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40oz

How to make maps people will want to play

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Sometimes mappers feel conflicted about their abilities. They know how to use the editor, how to create sectors, how to put monsters on a map, and do all the general mapping stuff. The problem they are faced with is if they are lacking something that other more popular mappers have. Like some sort of gift that makes their maps so great and approachable. This tutorial is designed to help mappers realize that everyone has that gift and to help them find it in themselves.

Let me preface this tutorial by saying that this is by no means a guaranteed path to dominating the Doomworld community with overwhelming mapping success. The goal is to encourage mappers who have been safely hiding in obscurity to step into the spotlight and share their work with the community. I know many mappers have a lot of amazing potential here but have few releases and probably don't know that many people would be potentially dying to play their future maps. These people could benefit community projects, get involved with a team, and establish a name for themselves in the community with the long lasting effect of releasing fun maps for others to play.

Take what I say with a grain of salt as most of this probably pretty subjective, but I've been very closely involved with the community for a very long time, and as someone who has less and less time to make maps, I wholeheartedly wish to see more people succeed in becoming other people's favorite mappers. Below is a process designed to help you start.

Bite the bullet

Many of the more popular mappers in the community had to start somewhere. They may have started many years ago and their work probably wouldn't hold up very well today. I'm pretty knowledgeable of many of the great mappers of Doom, but I couldn't tell you what any of their "first maps ever" were. Very few people produce one-hit-wonders and even when they do, they rarely resurface to blow everyone out of the water again. What I'm trying to say is that if you haven't created a body of work yet, you don't have much to lose. Think about it. In this community, most people are remembered for their successes much more than their failures. And almost no one is held accountable for the garbage they produced when they first started. My first map was linear, had chunky gameplay, static lighting, and could even break in some places. And it's uploaded on /idgames if you're willing to look for it. That's okay. I was humble when I released it and most people were pretty accepting that it was a first map and were more interested in helping me improve than to make me feel like a loser. If you haven't created anything yet, then players can't tell you what they think you're capable of and would want to see more of. You will inevitably have flaws when you start mapping and that's okay. It's more important that people address them to you rather than you identify them on your own. You may be a lot more talented than you lead yourself to believe. Even if your not, keeping a healthy attitude towards seeking criticism and wanting to improve will only make your maps better, and the people playing them more friendly. This is how most of the mappers you know of achieved the status they're known for. Taking the same path will eventually establish a line of work people will know you for.

Pick a mapper you think you could compete with

Maps are like music genres. Everyone has their own style and most of them have their own following of fans. Some people like high detail maps with lots of flashy textures and new color palletes, others like 1994 wads and Doom the way id did. Some people like the gameplay to be spiced up with new DECORATE monsters and weapon mods, others like slaughterfests that only use the classic monsters and arsenal. There's something for everyone. As a new mapper, its good to find a genre you like and a level designer whose skills are comparable to yours. Erik Alm's Scythe 2 had a nice clean visual style with unique episode themes, attention to texture alignment, basic and consistent detail, and fun gameplay that felt pretty easy to reproduce. It's no surprise that many mappers were inspired to start mapping from playing his maps. Find a wad you like in which its design would not be very difficult for you to recreate. Find more maps by this author and try to compete with that mappers style. Many people tend to be humbled by veteran mappers' incredible skills and decide they will never be as good as them. Find a mapper who makes decent maps who's skills you can match and try to beat them. You can develop your skills in a healthy way by starting your standards low to release a few maps, and then challenging yourself further when players' feedback arrives. Before long, other mapper's work may seem more simple than you once thought.

Start small

If you're just breaking yourself into the mapping scene, it might be worth your while to start with small single levels to give people a taste of what you're capable of. Going full retard on a megawad from the very beginning may be a bit premature if you don't know if people will like your work, and you might feel a towering wave of disappointment if people aren't obsessed with it. Make one or a couple bite size maps that you can be proud of that show what your made of and post a thread about it. Short single maps are very little commitment for yourself, and for testers. This means you're likely to get quick feedback which will guide you towards the skills you need to develop and become a great mapper. It will put you more in focus on what you need to work on in your major projects in the future.

