Lunaran.com Matthew Breit Level Designer | Texture Artist
This covers directing player movement through a map, and incorrectly asserts that dead ends, forced indirect routes, or other things that slow players are essentially illegal (if used correctly they can create risk around critical points like strong items or make it more difficult for a player to dominate an entire map). Otherwise critical information for beginners.
Jan 30, 1999
Connectivity can make or break a map. Connectivity itself (besides not really being a word) doesn't affect the map directly, but it affects the other aspects of a map that make it work. An easily navigable map makes for good game flow (see that section), which makes for a good map.
Connectivity is the ease of a map's navigation. How easy is it to get from one area to another? How long does it take? Will someone get lost trying to get somewhere? How easy is the layout to remember? These questions you should ask yourself when laying out a level. We will consider a few factors when measuring a map's connectivity: paths between adjacent areas, paths between non-adjacent areas, and number of ways into/out of a single area.
Paths Between Adjacent Areas
The player wants to go from one room to a nearby, neighboring room (no rooms in between). He should be able to get there easily, period. No toying around. From within the first room, the path to the second one should be fairly easy to see and to get to.
A bad example of this is Subtransit, a HL deathmatch map. In the main open-air station with the RPG and conveyors, the two rooms at either end of the conveyor system are only linked by the conveyors themselves. One has to go out on the conveyors, against their roll, go around and down the other one to get from one room to another. This is slow as it is. The other way is to go down the hall, remember which door to go through, go down through the main foyer back to the open air station, back into the other door and up a ladder. This disregard to connectivity is made even more obnoxious by the addition of a barred window between the two rooms, saying "I could connect these rooms easily, but I won't."
Anyway. A good example is Stalkyard, another HL map. Each of the three major rooms has an obvious and clear-cut hall from one to the next, forming a circle, as well as a small hallway in the center connecting all the rooms and allowing one to move between one room and another in a flash.
Paths Between Non-Adjacent Areas
Now, consider a player having to go between two aras that are, say, at opposite ends of the map. His path should generally take him close to the middle of the map. It shouldn't be necessary to take a long trip around the map to get across it. We've all been on one road trip or two (or three, or four, oh god). Whoever was driving either stuck to one or two major interstates and did 75 the whole time or took a slightly ragged path to see the sights on the way to wherever. It's the same with a map. A player will either need to go straight somewhere (he'll gun it across rooms and down halls heading straight for something, maybe health), or he'll decide to head to somewhere and proceed down there leisurely, grabbing items (seeing the sights) and running into combat on the way (getting pulled over) that may or may not change his plans (invalid passport, turned around at the border).
The United States is big, so it's not the best analogy, but consider: when driving from Chicago to Denver, I-80 goes about straight from one to the other (it's more like Springfield to Cheyenne, but you get the point). Someone doesn't have to drive from Chicago down to Missouri through Kansas and loop around Santa Fe. There's a more or less direct route between everywhere.
From anywhere in a map, there should be a more or less direct route to every other area. No weaving around between here and there should be necessary.
Ways Into/Out Of An Area
No room should have only one door, ever. If you want to give a particular room only one entrance/exit, then make a few other doors/otherwise that are either only exits or only entrances. A room with only one door just begs for camping, and unless there's a good item in there, it won't be visited at all. A dead-end room/hall makes a nice deterrent if there's a gun or something in there (excellent example: one of the rocket launchers in Q2DM1, The Edge), but there's always either a dedicated entrance or exit to every dead end. Unless it's a poorly designed map, the item is damned good, or the dead-end is real short. Or any combination.
Think on Q2DM1 again. There's a hole in the cieling where someone can drop through, grab the RL, and keep on going. He wwon't have to worry about someone following him in and trapping him, and he may even surprise a camper. In SleepwalkR's map Pain Elemental, the RA is in a small dead-end room just off of one of the main atriums. It's a quick nip in to grab it and then you're out. The deterrent, therefore, is getting caught by the guy two floors up with the grenade launcher ...
Back to Stalkyard again. The upper storage room with the barrels has only one entrance, but there's two vents to crawl/drop through to escape if someone follows you in or has the door covered.
What does this all mean?
The above is just a bunch of disjoint scenarios and mean nothing to the overall layout ... so far. A map should provide for all of the above, with connections between rooms and such, but avoid being overly redundant, simplistic, or confusing.
The rule of thumb is one connection between rooms per type. Consider The Rage once more. It's nothing but two rooms. But, the connections are at all different levels at different angles and different modes (hall, stairwell, etc). There's the big ground-level hall, and various connections between levels/across levels going between the two atriums. Two rooms with two exits that both go to the same part of the same place is no good. Each exit from a room should go from a different part of area 1 to a different part of area 2 (or to a completely different area, preferably).
Look at Example A. There are several things wrong here: the south room has redundant connections to the NW room, but no connections to the NE room except through the NW room. There is no way to get any circular flow going through that third room, and gameplay between the other two rooms consists mostly of "Run into the other room... repeat."
Example B is somewhat better, but still suffers from one major problem: dead-ends. The map does get a little circular flow going, but the two rooms marked with red dots only have one entrance. They're extremely dangerous and unappealing to the average player, who doesn't want to get trapped and killed. Stopping and turning around in a deathmatch does not come naturally. The only time a dead-end is acceptable, ever, is if it's short and there's a damned good reason for wanting to go in there. The RA or whatever goodie you stick in there has to be appealing enough for the player to risk campers or getting trapped with no means of escape.
Repetitive connections between rooms are useless in almost all situations. The situations where they aren't include connections between the same room, but from different specific areas. One connection between two rooms on the first floor and another on the second is a different story. Connections between separated areas of a room, ie, a ground floor, a raised platform, an overlooking balcony, a catwalk, etc, any number in any combination. If the same area of the same room is connected twice, rip out one of the connections, or if you can't, merge them into one.
Redundancy can be of some value, however, but only in certain cases. If a particular connection is seeing heavy use (upsetting balance), you may want to change around the connections between the two areas a bit to redirect the flow to balance things more. Either cut the connection altogether (bad), modify it in some way to redirect traffic (good), or add another redundant connection that's still a bit different in its own right (good).
That's redundancy. Simplistic connectivity is a simple problem with a simple concept behind it: boredom. No matter how wonderfully constructed your areas are, they shouldn't be connected by simple tunnels of concrete. The connections should be more than just small boxes connecting big boxes. The layout should be somewhat varied, logical yet a little twisted. Don't just use halls. Take advantage of the engine and make things go up and down and over other things. Bad example: Two rooms with four halls running in the space between them. Good example: The Rage, with halls sloping up and down and winding around the atriums.
Be careful, though. Don't make things too complicated. I return to SubTransit, a level I often have a hard time finding my way around. I actually sat down one day alone and tried to map the damn thing. Couldn't do it. Eventually I found that areas I thought were distant were actually right next to each other, but not connected as they should be. This disorients the player: remember that your deathmatchers won't have a map and will only be able to use fairly simple logic to try and find their way around. Make it interesting but logical.