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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.
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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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