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Expert Quake

Multiplayer Level Design


Game design can only get you so far toward good gameplay.

Map design is an equally important second half.

Combat Terrain

StrongBox (ctf8)

This nifty gondola is left unused in CTF games, even if the grappling
hook is disabled. It’s too slow for the game pace; it’s unclear whether it would become
useful even if it were much faster.

Options and Pace

Combat terrain must be dense with options for players,
that is, from any given point there should be multiple ways to move, all
of which have different effect in a combat situation.

Long tight corridors remove movement choices, making it
impossible to dodge shots, so that the health and weapon that a player
has when he encounters another player instantly determines the outcome
of combat, rather than combat skill.

Excessively open spaces make many options equal, so that
players execute degenerate versions of combat tactics that would be equally
effective on an infinite plane.

Spacing must be appropriate to game pace. Combats in
Quake rarely take over 4 seconds, with shots coming between every three
quarters of a second and every second. With a max player speed of 320,
this means players can cover around 240 to 320 units per refire.
This number roughly represents a “beat” of combat, and is
highly useful metric when designing and evaluating combat terrain.

Terrain-based Advantages

Static terrain-based advantages, such as being
on higher ground, have the same effect on skillful combat as any other
static advantage, such as having better equipment. That is,
if one player will have a terrain-based advantage until combat ends (either
by a kill or by one player leaving), that reduces the role of the deep
skills of combat.

For instance, if one player has the high ground and the
other player has no way to quickly gain ground without serious risk, then
you have a static advantageous position, similar to having an opponent
in a dead-end.

For this reason, terrain-based advantages should be as
dynamic and transient as possible, and/or cancelling advantages and disadvantages
should exist in the terrain, such as enhanced vulnerability to
splash damage on higher ground.

McKinley Base (ctf1)

At most angles, this tangle of supports creates an irregular
pattern of blockage. It’s not realisticly possible to pick your shot’s
path through the bars while strafing, so there is essentially a random
chance of your shot going through.

Needless Precision

The skill normally referred to as “aiming” has
two distinct parts - knowing where to aim, and hitting exactly where you
intend. The former is a deep skill and the latter is not. Terrain
that places importance on extremely or impossibly fine aim places emphasis
on a shallow skill or on randomness.

The same is true of precision jumping and movement - if
a jump can be made, or a corridor can be navigated, it should be easy to
navigate under fire and under lag. The deep skill lies in knowing
where to move to in combat, not making a precise dodge or remembering to avoid
a protruding light fixture.

This means avoiding things like grates and railings that
have just enough room for a rocket to pass through. It also means
that any barricades or wall edges that are used in combat should have very
simple geometry. Light fixtures should not jutt out of walls waiting
to catch projectiles or players moving by, and columns that can be used
as cover should not have bases or any other protrusions.


Topology is the property of what areas of a map can be
reached from what areas, by what paths, and how quickly.

In a deathmatch level all areas of the map should be reachable
from all other areas of the map along multiple short and low risk routes. This
ensures that everything in the level is as dynamic as combat itself, in particular,
having many connections helps prevent static terrain-based advantages and ensures
that players will always be able to get to necessary items, even when the items
in a particular area have been depleted.

The Bad Place (dm4)

The static terrain advantage of higher ground, the risk
factor of lava, and the dead end corridor below easily create a difficult
to resolve stalemate, especially in 1-on-1.

DM4 is also an example of avoiding needless precision.
Notice how all corridors are of smooth and simple geometry. Any visual
detail is embedded in the walls or is out of play.

Risk and Stalemate

If you create high-risk areas in a map, through the use of lava,
tight spots, traps, or even spacing that doesn’t take into account game pace, you can
create stalemates. Players aware of the risk will either break off combat to
continue somewhere else, or be stuck at a stalemate if there is nowhere else to

Worse yet, players who know better than to fight in high-risk
terrain may be forced to by some other risk, such a running fight
with an equally good opponent.

Complexity and Choreography

As you are designing the level, don’t try to imagine highly
specific situations that will happen in combat on the level, that is, imagining
the actual positions of players and the items they may have. If you try
to choreograph the actions of players, then either it will work and certain
stereotypical things will repeatedly happen on the level, or it won’t work,
and you’ll have a bunch of confusing and useless terrain.

