Oswald Rant: A Discourse On Action Mapping

Thanks to Holy Goat of The A-Team, who has provided initial direction to break into “action” mapping. While this article was written with their mod, Action Unreal Tournament in mind. And now, the article titled, A Discourse On Action Mapping by Holy Goat, A-Team Mapper.

The purpose of this little essay is instruction and information – primarily targeted at mappers who want to get started on AUT, but possibly of interest to reviewers and people who like maps.

So, what makes a map an Action map? This is something that runs right through from AQ2 to AUT, and sidesteps engine limitations (though they do play a part). I suppose it can be distilled into ETHOS. That means, whatever is there is there to facilitate action-movie style – graphical effects and architecture exist to immerse the player in a movie, the layout of the level is designed to encourage shoot outs, use of cover, mad dives, and other heroic play techniques.
While you might look at a generic castle map and say ‘that’s not action!’, you could be wrong – what if it were raining, there was a computer room hidden in the bowels of the castle, and it had been taken over by terrorists?

The Three S’s
Comparing those two castle maps, several subsidiary points arise, which by design and accident I have termed the three S’s. Namely:

  1. Scaling
  2. Setting
  3. Scenario.

1) Scaling is simple. While a castle in Unreal might look realistic, it’s obviously not a modern day human one – 18′ high doorways and mammoth drawbridges make that clear. If most of the doorways were, say 96×128 or 128×160 (depending on situation), the tables were around 40 units high, etc. etc., then it becomes more and more human, more and more accessible to the player’s imagination. This is an art in itself, as humans have 120°-160° vision as opposed to a game’s 90°, so what looks right in the player’s view looks wrong when he sees another player standing by it. Trial and error, and a bit of practice, is the main method here.

Another aspect of this is human tolerance. Fall 50′ in UT, and you’ll lose a bit of health. Fall that distance in real life (or in AUT), and you’ll get a broken leg or far worse. Design for and from realism – you won’t find drops of that distance in a real building without a means of getting down, and it’s no fun to require the player to make near-impossible jumps or falls just to move around. Imagine moving around your level in reality – if you can do it comfortably, then it should be alright.

2) Setting means that you’ve got to be modern and you’ve got to make the map possible. So that rules out a map like Hyperblast. There’s also no sense in making a realistic office building if you have a huge plasma beam in one of the rooms – consistency plays a part. Your aim is to make sure that the whole level would look right if John Woo were filming there.Going back to the castle, it might be a 12th Century Romanian castle, but it must be tied to the 21st century. By all means have candles, but have some renovated rooms or some fluorescent tubes to place it in time.

3) Scenario means there must be a reason for a gun battle to be occurring. This doesn’t really come into play in, say, an office building (terrorists can fill in for a story), but if you’re having an amusement arcade then you’d better have Arnie come striding in to protect John Connor.
Try to make the player feel as if there’s something going on around them – shattered buildings in a war zone, a flattened door, an overturned truck. If you have to block off an area due to game play limitations, give a reason – police cordon, earthquake damage, fire. Again, don’t shatter the player’s immersion. In the castle, you might consider a hostage scenario, a helicopter on the roof (perfect for an Assault situation), or stalking assassins in the corridors.

With those points raised, I can now cover other miscellany.

Problems…and Solutions.
While you have the above points to work with, never forget the principles that rule all multiplayer mapping – flow, playability, weapon placement, focus, aesthetics, and balance. As with any themed map (sci fi, modern, whatever), if there’s a conflict between any of these, you’ll have to make changes or compromises.
For example, the average home is a very bad site for an action battle – it’s constricted, the doors are small, and flow is terrible. So if you were to make a map of a house, it would look like a house, be reminiscent of a house, but the doors would be slightly larger (and perhaps just be door frames – you won’t notice in-game), rooms would be more open, and there would be at least two accesses to each of the rooms (no sense in creating camping spots or useless dead ends).

Use changes in height to your advantage. Staggered levels, stairs (in moderation), and varying-height rooftops are all very cinematic. Towers can be useful for placement of weapons, though try not to make it too easy to camp (either by placing multiple vantage points or multiple accesses, or limiting its usefulness by a reduced FOV).

Use the graphical capabilities of your chosen engine (I’ll assume UT) to the maximum without reducing playability. If you’ve got a crowded backroom to a bar, a bit of fog won’t go amiss. Smoking’s bad for your health!
Signs and decals can help to spice up a map, add focus points (“meet by the Capricorn Cola billboard” compared to “meet in the middle of the corridor”) and break up surfaces. A realistic sky and lighting scheme help to set the scene – no splashes of green; use orange or blue in a night sky, orange sodium lights or blue fluorescent tubes on streets, yellow for filament bulbs. Reds and deep blues are very sci-fi (think of the ships in Unreal). Spaceships are definitely out!

Use Features.
Try to bring focus to your map with level features. A plain military base is boring, but if you have a huge, 3 story missile sitting smack dab in the middle of it, you’ve got something to work around. Break up shapes – if you start from scratch you’d get a rectangular base, but with a missile it’d probably have interesting radial elements.
Don’t clump. Interesting features are best used with a little spacing; not too much or too little. If they’re all in one place, with all the weapons, no one will visit the rest of the map. If they’re too spread out, people will get bored hunting for each other and trudging around the level. A happy balance is in order.

