Competitive Level Design Guide
by Joel "wviperw" McDonald
Table Of Contents
Layout Design Theory
- Getting Started
- Decision Time
- Drawing Up a Layout
- Testing Time
- Tournament Mode
- Device #1 - Levels
- Device #2 - Items
- Layout Types
- Single Atrium
- Duel Atrium
- Tri Atrium
Level Design Considerations
- Grenade Launcher
- Rocket Launcher
- Lightning Gun
- Plasma Gun
- In-Game Sounds
- World Dangers
- Vertical Transport
This guide will attempt to clarify the seemingly mysterious methods,
rules, and design techniques one should take into account when
attempting to create a competitive level. Specifically, the guide will
focus on the aspects of mapping for the Challenge ProMode
mod for Quake III Arena. I know, you're probably wondering why you
would need this guide when you've already got all those other great
articles around. But this particular guide will be a sort of
culmination of previous knowledge�taking in all past information and
conglomerating it into one single comprehensive article. Hopefully this
will make it much easier for the beginning mapper to create quality
competitive maps without having to take ages to learn all the aspects
of creating them. The guide is to be used as a sort of reference book.
Although reading it one time through is okay, it is best to treat it as
if it were a kind of manual. You don't usually read manuals straight
through, but instead keep them handy for looking up various things at
This guide is for anyone who has ever thought about, is presently
considering, or is thinking about creating a serious playing tourney
map for Quake3. While not a guarantee, the guide will set you in the
right step forward to get your maps play time on actual servers. Even
if you are just wanting to create a fun non-competitive tourney map,
the guide will still be of use.
Before I get started I would just like to thank all of the guys over at the Promode Forums for putting up with all the testing of my maps and for actually showing me most of this stuff.
- Getting Started
- Decision Time
Before you even start your map, you should decide exactly what you are
wanting to do with the map. This is A Good Thing(tm) to do for any map
you do, not just tourney. So you need to decide if you really
want to do a competitive tourney map, or if you'd rather just do a
"fun" tourney map. What's the difference? Well, the biggest visible
difference occurs in the layout/item placement area. But there are also
hidden differences one can only see during the design/creation stage.
This is because the mind set that you need for one type of map verses
the other is completely different. So in doing a "serious" tourney map,
the whole design process is going to be different from a "fun" tourney
map. You will have to constantly test the map with players who know
what they are doing, and you will also have to make every decision
based on how it will affect the gameplay of your map. "Fun" tourney
maps, on the other hand, usually will have a decent layout, but on
average, will not have enough depth or complexity to quench the thirsts
of the more serious players. These type of maps will also usually focus
as much attention on the looks part of it as the gameplay part of the
- Drawing Up a Layout
So now that you have correctly chosen the path of the Enlightened
(making a competitive tourney map of course!), you will need to design
a layout for the map. This step is the single most important part to
the map, so much care and thought is needed in the process of the
design stage One thing to caution in designing your layout is careless
randomness. Although starting out with a "kewl room" and "going with
the flow" to create your level might seem like the right thing to do at
the time, in the long run it will most likely cripple your map. This is
because, unless you're an expert at this stuff, making rooms as you go
results in a layout which usually doesn't work very well and lacks the
depth and strategy needed in a tourney map. Instead, you should intelligently
come up with a design either on paper or in your head. You don't need
to necessarily come up with every little detail of the level, but at
least get a rough layout of the map going. In the alpha and beta stages
you will most likely end up making many small changes to the layout so
you don't need to be worrying too much about the first few layout
Here is an example of a rough sketch I did for my level wvwq3dm3.
[See Pt. III of this guide for more details on designing your layout.]
- Testing Time
This next part is also quite crucial to the design of your map. Once
you get that killer layout drawn out, churn out a simple little alpha
map for some players to get a hold of. In this first alpha map, you
want to get all of that basic layout that you thought/drew out and
apply it to 3D brush form. Don't worry about any texturing, detailing,
or lighting in this first version. You just want to get the basic
"skeleton" worked out. This includes one of the hardest parts for many
mappers�getting the scale right. So the main purpose of these earlier
map testing projects is for getting a feel of what works and what
doesn't. To do this, you'll probably want to enlist the help of a clan
or some players from one of the forums I have linked above.
If the general consensus of the testers is that the map's layout
doesn't have what it takes, suck it in and scrap the map. After all,
that's why you're doing an alpha�to see if the layout works. Often,
even if the layout isn't all that great to start with, enough changes
to it in the early stages of design can improve the gameplay
A sample shot from the alpha of my level wvwq3dm6:
- Layout Design Theory
This section is going to attempt to go into detail on some of the
design theory behind creating good layouts. I will first make some
simple definitions in an attempt to give the mapper a clear view on
what exactly it is that he is mapping for. I will then go into more
detail, describing the different aspects of a good layout. However,
this section will not try to give you a quick "easy-as-1-2-3" way to
making great maps. Instead, when you understand the basic fundamentals,
you will be able to apply what you know to an actual map. Just remember
that experience is the best teacher though. You can know all the
fundamentals in the world, but experience will still take you that
extra step and make it that much easier to create your maps.
- Tournament Mode
[also called: tourney, 1-on-1, DM, match play]
A type of play, specifically in the FPS genre of games, in which two
and only two players oppose one another with the single goal of
"scoring" more "points" than their opponent. They must do this by
killing their opponent more often than they themselves are killed.
- Basic: In its simplest
form, players would "float" in an empty 2D space with absolutely no
interferences or boundaries. Also, players would be completely balanced
in that there would be only one single method (weapon) to "score" on
their opponent by. One hit would kill, and there would be nothing to
pick up. Players would reappear after being scored upon exactly as they
- Complex: Quake 3 has added many things
to complicate this process though, and in this case, complicating
things is a good thing to do. Roaming around an empty space with no
items would get awfully boring after about three seconds. There are two
main "devices" which Quake3 utilizes to create a fun and strategic
experience for Tourney Mode�3D Levels and Items.
- Device #1 - Levels
The function of the level is to create a continually interesting
playing field for the players. Without any items at all, a level
already presents several new strategies for the players. All of these
strategies in and of themselves give the players sufficient reason to
traverse the level, if only to gain the tactical edge.
- Higher Ground - Players on higher ground (a higher ledge or floor) have several advantages over the lower player.
