I prefer to just go free form when I make a Quake map, because it's hobby work, and some of the fun is seeing how it will develop. I tend to start with just making a cool looking room, and then build around that with whatever thoughts pop into my head to do around that area. This works reasonably for me, but it can also lead you to dead ends, 'I have no idea what to do here' moments, and lots of inconsistent areas if you aren't careful.
I have in the past done some quick blockout-type test areas. Recently, for my jam2 map I made a jam2_test 'level' which is simply an ikblue wall, the red window texture from knave, a floor, and a red sky... which took me a couple hours of experimenting with different things to get to. Everything from ikwhite to ikblue, to a mixture, just to find something that fit my fancy.
My last Q3 map
is actually pretty simple too, but that was also a day or two ahead of time playing with brushes and curves thinking about what gameplay space I'd like to try and make. I also once converted a speedmap into a proper finished map
, which is sort of like using a blockout.
When I did level design professionally though, it was all preplanned before setting foot in an editor. There's just no getting by this, you simply cannot get half way through a level and say 'well, I've designed myself into a corner, time to scrap this' while on a deadline.
At Raven my workflow was that there would be a general overview of what story or elements were expected in the map given to me from the design lead, and then I'd need to make a concrete plan for it to discuss in a meeting with project lead, design lead, and art lead. Most often this would be me making a quicky sketchy 'block out' in SketchUp
and writing up a page or so of the intended action through the level and presenting it. After this meeting there would be any revisions, re-meet, until the layout was agreed upon.
With the first few games I worked on, they were tile based engines so I'd simply dive into making the level and scripting and the tiles would just automagically update as the art team made them. When we moved into Unreal Engine3 stuff, workflow turned into me making a CSG blockout of the level and handing it off to an environment artist to make pretty and I would do the scripting stuff required for the gameplay before/during/after the artist was working with it.