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Good Layouts?
Ok, its been discussed some years ago Im sure...

What makes a good layout from PLAYER view?

I tend to think that complex non linear layouts and too much backtracking without a clear limited route just confuse the player.
Such was the conclusion after playtesting the game I was on. Chances are the testers were a bit lame at navigating 3d environments... but cant expect much from the target audience really (teens). The only good thing about backtracking - if done right, it allows to see the structure from different angles and creates a better sense of place.
In my opinion, its better having linear route through the map, but with bits were you can see the other areas (either already visited or better those you need to reach) and at some point present the view of the whole structure/building - also for creating the sense of place and just cause huge structures look impressive.
Backtracking Is Good 
if it allows you to go back and investigate a previously uneneterable area. Of course, yo dont want to trek half a map to check out a new airvent or something but in general, I think backtracking is good.

I also like seeing other bits of the map from somewhere else in the map, the different angels make for a good view. 
backtracking is confusing - players get lost and frustrated 
I've heard Scampie likes a bit of backtrack'n 
Things I Enjoy: 
Some backtracking, provided the area you go through is repopulated or changed slightly in some way. This includes revisiting the same area from a different angle, kind of like a hallway has 4 doors, you only get 2 at the start, but go through the other 2 later on.

Foreshadowing - seeing some area early but not getting to it, then coming to it later and going "Oh yeah that's totally that one area."

I also REALLY enjoy MC Escher-esque layouts. If that SoE pack ever gets released, you'll see what I mean. For example, the level is really huge, but there's so many layers of stairs and walkways and pillars it seems much more confusing and maze-ish, and you can see some areas way on the other side of the level and possibly the path to get there but you can't be sure - I really dig stuff like that.

Also, lots of twists and turns. I don't like too many straight paths, I like stuff to constantly turn in on itself, similar to my Egypt-Tech turtlemap.

I feel a layout like that offers a lot - interesting gameplay situations while being non-linear and providing just awesome options for secrets and alternate paths. Twisty is the way to go. 
1) never let the player get lost unless he has someplace to go that he has not yet been to. Making a level too twisty will almost make it a certainty that this will happen. Not arguing against twisty; it is just something you have to watch out for in a twisty design.

2) Fuck with the players expectations every chance you get.

3) If you can't do the 2nd, and the player is fallowing a predetermined path, or backtracking -- add a cool, soothing sound track. This was used many times in Dues Ex, and as stupid as it sounds, it worked.

(Dues Ex icon please, it gets more references on the board than Unreal which has an icon). 
This is a pleasant surprise, I was expecting this to be another anally retentively narrow-minded thread like "Good layouts......for Quakeworld 1on1 maps that use Idbase textures" or something equally sterile for discussion.

But it isn't, hurrah. Could have a snappier title though.

Anyway, I like single player layouts that allow you to see the same areas of a map from different perspectives, e.g. at some point you see a structure, and later you are inside it, looking out. It has to be in the same map though, it's not as much fun if you change map and you know what what you are seeing is just a "prop".

I also like exploration and side-areas. But complete non-linearity can result in a lot of to-and-froing as one doesn't know which is the best way to go, as well as being hard to balance well. 
Hey Shambler 
If you go sign up for an account at slashdot they have their own page where you can metamoderate what other people moderated other people's posts as. I think it would be a nice hangout for you. 
czg: heh, great
But how about presenting some ideas on the topic, as you pretty good at making interesting layouts. Could you share some tips or even describe your way of thinking when you are planning a map

good mantion about 'same map', because nothing breaks up the world like a level change ;/
too bad when you just have to do it, cause of the tech requirments 
Amazing comedy, you can tell that by the sort of audience it appeals to ~_~ 
descent1/2 levels are still the best so i vote for lots of alternative, non neccessary routes. the routes themselves dont have to be too nonlinear or complicated, just that i like doing 'extra work' for some goodies.

also, descent used LOTS of backtracking and it almost all the time is fun. (keys, anyone?). the important thing to keep in mind is that the PLAYER HAS TO KNOW WHERE TO GO NEXT ALL THE FUCKING TIME. see descent: backtracking always occured after you picked up a key - you immediately recognized 'ah, blue key -> blue door' and flew in that direction (which doesn't necessarily mean you knew how to get there, -> descent's decent automap).