(1) Higher weapon utility
- weapons "work" better because your line of sight opens up more and
because you may use the floor as a backstop for any splash damage
(2) More freedom of movement - Players at higher levels have more choices since they can simply drop down to any lower level they wish.
- Players may take cover more easily by using the floor/walkway that
their feet are on as cover simply by moving back out of sight from the
- Multiple Routes - Players can now make
intelligent decisions as to which routes they will and will not take.
This allow for much more strategy since it will make the players have
to predict which route their opponent has taken at any given moment. It
also allows for new gameplay opportunities such as ambushes and route
- Cover - Level architecture provides important coverage of players so they are not in the line-of-sight of their enemies all the time.
- Distinct Geographic Features -
Levels provide players with useful information as to where they are in
location to their opponent and to the rest of the level. This allows
the player to create a mental map of the level in his head.
- Device #2 - Items
- Control - This
is one of the most important functions/aspects of an item set. Players
must now relocate from their starting position to the locations of
different important items in order to gain an upper hand on his
opponent. He may do so either by gaining a better weapon, gaining more
life (in the form of health or armor), or a combination of the two.
With this, the idea of control is introduced. Players must now
find the best way to be able to gain all the items needed to gain the
upper hand while still fighting off his opponent.
- Higher Ground - As stated in the Level
category, weapons further the desire of players to attain a higher
position than their adversaries. This is due in part to the increased
line of sight, therefore making their weapons more effective. It is
also due to the way splash damage weapons work. Since they explode on
contact with any surface, it is naturally easier to hit someone from
above since the radius of possibly damaging them is greatly increased
with the induction of the floor.
- Ceiling Splash Damage - Splash damage
weapons also introduce the possibility for ceiling splash damage. This
is often a way for the mapper to give as much or more power to the
lower level players. The mapper must make sure to have the upper floor
ceilings low enough for this to be effective if he wishes to implement
- Sound Cues - Due to Quake 3 having
assigned sounds with the pickup of items, players can now predict where
their opponents are based on the sounds of items they hear. This leads
to all sorts of new strategies for players to take advantage of. They
now have reason to bypass a certain item due to it possibly giving away
you probably remember from the definitions section, this is one of the
aspects that a level may introduce to increase the playability and
strategy of the map. The intelligent mapper must take advantage of the
3D space allotted to him by creating multiple tiers/levels to further
the gameplay of his map. With proper verticality, the gameplay will be
greatly diversified and interesting.
So how do you create good verticality in your map? (as
opposed to bad verticality) Well, besides the obvious point of adding
more levels to it, there are also specific ways you can create
interesting play. Here is one way:
first design, the mapper has foolishly decided to put all three levels
directly on top of each other. (Silly mapper!) Thus, the only possibly
way of adding visible connections between the levels will have to be
through the use of holes made in the floor. The second picture shows a
better way to layout your tiers. In this method, the mapper offsets the
different levels so players can have much more contact with players on
other levels than their own.
perfectly balanced map would ultimately be pretty boring to play. See
the link above for a very good explanation of what too much balance can
do for a map. On the other hand, a completely unbalanced map
can also make for boring play in that the first player to gain control
will keep control easily. The ideal is a map in which there is enough
unbalance to make it interesting yet not so much as to make it
overwhelmingly controllable. DM4 is one of the more unbalanced maps you
will find, yet it is also one of the most popular precisely for that
-Symmetry - Please, do not make your levels
completely symmetric. This effectively halves the gameplay of the level
since there is now only half of the level which is unique. The only
reason q3tourney2 can get away with being symmetrical is because it has
an asymmetric item placement. Even then, q3tourney2's gameplay is
severely limited because of its symmetry.
a map needs to have a circular flow on the macro level. Not necessarily
resembling a circle, but a flow in which the player doesn't have to
turn around and do a 180 all the time but instead can just run around
the map in loops. Flow is very closely related to the layout of a map,
so you'll want to see that section for more info.
-Dead Ends - Generally, dead ends are a very, very
bad thing. :) They abrupt the flow and slow down the gameplay. But
every so often the mapper can in fact use a dead end to house an
important item. DM4's MH deadend is probably the best example of this.
The player has to risk being trapped in the deadend in order to gain an
upper hand on his opponent by gaining the MH.
is a word often used to describe a well-playing level. People often say
"That level has good connectivity." The word actually describes how
well players are allowed to flow throughout the map from one section to
another. The more paths/openings a level has, the more connective it
will probably be. It is always good to have a somewhat high
connectivity because this gives the player options on where to go,
resulting in increased strategy. Just be careful not to make too many
passages from one area to another, otherwise it turns into Swiss Cheese
and loses the effectiveness of the layout.
Achieving proper connectivity often can be a difficult
thing to do for many mappers. Often maps suffer from what I call
"room-hall-room" syndrome. This is where the player can easily tell one
section of a map from another due to there being strict and distinct
passages from one area to another, thus creating poor chokepoints and
bad gameplay. Instead, the mapper should attempt to create a
continuously flowing map where rooms flow into other rooms. Maybe an
illustration will help:
can see, the first pic is simply a room connected to another via a
simple stairway. Not only does this create a very bad choke point, but
it also creates bad connectivity. The second pic shows another possible
way, which would provide much more connectivity. There are now 3
possible routes from the lower level to the upper level. One route via
jumppad takes you to an even higher level (3), the second route uses a
teleporter, and the third route use the stairs method.
aspect of the layout is often one of the hardest to nail down for many
mappers. One must strike a balance between too large/open and too
small/tight. One thing that helps is to look at some other good maps
and get a feel for the scale used in them. You could even use the
-bsp2map function of bspc to create a pseudo test map to check out the
maps scale and quantify it. For example, with my map wvwq3dm5, I
de-compiled CPM1A since I was wanting my map to be similar to it in
scale. I then measured the distances between different floors, measured
the width of walkways, and measured the distance of various jumps.
Also, another important thing which the mapper needs to get right is
the "chunkiness" of the architecture. Paper thin walls don't do well
for gameplay or for aesthetics.
Here are some specs to help you out (none of these are "official", just what I have observed):
- CPM1,3 type = 128 units wide. 192 units is also common, and if you're
doing major hallways/walkways you will need even larger.
-Distance between Levels/Floors - Average seems to be about 256 units.