Stop reading reviews

If you often read people's reviews of other people's maps, you'll probably stay pretty cynical and insecure about what players really want. The truth is not all players really know what they want. The ratio of negative feedback to positive feedback for most wads seems like 4:1 sometimes, especially since we are magnetically attracted to controversy, and the negativity can be glaring. In many cases the reviews of other people's maps are specific to the circumstances that are in that map and shouldn't serve as general rules for all maps. Sometimes "not enough ammo" puts extra pressure where you want it. And sometimes "10 archviles with little cover" can be a lot of fun given the circumstances. When you're a mapper, you'll need to be selective of the kind of feedback you want. Sometimes when someone says your map sucks after they've played it with a gameplay mod you didn't test it with, that negativity has everything to do with them and nothing to do with you. But more importantly, you shouldn't take the criticism other mappers receive as your own. You have your own skills and capabilities and should only respond to what people say about you. Not what is said to other people.

Make an enticing release thread

When you have a map that you're willing to share, make sure your opening post is informative. Include a screenshot or two or three of your map so people can see what they're about to play. Tell them the name of your map, how many maps are included in the file, and what source ports you tested it on. If applicable, include whether or not you implemented skill settings, multiplayer settings, or if it requires any additional files to run. Most importantly, be humble about your map and politely ask for the kind of feedback your looking for. "Is this fun?" "Does this look good?" "Are there any bugs that need to be addressed?" You'll almost doubtleslly be returned with constructive criticism when you're being seen as someone who actively wants to improve.

Have Fun!

The more you make maps, the more you'll develop personal relationships with people on this forum. Your maps don't always have to be the best. They should just be fun. Mapping is an acquired skill, not a gift that people just have. Embrace feedback both positive and negative. Even when people are mean, (which does happen sometimes) stay optimistic and be grateful that the person cared enough to play your map in the first place and took the time to respond to you. Accept that your maps may not be universally well received. Sometimes it can just be chalked up to their specific preference of style. Even some of the best and most famous wad releases inevitably received some backlash from players who wanted something different. This is okay. Just take pride in knowing that you contributed to eternal Doom journey everyone of us spacemarines are involved in!

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"Start small" is probably the most helpful tip. After making a few simple techbase maps which can be completed in about a minute, with simple obstacles placed here and there to test out where they work well (like crushers, falling platforms, rising bridges and barrels), I feel like I'm better at developing areas.

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Some solid points here. I'd also like to contribute by saying

Be a likeable person
Because nobody wants to play your maps if you are a prick. Making maps people will actually want to play goes beyond the technical stuff, mapping and modding truly do have a political edge that impacts quality perceptions of your work. People may or may not going into a map with biases if you're a shitty person, looking for ANYTHING to knock and give reason to dismiss the whole package out of hand. I find that being popular/household name is essential to making maps people really want to play, regardless of quality. DM/Duel maps are prime example of this!

Inb4 "Decay that is really hypocritical coming from you" yes I know.

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I just want to say thanks for writing both this and the "getting rid of mapper's block" posts, 40oz - Very helpful threads that I'm sure will get a lot of newbies and veterans alike through rough patches/a lack of ideas in regards to mapping.

Decay said:

Inb4 "Decay that is really hypocritical coming from you" yes I know.

Pft, if someone thinks you're a shitty person they really have no idea what "shitty" means. What the man says is 100% true though, how do you think my maps ever get played :^)

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This is a good thread with good content. Nice work. Tips about starting a megawad early and how to handle feedback would of been real handy when I started.

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I think every player wants to play a map that they can only slightly win, with their level of skill. No one want to just get beat down repeatedly, yet, no one wants it to be a walk in the park either.

