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Making a singleplayer map

Level Design Tips


You want to create a Single Player level but don't know in what end to start? Perhaps you have already created a Single Player map but you feel that it is missing that little "extra". In the following documentation you'll read about how to create a better Single Player experience.
NOTE that this is not a pure tutorial - in some places I might describe how to make stuff but you should not count on it.

  1. Lighting
  2. Use of environment
  3. Holding up a storyline and keeping it exciting
  4. Weapon / powerup placement
  5. Creatures and scripted sequences
  6. Interactivity
  7. Ambient sounds and music
  8. Progress and accomplishments

1. Lighting by Drevlin and eVOLVE

You might wonder "what the difference in Single Player lighting compared to lighting in multiplayer maps?" Well not much really :)
Although you need to plan your lighting a bit better - in Multiplayer a lot of people turn lighting off to see all of the level unlit. There are not many people who do the same in Single Player maps. Lighting is an important factor in the atmosphere of a level and atmosphere in Single Player maps is more important than in multiplayer maps. Remember the flickering corridors in Doom, and it gave you that "omg Omg OMg OMG!!!!" feeling?
One must remember that lighting is not just the presence of light, but also the absence of it. Use shadows to your advantage when covering enemies and secret areas (more on secret areas in "Use of environment") A lot of people don't use that many coloured lights anymore, which I find to be a shame. I mean look around yourself, the light you see around you is not just one colour, and if it is it sure as *ell not white/uncoloured. When coloured lightening was introduced in Quake 2 (It was first, right?) Everyone thought "oooh yeeeey... that looks awesome!!" And with Unreal it was "OOOOH YEA!! HOLY MOTHER!!!" Unreal has one of the most advanced lighting engines to date, use it.

Another important factor that many singleplayer mappers miss is the light source. Remember, light doesn't just 'appear' from no-where. If it is an outside light, remember where the sun(s) is (are), and if it is an interior location, remember to physically create lights, whether by putting in windows, adding light bulbs, candles, or even glowing embers. It should add a lot more realism and believability to your maps.

In short: Think not only in the ways of "light there and light there" but also in the ways of absence of light. Hide enemies in shadows, use special effects such as flickering, Strobe and other to create a rich light map, remembering to make geometrical representation for light sources.

2. Use of Environment by Drevlin

A very important factor in singleplayer levels is that the environment feels realistic for what's going on, meaning that if you are making a level which has the story of a wrecked alien city you don't go build a midlevel castle... "But of course" you say but remember the case mentioned above, was a extreme chase. Small things such as miss aligned textures, poor use of textures or perhaps a misplaced powerup can completely ruin a level.
Be smart in the design of the level. Use the Z axis (up and down, folks) in your work; surprise the player with special effects and, of course, overwhelming architecture.
One thing that I miss in today's games is the "Secret areas" where goodies such as weapons or armors can be found. Hide secret passages in shadows and/or use natural covers (Trees, bushes, rocks etc)
Also when you make Castles or houses or facilities remember to make the realistic and make sure that the architecture is natural and doesn't get in the players way. Also make sure that the creatures that inhabit the place find it easy to navigate. Make multiple rooms with areas such as sleeping halls, libraries, engine rooms, dining rooms, transport tunnels - anything to make the building feel realistic for its purpose (I find it hard to believe that an alien race invaded a planet only to build useless buildings on it.)

In short: Use the Z-Axis to your advantage by not only building the level on the X and Y axis. Be a perfectionist! Look for small flaws such as wrongly aligned textures alike and correct them. Make Eye candy - when everyone says "Gameplay comes first" they are correct, however this doesn't disable you from making a good-looking level. Bottom line is what looks good and plays good is good level Environmental wise.

3. Holding up a storyline and keeping it exciting by Drevlin

You should have completed the entire story and plot before starting the work on the level/levels and it should contain information about what will be told (using the translator). Just as in a good book the ending should be surprising and to do this you should lead the player into a, so to say, "different direction" so when the ending does appear he is totally unprepared for it (Mentally wise). You can also use Translator events in an "unknowing way" - meaning that you, for example, stumble across a few dead corpses of a few humans who have had "Sightings of a aggressive species". The player feel a bit excited for seeing this "Aggressive species" as well as he is a bit afraid to encounter it.

Advanced story telling:
The following section is for the ones who feel they want to do more than just Translator events to be the main source of information... How to accomplish this? Use movies/in game sequences. Ill tell you about the latter first:
By saying "in game sequences" I mean Scripted sequences... still not with me? Remember the Skaarj that ran away in the first level of Unreal when you got the dispersion pistol? Or perhaps when the poor guy gets thrown into a wall followed by a couple of rockets from a brute? That is what I am talking about. This may not be the CLEAREST way of telling the story (And you should not only use this method) but it's a real cool thing that I use a lot in my levels. It don't just have to be made to tell the story but just as a "cool thing" to have in your level. See more on scripted sequences down below.
You can go one step longer and use movies, using the game engine, to tell the story - have you ever heard of the word "Machinima"? Its another word for "Movies which uses a game engine" (Good short, eh?) There are more advanced tools available, but, If you feel that you just wish to use the regular tools already existing in UnrealED, (or are just to tired to learn some new tool) you can make less advanced movies using just UnrealED (But it will take longer time and is more difficult and uncontrollable).