-Atrium Size - 1024 units for smaller/tighter maps
-Wall Thickness - 64 units
- Layout Types
the years, there have been a number of basic layout types that have
worked. Just by looking at the major successful 1v1 maps you can
already start to categorize them into various groups. Here are some of
the most common layouts that have worked:
Note: These are just here for guidance. Don't think
for a minute that you HAVE to follow these layouts. Feel free to
experiment and find what is best.
- Single Atrium
[hub3aeroq3, q2dm1, q1dm4, cpm7]
type of layout consists of only one main area with smaller sub-areas
usually surrounding the main atrium. Since there is only one atrium,
there's often four or more separate levels to the map. Flow usually
ends up being somewhat circular on the outside of the main area with
players inextricably pouring into the middle for the main fights. Play
is usually very fast with mid-ranged hide-and-seek type play from
multiple levels in the main atrium. On the "outside loop" the play
usually results in quick up close and personal skirmishes. Item
placement usually consists of the armors on opposite sides of the outer
loop, and a major item such as Mega Health in the central atrium.
- Duel Atrium
[cpm1a, cpm3, hub3tourney1 (cpm12), ik3dm2]
The seemingly undisputed champion of recent Quake 3 maps. This layout
consists of two separate atriums (large rooms) which are connected "at
the hip" There are usually at least three distinct tiers (levels) to
each atrium with hallways/passages winding all about the two atriums
going from tier to tier via stairways, jumppads, or teleporters. As far
as item placement goes, you'll often find an RL and an armor of some
kind in each atrium. This item placement works here because the pair of
RL's and pair of armors correspond to the 2 players who are dueling in
the map. Duel-Atrium style often results in there being a player in
each atrium for half the time, and then the other half of the time will
be brief medium distance fighting. It also can create "armor running"
in which a player traverses from one atrium to the other to grab both
armors and remain in control of the map. A duel-atrium map will usually
result in a figure-8 style of flow, therefore keeping players on the go
all the time.
- Tri Atrium
[ospdm4 (mrcq3t6), pro-q3dm6]
layout often leads to the most strategic and complex, albeit slower
games. Although the gameplay can't really be compared to that of the
duel-atrium style, one could still say its basically a duel-atrium map
with a third room tacked on. This third atrium may be either larger or
smaller than the other two. Since there is a bigger footprint with this
style, there are often only two or three floors at any one point in the
level. Players will now not see each other quite as often as in other
styles of layouts, and when they do, it will more likely be at longer
distances. Item placement can be similar to the duel-atrium style with
an armor in the two equal sized atriums. The third atrium, depending on
its size will usually serve as either the main fighting forum, or as a
regrouping area for down players.
of the best ways to develop a layout is to look at current map layouts
that work. This section will specifically analyze three different maps,
one from each of the categories above.
This map's layout, originally developed by Preacher, is probably one of
the best examples of the fast play a single-atrium map induces. The map
has a total of 4 floors for players to traverse on. As you can see in
the following illustration, the lowest section/floor is in the center
of the map. It then gradually increases in height as the players make a
complete circle around the center atrium. The 2 teleporters in the
center bottom create good opportunity for the player to get to both the
mid and top levels. This results in players being seen only
sporadically in the central atrium at different ledges and also jumping
down into the teleporters and vanishing from the wide open. The
teleporter on the left hand side however, is the key one. The area
surrounding the GA teleporter is often subject to a number of heated
battles due to the fact that the teleporter takes you from the bottom
of the map to the top very quickly. Not only that, but it also give the
player quick access to the railgun up top. As far as item placement
goes, the second pic shows how the red and yellow armors have been
places separate at opposite ends of the outer loop. Also, the
Megahealth's placement in the middle creates many interesting fights in
which players can come from any number of areas and angles by simply
dropping down. Lastly, the Green Armor area, with its important
teleporter, functions as a regrouping area for down or newly respawned
-Here is a key control point for the up player. The area in red
represents where the player can be to have access to all of these
areas. The blue lines represent top level routes and Lines Of Sight
(LOS) which the players have immediate access to. The green lines
represent drop down routes and LOS's which the player also has access
to. Not only does the player have access to all of these, but he also
can guard the important RG teleporter, and more importantly the MH
area. One disadvantage of this area is that the player can't directly
defend the RA area, therefore leaving his opponent open to grab the RA.
One of the most popular CPM maps ever, and my personal favorite, this
map sports a nifty duel-atrium style which works very well. Three major
floors make up the map (although you can't see that from the pic
below). What you can see, however, is the general flow of the map. The
two atriums are connected diagonally with the hallways wrapping around
in between. The single set of reciprocal teleporters are very important
to the map due to the fact that players can venture from the bottom to
the top very quickly. This results in many great fights because the top
level players who are in the hallway section can keep track of both
teleporters at once, therefore maintaining control. But if the up
player decides to get either Yellow Armor, he has to give up his
position of control for a moment, therefore allowing the down player to
regain control. There are also the 2 jumppads that are shown in the pic
which allow for vertical mobility. These are not used as often, but may
allow players to sneak up on their opponents or launch surprise
attacks. In the second pic, you can see how the author has decided to
separate the armors at opposite ends of the map, in separate atriums,
and at separate levels. This makes it harder to run the armors for the
up player, but instead makes the player have to work for it.
next pic shows one of the key control areas to the map. The red area is
where the player will often be. Here, he will have access to the YA to
the left, and the 2 25h's behind him. On the upper level, the player
has 3 options to take. These are again represented by the blue lines.
The green lines once again represent the LOS areas which the player may
keep track of their opponents. With the railgun, this upper player is
in one of the best positions due to the multiple routes and multiple
LOS's he has access to. Not to mention the teleporter LOS. Probably the
only big disadvantage to this position is the difficulty it is getting
out of it. The player has to either turn around and go down the
dangerous hallway with their opponent potentially waiting for them, or
he has to jump into the wide open atrium to get to any of the other
areas (blue & green lines). This leaves him open to any kind of
attacks that his opponent might launch on him.
final pic shows another key control area for the player. Once again
there are 3 good upper level escape routes/LOS's (blue lines) and 3
good lower level escape routes/LOS's (green lines). The player also has
a LOS's to the full set of reciprocal teleporters, meaning he can fully
control them, therefore keeping the player on the bottom level better.
For items, the player has access to the mid-level YA and either 50h.
