Quake vs Halflife Mapping

Herein I explain the differences between level design in Quake and level design in Half-Life, only indirectly arriving at an exploration of the degree of realism inherent in each.

Apr 19, 1999

Converting a Quake or Quake2 map to Half-Life or vice versa quite often produces less that desirable results. That's because the two games have very different inherent play styles, architecture styles, weapons, items, and players. The differences can be separated into two distinct categories: architecture and gameplay.


Half-Life's single player was much more realistic and thematic than Quake2's. Different areas of Black Mesa are easily distinguishable: the labs, with their white metal walls, the brightly-colored Lambda Complex, the dark, dirty channels of the rail system, the wood and concrete surface structures. Quake2, while still divided into texture sets, had no strongly differentiating architectural styles to go with. Take just about any trapezoidal hall in Q2. Retexture it with e1u1, pow, you're in the Base. Texture it with e1u2, add some crates, you're in a warehouse. Texture it with e2u3 and add some pipes, pow, you're in the sewer.

The multiplayer aspects of each game reflect heavily on the single-player. Half-Life's better multiplayer levels are much more thematized, like Stalkyards and Subtransit. Quake2, however, is quite often simply a collection of arenas, being more suited to straight killing. Q2DM1 is undisputedly a classic. But what is it? Run around in it. What is it? The best I can come up with, outside of a great deathmatch level, is a huge drainage tub. A warehouse in Q2 just means throw in crates. Not to bash Q2 in any respect, its levels just look a lot more like they're for deathmatching than for anything else.

Granted, Subtransit probably wouldn't make a good subway system for New York, or even Scranton, but it definitely looks a lot more like a subway station, with the central hallway and various stops, than most Q2 levels look like anything. Each room could have some possible function. "I see, this is a shipping center. There's a garage door and a crane." Quake2 is most often a bunch of atriums. "Well, this would make a great deathmatch level, but it wouldn't make a good office."

Brushwork is a similar story. Half-Life uses smaller, more true-to-life brushes. Walls are of normal thickness, and any door more than 8 units thick looks like a gigantic blast shield. Quake2 regularly features large wall columns and separators 64 units thick. Xian Antkow got away with using gigantic 128-unit supports in Sewer64 to keep BSP file size and compile time low because it is in Quake2's style to create thick, massive structures.

One could argue that Quake2's maps have more void between each area, while Half-Life's maps are tighter and more bunched. One could also argue the other way around. It really isn't a significant part of the style of either game. For a looser, more open game, space things more (but not to the point that your flow goes out the window), and for a tighter, faster, bloodier game, tighten everything up. Half-life generally follows the former and Q2 the latter, but deviations occur regularly, so don't feel you should hold yourself to any particular style when it comes to bunching.

The last differentiation is for the most part unfair. Gimmicks. Quake2's SP was more or less running and shooting shit, occasionally hitting a switch when your F1 personal computer said to. In Half-Life, there were many much more complex and realistic objectives. I mean, they had an Apache, for crying out loud. Quake2's Flying Boss was just a big mean Cacodemon.

Anyway. Half-Life has a myriad of different things at a mappers disposal. Wind, airstrikes, poison gas, controllable turrets, controllable trains, electrical beam effects, echoes, I needn't go on. Quake2, having come first, can't really stand up in this category. Q2 has wind tunnels, a cheap version of the airstrike, and ... yeah.

Rule of thumb? If you're making a Quake2 map, concentrate much more on making it a good battleground than on making it look like a place. Example? Most of ZTN's, Headshot's, or Paradies' maps. It should still be decent to look at, though. For Half-Life, get a general theme for what your level is, and apply it. Layout should be more logically true to real life, whereas layout in Q2 need only suit the deathmatching needs, because that's what the place was built for.


A level with controllable world objects, tripmines, materialistic footsteps, and guns that fire through walls is generally going to be a little bit more of a strategic level than a one with nothing but guns, ammo, health and a Quad. Conversely, a level with nothing but guns, ammo, health and a Quad will be more run-and-gun oriented than a level with controllable world objects ... you get the point.

Quake2, as I sort of wrote between the lines in the Construction section, is a kill fest. Whoever has the maddest SKillz(tm) gets the frags. That's why we have mods like Rocket Arena. Half-Life, though, being more realistic in many respects, does not promote a blaze-of-glory approach. A shell to the head WILL take you down. Just as in real life, you'll have to back off, think, outmaneuver, and strategize to beat an opponent.

The weapons in Quake2 are balanced. They all do about the same amount of damage a second, merely in different quantities at different rates of fire, sometimes offset by instant hit vs. projectile. They aren't perfectly balanced, granted, some weapons are better than others, but generally, item placement in Quake2 starts by placing the weapons at even intervals, and filling in ammo and health where it works.

Compare the Half-Life shotgun with the Quake2 DB-shotgun. Both are just as easy to get to and just as easy to find ammo for. Now, consider the RPG and the Rocket Launcher. The Rocket Launcher is usually easy to get to. Some Quake2 levels even have two of them, and they're fairly easy to get to. The RPG, though, is very hard to reach in most Half-Life levels. It either involves jumping around on the ever-present Crates, running against a conveyor belt, etc, etc. Once gotten, though, someone with a shotgun is pretty much going to die when the RPG-fiend finds him.

If you haven't gotten my point yet ... Half-Life's weapons are not balanced by nature. The only way they are kept in check of each other is by placement in a level, strategy employed by other players, or by omission from a level altogether. Quake2's weapons are more balanced, and except for the weapons that you'll usually be labeled a Llama for using, they're easy to find no matter what.

A small anecdote to drive home my point of realism in HL versus leadslinging in Quake2: Half-Life's guns and items sit on the floor. Quake2's guns and items pulsate and glow and not uncommonly float and spin in the air. This makes them easy to see and hard to miss. Pretty much kills the aspect of shadowing and lighting in item placement, though. Half-Life levels occasionally hide more powerful items in dark shadows.

Quake2's weapons, besides being balanced, are all fairly similar in the manners that they kill. Weapon use depends mostly on personal preference/skill, and sometimes range to target, with the occasional need for the Grenade Launcher or Railgun if the situation is right. Half-Life's weapons are more differentiated in their use. Satchels, Tripmines and Snarks are all extremely use-specific weapons. The Crossbow is generally for sniping, and it was designed that way. Using it in a dogfight won't get you much. The Gauss has the unique ability to shoot through walls and propel you through the air. The HiveHand is specifically for expending no effort in killing HPB's. Etcetera. Since Quake2 gameplay doesn't employ much strategy, weapon choice is not a heavy issue, and the weapons don't demand much in the way of it anyway. The more specific weapons in HL bring on more strategic gameplay.

In the end, a Half-Life deathmatch level that plays like Quake2 is seriously missing out on the better opportunities Half-Life offers. A Quake2 level that plays like Half-Life (which I've yet to see be successful) will most likely not work well and not appeal to Quake2's raging inferno style of play.