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How to make Levels for Q3A Tournament Play   30 comments

Recently I've spent several months working on making competition oriented maps 1v1 maps for Quake 3. I've learned a lot during that time, and now that I have a column I thought writing this might be a good way to share some of that knowledge.
When I first started working on competition oriented maps it was because I'd been following the pre-Razor CPL coverage. Everyone was talking about what maps they should use. To my knowledge that event was a the first big quake 3 tournament, or at least the first big one in the US. The maps they would choose would become the maps used for most of the events during the period that people would play q3a.
And looking at the four maps they choose, and the selection of maps they had to choose from, no one was completely happy. Each map had some major flaw that was complained about over and over, and two of the four maps hadn't even been originally designed for tourney and had to be modified.
So an idea started forming, I would make a map, and everyone would love it and use it in the major tournaments, and cry out unanimously "thank you twoAM, now we don't have to use those crappy id maps we've been complaining about". I had no idea what I was getting into.
So anyways when I first started I had a pretty hard time figuring out what people actually wanted for a competition map. I know more now than I did before, but I don't think I know everything. In fact I hope that players will read this and post replies telling me where they think I went wrong. By actually getting these issues written down, people will have an easier time talking about them.

The power points around the RA in dm13. (A) is the ledge near the RL which has good lines of sight to the RA and the entrance to the teleporter. (B) has a good line of sight to the entire RA floor, and its a easy jump from here to the RA. (C) The drop down hole to the RA. (D) The RA location.

The area around (C) on the RA floor allows players to camp and wait for the RA, invisible to almost every location except (B). Once a player gets the RA the narrow doorway leading to the teleporter exposes them again to enemy fire. Also a player at (A) or (B), seeing a player near (D) or dropping through (C) has enough time to get to the teleporter destination and wait for their opponent there. But instead of teleporting, players can rocket jump out of the hole at (C).

The Q3A sound system
If an event occurs within your "visibility area" you can hear it. There are two good cheat protected console commands for finding out your visibility area, "r_showtris 1" and "r_lockpvs 1". Levels with good "vis blocking" (levels where not much is drawn that isn't directly visible) like dm13 are better for stealth (if someone is camping the RL/RA in the middle you can bunny hop through much of the level without fear of being heard) while in levels like t4 stealth is much more difficult if not impossible.
Allow players to choose weither or not to be stealthy by putting moderately valuable items (like LG ammo) near the entrances to important rooms, or in mostly concealed parts of major rooms. Make sure that there is enough space that the player can choose whether or not to pickup the item.

Space levels
No one likes space levels other than newbies and level designers. Don't even bother.

Jump pads
Jump pads are a complicated issue. In q3tourney4 jump pads are the best thing about that level. Every neat trick involves misusing a jump pad. Players can take the pad by the mega to the mega itself, or to the door above the mega. Players can rocket pad from the short jump pad by the rl to the ra. The list of tricks goes on and on. On the other hand jump pads also almost ruin that level. The limited air control in q3a means that it extremely easy to predict the movement of someone flying through the air after hitting a jump pad and then railing them. It sucks having to take pads in that level to get to the top level, and it sucks having to take the pads in dm6 to get to the rl and the top of the ammo columns. Both of those areas wouldn't be so bad if there was a good alternative, like a teleporter or a elevator, but there isn't any.
Jude, in cpm1 and cpm3, hides the path of the jump pads. Generally this means you cant go anywhere unintended on them, but also your only vulnerable at the top and the bottom of the pad path. I think this is generally the best way to handle jump pads, but in maps without a railgun, or in maps where there is plenty of good alternative routes, having a jump pad which is exposed like in dm6 or t4 is okay also.
One common annoyance I've found with jump pads is making the trigger too big. This can result in a player hitting his head on a ledge prematurely and then dropping back to the pad and then hitting the ledge again, boing boing boing, until finally air controlling out of there (this happens in cpm1 going from the low rl to the top, and q3ctf4 near the low 50 healths). Oversized jump pad triggers can also make it annoyingly difficult to go down a jump pad path without hitting the pad again at the bottom, this happens in cpm1 and q3tourney2 near the rl.
Quake 3 level designers, especially ID's level designers tend to over use jump pads. There are lots of good alternatives to jump pads which should be used more often. Teleporters, elevators and stairs are the most common and I talk about them all later.