But to do this, he must make the dangerous wide open jump across,
opening himself up to attacks once again.
This map, being the favorite id map of many players for competitive
play, is one of the few tri-atrium tourney maps that work. Even though
the q3dm6 layout is very large and spread out, the map shrinks
immensely when learned and due to the speeds which players can get to
in the map. The pic below shows the relative sizes of the 3 atriums. As
you can see, the middle one is the largest and the two outside ones are
slightly smaller and elongated. The flow is very circular, taking the
players from one atrium to the next in sequence. Most passages
eventually lead to the center however, therefore creating the most
action in this central atrium. With the addition of the bottom-to-top
level jumppad in the center and also the MH, this makes for some very
interesting action. Due to the extreme verticality in the center of the
map, many long range hide-and=seek fights occur with the railgun/rocket
launcher. In the side atriums however, fights usually will be more
horizontal with long LOS's therefore once again making the railgun an
important asset. This is why the railgun has been intelligently placed
at the end of a somewhat dangerous pathway. Players must either travel
along the pathway, or make a dangerous jump from the RL platform. In
the second pic below (the gray one), you'll notice that the armors have
been placed for maximum separation between each other. This is to
prevent easy armor-running by the up player. The MH's position is much
like that of HUB3AEROQ3 in that it has been placed in the bottom
middle, making it a dangerous item to grab.
-Here is one of the primary control points of the map. When the player
is anywhere in the red-zone, he has two top level routes/LOS's (blue
lines), two mid-level routes/LOS's (green lines), and 2 bottom level
routes/LOS's (yellow line). This allows the player to guard all entry
points to the MH, therefore allowing him to grab the MH himself. It
also allows the player to escape via any number of routes if in
conflict. One disadvantage is the jumppad right ahead of the player.
This can allow for his opponent to get right in his face very quickly,
possibly allowing his opponent to regain control.
- Item Placement
the last section, it was mentioned that items are one of the devices
used to complicate gameplay. This section will further go into how to
place items in your level�when to put something in, when not to, where
to put it, etc. There, of course, isn't any set rules for this kind of
thing, but there's plenty of useful previous knowledge which may be
applied to your current maps.
start with the most important items of course! Without weapons, play
would get boring extremely fast. With Quake 3, id decided to try and
balance the weapons as much as possible. Why you ask? Because if any
one weapon completely ruled everything else, players would end up only
going for that weapon and once they got it, would be able to easily
control the map. (see BFG) And on the opposite end of the spectrum, if
any one weapon was weaker than everything else by a large margin
(besides your spawn weapon), there would be no point in having it. What
unfortunately ended up happening though was that the hitscan (mainly
the railgun and machine gun) weapons began to rule play. This resulted
in gameplay which relied on pure aiming skill as opposed to the skill
of the player as a whole. Since then, Promode has fixed this problem
with a number of weapon tweaks to the weapons. So now, in Promode the
weapons are balanced a little bit better with the RL, LG, and RG being
the "terrific three" of the lot.
So where does that leave the mapper? Well, with the weapon
set being like it is, the mapper doesn't get many choices. Currently,
pretty much 99% of the competitive tourney maps have the following
weapons: SG, GL, RL, LG. The RG is also in most maps, but every once in
awhile it is excluded. The PG is in every once in awhile it seems,
depending on the map. BFG almost never (although that might change with
the new CPM changes to it) So there is not really that much question as
to WHAT weapons you should put in your map (with the exception of the
PG and RG), now just a question of WHERE you should put them.
- Shotgun (SG)
- Utility - The
shotgun is a frequently understated weapon which used in the right
hands can deal some heavy blows. It is most often useful to the down
player because it is a step up from the MG and gives the player
something to use until he gets a major weapon. The weapon's
effectiveness is directly proportional to the type of map it is�tighter
maps mean it is more powerful, larger, more open maps mean it is less
effective. Plan accordingly.
- Placement - I've noticed that in most maps
the SG is placed in a somewhat well frequented area, yet off to the
side and not the center of the attention. Also, if you are wanting the
down player to be able to grab it quick, make sure there are a few
respawns close by.
- Amount - Usually 1. Sometimes 2 depending on the map.
- Ammo - To
give down players even more of an edge, one may include an ammo pack
right next to the weapon. Other than that, the SG doesn't usually need
all that ammo around the level, if any at all because the players don't
often use the SG enough to warrant the need. If you do put ammo in, 1
pack should be enough.
- Grenade Launcher (GL)
- Utility - Another
overlooked weapon, the GL can also be useful to the down player. In
close combat, a direct �nade to the face can cripple a player's
opponent. The weapon may also be used in conjunction with other weapons
to confuse the player into either stepping onto a grenade or walking
into the line of fire of another weapon. Third, grenades can be very
useful to block off different areas temporarily or to spam lower levels
when you know the player is below. Overall, the GL adds a lot of depth
to a level. It provides for more interesting fights (although it can
slow down play sometimes), therefore it is almost always good to have a
- Placement - Two schools of thought on this:
Place it high and encourage spamming, or place it low to discourage
spamming. Both are actually valid techniques, but it really depends on
the map and what the mapper is wanting to do with it. Just know the
consequences of the placement ahead of time.
- Amount - Almost always one.
- Ammo - Really
doesn't need any usually. However, if it's a rather large level or you
are wanting to produce spamming, then include a pack of ammo.
- Rocket Launcher (RL)
- Utility - Ah,
the mighty Rocket Launcher! With Promode's changes to its velocity and
damage, it is now the major weapon to have. Its vast possibilities for
use is one of the reasons why it is so popular. Players can use it in
close battles to bounce their opponents around, mid-range battles by
predicting where their opponent is going to be and usually hitting them
with splash damage via walls or ceilings, and long range to protect
certain doorways or spam various areas. It also, of course, allows the
player much more vertical mobility with the rocket jump.
- Placement - Most often, the RL will end up
being not only a highly used weapon, but also a spamming weapon.
Because of this, it is usually good to place any RL's in the map in the
more frequented areas. Place them in central locations making the
player expose himself to get it. If you decide to have two RL's in your
map (which is usually a good idea) you will most likely want to spread
them apart in opposite atriums and likely on different floors.