Also, a mixture between cramped, very difficult to remember and relatively simple / easy architecture can work great. I remember this one descent 2 level where i just always got lost in that one room in the middle, no matter how often and how concious i flew thorugh it - but the automap saved me all the time. could be annoying in, say, quake.

Don't block my way back once i get somewhere else. im a player that saves ammo and medpacks - and i want to have the opportunity to pick em up later. of course once in a while blocking my path back isnt much of a problem.

Show me where to go next (if that isnt already implied in your gameplay, see descent reactor/red/blue/yellow doors).

Design fighting areas in a way so i can finish it in several different ways (that is the reason why fixed guns in ww2 games are so boring); dont let me get the feeling im just trying to guess what the designer thought how to handle this situation (rts: commandos).

Don't ever let me wait but for one thing: things i did (like: its ok to wait for a plat when i pressed a button(hl1), its not ok to wait for some stupid scripted scene for minutes
which i cannot cancel(hl2).

Jumping puzzles are evil on the main route, ok/good for secrets. Reward me when i get somewhere special via 1337 movement (like a roof of a building or somthing, of course that depends on what kind of game were talking. i dont expect the ssg on a roof in hl2)
vertical fighting. i cant emphasize how boring horizontal only fighting is (see: d3). don't overdo it, but always keep in mind that vertical fighting is important. that is true for floors too - i want to strafe on stairs, jump over them to that small ledge - quake3 maps (not stock ones, silly) often show some good vertical scaling, tho the count of vertical fights probably has to be reduced for singleplayer.

One more thing to keep in mind is that the more realistic the environment the more important is nonlinearity, see hl2(and d3). totally sucks ass cause i walk on rails through all these wide environments(not d3). i dont have a problem with a sewer not being exactly complicated, but atmosphere does get destroyed when every door or hallway but one is sealed (also hl2,end: if the enemy has super power that can stop me completely from going somewhere, dont make him look stupid by letting him forget to secure one path all the time).

dont unrealistically spawn enemies, whether you do a scifi or a realism game. if enemies can teleport, let me teleport occasionally, too (see: Q) - or just explain why enemies can teleport. no rule without exception: if you do a game that wants to imply the 'bad dungeon master set some tricks&traps for you' image, almost everything is allowed (see daikatana, quake).

wuuaaah, so long suckers! 
What About Puzzles? 
i mean, minor ones, nothing overly complicated...

what is your opinions on minor puzzles in first person shooters? 
Jumping puzzles are evil on the main route, ok/good for secrets.

Jumping puzzles on the main root may be ok if they are done fine. I almost always use some jumping puzzles on the main root to add something different to the usual gameplay style.

Also ambushes are very fun in gameplay if they are properly made. 
Jumping puzzles on the main route shpould be either very short or very easy/fluid 
What's A 2 Level? 
Also, If You Are Playing Quake 
I figure you have suspended your disbelief on the matter of mass teleportation many maps ago before you ever get to one of mine, so it is just another trick in the bag AFAIC. 
Forgot To Say 
all that shit above is just my opinion (and the base for discussion, hopefully..!), im just too lazy and evil to formulate it nicer/less offending in case of disagreement. 
Jumping puzzles on the main route shpould be either very short or very easy/fluid

Of course jumping puzzles should be rather easy, much easier than the ones that lead to secrets.
It's sometimes more interesting to make some platforms instead of plain bridge. 
I Don't Care 
I would bring up descent2 as an example of badly puzzling map layouts. Quite complex 3d mazes, same texture allover the place - it was very easy to get lost. The 3D map didnt help much, the only true help was the little guide bot. Developers pretty much realized it would be frustrating for a player to navigate such levels and garecefully included AI helper.

