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Z-axis is one of the key elements to Map Flow and Map Design. In mathematics, Z-axis is the vertical axis in a Wikipedia:Cartesian coordinate system – in FPS games , it refers to the use of height.

The use of height can dramatically change the way a map flows, for good or ill. Vast drops into chasms and lakes of lava will put people off those routes (and possibly the map) especially if the bridges are easy to fall from. Being able to drop into position directly behind someone from a ledge can add an element of strategy and suprise to a map that would otherwise be missing. The other thing adding the magic z dimension to your map can do is make it appear much large than it actually is. Adding a level or two to a map can increase the perceived size of the level without actually making the dimensions of the map much larger. This means the action is not slowed down as much as it would be if the map had simply been enlarged.

Gametype Sections

Here are some sections (slightly re-worded) taken from other parts of the wiki on map creation for the various gametypes.


A good Domination map should at least have two, but preferably three, different height levels. For an example of good z-axis usage, check out DOM-Olden. The map has a good, open structure with wooden beams at a lot of different levels. It encourages the player to use his/her translocator more and it improves gameplay a lot, because attacks can come from anywhere. DOM-Gearbolt also has some suprising z-axis play due to the fixtures just below the roof and the placement of the bridge.

Double Domination

The use of the z-axis in Double Domination maps is a much more controlled affair than in UT's Domination. Double Domination revolves entirely around controlling two points for the given amount of time. This means that z-axis use should primarily be used to aid control point defense. Remember also that there is no translocator in Double Domination so players will have to use map features (lifts, ramps, kickers) to travel between the levels of the map.


When building a good Deathmatch map the z-axis is an essential part of your flow. Being able to go up and down easily allows more complex strategies to be adopted. You can always make shortcuts the player can hammer jump to if they want. Also, having to aim up or down in a fire fight is always fun. An example would be DM-Phobos. You can hammer jump to the armor from the hallway below, or you can also hammer jump up to the ledge from the area with pads/flak if the boots are gone. It's all part of flow and adds an element of surprise to the game. You just don't know where your opponent will pop up from. Also consider lift jumps. DM-Deck16][ is a good example of a useful lift jump for catching a player off guard. Deck16][ is also a great example of z-axis use. The multiple levels can make a level feel very large and complex.

Capture the Flag

Capture the Flag levels tend to be very sparing in their use of the z-axis. Most maps seem to either ignore it, or force the player to choose between a "high" route or a "low" route. There is generally very little traversal between routes, and that which does occur is normally in a downwards direction. CTF-Dreary is probably the map with the most z-axis use. Players can leave the base via a high route (using a BSP collision bug in the map) or through the middle platforms and then possibly drop down to the lower level. Travelling back up to the highest level is not possible. Other maps that make use of the z-axis are CTF-Gauntlet, and CTF-Orbital. It could possibly be said that CTF maps don't make enough use of the z-axis, but given the way the use of height can change a map flow this may be a good thing.


Use of the z-axis in Assault maps is a tricky feat to pull off. The Assault game type is purely objective based and it's hard enough to build a level that doesn't compromise game play in two dimensions let alone three. Some of the original Assault maps have z-axis routes, both intentional and unintentional. In AS-Overlord you can hammer jump over the bunkers to avoid the fox holes and mortar blasts. In AS-Frigate you can hammer jump up onto the deck of the ship and attack from there. In AS-Mazon it is possible to bypass the first objective and hammer jump right into the enemy base - one example of a z-axis route that was never intended by the map author. Some of the maps that come with the Eavy Assault Bonus Pack make good use of the z-axis, and it is these maps that I would use as reference rather than the Epic ones.

Bombing Run

Essentially a Bombing Run map involves a player running from their spawn position to a single point on the map to collect the ball, and then on to the other teams goal. A compass at the top of the screen indicates the direction from the player to the ball at all times. Since the compass doesn't indicate height, having the middle section of the bombing run map use many levels provides the ball carrier with more ability to confuse and evade the opposing team. Be wary of too much z-axis use on entry to the scoring areas within a Bombing Run map. Multiple entrances are fine but it's worth making sure that the scoring hoop can actually be defended. For example BR-Bifrost allows players to drop down into the base from above. Also, Bifrost has that platform that you shoot the ion painter to the ground. But, in order to score a goal you have to run a short distance - there is no way of scoring from above the base. Having said that, the Bombing Run maps shipped with UT2003 feel largely like flat surfaces with occasional changes in height and have little z-axis work. It's probably not a bad idea to always place the two scoring hoops at the same heigth within the map.

Types of Transportation

There are a few ways of travelling between the different levels of a map. Here's a list of the common ones.

