To gain research and knowledge required for my project, I will be looking into three levels from three different games that I really enjoy playing on. As my Unreal Tournament map will be a deathmatch arena I will be picking levels that I enjoy playing in an arena style. I will be analysing the levels strengths and weaknesses contributing to what makes it fun and enjoyable as that is the aim of my UT map. I will also look into its design choices such as specific layouts, setting, gameplay elements and more.
My three main games consist of Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike, and Overwatch. All of these games are first person shooters that you can play in an arena style. All of the games have some kind of weapon or class system that will be considered in the level design, similar to Unreal Tournemant. I tried to get a variety of levels that all have a different feel and purpose but were ultimately all fun to play on as my primary criteria.
Hightower is a symmetrical “payload race” map for Team Fortress 2. In this gamemode both teams must push their own bomb cart along a route that eventually detonates at the end of the track next to the enemy base. The objective of the map is rarely the focus of the gameplay as the level design makes a great team deathmatch level. So for this analysis I will be reviewing the level based on the detahmatch gameplay and not the intended playstyle.
The map is set in the dusty gravel pits and farmland of 60’s america in a fictional environment. The area is built out of barns and warehouses. The red team’s side is more farm focused with wooden structures and a brown/red colour scheme. On the blue teams side the buildings are mostly corrugated metal and stone with a more industrial feel. The map is surrounded with orange rocks and cliffs as well as the rickety structures to enclose it.
You will immediately notice the central tower in the map, this high tower is what gives the map its name. It is important for the gameplay as whichever team controls the hightower also has quite a bit of control over the whole map. From the screenshot above you can also see the level is very big and open with a wide open area broken up by some buildings and rocks. The tower is the only thing that blocks some visibility between the 2 forts. Because of the tower’s height, this level has a lot of vertical gameplay that involves looking up in the air more often and gaining the high ground for an advantage.
High mobility classes will have an easy time traversing the map because of the wide open space and the high ledges and platforms to jump and launch themselves from.
Each base has some battlements that are immediately outside of their spawns. This adds some safety to players just exiting the start area and gives access to some good sniping-platforms. The lower battlements have some cover in the form of crates and wooden structures (the crates also allow enemies to climb onto the platform). The upper battlements give the player very long sightlines around the whole map. You can see everywhere except what is being covered behind the hightower. This position also has a direct signtline to the enemy battlements so this would lead to sniper battles from each of the battlements.
At the back of the map is a canyon that players can fall into. Once off the edge of the cliff there is little you can do to get back on usually resulting in a humiliating death. There are some paths that get dangerously close to the edge of the cliff resulting in players falling or getting pushed off the edge more often. Also pictured above is the cliff house that allows players to flank around the hill but will walk very close to the cliff. There are other flank routes present in the map which is good for stealth-based character classes or players trying to retreat.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
- The open layout makes the map into one main area, this makes the player feel like they’re always in the action
- The map is easy and enjoyable to traverse with the high mobility classes with skill-based movement such as explosive jumping
- Lots of emphasis on vertical battles and gaining highground
- Fights revolve around the central tower making the action more concentrated on the fight for tower control
- Environmental hazards such as the cliff are funny to catch players out on
- The map has four different spawn exits that make players waiting outside of the respawn room unable to guard the doors
- A symmetrical design makes it balanced for both sides and gives both teams the same buildings
- The map is easy to learn as it has a relatively simple design (2 opposing bases with a tower in the middle)
- The maps long sightlines make short-range and low-mobility classes useless in the main fights
- High-mobility classes can reach anywhere in the level within seconds
- The battlements encourage snipers to sit on ledges and fight eachother endlessly
- Some underused areas are made redundant such as pointless flank routes
This open map is a great arena for deathmatch. Being able to launch yourself and fly around the map really makes it more enjoyable. The battle for the hightower is constant through the match as it gives you an advantage over the enemy team, giving you a good overview of the whole map. The canyon at the back is always fun to catch out unsuspecting players with an environmental death. The design holds true to the classic Team Fortress 2 theme of two opposing bases with industrial and farmland themes. Unfortunately this map is dismissed because of the unbalanced gameplay when playing for the objective even though this map provides you with amazing and fun deathmatch gameplay.
Dust II is a “bomb defusal” map for all games in the Counter-Strike series. It is by far the most popular map created for the game and could be a contender for the best level in any shooter. The counter-terrorist team must defend 2 bombsites from the terrorist team that need to plant and detonate a bomb. This map is excellent for its designed gamemode but is also very fun for deathmatch.
The level is set in a middle-eastern town with two sites containing chemical weapons crates. The visuals are very yellow and beige with bright colours which contrasts with the darker players making visibility clear and not an issue in the game.
This is the overhead layout for Dust II. From the design you can see that it is much more closed and in separate sections when compared to Hightower. There is nothing overly complex about it so the layout will be simple enough to explore and travel around in.
From this diagram you can see that the level follows a “4-square” layout. This features 3 main lanes (marked orange, green and red) that all connect at each end (marked blue and yellow) and with connecters in between them (marked orange and pink). This layout design works well for the bomb defusal gamemode but also transfers well in deathmatch arenas. This is because there is a variety of tunnels and pathways that all connect together with no dead ends. The connecters add more pathways to use and connects the cut off sections with the rest of the map.
The two bombsites in the map are the most interesting spaces to play in. They are designed to be where the majority of the gameplay takes place as the default gamemode involves defending these areas from attackers. Both sites have lots of cover and broken up sightlines in the form of crates, barrels, walls and trash. These two play areas are both very easy to defend so some players may stay within them for an easier experience.
