Legacy:Map Design

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Since this page is the single most frequently spammed page on our wiki (whyever that may be), we've locked it for the time being. If you'd like to add anything to it, please leave a note on Legacy:Map Design/Discussion.

Map Design, like any design, is essentially an art. It is a personal creation by the designer that attempts to communicate with their audience. The designer works like any other artist, to attract their audience for the purpose of further discovery.

Design for Unreal maps focuses on elements that appeal to the player and that entice the player to explore the map.

Design Principles

General design principles help to solidify ideas and give structure to mappers with only a vague idea. On the macro-level, these principles help to organize the most important ideas, but they can also serve to help with the decisions made for every detail. A design is a set of answers to the open-ended questions these principles pose.


The theme of a map is a combination of the setting and circumstances that make this map unique. A map's theme can be any well-defined circumstances that influence other elements and principles of the design in a consistent way. Most decisions made should be based on theme. The theme is what the map seems to present to the player.


The style of any art makes it distinctive. For successful design, the style becomes a consistent way the various elements are communicated to the player. Style will carry from one element, aspect or detail of the design to another in similar ways. The style is how the map presents itself to the player.


Balance is an important principle to be aware of in design. It should not always suggest perfect balance (which tends to be aesthetically boring), but instead should suggest an awareness of the balance between various elements. A map called, "King of the Hill", may indeed require a highly fortified central hill that would seem to throw the map's balance off, but it would be necessary. The balance of a map refers to the predictable climate the player will find themself in.

See also Balance vs. Imbalance : An Essay About Strategy by Blitz.


Variation is an essential design principle. Without variation, the player will experience less and have less to act upon or think about. Variation works only when there is some patten or rhythm to vary against, perhaps even a consistent Theme, Style or Balance. Variation is what suprises the player; it's the subject of discovery.

Break Up Surfaces

Try not to let any surface be plain, add some indents, some meshes, maybe a few walking gorillas if you have to, but a plain map is a failure, even if it has good flow not many will play it.

Mapping Elements

These mapping elements are common terms in Unreal mapping. They represent the framework for all map design. By defining these terms, mappers gain a toolbox of ideas they can implement.


Layout, sometimes referred to as Map Architecture, is the term used to describe the overall shape of the map as well as the detailed interconnections between areas. A layout is the simple "floor plan" of the map: how many rooms?, how big is this space?, where do these paths lead?, etc.

See also Map Flow.


Placement of elements within the layout becomes crucial for popular gameplay. PlayerStarts, Weapons, Items, and even Decoration and Lights, all need proper placement to appeal to the player. PlayerStart, Weapon, Item, and GameObjective placement is governed by the guideline of Risk vs Reward; the idea that for every risk a player takes, there is a reward of equal value.

Risk vs Reward

As famously expounded by CliffyB, "Put desirable things in a dangerous or exposed spot.". The Keg of Health or some other highly desireable item you want to place in your map should be in the most open, visible, and exposed spot you can find. Alternately, it could be hidden from view and difficult to get to. It should be a risk to get there, and double the risk to get back. A fine example of this is the shield-belt and damage-amp chamber in DM-Pressure.

See also Placing PlayerStart and Inventory Item Placement.


Decoration serves to support the player's suspension of disbelief and to draw the player into the environment. Decoration not only includes the decorative items added to support theme and style, it also includes the decorative features and details of the architecture, particle work, skyboxes, etc. When used consistently through a map, decoration helps to give the player a sense that the experience is real.

Edge Trim

This is an example of a nice detail leading to an overall graphically pleasing map. A trimmed edge is where you put a different texture (preferably a different colour and a plain one) on the edge of the original texture, i.e. at the floor-wall corners, at the edge of ramps and walkways and on staircases. Trim can now come in mesh format as well, for example DM-Plunge, every surface that has that weird light holder has trim, and it looks so much better.

See also Building With Static Meshes and Texture Topics.


Lighting is a critical element to communicating to the player. Without light, the player has lost half their senses. Each opportunity to shine light on the details of the design is a communication to the player. Red or Blue lights talk about Team sides, a red flashing light warns of a hazard, a small spotlight beaming down on a spot in the layout beckons players to go there.

See also Lighting, Lighting Basics and Lighting Strategies.


The other half of the player's senses is hearing; and as crucial as it is, sound is forgotten more often than not. The sound in a map usually isn't noticed until it's not there. It's a very powerful tool to manipulate perception. Working in tandem with light, the player will have support for the visual communication, making things seem more real. While sound working in contrast or discord with light, can make the players feel disengaged, disoriented or anxious.

Create sound cues

Use sounds to give away player locations. Make each lift on the map sound slightly different. That way a player will know when he uses a lift his opponent will know exactly where he is. Health vials, jump boots, and other objects that make a distinctive sound can be used to place players at certain points on the map. Shallow pools of water are also good for this. Effective use of sound cues can make a 1-on-1 match turn into an intense tactical battle as each player tries to outmaneuver the other based upon where they hear the opponent, rather than where they see their opponent.

See also AmbientSound and Triggering Sounds.

Bot Support

Bot support is an essential element of map design, especially if the map is to be released to the public. Sometimes bots are used simply as player place-holders in servers, often bots are the only opponents a player can find for a custom map. Bots need help to act like real players. It is the job of the mapper to create the support system all bot players expect. The goal of good botplay design is to allow the player to forget their bot opponent is not a human player.

See also Bot Support.

External Links

Related Topics


SuperApe: Large revision done. I've moved the pattern talk to discussion. What do you think?