Remember that people can "lift-jump" to gain extra height to access areas of the map that would otherwise be unreachable. If the lifts are too slow you will break up the action far too much - this is especially important in CTF maps. Lifts and use much less space than stairs or ramps. However, a player can feel "trapped" while riding a lift or if they can't move off of it until they reach the next point. Lifts require a player to stop and wait, which can kill pace. (see Action, Keep Up the Pace) See also Lifts Vs Jumppads. See Mover Topics.
Like lifts, ladders use much less space than stairs or ramps. Climbing a ladder is often slow, so don't use it for long climbs, unless you want there to be risk involved. Some Unreal Engine games don't support ladders natively, so you would have to code them yourself. Ladders can be tricky to implement at first. See also Add A Ladder.
Jump Pad 
These bounce the player in a specfied direction. Jump pads don't use much space. However, they can take some experimentation to implement. It is not recommended to use them for traversing longer distances, as this makes it very easy for players to miss the intended target. See also Lifts Vs Jumppads. These are made with:
Gravity Zone 
Players jump higer than normal. Dodges are also much faster. Don't change gravity in your map without a good setting or map "rationale". Otherwise it will look odd. This is a volume with special gravity that moves players in a set direction. It acts similar to a Jump Pad, except the velocity change players experience is much more gradual. See also Gravity, Warp Tunnels. See Gravity, Warp Tunnels.
Nitrogen Zone 
Players can swim in these allowing them to move up and down. See NitrogenZone. Be aware that players in a Nitrogen zone look a little odd, and sometimes don't replicate very well.
This stings a lot but is an effective way of gaining a lot of height. The equivalent technique in UT2003 hurts much less and as such is more viable for map construction.
Jump Boots 
Providing one or two pairs of jump boots on a level can give players the opportunity to escape pursuit by jumping up through the levels of your map when they cannot be followed.
This can be used for fast transportation from one area of the map to another. This is an easy way for a player to travel from point A to point B although it can momentarily disorient them, especially if your exit direction is facing a wall or fall. However, if you have a dead end that you just can't seem to physically connect to somewhere else, the teleporter can be a quick-fix solution. Be careful so that telefragging and camping with these is difficult (compare CTF-Face and CTF-Face-SE). See Teleporter, Teleportation Basics for more information.
Warp Zones 
A Warp Zone is a set of zones that act as a teleporter, to give the player the effect of seeing straight though to the other zone, seamlessly. It requires a lot of setup and has a few catches (like can't use within a zone with a skybox), but it's doable. See also Warping and WarpZoneInfo (particularly "Rachel's Tutorial" link in the discussion).
Ramps and Stairs 
Having ramps or stairs that allow players to move between the layers of your level is a very common way of gaining footing on multiple levels. Generally ramps are preferred as although they are slightly more tricky to build (and error collision prone) they keep the number of polygons down. See Making Stairs and Making Ramps. Staircases tend to be much easier to build, but have many times the polys of a ramp. However, staircases often look nicer when done right.
Flying or jumping vehicles provide a very attractive means of vertical movement. Largely used in outdoor situations, vehicles often become clear targets, but they move fast, are armed well, and have built in armor. See Vehicle Gameplay.
Although not a mapping element per se, translocators should be accounted for when considering Z-Axis in Map Flow. The maximum height a standing player can launch a translocator beacon in normal gravity is about 1536 units.
It may seem obvious, but the Z-Axis includes paths leading down a hole, off a ledge or out a window. Sometimes these are the easiest and fastest means of escape. It can include a built-in risk by the resulting damage of a long fall. After the fall, the space should include some form of cover so it can be an effective escape.

Vertical Combat

Death from above

Players firing down on their opponents enjoy several tactical advantages. They normally have a larger field of view and a clearer shot. Several weapons' fire is based on gravity, making it harder for the opponent and easier for the player. They can use impact, explosive and sticky shots to hit the opponent against the floor. The players are generally standing on a platform or other obstruction that serves as usable cover. They usually have the option to jump down to their opponent if they want to chase or begin combat in closer quarters. It normally takes longer for the opponent to charge up and meet the player. These advantages can add up to an imbalance if not managed using risk vs reward as a guide.

Suprise attack

Players don't often look up or down without prompting. An ambush is traditionally achieved by a quick ascent or descent to the enemy. Snipers can enjoy watching the enemy before choosing the right time and target. By allowing players to take their enemy by suprise you introduce more strategies and tactics.

Vertical cover, dodging vertical fire

Fire from below can normally be blocked with the floor the player stands on. However, enemy fire from above can only be blocked by a structure set with proper collision, such as platforms, beams, light fixtures, etc. Dodging enemy fire from above tends to be easier than dodging fire from below. A player dodging fire from below down will normally lose a line of sight to the opponent and might even fall.

Vertical Search

Keep it visible, usable space

If you're going to use the Z-Axis, show it. As much as opimization efforts will allow, leave Z-Axis spaces open for search, navigation, and combat. Players will enjoy the additional opportunities for varied tactics. If players can see through the floor or ceiling to other areas of the map, they can prepare for an ambush, alert teammates, or give chase to opponents they see.

More powerful items hidden above

It is suggested above that a player normally takes a longer time traveling upwards. If an upper space or pathway is also hidden or obscured, it may be worth holding a special powerful item like the UDamage, to balance risk vs reward. A completely hidden item is technically a secret and requires strong clues and a considerable reward value for balance

See also Movement Metrics (UT), Movement Metrics (UT2003), and Movement Metrics (UT2004).

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