Even simple barriers, in a simple symmetrical pattern,
can lead to literally unlimited numbers of scenarios, many of them better
than anything that could have been worked out beforehand by the level designer.
Detail is something to shoot for with lighting and intricate decorations,
not combat terrain - combat brings its own detail.

Player Distribution and Visibility

Abandoned Base (dm3)

Ledges over doorways, especially doorways that open into the
middle of a room or corridor, are ideal ambush positions. Both of these doorways
are highly vulnerable to ambush. The hairline ledge over the doorway to the
left could easily have been accidental.

Terrain Ambushes

An ambush is when one player waits in a position chosen so
that he can get off at least one shot where the defending player cannot
know the angle of attack. A example of this is an ambusher
waiting over a doorway in the center of a wall - even a player aware that
he is about to be ambushed can only guess which direction the attack will
come from, and can only visually cover a portion of the area where his
attacker might be.

Techniques like sudden movement or blind shots when going
through a portal can lower the chance that an ambush is successful, but
not truly prevent it, especially when the ambusher is a top notch player,
or has his choice of several positions.

The solution to the ambushing problem is easy to state
but hard to implement: create terrain such that at any point where a player
moving through the level will be able to see new areas, that player can
simultaneously view all of the new areas if looking in the correct direction.

In addition to things like doorways in the center of a
wall and t-junctions, dark areas in a level create the opportunity for
sniping and ambushing, and don’t enhance combat after the initial sighting.
It’s also important to keep in mind that anytime something in the game
is meant to be difficult to see, that difficulty can be hacked around on
the Quake client side, most easily by altering skins and models. This also
applies to the “Ring of Shadows”.


A very good player can realistically keep track of a maximum
of three or four opponents in a typical combat, where opponents will be
moving in and out of the player’s field of view. Anything beyond that creates
chaotic interactions. For this reason a level should have multiple areas
where players are likely to fight, enough so that, with the number of players
a level is made for, clumping is unlikely.

Obviously, players end up fighting each other because
they can see each other. If you can cut off player visibility, then you
have partitioned what would otherwise be one area of combat, even if you
haven’t blocked vis.exe.

Situational Ambushes

Players can be effectively “ambushed” by being
attacked unexpectedly while already in combat. For this reason, combat
areas should not have so many entrances that it’s impossible for a good player
to avoid being surprised. Sound cues, such as the sound of a door opening,
can be triggered at entry points so that players can focus on combat rather
than periodically looking around.

Warzone (ctf2m2)

This pivotal underwater secret, featuring a quad, ring, RL,
rockets and biosuit, is completely unmarked, and is only found by accident
or offline with “noclip”. Like any secret, it’s just a barrier to the
playability of the level; if some people don’t know it, it’s an advantage
based on trivial knowledge, if everyone knows it, it’s not a secret.


Items should be placed such that even combat is as likely
as possible. Any powerful items should either be made readily available
or not included. In normal Quake this means more than one rocket launcher
or thunderbolt, several armors, and no Quad damage. All powerful items
should be well spaced to prevent camping and force movement around the

In order to prevent combatants injured from previous battles
from ending up in uneven combat, health in particular should be plentiful
to an almost counterintuitive extent.


Secrets, teleports with non-obvious destinations, and
difficult to learn layout all create specific knowledge of a level that
can be as important in the game as is combat skill. Map knowledge is at
best something that all players must learn in order to compete evenly
in deeper skills, at worst, the determiner of outcome when some players
don’t know a map perfectly.

It should be made very easy to determine where you are
in a map, not on the basis of (potentially absent) items, but on the basis
of cues like texturing and structures unique to a particular area of a map.
It should be similarly easy to discern distances and routes through a level.

Capture The Flag

To a first approximation, three things happen in CTF that
don’t happen in DM:

  1. Carrier hiding / Hunting for the carrier with no prior knowledge of whereabouts
  2. Combat or pursuit involving a flag carrier
  3. Base / Flag defense

Carrier Hiding

Carrier hiding and searching for carriers is primarily
based on level knowledge, is a simple-minded task of checking
likely spots, and is boring for all involved. Furthermore, carrier hiding
tends to end in a point blank combat in a 40×80 unit secret closet.

