Level Design 101/Match and Capture the Flag

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  Level Design 101 [view]

General informationVisual designSingle PlayerEnemy placementMatch and Capture the FlagCircuitNiGHTS

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Match stages are arenas for players to fight each other. They should include 32 Match Starts, plenty of rings, several power-up monitors and weapon rings. To facilitate combat without confusing the player, the layout should typically consist of several distinct and easy to recognize areas that are connected with each other. Capture the Flag stages are generally symmetrical stages used for team play. They should include 32 Match Starts, and 16 of each team start. There should also be a red team and blue team base, with a corresponding red and blue flag.

General

  • Monitors should be used liberally. Super Ring boxes should be common throughout your level, and you should have around 2–4 Weak Random Monitors (WRMs) and 1–2 Strong Random Monitors (SRMs). Do not put a Random Monitor in place of a SRM. It does not weight the powerups and will cause exceptionally common Recyclers and Teleporters, which disrupt gameplay dramatically. Note that the Recycler is on the WRM's respawn table, so increasing the WRMs on the map will make the Recycler more common. Most of the official maps have only one SRM; only place a second one if your map is very large or has a lot of space to place items. Frequently the SRM will end up as one of the focus points of the map, so make sure it's far away from other powerful items like the Scatter and Explosion weapon tiles. Finally, to help the player distinguish the monitors, both the WRMs and SRMs should have a base item that is characteristic for that monitor, such as Super Sneakers for the WRM and a shield for the SRM. It's generally pretty obvious after a few rounds which is which, but the extra aid is generally nice.
  • Emerald spawn points should be placed in large quantities throughout the map. Seven emeralds spawn are not nearly enough, since the spawning should be randomized. The game recognizes up to 64 spawn points, and generally all of these should be used. Placing them in alcoves and corners is fun, but don't overdo it or nobody will ever find the emeralds. Remember that emerald spawn points aren't something that are going to be frequently used specifically, so don't place them in areas that are particularly hard to reach. Also, don't place them in areas that not every character can reach.
  • Place rings throughout your map. Be careful not to place too few or too many. Too few and nobody can fire, too many and nobody will ever run out. Remember that players will be using this stock of rings to fire everything from Automatic to Rail, if you add a lot of rings people will gravitate towards weapons like Automatic, and vice versa. Be sure to place Super Ring boxes throughout your map as well. Not only do they aid in the ring count, they also prevent someone with the Attraction Shield from taking every ring on the map easily.

Weapons

Weapons are an essential part of Match and Capture the Flag stages. When placing weapon tiles and ammo, there are a few things that are important to know:

  • Place all six weapons onto the stage. While in older versions of SRB2 using all the weapons was a death knell, the new system really doesn't work nearly as well without access to every weapon.
  • Place every weapon tile only once, or twice in CTF. Though it is possible to create a balanced map with more than one weapon tile per weapon, this is very hard to balance correctly and should be avoided unless you know what you're doing. Especially in small maps, too many weapon tiles will result in a weapon overload, while having more tiles for one weapon that for another will increase the usage of that weapon significantly, which can break balance. In CTF, you should have one weapon tile for each half of the map, although putting powerful weapons only once in the centerpiece allows you to make them rare.
  • Spread the weapon tiles across the entire map. If the player wants all six weapons, they should have to enter almost every room in the map. Generally you should place 1 or 2 ammo pickups next to the weapon pickup itself, as well. Make sure to spread ammo pickups throughout the entire map so the player has a chance to use their weapons, but make sure there isn't so much ammo that the player never has to worry about running out.
  • Weapon tile locations should be memorable. It is important for players to remember where each weapon is located, so they can actively decide to take detours to collect it or not. Supplying visual cues to important item spots help the players memorize the layout of a stage. Likewise, it is a good idea to make different sections of a map look fairly distinct from each other, so that players can tell where they are just from looking at their surroundings.
  • Make sure to test your weapon layout. Many of the stages in SRB2 itself had the weapon locations completely altered because the initial locations simply didn't work out at all when the level was actually played in multiplayer. Weapon balance in the new match is a very complicated and delicate process, and fine-tuning is necessary to get it right. Don't short-change your map by just throwing the weapons in and not testing it.
  • Different weapons have different requirements for placement. Some weapons are stronger than others or easily spammed, and some weapons require ammo or lots of rings to be effective. In general it's a good idea to abide by the following guidelines for each weapon:
    • Automatic requires a lot of rings to be effective. It's generally a good idea to place a large cache of rings somewhere on the map (generally somewhat away from the Auto spawn) so the player can actually use Automatic effectively. Multiple Super Ring boxes work well for this, but you can also have a long line of rings like the one in the stream in Thunder Citadel Zone. Also, Automatic is the weapon ring most restricted by ammo, because even with 40 shots per pickup it's quite easy to run out. Make sure to place Automatic ammo pickups throughout the map so the player has a chance to restock without going back to the weapon tile pickup.
    • Bounce is good in small, cramped areas. As it's quite weak elsewhere, it's generally a good idea to place the tile in an area where it would be mildly effective. Bounce is probably the weakest weapon ring of the set, but if your level has a lot of walls or pillars, be prepared for it to be quite strong. If Bounce is exceptionally strong in your level, it is suggested to restrict the amount of ammo you provide so players cannot excessively spam it. Otherwise you will generally find this to be a very safe weapon to place in any map.
    • Explosion is a very strong weapon that players should be happy to obtain. As such, make sure you don't put too much ammo for it in the stage or players can just spam it constantly. Often it's a good idea to place Explosion on the opposite side of the map as Scatter since they're the most popular weapons, although this is not really necessary. Also, note that the more open your map is, the less effective Explosion will be.
    • Grenade is not very useful for direct combat but good for laying traps in cramped or highly frequented areas. It is no longer as powerful as it was in v2.0, where maps often only had a single Grenade ammo pickup, but it still should be placed with care. If you provide too much Grenade ammo, the best tactic for players will be to spam grenades all over the level and rack up points as other players run into them. In SRB2's official levels, Grenade is typically the rarest type of ammo pickup.
    • Rail is the classic example of a weapon that is the best in theory but in practice isn't quite as godlike as you'd expect. Rail works best in large, open areas but isn't completely terrible otherwise. Rail requires little ammo to be effective, so don't provide too many ammo pickups for it or it'll feel like you have infinite ammo. You may want to provide slightly more ammo in an open map because people are more likely to use it, but that's more up to the level designer.
    • Scatter is a powerful close-range weapon and is desired by the majority of the people playing. As such, make sure it's placed on the opposite side of the map from other desirable items to make the player use the full map. Scatter ammo pickups give quite a bit of ammo, so be careful with providing too many of them. Note that Scatter is much better in cramped areas, like Explosion and Bounce, but it also works great as suppression fire down long hallways.

