Friday, July 15, 2005

Getting the maps "look" right

One of the major things mappers will have to adjust too is the level of complexity required in Source mapping. Valve and Turtle Rock have recently released the CS Source maps Assault, Inferno, and Port. They are among the most detailed maps ever released for a Valve multi-player product and are as close to HL2 single-player detail as you could expect. These maps are the maps we should learn from as we map in DoD.

Valve has decided to go with realistic environments with realistic houses and areas. Every "house" has a purpose; A bakery, a residence, a cafe. In each of these you must place items that reflect that "houses" intent; stoves, bedrooms, a bar. The textures must also follow "purpose" and all must be grounded in a realistic and historical context. Historical photographs are being used to establish accuracy, both in design and color. Gone are the days of four walls and a door or a silly corridor that has what mappers call a "S-turn" in it. You just cannot release a product based on real-world locations today that isn't grounded in a realistic environment. This doesn't mean Valve has decided eye-candy is more important than gameplay...without proper gameplay all the eye candy in the world can't save it...but it's gameplay coupled with a realistic environment that appears to be the goal.

The picture above is a part of the remake of dod_falaise I've worked on-and-off now for the better part of six months. It may never see the light of day (as in released) but that doesn't keep us from designing maps that "fit" the new Valve look.

I’ve split the map into sections to try and explain what I look for. I try and think like a cinematographer on a movie set (or at least what I think they would look for). Each area of your map should be “set” and “staged” for content, color, lighting, texture, horizontal and vertical queues, movement effects and off-angle sections.

Content: Look into each block…in almost all the blocks you’ll find something interesting. In the center bottom block you see a lamppost touching the sidewalk…look at the area underneath the lamppost…it’s a stain. You’d expect to see a stain under a lamppost that’s been there a while. Look at the three middle blocks…you see the telephone wire hanging across all three…this breaks up all the vertical lines you see on the left and right…your eye is drawn to it. In game it’s moving as well giving a sense of living to the scene

Color: You should maintain a constant hue for each section but you should also use color queues to establish contrast. For example…in the brick/stucco building to the front in top right four boxes you see dark brick at the bottom, light stucco, then dark rooftop as you move bottom to top. This contrast from section to section brings complexity to the scene. Also…never be afraid of white textures…they look bad in the editor but always great in-game and they give you the best chance of showing contrast. You should also use color to show where you are on a map...perhaps use certain interior colors so that when I yell out (while in-game) to my teammates "I'm in the red house" they know exactly where I am.

Lighting: Is the most important thing you can do in a map. You can change the entire mood of a map with simple lighting changes. As you build your map experiment with different sun settings such as color, direction and slant…use fog and fog colors to your advantage. A dark-yellow sun can bring out detail where a bright white colored sun might wash things out. Making shadows fall across your map is also important as you, in addition to wanting your map to look good, want to make sure neither team on the map gains an advantage because of shadows and dark area’s.

Texture: A bad texture job can condemn a map. In that picture you see approx 44MB of textures…from grey slate roofs and roads to yellowish stucco to red bricks etc. Try and keep both your colors and your textures in-line with the historical placement of your map as well. You would expect to see rough stone walls and houses in a Bocage Normandy map along with grey stucco farmhouses. Most towns used the same building materials local to the area.

Horizontal and Vertical Queues: Arguably the one thing 90% of custom mappers fail at. You want to make sure there’s a variety in your map w/respect to the vertical. Do NOT have rooftops all the same height…look in the top right corner…a roof w/dormers. Look in the center top…there’s a house up on a cliff with tree’s both near the house and then that one tree jutting into frame. Look to the houses on the left and right…they have “nooks-n-crannies” like overhangs and staircases…don’t EVER make a square box house again…as long as you live.