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Can I have some tips on making good map layouts?

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I have noticed that many good maps have good layouts, but I can't really figure out how one should go about thinking when making one.

I don't just want to make a linear map with twists and turns, I want to make a layout that's a bit more interesting than that.

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Check out my post here:

It explains a bit how to create looping designs.

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My biggest tip is to try to create a layout where rooms are interconnected and the flow is simple. For example, enter a room and get a key, then exit this room into an open area where the next key door is within view. Then the same thing for the next room, and so on. But switch things up. Make areas become opened up from switches or lines, loop back around with circular designs. Essentially, you want to design layouts so that any backtracking is built into the progression itself. There are quite a few IWAD maps that are made this way.

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Posted (edited)

I'm not any authority, but that's what intuition tells me after I played probably thousands of games:

I think that if there's some kind of a puzzle, the player should know the objective. You should show the player or suggest otherwise what he or she should do to proceed. And when you have a switch and it's not tied to a secret, the player should always know what it does. For example, when they flip it, they see that a door opens, and if you can't show it, then add a texture with "Door X2-A Controls" near the switch, and "X2-A" on the door, so these two are connected.


Also, don't make it so the player switches something and open something without even knowing it. The goal is not to let the player solve the puzzle without them even knowing there's a puzzle.

Use pickups and lights to attract player when you want them to go.

Oh, and don't be mean with secrets. Mark them somehow, like with a subtle difference in texture. I hate when secrets are just random pieces of wall that make you hump every wall in the level. Make them hard to notice, but still noticeable, so when the player finds them, he's like: "oooh, how did I miss that?!".

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1. Study a good number of the types of layouts you are striving to emulate. I don't mean primarily in the editor, either; do a lot of running around in-game, with and without monsters. All of the following guidelines are meant to be conducted in combination with this. Good examples of modern layout design can be found in the works of (e.g.) skillsaw, early-mid Ribbiks, Jimmy, and wads like BTSX, Resurgence, 50 Monsters, and Speed of Doom. Good examples of quirkier, more eccentric stuff can be found in the works of (e.g.) nu Ribbiks, yakfak, Nicolas Monti, and Ryath. Although basically anything praised in modern times is bound to be fruitful for study. 


2. Learn the ways areas can be connected to one another -- physically, or visually, or both. Your recent map Shootswitch Hell demonstrated familiarity with doors, narrow openings, and teleporters. It doesn't make sense to eradicate those completely, but you should widen your arsenal to include other methods, of which there are many. A lot of the more interesting are variations on connecting areas openly and widely with one another, such that the point of separation is blurry.  


3. Purely visual connections between areas are pretty cool for a lot of intuitive reasons: sense of place, player interest and curiosity, etc. While you are playing the maps you've decided to study, keep your eyes peeled for these, how they are used, how they affect you, etc. 


4. The line of progression is allowed to loop over itself, into and over extant areas.  E.g. area_A leads to area_B leads to area_C, which comes back through area_A and onto a ledge or bridge that was visible (#3!) in area_A earlier but not possible to access yet, which leads to area_D which crosses into a pit in area_B that is walled off by midtex from the other way.


5. This goes hand in hand with #4 and the example I used for it -- a lot of interesting layout design might require you to remove walls for the sake of fluidity. If you build the entire layout first without much intensive visual work, this should not be a problem. If you like to 'detail as you go', it is worth trying approaches such as planning where transitions will be ahead of time and building them as part of the room's design. Because there is a certain type of map design no longer in vogue where it's blatantly that the mapper worked room-by-room to completion and wanted to avoid ever sacrificing their precious detailing work, so all transitions are 64- or 128-wide doors.


6. What I call 'bounding spaces' can be pretty useful. Think about two interior areas that are separated by void space. Both areas are plausibly the inside of buildings. One approach is to design the space in between these areas. An outdoor yard with building facades, windows peering from one to another. Such spaces can be purely decorative, or they can house gameplay. You can generally get a lot of mileage out of opening stuff up this way, building what is 'in between' two areas.  


Anyway, I can write about this stuff for ever, but that is just a start. I should reiterate that #1 is the most important part of this -- go out and play stuff. 


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I'm fairly new to mapping and level design, but this is what I've learned so far.

A small tip, is that if you have a start area with an openable door and a door requiring a keycard. Start the player facing the keycard door, so they immediately know what their goal is. Similarly, if a player is just entering a room, put the keycard door/puzzle right in their view from the beginning of the room. Other small things like lighting or texture cues help pull a player to where they're supposed to go. 

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I'm averse to calling a layout "good" based on its interconnectivity alone, but here's an approach I frequently use if I'm aiming to make something navigationally complicated:


1) block out many areas, excessively connect them.

2) consider the map in aggregate: a) in what order should the player to visit each area? b) where will important events be placed (keys, weapons, notable fights, and so on)?

3) use those decisions to whittle down which connections between areas will be: a) impassable, b) passable, c) one-way passable (sawtooths), d) passable after a certain objective has been met. For maximum brownie points turn your impassable connections into balconies or windows, so the player can see distant areas.

4) draw the rest of the fucking owl


Here's an illustrative snippet of an automap at each step, where colored blobs are "rooms" and white boxes are traversable connections between them:



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