I'm a doctor, not a mechanic
This page outlines techiniques and methods useful in planning a successful map design.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Inspirational Sources
- 3 Planning
- 4 Visualizing
- 5 Early Testing
- 6 Related Topics
- 7 Discussion
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. – Anonymous
Building contractors have a saying that is applicable to mappers as well: "Measure twice, cut once." The idea is that you can save time, effort and materials by planning ahead and visualizing the design before work begins. While some may swear by "improvisational mapping", most would have to agree that mapping is hard work and takes long enough without mistakes and miscalculations that require reworking, or worse, redoing.
Once the mapper has become inspired by some source to create a compelling design, they can begin to define the details of the map and create a visualization of a workable layout. Then before construction, the map designer can use their visualizations to work out any problems that could arise with respect to appearance, map flow or technical issues. After that, the mapper can proceed with construction, confident that most of the potential "show stopper" problems have been solved already.
Inspiration can come from unconventional sources; layout ideas can come from styrafoam packaging, texture ideas can come from nature, unreal gameplay ideas can come from board games, etc. Consider random sources and experiment with limits of perception to find new ways of looking at the world around you. This section includes various links and ideas that help find inspiration for map designs, themes or styles.
- Look at existing maps to get an idea of what style you like, whether that be a particular style of lighting or of architecture.
- Take ideas from television or films; the sets, the buildings, the lighting, the sounds (for example, the dark gothic tower in Batman or those seen in the Lord of The Rings trilogy).
- Look at the wiki pages Static_Mesh_Package and Texture_Package when deciding what static meshes and which textures to use in your map.
- Map Ideas – The Wiki page on map ideas.
- Rooms of a Castle – What's needed to give an impression of people living in your ancient arena.
- GreatMirror.com – A collection of photos from neat outdoor and ancient settings.
- GreatBuildings.com – An architectual site.
- UP Forums "Mapping Ideas" Thread – An ongoing discussion and exchange of map ideas for the Unreal Engine.
- UP Forums "Environmental Inspiration for Mappers" Thread – An ongoing discussion with links to great environmental inspirations.
- CreativityPool.com – A site devoted to free idea exchange.
These are the primary ideas to organize for map design. It is strongly recommended that you write down your ideas as they come to you. You may not end up using them all, some may even be contradictory, but you will be in a stronger position to design once you have all your ideas in once place.
Review any speical requirements for the gametype you are mapping for. Should the layout be open (like DeathMatch or Onslaught) or more linear (like Assault or Capture The Flag)? Does this gametype allow vehicles? What GameObjectives are involved? By and large, the map design will be centered around the requirements and guidelines of its designated gametype.
Define the unique purpose of the map. What will make this map stand out from other maps of this gametype? What will the focus of the map be? What elements of the gameplay can be affected by this design? Write down one sentence that clearly defines the unique goal for this map.
Choose a compelling theme. Don't be afraid to explore vastly different themes. Often once one theme is fully considered, another one comes to mind. Sometimes the original theme idea is strengthened by considering others. Pick one theme that will strongly address the goal for this map.
Define the size of this map's gameplay. Based on the goal and theme of the map, make decisions about the scale of the map size, the number of players this map should hold, the number or difficulty of the game objectives (if this gametype has them). Would this map's goal and theme be best served with a tight layout and a small number of players, or with a grand landscape and several available vehicles? Should this design be small but open-ended, or linear and very involved; required several steps to complete? Choose an approximate scope for this map based on it's goal and theme; make notes on map size, suggested player count, game objectives, etc.
Any unique elements of this map should be clearly defined and possibly tested separately before further work is done. Are there elements that you can imagine that would strongly support the goal, theme and scope of this map? Will this map need custom static meshes? A new particle effect? A unique trigger system? Identify these special features early and make note of them.
After you have thought of a few ideas and written them down, it's time to think of how you're actually going to manifest your ideas to the Unreal Editor. The idea now is to play with different layouts, different designs. Try many different ways of configuring the elements of the map design until you find things that work best. These are some methods of solidifying the plan. Choose a method that is comfortable to you.
