The Question:

"What process do you follow when you design a Deathmatch map, i.e. do you say to yourself I want to design for 2-8 players or do you have a picture in your mind of something cool and you develop around it? Basically which comes first, the game requirments or concept of how the level should look?"


The Answers:

"If you don't begin by focusing on game requirements, you will probably end by not having something that meets your needs. Start by specifying the number of players that your map should ideally serve. Next design (and this can be done on paper) any exotic features that game play might revolve around, including moving machines, specialty rooms, firefight arenas, player activated traps and so on. On paper, map out the ways that these areas will interconnect. Schematics with boxes and arrows will do. Then establish an architectural and lighting style. Finally, build all your spaces to be consistent with, or complimentary to your basic architecture style."

-Paul Jaquays, Level Designer/Occasional Artist at id Software

"Levels start in many ways, but normally I'll sketch some general layouts, get an idea of how large the map is going to be, and how its going to flow. Usually I'll spend a good amount of time on the first area, getting the style and architecture down, and then keeping that consistent with the rest of the map."

-Michael Wardwell, Level Designer at Ritual Entertainment

"Allrighety. Most of the time when I start a deathmatch map, it usually begins with a single area concept, which then folds out into a full level. These tend to be my more, non-linear, 2-4 player, fragfest'ish levels. Whereas, If I know ahead of time that I want to have a 2-8, or a teamplay map, or CTF or something, I try to do some pre-design that will help flush out the flow, and then apply the cool concept to that flow.

Basically, there are a few rules I try to follow with deathmatch levels. These rules do differ somewhat for each type of DM, but the overall theory is pretty much the same.

Rule one: Non-linear layout. If you want a good, fast deathmatch level, a non-linear layout is ideal. Being able to start from anywhere in the level and make your way to any other point without having to transverse a set path gives each player a different feel for the level. If there are 4 or 5 different ways to reach the same room throughout the level, each player will end up forming their strategy on taking a different path, and this helps to make the matches more non-predictable and fun.

Of course, this rule does change a bit for other DM modes but the overall non-linear design is one of the most fundamental design rules for a good DM level.

Rule two: Make it look as cool as possible, without sacrificing framerate. The second most important thing next to layout, is framerate. Will the player have more fun if the level doesn't look as good as it could but is blazing along at 30fps with 20 players in the level, or if the room looks ultra cool but only wields a measly 10fps? The answer is usually obvious. Make the architecture as cool and appealing as possible, but framerate is God.

Rule Three: Maneuverability. When all is said and done, make sure to run around your DM level for HOURS shooting from every possible angle, exploring every possible func_whatever and cranny. Doing this, you can make sure to remove any difficult to maneuver areas, and clean up anything that is hard for the player to negotiate.

Anyhow, the most important thing to me is the layout, hand in hand with the framerate. Make sure to try and make your levels unique and cool, but overall, keep the non-linear, fun, layout in mind and you should have a badass DM level in the works."

-Tom Mustaine, Level Designer at Ritual Entertainment

"I can't speak for the others, but when it comes to me designing deathmatch maps, I just start laying brushes and take it from there =)

I like designing big, so I'm not the most qualified to talk about 2-8 player maps. For me, the more people, the better."

-Christian Antkow, Level Designer at id Software

"Paul, each designer begins in different ways. Some with an idea of a cool room or level layout. Some with just the number of people they want the level to support. There are literally hundreds of different ways to begin.

But, having said that, I'll tell you how it's done here at Rogue.

Step one: The first thing we do is figure out how many players we want the level to support. This will let the designer know their limitations on level size and complexity. Smaller maps that support less players can be more complex than large ones for many players.

Step two: Come up with a theme or an overall idea of what the level should look like or the content within it. There are two overall ideas that you always want to keep in mind when designing good DM levels.

1)Flow: The level should have as many different paths through it as possible. Keep the players guessing where the next shot will come from. Areas that force the player down a one entrance/exit path should have something worthwhile at the end.

2)Verticality: The Quake and Quake2 engine support level above level and so should the design. You want to keep the player not only guessing where the next shot is coming from, but at which level. You don't have to get really crazy with heights, as a matter of fact, 64 pixel differences in heights are sometimes enough to create a whole new feel in an area.

From then on, we follow this format. Do we want a level with a lot of environmental traps? Do we want one that has a lava, water or other theme? Is this level going to be using any particular texture set? base, warehouse, medieval, outdoor, indoor, what? Once questions like this have been answered, then we can move on to step three.

One thing that a lot of people forget to factor in is the placement of weapons and or power ups. The placement of the more powerful items in the game will totally change the flow of a level. Make sure that in the pre-design phase you take this into account. For instance: In thinking of room designs, placing the rocket launcher in a room and planning the player's path to it is sometimes enough for that room or area.

Step three: This is where we have one of our artists sketch the design of the level as we plan out the flow. You don't have to be an artist to do this, just lay out a basic picture of the flow on paper and it will serve the same purpose. Pick up the theme of the level, or the ideas for traps and other hazards and work around them. Design rooms and areas to fit these themes and tie them together. That's a very condensed version of how it actually happens. This is the longest part of the pre-design process, but all of this planning will pay off.

Once this is completed, it should create a clear picture of the level in the mind of the designer. If it doesn't then the level and the designer will suffer from here on in.

Step four: Actual design. At this point, the designer should be ready to sit down at the editor of their choice and begin to hack away. Keep the overall flow in mind while you work. This will help you to understand how you are tying the parts of the level together. Do not be afraid to alter a design as you work it into the editor. The levels rarely go seamlessly from paper into the game and you have to be flexible enough to handle glitches as they arise.

