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40oz

Maps that are harder in the beginning than in the end

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A pattern I’ve observed in a lot of maps, particularly from maps in community projects from mappers that aren’t very well known or prolific otherwise, is that their usage of monsters/items/things seems sort of ill-advised. (not excepting projects I’ve managed, either)

I don’t want to proceed to tell everyone what they should or shouldn’t do, but Doomworld has often received threads from random newcomers venting about the frustration of dealing with ‘slaughtermaps’ which is alarming to me considering that mappers known for their slaughtermaps often have a very calculated approach when placing things on the map.

One of the challenges of designing a slaughter map is how to use hundreds of monsters in a given space and still make it fun. This often requires an acute knowledge of monsters’ infighting relationships – meaning how to utilize monsters in such a way that provoking infighting can kill the most monsters without the player having to kill them himself. Also a very acute knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of weapons and powerups is often very apparent to people who have made slaughter maps as well.

Often, when I play a map from a mapper whom I do not recognize, I often find some very obvious gameplay flaws that make the map inconsistent and not fun. One of the primary problems I often run into is that generally, the sharpest difficulty curve is often right in the beginning of the map. I’m not sure if there’s a huge audience for this, but I often find it frustrating how often maps have very “hot starts” where the player is faced with a ton of pressure right at the beginning of the map, which often demands the player wake up a thousand monsters just to get the first shotgun, and run around frantically to find every 4 shotgun shell pickups scattered in dark corners of the map. The reason this is particularly frustrating is once the monsters are worn away by infighting and carefully chosen shots, the rest of the map never seems to be even remotely as difficult. By this time, there is an acquisition of armor, new weapons, a safe inventory of ammunition and most importantly, clear, monsterless space to retreat to. This combination of things makes the following encounters much more manageable, and by the time I reach the exit I’m often surprised and at times, disappointed that there wasn’t the payoff I wanted.

I think it’s silly that there seems like a divide between “slaughter mappers” and people who prefer more simple and traditional run’n’gun Doom gameplay (or whatever you want to call it) when mappers who have made great slaughtermaps have also made great non-slaughtermaps as well. Mappers like the Casali Brothers, Erik Alm, Eternal, Skillsaw, and Joshy are pretty great examples of this. I’m a firm believer that their ability to make great rocket launcher/bfg spam maps translates very well into making their less monster dense maps just as exciting and fun. I think many mappers could benefit greatly from at least attempting a few slaughtermaps in their mapping career if they intend to understand Doom’s gameplay as intimately as some of our community’s best mappers. I think it’s a very introspective and revealing way to understand things you may have misunderstood about Doom’s gameplay. It magnifies things that might be considered to be a gameplay flaw x100. If believe if people took the time to try to make some experimental slaughter maps, annoying gameplay tropes like long SSG grinds, ammo famine, congested rooms/corridors, pesky hitscan snipers from every angle, and especially whacked out difficulty progression would be much less likely.

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Of course the beginning should be harder. I don't want to spend >10 minutes playing only to die near the exit. I also hate bosses at the end of stages in video games. It's so stupid when the whole level is about that one final fight and the rest is just timewasting and pointlessly replaiyng the easy parts only to have another shot at the boss.

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I don't think deescalating difficulty curves are a flaw in themselves. It would be artificial if every map in a set escalated in a similar way. Ideally, the maps would offer a variety of curves: steadily escalating; steadily deescalating; escalating with some breathers; deescalating with some zingers; deescalating for most of its length but with a hard fight in the end; a main course of obligatory fights with very hard optional fights whose rewards make the obligatory fights at the end easier; a main course of obligatory fights with easy optional fights just for fun that can be tackled in any order and thus allow a flexible difficulty curves; et cetera. A whole lot of difficulty curves are possible, and it's a good idea to experiment with all of them.

I do prefer escalation in general, but deescalating combat suits certain kinds of small and moderate-sized maps centered around freeform combat very well. Also when maxrunning, it's always nice when the "fighting hitscanners with no armor" stage or whatever is at the very beginning, and the rest of the map is tame in comparison.