The problem is, everyone has different levels of skill, so how do you accomplish this? This requires getting into the mindset of your players. The map you design may be yours, but when someone plays your map, it is their time, so, are you punishing them, or entertaining them?

To make maps with wide appeal, you have to provide mechanisms that allow the player to stay in control of their experience. Possibly, you can accomplish this by providing multiple ways to approach each fight. Literally, multiple paths to the fight, in a somewhat 'discoverable' manner.

For example, hard-core players might choose to jump into the arena below, rambo style. Less experienced players might stay up top, and snipe monsters below, in relative safety. In this scenario, you, as the map maker, have provided both players a choice as to how they want to fight, in an obvious way.

Of course, providing implemented skill levels goes a long way towards this goal. And, you don't always have to remove or replace monsters on easier skills, maybe you just provide more health, or ammo.

Again, the idea is not to punish the player - your goal is to entertain the player, by providing plenty of action, but also providing choice. It may be as simple as providing a way out of a nasty situation. The more-experienced player may not use this out, letting them fight at a level they are comfortable with, and the novice can run away, regroup, and come back to the fight when they are ready.

Also, opening your map up to players with varying skill level does not always mean catering to the less-abled. You can add special SR-40 and SR-50 speedrunning routes, you can open up fights to allow expert circle-strafing, setup BFG spamming fights, etc.

A final note is to make your maps nice-looking. I've read the detail vs. playability debates, and they just don't hold water. It is very possible to have both, and it takes extra work, but can be done. A nice-looking map is a memorable map, and if it plays well for anyone that plays it, you have a mass-appeal winner.

Again, it's your map, but it's the player's time, and that has to be respected as well. Don't punish the player, entertain them!

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Dunno, I think many people are necessarily going to be excluded when you make maps that you yourself can maximally enjoy, unless you fit snugly around the mean in terms of playing ability and taste. There are people who like really brutal slaughtermaps that require a decent amount of skill to appreciate even with saves (on UV); there are people who like -nomo platforming maps with mandatory rocket jumps; there are people who like obscure atmospheric puzzle maps with bizarre sector detail, full of pain elementals. I think if you are going to spend tens of hours designing a map, you had better make something you can enjoy, no matter how niche it is, no matter how few people will like it, otherwise what's the point -- it's not like anyone gets paid for this effort. Designing for mass appeal just seems like a hollow endeavor to me. Implementing difficulty settings is mostly the only thing that can be done, and of course so many people are Badass McBadass who take playing below UV as an affront to their manliness, so much of the audience has excluded themselves.

I feel it's most important to discover, via thorough study and introspection, what types of maps you enjoy and want to make. The next hard step is to become good at making them. Every style of map has its own tropes and internal language. There are good ways to design maps full of '90s representational detail, and bad and lifeless ways to design maps full of '90s representational detail. It's unfortunate that many beginners will have much of their originality pounded out of them by people who conclude that their bad unconventional design is bad because it's unconventional instead of bad because it's bad, until they are making pseudo-challenging run'N'gun maps with highlighted key progressions full of support beams connected by horizontally scored textures and not a single one-shot detail in sight, like everyone else.

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kb1 said:

I think every player wants to play a map that they can only slightly win, with their level of skill. No one want to just get beat down repeatedly, yet, no one wants it to be a walk in the park either.

While this is (close to be) true for myself, I really doubt it'd be true for every player, or even the majority. Many players seem to like their game as easy as a walk in the park. Some also seem to enjoy getting beat down repeatedly (as inventing a working strategy is their preferred challenge). So, speak for yourself.

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scifista42 said:

While this is (close to be) true for myself, I really doubt it'd be true for every player, or even the majority. Many players seem to like their game as easy as a walk in the park. Some also seem to enjoy getting beat down repeatedly (as inventing a working strategy is their preferred challenge). So, speak for yourself.

