Your Sandy Petersen Design Theories

Petersen's individual style of level design has certainly drawn attention before, some find it ugly or simplistic, but alot of us consider him an excellent level designer responsible for the memorable moments in the bulk of Doom and Doom 2's levels.

Has anyone got any theories on what goes through his head when creating maps?

Is there any logic behind his style choices? Any patterns you've noticed in his choice of textures, brightness, architecture?

What is it he adds to create such memorable gameplay?

Some claim a lot of aspects of his maps are completely random, while others say you can see how much thought he puts in from carefully calculated fights etc.

Any theorys on reasons behind some of his noticeable mapping traits? - or just care to list some things you've noticed about his maps?

Share this post


Link to post

I don't think Sandy was a very good texturer, but the feeling that I got from his maps is that he was a lot more eager to experiment and tried to provide some unique challenges. In my mind Suburbs (MAP16) and House of Pain (E3M3 I think it is) are particularly stand out in this regard but they only work from pistol start.

It might be telling that my most favourite and least favourite Doom maps are Sandy Peterson maps. Sorry Sandy, Barrels of Fun was an awesome idea but I didn't find it fun at all.

Share this post


Link to post

I don't think he cared, he got signed on to do a lot of maps and he pumped them out like crazy. Some were better than others. Nowadays with my countless IWAD completions I say I like about 80% of his stuff as opposed to 50% in the past. It grows on you over time.

Share this post


Link to post

I'd say he definitely cared. He was just short on time.

It was mentioned somewhere that he was really into D&D and H.P. Lovecraft, and the similar style of horror certainly shows in maps like E2M4 and the later levels of Doom 2.

Share this post


Link to post

Yeah I like the idea that he pumped them out fast, but I'm sure it wasn't random.

I'm thinking especially of his 'from scratch maps'

Share this post


Link to post

Seeing as I believe you've asked about me scanning this before...

I've made some terrible quality scans (but it's only text, so I don't think the image quality is an issue) of an article from the Doom official strategy guide, written by Sandy about some of his map design principles.

http://imageshack.us/g/526/sandy4.jpg/

http://img526.imageshack.us/img526/6808/sandy4.jpg
http://img836.imageshack.us/img836/9762/sandy1.jpg
http://img525.imageshack.us/img525/5886/sandy2.jpg
http://img825.imageshack.us/img825/9730/sandy3p.jpg

Note that the images go 4,1,2,3 :p

Share this post


Link to post

Oh wow, that's a very interesting read, Vermil. Thanks for posting it; I wish I had seen it sooner!

Share this post


Link to post
Vermil said:

Seeing as I believe you've asked about me scanning this before...

I've made some terrible quality scans (but it's only text, so I don't think the image quality is an issue) of an article from the Doom official strategy guide, written by Sandy about some of his map design principles.

http://imageshack.us/g/526/sandy4.jpg/

Note that the images go 4,1,2,3 :p


Yeah fantastic input!

Share this post


Link to post

Great read, Vermil! Brilliant, in fact. But where were you when <insert obvious project title here> was kicking off? Some of this stuff is simply fascinating:

http://imageshack.us/f/825/sandy3p.jpg/

That second paragraph under the "Is It Fun" heading is for me the most important read. That Sandy was so adamant about correlating an emotional environment or setting with a unique and descernable gameplay, in layout or otherwise, is critical, and it makes me see so many of his creations in Doom - but particularly in Doom II - in a new light.

My my my is this going to come in handy next year...!

Share this post


Link to post

I'm going to say it again, I'd really like to see the original level designers come back and make a couple levels or even a megawad :)

Share this post


Link to post

I was especially interested in the part where he calls the other guys id-iots. I wouldn't have guessed that he felt like an outcast. I was sure that they knew his levels didn't look too hot, but The Master's of Doom didn't really delve too deeply into Sandy's side of the story. I guess because he wasn't really one of the masters behind it.

It's easy to assume that Sandy was just doing his job but I was sure he was more wise than that. His maps show that he wasn't very good with the editor, but his layout design choices and thing placement prove that he really was brilliant. Those few pages further clarify that.

