Making of Lighthouse

Some of you may have seen my TF2 map - Arena/KOTH Lighthouse. This is simply a documentation of how the map developed from it's early days as an Alpha all the way through the Betas and to the Final release. I'm hoping to inspire mappers in some way or another.

Origins

The idea behind Lighthouse was based off a map created by Neale Roberts whose map had a lighthouse in the centre that served as the middle capture point in a 5 CP map. As he was condensing the layout down in order to convert it for CTF, the lighthouse was less than ideal so it was removed and replaced with something else.

This was the perfect opportunity to use it myself, so I asked him if I could recycle the lighthouse (as it looked far too good to be scrapped) and he happily gave it to me for my own project.

With the lighthouse at the ready, I put on my thinking-cap and begun to brainstorm some ideas.

With a handful of ideas I was so willing to start that I decided not to do any kind of sketch or doodle for either the layout or any of the visual elements in the map.

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Above is what I completed in a weekend. Whilst the lighthouse definitely stood out I wanted it to quite literally be the center-piece of the map, not just visually but from a gameplay perspective.

The core gameplay was just never going to work as it was far too simplistic and offered very little replayability. I also didn't know how to visually expand the theme and because of this I made the decision to scrap it and start again.

It was at this point that I started the 'real' version of the map.

Alpha

After the relatively bad start I decided to start completely from scratch. Learning from previous mistakes, this time I sketched a very rough overview where the lighthouse served as the central point and from there I gradually worked out a simply layout.

The idea behind this version was simple. Each team would spawn on either side of a hill, on top there would be a lighthouse that served as the capture point, and on either side there would be a small healthpack. Players could run to the top of the hill to battle against enemies and return back down either side to collect health, preparing to return to battle.

Something that I really wanted to be an important element to the level was multiple routes which overlap to allow players to weave in and out of buildings, flanking the other team with ease. I just love that sort of gameplay.

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These screenshots show the map really early into development. I created this using only a handful of textures; enough to create a distinction between each side and to establish the island theme.

It was at this point that I started to like the direction it was going but there was one problem though - the layout just wasn't that great. In some parts it was far too complicated and in other parts it was too open so I decided to slim the layout down, aiming to keep it as simple as possible without compromising my multiple route approach.

The revised version of the map was a mixture of old and new. I left the lighthouse and some buildings as they already were whilst removing or changing some of the brushwork which looked a little odd.

The wooden ramps that used to lead up to the lighthouse were replaced with a gradual incline towards the hill to keep in line with idea of keeping it simple. The spawn room was moved so it was center aligned with the lighthouse.

Overall, it was less abstract and became a much more believable place and most importantly new players would come to grasps with the map a lot easier as the lighthouse was visible as soon as you left spawn so the goal was immediately clear. Still, the basic idea remained the same.

Alpha Release

The first release couldn't have gone any better. I managed to get it playtested over at TF2Maps and Wireplay and a lot of people were liking it.

From these playtests I was provided with some constructive feedback. Somebody came up with the idea of a curved staircase at the side of the lighthouse that would allow all classes access to the second floor.

This was a great idea. It would make it a lot harder to capture the point as it would open up two more entrances to the capture point forcing players to be more aware of incoming enemies from above as well as the lower entrances. Kudos to whoever came up with that idea!

Another thing that people pointed out was the middle area being a little bare and open. I promised to rectify this by having a play around with the arrangement of the current cover as well as adding some additional bits and bobs.

Beta 1

With this version I started to beautify the map by detailing pretty much everything, throwing in some models, decals, and displacing the surrounding cliffs. (which took forever, I might add!)

I took the lighting in a completely different direction as I tried to evoke a nice, calm, relaxing atmosphere beside the sea and it worked really well in tandem with the sound of seagull cries and waves crashing in the distance.

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These shots were taken a few days after I resumed work on the map after Alpha 1.

Parts of the layout changed quite drastically as I removed many dead-ends and generally improved the overall flow of the level. How effective these changes were at the time would be decided by playtesting but I was pretty confident that would work in favor of the map.

Beta 1 Release

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Beta 1 was released on November 26th 2008 and was playtested again over at TF2Maps and Wireplay.

There was still some issues that I wasn't happy with. Scouts would absolutely dominate the map as there were no places to refuge and the flow was a little stifled in places. Slower classes would be at the mercy of faster classes as there were no safe-havens so I made a mental note as something that needed to implemented into the next version.