Platforms
ID didn't use any func_plats (generally called elevators) in their levels for some reason. Probably they didn't want to confuse any of their anticipated "hoards of newbie players". I was surprised to find that not only did func_plats work great, but bots also knew how to use them.
Platforms have lots of game play possibilities. They can be placed so that they block a passageway when they are in the raised position. Then a player can jump over it, leaving the passage way unblocked, or run over it and get off, leaving the passage way blocked behind him. Platforms are great ways to escape for fleeing players, since usually once they start going up there isn't enough time for the chaser to also get on. Plats can make great deathtraps as in q2dm1, if someone tries to take a plat and there opponent is on the top they are completely trapped. Also if they are wide enough, players can dodge rails while riding them.

Stairs
Many of ids lower numbered maps are painfully flat. The most obvious importance of the vertical element is in RL fights, where the person on lower ground is at big disadvantage. But there are also other ways that vertical variety is adds complexity. In dm6 if one player is in the quad pit and the other player is on the second or third floor around the quad pit, the higher player has many more choices. The higher player controls when he is visible or not by approaching and backing away from the edge, the higher player also can break off the fight at any time and run away without much fear of being chased.

Q3DM7 has an example of less extreme vertical difference. In the lower RL room (QUAD and Plasma in TDM) an upper area and a lower area lay alongside each other with a small set of stairs connecting them. Players in the upper area have easy access to the lower areas, allowing them to easily give chase to lower players. Lower players by contrast only have access to the upper areas by rocket jumping or taking the stairs, meaning that they can't easily chase fleeing players in the upper areas.
For those reasons areas of even small height variation are more interesting and complex to fight in than flat areas. For small height variation stairs are the best. Stairs are quieter than jump pads, teleporters and platforms and usually easier to dodge on. Stairwells also make good alternate routes to major areas like the stairs in dm6.

Teleporters
Q3dm13 has a great teleporter. It's destination is the perfect place for an ambush. It also really fun to bypass the teleporter by rocket jumping up from the RA, then you can ambush the ambusher. Its a good idea to make sure that a teleport destination is not right against the wall, so that an ambushing player can wait right behind it without getting telefragged.
In general I think one way teleporters are better than two way teleporters. Attacks through a one way teleporter are all or nothing, with a two way teleporter you can come through, fire and then teleport back before your opponent can react. Two way teleporters are also more likely to result in telefragging which is generally considered a stupid and cheap frag. Two way teleporters encourage slower more sneaky gameplay, while one way teleporters encourage faster bloodier combat.

CPM3 has a good example of a two way teleporter (near the RA) where the destination is far enough from the trigger that each player has enough time to attack before teleporting back again. The area marked in red is the extra fighting space in between the destination and the teleporter. This generally plays better than most two way teleporters although having one destination face the same way as the teleporter and the other destination face a different way can be disorienting.

Teleporters are great for connecting two areas that can not see or hear each other, and for making ways to get up from a low area to a high area. I like to place my teleporters and destinations in places where the teleporting player is sometimes at a disadvantage relative to the non-teleporting player and vice versa. The teleporter by the SG in CPM3 is a good example of this. If both players are down below, the teleporting player is at an advantage, he has the upper ground, and can camp the teleport destination. But if the non-teleporting player already has the higher ground then the teleporting player is at a disadvantage by arriving in a predicable place.

Railguns
Q3tourney3 is a good example of a bad rail map. It has large areas of no cover in the middle and unnecessary jump pads (they rise so little that you can only go to one place on them, and they could easily be stairs instead). These two factors mean that whoever rails the best on this level will win. That makes this is a one skill level, the other skills of tourney like using the rl, using the lg, timing the armors, predicting your opponent and keeping track of where your opponent is are not important for this level.
Good rail maps are maps where there is enough cover and enough confined spaces to make the other guns and the other skills as important or more important than rail accuracy. The railgun is a controversial gun, whether or not it is in a map is a important (political!) decision. Ideally you should test the map with good players both with and without the railgun when you think you might include it, and decide which is more fun. Maps like CPM1 and dm6 are good rail maps, the rail is important, but no more so than the lg or the rl.

Cover
Imagine if Q3tourney2 had no large pillar in the middle of the rl/ya room, that room would be much more boring to fight in. The best fights in that map involve fighting around the pillar with the rl and lg. Having pieces of cover to fight around is critical to every good tourney map. In t4, cover includes the corners of the "outside area" by the RA, RL and MEGA, the catwalks themselves, and the support columns near the rg. In dm13 cover is mostly in the form of narrow doorways and twisting corridors. In CPM3 cover takes the form of rectangular walls that hide a area of passageway, giving a player a chance to regroup, or double back.

