map reality

Discuss map ideas, techniques, and give help.
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OK, just a quick question to the community: how important is it for your levels to seem realistic, like each room should exist with a specific function? I've recently got back into map making, and I even uploaded the first level I made here (GO PLAY IT!), I have made 4 more levels since, but I ran into a dilemma last night. I was just fooling around, kind of started as a Dead Simple remake (Doom inspiration? Blaspheme!!) but ended up being kind of cool, at least in a vertical/overlapping/5D-space kind of way. The problem is that it is TOTALLY UNREALISTIC. I guess you could say it's alien architecture, so who knows what the aliens were thinking, but I've always tried to make maps that seem to exist in the real world. Just wonder what everyone's thoughts are on this. Does it take away from the gameplay, or as long as the fun factor is still there does it not matter?

(side note, you could say 99% of Marathon maps were completely silly - who builds a ship with shit like Colony Ship For Sale, Habe Quiddam, or Ingue Ferroque in it? - in fact only G4 Sunbathing seemed slightly realistic, and that was still totally unbelievable. They did get much better in Marathon 2 though)
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Crater Creator
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I've heard plenty of people criticize realism in games. And in some ways, they have a point. It's quite possible to concentrate so much on realism that other considerations, like fun, suffer. I've certainly played games that fall in that camp.

But I do like realism. Establishing good principles requires more than "you should do this because it's something I like," though. So I've thought a lot about why I like realism, and I've come up with more objective reasons: realism is intuitive and predictable.

Consider a situation we've all seen in games: you can't get past a locked door until you find a key and use it on the door. The way this is implemented is often unrealistic in many ways. The door may swing open without being pushed. The player may not actually be seen inserting the key into the lock. The key may not even exist as an object in the world.

People seldom complain about these things. But if the door's functionality was implemented in a non-intuitive, unpredictable way - like, you open the door by spinning yourself counterclockwise in front of it - players would complain. They might cry the door is unrealistic, but what's really bothersome is how their expectations weren't met.

Why in the world is there lava on the Marathon, and seemingly in every other game? Because people know what to expect. Change it to electrified water or poison gas or something else, and you'll confuse somebody that interpreted it as being harmless. The kicker is lava in games isn't realistic. You'd easily burn yourself if you stood a few feet away from a lava flow. But more important than its realism, it behaves intuitively and predictably - you know it's bad if you touch it, you know it won't flow uphill or do other things liquids don't do, etc.

I think this distinction applies more to systems design, but it's present in level design, too. If your mission is to, say, get some cookies from a guy's house, you have expectations of how it's going to go down. Where should you look for the cookies? Well, you expect the house to be divided into rooms. You expect one room to be the kitchen, with counters down low, and cupboards up high, and an oven somewhere. This matters, not just because it wouldn't look right otherwise, but because you're planning your mission under these assumptions.

Does this matter in Marathon? I think in Marathon it's understood you're not going to make geometry as detailed and accurate as you could make in later games. The science fiction setting also allows the level designer to take more liberties. You can have your power cores and shuttle bays and alien egg chambers and it's harder to make the argument that you're making them "unrealistically."

I guess to conclude I'll say realism has its uses, and don't be afraid to get what you can out of it. It can absolutely enrich a game's art and design on both a tangible and subconscious level. But also think about your larger goals, and to what extent realism moves you toward or away from them.
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I don't care about realism. My imagination fills enough things in for me, and there's something kind of cool about not knowing what the hell some of the rooms are for. I couldn't tell you what the hell most of the flashing lights and "machinery" in Infinity are supposed to do realistically, but they're still awesome.
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Ares Ex Machina
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Crater Creator wrote:Why in the world is there lava on the Marathon
What makes you think it's lava? I've always thought it was molten metal from a blast furnace. It would make sense that a deep-space colony ship on a 300-year voyage would need at least one! Especially when one of the advantages of converting a moon into a ship is the local materials.

Crater Creator wrote:Change it to electrified water or poison gas or something else, and you'll confuse somebody that interpreted it as being harmless.
I've encountered electrified water and poison gas in numerous games, some of them maybe even older than Marathon, and have never interpreted either as benign. Lava, poison gas, electrified surfaces -- they are all classic pitfall archetypes in the world of games. It is always obvious they are harmful and should be avoided.