Match

  • Strike a balance between complexity and easy navigation. While it is up to the mapper how complex or big a stage should be, it is important to find a middle way. A Match stage should include enough different sections to hold all the items, and they should be fairly intertwined with each other. Especially when using a layout with clearly separate rooms, it is important to make sure that it's fairly easy to reach every section of the map from any point fairly quickly, to make sure there are many encounters between players. However, don't make the layout too complex or players will get lost.
  • Make sure there is cover for the player to use. Having places for the player to duck into when there is too much fire is essential to match. However, make sure not to overdo it, or you risk breaking the flow that is so important to Sonic.
  • The stage should be balanced. Don't have too much stuff on one side of the map and nothing interesting on the other. Everyone will just stay on the interesting side of the map with all the items. Spread out your terrain and make sure you have items spread out.
  • Don't overuse death pits. A stage themed around death pits is usually bad for a Match map, especially if there's difficult platforming. Remember, there is often lag in netgames, and they have a tendency to make difficult platforming result in cheap deaths. Simple platforming and hazards are perfectly fine, though.
  • Don't make your map symmetrical. Symmetrical maps simply do not work in Match because of the necessity of placing 6 weapon tiles in distinct areas so the player can always go find the weapon they want. If the map is symmetrical you'll either end up with multiple weapon tiles providing an excess, or the player will have to guess which weapon is in which spot.

Capture the Flag

  • Symmetry is king. While it's possible to make a CTF map that isn't symmetrical, even if it is balanced correctly, players will always feel like it isn't. Having a perfectly symmetrical stage assures that players won't feel like they're losing because the map is unfair. Generally symmetry around the central point in the map is best, but line symmetry between the bases is also fine.
  • Make sure there are multiple paths between the bases. This way, the person running the flag can try to get around the other team. A good idea is to have a fast main path and a slower alternate path. For instance, in Lime Forest Zone, the player can run straight across the central area, or take the slower underwater path. Giving the player choices to make is always a good idea.
  • Make sure the flags and bases are easily accessible. The player shouldn't have to make difficult jumps or other challenges to get the flag. The opposing team should be the challenge, not the stage.
  • Make sure the bases are defensible. It's no fun if the other team is camping the flag and there's no way to get them out. Make sure the bases are possible to defend, with choke points and plenty of team rings.
  • Make damaging sectors have the flag return sector type. Otherwise, the flag will stay in the area. However, since players can't pick it up with temporary invincibility, it will most likely stay there until it respawns. Such a situation is highly annoying.
  • Making the main path straightforward is a good idea. It makes the stage very easy to navigate. Players shouldn't ever have to get confused on where they are going to get to the bases.
  • Make sure to use the team rings liberally in the bases. It's highly important to allow a team to defend their base to have lots of them readily accessible. It's also helpful for allowing players who die and respawn to have easy access to a lot of rings.
  Level Design 101 [view]

General informationVisual designSingle PlayerEnemy placementMatch and Capture the FlagCircuitNiGHTS