Pencil and Paper
This is a simplest form of visualizing. The drawing doesn't have to be pretty, just functional and accurate enough to visualize walking through the layout. Sketch out the floor plan; a top down view of the layout. Make several floor plans for each level, if it's a multi-story layout. Sketch key unique elements or features that will give the map it's character. Try using grid paper.
Drawing / Painting Application
Instead of using a pencil and paper, it might be easier for you to use a paint program. As with the pencil and paper, make multiple drawings for each level of the layout and try to make visual notes and representations of key unique elements of the map. The advantage of using this method is you can take the resulting drawing straight into the editor and use it as a guide during construction, by applying it as a texture to a plane at the bottom of the editor space.
Cutouts / Models
Either with toy building blocks, clay, wood, paper or cardboard, simple models can be made to represent the hallways, rooms, stairs, ledges, outdoor buildings, etc. of your layout. These elements can be shifted around and playfully reconnected to find a variety of layout designs.
Segmenting Layouts ("Frankenmapping")
In the editor, other maps (or copies of them) can be raided for their layout elements. Make a temporary test map. A hallway can be cut from one map and pasted into the test map and combined with a stairway from another map, or a room from a third map. While the walls may not line up and the detail elements (such as textures, static mesh trim, etc.) may not match, but the resulting test map should give an approximate representation of a layout. You do not need to try and playtest the map (it will most likely crash or be filled with HOMs), but you can easily navigate around the layout through the editor. It is recommended that you keep the editor's grid lock enabled at all times.
Before construction begins, this is the time to use the visualizations to expose potential problems with flow, appearance or techinical issues. When problems do arise, you will only have to rework the visualization of your design, not the construction of the design, so it should come as a relief rather than a frustration.
- Review the requirements and guidelines for the gametype this map is designed for and check it against your current design.
- Take this opportunity to review the elements and concepts of Map Design and see how your current design measures up.
- Imagine yourself playing this map; reaching objectives, attacking, defending, playing on different teams, etc. You may become further inspired to make changes based on elements that you find during this process.
- Review the look of the layout from all angles and all points in the map. You may find spots to improve or elements you would like to highlight.
- Check to make sure the map doesn't provide huge, long-range vista views. This could prove to be a framerate killer later on.
- Look for architechture that might improve in appearance with a little layout adjustment, check for lighting hotspots or dark holes, find bland spots in the map and think of ways to make them interesting.
- Look for dead ends, long narrow hallways or other elements that will kill Map Flow.
- Visualize a player navigating your layout between random points in the map. Is there an obvious problem getting from here to there? Make adjustments that will allow a player to get anywhere from anywhere fairly quickly.
- Does the layout make good use of the Z-Axis with plenty of vertical movement and vertical combat options? Make notes on good spots to place UTJumpPads, Movers, Teleporters, or the like. Think about opening up something like windows or grates in the floor or ceiling.
- Make notes on good spots to place PlayerStarts, Inventory Items, Vehicle Factories and the GameObjectives.
Make a note of the technical elements of the map and think about testing them separately before you begin construction.
- Will this map need special Trigger Systems? Can you do it with a ScriptedTrigger?
- Are there any elements that can't be created with stock Objects? Can you come up with a workaround or code your own custom Object?
- Are the technical elements of your map too technical? Would they essentially require a custom mod or mutator? Test out the elements early on to avoid basing your map on something that you can't complete.
A Note About Techincal Elements
Think about what it is you're capable of. There's no shame in asking another more experienced mapper to help if they are willing and have the time; you could learn from them and pick up a few useful hints along the way. Just a friendly word of advice: if you do get help from someone else in the mapping process, always grant them some of the credit in the Readme file. It shows you're grateful to them for taking the time and for helping you learn something useful.
- Map Design
- Map Flow
- Mapping Lessons
- Mapping Checklist
- Topics on Mapping
- Map File Prefix
- Mapping for specific Gametypes
SuperApe: Revised. Comments welcome.
Bioslimer_[nl] nice and, thank you