Jump to content
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...
Woolie Wool

A meditation on Doom level design and layout

Recommended Posts

The Secret to a Good Doom Level: It's the Layout, Stupid!

I wrote this article for my Tumblr this afternoon and couldn't find an appropriate thread to link to it in, so I guess it's getting it's own thread. This was partially inspired by some stuff Tarnsman has said on his stream, as well as playing the quite underwhelming first seven maps of Reverie. A lot of veteran mappers probably already know this but I keep seeing new mappers (and even some experienced mappers) make the same mistakes over and over again.

For those of you who consider a long-form article tl;dr, here's the general gist of it, from the first two paragraphs:

Woolie Wool said:

The description of my Tumblr mentioned “long, rambling opinion pieces”, and it’s time for my first “think piece” on this blog. Let’s talk about map layouts. Layout, as it’s usually used in Doom mapping discussion, refers to the overall “shape” of a level—the size, configuration and relative positions of its various areas, how they are positioned in relation to one another, how they connect to one another, lines of sight from one place in a map to another, and how areas transform and connections appear or disappear during play (esselfortium calls the latter quality “dynamic space”).

Layout is an aspect of Doom level design not commonly discussed in the community, in favor of things like detail, fight choreography, texture use, difficulty, and the nebulous and unhelpful term “architecture”. But make no mistake, layout is the most important part of a good Doom level. All the other things that make a good level—attractive visuals, entertaining fights, an evocative theme, derive in part or in whole from layout. If you don’t have a good layout, you don’t have a good level. It’s as simple as that.

Share this post


Link to post

It's like writing a story where you create the ending first and build the details around it. In the same way, build areas with combat, details and atmosphere you find appealing, then connect them.

Share this post


Link to post

This actually really helped me. Before, I knew roughly what made a good map by playing the classics. But differentiating lighting, having environmental hazards and placing monsters round corners was all I could do, and I just couldn't seem to get it right. The one high point for me was my eye for detail, and of course that's barely any help at all for a fun level.

But this really helped me make a fun map - the tip about imagining it from the monsters' perspective was quite novel.

Thanks! :3

Share this post


Link to post
Woolie Wool said:

I keep seeing new mappers (and even some experienced mappers) make the same mistakes over and over again

cuz they are not mistakes
also reverie is amazing
u dogmatic bitches :D

The worst thing that can happen to the community is if everyone will start making these same open interconnected levels and nothing else. Listen dear noobs, these ideas are bullshit. I'm a Cacoward winner so I know what I'm talking about, right?

Share this post


Link to post

edit: i was hella rude so i'll rewrite my sentiments in a non-stupid way

"If you don't have a good layout, you don't have a good level"


This attitude is incredibly harmful for creativity when it comes to mapping (or any kind of creation). After reading through, there is some cool advice for making fun maps, but the tone reeks of an absolution about What Makes A Good Map. This can only be a fallacy, considering 'good' is a subjective term.

The most important tool in a mappers arsenal is their own idea of what they are going for, and the ability to take feedback well. Neither of these things are tied to any kind of map, but are by far the most important things. When testing your map (and test you should!) figure out how you want it to be played. Get rid of things that don't aide that, and focus in on the things that do.

Same goes for getting feedback from other players (which you should also do!!): ignore the feedback that doesn't align with the things you want from your map (but don't be rude about it), and listen to the advice of people who you aim to imitate (if any).

This is all general Good Advice for creative work as a whole, and done me much more good than any specific tips for any particular creative endeavor has.

Share this post


Link to post

The article has many interesting things but I agree with Memfis and Jmickle66666666. Imo reducing all is about mapping to the layout it will induce in a sterility of creativity. Is the layout and the detail that it must be functional to the concept and the theme of the map.
Linear layouts, rooms, hallways, everything is fine, if used well; if the mapper can give a sense, a meaning to what he is doing. Which is the suggestion that (imo) should be given to the mappers.

Share this post


Link to post

You are an excellent writer, Really appreciate your in-depth examples and all the wads you pointed to exemplify Doom's greatness in some way. But there are many more undiscovered wads which people rarely know about but people can learn a hell of a lot from. Many single-level wads but also many out-of-favor megawads which got good ratings for their time in the sunlight, but now are all but forgotten in contemporary discussion. Everyone has their own opinions about what these are, but you don't even have to dig deep to find something that is 10 times better than what Romero, Petersen, or McGee created.

Now, let’s take a look at Doom, E1M1, the first level 99% of players will experience when playing Doom for the first time.

Just LOL. Each person is going to remember Doom in a different way, some will totally blow through e1m1 without finding a damn secret because they want to get to meat and potatoes of Doom and view e1m1 as just a warmup. Certain maps will stick out and others fade away. But they are all mostly awesome. It's just that nowadays people watch videos and demos of Doom all the time, they are very disconnected from the E1M1 prototype. In fact, many of Romero's design theories have been utterly surpassed at least 5 times over, even by pwads that were released in the early 2000s. I'm not even joking and would debate anyone on that, but I think it's largely unnecessary. Alien Vendetta, Hell Revealed. Vrack. 5 entire episodes of Heretic.wad. Deus Vult. Suspended in Dusk. What I'm saying is, yeah the original maps are great but dear god, they are not the body and blood of Jesus Christ anymore. Good FPS design has learned a lot from other genres and many other games which have been competitors to Doom (Serious Sam, Duke Nukem, Hexen, Diablo series, among many others, even contemporary games have taught the Doom community a lot, I would go so far as to argue, but again I find it unnecessary because we have all played something like Call of Duty or Gears of War and realized some things these games did right but other times were horrendously wrong.)

