Mapping Tutorials
Important aspects of Level Design (JudgeXYZ)


Structure is the organisational basis behind the way rooms are formed and arranged. First we need to be clear about what a room is. Here's a definition.

"A room is an empty space surrounded by walls whose only entrance or exit is through a door."

That means you can't walk out of (or into) a room without opening a door first. Also, you can't enter one room without leaving another room at the same time. And finally, any two rooms you can travel between are always next to each other.

Now that we're clear on what a room is we can get specific about the way rooms are formed and arranged.

Rooms are formed using these fundamental constructs:

a) the square (an empty space shaped like a square),
b) the rectangle (like the square but longer in one direction),
c) the corner (leads into two different directions),
d) the T-junction (leads into three different directions) and
e) the intersection (leads into four different directions).

Every room you see in a Wolf3d level is built out of those constructs. The size of those constructs depends on how many cells you use to build them. For example, the smallest square is built out of a one cell, the next smallest square is built out of four cells and the next smallest square after that is built out of nine cells. Alot of the rooms in Wolf3d levels are built out of a single construct. The first six rooms in E1L1, for example, are built out of single constructs (the square, the rectangle and the T-junction).

Usually rooms in Wolf3d levels are designed with symmetry in mind (see the ghost level - E3L10). Sometimes rooms are designed with an identity in mind (see the swastika maze - E6F3).

Rooms in Wolf3d levels are often arranged depending on the objectives of the mission. For example, it may be necessary for the player to obtain a key before gaining access to the main elevator room. In that case there must be a single door which leads the player to the main elevator room, but which cannot be opened without the key.

In some cases rooms are arranged around a main central room. This is clearly demonstrated in E2L1 where all rooms (except the secret rooms and the elevator room) are connected to the massive central room.

Many other interesting (and bizarre) arrangements are possible. In E6L10 (secret floor) the rooms are grouped into four quadrants, which were designed as if individual levels by two different authors. In E6F3 (the swastika maze) the rooms are packed together a continuous pattern.

Well that pretty much covers the design aspect of structure in Wolf3d levels. Hopefully the reader has gained a better understanding of how structure is used to create good Wolf3d levels. Perhaps then the reader may be serious enough to study the levels alone. Look at the levels you like and ask the question, "Why to I like this level?". Find the answers.

Audibility dictates how guards should react when the player makes a noise in another area. For example, you can fill two different rooms with the same floor code so that when you're killing guards in one room the guards in the other room are alerted to your presence. If guards are deaf then floor codes have no effect.

Since there are no situations in which you would want more than one type of floor code in a single room, the only question we need to ask is, "When do two different rooms use the same floor code?". Once we have answered that question our floor code settings are taken care of.

Firstly, it shouldn't be surprising that we would use different floor codes for rooms which are a far distance apart. Only when rooms are near each other (or next to each other) would they possibly use identical floor codes.

Secondly, some surfaces block sound more than others do. Wood, for example, blocks sound much less than brick does. Therefore we should make the behaviour of sound between rooms more realistic by taking these surfaces into account.

So when do two different rooms use the same floor code? Two rooms share the same floor code when the walls between them do not block the transfer of sound.

Here a wall is a four-sided solid block, which takes up the space of a single cell. You will never see two walls side-by-side with clashing textures in a well-designed Wolf3d level. Often the level designer will have to use doors to hide these clashes. The only time you will see clashing textures in a well-designed Wolf3d level is when the level designer has decided not to use doors to cover them up. In these instances the level designer must ensure that the clashes are made perpendicular to each other; i.e., that the walls whose textures clash are made corner-to-corner and not side-by-side.

The other side of texture selection is concerned with interior design. The most interesting levels often use various types of textures like wood, stone and brick. Signed walls (walls with pictures and messages on them) are also used to add variety to a level. These are all artistic considerations.

Looking at many of the levels in original Wolfenstein I see alot of symmetry in the way the geometry is laid out. Human beings love symmetry. To the human brain symmetry is beautiful because it's easy to visualise. You know when you say a lady is easy on the eyes? In the same way we say symmetry is easy on the mind.

We shall employ a method of achieving symmetry in our map geometry. The simplest symmetrical model that can be designed in Wolfenstein is the plain rectangular room. The rectangular room is symmetrical along four different lines. They are the horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines which pass through the center. We are going to use the rectangular model as the basic framework on which we design all other rooms. That's step one.

STEP 1: Make a rectangular room.

The rest is just adding on to that framework without destroying the symmetry of the room. To do so one must mirror every addition about each of the four lines of symmetry. For example, if I put a column at the top of the room, I should put a column at the bottom as well. If I put a floor lamp in the upper left corner of the room, I should put three in each of the remaining corners. That's step two.

STEP 2: Make incremental changes to the room while maintaining symmetry.

You will probably want to make a compromise by not mirroring all your additions over all four lines of symmetry. That can be an effective way of adding character to a room and avoiding a boring level. That's step three.

STEP 3: Add more to the room without creating all four symmetrical reflections.

Good levels have enough ammunition and health for the player to be able to work with. If there are too many guards to kill and not enough ammo or health to kill them with then the player will most likely not enjoy the level (probably because he/she ends up losing). That makes my first rule.

RULE 1: Supply ammunition and health appropriately for the difficulty of the level.

Ammunition and health items should be grouped into clusters of items which can be easily obtained all in one go. The same applies for treasure items. It is undesirable to have small amounts of ammunition scattered few and far between in a large room. That makes my second rule.

RULE 2: Group ammunition, health and treasure in clusters.

Keys are heavily guarded rare items usually penetrating deep inside a dungeon or labrinth. Keys often appear at dead ends in long chains of rooms and door ways. That makes the third rule.

RULE 3: Place keys in well-defended areas which take time and effort to reach.

Finally, items found in secret areas have little reward when those items are in abundant supply already. That's the last rule I have.

RULE 4: Make secret areas worth looking for by rewarding the player with items not already supplied outside the area.


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