The best a carrier should be able to do for survival is
seek cover from teammates, or stand in plain sight in a less-used room.
There should be no dark spots, nooks, or even areas of the level distant
from the primary paths between the bases.

Warzone (ctf2m2)

The antithesis of good pursuit terrain: a teleporter
reachable in one grapple from the flag, followed by a 3 way branch
including a secret behind an illusionary wall, and a water area that
can be exited almost immediately. In this level, a carrier who’s lived
for two seconds is as hard to find as a carrier missing for several


To enable skillful pursuit, neither getting away (as the
carrier) nor killing the carrier (as a pursuer) should be easy. The key
property here is continuous visibility and continuous motion.
Essentially this means that a pursuer can maintain nearly continous line
of sight to the carrier he is chasing, and that there are no impediments
to moving at full speed through the level.

Anytime there is more than a momentary
loss of visibility, such as a teleporter, 90 degree turn in a small tunnel,
or water boundary, there is the danger of a trivial getaway if there is a
branch beyond the visibility break. Similarly, anytime there is a break
in motion, such as a slow door or plat, there is the danger of a trivial
carrier kill. Even a medium-size corridor that is extremely long can
lead to a trivial carrier kill, by sheer density of pursuer’s rockets.

Base Defense

Like pursuit, base defense must be neither trivial nor
impossible. It should be possible to grab the flag and escape without
killing every last defender, at the same time, several competent defenders
should make grabbing the flag difficult enough that it is worthwhile to
whittle down the defense.

To make base defense possible, there must be a cache of
mid-range and better armament and restoratives in the base, sufficient
to support a normal defense under frequent attack - a “normal” defense
and “frequent” attack depend upon what number of players you are
building for. The flag should be positioned so that there are a limited
number of approaches and sufficient space to make it feasible to kill an
attacker before he reaches the flag.

To make base defense non-trivial, defenders should have
little, if any, tactical advantage. Confined entrance tunnels, designed-in
ambush spots, and a recessed flag alcove all enable trivial kills, not only making
base defense too easy but also cancelling the possibility of a skilled tactical


CTF does not scale well, unlike free-for-all deathmatch.
There are very few focal points, leading easily to chaotic crunch points.
32 player CTF is neither typically feasible nor wanted; CTF games that large
are only saved from chaos by the number of players who play CTF like
deathmatch, or who are just incompetent in terms of basic skills. In a
game with highly skilled CTF players, 4v4 is about as large as a CTF game
can maintain, with a typical mix of competent players, 7v7.

Myrkul (

Copyright 1997 Charles Kendrick, all rights reserved.

Designers Guide to Multiplayer Quake Gameplay

NOTICE: The design principles laid out in this document are now reality,
in the form of Expert Quake.

The Gameplay Guide is a resource for all of the various people who are
extending id software’s Quake: QuakeC programmers, level editors, everyone.
This Guide is about the one thing that I don’t see anyone talking about
- how the various add-ons that people have written alter the game play
and game flow of Quake.

Changes log:


How do you define good gameplay?

  1. It’s possible to increase in skill almost indefinitely - variety and
  2. Score is directly proportional to skill at the most difficult tasks
    - balance and focus

These two criteria define a notion of good gameplay, which you’ll
not find in a dictionary. This notion of gameplay is not necessarily
directly equivalent to how
fun a multiplayer game is.
Certainly, a chaotic multiplayer game in which freely available insanely
powerful weapons kill groups of other players in one shot can be a very

fun game, and a game I might play - for a while.

I tend to lose interest in any game where it’s not possible to keep
improving one’s ability, or where improvements in ability don’t show through
in the game very much. If this isn’t at least a little bit true of you,
then ignore this document, and go back to work on your “kill everyone
on the level by pressing a button” Quake mod (sorry, couldn’t resist).
But if you’re interested in creating a game with what I’ve defined as “good
gameplay”, or at least in creating a game that finds a balance
between gameplay and more chaotic carnage, read on.

