Tips & Tricks: Making CTF Maps
Making levels for multiplayer maps is like a completely different world than single player maps, which is what I learned this past week when designing a CTF (capture the flag) map for my level design class. The level, which will be featured in a later post, was the the first multiplayer map I have done, and since I am new to making multiplayer levels, I decided to start with something fairly simple: a CTF game. I have had the concept for the level in my head for a while, but multiplayer levels aren’t exactly my forte, considering I like to focus on environmental details. However, I believe I found the right match between aesthetics and making the game fun for more than one person. Keep reading to read some of my tips and tricks on making CTF maps!
Before You Build
To start making a multiplayer map, it is extremely important to do pre-production. Since multiplayer maps need to be balanced, it’s a good idea to draw out a rough sketch and figure out what will go on each side. Sketching everything out and writing little notes will help a lot in the long run. It’s also a good idea to write out a description of the level, especially if you aren’t the best artist or just don’t really like to draw. A description of the level will help you remember what all you need to put in it, and a quick list of what assets are on each side will make balancing the teams easier. If you are using an editor with preset meshes or are limited to specific models to use for your level, you will definitely need to make note of them.
Back to Basics Bases
For my CTF map, I only had two teams, red and blue, so I only wanted to bases, one for each. I already sketched out where the bases would be and had a general idea of what I wanted each base to look like. The first thing I did for the level was build the basic areas, so that the top-down view looked similar to my sketch. This way, you’ve laid out the main parts of the level and can then go in and add details later. Then you’ll want to focus on one base at a time. I started with the more difficult base, which featured a lot of fancy architecture and water elements, but it is up to you how to start, although it doesn’t really matter. Once you have the basics of the base set up, i.e. a general structure, you can then move onto the other base before adding details. While I myself do not always follow this, it is usually better to get the basics down before adding details to the level.
Make It Pretty
After the general structure of the level is completed, it’s then time to go in and add details. This is where your meshes or models come in, so don’t stress too much. Since the level is going to be multiplayer, the aesthetics are not nearly as important as they would be in a single player map. Don’t skimp too much on the details, though, because the details can create flow in your level, something you definitely want to have. At the same time, you have to remember that most players are not going to be looking around a whole lot when playing, so there’s no need to add crazy details. Lighting also plays a key role here, since it gives the game its atmosphere, so I tend to apply a bit more focus on it when building a level.
Multiplayer maps often only have a single path between bases, especially CTF maps, but it’s a good idea to expand the number of paths and even include hidden paths. This makes the game more difficult, as well as more fun to play since players can never be sure of where their opponents might come from. Hidden paths can make things more interesting, but if all the players know where they are, which they most likely will after awhile, it will cease to be a hidden path and just become another path. My level was very straightforward and only featured one path between the two bases, so it probably would have been in my better interest to include more paths. However, I actually included a hidden path without realizing it: players can jump off the stage and literally walk on top of the water below, and shoot up at opposing players.
The Fun Factor
Game play is the key element in any game, so making your level or game fun is critical; no one wants to play a level if it is uninteresting. Multiplayer maps are a great way to draw in a lot of players, but if the level isn’t very exciting or gets old easily, it probably won’t last very long. I admit my map may be fun for a while, but since it is so simple and has a straight path between bases, it will most likely become too repetitive. This is something you obviously want to avoid, although it can certainly be difficult. As a designer, it is solely up to you to make a level that will remain fun to play. If you need help with ideas on how to solve this issue, think of the most popular multiplayer levels for games such as Modern Warfare 2, Halo 3, Team Fortress 2, etc.
Making a multiplayer level is all about balancing. Not only do you want to make sure that each team has an evenly dispersed number of players, but also that the bases are equal in both accessibility and any items or weapons that are there. Giving one base or team the upper hand will result in a loss of players, as no one will want to be on the lesser team. Your goal is to make it so that players will want to play on either team, and will not be swayed to a specific one because an inability to balance properly. Balancing is up to the designer, but a simple way of doing it, at least for the first few levels you make, is to make both bases fairly identical. This is a good way to start and get used to balancing before moving on to more complicated levels.
Stick To The Goal
The last tip I have for making CTF maps is to simply stick to the goal. In other words, don’t make the game so complicated that players won’t be able to tell what their goal is. You want to make the goal clear, which can be done with a short announcement, on-screen text, or even a cut-scene. Risk vs reward comes into play even in multiplayer levels, so don’t forget to challenge players while still rewarding them. CTF maps are a great example of this because you get to kill your opponents and gain points for capturing their flag, all while cooperating with your teammates and using the best strategy to best your opponents. I personally love playing CTF maps because the game play is usually pretty simple but almost always fun, something to keep in mind when designing levels for CTF games.