- Amount - 1 or 2. It seems as if more and
more maps are sporting 2 RL's as this allows for more rocket spamming
and lets each player grab an RL, making it a somewhat standard weapon
- Ammo - If you are wanting to encourage
spamming, you'll want a few ammo packs in your map also. With 2 RL's,
not as many packs are needed, but it might work to put an ammo pack
next to one of the RL's (CPM1A does this). This makes the one RL more
important to control than the other. Overall, 2 or 3 ammo packs is
usually good for the RL.
- Lightning Gun (LG)
- Utility - Provides
excellent short to mid-range offensive capabilities. Due to its fast
(somewhat) hitscan nature, it is often used in combos or to finish off
the opponent. The weapon is usually the most effective in smaller
single or duel atrium style maps where long range battles don't come
into play as much.
- Placement - From what I've noticed on maps,
the weapon is usually placed in a "sub-area" or side room off the main
area. This area is frequented every so often, although not continually.
So why does this type of location usually work for the LG? I think its
because the LG is more of a specialized weapon, and something that
needs to be sought after to get. Its usually in a side area because
this creates just enough danger (but not too much danger) to allow the
players to grab the weapon, yet still make for interesting battles over
- Amount - Definitely only 1 is needed.
- Ammo - Usually,
the mapper wants to make the ammo somewhat scarce in order to limit the
weapon somewhat. Sometimes there is an ammo pack a hop, skip, and a
step away to allow the player a little more long lasting flavor with
the weapon. Only do this if you don't think the LG is powerful enough
as is, and needs a bit of extra ammo to keep up with the other weapons.
Otherwise, just place 2 or 3 ammo packs around the map in order to make
the player have to move around to stay loaded.
- Railgun (RG)
- Utility - Covers
the long-range combat aspect quite well. Also may be used in combos to
finish off enemies. Acts as a great spawn-raper in Promode
unfortunately (or fortunately depending on who you are) Can be
over-powering in more open maps, so its inclusion is not always a good
- Placement - By default, the RG is a very
dangerous weapon. Therefore it needs to be in a somewhat dangerous
location. Either place it in the open, making players have to expose
themselves, or place it in a dangerous area like a small dead-end or
2-door area. For example, CPM1A's RG placement is perfect because it
makes the player very susceptible to an attack from his opponent, and
initially renders the weapon not as effective since it is on the lowest
level. Careful when thinking about putting it at a top level, as this
might encourage sniping.
- Amount - If you do decide to include the railgun, never include more than one.
- Ammo - Almost always none. Every once in awhile 1 pack which is dangerous to grab.
- Plasma Gun (PG)
- Utility - This
weapon does decent to good in every area of combat (short to long
range), yet it doesn't excel in any. This may be the reason why it is
often left out�another weapon can do its job. At close range, the PG
can eat away at a players health faster than any other weapon. At
medium to long range, the weapon usually serves as more of a defensive
weapon through the use of spam. It also is the anti-railgun as it can
confuse the player with the RG when his opponent is shooting a bunch of
projectiles at him.
- Placement - May usually be placed in a
similar manner to the LG. Often it serves as more of a down player
weapon, so it may also be placed in an easy to get spot, yet out of the
way. Over the years I've noticed that the PG being near RA works well
for some reason... probably having to do with not putting any "major"
weapon (LG/RG/RL) near RA thus making the area overly powerful.
- Amount - No more than 1 if any.
- Ammo - Usually
only 1 or 2 packs. If you are wanting more spamming with the PG, for
example if the RG is becoming too dominant, give the player more ammo.
inclusion of a BFG in a map has historically reduced all strategy into
a simple "Whoever has the BFG wins" type gameplay. However, in the
Promode world, with the recent updates, the BFG can finally be
considered in making your map since it now acts more like Painkiller's
stake gun (a fast, no-splash rocket).
I know, I've already gone over this in the weapons section. But here are just a few general rules to follow:
Don't place ammo by its respective weapon. Instead, you should place
the ammo a little ways away to make the players traverse the map more.
- 3 ammo packs for any single weapon should be the limit. More often than not, 1 or 2 ammo packs will be plenty.
It is usually a good idea to group different types of ammo into groups
of 2 or more. This focuses on one area instead of 2 to remember, which
makes for both simpler gameplay and better reason to visit the one
Not usually a huge issue in item placement, yet health placement still has some certain guidelines to follow:
150-250h is usually the range of health per level (not including +5h's)
Larger levels require a bit more usually. Also, the amount greatly
depends on whether you want players to have access to more health and
less armor, or vice versa. For example, CPM1A gives the players a total
of 225h which is quite a lot for such a small level. This shifts the
focus over to the armors more though.
- If there is a Megahealth in the level, less health is needed.
Put health into different types of groups to diversify gameplay.
Usually, you'll want to limit it to just a few main areas in the level
to group health in. Don't spread the health out too evenly, otherwise
gameplay will dull since players will be picking up health every where
they go. Place the larger groups of health in more dangerous and fought
over areas, and place smaller amounts of health in "down" areas. Just
don't make it a kamikaze run for the down player to heal up.
- 2x25h vs. 50h - With a 50h in there, players can deny
their opponents health easier. With 2x25h, if the player has >75h,
he can only take one of the 25h's, therefore leaving the other one for
his opponent. Therefore, if in testing, the up player is denying the
down player health too often by picking up the 50h's, change them to
is one of the most important items to control in a level, so much care
is needed in adding armor to your level. The armor you choose and its
placement in the level can dramatically affect your level's gameplay:
such as the importance of different areas, the paths players will take,
and the balance and controllability of the map.
A few guidelines regarding the placement of armors:
- Spread the armor out as much as possible. You don't want players to be able to run the armors too easily.
The danger in grabbing an armor should match its respective armor.
Meaning the RA should be more dangerous to get than the YA and the YA
should be more dangerous to get than the GA (Green Armor). Note:
"dangerous" doesn't necessarily include world dangers like lava or the
void. The danger can also be in relation to the other player. For
example, if an armor is out in the open on a bottom floor, the player
must expose himself to possible attacks from a number of angles.
- There should be interesting architecture and sufficient
verticality surrounding most armor locations. This is because the area
of the armors will most likely be fought in the most, so the players
need different angles and levels to attack from.
