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Redwind

Your thoughts on the use of symmetry in level design

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I've just started making a map for one of the ongoing mega projects here and this question crossed my mind on which I couldn't make up my mind:
 

Do you think excessive use of symmetry is a good/OK design choice, or do you think symmetry should be avoided as much as possible?

 

Just need some opinions so that I could decide what amount of symmetry I should use in my map.

 

A couple of years ago I watched an interview with John Romero where he said that "symmetry sucks", but, despite that, I've played a plenty of custom maps with a lot of symmetry in them and I liked them. Not sure what to think about it.

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Symmetry looks good, but usually makes the gameplay more predictable. It can be used well, though, but it depends on how big is the "reflected" area and how they interact with the player. If this means the player will have to deal with 2 identical battle setups (like I've played in a Alien Vendatta map), it definetly sucks for me lol But an integrated battle setup using symmetry can work well. You can also have symmetry for layout but different monster placement.

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I myself tend to make a lot of symmetrical rooms, a lot of times by accident since i don't set out to make maps that way, it's not something im proud of, and i try to avoid it when posible, i've found out that symmetric rooms can look nice if done right, but if they are used in excess can lead to boring and predictible maps, the worst case it can happen it's that when building a symmetric room can affect how your map flows by trying to keep the symmetry and it could leave you stuck when building your map, and could lead you to have dull areas in your map

My advice is not to avoid symmetric rooms since they are good when used in a few places such as hubs, but they shouldn't be abused since they can lead to boring and predictable maps, specially if you follow a symmetric area with another one.

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14 minutes ago, Redwind said:

Do you think excessive use of symmetry is a good/OK design choice, or do you think symmetry should be avoided as much as possible?

It might also depend on what kind of map you're going for. If it's supposed to be a map of a "real" place, then symmetry might be suitable (or even required). Egyptian-temple themed maps tend to have some degree of symmetry. Even then, I would follow Deadwing's suggestion to vary the gameplay to prevent repetition in gameplay.

 

If the map is abstract, as most IWAD maps are, then symmetry probably ought to be used sparingly (e.g., it should be used primarily to serve a specific gameplay purpose, such as giving the player clues regarding areas in the mirrored section.)

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Symmetric rooms are fine and symmetric areas aren't necessarily bad, but an entire map layout being perfectly symmetric is just poor design. Subtle differences can rescue it, though. Particularly varied enemy encounters, theming (like in Wormhole) or methods of progression. It's a lot like the copy/paste issue, in that it's not a bad thing in itself, but is bad when overused or used far too obviously.

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I think that the use of cemeteries in level design can add a spooky atmosphere. What's that? It's symmetry, not cemeteries? That's very different then. Nevermind!

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Yup, symmetry makes it predictable. Sometimes you need predictability, but only in tiny amounts.

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I think that, from purely a visual design perspective, symmetry can be very attractive, and fairly straight forward to implement, so it's often a nice option. It can also look lazy and repetitive. Symmetry in layout design is more problematic, I think, since it lends itself to repetitive gameplay. Symmetry in monster placement is an odd one. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing (as in, it shouldn't necessarily promote poor combat), but generally, there being a monster of one type on one side of the room isn't on its a own a good reason to put a monster of the same type on the other side of the room.

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I still wonder if there was a Cube inspired map which every room does something completely unpredictable so they will look the same but behave different.

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Architectural symmetry can be visually pleasing, although copy+paste rooms featuring the same enemies or gameplay encounters is not something I enjoy. i.e. Whispers of Satan is guilty of that.

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Symmetry in some areas, like hallways and some decoration, is good and aesthetically pleasing.  Entire levels that are symmetrical are boring and repetitive, and feel underdeveloped.  I always try to do the former.

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From my perspective, maps should be primarily designed around gameplay with the aesthetics flowing from the foundation and limits of what the core gameplay elements add/allow, so symmetry should be generally avoided. That said symmetry does influence gameplay, so using it as such a tool can be good for certain effects, such as player expectations and of course general aesthetics on top of/after the gameplay's foundation. But art is art so no answer is law or correct for all cases :)

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There's nothing wrong with doing symmetrical shapes in your map as long as you keep things asymmetrical in a way, whether it's gameplay aspect or architectural.