Doom had some really annoying backtracking - I often found myself walking the empty corridors just using the 2d map. Contrasting to this quake almost always provided you with a teleporter to the door when you found a key, or just had a map planned in the way that lead you back trough another route. I was very noticeable and pleasant change from doom.

Jumping puzzles in fps are really bad, cause u hardly see where exactly you landing - the view is limited and you see no legs, also in quake you slide a bit (jumping works much better in third person view) 
This is a pleasant surprise, I was expecting this to be another anally retentively narrow-minded thread like "Good layouts......for Quakeworld 1on1 maps that use Idbase textures" or something equally sterile for discussion.

Lol, you're an asshole 
But I'm right about the myopic blandness of some topics people insist on posting.

Wasn't a dig at you, BTW, just a general comment. But to make up for that, you're a professional cockgobbler who's out of work from using his teeth too much. 
mostly sucks. I get lost a lot, even if the mapper has placed monsters to show the way.

Bordering acceptable: clearly marked key doors so the player remembers where they were and can go back to them after getting the key. 
Backtracking Is Good 
if done right 
i think it's misleading to say "backtracking is bad" becuase sometimes it isn't. A better way to say what we really mean is "the player should always know where to go next" and "the player should never be bored." And the first of those two rules is only true for action games like quake -- puzzle or adventure games might actually force the player to figure out what to do next. In quake, that isn't part of the gameplay, so it just frustrates player's expectations. 
Metl pretty much nailed it there. As long as you know what to do and where to go, and you're entertained, its largely irrelevant whether you're exploring new areas, or backtracking, or whatever else you might want to do. 
maps without backtracking are simply straightforward, which is not as fun as maps with backtracking imho.

Backtracking is good when:
a) it is rather short (walking back thru the half of the map is not fun);
b) player knows where to go;
c) there are new monsters on the backtracking route. 
technically metlslime is right, but considering how hard it is to make backtracking not frustrating, i'm 90% not into it. Maybe if you force the player back via wind tunnels to a recognizable small wind tunnel hub with new monsters and a very visible and pointed out newly available wind tunnel you still remember which windtunnel to jump in to. "Hey this wind tunnel needs the gold key - I seem to have it so I guess the mapper wanted me to hop in this particular wind tunnel and not the two others here". He Falls Like Lucifer (Kell's one chapters map) or Rubicondom are recent examples of somewhat bad backtracking and lost feeling because of confusing triggers, architechture, teleports or just something simple like a badly marked silver key door. Kinn's Bastion had some bad moments too, I'm sorry to say. I even saved and jumped to the grinder out of boredom. 
To avoid linear feel you could use attrium-type areas, where you visit the same place on another floor (only problem here - you can fall down and have trouble finding your way back)
Latest Q-fraggel d3 map is rather good example of atrium design layout 
2 things.

Firstly, this: considering how hard it is to make backtracking not frustrating, i'm 90% not into it

Why is it difficult? You're a level designer... right? Make it fun.

Your comment does make me realise this, though: 'backtracking' is in itself a bad term to describe what we're talking about here. The word itself implies that you're simply going back over the same ground you've already covered, and nothing much has changed.

A better term (which has probably already been put forward, I can't remember) is re-visiting areas of the map. This can include 'backtracking', but may also involve travelling through the same area in a different way:

- from a higher level
- with different tools/abilities (Zelda on GC did this very nicely) allowing you to acess previously inacessible areas
- new monster placement/events
- etc

The bottom line is that re-using parts of the map will save you some dev time and allow you to make the most out of the content that you build. It is also fun for players to re-visit areas provided you keep it interesting (stop thinking 'level', you want to create an environment for players to explore).