The Guide is designed to give you a very strong and clear understanding
of gameplay, to the point that you are able to predict the effect on gameplay
that any arbitrary change to the game will have, and clearly explain why
it would have that effect. Once you can do that, you can make informed
decisions about whether to implement a given change or not, weighing the
effect of the change on gameplay against the extent to which the change
will make the game more engaging aside from its effect on gameplay.

example - the Doomsday Device

Let’s say you have a Quake-like game with a Doomsday Device. The Doomsday
Device is the only weapon in the game, and there is only one on
the map, in the same place every time. Each player spawns and runs for
the device, uses it to kill all players (instantly) and score a bunch of
points. All players spawn again and run for the Doomsday Device. This happens

Every player quickly learns the location of the Doomsday Device, and
the best path to it from any of the various spawn points. Barring players
too incompetent to pick up on these simple things and navigate the level,
after a certain amount of time every player will have roughly equal score.
That is, the players are all perfect experts at this particular
game. This game conforms perfectly to criteria two - that skill matches
score. It fails criteria one - the amount of skill that can be acquired
is very limited.

Let’s say you take Quake and add the Doomsday Device. The majority
of the time, whoever was spawned closest to the Doomsday Device triggers
it and instantly kills all other players. Occasionally, two players who
weren’t going to be the first to the Doomsday Device would get into a toe-to-toe
fight that would entail all of the skills and complexity of Quake, and
the player who fought better might get a single frag before the Doomsday
Device went off. The skill of each player would be a fixed amount representing
the number of times they happened to be nearest to the Doomsday device,
plus some amount much smaller than this, that would be the number of times
they got a frag before the Doomsday Device went off. Now, to the extent
that it was possible to acquire skill in Quake, you can acquire skill in
Doomsday Quake. However, the Doomsday Device is still the best way to get
points, even though it takes much less skill to use the Doomsday Device
than to get a frag in combat.

At this point, you may be thinking, “so all I have to do is resist
the urge to add a Doomsday Device to Quake?”. Well, no. The Doomsday
Device is not really one particular modification that can ruin gameplay.
It is a representative of a whole class of possible game modifications
that have varying degrees of the same detrimental effect. The bottom
line on Doomsday Devices is that they create a way to score points without
requiring as much skill as other means of scoring points
, which is
a gameplay problem that can occur with much less extreme and less easily
recognizable analogs of the Doomsday Device, such as a powerup that is
easily acquired.

There are whole other classes of problems, with various extreme and
mundane examples of what kind of game modification can cause that class
of problem. This Guide is about exploring and identifying the problems,
the causes, and the solutions.

Focus and Design

Define Skill.

What is meant by “a skill”? A skill is the ability to take
the correct action in a given situation
. Aim, the ability to hit where
you intend, is a skill. The ability to determine where to aim is another
skill, or set of skills. Combat is a set of skills.

By understanding and classing sets of skills, we can redefine or come
to a clearer definition of good gameplay, phrased in terms of the traits
of various skills.

A Continuum of skills: Execution vs Knowledge

What skills are involved in gathering items efficiently, in a free-for-all
deathmatch? Probably the most critical factor is familiarity with the level.
That’s a piece of knowledge - is it also a skill? By the definition above,
a skill is an ability. The ability to gather items efficiently is essentially
level knowledge plus the trivial ability to know your location in a level
- in a free-for-all situation you are unlikely to know anything else of
importance. Gathering items is a skill that is 80% knowledge and 20% execution.
Other skills, such as knowing where to be in combat, are much less reducible
to knowledge. You can say “stay away from walls or it barely matters
if a rocket misses you” but you cannot say “here is what you
do in combat: …”.

A skill that has been literally reduced to knowledge is clearly a skill
that cannot be further developed. If a game is to have depth and complexity,
skills that can be reduced to knowledge must not be important in the game.


Let’s dispense immediately with the two most common arguments about

“It’s not fair”

Fairness is when two players are playing the same game. The Doomsday
Device game is perfectly fair. Quake is perfectly fair. The only way a
game could be unfair is if you had a systematic enforced difference in
how the game behaved for different players, for instance, if one player
always started with half the health of another player. Even randomness
is fair, as long as there is time for the random effects to apply equally
to all players.

“You’re may be winning, but only because you do cheap things that
take no skill”

Everything takes skill. Pressing a key takes skill. Looking at your
monitor and recognizing some set of pixels as a “player” takes

Both of these arguments are really trying address the same central problem
in game design, they are just badly expressed. Some skills have seemingly
endless depth, and can never be truly mastered. Other skills reduce to
a simple trick that can be taught to a newbie.