Most players complained that the map was too dark and that the healthkits unnecessarily lengthened rounds which was annoying. 1 or 2 players left in the round would constantly battle each other then return to the health kits on either side of the hill which would stretch rounds out a lot longer than necessary which was boring for dead players. Oh, and there was a mistake on my behalf with ammopacks -- I completely forgot to add more as I promised to do since Alpha 1.

Beta 2/RC1

Beta 2 was mostly refining the layout and visuals. One of the first things I decided to change was the lighting which was heavily criticised in Beta 1 for being too dark.

I put up a few comparison images in a poll for people to choose the one they liked most and generally people swayed towards the sunset lighting.

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Here's a comparison of the lighting differences between B1 and B2. It was a good choice as the brightness was just right, the shadows casting across the cliffs looked very awesome, and the whole map had a lot more vibrance.

All changes made to the layout were along the lines of minimum effort, maximum result.

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In the first image I removed the fence, rotated the sheets and moved the barrels. A few simple changes and, ta-da, the dead-end is removed and a new route is born!

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The second image had two additions; a concrete block, and a wall along the concrete platform. The concrete block changed some fairly moderate cover to hard cover which also provided engineers with a decent place to setup a sentry out of harms way. The wall is there to further distinct the "side" area from the "hill".

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The final image was the biggest change. This building provided the small refuge that I planned to add from my thoughts on playtesting Beta 1. Now slower classes more suited to close/medium range combat had a way of moving around the map out of harms way.

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The staircase model I made for Beta 1 was simply bad. I mean, come on, it was floating for christ's sake! Instead of trying to create some supports I decided to start it from scratch and used a smooth ramp instead. It only took about 10 minutes to make and although it's simple it does look a lot better in comparison to the old model.

Beta 2 Release and King of the Hill

Beta 2 was released on December 19th 2008 and I playtested it over at TF2Maps and I was happy to call the layout complete. The next version was simply going to be minor changes to improve the performance of the map. Not the most exciting job in the world.

Here's how I came to converting the map for KOTH. A few weeks before I was ready to release the final version of Arena Lighthouse in February I played a map called garbage_day. It was a King of the Hill map for TF2 and it was ridiculous fun. I toyed with the idea of converting my map to KOTH as it seemed like an easy job so I asked for some opinions from players in my clan. Most were all for the idea of a KOTH version and not just because they absolutely hate Arena.

With a few quick modifications to the level I got a KOTH version up on my clan's server and to my surprise it worked very well and I was sure that I would be releasing a KOTH version of my map to the public.

RC Release

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Download

Comparison Pics

Release Threads

Ending Thoughts

Plan ahead. This is said so many times yet so many people fail to do so. Plan ahead and you will be able to bring your ideas to life a lot quicker. You'll end up with bad ideas, sure, but at least you can cross it off and be sure that you tried. Plans don't have to be complex. My plan was simple a doodle on a piece of a A4 that I used to create the basic layout of the map from which it naturally evolved.

Plan ahead, Part 2 - THE REVENGE. So you know your layout and it's all blocked-out - yay! - but do you really have any idea how to develop it further? A common problem that I used to encounter was not being able to turn all my orange-textured goodness into something that makes sense in a real-world setting. (See the first version). For the 'real' alpha I started out using textures straight away and the whole process of moving from basic texturing to the finished visuals was a lot smoother simply because it made real-world sense compared to a mish-mash of grey and orange textures with no gauge on reality.

Keep it simple at first. Always start out with a basic version of the map to get the idea across to people. Keeping it simple will keep your viewports uncluttered and you can make changes more easily. Once you have playtested then you simply have to build upon what you got until the gameplay is perfect. What you gauge as perfect is up to you but once the layout-side of things is done then you can begin the process of beautification which will go a lot more smoothly if you don't have to worry about making major changes to the layout.

Regularly playtest your map. There are weekly scheduled playtests over at TF2Maps and if you're in a clan you could ask them to get them to schedule a playtest as well. Playtesting will keep you motivated and willing to make changes to your map especially if you get a positive response. What could be better then improving a map that everybody likes?

Release your map everywhere. Sign up to every game-related forum you can think of and post a thread about your map. Most forums don't mind that your first post is advertising and every extra bit of exposure will help to boost the amount of talk about your map!

Now I've played the KOTH version of my map over at Recondos several times and it's incredibly fun. I don't think I could be any happier with the way that the map has finished and I owe a lot of thanks to the mapping and TF2 community who've been ever so helpful through the time that this map has been in development.

By Psy - 10/03/09