Of course, you can't please everyone. The thread title is "How to make maps people will want to play", so my thoughts were confined to that space. About the best you can hope for is to either increase player enjoyment of your map, or increase the number of people that will enjoy your map.

I proposed adding user choice to your maps to let the player choose how to approach battles and other tricky areas, which empowers the player to entertain themselves as they see fit. Furthermore, a map's looks affects how long you want to be in a map, checking out the architecture, admiring the layout.

There's nothing wrong with concentrating on a map that you personally like. This is a good indicator that the map is fun...for you, anyway. But, if you look at your own map for too long, while you're building it, you can become a bit biased, right?

But the original question was how to make a map that (other) people will want to play. Hell, I have fun playing some maps with infinite ammo, and in iddqd mode! So, yes, there are those types of preferences that the map author cannot control. But, opening up multiple ways to handle each fight is in the mapper's control, and can only serve to provide choice, which ought to be a enjoyable trait for most people.

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I think you’re absolutely right kb1. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I was playing a wad with pretty timid gameplay and then get blasted by surprise archvile encounters in a huge room with little cover. It makes me feel cheated out of a good gameplay experience.

I do think however that advising mappers to create multiple approaches to fights is advice that I think may be a little too general. I don’t think you’re wrong, but the suggestion requires a lot more critical thinking than a quick couple mouse clicks. I know many mappers tend to prefer to detail their maps first before doing the thing placement and testing, and so adding “another way to approach each fight” sometimes requires major structural changes to the layout and destruction of detail that may have taken hours to make. I believe planning the map ahead of time is pretty important but this tutorial is directed mainly towards people who haven’t made many maps and are cautious about what they want to make. If you’ve haven’t made many maps already, it’s possible that too much planning can pour your focus in the wrong areas.

To complement your point, I think it would be a more objective suggestion for mappers to make their maps more approachable by telling them to err on the side of providing a little extra health and ammo than not enough. That more likely to make your maps more approachable to a wider audience than a map with an extreme caliber of skill to complete. I do believe however, it is generally less likely to accidentally make a map too hard than it is to make it too easy. Make a map where the player starts with a megaarmor, backpack, and a super shotgun and you’ll have to get pretty creative if you want to kill the player. This is probably why chaingunner traps and cyberdemons are used so liberally in Doom wads these days. This is however dismissing the other definition of “hard” that depends on resource famine in which the player simply doesn’t have the required equipment to smoothly destroy the opposition. I personally consider this approach to be kinda sloppy and lazy.

Rdwpa raises a pretty good point too, but I think he’s fortunate enough to be aware that his work may not appeal to everyone and he is perfectly comfortable with that. However, I’ve heard from plenty new mappers before say that they are interested in becoming well-known in the community and would like to design maps competitive with cacoward winners. This tutorial is made for those kinds of people who want to mass appeal but are not sure where

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I'm not a big fan of resource starvation, either. It makes me have to be too careful, as I'm a pretty sloppy, wasteful player :) But, there are people that do not like there to be too much health and ammo. I suppose that's a valid complaint (though no one is making you grab those resources :)

Another way to add appeal is via rewards:
A strategic pile of barrels near a group of monsters is always rewarding. A nice ammo/health cache after a big battle. A secret that leads you to an area you could previously only see through a window. Big areas behind secret doors. Double secrets. A monster crusher.

Finally, stop punishing the player! I don't mean make it easy. I mean don't make it boring. For example, I'd suggest avoiding lengthy runs to get back to the fight, especially in coop mode. Nothing gets boring like having to jump across tons of pillars, through long hallways, up lifts, through doors, for 3 minutes just to get back to the fight, only to be killed in 2 minutes. Open up your map to provide quick access to new areas, or provide a teleport.

Also, tricky, barely able to succeed jumps are boring. Yes, some people excel at these. I am not one of those people. Sure, add some of these for your speedrunners, but not as a required thing.

That's about all I've got, for now.

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