If you can learn a set of simple tricks and be as good or better at
a game as someone who has great expertise in the truly deep skills, that
is a shallow game with poor gameplay. It is neither unfair nor does it
take no skill. It is just a shallow game that has bad gameplay.

In particular, to get good gameplay, mere presence of deep skills in
the game is not enough. The deep skills in the game must be the sole determiners
of the outcome of the game, and no other simpler skills can in any way
detract from the central role of deep skills

The Deep Skills of Quake

The deepest skills in Quake are easily recognizable, and most players
readily agree on what they are.

In Quake deathmatch, and probably in any free-for-all first person shooter,
the deepest skills are involved in beating one or more other players in
an even combat that lasts several seconds. These are the skills
of anticipation, using and understanding the offensive and defensive importance
of terrain and positioning, and precision in aim and movement, to name
a few. Even combat, as opposed to heavily lopsided combat, allows otherwise
inconsequential differences in mastery of deep skills to have importance.
A duration of several seconds all skills other than reflexes to come into

In any teamplay mode, coordination and teamwork, both in combat and
in such things as planned attacks and holding key positions, are additional
deep skills.

The task, then, is to make sure that deep skills are the only skills
that have significance in the game
. Other skills, such as item gathering,
should either be eliminated or the game should be altered such that they
have little or no importance. This is not accomplished by adding new things
to a game, rather, it is an engine-up redesign.

In this redesign, several core aspects of multiplayer games in general
can be called out and analyzed to determine what should be done to focus
on deep skills. These are non-specific properties such as pace, information
acquisition, power and “health” levels, and scoring.


Specific Knowledge
as Skill

Skills that reduce to specific knowledge must be eliminated or made
unimportant wherever possible, in order to allow deep skills to determine
the score.

In Quake, specific knowledge as a skill is a problem that comes up most
often when players don’t know a level well or at least equally well.
An example of this problem is when one player knows about a useful secret
on a map that another player does not. The fact of knowing or not knowing
about the secret is a “skill” that may have importance in the
game, possibly having as much importance as combat skill.

One solution to the problems of differing level knowledge is to exclusively
use well known and well circulated maps, such as the id levels or the levels
distributed for a particular mod. A more general solution can be had at
the level of map design, that is, maps can be
made so that there is little specific knowledge of importance, so that
the “skill” of knowing a particular level well is just maxed
out in all players, as early on as possible, and therefore becomes a non-factor,
allowing deeper skills to determine the score.

Alternately, for a one-time match up, a level that no players have
might be used. In this case, it’s no longer true that specific
knowledge of the level dominates the game, instead, the skill of quickly
learning the level
becomes important. This is a complex and somewhat
developable skill, but also arguably a very mechanical skill, based on
rapid memorization.

Attack and Defense Strength, Ambushes and Sniping

The balance between the ability to do damage and the ability to take
damage is probably the most critical aspect of a game in terms of gameplay.
Simply put, the more powerful a weapon is relative to the amount of damage
a player can take, the more important a single hit is in the game.

The more important a single hit is in the game, the more important
making the first hit is. When single hits are very significant in
the game, fast target recognition and fast reaction time become the most
important skills in the game, lowering the importance of deep skills
like intentional use of terrain.

Furthermore, the first hit will not always go to the quickest player.
When the first hit is pivotal, how does a player guarantee that they get
the first hit (maybe even the only hit)? By ambushing, sniping,
and other such tactics, all of which involve more shallow skills, such
as the ability to recognize a good ambush position, and not choke on the
free shot. The core idea behind ambushing is, after all, finding an easier
way to kill someone than killing them in even combat.

Preventing ambushing, sniping, reflexes and ping from dominating a game
is accomplished by ensuring that the first hit doesn’t all but determine
the outcome of the ensuing combat. In Quake this can be achieved by through
lower weapon lethality.

Even when the first shot doesn’t all but determine the outcome of combat,
ambushing is still a somewhat effective tactic that has a bad effect
on gameplay. This is problem best solved in map design.

It’s also possible to make individual hits too unimportant. The primary
effect of this is stalemates between players of equal skill. Aside
from outright stopping the progress of the game and of the score, stalemates
tend to end in ways that don’t involve skill, such as succumbing to a trap
or eventual carelessness.

When finding the middle point between purely reflexive play and long
wars of attrition, the skill of the very best players should be kept in
mind. Good players may make much more effective use of weapons, to the
extent that the game again becomes based on reflexes for those good players.

