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The Correct Question

Once I was in a lobby and someone asked the question if a particular Path was inviting or not? That questions changed my perspective on forging at a fundamental level. It raised a paradigm shift in how I would evaluate maps from then on. No longer do I forge to a check list of things a map needs, but rather I forge toward a continuous experience of Game Play. This is why I find learning what makes good Game Play more important than what makes a good map. And a player’s experience cannot be a result of check boxes, because the player’s experience – good or bad – is both in degrees and heavily influenced by their play styles, expectations, and preferences.

Is It Inviting?

When a player sees a Path that they want to take, unconsciously they ask themselves, How inviting is this Path? Various incentives and deterrents will drive their answer.

Open fields don’t feel inviting due to the lack of cover and the threat of being fired upon. Yet, at the other extreme, cramped hallways won’t feel inviting either, because they feel like a trap. And areas cluttered with cover won’t feel inviting because they don’t offer opportunities to move quickly and safely around each and every obstacle.

On the other hand, I think it is safe to say that even an open area can feel inviting on a dynamic level across time – that the answer to this question is not tied only to Geometry.  For example, when the player knows his adversaries are tied up in a fire fight else where, an open area offers a quick dash in a straight line; yet that same open area can feel uninviting when a sniper is suspected. While the Geometry has not changed, the game dynamics have changed over time.

Making Paths inviting is key to forging traffic into the patterns you desire, as well as make the map fun to play on.

Is It Engaging?

Another question that is important to ask regarding a Paths is, Is it engaging? By this I mean when encounters occur on a Path, do they result in each side enjoying the engagement?

If one side has a distinct advantage then the other side would answer No. If either side (or both sides) feel too vulnerable then they will answer No. Do you see what this question is asking at a macro level?

Halo is a rare FPS that naturally offers lengthy and prolonged fire fights. At its core, Halo is fun because it has fire fights that one can engage in over a sustained period of time. Making play areas on your map that feel engaging is vital.

To be more specific, a player should look forward to engaging the enemy along a Path. The Path may be in a Space that allows a Arena style battle to take place where both sides fight for control until one side is the victor. Particularly in asymmetrical games where one team is offense and the other is defense – but also in symmetrical games where one player is taking the offense and the other is his team’s defender – the Path should encourage the offensive push, create an enjoyable encounter for both sides, and allow the victor to capitalize by using the area to setup another push or defense.

To provide an engaging experience, the Path must include features like the Dance Floor, escape routes, cover, and so forth. I have seen a Space with only two Paths in and out that did this well. It was an essential Path on an Invasion map. It is rare to find a Space with only two egress Paths work so well, but I think the size (it wasn’t too large, one could escape backward), and the partial cover in the middle helped a lot.

A major aspect of engagement is that both sides remain engaged until one is the victor. This means that they can find some cover pushing forward to a point so that they are not required to pull back and yield ground to their adversary just to recharge their shields. By being able to remain behind cover, there is some deterrence for their enemy to try to take the Path entirely – they need to protect themselves as well. While this depends upon the skill gap and disposition of each side, in general there is a lot of truth to this concept.

Do I Have Options?

Do you remember we talked about how Spaces should have several egress Paths? One of the questions players will ask themselves (unconsciously) as they enter a Space is, Do I feel I have options? The safety of the Space is driven only partly by how many Paths of escape exist. Other factors can include both cover and elevation (for climbing up on). And I am sure you can come up with more.

As you forge a Space, or even a Walkway, stand in the doorway and ask yourself what the player would see as they decide to enter the Space. Are they feeling limited on what they can do? Are they feeling there are not enough escape routes or the escape routes are too far away or too exposed?

Another context for this same question is when a player moves to cover during a fire fight and they ask themselves if they have options to move from there? This was a critical question for any Invasion map. In Invasion, the Paths were essential Paths and the invaders needed a way to get to an objective along one of the essential Paths. When they came off spawn, they had to immediately find cover. From there they had to have at least two solid options of movement to choose from. Both options needed to look inviting, and at least one would predominately be used if the other was heavily flanked by the defenders.

But the same question is a good question for you to use when you look at the Paths on your map. Consider if a player is moving along, encounters their adversary, and moves to the nearest cover. From there, look around and ask yourself, How many Paths from here are available and are they each inviting? Look at it from the ground perspective by standing behind the cover.

Other Questions

Now that you got an idea of how to ask the right questions that can drive players’ decisions on where and how to move about your map, you may come up with some of your own. The point is that you want to ask questions that relate to the movement of players and the unfolding of the Game Play, rather than a focus on map features. You want to ask yourself questions that keep your focus on the perspective of the player’s decisions to move and their decisions to engage.

Don’t worry about whether you have cover within a Space. Ask yourself would the player entering the Space recognize the cover as something valuable that they would naturally gravitate to should they need it? Or is it useless due to the way you forged it?

Additionally, when you test play your map, don’t ask for vague feedback. Don’t ask, Any one got any feedback for me? Ask specific questions that help you get into their heads, to learn what motivated them to make movement decisions. Help them know what kind of feedback you find valuable.

Ask something like, Was the Path to Top Green inviting? You can learn specifically what needs to be addressed by the specific impressions that your map left in players.

Summary

Instead of forging to a check list of map features, forge to a dynamic and continuous player experience.

To do this, ask yourself the right questions in forge.

And ask these same questions in test lobbies to get very specific feedback and to show the other players what you are trying to determine through testing your map.

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