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Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 10 months ago

Attractive Mapping


People want nice maps. And by nice they mean two things. They want maps that play nice (gameplay) and maps that feel nice (aesthetics). Preferably both at the same time. Since gameplay mapping is an entirely separate topic this article will focus on map aesthetics.


What do players look for in a map?


People feel atmosphere. Since games are limited to only two senses, hearing and sight, that is what you must work with.

If they’re supposed to be playing in a nuclear powerplant they want radioactive glowing liquids, danger-zones of radiation that damage players and structures to go along with a sounding radioactive leak alarm, they want to see that well known symbol on occasion.

If they’re playing in a base which was overrun by the aliens they want to see the blood splatters from the previous battle, permanent bulletmarks on the wall in spots where intensive fighting took place, leaking pipes to signify damage.

People also feel emotions through these means. They can feel fear, when they are in a weak position, or power when they occupy a chokepoint. Relief that they are in area where the chasing opponent can’t follow.


But these are practical concerns and are as much about the setting as about atmosphere. Any and all mappers know about setting. It’s what you base your map theme off.

The trick is to create different atmospheres inside that theme. We will combine both previous examples and discuss an overrun nuclear powerplant to give you an idea. But first an explanation of the things to create this.


Tools of the trade

As previously mentioned gamers can only hear and see. Taste, sense and smell are not an option. As such a mapper only has to focus on those two.



Sound is although the hardest to create the easiest to implement once you have the sound file.

Now you can distinguish several different categories in sound.

The first one is location. Global or local. Global is mainly used in setting the theme, local in setting the atmosphere. Global for example might be the radioactive leak alarm. While local might be the fizzing of a leaking gas pipe.

The second one is time.

Sounds can continuously loop, maybe a gust of wind passing through the cracks of the facility. But they can also be triggered, like an alarm. The combination of these two is the toggled sound. Where a loop is turned on/off by repeatedly activating a trigger.

Often these are combined with interesting architecture (alarm on hitting the nuclear core, which has no effect) or gameplay (sound of radioactive liquid which damages everything gushing through an otherwise empty and usable canal). These are usually for creating atmosphere.



The visuals are far more expansive. They include effects, lights, fog, shape, textures, shaders, brush properties (liquids for example), models and empty spaces. Do note that although I won’t state it everytime all of them contribute to both theme and atmosphere.


‘Empty spaces?’

‘Empty spaces?’ I hear you think. Yes emptiness plays as much a role as anything that is there. Some rooms need to be empty to convey their meaning. An empty hangar signifying withdrawal or a demolished room. In the same way you might want to make a storage room full of crates to signify its purpose. These also have an affect on gameplay. Tyrants might be more or less powerful depending on how you set up that storage room. But also on feeling. An alien doesn’t like an open space where he can’t hide. Vents fall under this category as well. They are hiding spots for humans against anything larger than at least a marauder. For clarity’s sake people. If a dragoon can fit you shouldn’t call it a vent anymore. A marauder is a choice.



You can color lights, make them spotlights and set their intensities. This is for the simple lights. You can even make flashing lights to go alongside alarms. But there is another distinguishing feature. Lights determine the vision people have. Creating spotlights and so limiting the light distribution might worry a human. He can’t see as well into the dark spots without radar and has to guess alien presence there. But remember that most players use higher gamma settings. This atmosphere tool isn’t perfect then. So besides giving a nice contrast between light and dark you still need some spots for players to hide. This can be done in two ways. Structural, with objects to hide behind. And



Fog is wonderful, it effectively counters high gamma settings since its view range is independent from the brightness of the light. Using the correct fog in a basement is an ideal way of confusing long range human snipers. But can also be used to safeguard smaller aliens’ travel across large open rooms while not giving the same advantage to larger aliens.

As such it also creates the fear of surprise for humans again.

But its effect on atmosphere is also that of sinister particles around a liquid or vent. Make it have a Geiger counter sound with it for humans to signify radioactive dust for example.



Models can surpass brushwork in complexity. These are often used for artwork because modelling programs are easier to make complicated shapes in. Nothing much special about them except for the fact that only a model can be passed through. It needs a similar shaped hull to calculate collisions. Models used can be barrels, airplanes, rifles, anything.



Like models, but only with brushwork. Most maps consist mostly of shapegiving brushes. They are also obstructing objects. And maybe if you make it so they have holes in it see through. You can do a lot with them.



How the brushes and models look. If you add effects to them you get



Shaders can have additional properties. They can deform, emit light, have moving textures, be partly transparent or semi-opaque. Too much to state, but they are often used in making lights and highlighting art or creating transparent textures fore gameplay reasons.


Brush Properties

Liquids like water, lava and slime. Ladders, -clips, doors. Although not all have a visual component I gather them all under this header. They often have a much larger effect on gameplay then the other ones.



Creating the theme

The theme is easy enough. Anybody can imagine something about a nuclear powerplant. The symbol can be put on radioactive waste barrels. A glass-contained reactor with green glowing liquid. But people expect a complete facility, not merely some recognizable parts. If you wish to leave out certain parts which people know should be there at least give a reason for why they aren’t accessible. Show a closed or obstructed door. Also many people wonder why almost every offworld map, (which is about every map) doesn’t have any beds or other facilities we know humans have to use. Add them in. They add to the feeling of fighting in a place that matters instead of a place created for playing.


Adding atmosphere

Atmosphere is local. Things like barrels are recognizable but they could be placed almost anywhere on the map. Atmosphere refers to areas with the same feeling. Fear for humans (heavy fog), or maybe for aliens (open spaces). A bubbling reactor room sound adds atmosphere to the theme. An alarm that goes off if an alien trespasses a certain area. Triggering a button activates or switches routes. You can do a lot with the tools, so much it is hard to describe in general.



I’ll list some major examples.

  • Thermal
    • Uses a warning message to warn for the oncoming quake.
    • The quake itself
    • Weapon rack full of human weapons.
  • Ancient Remains
    • Grass which only fades on the short distance.
    • Nature based so no technical based textures.
  • Pulse
    • Outside area used to and hopefully will again damage players due to sunburn.
    • Bedrooms
    • Elevators
    • Reactor
    • Toggle able door
    • Security Cameras
    • Direction signs to point players in the right direction.
    • Damaged architecture in spots.
  • Karith
    • Skybox fits theme of playable outside area.
  • Powergrid
    • Light fog in alien base area. Too light to be useful but gives atmosphere none the less.
  • Meep
    • Teleporter
    • Actual extraction facilities mentioned in title clearly present.
    • Human area albeit infested by humans.
    • Train waiting to take extracted material away.
  • Metro
    • It looks like a subway station, it sounds like a subway station. Take a look at this to see a well done map concerning theme and atmosphere.

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