In other words, provided you can keep it interesting, you're foolish if you don't re-use bits of the map. Like everything else it can be overdone and you need to use your head, but that's where the design part of level design comes in. 
Metroid relies heavily on backtracking and discovering new areas based on new skills/upgrades you find. This is a good thing I find, tho in Metroid all the enemies respawn once you leave the room. An�/&( 
also in metroid you can refill your health/ rockets easily. And its 2d... but I still got stuck (didnt know what to do-where to go) and gave up 
I Love 'backtracking' In Most Levels. 
It lends a nice sense of circularity or 'completeness' to the map, making you feel like you're actually there for a purpose rather than just passing through a series of 'tests' lined up regimentally for your convenience. 
The first metroid is shockingly undirected. I don't know if I'd be willing to finish that game if I was first playing it as an adult. But as a kid, I had enough free time to get into it. Notice that all modern metroid games have systems to give player hints, objectives, or little beacons on the map screen. I don't think the original metroid would be tolerated if it was released this year.

But it is one of my favorite games. 
The First Metroid 
kicked fucking ass, and I played it (and finished it) as an adult. (I'm an old fart, you see.)

Hints? Objectives? *pfeh* Kids today. I remember when games were powered by coal instead of electricity. Get off my lawn. 
rofl on the coal quote 
Dammit Mario didn't make the chasm jump, MORE COAL! 
i totally agree with mr. fribbles' post about the creating an environment thing (which naturally includes backtracking). without having to revisit certain areas, the map - or the playing experience in general - would be pretty flat in most cases, caused by shorter playing times and less involvement in the maps.
of cause, it depends on the map itself - backtracking should include some new monsters on the way back, or at least something that makes the old areas interesting to visit again - like e.g. letting them collapse and have the player wade through the debris... i guess this has all been said already.

i think (jumping) puzzles don't necessarily have to be easy. again, it depends on the map ('s style), but mostly it's okay if there is something unusual about the gameplay or at least something that breaks up the regular fighting. also, jumping is not really difficult in my view, for in most fps games one can also steer in mid-air...

by the way: teleporting in monsters into already visited areas is possible with doom, too, only hardly anyone ever used it. 
Point 3 In Post #5 By HeadThump so right. A soothing and good soundtrack can make gaming a pure joy. The Deus-Ex music was particularly good and I just didn't tire of it.

The DX2-IW was also good but not as good but still very good. Other good background music could be heard in Unreal and made you want to slow the pace and check out the great NaPali expanses - many which weren't densely populated..

BTW, there was a very cool song called 'Pulse of Life' played on KCRW's Nocturna that actually was composed for some video game (a sport type game I think.)

To add to the thread - um - I like seeing areas in a map that I can't reach or visit right away but then you reach them later. This is even better if verticality is used well and the ascent is serpentine and interesting.

Another type of map layout that I also really enjoy is the long journey type of map. Such a map has little or no backtracking, often is more 2D in layout, and doesn't fold back on itself. It makes the player feel that they are on a long hike to someplace far away. One of Tronyn's larger maps in Night Journey felt like this. 
Hey Thanks, 
I haven't forgotten your offer from last year to beta test. I have just been too busy to complete anything more simple that speedmaps and the Norway pack map. I'm getting things done but very slowly on a number of fronts. 
seen a lot of tv stuff over the last month or so :

24 Season 3 - easily the weakest of the seasons, some preposterous plotting and unecessary subplots. Given the scripting it had though, it made a decent fist out of it.


24 Season 4 - A welcome return to form. It's almost as if the writers finally acknowledged that the novelty had worn off and the show had become a slave to its format. So to combat this, they upped the ante in terms of action, twists and stakes. As good as if not better than Season 1, though for completely different reasons.


Six Feet Under season 3 - The show changed trajectory this season and the results were hit and miss. For every thing that was done well, something else was done poorly. The last 4 episodes are a knockout bunch though. Still, it was weaker than the much stronger first two seasons.


