super easy to get lost. It holds people's attention and can make it much more tense, as you aren't quite sure just what you'll run into on your first time playing through the map.

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On 7/21/2018 at 9:20 PM, FeverDreamer said:

Arguably, map flow is the most important part of a quality map. If it's just a super linear path from the beginning to the end, it can be extremely boring. But if the map is a complete maze and players have no idea where the hell they're supposed to go, it could be super frustrating. The key is to make it interesting with plenty of areas to explore and some twists and turns, but not so many that it's super easy to get lost. It holds people's attention and can make it much more tense, as you aren't quite sure just what you'll run into on your first time playing through the map.

I agree. With most things, moderation can prevent frustration in both camps. For example, I'm one of those people who tend to get hopelessly lost quite easily, unless each area is made visually distinct (which I think makes for a nice map). With many games, linearity is imposed using various mechanics. In text adventure games, you are prevented from moving endlessly forward, with a message like "The forest becomes too thick to continue." Furthermore, things like keys impose linearity, which is a good justification for their existence.

 

I think a good goal is to gently guide the player, without making it too obvious. Restricting full movement provides a subliminal motivation to move forward. In contrast, in a completely open map, the player is only motivated by the desire to explore (which is not necessarily bad, but it's a bit different).

 

One argument for linearity: When players have poor visual memory, a linear map reminds the player where they have and have not explored. Because many people have no issue here, it's obvious that linearity will not appeal to everyone.

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