- One thing that has been successful in the past is to put
an armor (specifically the RA) in an easily camp-able/defendable spot
such as the RA+MH in Q1DM2. What this will do is give the down player a
chance to control the armor even with limited weaponry due to the
chokepoints going to the armor. If done right, this results in some
very interesting fights for control of the major armor. Note that the
rule above about interesting space should be more important than ever
if you are to use this method.
- The GA often serves as an armor for the down player, so
place it accordingly. Often the GA will be placed in a regrouping area
out of the way.
- Treat the MH as a kind of armor. It usually has slightly higher precedence than the YA, but not quite as high as the RA.
There are quite a few combinations of armors one can have in a level. Here are a few of them:
- 2 YA (MH) - Often
ends up in players armor running the map all the time. Usually more
fast-paced but often results in an unbalanced map when one player is
able to run the armors. An MH is useful in making for better games
since it gives for the down player a chance to get back up.
- 1 RA, 1 YA (MH) - Similar to the 2
YA system. The map usually must support this set by being unbalanced in
relation to the RA and YA. No third armor makes it hard for the down
player to get back up if both the RA and YA have been taken. The
addition of the MH makes play more interesting since it will often up
RA vs. MH+YA.
- 1 RA, 2 YA (MH) - Better player
will often end up with RA + YA by running armors. If the map can
somehow allow for RA vs. 2 YA fights, it will be better. An MH will
further mix up things, making the inevitable armor runs not as
- 1 RA, 1 YA, 1 GA (MH) - Balances
out the map more because the down player can grab the GA+YA against the
up RA player, therefore making the RA weaker. With the MH thrown in,
the down player can now attack the RA player and possibly gain the
- 1 YA, X GA (MH) - With 1 GA, this
system becomes similar to the 1 RA, 1 YA system except the MH will
become more important. With 2 GA's, it is similar to the 1 RA, 2 YA
system, except once again armor isn't as important as health.
items (quad, enviro, regen, invis, haste, flight, medkit, and personal
tele) absolutely have NO place in a competitive tourney map. Why you
ask? Powerups don't belong in a level because they are all based on a
certain amount of time that they are effective. Because of this,
whenever a player has a powerup, his opponent simply can run and hide
until the powerup is gone, therefore slowing up the game immensely. The
medkit isn't good because its annoying to have your opponent use it
right as you're about to kill him. The Personal Teleporter isn't good
because it makes the game too gimmicky�you'd never know if your
opponent is about to disappear.
These items are often overlooked and just randomly placed in areas, but they can actually serve some quite useful purposes.
Level Design Considerations
They provide important sound cues as to where the opponent is. Because
of this, it is always good to put shards/+5h's in varying numbered
groups. If the mapper does this, a player can know where his opponent
is based on whether he hears 3 shards or 4 shards being picked up.
Groups almost always range from 2-5 shards/+5h's.
- Shards/+5h's can also make certain areas more powerful
than others. The classic example is q3tourney2 in which the 10 shards
in the main room make that room much more valuable to control (as far
as armor goes) than the other YA room.
- Important to the down player. A down player in CPM can
pick up a single shard after he respawns and therefore be alive even
after a RG hit.
This section will focus on the other aspects of level design besides
gameplay. These aspects, however unrelated they may seem to be, will
still be directly or indirectly related to the gameplay of the map.
topic is often misunderstood by many mappers. Many mappers love the
kind of architecture that makes the map more "pretty" while the players
want the kind of architecture that makes the map more interesting to
play in. Often times, mappers have the false idea that players want
completely empty rooms with "padded walls" when in fact the opposite is
true. Now, when I say architecture, I'm talking about any
brushwork that the player can interact with or move around which will
result in more interesting play. Well placed architecture can provide
players with a number of things such as cover, higher ground,
lines-of-sight, and trickjumps. Here are some ideas to help you when
- Cover - A simple pole or obstruction in
the middle of the room (such as in q3tourney2) can make an area a whole
lot more fun to play in. Players hide and seek around the obstruction
taking quick shots at one another. Castle-wall type structures (also
could be bars in a window) also provide an interesting dynamic to the
gameplay of a map. As players walk by, they are exposed every so often
because they are not behind a structure.
- Higher Ground - Simple deviance in elevations can
greatly change the way an area plays. A few stairs here and there to
change the height of one area over another make for better fights in
general. Just be careful not to make your floors too "bumpy", otherwise
players will get annoyed at not being able to aim correctly.
- NOTE - One thing to watch out for when doing
your level is low overhangs such as doorways. Its not usually good to
be speeding through the level only to run your head into a doorway
that's 16 units too low.
- Lines-of-Sight - Fully detailed levels can
provide for more interesting play if they can give the players better
angles in which to attack from. For example, an L-shaped hallway with
completely flat walls will not be as fun as if the hallway's halls were
riveted and the corners were rounded off a bit .If this were to happen,
when players are at opposite ends of the L-shaped hallway, the
architecture would allow them to fight better by shooting through the
rivets or bouncing grenades off the angled walls. Here is a pic in case
you didn't catch what I was saying:
top drawing shows the flat-walled cornered hallway. The only option the
players have is move forward into sight in order to fight their
opponents. The second drawing however, shows the more detailed walled,
angled cornered hallway. The green represents the "riveting" in the
wall which can be shot through at certain angles/heights. Players now
have more angles to shoot their opponents from without giving away
cover, and also may bounce grenades off the angled walls or use splash
damage more effectively.
- Trickjumps - One of the best things that the
mapper can unknowingly do when adding architecture is to give the
players more options by trickjumping. More will be said about this
later on in the guide, but for now, know that well placed architecture will
inevitably spawn trickjumps. For example, any small changes in height
such as stairs will automatically allow the players to double-jump off
them (in CPM of course!). Any ramped brushes such as trims will also
allow the players to reach areas they couldn't before hand. For this
reason, adding ramped trims to the sides of stairways can often be a
way to introduce more trickjumps.
related to architecture, clipping is often overused in levels. Its
really not all to hard to know when to clip. Here is the key thing to
The clipping of a level should match the visual
means that if it looks like a player should be able to get caught on a
light fixture, don't clip it off! If it looks like a player can get up
on top of a roof, don't block it off! So when do you use clip brushes?
- Clip bumpy floors to smooth them out. Players never
like it when they can't aim due to being constantly jumbled around
while running along.
- Use angled clips to smooth out certain details jutting out from walls. Just be careful not to use it too extensively.