Range of Power

If there is the possibility of gaining power during a game, the focus
of the game shifts away from the ability to win even combats, allocating
importance to whatever skills are involved in gaining and maintaining power.
In Quake free for all deathmatch, this means shallow skills like item gathering
and weapon and powerup guarding become strong components of the game, fundamentally
ruining gameplay.

Item gathering, however, is not the only possible basis for a range
of power in a game. If the skill involved in gaining and maintaining power
is as deep as combat itself, at least a moderate range of power can be
implemented while maintaining good gameplay. In particular, winning
a combat
is strong basis for gaining power.

Where possible, the high end of a range of power should involve powerful
defenses rather than powerful offenses, so that powerful players in the
game are just difficult to defeat, rather than being so powerful that they
negate their opponent’s ability to fight back, or even evade them.

Focus via Scoring

Scoring is meant to be a measure of each player’s skill at the game.
Deep and shallow skills can only be emphasized or de-emphasized with respect
to the scoring system.

In Quake deathmatch, score is based on number of kills, yet players
can become orders of magnitude more powerful than each other, making it
extremely easy to score kills. The most difficult task in the game is still
beating another player who is at least as powerful as you, yet this
is not what is scored on, nor does it correspond very well to kills.

One possibility for repairing this problem is to invent a scoring system
that reflects the possesion of deep skill rather than straight kills. A
system of weights could be devised according to weapon and armor effectiveness,
that would reward points independent of actual kills. Of course, this would
create a surreal game in which players continually vied for the position
of underdog in any given combat, avoiding powerups and superior weapons.

However, I’ve only mentioned this possibility in order to emphasize
the role of scoring; a cleaner, easier solution is to create a game in
which combats are even as often as possible, so that scoring a kill is
an indication of superiority in deep skills. This is done through balanced
weapons and items, and through appropriate restoration systems.

Discrete Scoring and the role of Restoratives

If an even combat is the unit of scoring, what happens when a combat
may be uneven due to damage dealt in a previous combat? The usual answer
to this is restoratives - health packs, armors, etc.

One option open to the game designer is that no restoratives are made
available. In a one on one game where there is no range of power, this
will mean the score will roughly reflect the total amount of damage each
player has done to the other. However, in a free for all, the benefit of
damage previously done to opponents will be traded around randomly between
players as variously uneven combats are joined.

The role of restoratives in solving this problem is essentially to allow
players to return to a baseline health whenever they are not under fire.
Considering typical situations in Quake, in particular use of terrain as
barriers, or three and four way combats, it’s clear that there is a continuum
from “safety” to “under fire”. When restoration powerups
are plentiful and evenly distributed, they can best express this continuum
of danger, in the relative rates of losing health to enemies and gaining
health by covering ground.

A similar effect can be achieved with continuous regeneration, or several
other methods. The key result is always that combats are even as often
as possible.

Skills, Randomness and Information Availability

If a skill is the ability to take the correct action in a situation,
then each and every skill is heavily dependant on the information available
to a player
. In particular, from the perspective any individual player
trying to make a decision in the game, randomness is exactly the same
thing as any other lack of information
, such as not being able to see
all players at all times. A lack of information or a random behavior in
the game may make it impossible for a player to take the “ideal”
action in a situation.

Initially, it may seem that making as much information available to
the player as is possible is the right approach, in order to give the player
the maximum ability to take correct actions. However, total information
can as easily destroy good gameplay as create it
- imagine a game in
which you could see all opponents at all times, even through other solid
objects. Skills like anticipation of opponents not visible to you, or losing
players who are chasing you, would be gone. A game like Quake with total
information would likely reduce to head fakes at 90 degree corridor turns;
other games might cause players to experience information overload - there
would be a best action to take, but understanding what that action is would
involve an intractable number of factors.

Total information and a total lack of randomness is not necessary or
even wanted. Rather, it should simply be the case that good decisions
do not ever lead to bad results.
That is, given all data available
to him, a skillful player should be able to take an action with a net benefit
in every situation.

In terms of design, find a way to make the unknowable either knowable
or unimportant. For instance, not being able to see all other players at
all times is fine, as long as it is possible to navigate a level such that
ambushes are avoidable and combats are entered on even terms. Similarly,
the fact that a player has a big powerup should be obvious, like the sounds
and glow that indicate the Quad Damage.

