Map Design Guidelines

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Contents

Introduction

Making a map for World in Conflict can be a daunting task. Working with both cutting edge graphics and advanced game play is both difficult to manage and taxing on computer performance.

This guide is intended as a brief overview of some of the key elements behind making a World in Conflict map that is both feature complete and genuinely fun to play.

We will not cover the “how:s” of making a map here, but rather the “why:s”, there is extensive documentation on the World in Conflict mod-maker information site that covers, in detail, each aspect of map creation. Here we will instead look at a few of the most important design issues that we face when creating a map.


Summary

Here is a brief overview of the contents of this guide summed up into the most important lessons:

  • Try to base your map of an idea that can be summed up into a single word such as Hillside or Ruins. This will always cause great ideas to pop into your head and results in maps with a lot of character.
  • Start with designing the basics; get a pen and a piece of paper and draw the command points and the flow of your map. Find good symmetry and then begin to break it up to create interesting game play. Don't start building the map itself until you have a good base to stand on, its always easiest to make changes early in the process.
  • Use forests wisely – placing trees in small groups is confusing to players, it becomes hard to tell if they offer protection for infantry or not.
  • Design the map around your Deployment Zones; keep them free of objects and blocking terrain as this may cause units to become stuck and confuse players. Also make sure that a deployment zone cannot be rendered useless by bombarding it with Tactical Aids, a player should always be able to deploy units safely somewhere on the map.
  • Do not use to many different types of objects and houses; every object that is used once will call its own texture into the computers memory. Instead, try to use fewer objects many times in a smart fashion. This will improve the maps frame rate and loading times.


Planning your game play – the foundation of your map

Turning ideas into a fun play experience

The first major decision that we are faced with is “what is our map?”. Its always as a great idea to take the time to visual a cool and exciting scenario that fits into the idea of a dynamic Cold War environment. Most importantly; it has to be fun to blow up!

Find something that will define your map and begin to build around it. Even go so far as to think of a name that fits with your concept and suddenly game play ideas will start to appear almost as if by themselves. Here are examples of the design philosophies behind two of the original World in Conflict maps.

Example 1; The map “Hillside” featured in the World in Conflict single-player campaign and as a multi-player assault map took the idea of a having one team effectively attempting to climb a hill while the other team attempts to stop them. Building on that basic idea a town was added to make the map more complex in terms of game play as well as more visually appealing. However, great care was taken that the city itself not destroy the underlying image of climbing the hill because it is precisely this simple concept that defines the map.

Example 2; “Space Needle” is the exact opposite of “Hillside” in that instead of being designed around a specific game play idea it is based off real-world geography and an actual existing urban structure. Once the map was built the game play was tailor made to fit the specific topography of the cityscape. The downside to working in this fashion is that it takes a great deal of time and effort to both research accurately all the necessary details and to find a balanced and entertaining game play model that will fit the map.

Taking a look at these two examples it is easy to recommend community map makers to attempt the simpler, more game play driven style of design found in maps such as “Hillside”. There maps are by far easier to create, balance and to turn into enjoyable play experiences. The enormous amount of time required to complete maps like “Space Needle” makes them unsuitable for a single person to attempt.


Starting with the basics – Breaking down the game play

Once you have decided on the theme and character of your map the best way to proceed is to go to the very heart of the game play and attempt to visual the map at its most basic level. The key elements to this are the command points.

A reliable and often highly successful method of creating new maps, used by the WIC team ourselves, is to break the map down into a flow chart. Though this may sound complicated, it is in fact very simple.

Take a pen and paper (or any painting software) and draw a square to symbolize the outer limits of your map's play area. Draw simple circles to symbolize the command points and their attached perimeters and then straight lines to visual the path you intend a player to take to reach these command points. Doing this will quickly allow you to see how a game played on your map will likely unfold. Always remember to test how fun a map is before you begin to work on ground textures and precise prop placements, its always easier to make important changes to the map early in the process.