Crater Creator wrote:The kicker is lava in games isn't realistic. You'd easily burn yourself if you stood a few feet away from a lava flow.
The more interesting answer is the one you get by playing the devil's advocate. We know the main man has shields. And we know that when they get charged up, he can take a rocket to the face and walk away. Who's to say there isn't some type of built-in sensory adjustment for the suit that uses the shields to make the suit more resilient to changes in temperature, providing the changes don't happen too fast? The heat from lava can be felt from quite a distance, so that could give the suit's sensors enough time to engage.

doctorbenjiphd wrote:how important is it for your levels to seem realistic, like each room should exist with a specific function?
In the context of Marathon, rooms do not have to exist with a specific function. A setting with advanced technology + an archaic game engine = design leeway. You can get away with a lot more with sci-fi because no one can tell if it looks wrong. And the lower detail a game is, the less debatable its authenticity is. However, having some kind of concept as to the functionality of a location or room can lead you to make design choices that add spacial and visual variety as well as a touch of the familiar -- all of which add to the underlying layer of realism.

Should every room have this? Not necessarily. If there are vats of oil somewhere in a map that's supposed to be an oil refinery, and maybe some clunky machines doing something somewhere, that should be sufficient enough to visually convey the purpose and character of the environment. And you could make the architecture and textures more factory-like overall, and maybe throw in a few conveyor belts. But make every room function realistically? Hardly necessary if you've got all those other things going on. The important thing would be to convey the sense of what the overall environment is, rather than illustrating the functionality of every room.

EDIT: That said, throwing in a room every now and then that does have a clearly discernible function can spice things up -- especially if that room is important to the story.

doctorbenjiphd wrote:Does it take away from the gameplay, or as long as the fun factor is still there does it not matter?
If you take it too far, yes, it can detract from the gameplay. There is potential for it to limit variety and obstruct flow.

But let's say you're designing a map set in contemporary times using the Fox Engine. My answer would be completely different. I would almost say "realism -- realism all the way", but there always needs to be a balance between fun and realism.
Last edited by Ares Ex Machina on Jul 25th '13, 18:08, edited 2 times in total.
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I've been thinking about this myself as I've just started to create a complete map (as opposed to just experimenting with different techniques and learning what is and isn't possible). As a player, I really don't like 5D spaces in solo maps as it's not only disorienting, but seems to disrupt flow (for me, maybe not for others). I tend to notice when things are really out of whack, like 5D spaces or the kind of stuff you mentioned in M1. Rooms with no obvious purpose that are laid out sensibly are fine for me as a player, but I'm finding that I have a problem with it when creating my own map. I suppose if I have to think through all the details I have a harder time suspending disbelief. I also find it much easier to think about "real" spaces, but perhaps that will change as I get more experience creating maps.

I guess I'm saying kind of the converse of what CraterCreator said - make it realistic so long as the realism doesn't get in the way of a good map.

btw - I liked that first map you posted a little while back. It needs some touch ups here and there (a few missing textures, etc.), but overall pretty good. Also, it took a little while to figure out what to do at a certain point. I think this may have been partly influenced by the use of a Pfhor button switch for a chip insert slot. I know a lot of folks don't like the idea of mixing texture collections, but I think its fine in certain cases, and in particular there are a few textures that can be used just about anywhere.

EDIT: I should have read Ares' response first. He described what I meant about overall realism far more eloquently than I did.
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My opinion on realism: does it have gameplay functionality?
For example, when I first started making maps for games (specifically, UT99, Postal 2 and Cube2: sauerbraten), I tried making meticulously realistic maps based on real-world locations; office complexes, trade-school dorms, etc. I'd spend hours using reference photos to get the scale of things 100% correct down to the quarter inch, light things EXACTLY as they are in real life, and even add clutter/item drops as they would logically exist in real life (example: in a dorm-themed map I made for Postal 2, you could find health pipe's concealed in student's belongings, scissors in the dorm office's desk, etc).
Needless to say, although they looked nice, these maps played like shit. IRL, buildings tend to be narrow hallways with tiny, isolated rooms; there's no flow, and an excess of rooms that look nice, but also have no logical way for the mapper to add something fun to the gameplay experience.
If you want to do "realism", take a page from duke nukem 3d's earth-based levels. You literally had everything from bathrooms to waterfountains to movie theatre projection closets. Normally, I would write these off as nothing more than "clutter" rooms, but in the case of DN3D, the mappers used them eloquently in a way that added to the gameplay. For example, duke can pee in the toilets to restore 10 health, and you can conceal enemies for ambushes in bathroom stalls. Is it "realistic" that I can heal a bullet wound by taking a piss? Not really, but it gives the player a reason to explore the bathrooms, and by concealing enemy ambushes, it gives the player a reason to tactically approach the toilet. Overall, it compliments and enhances gameplay.