Share this post


Link to post

Well, the 5 episodes of Heretic don't count. They were low in quality compared to Doom's levels and episodes 3 and 4 were just awful in some areas.

Other than that... yeah.

Share this post


Link to post

Holy cow. Episode 1 of Heretic? Are you kidding me? Every map of that episode of that is monumental and just as awesome as any in Knee Deep in the Dead, not to mention they represent a more cohesive theme throughout all three of the episodes compared to all three episodes of the original Doom. If you want more extreme examples of gameplay, well episodes 4 and 5 are just made for players who are good at straferunning and inventory management.

Episodes 4 and 5 of Heretic are like Episode 4 of the Ultimate Doom. That's an easy comparison.

Share this post


Link to post

I tend to agree with Woolie Wool. 9 times out of 10 it IS about the layout, stupid!

Map sets that are better than the original IWADS tend to have more complex and interesting layouts than the originals. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that there can be no exceptions to this layout rule, and there are a few, but those exceptions are few and far between. Those of you saying that this idea limits players creativity fail to see that more often than not it is actually a LACK of creativity that leads to 'one dimensional', room and corridor monster clearing, door camping gameplay that Woolie Wool is warning against. Rest assured, I would actually argue that there are probably many more one dimensional levels featuring 'creative' (IE poor) layouts to be found in the archives, compared to levels with good, complex and interesting layouts. What Woolie Wool claims makes a good map is still an exception to the average community made map. Making a map with a good layout is difficult and not everyone can be a champ.

Share this post


Link to post

Nice article, totally agree about what being said about layout.

Share this post


Link to post

I agree with everything here except for that bit about violence and graphics -- those totally sold Doom. It wasn't level layouts alone getting people to play the game.

Share this post


Link to post

Meh, there's plenty of great levels that are little more than a series of setpieces. I'd personally ignore any Doom level design advice that would label "Ascending to the Stars" as a bad level.

Share this post


Link to post

Interesting stuff, thanks for making it (and sorry any english mistake ahead)

What I find funny is that even agreeing with some points, I played the map from Reverie and I had fun with it! Yes, it is completely linear and pretty easy, but it's ok for one of the first levels. I believe the linearity and repetition of rooms has been done on purpose, to create a effect of weirdness on the player much like what Sandy Petersen achieves sometimes, but I could be wrong (I remembered also of Wormhole from Ty Halderman, seeing those dead bodies in the later rooms, when repeated).

So... in a megawad I can play some maps like this if appears from time to time (principally for the sake of variety). At least I think it's better than a homogeneous set only using the interconnected layout.

Share this post


Link to post

I think Reverie is a special case. It works thanks to the author's talent to touch the right chords to appeal to a classic player (not necessarily nostalgic, but it may help). Even the average-ness on first sight adds to its appeal, kind of, because it's executed with the most fitting style that's not exactly amateurish at all (as odd as it may sound). I like the megawad despite its imperfections.

Share this post


Link to post
scifista42 said:

I think Reverie is a special case. It works thanks to the author's talent to touch the right chords to appeal to a classic player (not necessarily nostalgic, but it may help). Even the average-ness on first sight adds to its appeal, kind of, because it's executed with the most fitting style that's not exactly amateurish at all (as odd as it may sound). I like the megawad despite its imperfections.

It also helps that not all its maps have a layout as simplistic as MAP03. (Another thing that helps it is its soundtrack.)

Share this post


Link to post

Good point about the Tormentor detail.

I remember playing some of the maps on his site and being bored out of my mind because they were simply over detailed linear corridors. The cup of wrath map is a great example of exactly what most of those levels were like.

I liked KDiZD and Torment and Torture, but the other maps were meh...



Also, this article needs to be shown to anyone who says DooM is all about shooting monsters and "moving very fast"



I myself noticed that if I just sit there in the level editor and make a map, it turns into a boring linear corridor.

When I plan things out on paper, things start to flow organically into each other, and I'm able to create interesting nonlinear areas.

I often rescue a bad map by realizing it's turning to shit and design a huge section of it on paper so I don't throw away all the work I just did when I made the boring linear area. It's just a nice mix of both.

Share this post


Link to post

I noticed you said there are no right angles as soon as you start E1M1 but I found about 21 in that one screenshot. 16 of them are right in front of you.

Share this post


Link to post

I'm all about making it up as I go. Get a general theme or think of areas and go for it.
In keeping tune with trying to equate deep pseudo philosophical crap to mapping:

Angles are your friend.

Any area can always be connected to every other area.

If you don't know where to go, think vertically.

Open areas are great, but so are sequentially opening puzzle boxes.

Romero is your co-pilot.

Sectors are emptyness, lindefs are directions, vertexes are destinations.

Your map could be the Sistine chapel but if all three key colored doors are in the first opening area you're a lazy uninspired sack of shit.

Share this post


Link to post
SYS said:

Your map could be the Sistine chapel but if all three key colored doors are in the first opening area you're a lazy uninspired sack of shit.

There is an exception. To everything.

Share this post


Link to post

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×