Creating beautiful, challenging maps is vital for player immersion and engagement. The best multiplayer maps stick in your mind indefinitely — and you’ll want players to fondly remember your game’s maps too!
To gain insight into how to take multiplayer maps to the next level, we spoke with Midwinter Entertainment game designer Justin Lippet. about the process behind creating maps for Scavengers.
Thanks for your time, Justin! Could you expand a little regarding your role on Scavengers?
I’m a game designer on Scavengers and although I’ve worked on several systems that go into the game, my primary focus is working on and maintaining the level and encounter content that supports our game modes.
In a Dev Insights blog post, you explored static Points of Interest (POI). What are they for and do they provide experienced players with an advantage?
The goal of the static POI is to provide a consistent sense of place and mastery that players can learn from and rely on for golden path objectives. We leverage our more random map elements to then ideally provide unpredictable and interesting choices throughout the session.
While any level of map knowledge could be seen as an advantage, a degree of consistent level elements enables newer players to get their bearings and understand where they are in the game world.
What factors besides player feedback do you take into account during development to shape the map layout?
Player feedback primarily informs level iteration. But as new gameplay systems and game modes come online or evolve during development, we try to adjust our layouts to better support those changes.
We wanted Cascade Springs in particular to be a level that, while large in scale, was flexible enough for our small level team to absorb and support a large amount of change quickly over the course of development.
How does player feedback impact on a game? How do you separate valuable information from gripes from disgruntled players that lost?
All feedback is valuable — even from players who might be venting frustration! It can help highlight game elements people are passionate about and reveal underlying issues — or the perception of issues — that lead to player frustration.
Scavengers is a complex game with many systems interacting with each other and balanced against expectations for a variety of player motivations. Because of this, we try to look at feedback holistically and compare it to the data we get from sessions, our current design goals and the potential impact of any change before actioning on it.
How did the map creation process work during the development of Scavengers?
We started the development of Cascade Springs wanting to create a snow-covered playground where players could find countless adventures. Because we were still defining the game mode and supporting systems, we also wanted to ensure we could rapidly iterate and respond to significant changes.
To most effectively leverage our resources, we decided to approach building the level in a tiered process using node-based POIs to populate content. The first iteration was just large enough to have a small session and start seeing the core gameplay loop. From there, we slowly expanded while continually evolving and iterating on Cascade Springs and individual node layouts.
While this was not always a smooth process, larger pivots in the game mode were easier to accomplish due to our ability to leverage the smaller scale and swap out nodes.
When creating the map, how do you control the number of choices provided to players and ensure they’re not overwhelmed?
From the session point of view, we provide guidance through landmarking, roads and paths to offer suggestions on where to find content. But in Expedition Mode, we wanted to ensure players felt like they could approach the world and the ‘game board’ however they wanted. This led to us leaning more on the dynamic play space and objectives — in combination with other players consuming content — to guide players through a session.
Regarding individual POIs, we are more hands on, creating defined and focused routes and fronts. This allows players to identify interesting traversal opportunities and understand potential threat lanes and angles of engagement.
What rules and techniques do you think work for any type of map, regardless of size?
Approach level and map design with an understanding that the goal of any space is to support the gameplay and fantasy of the experience your team is trying to create. Always build and iterate to support that vision.
Beyond that, focus on maintaining clear orientation elements, a defined set of metrics and a ‘clean’ gameplay space. This helps focus feedback towards more high-level concepts, thereby speeding up iteration.
How did you encourage and reward players for exploring maps, to avoid people recognising where they’ve spawned and heading directly to known resources and weapons locations?
It’s hard to achieve this from every spawn site, but we’ve tried to mitigate optimal routes through the randomisation of secondary objectives and resources. For more static elements, we lean on the potential of conflict from other teams and for secondary opportunity — what is optimal post-objective — to help create variation of choice.
More interviews like this are coming soon — so stay tuned! In the meantime, check out these great videos and articles from Multiplayer Hub: