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 Thoughts on Mapping
#1
Posted this on another forum originally, but I thought perhaps people would be interested in reading and discussing it here as well.

This article isn't meant for beginners. People new to RPG-making or mapping are encouraged to play around with the program and get the basics of map design down (using layers, understanding positive/negative space, learning how to customize tilesets and so on).

The single biggest mistake people make when mapping is they confuse visual appeal with good mapping. But visual appeal does not equal functionality and so it does not necessarily make a good map!

I'll give you an example. Developer A posts a map of their dungeon in a screenshot thread. Friendly developers B, C and D point out that the map is too large and too empty. Developer A agrees and compacts the map. What Developer A forgets, however, is that that there's an awesome chase sequence in the dungeons after a major event. Players who are impressed with Developer A's screenshots go to play the game, and they all get discouraged with the chase scene. "What do you mean it's difficult? All you have to do is go 1U 2L 1R 3U 1L 1U 1L 1U 3D 4R 1R 1U 1R 1U 1R 1U 3L 2U 3R 2U 2L 1U 1L 1U, and you're there!" And Developer A has just made quite a few people lose interest.

Unless the player is in an actual maze, there is no reason the player would need to follow a maze-like pattern to get from point A to point B. Having to serpentine through every area gets old and annoying. The player will certainly appreciate the stunning visuals you did with your mapping, but if they've been in the area more than once, their thoughts will go from "Ooh, how pretty!" to "Ugh, I have to go through here again." This is where good mapping comes into play. With a little planning, a developer can add enough detail without compromising functionality.

I'm not claiming to be the best mapper that ever lived, but I do consider myself to be proficient enough to be able to offer some advice. So, here goes!

- Make a clear and visible path. As a developer, you are trying to guide player from one area of interest to another. Make it obvious where you want the player to go and outline the path. Things like roads, footsteps, patches of carpet or any simple area that's free of clutter and detail will do the trick. Yes, you should most definitely make the path obvious to the player, not because you consider them to be dumb, but because you don't need to make the player waste time on something trivial. You'd like the players to explore? That's great! Give them a secret area or a special chest if they venture into the thicket of your forest. But still give them the clear road/path that they need to follow.

- Create small areas of interest and use them as landmarks. Consistency is great and detailed maps look very appealing. There are two problems with making all maps heavy on detail: 1- Player gets used to the amount of detail and it becomes increasingly more difficult to pull of the really special areas And 2- Larger maps become a veritable maze where the player spends unnecessary time trying to find their way around; this in turn creates a fake length that annoys more players than it impresses.

- If you absolutely can't live without small and detailed maps, use them in cutscenes only. This way, you can show off your stunning visuals without annoying the player. At the same time, you also make the cutscenes more special. Your cutscenes will read more like a movie and that's pretty special.

- Use screen tint, sun beams and fogs very sparingly. Yes, I agree that they're fantastic in creating atmosphere. But they lose their appeal when they're used too often. For example, imagine the great big evil tower of doom where the player goes at the end of the game. The fog rolls in, the dramatic music plays, the player is filled with anticipation and dread. Now imagine the same scenario, only this is what the player has seen on every map. Fog rolls in, dramatic music plays and the player is looking for the fast-forward button so he/she can get into the tower. Not exactly the kind of reaction you're hoping for, right? So, how do you create the right atmosphere? Number one is the right musical choice. A bustling city with a cheerful and quick theme will seem more busy. An empty city with a creepy theme will seem sinister. And so on. Also, use sound effects and background noise. Chirping birds in the forest, croaking frogs in the marsh, crickets in the night, etc. They make a big difference.

- Don't make your screen dark. It doesn't matter if it's a really dark area where you can't see much or that you're making a horror game. If the player has to squint and sit 2 inches away from the screen to see what's going on, you're doing it wrong. If you want to create the idea of night or create a darker area, you don't need pitch blackness. You only need to darken the area by a few degrees. In terms of horror games, get creative! Replace darkness with a grayscale - make the dangerous area lit, but in black and white. Or make the map out of focus in the areas outside the player's cone of vision. Or give the player a clear image of the map when they enter the area and make it grow darker as they get closer to danger. There are a lot of creative ways to achieve the atmosphere without making the screen a sea of black.

- Even if your game is a fantasy and we are expected to suspend belief for large parts of it, use common sense and logic when mapping. Houses are built in squares or rectangles. The inside of houses and rooms should be square and rectangle. People who live in houses will try to maximize space - so they will have 4 large rooms with almost no corridors instead of 12 tiny rooms and a million hallways. Flowers don't grow in caves - even if they look pretty. If you are going to go against these conventions, then have a good explanation! Maybe the guy in the house with a million hallways has OCD and needs to categorize his rooms. Or maybe the people in the other house with a million hallways slowly expanded their house room by room - sneakily, in the middle of the night. There could be life crystals in the cave that are making those flowers grow, or there are holes in the cave roof - in which case you'd map to indicate light and possibly include a beam or two. Saying "it's a fantasy game" isn't a good reason to throw all convention and common sense out the window. Sure, go ahead and make creative and unique choices to create better visuals, but also give them some thought and back them up with an explanation. "Because it looks pretty" just doesn't cut it.

- Remember that there are constraints to using a tile-based map maker. There's a lot of advice out there to keep in mind the randomness of nature and to not allow for symmetry. In theory, it's sound advice. But it applies to free-style drawing better than it applies to mapping. To really get that kind of random effect, you'd either need to paint backgrounds from scratch or make a tileset of such a gigantic size that no two tiles would be the same. So, no matter how you look at it, if you use tiled maps, there will be an artificial quality to it. Don't beat yourself up if there's a slight symmetry. Obvious mirror symmetry or the same tile repeated over and over don't work in natural setting, but you don't have to waste an hour making sure that little bush is never in the same column/row as another one. And, really, if the only critique people can give you about your map is that you have two bushes in the same column, your map is fine.

So, those are my thoughts on mapping. Feel free to discuss or offer your tips on making maps!

Note for moderators: I don't really consider this a tutorial, so I didn't post it in the tutorial section. If you think it fits there better, feel free to move it :)
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#2
I really agree with the clear paths and smaller maps because I don't like it myself to go through a map where everything looks the same and you don't have a clue where you are. I mainly use bigger maps for cities and my worldmap, but my worldmap has a map you can call with Shift and then you see where you are and also it looks different in each area so you recognize where you are. Also I recolored some parts of the RTP, I like the RTP but I made the colors more colorful or changed the green water to blue water and so on. Great advices for mappers, I liked to read it and I think I will read it again if I'm mapping and don't know how to make it better =3
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#3
Great thread, it will defiantly help people make better maps ^.^

I especially agree with "don't make it too dark". I've played a few demos and watched some on Youtube. It's a little hard on the eyes.

*I'd rep you if we had a rep system :>*
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#4
Lunarea great advice. I see so much truth to what you are saying. I was committing one of those wrongs as far as too many tunnels for my underground caves. I am glad I read this thread before I actually mapped it out. If you don't mind could you look at some of my maps to see if it's not only stylish but functional? Let me know. I know you are busy so...thanks in advance either way.
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#5
You're welcome to pm me or post them and I'll be sure to check them out! :)
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#6
First off Luni, I really appreciate this thread. You make some lovely points about mapping. :D
Quote:Unless the player is in an actual maze, there is no reason the player would need to follow a maze-like pattern to get from point A to point B.

I agree with this. When mapping, you want to be proficient. I have seen a whole bunch of really stunning maps from a few people. However, they fail in technique and playability. Filling you map with a bunch of crap does not make it a good map whatsoever. Its tacky and lazy. On the surface, it looks like a great map, but delve a little deeper and you discover the truth.

Quote: Make a clear and visible path. As a developer, you are trying to guide player from one area of interest to another. Make it obvious where you want the player to go and outline the path. Things like roads, footsteps, patches of carpet or any simple area that's free of clutter and detail will do the trick. Yes, you should most definitely make the path obvious to the player, not because you consider them to be dumb, but because you don't need to make the player waste time on something trivial. You'd like the players to explore? That's great! Give them a secret area or a special chest if they venture into the thicket of your forest. But still give them the clear road/path that they need to follow.
:D

Quote:Create small areas of interest and use them as landmarks. Consistency is great and detailed maps look very appealing. There are two problems with making all maps heavy on detail: 1- Player gets used to the amount of detail and it becomes increasingly more difficult to pull of the really special areas And 2- Larger maps become a veritable maze where the player spends unnecessary time trying to find their way around; this in turn creates a fake length that annoys more players than it impresses.
What even better is if you make a landmark that has some significance to the story as well. o:
I love this point, I never really thought about that before.

Quote:- If you absolutely can't live without small and detailed maps, use them in cutscenes only. This way, you can show off your stunning visuals without annoying the player. At the same time, you also make the cutscenes more special. Your cutscenes will read more like a movie and that's pretty special.
The only problem I see with this is consistency issues. I think there is a point where there is too much stuff and it really distracts thee player from the cut scene as well. I think simplicity is what is needed for cutscenes. Don't get me wrong though, you can still create a well crafted simplistic map. Look at Chrono Trigger for example.

Quote:- Use screen tint, sun beams and fogs very sparingly. Yes, I agree that they're fantastic in creating atmosphere. But they lose their appeal when they're used too often. For example, imagine the great big evil tower of doom where the player goes at the end of the game. The fog rolls in, the dramatic music plays, the player is filled with anticipation and dread. Now imagine the same scenario, only this is what the player has seen on every map. Fog rolls in, dramatic music plays and the player is looking for the fast-forward button so he/she can get into the tower. Not exactly the kind of reaction you're hoping for, right? So, how do you create the right atmosphere? Number one is the right musical choice. A bustling city with a cheerful and quick theme will seem more busy. An empty city with a creepy theme will seem sinister. And so on. Also, use sound effects and background noise. Chirping birds in the forest, croaking frogs in the marsh, crickets in the night, etc. They make a big difference.
I agree with this to an extent. What I think is lacking is more innovative uses of fog and screentone. Many just use it as simplistic fog or lighting effects. Where are so many ways to use fog. In an ice cave, you can add a frosted look to the screen by using a fog, in forests, you can accent certain areas in trees to give them a more mystic look, in cliffs you can make a windy fog that whips across the screen. Many people seem to overlook these things. I guess its more of me being more original with fogs in my opinion.

Quote:- Don't make your screen dark. It doesn't matter if it's a really dark area where you can't see much or that you're making a horror game. If the player has to squint and sit 2 inches away from the screen to see what's going on, you're doing it wrong. If you want to create the idea of night or create a darker area, you don't need pitch blackness. You only need to darken the area by a few degrees. In terms of horror games, get creative! Replace darkness with a grayscale - make the dangerous area lit, but in black and white. Or make the map out of focus in the areas outside the player's cone of vision. Or give the player a clear image of the map when they enter the area and make it grow darker as they get closer to danger. There are a lot of creative ways to achieve the atmosphere without making the screen a sea of black.
I love this point you make. Many people use really dark screentones to add some spooky effect. Its not spooky if you can't see anything. If you want a flashlight in the dark part, make one, just make sure its just one part of the game. I think its far more creepy to be able to see whats going on. You make some really good points and ideas here. :D

Quote:- Even if your game is a fantasy and we are expected to suspend belief for large parts of it, use common sense and logic when mapping. Houses are built in squares or rectangles. The inside of houses and rooms should be square and rectangle. People who live in houses will try to maximize space - so they will have 4 large rooms with almost no corridors instead of 12 tiny rooms and a million hallways. Flowers don't grow in caves - even if they look pretty. If you are going to go against these conventions, then have a good explanation! Maybe the guy in the house with a million hallways has OCD and needs to categorize his rooms. Or maybe the people in the other house with a million hallways slowly expanded their house room by room - sneakily, in the middle of the night. There could be life crystals in the cave that are making those flowers grow, or there are holes in the cave roof - in which case you'd map to indicate light and possibly include a beam or two. Saying "it's a fantasy game" isn't a good reason to throw all convention and common sense out the window. Sure, go ahead and make creative and unique choices to create better visuals, but also give them some thought and back them up with an explanation. "Because it looks pretty" just doesn't cut it.
I would be somewhat careful with this. In my opinion, houses should not be perfectly rectangular. They should have a turn or two. If you look at houses especially some newer models, there is a turn here and there. Also, remember that fungi can grow in caves without sunlight. Also, plants can grow without sunlight, however, they are small and die after a short period of time due to the lack of sunlight.

Quote:- Remember that there are constraints to using a tile-based map maker. There's a lot of advice out there to keep in mind the randomness of nature and to not allow for symmetry. In theory, it's sound advice. But it applies to free-style drawing better than it applies to mapping. To really get that kind of random effect, you'd either need to paint backgrounds from scratch or make a tileset of such a gigantic size that no two tiles would be the same. So, no matter how you look at it, if you use tiled maps, there will be an artificial quality to it. Don't beat yourself up if there's a slight symmetry. Obvious mirror symmetry or the same tile repeated over and over don't work in natural setting, but you don't have to waste an hour making sure that little bush is never in the same column/row as another one. And, really, if the only critique people can give you about your map is that you have two bushes in the same column, your map is fine.
To me, it depends on the object. If its a bright, noticeable object, you should go out of you way to make sure its not in the same row. However if something small and not noticeable, then don't beak a leg over it. I love this point you make though about rule of symmetry. Just one more thing, this changes depending on what type of graphics you use. This applies to the Rtp, as its big, bulky, and colorful.

I love the points you make out. :D
Im just stating my own opinions as a fellow mapper as well. :D
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#7
I'm very happy that you're sharing your opinions! I'm definitely encouraging everyone to do the same. We can get some really good discussion going here and end up learning a lot from each other.

Quote:The only problem I see with this is consistency issues. I think there is a point where there is too much stuff and it really distracts thee player from the cut scene as well. I think simplicity is what is needed for cutscenes. Don't get me wrong though, you can still create a well crafted simplistic map. Look at Chrono Trigger for example.

It might take the player one or two cutscenes to get used to it, but they would really get used to it. If you look at it in terms of a commercial game, it would be like the difference between watching a cutscene and watching a movie sequence - particularly when the difference is obvious like in some of the older Playstation games with 2D graphics and anime CG movies. I know some people are really proud of their maps so it's good to think of how to use them creatively. In cutscenes? Or maybe as a slightly faded battle background?

It's not a solution that would make everyone happy, but it might work for some game out there. Cheery

Quote:I agree with this to an extent. What I think is lacking is more innovative uses of fog and screentone. Many just use it as simplistic fog or lighting effects. Where are so many ways to use fog. In an ice cave, you can add a frosted look to the screen by using a fog, in forests, you can accent certain areas in trees to give them a more mystic look, in cliffs you can make a windy fog that whips across the screen. Many people seem to overlook these things. I guess its more of me being more original with fogs in my opinion.

Variety is important, absolutely. Not all fogs are the smokey fog. But I really do encourage people to only use them for special areas. If you have 5 forests, but only one is vitally important, then that's the one that should get the fog. Fogs are just fantastic for creating atmosphere - I don't argue that one bit. Just keep in mind, though, that if you do use them frequently, you have to come up with more things to make those important areas special. Especially if you're working with limited graphics or have a game with a lot of different areas.

Quote:I would be somewhat careful with this. In my opinion, houses should not be perfectly rectangular. They should have a turn or two. If you look at houses especially some newer models, there is a turn here and there. Also, remember that fungi can grow in caves without sunlight. Also, plants can grow without sunlight, however, they are small and die after a short period of time due to the lack of sunlight.

Oh, not implying that they are perfectly rectangular, just that they're made up of rectangles and squares. You could, for instance, have isometric walls inside or have a few corridors. The key is to not go overboard. I've seen some maps of houses that looked like a triangle and that's just odd. I've also seen maps that had more corridor space than room space. At that point, one begins to wonder whether the house builders knew what they were doing at all.
You also understand about plants and fungi. Both can (and do) exist in nature and so they're fine in maps. But some people will beautify a cave with bright flowers and offer no explanation as to how they can strive. In which case, I'll say that I'm not at against the use of flowers or unconventional cave items, but give us an interesting story as to why they're there!

:cheery:
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