Bombsite A has the most height variation in the whole map. There is an underpass that leads into the bombsite as well as a catwalk above it, most of the site is on a raised platform with a ramp leading onto it. While bombsite B is quite flat, there is a slightly raised platform in the main site as well as the raised entrance in the form of a hole in the wall.
The layout has many long range and short range areas, this makes for fun and diverse gameplay with a variety of play areas. The open sightlines of “long A” (red) is an example of one of the most open areas in the map, it allows for long range sniping with a small amount of cover. You can hide down in the pit for some cover but will have the height disadvantage in any close-range fights. The cramped corridors of “B tunnels” (orange) makes for great ambush points for close range combat with a shotgun or SMG. The tunnels also contain height variation to get the drop on an unsuspecting player.
The sightline down the middle path (“mid”) is the longest in the map. It allows you to see all the way from the terrorist spawn (yellow) to the counter-terrorist spawn (blue). This is a very powerful spot for sniping but is balanced by leaving you very exposed to other angles and only giving you a tiny window of opportunity to spot and shoot an enemy through the small gap in the doors.
Dust II as a whole is quite flat and basic with some slight height variation, there are some hills, ramps and stairs that break up the level but it is mostly a very basic and flat terrain making it less fun than a level that really utilizes height variation to its potential.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
- The main 4-square layout makes the map fun to play on with multiple routes everywhere
- Very little unused space, layout makes all areas accessible and have a use
- Variety in area design with long and short range encounters and different designs
- The map does not seem gridlike, has lots of off-grid buildings and details
- The map is not symmetrical so it is more enjoyable to explore and learn
- Closed off areas and corridor-like pathways spread out the action everywhere
- Bombsites are very easy to defend and can cause players to guard them
- The terrorist spawn area (yellow) is underused and not as interesting to play in
- The map is very horizontal and flat with only a small amount of height variation
Dust II Conclusion:
Dust II is a classic Counter-Strike map that invented a solid layout formula. This formula translates very well to arena deathmatch making it a great design for casual battles. The great part about this map is that you can use any weapon effectively on it, all you need is the correct positioning and map knowledge. There are tight corridors, ambush points, hiding spots, sniping lines, open areas, cover to hide behind and more. The map is not symmetrical so it doesnt get boring as fast with new areas to explore but this makes it slightly harder to learn. My main problem with the map is that it is far too flat with very little height variation in fights other than bombsite A. The lack of any vertical gameplay or fighting makes this map seem basic and boring at times. But other than that it leads to solid gameplay.
Ecopoint: Antarctica is a symmetrical arena map for Overwatch. This map is designed for 1v1 (one versus one) and 3v3 (three versus three) battles between 2 teams. This map is much smaller than the other two as the gamemode is designed for much fewer players.
The map is set in an arctic research lab. The buildings are metallic with glass windows, because of the game’s lore the buildings are futuristic-looking which would’ve been a factor when creating the layout. The weather is snowy with fog which can affect visibility at long ranges. There is some story to the level involving some of the playable characters, with some hidden secrets around the map.
The map features two main buildings that are on the left and the right of each spawn. They both have many ways to reach eachother through such as the catwalks or by walking along any of the ground terrain. Both buildings have an upper and lower entrance that are all easily access from the starting points. The buildings both have a drop-down to the lower level within it for quick one-way route. A noteworthy feature of this map is that, unlike the other two, it has geometry that is not on a square grid (such as the hut in the foreground) and at a diagonal orientation instead.
The middle area is much more open but has long sight-lines broken with barriers on the catwalks and the central tower. The tower also marks the point of symmetry where the map starts to mirror backwards towards the opposite spawn. The tower could also be used as a point of reference to orient yourself in the level although it is quite small.
The crane room (to the left) contains more catwalks around the edge of the room, effectively creating a drop-down hole in the middle. You can enter the room from three lower entrancesand three upper entrances. The front of the building is very open to the centre of the map through large door frames and a bigger garage door on the ground floor. The back of the room has staircases that lead to the upper level for a less visible way up.
The cryo-lab has a similar design. It has an upper and lower entrance with a drop down, this time at the back of the room. The room is also fairly open towards the front with broken windows and large lower doors. In this building you cannot access the top windows because there is no outer catwalk. Towards the back of the room (on both floors) there is some cover in the form of a glass tube that will change gameplay.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
- The map is compact and designed well for small teams, you won’t lose track of players very easily and you can reach most points in the map quickly
- Ecopoint is not too wide open and also not too cramped. There is a good balance between interior and exterior
- Height variation is a big gameplay factor as you will have a massive advantage with the highground
- Every hero (character class) in the game has areas that it can use to its advantage such as flank routes, open spaces and ambush points
- Because of the maps small size it is easy to learn within a few rounds and a little bit of exploration
- The symmetry makes the level perfectly balanced
- The map has a basic layout that follows very grid-like walkways and rooms
- Does not allow for advanced gameplay in terms of environment design
- The visibility is sub-par because of the fog and snow
- The symmetrical layout makes the level less interesting to explore and play in
Ecopoint: Antarctica Conclusion:
Ecopoint is a great team versus team arena, although it only works well with a small number of people. There is a good balance between close-range corners/interior and long range exteriors. There are lots of elevated vantage points for players to get a height advantage and many catwalks and bridges connecting them. This layout would work well with any class-based or weapon-based shooter as it welcomes a variety of play styles. Unfortunately the map is too basic and small to have any in-depth gameplay or advanced strategies, but is not too much of a problem because of Overwatch’s focus on heroes instead of map design.