Uniqueness is good. This overlaps with the focus, but if your level is simply a generic ‘military rooms and corridors’ it won’t captivate the player and they’re likely to forget the map. Military corridors and rooms are alright if there’s something special – perhaps it’s in a thunderstorm and you’ve got leaks springing everywhere with lightning crashing around your ears. They’ll remember that!

Ideas and Closing Statement
‘So’, I hear you crying, ‘what on earth can I map and still do all that?!’. Well, you’re unlikely to be able to do it all. You can’t have a map with focus, graphical brilliance, towers, stairs, circling helicopters, thunder, lightning and bells and whistles to cap it off. However, you can try to do as much as you can, so here are some ideas to get you started. Try to put a twist on each… a mountain road with ambushed vehicles could have rock falls or flash floods to add a bit of spice.
The mapper who’s working on each idea is listed.

  • Underground military base. Generic, but with thought there’s a lot you can do with it.
  • Hospital. Don’t do an asylum, that’s entirely my preserve 🙂
  • Bank. Not just a conventional one at night; try doing one during the day with a large open foyer.
  • Terrorist mountain bases. Use the UT engine to great effect with sizeable drops for the unwary.
  • Alpine ski resort. Drink coffee in the morning on your wooden-floored balcony, and eat bullets in the afternoon.
  • Downtown/Chinatown. There’s a lot more to it than warehouses and nightlife…
  • Rooftop chase. Think Matrix, but with a bit more scope.
  • Ruined Mayan buildings. Lots of action-style potential here. Competing ‘archaeologists’ working for rich, ruthless collectors…
  • Museum.
    Docklands… as in The Usual Suspects, or one of your own devising…
  • Airship… internal and external (perhaps like the Rocketeer, dire movie though it was).
  • Movie theatre… I did this as my very first Quake2 map.
  • Traditional theatre… action in the gantries.
  • Drive-through restaurant/motorway service station.
  • Tower building. Die Hard – say no more. -Holy Goat
  • Swamp… -Holy Goat
  • Airport – if you can pull it off, it’d be stunning.
  • Police Station. What’s that Robert Carlyle film…
  • Shopping mall
  • Casino.

There you are – see what you can do with those. If you choose to use one of these ideas, please mail me so I can post here what maps are in progress.

Ideas and Closing Statement
If you need help with mapping, post on the AUT message board (linked from the homepage), search the numerous web resources such as RUST, or mail me. I’m usually happy to help! 😉

And before you start… be sure to read the Map Requirements linked on the left (link no longer exists).

Let us know how you get on!

-Holy Goat

Yet Another Review…

Five hours later and I am still going strong. Check out all the new information available as of today. All of the Test Maps which are available at AQMD have now been included here, with a screenshot, size and a link to the FTP site. Hopefully by doing this, it will prevent you from wasting you time and bandwidth on a map you think does not meet your standards. There are a few maps which look promising. I am also half way though an interview with Holy Goat. Hopefully that will be posted here later today. You can also access it though ‘The Mapper’s Spotlight’ over at AQMD. Speaking of Holy Goat, I just finished his second map review of Asylum. This review, unlike most of the others was only played in DM. So check it out and see what you think. By the way this is a great looking and great playing map! Action World finally got their graphics guru to create a 90×30 button. It is very cool looking and available at Action World or from The 6th Floor Action Links.

Bare with Me Here

I have many things going on right now as they related to the site. I have multiple interviews to host, featuring T.T.I and Holy Goat. I have about 4 reviews that are waiting and ready to be uploaded. I finally got all my HTML code together along with all the graphics from [NT]Overkill for The 6th Floor. He has done an excellent job on it, hopefully all of you will feel the same way and like new look and interface. And yes, the cross hair is staying for all to play with. When all this will take place, I am not too sure. Over the course of the next 3-5 days, I hope. I also see that Death Magnet “cleaned house” at AQMD, releasing Arcadia by Ætherum, Beware by WOLF[BiA], Cloud by MaXy, Dam by Castrator and Theist by SteelHORN. All of which are still on the ‘Test Page’ under New Action Maps. So hang in there a few more days, and you will be mildly surprised at what will transpire. If you ever sent me email at oswald@actionquake.com, drop me another email, I lost all my documents and email addresses when I reformatted my Windows98 drive. Think I learned my lesson? BACK FILES UP!!!

Back on Track

It may not look like it, but I am getting back on track here at The 6th Floor. There has been a bit of news floating around, most of which I am sure you have seen on sites such as Action World and Action Quake Forever, so I see no reason to repeat it. There were two new maps released yesterday at AQMD. The first was Loveboat by Squirrel, which is set on a cruise ship, or for those of us still living in the 1970s, the TV series. And no Issac will not be able to mix you a drink. The second is Motel by bobbins, which is set in a rundown and old hotel. There is also a new Map Resource d00d in place at AQMD, that being FiReWaLKeR[TDm], who created Murder. He is there for all your resouces and mapping needs. Holy Goat has decided to concentrate more on Action Half-Life. Also, Swoosh the infamous “Monkey Wrangler” of the forum will be wrangling no more at the AQMD. Not sure if he will still be involved in testing or not. I have yet to hear.