Step five: Testing. Get feedback! Talk to your friends, workmates or anyone who will play the level and understands the game. Don't be afraid to ask professionals for their opinions either. When people ask for my advice, I try to accommodate them as much as possible. If you can't handle constructive criticism, learn to like it! It is all part of the design process.

Step six: Put it out. Let everyone see your master work.

Step seven: This is optional for some but a must for others. Once it is out to the general public, ask again for feedback. You will find that there are tons of people willing to put in their two cents. Some of it will be opinion, some of it flame, but, there will be a few ideas that may make that level or the next one much better."

-Jim Molinets, Level Designer at Rogue Entertainment Inc.

"Maps which are set in real places are the best for drawing the player into the game. You can't merely name a map "City" without taking the time to bring the visual concept across to the player. I prefer building an almost complete layout and then chopping out areas and reconfiguring to suit the player requirement/speed of the level. I also always let framerate dictate my building decisions. If its not fast, its not much fun...."

-Stephen Cole, Level Designer at 3D Realms Entertainment

"I normally do not think about how many players the map could support. That's really a function of how well the map flows or doesn't flow. My main objective is to design a map that has very good interconnections at a central source like DOOM E1M5 or Quake DM3. Placing poweful weapons in the far corners of the map keeps everything from happening in one place, but providing a place where a battle focus point is located is very important. I don't make symmetrical maps because they're confusing and boring and show laziness in map design and lack of creativity. Maps with multiple levels in one central room make great focal points (ala DM4 or E2M5) and display great architecture.

Single-player map-wise, i usually come up with an idea of what the entire map location should be (military base, castle, etc.) and design around that idea. I usually sketch out the whole thing on paper and then create it room by room. Before constructing a room, i sit back, close my eyes, and think about what would look really cool in that area. It's my style to make every room count, to be unique and show the player more cool stuff instead of not thinking and just throwing some walls together. Visualizing a cool location is first and building it is second."

-John Romero, Game Designer, Chairman & CEO of Ion Storm

"When it comes to DM map design, I have done both... I have been told to make a map for 3-6 players and I have been told just to "make something that's cool." The map I am currently working on is just an idea that hit me on the drive home from work one night. I came in the next day, built the architecture, and then decided that it would rock for up to six people! However, for sixteen it would be a living hell... =( So, now I have to decide whether or not to change and expand it for more players or just to customize my current design for optimal play for six. Who knows? We'll see what everyone else says... Hope this helps!"

-Kenn Hoekstra, Level Designer at Raven Software

"When I am making a dm map, I usually try to come up with an angle and then work from there. I usually don't know how many players it will support until I have tried it out for a little bit and then I can go from there. If it seems too small, I make it larger, and if it seems to large, I cut stuff out.

I think that for a deathmatch level, a cool concept should always over weigh the game requirements. If someone doesn't like a level because it is too crowded or some other reason, they can always jump to another level. Usually, the game requirements fall mostly on how a game will play in single player.

-Eric Biessman, Level Designer at Raven Software

"This question hits upon a perspective change that I recently went through when designing levels.

Before, when I was only designing levels to release on the net, my first criteria was pleasing myself, and so I would design deathmatch and singleplayer maps the same way: I would come up with something really cool and develop around it.

But now that I'm involved in projects that have a clear vision and goal, it's much more important (to me) to have both the concept and the flow nailed down first and then worry about designing cool stuff (architecturally) :-)! Since a deathmatch level doesn't have the same constraints as a singleplayer level, you have some play with this, but still, as much information conceptually that I can nail down about the level before I begin building, how many players I'm building it for, how the level is going to flow or even designs of the basic architecture itself, helps. It saves me a lot of time in the long run as far as rebuilding or trying to fit various cool parts together into a cohesive whole, or changing the architecture to fit in with the look of the rest of the levels.

I think every "hobby" designer has some aspirations towards making maps professionally, and that means being able to visualize and design following an established idea and look. The more you practice trying to flesh out ideas that have already been planned or sketched out, the easier it will be in the long run for you to make that transition. And practice, practice, PRACTICE!! The more you build, the better you'll be.

Plus, please don't forget: Grid eight is great!! :-) Kenn Hoekstra didn't give me the nick name Glenn "grid eight is great" Smith for nothing!"

-Glenn Smith, Level Designer at Raven Software

Thinking back, my favorite DM maps always have the following key attributes: First of all, non-linear is the only way to go for DM maps. Second, I don't like maps that have a lot of lava, slime, or other life-threatening fluid. Some is ok, but it sucks to get killed more by fluid than opponents. Third, lots of secret areas and balanced weapon/powerup placement. It's more fun when you have to work for those special items. Fourth, a layout that isn't too confusing or maze-like in my oppinion works best. Fifth, I always prefer maps that have a trap you can spring on other players. This just adds another fun element. As far as design goes, starting with a floorplan in the editor is a good way to go. If your gonna draw it on paper, you might as well do it in 3d in the editor. This will allow you to run around a bit in the floorplan before putting all the walls and details in. This method allows you to make changes to the layout and flow in the early stages without having to re-do so much work later on.

Todd Clineschmidt, Level Designer at Monolith Productions, Inc.

"I also asked Dave 'Zoid' Kirch the same question but as it applies to CTF maps."


"I think about how I'm going to build the map out long before I lay a single brush. I have a general idea of the size of the map, the feature spots (bases, inbetween areas, etc.). Then I go in and start laying brushes. The design may change a little here and there as I build it as I experiement with different textures and layout. But the general shape of the level ends up the same."

-Dave "Zoid" Kirch, CTF Guru and Programmer at id Software

Note: Answers are in the order I received them. I would also like to thank each individual that took the time to share their knowladge.