Image:Flowchart.JPG
Begin with a very simple flow chart that shows how you want your map to be played. Once you have a good base to stand on, start adding terrain features to the map.

The easiest form of map to design in this way is a purely mirrored one, this means that both teams get an equal number of command/ perimeter points that are closer to their deployment area than the deployment area of the opposing team. Adding a central command point that has an equal distance to both deployment zones is a common method of making such a map more exciting as it forces both factions into play as they fight to seize the central command point that will tip the balance. However if one team goes too heavily towards the center, they will leave their precious first command point vulnerable to attack.

It is usually a good idea to start with a mirrored game play model, but when you feel that it is solid and should make a good map it can be interesting to try breaking up the symmetry of the map. What if one faction has a close command point with 2 perimeters and the other team has one that is further away and harder to hold, but has 3 perimeters and gives a higher score towards domination if they are able to hold it? Asymmetrical game play models can create some incredibly cool maps, but beware - it can be hard to balance them correctly.

Once you have found a basic map-flow that you are satisfied with, begin to add terrain features to create interesting paths along the game-play lines on your flow chart. Plateaus, cliffs and water features can all add that element of asymmetry that will make your map just that little bit more kick ass. When designing these terrain features, begin to take into account the different roles in World in Conflict. It can be a very good idea to design a specific part of the map with infantry in mind using forests and smaller paths and another section with armor units in mind with open fields and hills that allow the great range of the tanks to be fully utilized. These two roles form the basis of game play and if the map works for both of them the air and support roles are practically guaranteed to work great as well.


Creating Forests - Game play and artistry

Forests are one of the most important parts of any World in Conflict map and they have a huge impact on how players will react to your map. This means that map-makers should approach forests with a great deal of care. Here are a few things that should always be taken into consideration:

  • The use of infantry on your map will be almost completely dictated by forests. Design the map accordingly; if you want your map to be dominated by infantry tactics then forests are a good tool. If you want your map to see more use of armor units, use forests sparingly and with careful afterthought.
  • Infantry players will always be looking for a forest to run into when enemy armor or air units approach, so it must be clear beyond any doubt where the trees are likely to offer protection or not. Its highly frustrating to rush to what looks like cover only to lose all your units for nothing.
  • Avoid placing trees too sparsely. The protection and stealth bonuses awarded by forests are calculated based on how close the stem of each tree is to another. If possible, place your forests as solid masses and strings that follow the terrain features in your height map. This looks better to the human eye watching the screen and it offers a more cohesive game play experience for infantry players. Think blocks, not spatter!

Image:Forest.JPG
Well-defined forest areas generate clear forest protection for Infantry units.

  • Always avoid having blocking terrain inside a forest. Infantry should always be able to move freely and it can be very confusing if a small area inside a forest is off-limits to the path finding AI
  • Remember that game play is always more important than visual effect where forests are concerned. Though in most cases its quite possible to achieve both, sometimes one has to change a great looking forest simply to make the map play better.
  • Placing a forest within firing range of a command point will ensure that Infantry players will be a force to be reckoned with in the match.
  • Avoid placing objects and houses inside forest areas.
  • Never forget that forests are a dynamic element in World in Conflict. Planning ahead and imagining an entirely new map once the forest has been devastated by Tactical Aids opens up an extremely subtle and advanced form of game play. A great touch is to have paths on your map that only infantry can use until a choice napalm strike opens them up for heavier units such as tanks.
  • And finally; use trees wisely! There is a limit to how many trees a map can contain before it starts to become too heavy.


Deployment Zones

Nothing will affect the way your map is played as much as the defining of the areas where units can be brought into battle, the deployment zones. There are numerous ways to make deployment zones that improve the overall experience and simply make your map more fun to play.