Share this post


Link to post

I've got an old issue of PC Format lying around (February 1995) which has got a feature in it on how to create Doom levels with DEU. And they'd also got Sandy Peterson to contribute ten tips on how to make a good level. I suspect some of them may have been polished by the magazine's editorial team as the idiom is very British, but it seems to match quite well with the info in Vermil's scans. And so here they are:

1. Let the player see stuff in action
If you have a button that builds stairs, or a trigger that raises a bridge or some similar device, point the player towards the event so that he can watch it take place. Occasionally you'll want these things to occur when he's not around, to surprise him, but generally it's best to show him that he's just accomplished something. (A sense of achievement is important for the player's morale - or he might feel inclined to give up.)

2. Use real architecture
Look at photographs of the Arc de Triumph, Buckingham Palace, etc. Steal the structures of these to make your own stuff look cooler. One important architectural tip - architects see buildings in terms of spaces, not walls. Once you start creating your rooms as spaces, they'll look a lot better, and be better to play in. It's amateurish to play lines down as if you were making a D&D dungeon, so try to rise above this tendency.

3. Tell the player he's walking into a trap
If all the doors suddenly open and a million imps pour out, that's not really scary. What is scary is opening a door and seeing a dark room, empty but for a rocket launcher. Now, you know that when you grab it, all Hell is going to break loose: so you get nervous. Note that the proximity of Barons o' Hell is almost always marked with a big sculpture of same. That way the player feels jittery well before said Baron emerges. [tip is illustrated with a screenshot of the illuminated Baron wall just before the first Baron in E2M4]

4. Always mark your secret doors
Every secret door in Doom is marked. Often the mark is very subtle, but it's there. Sometimes a light is shining on the door; sometimes there's a window into the secret room; in a couple of places there's even an arrow on the automap pointing to it; or maybe it's at the end of a dead-end corridor. In Wolfenstein it was a major pain in the ass to run along all the walls, bumping them for secret doors: Doom did away with that, and now logic rules.

5. Have a theme for each level
Each level of Doom has a play theme. The Unholy Cathedral (E3M5) is a huge room surrounded by a corridor. You teleport through all four corners to accomplish the coolest stuff. Mount Erebus (E3M2) [yes, he got the level name wrong] is all nooks and crannies, with monsters hiding behind boulders. Doom 2's Barrels o' Fun level is all about obstacle courses. You get the picture: decide the theme before you start designing, and the ideas will come to you.

6. Don't run out of ammo
It's more fun to go down shooting than punching. If you want to make the level tougher, add more or meaner monsters - don't take away ammunition. It's okay to make the player hunt for one particular type of ammo, as long as you have a place where he can get hold of it. But make sure you don't let him run dry. Also, be nice and generous with healing etc; make sure there's plenty of it scattered about.

7. Every switch is a reward
A player should always want to flip a switch or push a button, so doing this should never be a complete disaster. Don't have buttons which, when pushed, just kill you dead: all should have some redeeming feature. If pulling the switch unleashes sixteen Cyberdemons in a circle around the player, then by golly make sure that, once he kills the Cyberdemons, he gets all seven powerups or something as a reward for his pains.

8. It's cool to be dark, but it's not cool to be blind
Light your levels intelligently. Big flashing lights are good for two purposes - to draw the player's attention to something you want him to notice, or to draw his attention away from something which will make him soil his Y-fronts (horrid, lurking monsters). A dark place lit by bright strobes can be a very effective area, but don't overdo it by making the place too large: small is claustrophobic, and claustrophobic is scary.

9. Plagiarise shamelessly
If you see an idea you liked in someone else's levels, by all means steal it. By the time you're done modifying it, it will hardly be recognisable. You don't want the player to recognise it because if he does, he'll instantly know what to do about it, and we don't want that, do we? For example, the huge number of rooftop leaps in Doom 2's level 13 (Downtown) exist because I was very impressed with level E1M7's leap from pillar top to slime pit in Doom 1.