Just a few notes about the aesthetics of a map. First of all, many mappers have a misconception that players care nothing
for the aesthetics of a map when in fact they do. They like a good
looking map just as much as the rest of us. But the crucial difference
is that they care for the gameplay of that map a lot more than its
looks. Also, when developing the aesthetic of the map, make sure to
test it out in different configs to make sure it works. For example, a
higher picmip setting on some textures could potentially wash out any
distinguishing features�therefore making it harder for the player to
navigate the level. Another thing that aesthetic is good for is to mark
different areas of a map. Things such as weapons, items, different
rooms, and floors can be marked with distinguishing textures to allow
the players to navigate the level better.
So don't feel confined to doing the same old plain gothic
aesthetic. Feel free to make your map good looking and well playing at
the same time. Just be sure that the aesthetic never hurts the
playability or performance of the map.
is closely related to the aesthetic of a map. The brightness of the
lighting in a map has been discussed between mappers and players
frequently in the past. Mappers argue that they want their maps to have
moody atmospheres, and players just want to be able to see their
opponents. Lighting however, really shouldn't be that big of an issue.
In a standard competitive player config, pretty much any map will be
bright enough, and if it isn't, you are doing something terribly wrong.
So just develop the map to look good in lightmap mode, and every once
in awhile, check it in a player's config to make sure it looks okay in
As long as the lighting has no affect on the gameplay, feel
free to do whatever you want with it to make it look good in lightmap.
Once players start complaining about dark areas in the map, you better
get it lit.
is another touchy issue for the mapper. There is that magical ratio
between performance and looks that every mapper must attain with his
map. For the competitive tourney mapper, he must always be watching out
for poor performance throughout his map. So how do you know where to
stop adding detail and start optimizing? The best way is to have the
map tested on a number of different systems in order to see if there
are any slowdown areas. Many mappers rely on the r_speeds tool, but
this doesn't take into account a number of other performance hogs such
as fill rate and overdraw. For this reason, checking the framerate in
conjunction with checking the r_speeds is the best method for you
yourself to test the map.
Things to watch out for:
- shaders with multiple stages can greatly increase the amount of fill on the screen.
- texture use: check \imagelist and make sure your texel count isn't too high. What's too high? Compare with other maps.
- overdraw will result in extra tris and pixels being drawn. Hint/build properly.
- as a general guide, r_speeds usually need to stay below 7 or 8k
in major areas that will see a lot of action (not that kind of
action...), watch out for slow downs with both players in there
spamming each other.
- speaking of spam (mmm... spam), if you decide to have the PG in the level, watch out for slow downs with that weapon
often overlooked, if you are wanting the level to play well with bots,
make sure to simplify the map with botclips as much as possible. Also,
if you can, try to clusterportal the map. This will relieve the CPU a
bit and will hopefully make the map play better with bots.
it isn't necessarily required for a level to have trickjumps, they do
add certain extra dimensions to the level. Trickjumps allow skilled
players to be rewarded (in the form of an item or strategic advantage)
taking jumps or risks they normally wouldn't. Trickjumps also add to
the "cool factor" of playing a map and watching a demo of the map.
is one main question about trickjumps that needs to be answered
however. Do you, the mapper, knowingly add trickjumps to your map, or
do you allow the players to find the jumps themselves? It seems as if
everybody has a different opinion about this. On the one hand, players
like to discover trickjumps on their own. Obvious trickjumps that look
like the mapper put them in are never as good as the player found
trickjumps. But on the other hand, its extremely difficult for the
mapper not to know about the trickjumps in his map. Unless of course,
he's a bad Q3 player. :) So this still leaves us with the question of
what to do about trickjumps. I personally think the best way to go is
to make the map in such a way that there will be trickjumps that are
somewhat obvious (although not forced) and then there will be
trickjumps which will be brought up to the surface as the map gets
played more. This is one of the many marks of a great tourney map. If
the map has been built right (plenty of architecture, not
"padded-walls"), trickjumps should show up.
has introduced a number of new possibilities as far as trickjumps go.
If you're not an avid player of Promode, yet still want to map for it
(is this possible? :)) then you'll want to know the trickumps
available. There are a number of articles written which explain the
Promode physics and the new trickjumps associated with it. If you
really want to get in depth about trickjumps, you'll want to read this:
Promode Movement: Art Meets Science (promode.org)
Here are the basic trickjumps (for explanations on how to do them, see links above) you'll need to be aware of:
- Circle Strafe Jump - Allows
players to jump very far distances such as gaps. This can allow for
players to take shortcuts or to surprise their opponents. CPM1A's jump
from upper YA to opposite path is a good example of this jump in which
players can exit quickly after grabbing the YA.
- Double Jump - Allows players to jump
greater heights using any varied height surfaces like stairs. A good
example would be on CPM3�going from the lava walkway up to the RL using
a double jump. Also, since a double jump is due to the player jumping
consecutive times in under 400ms, very low ceilings can allow the
player to double jump. (e.g - q3dm14tmp)
- Ramp Jump - This jump is another addition
of Promode. When players jump off of a ramp, if the ramp is sloping up
they will gain vertical speed and if the ramp is sloping down they will
gain horizontal speed. The steeper the angle the more effect it has on
the movement (up to 45 degreees atleast) This presents a number of
possibilities to the map.
- Double Ramp Jump - A combination of the
double jump and the ramp jump, this trickjump can launch players in
many circumstances. It was used extensively on CPM4 with ramped lights,
allowing players to get to higher levels quickly.
- Tele Jump - This is essentially a double
jump going through a teleporter. The jump allows the player to gain
speed quickly after teleporting, or to get to different areas of the
map quicker .For example, on CPM1A and CPM3 players can reach areas
otherwise impossible to get from that location. In order to allow
tele-jumps, make sure the teleporter destination is on the ground and
not floating in midair. Also make sure there is nothing in the way for
the player to bump their head on when jumping out.
- Framerate based jumps - DO NOT include
framerate based jumps in your map. Most often, these come in the form
of the 64-unit jump like the one in q3dm13 to the MH. Pmove_fixed has
partly fixed this problem, but its still not a good idea.
- In-Game Sounds
target_speakers to the level to generate ambient sounds is not usually
a good idea. It will only serve to hinder the gameplay, so its best to
leave them out. Players need to concentrate on their opponents and the
sounds associated with them picking up items�not on world noises.
