Lee Perry, the Lead Level Designer for Gears of War 360 wanted to share some of our philosophies of making a great Gears MP map now that the editor is public. Hopefully you can put them to good use.
GEARS OF WAR MULTIPLAYER MAP THEORY - PART 1
We’re excited about the community interest in making multiplayer maps for Gears of War once the editor becomes available. We thought we’d share what we’ve found works and doesn’t work when designing multiplayer maps for Gears of War. This isn’t a technical “how to use Unreal Ed” doc, but rather a high level design doc specifically for Gears multiplayer maps.
We weren’t sure if we were even going to include MP in Gears simply because it is very easy to make a bad Gears map, and it took us a long time to figure out the “rules” that make MP maps worth playing. We don’t want the community to have to “reinvent the wheel”, and hopefully this doc will save both designers and players from a bunch of frustration.
Every “rule” below can be (and has been) broken, and indeed doing so will often create something interesting or unique. Just be aware of the basics and decide consciously that you are going outside the lines rather then stumble blindly ahead. I would caution a designer against disregarding more than one or two of these in a given map until they understand the repercussions of the various facets discussed below. The ‘fun factor’ of a Gears map can be a house of cards, so be careful when you bump it!
So without further ado, here they are in no particular order:
The most important gameplay factors in Gears are the narrow field of view and restricted rotation rates. It’s like being inside the Batman suit from the original Tim Burton movie. While technically limiting the player, this is also a major reason why Gears feels intimate, as it allows the enemy on screen to be substantially larger and more visible, and it generates tension and vulnerability.
With this in mind, it becomes very important that both teams have a “front” or common direction an enemy is likely to come from. Players need to be able to line up on some cover with your squad and concentrate fire. A random, sprawling arena with no clear directional structures results in enemies coming from any direction, and cover use becomes a burden instead of a benefit because it generally only works in one direction.
Since the player is essentially looking through a cardboard tube, they need to know where to look, because scanning the environment is difficult and will blow the pacing of your map.
The shapes and positioning of your cover can play a big part in defining a front. Set up obvious defense areas and give them a facing that makes their intended use clear to anyone who sees it. Use walls or impassable areas to funnel players through the regions you've defined as combat areas.
A clear example of this is the map “Escalation”, where teams start at the top and bottom of a giant linear staircase. From either spawn position, the player immediately knows which direction the threat will be approaching from. There’s room for lateral movement and flanking along the front, but the general facing is always there.
THE “VISIBLE FLANK”
The Holy Grail moments we look for in Gears playtest sessions come when a flank intentionally happens, it’s fairly earned, and it’s effective and rewarding to execute. The player’s visibility as discussed above plays a huge role in making this happen, especially the bit about being “fair” and not random. When players die, they need to feel like it was through a decision of their own making, and not the designer’s cheap trick or oversight. Players are just fine with dying if they're learning from their experience, or as a result of smart play by opponents, and not just feeling like a victim.
Picture a level made of many tight rooms all connected with random doors. This is a breeding ground for what is absolutely the most frustrating scenario you can give your players. You’re in cover engaged with an enemy, and out of nowhere someone steps out of the doorway behind you and blasts you with the shotgun point blank. You didn’t have a chance to see him coming, you didn’t have a chance to react, and our lethality means that you have little chance of surviving… you were a victim of a random car crash and your decision making had little to do with the outcome. You’ll giggle about this once if you’re the guy with the shotgun, but the guy you shot will most likely never play your map again, or possibly never play Gears again (choosing instead to spend his time ranting about how overpowered the shotgun is). Do us a favor and avoid this, will ya?
But, how do you avoid this? If you take nothing else from this document, take this. A player who is paying attention should always have a chance to see an enemy attempting to flank them, and have a chance to react. Instead of using standard walls for most of your level’s structure, consider using low impassable areas, crevices, or at least put many gaps in your walls to allow an observant player a chance to see what’s going on in the next area.
Flanking someone should involve more than a split second roadie run or evade to the side, it should be a deliberate action and ideally require a bit of risk or exposure to pull off (picture a high ground flanking area, but with little cover or no good escape route).
“Gridlock” is the clearest example of this concept. With the abundance of low cover, lines of sight are running all over the map, allowing a good player to constantly be aware of enemy positions and potential flanks. “Mausoleum” deviated from this substantially, and as a result players can often feel vulnerable from the rear and flanks as unseen enemies scatter through the map.
Players need to feel safe in cover. They need to be able to recognize useful cover at a glance before moving to it, and cover needs to behave predictably because players don’t want to experiment in the middle of a firefight. When cover doesn’t fill these needs, we call it “Fuzzy Cover”. Examples of fuzzy cover are foliage, chain link fences, railing where bullets could pass through the holes, short cover with sloped sides that result in parts of the player being exposed, pillars you can take cover on that are too narrow to actually protect you from fire, small alcoves the player can’t actually fit into, etc. Cover needs to be viable for protection, or scaled down so as to remove it as a safe option from the player’s mind. If you’re hell bent on making a fancy grating or railing, find a way to put something behind it so it is still viable cover for players, but you still have your visuals intact.