Grenade Launcher
Often ignored, the grenade launcher is a useful weapon in the right hands. I believe it has a place in every tourney level. New uses for the grenade launcher is an area where players can continually improve their game and add depth and excitement. Also its important to have both powerful weapons and weak weapons in a level. That way weak weapons can be placed in unimportant "out of the way" parts of the map where they will be available for newly spawned players, so that they can use them to try and get a more important weapon. This adds more variety to the types of fights (SG vs RL, rail vs LG, Plasma vs rail, etc...) between players, as in the case where a newly spawned player grabs a grenade launcher and tries to use it to hold off a pumped up player with a rocket launcher.
The placement of the shotguns in q3dm13, q3dm6 and t2 are good examples of weaker weapons that are placed in out of the way places especially for newly spawned players.

Armors and Megas
Two or three armors/megas (referred to from here on as "defensive powerups") is generally a good amount for a tourney level. Having only one defensive powerup is a bad thing, it makes it extremely easy for the controlling player to collect all the defensive powerups in the level and concentrates all the fighting to one part of the level.
The number of items must depend on the size of the level. Dm6 seems to me to be a level that doesn't have enough armors. The level is too large for the controlling player to completely search for his opponent in between picking up armors, so generally all the important fights occur around the 2 armors, despite how large the map is. Since it only takes a second rate player (aka myself) 10 seconds to get from one armor to the other and it takes 25 second for the armor to respawn, the controlling player spends a lot of time camping the armor.
The ideal situation for defensive powerups is one where it is difficult (but not impossible) to run all the armors (collect all of them as they spawn). This can be achieved in a couple of ways. In CPM3 and dm13 there are just a whole lot of defensive powerups and its really hard to fight your opponent and collect them all. In CPM1 the 2 YAs are in exposed (dangerous) places to be. In q1dm4 the RA is in a pit, the only exit being a teleporter (other than rocket jumping) which takes you to the dangerous catwalk over the lava in the middle of the main room.
Since fights for the defensive powerups are the most important and the most exciting fights, it important to give them the best possible locations for fights. Good locations for fights are places with a lot of vertical elements, and enough space that each player can get a couple of hits in before one of them reaches the armor.

The YA pictured here in dm6 is a excellent location. It is easily visible and accessable from all three levels. Players approaching from the areas marked with blue are visible and vulnerable to players perched on the ledge marked with red.

 

 

This YA in CPM1 is also in a good location. Players trying to take the armor must either jump from the third floor (red line), follow along the ledge (blue lines) or rocket jump from below (red line). Timing it is critical because camping on its spawn spot is so exposed.

 

 

Powerups
Powerups are bad for tourney play. The smart thing to do when your opponent has a powerup is hide and wait for it to run out, which slows down gameplay.

Doors
Doors are good sound cues. In q1dm6 the shoot-able door in the floor can be heard from every part of the level, going through is dangerous and made for some good fights, also people sometimes shoot it to fake there opponent out, or try and lure them in. In Q3a you can make a door that is hearable from every part of the level by making the door target a target_speaker entity with the global flag. Q1dm2 uses a button to make access to one of the RAs one-way, some other buttons to open a lava trap, and another button to control access to the teleporter. Doors are an interesting area to experiment with.
T4 is a lot better because of doors, especially since they are shoot-able, players can shoot them to fake their opponent out. When you arrive in the middle room just in time to see a door close, you know which way your opponent went.

Symmetrical Architecture
Symmetrical architecture is boring at best. If in T2 the two side hallways didn't have the items they have and had one of the YAs each that would be worse than just a boring design. Because in that case each side would be equally valuable and the map would have no center (see Shard/plus Fives).

Shards/plus Fives
Shards and plus fives are best as sound cues. For that reason its a good idea to vary the number of each of the shard groups. T4 has a couple of good examples of placement of shards and plus fives. If your at the RL or above the RL and you hear your opponent pick up some plus fives you know which side of the support divider he is on. If your by the SG or under the MEGA and you hear your opponent get the mega and then the shards you know which way he is going. Generally speaking the best locations for these items are in short hallways outside of the line of sight of major control areas.
T2 is a good example of another use for shards and plus fives. T2 only has two armors, both yellows. If it wasn't for the 10 extra shards in the RL/YA room, both YA rooms would be equally valuable to camp. But the presence of the shards makes this room more valuable, and the one most important to control.
Having a center point, or a room that is more valuable than any of the other rooms is very important for 1v1 game play. Imagine a level made up of six identical empty square rooms, each room has five teleporters one for each other room. In each room in the exact middle is a RL and a 50 health. Each room would be of exactly the same value and your chances of finding your opponent in any given room would be completely random. There would be absolutely no strategy to use to try and find your opponent with. In a normal 1v1 level, by contrast, there are areas with good items and areas with bad items. Aggressive play involves being in the areas with good items and defensive play involves being where the bad items are. Trying to predict when your opponent will be aggressive and when he will be defensive is one of the skills of 1v1 with the most depth and strategy. Good maps are maps that emphasize this skill.