- World Dangers
the right situation, the addition of world dangers can further the
gameplay of a certain part of a map. World dangers include lava, slime,
void, and traps. Often if the mapper decides to include a world danger,
he should place it around an important item like MH or RA.
the only world danger the mapper should use. Not every level should
have this, and when it is used it should be used sparingly. Proper
placement will result in making an area of a map more dangerous than
others because the player has to risk falling in and hurting himself.
Two consideration go along with this. The mapper has to decide how much
the lava/slime will hurt the player, and he has to decide how hard to
make it to get out of the danger. The dangerousness of the area will of
course increase depending on how much hard it is to get out of the
shouldn't be used. Players get annoyed when they are in the lead, are
full of ammo and weapons, and stacked up on armor�and then fall into
you can conceive an ingenious trap which will further the gameplay of
the map, its probably not a good idea to add any kind of traps. This
usually will lend to slow gimmicky gameplay.
First of all, read over Hoony's spawnpoints article here.
It explains everything quite well, and the inherant problems associated
with the current spawnpoint system. Besides that article, there aren't
really any concrete rules on placing spawnpoints. So I'm just going to
describe some of the effects that may result from doing the spawnpoints
a certain way.
there is not a magical number of spawnpoints you should put in your
map. Just know that fewer spawnpoints (lets say under 8) will often
result in more spawn-raping. But then again, more spawnpoints could
make it more likely for the down player to spawn directly in front of
his up opponent therefore giving him a free kill. Note that
spawn-raping isn't always necessarily a bad thing. That is one of the
things that made dm4 such a great level�the frag runs that could be had
by the experienced player. So if it's a type of level where you want
more spawn-raping to occur, than lower the spawnpoint count.
again, it comes down to what you are wanting in your level. If most of
the level is open and railgun spawn-raping is a problem, it might be a
good idea to put more spawns in untraveled, unexposed areas. Generally
you will want to place most spawns in less traveled areas anyway. Also,
make sure to keep them near walls and out of major pathways�otherwise
you might get unwanted spawnfrags.One other thing you can do is place
spawnpoints on major items such as armors or the MH. This works
effectively in maps such as CPM1A and CPM3 because it gives the down
player a better chance at survival if he happens to spawn directly on
- Vertical Transport
are probably the best mode of vertical transport when going a somewhat
good distance. In recent Q3 maps, it seems as if mappers have almost
been afraid to use them, instead focusing more on jumppads. Teleporters
are good however, because they keep the flow going better than
jumppads. This is because jumppads create stop-and-go type play. Some
of the best tourney levels have a number of teleporters, for example
dm4 had 5, and aerowalk had 4.
Two problems you should be aware of appear when putting a bunch of
teleporters in your map. First of all, players can get confused as to
which teleporter takes them to which area, thus steepening the learning
curve of the map. Not really all that big of a problem since you're not
designing the maps for newbies, right? :) The second problem that
arises with the addition of teleporters is the possibility of
telefrags. This problem occurs most frequently when the map has
reciprocal teleporters. So does that mean you shouldn't include 2-way
teleporters? That really depends on the map. CPM3 contains a good
implementation of a 2-way teleporter set in that the teleport
destination is off set from that actual teleporter by a strafe jump.
Some players think telefragging completely ruins a map, while others
think it adds strategy to the area. So if, in testing the map, the
players complain about telefragging, you might want to reconsider your
are a relatively new addition to tourney maps which Q3 introduced. If
you do decide to use jumppads in your level, you must be very cautious
as to how you place them. First of all, as mentioned earlier, jumppads
often create a stop-and-go type flow, which ends up slowing down the
map. Secondly, jumppads can render the player useless and open to any
rails that his opponent can get in. With those issues in mind, here are
some general rules to abide by when placing jumppads:
- Flight Cover - Unless
you're purposely wanting to make a jumppad dangerous to use, you'll
want to make sure the jumppad has some kind of cover from enemy
line-of-sight. Not necessarily the whole flight, but at least part of
the flight. See CPM1A for an example.
- Height - Know when you should be
using jumppads as opposed to some other form of movement. If the player
just needs to go up a half a level or so, stairs are usually a better
mode of transportation. If the player needs to go from the bottom level
to the top level, a teleporter might serve better.
kind of got left in the dust after Q2 when Q3 added jumppads. One of
the things that was holding them back from being used more extensively
in Q3 maps was the borked up sound associated with them. Luckily, arQon
has fixed this in his recent CPMA build. Now mappers can associate any
sound he wishes with the elevators.
So what are elevators good for? They are somewhat
multipurpose in that they can serve as vertical transporters for
relatively small height changes or multilevel height changes. They also
add strategy to the level for two reason. First, players can now hear
where their opponent is going depending on what elevators their
opponents take. Secondly, players can deny their opponent vertical
transport rights by sitting on elevators or guarding elevators. Because
of this, make sure that it doesn't hurt the gameplay if a player does
do this. Just make sure you tweak the speed of the elevators to fit the
gameplay. Nobody likes going up an elevator for what seems like an
Q2DM1's main atrium elevator is a great example of what a lift
can add in terms of gameplay. Many an intense fight has occured on that
elevator due to a down player running away from his opponent by trying
to get to the top of the map. Another good example is the lift in the
recent Q3 map FFDM2. This lift is the single vertical transporter in
the room, making it a heated point of battle. A player from below may
hear his opponent go up the lift and rocket-jump up to meet him with a
shotgun blast to the face.
the old standby�stairs. Stairs should probably be the most used
vertical transport, especially for small height changes. Stairs keep
everybody moving and don't hinder gameplay at all. They also can
provide for more possibilities for player movement such as trickjumps
and so on. Some guidelines:
- Stair-Height - Long
flights of stairs usually disrupt the gameplay of a map. Stairs work
better for shorter height distances. Replace with a different mode of
transport if need be.
- Step-Height - Q3's maps pioneered
the 8-unit step height. Recent tourney maps seem to have gone with
larger step heights such as 12 or 16 units. Once you do go with a
certain step-height, try to maintain some consistency with that
step-height throughout the level. Also, remember that higher steps make
it easier for players to double-jump off of them.
- Trim - The mapper has the option of
adding trim to the stairways of his map. In doing this, he can
potentially create a number of new trickjumps in the map, so be aware