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It really depends since there are two ways symmetry affects map; visually and gameplay-wise. 

Biggest issues really are with gameplay, that it can be too predictable/repetitive or make layout way too disorientating, especially if there are no landmarks to speak of.

It is kinda funny that such problems can coexist - while symmetric layout can be intuitive in way, a symmetric room / arena / layout can easily become disorientating in heat of combat. 

There are some benefits to symmetry; it is generally faster to generate sides/geometry and it can be prettier when doing ex. sort of front-facing vistas or hallway. 

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Thanks for the responses. I've decided to avoid using symmetry gameplay-wise, as I don't want my map to be predictable. As for design symmetry, there probably will be some, since I'm making a town-style map.

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On 27.02.2018 at 7:20 PM, Redwind said:

I've just started making a map for one of the ongoing mega projects here and this question crossed my mind on which I couldn't make up my mind:
 

Do you think excessive use of symmetry is a good/OK design choice, or do you think symmetry should be avoided as much as possible?

 

Just need some opinions so that I could decide what amount of symmetry I should use in my map.

 

A couple of years ago I watched an interview with John Romero where he said that "symmetry sucks", but, despite that, I've played a plenty of custom maps with a lot of symmetry in them and I liked them. Not sure what to think about it.


It's impossible to create unique and interesting encounters on purely symmetrical maps, because they do not allow the most efficient use of monsters, so your encounters and traps should influence the layout of the map from the start.
Try taking one half of that symmetrical room and reshaping the vertices to create something asymmetrical. Some of the best gamespaces I ever created were a result of just dragging vertices around. Never underestimate the power of splitting linedefs.


Figure 1 : quick example of plain, symmetrical room design
Ac64i09l.png
 

Figure 2 : quick example of improved, asymmetrical room design
qzQyHael.png
 

Symmetry is usually good when making CTF maps in order the teams to have equal advantages.

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I was thinking about this some more this morning and thought of something.  Well, two things.

 

What I mentioned earlier could be distilled into "micro" and "macro" symmetry.  Micro symmetry would be symmetry across small areas, such as decorations on each side of a hallway, or the basic layout of a room.  Subtle variations might exist to sort of "pepper" the visuals, but overall, the small area is symmetrical.  This sort of symmetry seems to be aesthetically pleasing.  For example, this hallway has symmetrical decorations on each side, save for a flickering light on the right and the statue up top.  If this were Quake, I'd probably make one of those pillars look like it's had a chunk taken out of it.

 

v6xjPkz.png

 

Macro symmetry would be overall symmetry across an entire map, and as @riderr3 mentioned, this would be a good idea in CTF maps.  Almost instantly I thought of CTF-Dreary in UT99, as well as Facing Worlds.

 

The second thing I thought of was that you can take something symmetrical - specifically on a micro level - then add variation in order to draw the player's gaze towards something important, such as a goal or a secret, or to more strongly differentiate/symbolically represent paths.  Quake's start map is a good example, where the very first room is technically symmetrical, but visual design differs starting in the hallways themselves, each one a visual representation of the difficulty.

 

uJdIoKN.png

 

Likewise, in my first screenshot, let's say there was a locked door on the right halfway up.  Opening the locked door would be a goal for the player.  I could emphasize this by making sure the symmetry is broken only there, with lights, textures, and world geometry, and it would draw the player's attention to it instantly.  The rest of the hallway could then be symmetrical.  Again, I'm speaking specifically at a micro level here.

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Symmetry is awesome if used for a good purpose. Have two identical hall ways with the same monsters in them doesn't offer any real value to gameplay. It would just be filler.

 

However if you're trying to train the player to behave a certain way it could be to understand how you intend them to progress in the map but also used for traps and ambushes. They may come across identical rooms then you add a unique variation or trap to keep them on their toes. It would teach them not to be complacent and keep things interesting. It also serves for easy navigation.

 

What I don't like about very abstract designs is the risk of getting lost and agitated backtracking. Which is why I think many maps are designed to loop in circles, among other reasons.

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