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How do you approach your maps/ episodes ?


I'm interested in various opinions and strategies about making proper maps, I'm not talking about five minute fun maps but the real deal.

(It's not supposed to be a right- or- wrong discussion)


How do you create your maps: 


Do you prefer to draw a whole blank map first (all rooms/areas/ "rough sketch") and add textures, details, scripts, monsters, items and whatever else later,

or do you rather go "room by room" completing everything. Both ways have surely their advantages and disadvantages. I tried both ways and ended up with the room by room solution, so I wouldn't miss sth. or lose the overview. On the other hand, by doing so, I got stuck sometimes (lack of ideas or abilities) and had to pause or work on another map for awhile. The worst thing you can do is to force yourself through a map until it's done. You might repeat yourself and make a level too boring. 


So, how do you work on that, what were your experiences?

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Before I even touch the editor, I use my imagination to envision what different parts of the level will look like in their final form. I picture myself and my friends playing the map. I think about what kind of experience I want us to have. I think about the atmosphere I want to portray, the encounters I have with various monsters, and I think about the temporal flow of the level (i.e. the order things happen and how much time spent in each area). The moment I crawl into bed for the night is a good time (for me at least) to do this.


I don't necessarily start mapping where the players will start; it's usually some significant landmark where I will branch out from. Once the landmark looks roughly like how I envisioned, or unexpectedly turns out better, I start scoping out the area for things to do next. For example, if I build some tall, elaborate free-standing tower structure, I might go "it would be really cool if I could see this from a distance", so I'll find an angle that looks cool, and expand the area to give me the shot I want. Then I have to put some sort of path that connects said tower to said vantage point, so I start working on that. It might even turn out that my vantage point isn't as perfect as I thought it would be, so I might have to go back to the tower to change something about it. It's a back and forth process. Many times, I will create several landmarks and find ways of connecting them after they are built. I find that this leads to interesting level layouts, especially when they are designed in a way that allows various arrangements.


My suggestion for when you get stuck on a particular area, would be to start fleshing out a different area of your map, and worry about connecting them later. Also keep in mind that whatever you have already "finished", isn't set in stone. You can change anything to suit your needs, even if it means removing something to make way for something better. In almost every case, any time I redo an area, it turns out greater than it previously did.


I reserve things like item/weapon placement and tag/script assignment for after an area is mostly complete. I do consider these things when designing the map, I just don't actually place them until I think I'm done moving around sectors. As for actual monster placement, I don't have much to say on it. The types of maps I create are mostly concerned with what monsters do while active.


So to answer your question, I guess I mostly follow a room-by-room approach, but I jump around a lot. Most rooms don't become fully resolved until I run through them many times. I keep progressively adding and modifying things until everything is connected, looks nice, has the desired atmosphere, and satisfies my original vision.

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Thank you EarthQuake, for taking some time on your big report and sharing your hints as well. I like your idea to start with a landmark instead from a players starting point, that might end up very interesting, never thought it that way. I'll keep that in mind, that's for sure. I already encountered a situation in which I had an idea for an entirely different level and was angry that I couldn't use the area I was thinking about for the current one. The next time, I'll open a new file, draw and save it for later. 

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