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bioshockfan90

Good aspects of challenging map design

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Just a little thought that popped in my head today. Mappers who are fairly well-versed in the newschool design of trickier maps, what are some recommendations for creating challenging, fun gameplay? I'm curious to see everyone's thoughts.

All I'm familiar with is creating tense combat encounters, trying to not flood the level with chaingunners and revs, etc... But wanted to see what else comes up.

Show me what you got.

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The biggest recommendation is to play more. Learn the ins and outs of this style of mapping, and it'll all fall into place.

Beyond that -- put conflicting movement demands on the player. I've given a small example of such here, work out more on your own.

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^ That's probably the best piece of advice. Beyond that, it's all about learning where/when to apply certain enemies, and doling out ammunition/health in the correct portions/places. Even a subpar layout can turn into a mildly challenging task if you keep into account what enemies work within its space and how to best lure the player to the places you want with weapons/powerups. I think too often new mappers really neglect the sheer power that munition placement and multiple attack avenues have, instead focusing on bulky numbers of threatening enemies you largely encounter in only one direction.

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dobu gabu maru said:

^ That's probably the best piece of advice. Beyond that, it's all about learning where/when to apply certain enemies, and doling out ammunition/health in the correct portions/places. Even a subpar layout can turn into a mildly challenging task if you keep into account what enemies work within its space and how to best lure the player to the places you want with weapons/powerups. I think too often new mappers really neglect the sheer power that munition placement and multiple attack avenues have, instead focusing on bulky numbers of threatening enemies you largely encounter in only one direction.


I've always liked the way DVII handled enemy placement early on, with the huge-ass hordes of bullet sponges. Not challenging at all, just a fun little thing to add some flair to the maps. But yeah, totally agree. I've noticed that a lot of harder WADs are very precise with ammo/health placement.

And I'll check that link out, Cynical. I've been playing through Plutonia 2 right now, so maybe that'll rub something off on me as well, heh.

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Stock the starting area of your map with necessary weapons/items to make Doomguy as OP as possible. Megaarmor, backpack, super shotgun and rocket launcher are a must. Include accompanying ammo and health items to fall back to. Proceed to design the map in such a way that you can play pretty aggressively and comfortably without getting bored. When your map is finished, scatter a majority of those items from the start tactfully so that the player has to advance more into the map before being allowed to use them.

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I agree with Cynical. Still, while I'm not an exemplary mapper, I like to focus on some aspects that makes the levels more fun for me:

-> Avoid being too obvious, forcing players out of their comfort zone: This means avoiding too much doors/cover fights and trying to create more clever encounters: Placing monsters behind obstacles, taking advantage of sound propagation mechanics and creating height variantions, one-way passages and windows that makes everything more interconnected.

-> Keep the grind level as light as possible: Use high HP monsters only when necessary and be sure that the player will have a proper weapon to deal with them (like avoiding shooting baron's with a single shotgun). This also means keeping monster count as low as possible as long you can create interesting setups.

-> Non-linearity: Always giving the players some options, so the level will stay refreshing in different playthroughts or even if the player dies. Also, this make exploration an important element, even if the player doesn't want to play again the level, which can also be enhanced with some more clever and elaborated secrets.

-> Hitscan x Projectile mechanic: Focus om mixing different type of monsters, taking advantage of Hitscan x Projectile mechanics so the player focus on priorization, dodging or taking cover when necessary.

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Some loosely organized thoughts on various things:

I personally don't set out to create challenging encounters. I try to make encounters that are fun and exciting and engaging for me, but of course it's by necessity that many of these must end up being challenging, especially since as the mapper I know what the encounter is going to entail! Sometimes when I make an area it just doesn't turn me on, so I'm like, screw it, let's toss in another vile here, double the number of pinkies here, put a squad of sergeants here, oh yeah, we need some pressure from this side too so let's throw in some arachnotrons, hmm, there could be a cool risk/reward aspect if the player wants to grab this pile of ammo so we'll bug it with some pain elementals protected by HKs, and a roving cyber would be fun too, nah never mind screw that I want to be able to play somewhat recklessly if I get momentum; and then I play it and the fight gives me my Fair and Balanced kick.

A corollary of this is that unless you are trying to make a somewhat oppressive map, you are generally going to want quicker, lower-pressure encounters here and there, and incidental combat that can be handled at your own pace. I like thinking about the overall pacing of my maps, both in terms of fighting and staging.

One overlooked part about difficulty settings is that finding a map hard to survive isn't the only reason to play below UV. Sometimes the easier encounters in a map might be tailored on UV for a player with a certain amount of skill wrt inflicting DPS, particularly with weapons such as the RL and BFG, and thus seem tedious to a player who isn't really able to play as quickly and efficiently. Or they might be made for a knowledgeable player who won't do silly things like use all of their ammo trying to kill every lower-threat monster they see, wasting shots here and there, and then run out of ammo and save the game and be unwilling to take risks to get more ammo and find the next several minutes a slog even though they probably won't die.