Among other applications of this rule, consider spawnfrags in Quake.
Spawnfrags represent a low, random probability of getting killed when moving
through some position. Even if a player has memorized all spawn positions
in a level, in a combat situation against an equally skilled opponent,
moving through a spawn position may represent a net reduction of risk -
the player makes a good decision that leads to being telefragged.


My ongoing answer to how to achieve good gameplay in Quake is the Expert
Quake modification. It is neither perfect nor complete, but has gone a
long, long way toward good gameplay. The source for Expert Quake is freely
available at the Expert Quake
home site
, on the downloads

and Tinkering with Gameplay

Rationalization and Doomsday Devices

One way to be blind to a problem in gameplay is to confuse the possible
in theory with the possible due to skill. If a player fires a Doomsday
Device into a room and obliterates a player who never saw or heard anything
that would have told him to dive into the corner, it really doesn’t
matter if he could have survived by diving into the corner
. It wasn’t
possible to survive due to skill, and that’s the only thing that
matters for gameplay.


I’ve sometimes run into arguments such as, “the rocket launcher
should be the most powerful because it would be in real life”. This
is a bid for realism. My usual response is “Good point. You should
see this mod I made where it takes 45 seconds to put on armor and getting
shot with any gun kills or totally disables you, and..”.

Computer games are carved out of thin air. They can behave in any way
we want them to; modelling reality is one thing we can do. The strongest
reasons for realism are probably aesthetics and familiarity. Outside of
badly violating a player’s sense of aesthetics or reality, create whatever
kind of play you like. In my case that’s a focus on deep skills, but there
is plenty of room for simulations, games that are 90% determined by die
rolling, or by social interaction. Just be sure you’re clear on where you
stand when you criticize a design decision.

Fighting fire with more fire

It’s been explained to me many times that such and such super-powerup
is actually a good thing, because it can be used to kill players who have
gotten so many powerups that they are impossible to kill otherwise. This
is a matter of trying to solve the symptom instead of the problem that
brought it about - the player shouldn’t have been able to become so
that players of at least close to the same skill level
find him impossible to kill. Introducing a super-wowie-zowie powerup
to kill super-powerful players just makes it so that players who are dominant
because of skill are also easily whacked, in addition to giving easy kills
to whoever happens to be wielding the super powerup at the time.

Signs of Excellent Gameplay

A key sign of excellent gameplay is that it’s possible to have two players,
both of whom are capable of easily beating an average player, where one
of these players is still capable of easily beating the other. This
indicates that a truly broad range of skills can exist, and also that when
differences in skills exist, they affect the score.

This is not the only criteria however. Certainly there are levels and
levels of ability at Quake that become quite visible, at least in one on
one matches. This is an indication that Quake contains deep skills,
and that the masters know the shallow skills too, so that matches between
masters can still reflect deep skill to an extent.

Gameplay and Fun

An emphasis on deep skill may bring to mind the image of a game for
only the most hardcore gamers, going at it on a level few can even comprehend.
The truth is that a game with good gameplay is an excellent learning environment
for new players - there is a lack of shallow skills and randomness clouding
the core of the game. The reasons for losing can be directly witnessed
and understood by watching the combat moves of the player who defeats you.
Players are much less likely to yell “cheater!” or blame deaths
on luck, ping, or whatever.

Still, good gameplay is not for every player. Light gamers who primarily
appreciate things like massive explosions will not be interested by a game
focusing on deep skills. Immature players may want a game where a super-powerup
allows a marginally better player to dominate a player who could otherwise
be his near-match. Simulation fanatics will want realism. Other players
will want yet other things, or a mix.

As for me, I like to learn.

Map Design

Map design in the context of good gameplay is as large, important and
complex a topic as design of game behavior. Multiplayer
Map Design
is a second section of the Designer’s Guide, discussing
map design aimed at good gameplay.


Thanks for reading the Gameplay Guide. I hope you found it more useful
than incomprehensible.

Like anything on the web, the Gameplay Guide is perpetually a work in
progress. If you have something to add, or a question that you want to
ask, please feel free to email me.

Copyright 1997 Charles Kendrick, all rights reserved.

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