10. No stop 'til bosstime
It's good to have tough puzzles, but the player should never feel he's banging his head against a wall. Take level 8 (Tricks 'n' Traps) in Doom 2. This level has a bunch of thorny puzzles, but most players feel that they're progressing: they keep coming back because they convince themselves that they were almost there. If you do have a puzzle that requires a brilliant solution, make sure the player doesn't have to solve it to finish the level.

Share this post


Link to post

These are some amazing insights both into the art of level design and Sandy Peterson's character. Thanks for posting these, guys!

Share this post


Link to post
Redeemer812 said:

These are some amazing insights both into the art of level design and Sandy Peterson's character. Thanks for posting these, guys!


Yeah he's a funny guy i'd love to drimp his flump

Maybe I should change the post to just "Sandy Petersen speaks on his maps"

Share this post


Link to post

Also, i'm thinking of starting a Sandy Petersen style WAD with many contributors to honor his huge contribution to the Doom games.

I don't know who agrees with me on this, but the DTWID attempts at Sandyism are entirely wrong and do not resemble his work, although they are good on their own merit.

Share this post


Link to post
phobosdeimos1 said:

I don't know who agrees with me on this, but the DTWID attempts at Sandyism are entirely wrong and do not resemble his work, although they are good on their own merit.


Did you ever mention this? Because it's not the first case of someone waiting until the last minute to register complaints like this regarding the project.

Share this post


Link to post
Marcaek said:

Did you ever mention this? Because it's not the first case of someone waiting until the last minute to register complaints like this regarding the project.


I see what your saying but is anyone gonna actually take anything I say seriously as I have the reputation of a twerp. I'll make a post though

Share this post


Link to post

A lot of interesting insight into the mapping process here... although it is disappointing to see that it's pretty much all stuff I think of myself anyway. Saying that, I've been at it for 15-16 years now, so I should have most of it figured out, even if I don't always pull it off myself.

As for Sandy's works - well, he mapped like I do, broadly speaking. Get an overall idea, get a few ideas for set-pieces, cool areas, etc. and put it all together. It produces a somewhat random outcome that doesn't always flow together smoothly, but should play well and not have the player gouging his eyes out in pain.

Share this post


Link to post

Looks like I've taken a Petersen exam as about... never mind, purist will inform me, if I give him the last chance to evaluate my "piece of artwork".

Share this post


Link to post

I love Sandy's maps - he seems to be a guy with good humor and his maps and designs reflect that... a witty fella and a hard worker.

Share this post


Link to post

"id-iots" "rotten excuses for human beings" "If I sound like a bitter man, there are reasons"

Gee, doesn't seem like Sandy was very happy with his coworkers. Hell, from this, I get the impression that he was worse off than Tom in his work relationships. Only difference is that Tom wanted the team to comply with him, but Sandy always tried complying with the team. Heh, oops. My brains are so fucked up right now.

Share this post


Link to post

Notice he also referred to his map as his "baby level." This gives me the impression that the last paragraph was more humor than anything else.

Oh, fine Mithran, post a response quicker than my perfect little quip, asshole.

Share this post


Link to post
Snakes said:

Oh, fine Mithran, post a response quicker than my perfect little quip, asshole.

Gee, doesn't seem like Snakes is very happy with his coposters. Hell, from this, I get the impression that he was worse off than Sodaholic in his forum relationships.

Share this post


Link to post

My brain and logic is pretty fried at the moment (far more than it usually is :P), I've got a pretty bad flu. (I haven't been drinking nearly enough water, there's a chance my brain is higher temperature than it should be) I somehow read the last paragraph as being serious. After rereading it I can see how it was tongue in cheek.

Share this post


Link to post

I'm getting the idea that at the very end, the id team was dis-functional.

Get it? The end... E3M8...

Share this post


Link to post

I think I read somewhere that Petersen has a relative rare kind of color blindness... that would at least explain the seemingly random texturing!
Either way, I like most of Sandy's maps!

Share this post


Link to post
This topic is now closed to further replies.