T2 is a good simple example (although its simplicity is also its major fault). All the important items are around the teleporters in the two major rooms (red lines). The two long hallways that connect the two main rooms are almost entirely outside of the hearing range of the main rooms and have no important items in them (blue lines). Aggressive play involves going back and forth through the teleporters between the two main rooms collecting the armors, defensive play involves mostly staying in the hallways and sometimes entering the main rooms either by the RL or the LG.

 

Health
There is no one way to place health, which style you choose seems largely a matter of personal preference, but its important to understand the effect of each. Most 1v1 maps have between 100-250 points of health total.
DM13 has almost 400 points of health. As result of having so much health, health denial is almost impossible in dm13 and all the fighting revolves around denying your opponent guns and armor.
In T4 the health is in only 2 places, both of which are dangerous, also there is little health total (175 points). As a result of this, is it common for controlling players to run around the level with a lot of armor and not a lot of health, its also more common for controlling players to use the mega just to get back to 100 health. Constantly forcing the controlling player to decide whether or not to leave his strong position just to get health can sometimes be fun and sometimes be annoying.
CPM1 has 4 distinct and strong (50 points each) health spots, one of these is along a major pathway and is usually not there when you really need it, the others are in out of the way places. An aggressive player in this map can predict that his opponent is going to run to one of these out of the way spots and make them pay.
CPM3 has three strong health spots which are along major pathways, the controlling player has little trouble collecting these but the down player will often miss out on picking these up.
DM6 has lots of little packets of health and one important 50 in the middle. Its easy for a player who covers a lot of ground to get one or two of the 25 healths, a severely hurt player will need to collect the 50 in the middle. As a result its usually worth the time to "health control" (hurt yourself on purpose) the 50 in the middle, just to deny it to your opponent.
T2 has less health than any other map, 125 points, of which 75 points are in the major rooms. As a result its not worth running to the defensive areas of this map when your hurt, instead its better to use the teleporters for your escape routes. The player who can collect the 50 health on the bridge during a fight usually wins.

Ammo
Ammo is usually not important. Most maps don't need any SG, or rail ammo. RL and LG ammo is the most important kind of ammo. CPM1 and CPM3 have lots of RL ammo (and 2 RLs), which goes a long way towards encouraging rocket spamming. DM13 is a large map with only 2 important guns, the RL and LG, each of these guns have only 1 ammo box each and as a result these ammo boxes are unusually important. T4 also has RL ammo scarcity, making its one RL ammo box unusually valuable. Although RL ammo scarcity adds another dimension to the game, it also reduces another dimension, the spamming possibilities in a map.

Footsteps
Level designers can use shader files to remove footstep sounds from their level. Heres an example texture (a new type of clip brush) with no footsteps:

textures/r_tourney3/clip_cent
{
surfaceparm nosteps
qer_trans 0.40
surfaceparm nolightmap
surfaceparm nomarks
surfaceparm nodraw
surfaceparm nonsolid
//surfaceparm nolightmap //proto_addition 11/08/99
surfaceparm playerclip
surfaceparm noimpact
}

Spawns
To my knowledge no one has ever set out a list of rules for where to put spawn points and where not to put them. Generally spawns should be out of plain sight of the major control areas and have their back to the wall. In T2 there are 7 spawn points, 6 of them are in the side halls near the entrance to one of the major rooms, the 7th is right by the YA in the YA/RL room. That seems to work well. Early control of the map in T4 almost entirely depends on who can sweep the RA and MEGA and to that extent the spawns are quite unbalanced. But otherwise they are placed in areas where there is a wide variety of escape routes. The spawns in DM6 and DM13 are very unbalanced, most of them are in out of the way safe places, but some of them are right near the major power points, which adds a lot of luck the frag count on these maps.

Glossary
T4: Q3tourney4
T2: Q3tourney2
CPM1: originally released as Q3jdm8a, it was renamed to CPM1 when it was included in the promode map pack, this map was created by jude.
CPM3: originally released as Q3jdm9, it was renamed to CPM3 when it was included in the promode map pack, tthis map was also created by jude.
dm6: Q3dm6(tmp), this map was modified by Clan Abuse for tourney play, http://www.teamabuse.com/files/tmpmaps.zip
dm13: Q3dm13(tmp), this map was also modified by Clan Abuse and is available in the same file, however the only changes were to remove the holdable health kit and the quad.
RL: Rocket Launcher
RG: Railgun
SG: Shotgun
GL: Grenade Launcher


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