Trash My Map, Please!

Your Quake 3 map sucks. FInd out why and how to fix it.
By - Thrrrpptt!

Jaquays rains down brutal, unforgiving criticism on some poor soul. ...Okay, not really.
Some guy who fancied himself good with words once said that a good poem was never finished, only abandoned. The same can probably be said for first person shooter maps. From the armature first timer to the seasoned professional with a hit game under his belt, everybody's map sucks. Well, okay, not everybody's sucks, but there's always room for improvement. ...Some more than others.

It's not surprising, then, that the turnout for Paul Jaquay's "Trash My Map" seminar was pretty good. Paul asked for map submissions ahead of time, and got quite a few brave souls to respond. He took a selection of the submissions to use in the workshop, did a little research and note taking beforehand, and then booted them up in front of everyone to dispense his merciless critiques. Raven's Jim Hughes was along for the ride as well, offering comments as he saw fit (and a few times when he didn't).

There were a good variety of maps to be shown, including gothic deathmatch maps, floating fortresses, the ruins of a temple filled with nasty deathtraps, and a large scale outdoors maps using the new terrain technology. There was even a map that broke out from the pack and tried to create a realistic city block area.

There were numberous comments specific to the idiosyncrasies of each map, but a few themes emerged from the talk.

Watch the sharp angles
When you have a map that uses lots of sharp angles, you need to be particularly careful about places where players can get stuck. Something that looks fine from one angle can turn out to be a trap from which a player model can find no escape. To solve this problem, add invisible clipping brushes that prevent the player from actually getting wedged in.

It's also important to make good use of these brushes when you have architecture that pokes out of the map, like lights, door frames, and switches. These are easy for players to get stuck on. "A good tip," said Jaquays, "is to go through your map and brush yourself up against every wall." This will help you find those secret snags.

Variety is the Spice of Life (and Death)
Keep things varied in your map. You should avoid having large areas that are simple repititions of the same textures. If you have a large walkway, make it look more interesting by ripping up chunks of it and placing the holes along its length. This is also important to do on staircases.

You should also vary the profiles of your buildings and landscape by adjusting the heights of certain parts. Spires on buildings or peaks on mountain ranges keep things from looking too bland. Just try to keep it reasonable.

Jaquays and Hughes also stressed that proper use of lighting could be very effective in improving an otherwise boring area. Place your light sources strategically so that they cast dramatic shadows and reinforce architectural nuances.

Be Frugal
As any accomplished map maker will tell you, it pays to be stingy. Specifically, you have to watch your triangle counts and cut them down everywhere you can. These savings add up -- and a few dozen here, a few hundred there, and another hundred over there can mean the difference between smooth performance and framerates crashing through the floor.

In general, anything that's not seen in the regular course of play should be smoothed and flattened out. You must also constantly make tough choices between high polygon structures or models that "look cool", but don't have any purpose. Curved or round surfaces in particular seem to be a frequent pitfall for beginning (and sometimes advanced) mappers, as they can kill framerates.

Another tip for "pinching triangles" is to have modelers create low polygon models for simple objects instead of building them out of world geometry. Jaquays illustrated this point by showing how many polygons were used to create a simple barrel or an office desk in one of the maps. Most modelers, he said, could bust something simple like that out and save you a lot of trouble.

Don't Make Things Too Difficult
Yor'e l33t. You have sk1lz. You can rocket jump like a madman and plasma climb up walls like a spider. But just because you can, doesn't mean that other players want to go through such acrobatics to navigate your map.

One of the rules that id uses, according to Jaquays, is to never put any basic game items into places that require rocket jumping or other difficult manuvers. If you have a big powerup like a BFG or a kamakazi, then you might want to make them hard to get, but players shouldn't be expected to lose half their health just to get shotgun ammunition.

Another example of this principle is deathtraps. One map in the hot seat featured several tricky traps that would instantly kill players if they stumbled into them. Some were guarding powerups like the Quad, but others were just thrown in to be cruel. These kinds of things, according to Jaquays and Hughes, aren't really necessary and just add a level of frustration to the map that stifles gameplay.

There were other tips at the seminar, but those are the main themes. Everyone agreed that practice is the only sure way to improve, but that learning from others certainly helps. All of the victims who had their maps trashed said they appreciated the feedback, and several said they would come back next year with something better to show.

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