Saturday, 28 January 2012

Magnar Jenssen's mapping process...

The stunning work of Magnar Jennssen is legendary in the HL2 custom map community. His Mission Improbable Parts 1 and 2 showed what an individual mapper can achieve with enough experience and inspiration.

In the linked article over at World Of Level Design he talks us through his mapping process in relation to his Whoopservatory map (a favourite of mine just purely for the wonderful silhouette of the observatory with the crows against the nights sky... sigh...)

Hope this is helpful...

Here's the link.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Building Daylight... the VMF's for those that want them!

Hi All

I'm a forward looking guy. I believe in open-source, I believe in sharing what we've learnt.

So here are the valve map files for each of the four maps that made up my recent mod Daylight.

Pull them apart, learn what you can, re-use what you like!

I honestly don't care if I see any of the elements from Daylight showing up in other mods. Please use it all and enjoy it!

Map 1

Map 2

Map 3

Map 4Link
Hope you have fun with this.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Level Design Vid by Daz

Daz is a mapper, and a pretty darn good one by the looks of it. In this video he takes us through several iterations of a map he didnt finish explaining the lineage of each section, why he trashed some of it, things he's not happy with etc...
Its a really interesting watch if you have an hour to spare.

Recommended watching!!

View Video Here!

Got Mapping Feedback... how do I fix the reported problems???

You've issued your map out to your playtesters, they've played through it and attempted to break it in every way they could possibly think of. They may have even been nice enough to record a demo of their progress through the map so you can see exactly what they did.

Now you know the problems happening in your map, how on earth do you go about fixing them without having to rip the whole thing up and rebuild.

Well there are some fairly effective "sticking plaster" techniques we can use to turn a problem area around.

Problem: Player doesn't know where to go

Player direction is probably the easiest issue to fix as there are a multitude of directions tools that we can use to help them.

1: Light and Sound
A repeating sound with assocaited light is a sure fire way to get the players attention to a specific point in the map. Think a sparking wire or blinking lightbulb, a red light with associated siren. As long as the sound is timed correctly with the light the player should go straight for it.

Alternatively, remember that players will head towards light and away from darkness so brighten up the direction you wish them to go in.

2: Breadcrumbs

Place some pick ups along the route you want the player to follow.

Sometimes, when you place a barrier in front of the player, if they can't see any indication that there's a playable space on the other side of that barrier, the player can often assume that it's a dead end and that this is not the way forward. It's best to place a pick up (either health or ammo) on the far side of such a barrier so that the player knows they are supposed to continue on in that direction and set themselves to the task of how to move the barrier.

3: Lines and arrows and signs

In the real world we see player directions all over the place. One way arrows painted on the streets, exit and no entry signs.
Make sure you fill your map with these elements whenever possible to keep the player on the correct path.

You can also add more subtle direction. If in a sewer one tunnel has many pipes leading into it from different directions, the player will be drawn down that route. The pipes create subtle lines that urge the player in that direction. Think if it like swirling water drawing you down a plughole.

4: Railings and low walls

Small barriers can be very useful in guiding the player and can be thought of almost like the guides in a pinball machine. Players bounce off these and are slowley guided to their destination.

5: Follow that bad guy / good guy

A great way of demonstrating the correct path to a player is to have either a good or bad NPC head down it first. The player will naturally follow them.

Problem: The player doesn't understand my puzzle

This one's a bit more tricky to solve and often depends on how obscure you've made your puzzle.
Just remember that the player is playing a mod of a game they probably know quite well. In Half Life 2 for example, the original game set up rules to the world. Make sure you're puzzle fits within these rules first of all. If an object is often not breakable in the original game, don't assume the player will understand that it is breakable in your map.

Here's a few ideas for helping the player out to get past your puzzle.

1: Demonstrate the solution first
Depending on your puzzle, you can always demonstrate the concept first using an NPC. So if you puzzle involves moving between large moving walls you could show an NPC trying it and getting it wrong. This has the added benefit of communicating the danger of the area to the player too.

2: Add a hint that triggers after 5 minutes
A nice suggestion from my mate Philip.
If the player has not progressed after 5 minutes then they are probably reaching the point of quitting the game or noclipping on to the next area. Add some kind of hint to the map that fires at the five minute mark. Try not to use screen text but have some automatic action that occurs in the map to draw the players attention to the key elements they should be paying attention to.

3: Draw the players attention to key elements
Use some of the elements in the First section of this post (i.e. player doesn't know where to go) to draw the players attention to the important points of the puzzle

4: Provide an instructional video or diagram
If your puzzle is skill (running / jumping / shooting) based, you can have a lot of fun making an instructional video and then showing it to the player on a screen in the game. Add a cheesy american voiceover for additional fun... or just add an audio announcement instructing the player on what they should be doing. Alternatively, create an instructional diagram and post it on the wall for them look at.

5: If all else fails, ditch the puzzle
If you've tried all of the above and your playtesters still aren't getting it. Ditch the puzzle. It's not gonna work!

Problem: My firefights are over too quickly

This is often a problem where the area for the fight is too simply laid out, the player blasts through the enemy NPCs in seconds, as a result people are often tempted to simply add more enemies to add length to the gameplay, often though this is not needed. Here's some ideas that should add some longevity to your firefights.