In short: Hide the true objective of the campaign until the very end of the scenario.

4. Weapon / powerup placement by Drevlin

A very important topic as the placement of the weapons and power-ups are VITAL to build a level.
The best way to find out what is needed and what weapon/power-up feels right at a certain spot is simply to play the level (Using no cheats). Keep in mind that there are worse people than you that are going to play the level so don't place the weapon so you barely survive.

In Short: Aw cmon... The info stated above is NOT very long... Read it through you lazy sob :)

5. Creatures and scripted sequences by Drevlin

The main factor in a good level is really the characters you meet in it and who you are fighting because think of it - if people want to play an quest based game they will not play Unreal but some adventure game. The creatures in your level must feel realistic for the level and must not feel misplaced. It really helps if the Creature is not just standing in one place doing nothing. Simple Scripted sequences such as Patrolling creatures and on Skaarj creatures you can place them behind a keyboard and use the option "buttonpusher". A useful simple sequence is the sleeping Krall - Go into Krall properties and then display. Under animation type either Sleep1, sleep 2 or sleep3 to get the Krall far into the land of dreams (which cant be THAT far from the Unreal universe :)
That covers the "Basics" of this section so now lets move into the more advanced stuff. The little actor called "Alarmpoint" mostly makes scripted sequences in Unreal and this little actor is somewhat awesome. You can get the Creatures to fight each other, you can make the buggers flee, push a button and even take alternative routs to attack the player by using only this actor.  Learning this actor is VITAL for bringing the community a good Single Player experience.

6. Interactivity by eVOLVE

Interactivity in a realistic world is imperative, and can account for a lot of the previous topics. Creating a world in which you can affect things will increase the atmosphere, and immerse the player more. Rune achieved this very well using Movers a lot. When someone asks me what they should do to make their Single Player levels great, I tell them 'Use movers'. Obviously a world made from movers will be processor intensive, and you cannot rely on them for everything, but I recommend this because of the following reasons:

  1. It's a quick answer - Yes, I admit, I don't want to sit there, typing out this entire reference for anyone who asks me how to improve their mapping skills, so it does come into it.
  2. It sets a level of skill - Movers are useless to people who have little or mapping skill, and telling people to use them will force them to achieve a certain standard of mapping. Once you've learnt how to create movers properly, you should be able to handle most of the problems that can crop up in creating a believable world.
  3. It makes you think ahead - There is nothing worse than a mapper who presents their 'awesome' Single Player maps, which have been created as they worked through making the level. As mentioned previously, you should plan your maps before making them, to bring continuity to the campaign, and structure to your whole map (which should turn out a lot more complicated than multiplayer maps).
  4. It adds interactivity - Imagine a corridor connected to a room. A basic map might just have a doorway, but the world will be improved severely if there is a door that you can open in the way. OK, that is a limited view, but a player doesn't want to pass through your level, they want to affect it. Rune used huge structures being able to be destroyed by you, or enormous parts of a machine moving around you.

To be honest, I favour movers above any other factor in a Single Player map. Interactivity adds to the enjoyment of the player, as they will feel involved with the game if they have just destroyed a bridge to prevent enemies following them, or knocked down a wall to give them an escape method.

In short: Make your level alive using various movers and use them to have the player interact with the world.

7. Ambient sounds and Music by Drevlin

What you need to do here is simply place existing sounds (or the ones of your own) at places they fit. Take note of that everything in the real word has a sound depending on what happens to it, this is rather unneeded in the world of unreal, though, as the player wont do everything.
Placing sounds on your level really brings the level to life. I must say that before ambient sounds are located throughout your level, it is DEAD!
As for "One shot" sounds they can be used in a very cool way.
Imagine walking down a corridor and all of a sudden you hear a scream, or perhaps navigating trough some mountains and a Titanic howl is heard - scary stuff.

As for music it is easiest to use the pre-existing soundtrack; Unreal has a unique music style and custom music can be much harder to fit into the aesthetic. When the player encounter enemies the music should change to fast paced dunk dunk dunk. Make sure the music fits with the level so you don't get a couple of monks humming along while the player searches a wrecked ship or techno music as the player enters a castle.

In short: A level without sounds is like a man without a hart - dead. Place your ambient sounds carefully as to much will make a whole lot of noise while to little will make your level dead.
Music should be in the background, but at some points take over take over all sounds. Use the existing unreal music (don't use your own tunes unless you are REALLY good!).

8. Progress and Accomplishments by Drevlin

Letting the player know that he is getting somewhere is vital for the player as this is the main reason to keep going. I can't think of one human who likes being stuck, but when you figure out how to go on you praise the lord!
The player must know that they are making progress, this can be done by either scripted sequences or translator events or simply by letting the player earn something.
Remember in Unreal 1 when in the Ceremonial Chambers, you open a door and a small ledge is leading out and around the room. Follow it and the player comes to some goodies... The player could ignore this, moving on without having to walk the ledge, but then they would miss out on some stuff that's at the end(In this case, an Eightball and 4 rocket packs).

Closing by Drevlin

Just to be clear, you should not only have one or two of the topics above in your level, but ALL of them. They must be in perfect harmony and work well together for you to pull it off. Making a Single Player map/scenario is not easy and takes a LOT more work than creating a multiplayer map.

We will be looking forward to your contribution to the Single Player community. :)