  • Create areas that are dedicated to unit deployment and keep these areas relatively clear of objects, houses, forest and impassable terrain. All of these things will generate holes in the deployment area and turn it into a veritable Swiss cheese making it very hard for players to choose where to deploy.
  • A clean deployment zone will help you avoid a great many potential issues with units getting stuck.
  • Test your deployment zones against the various Tactical Aids available in the game. If a nuke can cover the entire deployment zone of one team, you better believe that the other team will exploit this.
  • Avoid having a deployment zone that is too narrow, forcing players to all drop in a small clustered formation so that they can all get the into action as soon as possible. If you make it so that there is a small portion of the deployment area that is closer to the command points than the rest, the other team will quickly notice this and bombard that area, thus unbalancing the map.
  • You always strive towards having your deployment zones separated from the combat areas. The goal should be to have them free of Tactical Aids, or else the map will quickly turn into a spawn camp-fest and all the subtleties of the game play you have designed will be lost.
  • The more choices a player has for deploying units, the better the map is!


Props and Objects

Props are the bread and butter of your map, but even these should be placed with care. A veritable ton of game play issues can arise from careless placement of even the smallest object in the game world.


Avoiding the small issues

Most prop related issues that can affect a World in Conflict map are related to one of these three issues: Infantry entering and leaving buildings, Units being air-dropped with Tactical Aid and props placed in a deployment zone which can cause units to become stuck

In order to avoid having to rigorously test every building placed on your map its a good idea to have these basic principles in mind:

  • Leave some space behind and in front of buildings in order to allow infantry squads to enter and leave without getting stuck or spawning on a slope.
  • Avoid placing clusters of props in a deployment zone. If you do have a building or two where a faction can deploy units, try to keep them spaced out so that the heaviest units can move past them freely. Its always best to test this against a Heavy Tank as these units take up the most space and are the easiest to block by accident.
  • If you want to use many small objects to block tanks and heavy units, avoid doing this on the main route through your map and save it for a side objective as this can be very frustrating for Armor players.
  • Remember that larger props and terrain features will block the line of fire of units and have a heavy impact on game play. Use this accordingly to create traps for tanks and to offer protection for Anti-Air units and infantry.
  • Many buildings can be driven through once they are destroyed, planning for this from start can result in some very cool game play for tank players.
  • If you are going to create a crossing over a shallow body of water, indicate this area with ground painting and place small stones on either side. Alternatively, avoid placing such small stones unless it is a crossing, or it will confuse players.


Game performance and Texture Memory

A highly important aspect of map creation that should always be kept in mind is technical performance and frame rate. It's difficult to know the limits of how many objects, trees and textures can be used in a map before it starts to become too heavy and taxing on a computer.

The best way to measure the technical performance without having access to more advanced diagnostic tools is to simply pick an existing World in Conflict map and try to match your desired frame rate to that of the map in question.

Most technical issues with maps can be traced to the use of too many unique objects. Bear in mind that every time an object or building is placed on your map its texture will be called into the computers memory. An object that is used more than once will call the same texture, so you will gain performance by re-using the same objects in a smart fashion. Avoid objects and houses that are only used once, though certainly you can place one or two central pieces that define the map. It should look nice after all.

Abundant use of trees may also cause significant slowdowns, however its hard to directly measure the impact of forest placements. This calls for more testing in the game and comparing the overall performance to that of existing maps.

To view your frame rate in game create a shortcut to wic.exe and add -dev to the command line. This will allow you to access the command console inside the game with the § key. Typing “showfps 1” (without “”) will display the frame rate on screen.

Other Options To Measure Your Frame Rate

Another excellent method of measuring your frame rate is with a 3rd party application, such as Fraps. ( http://www.fraps.com/ )

The End

We hope that you have found this guide useful and that it has given you new ideas and insights into how you can create more awesome maps where hungry fans can wage war and rain destruction – after all, the most important thing is that everyone is having fun!

Best regards,

/The World in Conflict Team, through Michael Andersson


Finding Inspiration for Maps
A good reference point for those map-makers who wish to try out a highly realistic and complicated environment is software such as Google Earth or Microsoft's satellite image service Live Search Maps. There are also many organizations who keep archives of the Earth's topography in the the same height map format that World in Conflict uses, these can be a good starting point for a highly advanced map.

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