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Any tips for good flow and layout?

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Hello fellow mappers of DW, I'm here seeking advice on my biggest fallback as a mapper: flow. (Intertwines with layout, I guess).

The biggest obstacle to my mapping is providing a somewhat non-linear layout that's interesting. I can't seem to make any maps that work well like this. At best, I'll have one room deviate into 2 rooms, but it doesn't seem to get any better from there. Does anyone have some tips for creating a strong/fun layout?

For example, in my latest map for Panophobia, everything is well planned in my head, but it comes out all as a flop. Here's the editor picture (somewhat big). You follow the light blue line from the bottom with a few loops in a linear fashion, into the little 3x2 squares, where it backtracks as a dark blue path. From there, it deviates into 2 possible routes that eventualy join up...but that's it. It doesn't have that good flow trademark in the better Doom maps.


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I struggled with the same problem, creating overly linear maps. My solution was to consciously alter my map design process. Things I did include:

- When updating an old map, create tunnels in it from physically close locations or convenient teleporters that cut backtracking. If these allow unwanted shortcuts, close them off until they should be available. Sometimes I think of the layout as if it was a deathmatch map and you need to have easy access to all areas.

- Start with an open layout. Create a big central room or some central corridors that you'll be returning to, and branch off the different key areas. You can use monster closets or teleporting monsters to repopulate the area between clearings.

- Try making a symmetric map, and devise a gameplay flow for it, that takes advantage of the symmetry.

- Add optional areas with rewards in them (new weapon or a powerup, or even just a vantage point overlooking a different area)

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Avoid symmetry.
Functional-design is interesting. Each part of the layout should have a function and be so equipped.

Decide early what you are designing.
Do not start with one room.
Start with an objective, then design three or four rooms and two passages that are designed to that objective.
Then augment that with details, supplies, rooms, and supporting areas.

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I like to make make vaguely circular map parts. Not like a symmetric circle, but the main path of a part would be roughly circular. I could piece these together to make interesting corridors and rooms. Plotting the main rooms is important, but if the corridors are just thoughtless paths from point A to point B, the level's not as interesting.

Semi-symmetrical maps are not necessarily bad. Just look at E1M6, which isn't symmetrical in every respect, but is such in overall form.

But yeah, the absolute best tip to mapping anything is to playtest until your head explodes like this.

It's the best way to figure out if something works and should stay, kinda works and should be tweaked, or doesn't work and should be cast through the 9th circle of hell.

Doom's a pretty good game to learn how to develop good flow and layout since making maps for it is pretty easy compared to a lot of newer games; once you learn to make good flow in one game, it's usually no problem to figure it out for another.

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(previous post interrupted)
This is sort-of how I create levels. It is industrial based, but works for non-industrial too. It does not work for free-form, exercise-park style levels most of the deathmatch).

Here are some methods:
1. Decide on a theme and purpose for the level.
Answer the following questions:
- when ? pre-industrial, industrial, early-space, adv-space
- where ? earth, moon, mars, mars-moon, spaceship, hell, other
- building tech ? wood/stone, earth slum, earth city, hellish,
space tech, alien tech
- what does it do overall ? residential, gov, city-center, office,
research-park, military-base, space-port, shipping-port, storage,
mining, military-storage, scout-base, construction, water-supply,
food-supply, fabrication, communication, space-ship (large, small),
some combination of the above
- is it one building, multiple buildings on ground, underground,
connected by tunnels
- what are the external connections. These are the hardest to create
(no draw to infinity) and thus tend to get removed at start.
This usually determines how the player enters and exits.
Possibilities: tunnels only, road with gate, landing-pad,
doors-to-unknown, teleport, transportation-hub

2. What does the adventurer want to accomplish, his purpose
- get through as fast as possible
- clean out aliens
- find the (? key, records, weapon, teleport)
- destroy the (? reactor, communications, teleport, weapon)

3. Determine the main hub. For a non-linear design there must be
multiple paths out of it so it is usually the largest building
(no matter its purpose) as that usually gets connected to everything
just by proximity. Put in the center of the map.

4. Place boxes for the other major areas that must be visited.
These will get replaced by rooms.
Decide what they are and why they must be visited.