Fuzzy cover can also come in the form of solid cover that is positioned in a way that someone can easily be sniped out from behind it. For example if it’s likely that an enemy will be firing on a cover piece from a particular angle, arrange the cover as perpendicular to that position as possible, making it as clear as possible which cover is intended to be used in each likely combat situation.
“TrainStation” did this well, with most cover coming from simple geometric structures that a player can clearly recognize as potential cover. “Mansion” contains some fuzzy cover on the interior areas, where columns and railings often result in players believing they’re safe, when they’re really not.
LEVEL FLOW AND “LURES”
The reachable path area, or “flow” of a Gears map is not nearly as large and complex as you might see in a game like Unreal Tournament. But this can make the flow and general layout of a Gears map that much more important.
Players should be able to “get” your map within a match, or maybe two. We don’t have the kind of mobility many games have, so don’t expect the player to explore your map thoroughly before they realize how you expect them to play it. Often, a Gears map when viewed from above will be as simple as a figure 8 or an H shape. Plan your flow out in advance, and don’t overcomplicate this step. Gears isn’t about zipping around a circuitous map timing powerup respawns. Most of the real “layout” of a Gears map happens on a smaller combat scale within the branches of your overall flow.
Something we do have in common with levels from other shooters though, is the concept of using lures to move the action around the map. Two to four super weapons placed strategically in a map will definitely affect how the map plays, and this can be used to aid long term replayability of a map. A lure could also be a key cover structure, or a powerful flank position, or a scripted object like a button that triggers an event.
Also, a good combat arena can often work from several angles. A map such as Gridlock will often see a firefight rotate in orientation, occupying the same space, but with action happening on a different axis.
Lastly, look at your map and think about the verticality of it. With our selectively limited methods of moving up or down these height changes, you can use these differences in depth to force a flow around your map without resorting to tall walls. But there are some big ramifications to Z-axis differences on combat. Having high ground on someone will often negate low cover and also increases visibility. Higher ground gives you a combat advantage and you need to build in a tradeoff unless you plan on them being all powerful from their position. Also, you’ll have to adjust cover height and thickness to deviate slightly from the normal standards when trying to fire over a low-cover barrier at an enemy below.
“Shallow” used lures and flow to great effect. The sniper rifles on the side bridges and explosive weapons in the central areas keep players moving around the various paths and make that movement meaningful. “Gridlock” is a more open arena feel with less defined traditional flow, but lures are still used heavily to turn the open arena action into something more tactical. “Rooftops” suffered from the lack of central flanking opportunities, and never quite came together because of this.
COVER CONSTRUCTION AND PLACEMENT
Cover is the meat and potatoes of any Gears map. While variation and experimentation is important, here are a few good general guidelines.
In general, low cover is better than tall cover. Picture a wall in the middle of your combat area; you have only the corners to interact with. You can move between the extents of the surface and even manually crouch at the edges, but generally your interactions are limited to the ends of the wall. With walls you’re also greatly limiting player visibility and separating the player from all the action going on over the wall.
If you lower the wall you’ve drastically increased the options for the player. They are now aware of things going on over the wall and can be on the lookout for flanks and enemy movement. They can pop up and shoot from anywhere along the wall, giving them far more choices in firing positions. They can stay crouched and feel sneaky as they maneuver for a better shot. And of course they can mantle over the wall. As soon as they start moving along a high wall they are detached and simply traversing the map, but with a low wall they’re still fully involved in the match.
Don’t overcomplicate your specific cover pieces. Gears' cover system allows for some pretty creative cover node layouts; take it easy on this stuff. It may seem novel to build a castle wall with alternating high and low cover, but trust me, the amount of control confusion and transition animations this generates quickly becomes obnoxious to players trying to use your fancy wall.
Well placed cover should facilitate the “platform game” type movement of cover slipping and swat-turning from cover to cover. Try to move through your map as a test while minimizing your time out of cover and see if you can “jungle swing” through your map. Also try roadie running through it for times when you’ll need to traverse the map quickly, and look for sticky points.
Lastly, avoid cover crowding. Cover should never feel like something obtrusive that you're stumbling around. Cover is placed to facilitate ranged combat, but overpopulate an area and you actually have the opposite effect, giving people the ability to close on each other with impunity, devolving the game into shotguns and chainsaw dancing. You need a "no man's land" between cover positions, or the cover itself loses its importance. Those open areas devoid of cover are dramatic dashes just waiting to happen. They give players interesting decisions to make and also increase the importance of mobility and roadie runs.
“Depot” has about the right balance of cover and movement. Most clusters of cover have stretches of vulnerability between them, which facilitates ranged combat and clever flanking. “Mausoleum” is an example of a map with crowded cover. Dense tombstone clusters fit the flavor of the map, but movement through key combat areas often feels clunky and restricted.
To be continued with "Scale"...