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I dunno, I guess it depends what you find fun. I generally enjoy "hot starts", and take them more as puzzles to be solved. Sure, sometimes they're no fun, but - at least for me - that's generally only in cases where the solution involves dealing with lots of mid-tier monsters with an SG, or other inferior fire-power. But otherwise, I enjoy maps where the first thing I have to do is desperately find my feet (all the better if the mapper is able to extend this into the map without either boring or completely overwhelming me) even if it means dying repeatedly while I experiment with different approaches, and the subsequent easing off then serves as a reward for having eventually established myself. I have no problem with the hardest fights of the map being near the beginning.

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I've done slaugtermaps in the past and boy were thay NOT fun to test.
I don't believe every mapper needs to make a slaughter map but a... fun map that the mapper would like to play themselves.

I would expect people to talk about mapstyles they dont like that others do. its nothing to be alarmed about.

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There's room in my heart for maps that end with absurd difficulty spikes, tbh. I might not actually put in the hours needed to complete such things in full, but I can still admire them.

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Meh, i really don't think you NEED to do slaughtermaps to be able to be considered a good mapper\someone who understand monster and layout management in doom, this is pure overthinking; not everybody enjoy the same things or seek it or have the skill required to even play it.

As an example i have the habit of not saving at all during my playtrough of a level, wich make completing those kind of maps quite a chore, and while i don't completely agree with Menfis, i do like a difficult start to set the tone. Even the maps i do have this kind of pattern: pressure the player right at the start-> force to get him moving away from the starting position due to starvation (ammo\weapons\health)-> repeat. This is a pattern that i like because force the player to be aggressive while being constantly aware of it's surrondings without resorting to tricks and traps of sort.

While we are at it i'll put down another example: mappers that put a ridiculus amount of ammunition everywhere. I don't like it, it makes for a very boring gameplay (IMO) where i usually just spam the most powerfull weapon i have nonstop, BUT there are people that really enjoy this approach, so who am i to judge?

TL;DR: while i do agree that many mappers (especially newcomers for obvious reasons) may or may not have a firm grasp on how the game work, many seek something else from what you seek in a doom map, and this is fine.

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I don't mind the start of a map being difficult as long as there isn't a 95% chance of me dying if I don't step on exactly the right pixel to avoid death. I believe in a more balanced approach where the start is a challenge where you fight for your life to gain weapons and ammo, but it shouldn't be so unfair that you have to die fifteen times to do it, then maintaining that level of difficulty and then ramping it up through the rest of the level.

This is a philosophy I'm going to try to stick by even when I attempt to make my own slaughter map somewhere down the road.

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I don't know if this is a "slaughtermaps vs. non" thing so much as one of the inherent limitations of resource (health, weapons, ammo, space) denial as a way of creating difficulty. If the mapper's bag of tricks doesn't include other means of offering challenge or engaging the player, if they can't or won't put pressure on the player through any means other than resource denial, then yes, the map is definitely going to become less engaging once that resource limitation becomes less strict.

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Most of Chillax's maps require very precise and carefully executed starts, perfect foreknowledge, trap avoidance etc. otherwise they are nearly impossible. Sadly, this makes them "ideal" trollmaps in coop, where you fear more your "coop buddies" than the monsters/maps themselves.

FWIW they are slaughtermaps, and most of them are nearly impossible from pistol starts for the reasons I mentioned, practically an exercise in masochism.

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The OP really could've delivered its intended message in a tenth of the words.


On-topic: I don't think "hard at first, easy at the end" is an inherently bad thing. Banning this idea means banning open, roam-y "clear things out at your own pace" map styles, which are cool IMO.

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In single checkpoint level design ( such as with Super Mario World ), it's usually best to have the challenge only spike from a starting point, or shortly after one, rather than doing a strictly linear escalation. Typically, this means that you get introduced to the level's gimmick in a controlled environment, the difficulty spikes a little bit, it dips a bit and lets you get a breather as you reach the checkpoint, and then it spikes to the maximum difficulty then levels off or dips back down again as you reach the end.

This is because, well, there's definite restart points after the player fails - if they die right at the end, they go all the way back to the checkpoint, no ifs or buts. This is incredibly frustrating, so instead the difficulty rises at the point were iteration times are lowest - aka, the starting point and the checkpoint - so that they can tackle the hardest parts and improve their understanding of the gimmick soon after they fail, rather than trudging through parts they've already mastered just to get another opportunity to try the rest of the level.