Six Feet Under Season 4 - The decline continues. Personally, I thought the show just turned into high grade soap opera by this point. Some good episodes (david and the hitchiker) but overall the weakest season I've seen.


Spooks Season 1 - competently made BBC spy series, nothing really wrong with it overall. But it's much too cliche for all the reverence it receives.


Entourage Season 1 - Decent series about the life of an up and coming movie star with not much talent, a killer agent, and some leechy friends. Sets up nicely and could be a real winner if the writing becomes sharper.

sorry wrong thread. 
watch less telly and movies. It's not healthy. 
Awesome Post Nitin. 
Both of them, in fact ;) 
Interesting Discussion, And Forum :) 
I think it depends what "backtracking" is defined as, do you mean ANY time you return to an earlier area, or just when you have to go back over exactly the same "terrain" as before? I'd agree that the latter is generally bad at any prolonged distance (I don't think a few rooms or something like that matters and it can help add a sense of place). But based on my favorite game levels of all time I think the former is near essential. Sometimes it MAKES a level for me when I leave a room after seeing an area that I don't think I'll access, then 20 minutes later I enter an area and I'm suddenly like "cool!" when I realised I'm at the area I saw earlier and nearly forgot about. I agree with what someone said earlier though that (unless it is really necessary), splitting this style of area over multiple maps lowers the effect as it feels more fake (although I would still consider it preferable to not seeing an old area at all).

It's also a balance though, on a single level I would always support using a "guided non-linear" style, but in a big pack it could pay to mix things up a bit, and follow up a non-linear level with a "straight-line" one for a little contrast.

Levels that I like tend to be almost overwhelming at first, you see some huge environment and are like "how the hell will I explore THIS?", but then you are taken along the path to kick progression off (perhaps via story directions or something) and it suddenly flows like water (while still providing plenty of room to go off the path and explore side areas) and you wander why you were ever overwhelmed in the first place :P .

Although a mapper shouldn't necesarily focus on it much, if at all (where's the fun in it if the mapper had already decreed your route?) but a guided non-linear design also has the bonus of leading to cool tricks etc for crazy speedruns and stuff like that.

As for things like jumping along the main route I think a few hops add to the atmosphere if you are running from a collapsing building or something, but jumping puzzles for the sake of it on the main route generally do suck (although even that can depend on the situation).

To pull out of example of what I think are horrible level layouts I choose the majority of the "Anti-citizen one" levels in Half Life 2 .

Firstly the path is a straight line, not necessarily bad if done right, but this chapter of HL2 varies the gameplay very little, it's just shooting the same two or three enemy types over and over with the odd (contrived) headcrab encounter thrown in, there are also very few puzzles or other things like that, the only slightly varied thing is the use of the "hoppers". Other than a few windows stuff like vertical combat is very rarely introduced, it's all blasting the same stuff on the same level as you, which further adds to the monotomy. Also, although it is set in a city there is little "rhythm" to it; you go through an apartment and suddenly end up in an underground car park, it's like they couldn't think of a convincing way to do a transition. Other than the Citadel (which is seen throughout almost the entire game, so I don't necessarily count it as a "unique" addition considering it's pretty much just a cool skybox detail) there is very little forshadowing, you just pass through an area and that's it, it's never seen again.

As a "solution" to all this I think it either should have just been a lot longer and with more complex (and interesting) means of progression past each area, or it should have put you much closer to the Citadel, and focused on a smaller but much more "fleshed out" area.

On the flipside the next chapter, Follow Freeman, I'd probably consider one of the best done in the game. Especially in the "museum" area; you enter a structure (with a task that is non-linear), then come out the other side and return to the courtyard area again, which is now completely different.

Funny how my first post is a huge rant, but as the quality of level design in a lot of recent "retail" FPS games has been IMO terrible for the most part, yet people insist on calling parts I consider horrible "great" I've started to be pretty passionate about it :P .

Some further clarification on what I believe on this article; I agree with almost all of it, "Conceptual Grandness" is the key!: 
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