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printz

Does top-down map planning work?

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Yay, another mapper's block thread. I've been thinking: if systems tend to be engineered from concepts, to block diagrams, then to the component placement itself, couldn't maps be planned in this way too? By analogy, here's how:

- write in notepad the highlights of the plan, like in Tom Hall's bible
- draw on paper some circles/blocks and interconnections
- gradually detail the draft until it becomes too cumbersome on paper
- start mapping in the editor only when an area is established.

I'm asking because I don't plan when I map, and because of this it takes me too much time and is tiring. I simply draw some shapes until I saturate, test the map in the game and roam the map until I get new inspiration, and repeat. Eventually, the direction loops me back and I create a nonlinearity, also limiting the sprawling. But in this rhythm, I'll finish my current WIPs after 10 years, and I have no idea how much it takes me, unlike with a plan.

Do professional level designers always plan ahead? Or is gameplay too difficult to picture before the stage is actually drawn?

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I usually draft on paper first, then treat it as a rough basis which can and often does change dramatically throughout development.

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printz said:

Do professional level designers always plan ahead? Or is gameplay too difficult to picture before the stage is actually drawn?


I thought John Romero said he doesn't really plan, just maps on-the-fly. I don't plan either... just trial and error, and thinking of ideas when away from the editor.

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I'll be honest - planning for me is a great way to get a bit list of ideas that'd make a good map, but a terrible way to motivate me to actually make said maps. I saw a lot of sense in that one post Creaphis made about his mind actually going through and putting together the idea and that being satisfying in it's own way. It's just a shame this means I'm not making many maps these days.

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no reason to make details on paper. I usually just use paper to draw a layout, with footnotes for start/exit rooms, keycards, traps, other garbage.

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printz said:

Do professional level designers always plan ahead? Or is gameplay too difficult to picture before the stage is actually drawn?

I think some of the ways that "planning" gets successfully implemented into a map depend on the level of the mapper's experience. For example, knowing the way a weapon or an enemy works allows the mapper to create an area that provides the optimal (or desired level) of challenge. Therefore, if the mapper wanted to give the player a super shotgun and pit him/her against a cyberdemon in an arena, it helps to know just the right size of the arena to make the fight difficult enough without making it frustrating. A new mapper would likely require trial & error to figure out the ideal configuration of the arena, while a seasoned mapper would probably create the structure with little planning before-hand.

In terms of developing map progression, the same principle applies. A seasoned mapper would likely be able to visualize the main path the player must take, and use that as the basis to begin mapping. A new mapper may first need to draw out the path for a more complicated progression. Still, there's a lot to be said for drawing out sections of a map (or the entire map) before starting work on a map editor. It also helps to draw out complex shapes before starting to create them in an editor.

The same principle also applies to texturing, weapon/ammo/health/armor placement, and choice of enemies.

As for your main question: Does top-down map planning work? I'd say that it works for some people. I've used the method you outlined, and have successfully completed several maps. What I tend to do, however, is to stick with the basic design that's on paper, but deviate when new ideas strike me midway during the editing process.

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I don't even use paper any more. I used to back in the day. I was always on the lookout for that perfect-sized graph paper, with the squares not too big, and not too small to represent a 64-unit square. But nowadays it's all in my head. And I try to always start working from the middle out when I'm making my map.

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I'll be honest, planning usually gets me nowhere. Most of the time I find myself over-analyzing things to the point where the map will never live up to my insane expectations, so I tend to scrap it; Either that, or I'll get really discouraged and end up bloating it with unneeded gimmicks, realize I ruined the map, and then scrap it.

I'm just now learning to lay out a general theme in my head and work from there. It's actually a lot more fun that way, but it leads to rougher maps that have to be detailed/fixed up afterwards.

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I think top-down planning is only helpful when designing a map's flow. The layout becomes irrelevant in that case. What I mean is: instead of drawing out the map outlines and whatnot on paper, you make an outline of the things the player encounters; enemies, weapons, set pieces, or whatever else.

I find the map itself comes better as a constant flow of creative impulse.

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Rough outlining of the layout is the way to go, for me. It`s top-down, so I have to keep the height variation in my head.

Start up your editor, and map out the rough layout, then the ideas for details, connections between areas, extra rooms, windows and stuff like that comes naturally.

edit: so yeah, top-down planning works for me.

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I've realized I'm not too good for mapping, I like programming more, at least I can get shit done.

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I've only drawn one map on paper over the past 2 years. I've always been better at going straight to the editor and working there. Frankly, I treat Doombuilder as paper - just create a rough layout, erase and edit what I don't like, and eventually I wind up with a solid, nonlinear set-up with height variation to go along. For me, this rarely ever backfires.

Everyone is different, though. So whatever floats your boat.

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I've done two or three maps on paper. Each one was an absolutely horrible process. I've learned to just trust what comes out of my "blind editing" and just make shapes and such without much thought. Once I have one or two areas down it's very easy to picture how the rest of the map will work. There are times though, like right now, where I can't get that foresight and so it takes months to get a larger map down instead of days.

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