How this applies to Doom mapping is a bit hard to say, as the player sets the checkpoints, not the mapper. That said, if you intend for your map to be played in one go instead of with saving, it's a charity to the player to start with the hardest parts right out the gate, for the same reason as the stuff above.

It's also worth remember that a good difficulty curve isn't a curve at all, but some sort of drunk line that still manages to ascend. If you're just constantly increasing the difficulty, you're going to wear out the player sooner rather than later - it's important to include pockets of lowered difficulty to allow them to catch their breath and perhaps grab more resources.

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Arctangent said:

if you intend for your map to be played in one go instead of with saving, it's a charity to the player to start with the hardest parts right out the gate, for the same reason as the stuff above.

It's also worth remember that a good difficulty curve isn't a curve at all, but some sort of drunk line that still manages to ascend.

I agree.

Still, if a map has a hot start, I prefer if it gets at least one even more difficult encounter at some point later on - but this time, the player's exact position at the beginning of the encounter doesn't need to be forced.

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I'm also not a fan of that style. It tends to heavily favour pre-knowledge/routing to get a good start going. If watching a UV-Max makes the "hot start" significantly cooler because the player knows how to rush some obscurely placed BFG, then that's a crap opener. I notice this a lot playing from Pistol Start and it just looks like the author has no idea how to keep the map challenging once the player grabs some weapons/armour.

As for difficulty curves, I generally like a map that gets more challenging as you progress, especially if there's a fight towards the end that cranks up the difficulty for a strong finish.

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Arctangent said:

That said, if you intend for your map to be played in one go instead of with saving,

... then you should make it short.

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There's nothing wrong with frontloaded maps, but a great map can have both hot starts and good pacing with varying difficulty.

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RUSH said:

>harder in the beginning than in the end<


Was this directed at me? Let me be more specific then: most of Chillax's maps play just like regular slaughtermaps (lots and lots of monsters start to end) but ESPECIALLY their starts tend to be exercises in masochism for the reasons I mentioned. Once you get past those, in general things tend to go smoother: you have acquired better weapons, you can backtrack and maneuver etc. By no means are they "easy" maps after their starts, you just don't have to face ordeals like e.g. pistol starting 25 pinkies placed right before you, or not daring to fire your weapon until you managed to clear at least half the map in Pacifist style.

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People need to stop mentioning joke wads like Chillax when trying to make some kind of point. It's not balanced for anything.

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Perfect Hatred (E4M2) is a perfect example of it getting easier over time because you start out in a cluster with little cover but, once you sort of clear out the main room and have some breathing room, it gets more manageable.

Even the Cyberdemon at the end becomes ridiculously easy if you hurry and turn around after getting up there so you can use the conveniently revealed teleporter pad to telefrag him.

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Most of Jodwin's maps. Besides being ammo-balanced according to the Finnish Frugality Formula (best summed up as "two shells for three imps), there's a definitive trend of denying the player armor and firepower at the beginning, giving him nothing more powerful than the chaingun until a good half of the map in (and certainly NOT before having him fight several Hell Knights and Revenants at CQ with the plain shotty).

Actually, take any Doom II map using the usual Doom II monsters, and simply deny the player the SSGs, or let him have it only late in the map. WHAM! Instant initial difficulty bump. Though the result will be forcing the player to play ultra-conservatively, and when he finally gets the SSG, it won't matter anymore.

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Not trying to say I don't like hot starts. These types of maps certainly have their place and they can be very fun, especially if they're a short Dead Simple style fight.

I often treat a map as a battle between myself and the mappers intelligent design. I can't help but shake the feeling that there's a certain level of mediocrity when it comes hot starting the player. You can simply place monsters around the player start in such a way that the player has no choice but to panic, but its not easy to repeat that sort of offensive gameplay towards the player after that because the player is not where you want him anymore, he has weapons, armor, and places to hide.

Again, I have no problem with hot starts, but when the maps difficulty gets a steep decline after that initial impact, I feel as though the mapper has given up. Almost as if the mapper has been depleted of ideas. I feel like I have no reason to proceed with the map.

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Well, 40oz, there's one way to force the player into "hot start" situations beyond when they first start the game and I notice many maps will utilize this as a trap mechanic, simply teleport the player where you want them in the midst of a horde, then it'll have the same feeling to it, essentially forcing the player where you want them to be. Another option is to shut the door behind them when the monsters are revealed so they have nowhere to run, creating a similar panic.

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