This article gives some suggestions on level design and item placement for 1vs1 multiplayer maps. It is intended for level designers who want to improve their maps for 1vs1 games, i.e., make them more balanced for this game type, improve the flow, make players use the whole map, etc. This article uses Quake 2 as an example, but most of it applies to the duel modes of other FPS games as well. Note that this guide focuses on 1vs1. While many tips also apply to deathmatch item placement, team-based game modes like CTF are different in some aspects. And, of course: these are just my personal ideas, I’m not saying this is the truth. It’s some suggestions, nothing more. Feel free to discuss them below.
This is part 1 of the article. It explains some basics and tells you what you want to avoid and achieve with good map design and item placement. Part 2 will talk a bit about each important item in Quake 2, and consider aspects of its placement. Enjoy.
When to first think about item placement
Most people plan their maps, i.e., they roughly think about a layout (and maybe a theme) before starting a level editor and actually starting to build a 1vs1 map.
You should start thinking about item placement rather early in the planning phase of your map, but there is no need to go into detail early. I suggest that while you plan the layout, you already think about 2 – 4 spots where to place the major items on your map.
Basic concepts — the up-player and down-player
The player who kills his opponent in a fight in 1vs1 often has an advantage for a short time frame (unless he barely survived and is extremely low on health). He has more weapons and ammo than his opponent, has the chance to score another spawn-kill very quickly, and maybe he got an important item that the players where fighting for, and thus has more health and / or armor than a freshly spawned player. The player who picked up an item also knows when exactly it was picked up, and may have an advantage timing the next spawn of the item (the down-player can often guess the time point though, or maybe he heard the pickup sound).
I will call the player with a current advantage the up-player, and the other one the down-player. These roles change very often and very quickly in Quake 1vs1, but understanding them is key to good 1vs1 map design.
The up-player usually plays offense: he can try to hunt the down-player for a quick kill or go where ever he wants (e.g., spawn point of next major item) on the shortest way possible, even if it is dangerous or in the open. The down-player is often forced to play defense: avoiding the up-player and exposed areas of the map, sneaking, waiting for an opportunity to hit the up-player off-guard or to grab an important item without being caught.
Giving the down-player the opportunity for a come-back is one of the most important goals of 1vs1 map design. Some games and mods have introduced game mechanics that try to make it easier for the down-player to come back, e.g., via item properties. An example is the CPM mod for Quake 3, where a player with lots of armor cannot grab the weaker armors anymore.
Major item combinations
The major items are the ones that players fight for, and the ones they try to time perfectly.
These major items often are 1 combat armor (CA, yellow, +50 a), 1 mega health (MH, +100 h) and 1 body armor (BA, red, +100 a). Note: I am using the Quake 2 item names here, it would be yellow armor and red armor for Quake 3.
With the CA-MH-BA combination, you will often find the CA and MH rather close together, while the BA is far from them (especially from MH).
Some maps use 1 MH and 2 CAs instead. Other combinations are less frequent, but of course possible.
In some games, certain powerful weapons could also be considered major items. An example is the railgun in Quake 2, which is very powerful on open maps.
Major item placement
When thinking about placement of the major items, keep the up-player and down-player in mind. The up-player will try to stay up and use his advantage to secure the most powerful items, often BA and MH. Do not make this too easy, i.e., do not place them too close to each other.
Also be sure to add an area for the down-player to your map. It often contains a CA and an at least o.k. weapon, and should be impossible to control from the location of the BA. This area must NOT be a dead-end, it should have at least two ways out of it. If all major items are visible and/or can be controlled from one point in the map, you will get very imbalanced gameplay.
It is also advisable to place an important weapon the up-player wants away from the most powerful items (often the RG in Quake 2) to force him to give up control from time to time. Be careful with the placement of ammo for that weapon as well, of course.
What to avoid with item placement
- Too many major items on the map. This is a problem for beginners only, who tend to place too many items on the map. It is easy to fix. Example: A map with 4 rooms of similar size, 3 of which contain a BA and 1 contains a MH. This is bad because it leads to:
- random gameplay: Players randomly run through the map, game play is not focused around a few the item locations.
- limited tactical options: there are so many items that nobody remembers which spawned when, so item timing is not possible or relevant anymore.
- easy pickups during fights: players can stock up on armor and health during the fight too easily
- Too few major items on the map. This is rather uncommon and easy to fix, but in the extreme case (like many rooms, 1 of which contains a BA), it leads to the problems mentioned for the next, more common problem, so go read those:
- Too many powerful items in one spot. An example would be that the location of the BA also gives you full control over the MH. I’ve seen similar problems on some maps. They lead to some serious problems, including:
- total domination of the up-player: If you place BA and MH very close to each other, and the railgun or rocket launcher closeby, the up-player can control all of it at once and will stay up all the time. This leads to a situation where the first player to get a kill wins the whole map.
- camping: Why would the up-player ever leave the place?
- Major items in boring spots. This is a big lost chance for great gameplay on your map! Major items spawns draw both players to the same location at the same time, so a lot of the fighting will happen close to them. Placing a major item on the ground in the middle of a large room is a terrible idea, and what it leads to is obvious and rather common:
- boring gameplay: Fights on a large plane, with no cover or chances to outsmart your opponent. No chance to get an advantage from good movement, timing, anything. Think of cowboys in a Western. Fights like this are about nothing but aim (and Quake is not a rifle simulator). But what is even worse:
- disadvantage for the down player: such fights in the open are almost always won by the up-player: one of the cowboys has a better gun and bulletproof vest. The down-player needs some cover or way to escape. And taking a powerful item should put the one who gets it at a risk! The player who does NOT get the item should have the chance to deal damage to his opponent during pickup in return.
This is the core of competitive maps imo: powerful items draw players towards them, and they create a risk during pickup.
That’s nice, but rather vague. So what exactly makes a great location for a major item? A hard question, but we are lucky: there already are great maps out there.
Let’s have a look at some examples and extract knowledge from them! I will do exactly that in the 2nd part of this article.