TF2 Map Design: Landmarks

Where’s the CP?Once the geometry was all built, I was anxious to test the map with real players.  I got ready to call some buddies of mine for an all night testfest when I realized… hey!  Even though I’ve been working on this map all week or so, none of my would be testers will know anything about it’s twists and turns.  They are pretty (NOT) forgiving so I slammed down the phone, fired up Hammer and dropped a little signage.  Both bases had the same texture so these location markers had to be huge and obvious.

In placing the signs all around, the obvious occurs to me.  This is what we as level designers are supposed to be doing throughout the entire process!  Maybe not always as blatant as the Capture Point there, but through textures, lighting, and geometry, information needs to be communicated to the player.  It seems like such a no-brainer, but is so often overlooked.  I have added a new goal to this project: Make sure each location can be described in 2-3 words.

Outside the CP When starting a new map for the first time, the first task is to find the way to make the killing (read FUN) start.  For players on Offense, it’s finding the exit… and for the defenders, the Flag/Capture Point.   This sparse room here will eventually be a bit darker, and have a ton of lanterns.  The spawn room there actually faces the back door for an immediate exit into the arena, while a quick turn goes directly to the flag room.  Heading more towards the front door of the base, players are treated with the contrast of the cold inner base a warmer toned forest.

Looking Outside      Arch      Forward Base?

Forests inspire adventure and the unknown, and are tall enough to be seen almost anywhere in the level.  At ground level, they provide a minimal amount of cover.  Stylistically, I loved the evergreens in Psychonauts and in keeping with classic look of TF2’s worlds these are made from very simple brushes and point towards the enemy base.  I believe this combined with the curve of the level will funnel players to where they need to go.  As cool as a lush forest would be, I found a good rule of thumb for this type of map is a new landmark every 7-10 seconds.  Between the bridge and the base entrance, I added an arch and near the bridge I added an unfinished shack.

In order to make the shack strategically important, an ammo and health pick up have been placed in obvious, but not easy to reach locations.  This makes sure players have to clear take a moment to collect them.  By placing them on boxes, it is harder for players to circle strafe and pick them up while in battle.  Lining up even an easy jump can build tension ever so nicely when the player has just crossed most of the level, taken damage, and is so near the enemy spawn point.  On the other end, if a spawned player dies this close to their base, they will want to inform their team an enemy is near… or even wait anxiously to spawn and get revenge.

Bridge and WaterfallAfter the shack comes the major landmark of Staredown… the Waterfall!  I love waterfalls because they have such a great combination of danger and majesty.  All that water gushing down shaping the land it falls upon, the roar in your ears that grows louder the closer you get.  That feeling of awesome when the Batmobile flies into the batcave, or the Last of the Mohicans jumps through and slays his enemies.  I mean, he totally shanked that guy right in the kidney!  I was all like “Whoa!! not righty!”  It’s been a while so I might be mixing up my movies, but that’s how it exists in my mind so I’m sticking with that.  So yeah… waterfalls are great.  Much like 2fort, the bridge area is a love letter to all those snipers out there.  There’s the partial cover of the water, the rocks, even a part when you can jump out from the waterfall, land on the bridge and maybe even shoot some n00b that didn’t notice. 

Behind the waterfallThe bridge itself was modified to be very rickety and dangerous.  It’s in the heart of sniper country, there’s very little room to dodge, and there aren’t even any guard rails!  However, it’s the perfect length for a Joust style battle.  Imagine, like in an old Kung Fu flick, two fresh soldiers line up at either end of the bridge.  The both break out the rockets.  Boom Boom Boom 3 shots and they’re getting close, each whips out a shot gun taking chunks of flesh out of each other with each shot…  They are close now, shotguns exhausted they switch to Melee combat!  Shovels clang and health is low, but the wiser of the two soldiers has a secret.  He’s saved one rocket for just this occasion.  Ignoring a shovel to face, he aims it at rickety bridge and quips “If god had wanted you to live… he would not have created me”.  Pulling the trigger he’s launched high into the air, laughing as his rival explodes in a shower of goo.

Stare Up?      2 Stage Ramp      Into the areana

Falling (rocket jumping?) off the bridge takes you down down down into the arena below.  The small amount of natural cover here goes a long way to make battles in this area feel frantic and provides exceptional opportunities for trapping the careless.  And what secrets could lie behind the waterfall?

From the Ramps to the Rickity Bridge, First Spawn to the final nail biting moment, I will not let you get lost.  Even when bullets are flying towards your vitals you’ll know how close you are to each pitstop along the way.  The gamepath is set, the landmarks are placed.  Lets do this thing!

 Next Up: Time to prove your friends you’re worth a damn

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