1: Add more walls / geometry to your firefight play area
NPC's often operate best when they have a number of paths available to them. Add in columns and walls to break up the playing area and give the NPC's choices to make. They should be come far more interesting to engage for the player.

2: Add unbreakable glass windows to solid walls
If the player can see the NPC, and the NPC can see the player but they can't shoot each other, you'll find you create a dynamic cat and mouse game where both have to make a decision about which way to go to kill each other.

3: Add height and routing possibilities
Horizontal firefights are pretty dull. As in Multiplayer maps, always add a higher or lower path that NPC's and players can take to get the advantage over the enemy. Also, try and make sure that no area can be used as a sniper nest. Try and make every corner of the play area accessable from two differt routes.

4: Add lots of cover
A firefight with no cover is basically just a mexican standoff. The player will be lucky to survive at all. Make sure you add natural cover for both the player and the enemy. Make sure they can move from cover to cover without exposing themselves to enemy fire too much.

5: Make your play area a circle
Circular firefights are hugely more exciting than those designed in a horizontal fashion. The brilliant thing about a circular play area is that everyone can be flanked from one direction or another. If your heading left they can attack you from the right, etc... have a play with circular arena's and see what I mean.

I will continue this subject in a future post...

Are you being clever... or just annoying the hell out of the player?

Sometimes a map feature you're in love with turns out to annoy the player like crazy. Playtesting should reveal these of course but I think we can narrow down some things to be avoided where possible.

1. Lighting Issues

Flickering lights, torchlight and strobes should be used sparingly. Never use such lighting where the player has to make precise actions and try and avoid this in combat also. It can become very frustrating for the player.
I recently played through a mod where the extended usage of flickering lights actually made me stop playing. Round every corner was another flickering light, another esparking wire as the only light source. So frustrating. Use these lighting effects sparingly people and always have another low light source in the map so there is some light available.

2. Hideously precise jumping

Unless your designing an FPS remake of an 80s platformer (chukkie egg anyone?), keep your jumping puzzles simple and fun. Make sure each platform is obvious (no jumping on 1 inch wide pipes please) and if youre platforms are moving then playtest and tweak the hell out of it to ensure a good balance between fun and challenge.

3: Fake Doororama

Ever play a map where u spend youre whole time trying fake doors just to find the one that works? ANNOYING!
Fake doors are fine for detailing, just make sure the player understands visually which are fake and which are real. An easy way to do this is to only add door handles to the doors that work.

4. Repeating Noises

A looped sound effect can really drive the player insane. Sirens or alarms are usually the guilty party here. Make sure, if you set off an alarm you either turn it off again once youve made youre point or allow the player to turn it off themselves.
For background noise make sure you use the ambient noise set shipped with the game. Its ambient because it ISNT annoying on a loop...

5: Cluttered Play Areas

Theres nothing worse than attempting to run backwards with an enemy closing in and getting stuck on a random chair, or crate, or barrel that serves no purpose. Cursing the screen as you die once more... oooh the language...

Keep that detail to the edges people!
Keep the main playin areas clear and guide the players movements with railings, low walls etc... to ensure smooth, playable firefights...

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Chekhov's Gun Theory

The theory of Chekhov's Gun is a ruleset used in dramatic writing.

There are several rules and you can check out the full explanation here however there is one element of this theory that is most important to us mappers.

Chekhov maintained that if you place a cannon on a stage during a play, the audience will expect that cannon to be fired at some point.

The mapper could look at it this way. If you are going to put an object in your map, the player could very well assume that that object has a purpose and be distracted from their main goal.

This is at it's most important in puzzle areas. In order for your puzzle to be clear to the player you need to keep things as minimal as possible. Don't add fake buttons or consoles, don't add pointless props to a puzzle area and don't add lots of detail to the walls etc...
Such additional detail to a puzzle area will only promote "Use button Spamming" which is the sure fire signature of a puzzle area done poorly. Yep, the moment the player ends up jumping round the walls hammering the "use" key, it's time to go back to the drawing boards.

Here's an example:
If I were to create a courtyard and place a combine antlion thumper in the middle of it. The player would naturally assume that they were supposed to interact with the thumper (by either turning it on or off). If I had just placed the thumper there to purely add an interesting centrepiece to the courtyard, I've actually just placed a huge distraction to the players attention, which should have been focused elsewhere (say on the jumping puzzle in the far corner).

The player will naturally be drawn to items of interest in your map. Make sure that those items of interest are also items of importance.

If you want to add items of interest to your map that are not important to the gameplay, make sure you place them in areas where it is obvious the player cannot reach (e.g. behind a fence or on a high ledge etc...).

In my map pack "Daylight" I added an explosive barrel hanging from a cuttable rope in the first area. It was presented there as a sort of play thing for the players to begin to understand the new gameplay feature of cuttable ropes. Unfortunately some players really didn't understand it's purpose and thought they had to obtain the gas tank in order to progress to the next area.

This is a classic case of Chekov's Gun Theory. The player assigns importance to objects that have been placed in the map whose purpose is unclear.