I like exploring interesting combat concepts that haven't really been fully explored. One of my recent maps has a ginormous arena fight at the end, and keys are totally totally optional but give you a variety of extra bonuses for the last fight, and best yet, most of these bonuses aren't even items or weapons or traditional stuff like that. I was really happy with that whole setup.

Personally as a player I prefer group dynamics to individual monster dynamics and thus use a lot of monsters, but I also like high-DPS weapons (SSG/RL/PR/BFG), so the action tends to be fast-paced. With the exception of certain monsters, I just feel the majority of "challenging" lower monster count setups tend to be too easy for me with the foreknowledge that comes from being the mapper and all, in the absence of serious player restriction (cramped spaces, platforming, lots of damaging floor, etc.) or truly dickish and obnoxious usage; but going back to my first paragraph, I don't really find that stuff fun. Well except cramped spaces. Okay I lied -- I love cramped spaces. But I don't want every map I play to be set in cramped spaces. Like, yeah, I can place a few shotgunners in hard to shoot spots; and a couple of revenants on ledges that roam around and are hard to hit with the RL because rockets are slow and hard to hit with the SSG because vertical spread and boring to snipe with the SG/CG because those weapons suck against nearly everything; and a cyber on a turret that can roam around and is hard to shoot; and I can make the player navigate a chasm over damaging floor; and place crushers at various points over the chasm; and have lost souls rise out of the nukage below; and a former human trooper 2500 map units away that can hit you just because it'd be sooo awesome if it lands the coup de grace ... and voila a really challenging encounter in a semi-large space with like 11 monsters or whatever. But that kind of thing doesn't really seem fun to me. Sometimes there's a fine line between effective monster usage and annoying monster usage, and navigating the difference at least for me comes back to what I said in paragraph one: is it fun and exciting or not.

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Lots of encounter battles where you can't escape are cool but I miss free exploration sometimes. I think a good alternative to this is where later parts of the map will get harder if you just run by earlier parts. The monsters can teleport or you will miss switches or whatever. Encounters are cool too though, you are forced to fight instead of just camping behind a door with a chaingun for an hour. They always lock in the player with a drop down lift or some bars raising. Sometimes you can have an escape path that is extremely impractical like a slow lift. A downside to encounters all the time is the map feels extremely segmented, not always wanted.

One of my favorite map types is where you are in a big open exploration map and just have to run around endlessly, often revisting the same arena with new monsters in it + it opens up. There is great potential for combat here and it avoids the chaingun sniping crap too.

Restricting movement and close quarters always creates intense battles, just make sure the player still feels he has some way to move about/chance at escape, even if it is with his bfg. Don't forget about a good trap too. Please don't trap keys like SOD, b o r i n g and not surprising at all. Doors that can't be closed with the use key force the player to fight. You can just juggle a type 1 door on monsters all day.

Forced ammo conservation works, but I don't recommend it because it is hard to balance + it breaks multiplayer easily + it breaks gameplay mods, so no thanks.

The above is all awesome because you don't even need large monster counts. Although a good rocket spam into 500 imps is welcome for me; I enjoy the one big spider mastermind map in NRFTL.

So yea great challenge can come when you remove the player's comforts. Maybe that's why a lot of people are getting owned on newer hard map packs? Comfort zones being shattered?

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Play lots of maps, learn how each mob works, and figure out how they put the most pressure on you. Then make a layout that puts that pressure up to 11. Then try to beat it until you barely can. The trick is to limit what mob types you throw into the layout. You literally can't have more than 4-5 mob types in an area though without them infighting and taking the pressure off. You've got to have each type placed so they cause minimal infighting, or have the pressure be the infighting. Random cyber rockets to the face are pretty common in slaughter, and an area saturated in manc fireballs is pretty bad. But generally infighting is bad for pressure, as revs will laser beam onto their target and other mobs have single projectiles and are fairly bad for volume fire, or are too fat to provide much volume (looking at you arachnotrons). Or die too fast or kill too quick like chaingunners and shotgunners.

If your thing isn't slaughter, look into making the smallest map area you can without making it too hard to move in. I see time and again experienced mappers pointing out 'less area to move = harder' and it's true. Italo doom, while slaughter, is actually mostly small rooms, there's generally nothing huge that you can run around in. Swift death, though I didn't really play much of it, starts really small, and is jam packed with mobs in hard spots. You need a plan, and act on it well, to survive.

Then there's my actual maps, where most are just hard enough and really an excuse to bring out the rocket launcher or bfg. Which are FUN weapons. If I had any real interest in coding I might make a game around bfg-eque mechanics.

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