Now then, as for the concerns about "unrealism", I think everyone who's commented thus far has hit it pretty well on the head. In the doom community, it's a well known fact that you can't make a map "realistic" in the sense that something like left 4 dead or half life 2 is realistic; engine limitations prevent this, even with souped-up sourceports like gzdoom. Instead, you're expected to map with "doom realism" -- basically, following tropes that the community expects from a map. You talk about worrying about whether your use of 5D space is "realistic enough". Would the average m-thon player expect it? Does it serve a gameplay purpose other than "fuck yeah, 5D space"?
If you can answer "yes" to these, then use your creative liberty to gerry-rig a plot reason for it to exist: do you really think quantum entanglement teleportation can cause half life? Do you really think that star trek does physics correctly (or even military/political manoeuvres) ? No, certainly not, but the authors of those works know that they can use some trope's the intended audience expects to suspend disbelief long enough to get the real meat of their work across to the player/viewer.
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You articulate your perspective extremely well, keen.

I guess I'd circle back to the point that realism serves different purposes. I mentioned how realism can be a model for making a game behave in intuitive ways the player expects. There are also times when I play a game and think it's cool because something looks like it could really exist. It's akin to the difference between 'hard' science fiction and more fantastic science fiction - I appreciate both, but for different reasons.

I recently worked on a game (for a more modern engine) where most of the levels took place on the same militarized, alien spaceship. The rooms and hallways were all modular. This made it easy to design the level layouts, but there was concern the rooms would all look the same and the player wouldn't be able to discern one from another. I did a lot of research looking at real world places, modern aircraft carriers in particular, to provide a list of potential places that would inform the art. In the end it was a loose interpretation, but it was hopefully enough that a player describing his game would probably talk about going "from the barracks to the mess hall" rather than "from the room at the start to the other room some time later."

Something I find interesting is different forms of imitation. Art imitates life, life imitates art, art imitates art, etc. I could've looked at other games that take place on militant alien spaceships. There's certainly no shortage of them to choose from! But that's probably the most derivative way to take it. The more games are modeled after other games, the stronger those tropes keen mentioned become. Art imitating art is how we get lots and lots of secret research facilities, sewer tunnel labyrinths, volcanically active underground lairs, and the like. While it's not wise to take an office floor plan and make that your level, I think there's a lot of untapped potential to see places you don't often see in games, using real life as inspiration.

P.S. "tactically approach the toilet" would make the greatest mission instructions ever.
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Doom 2 has a map called "Downtown." It is a square grid of square edifices. None of them resemble downtown buildings in a sense that you or I would appreciate, but with the name and the basic layout I can understand the direction the designer was going for, and that's realistic enough for me. In almost every circumstance, I put "fun to play" above all other aspects of design, and when that involves forgoing realism, so be it.
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Mjolnir Mark IV
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For me, generally speaking, as long as the flow isn't disrupted by the layout, I try to make maps as real as possible given the limitations of the engine. This applies more to solo maps than net maps, though, as flow is much more important in online play. But like Ryoko said, realism isn't really paramount to me. If something looks cool and isn't overly obnoxious, but isn't necessarily real, I'll put it in because fuck it.
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doctorbenjiphd wrote:OK, just a quick question to the community: how important is it for your levels to seem realistic, like each room should exist with a specific function?
I'd say it is fairly important. There need to be a context. Where is the player? A mountain, a mine, a space ship, spht ruins, pfhor space ship etc etc. The architecture of that context should be plausible enough to let the player fill in the blanks. E.g. The rooms are not aligned like a normal office, there is a lack of furniture, but yes, I understand it is an office. White walls, carpet, a desk, a wall painting. That's good enough for me when I play marathon. If you put a lava pool in that office and texture the floors with a door texture....yes the unrealism is starting to hurt your map.
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