5. connect the major areas with appropriate tunnels, doors, antechambers, stairs, ladders, shafts, teleports. Do not have to create them yet, just create placeholders. (I don't like the
teleports as it hides the room relationships that would make the
level interesting.)

6. Create some extra connections between areas. These may be locked, one-way by height (jump-off), one way door, or hidden.
I prefer unhindered passages, as it also helps with deathmatch.

6. What do the keys control?? Why is it locked?? Why did the
keys end up where they are?? This can be part of the story, and be interesting (or it can be another
key-on-a-pedestal-monsters-all-around-you trap).
For best non-linear design, do not lock the entire building, but only
a critical-area. This way the player can find the critical-area but cannot get in. Then they look for the key or some button to push.
Mark your doors so they know which they are looking for.

7. Any button to push should have some connection to the area it controls, so the player knows what it controls. Unlabeled buttons
are disconnected from the story, confuse the player as to
what they are doing, and do not give any clue as what the player should do next.

8. In non-linear levels the player is free to roam everywhere. The series of operations they need to perform is the restriction.
The player needs to know what they are trying to accomplish next,
at every step of the play.

9. Provide more than three challenges (keys). Additional challenges can involve rooms with obscure alternative passages (air-ducts usually, but also backroom paths, service-ways, sewer, etc..)

10. Provide for trash and disposal, sewers, maintenance.
This always provides alternative paths so it must be done before monster placement. If you have a tight disposal area, provide a way
around to the other end for the maintenance people that does not involve circling the entire complex.

11. Where are the big monster fights and why. Provide the player
with the means to survive. It is hardly necessary to make more difficulty by setting artificial traps in the building design.
Notice how this is after major building, so it must be adapted to
the existing building. The building restrictions makes it much more interesting by providing weak points for the player to exploit.

12. Set the Monster defenses. They can set traps, but at this point
the building design is an existing given. The monsters should NOT be
in hollowed out walls, or inhabit the usual descending pillar.
Try to adapt the existing building design. Put some boxes as a barricade, or a monster den in a supply room.
The player will spend considerable time and effort here, so provide alternatives to attacking it. If it is a little corridor, then provide some way to go around. It does not have to be any easier, but there needs to be an alternative. Getting the monsters moving back and forth can be a player tactic.
Do not make the monsters frozen in place (tiny cages, or asleep).
Use obstructions and monster control linedefs to keep them in their patrol lanes and defensive zones, but make those zones as large as possible and let them roam.

13. Any niche a monster can get into needs to be accessible by the player. The player will look for a way up there.
It can be as simple as little ledges in the wall that can be climbed.
Please do not use teleports just to avoid the work. The teleports were supposed to be some expensive tech that is part of the story line.

13. Rough it out and play test. If stuff is too close together it
will loose the feel of moving on to the next objective (they will
run together).

14. Add details. Finish the stairs properly. Add tool-machines,
tool-boxes, shelves, desks, snack-machine, break-room, supply-room,
air-conditioning, heating, computers, docks, supplies, boxes and crates.

15. Fill in any warehouse with stuff, which is not just crates.
Warehouses seem like mazes only because you cannot tell which way
you are facing, or where you are, but they are not actually mazes,
except where you must get past three or four other things to get to the box you want. There is always the pallet of stuff that someone
left in the way, for one reason or another.
There are always machines to move the boxes
(small, medium, and large machines).

16. Fix the lighting. Add ceiling lights, wall lights.

17. Alignment of all textures. Check for HOM.

18. Adjust, several iterations.

** The first impression is the most impressive, but hardest to play because the level is unknown. It is much harder than it looks, to someone who has play tested it multiple times.
Anything that is learn-by-dying or similar, will make the this
the least satisfying play. Do not mess it up for cheap shots.

** The best play is not the first play. But one-shot wonders will have become did-that, saw-that, boring by the fourth play-through. Avoid cutesy things that get old quickly. Large slow rising stairs are an example, and have been done before too. Go for things that stay good even after 5 plays.

Examples of my work:
FreeDoom: Map09, Map13, some work on Map19. Map09 and Map13 have been revised several times, and will get worked again this Feb..

Level Design patterns for Doom
Published at DoomLegacy site, an extensive map design aid,
many tables,
contains design steps for complicated constructions.

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