Q3A Item Placement Guide
Q3A ITEM PLACEMENT GUIDE
by Pat H
Structure vs. item placement
In my "Fundamentals of Gameplay" articles where I discussed the three key relationships mappers should think about when prototyping their layouts, I intentionally avoided talking about item placement for two reasons. The primary reason is that those articles were written especially for beginner mappers and I don't think it's a good idea for them to try to juggle layout structure and item placement at the same time. I think a novice is better off trying to nail the layout first and then move on to item placement which is very flexible and can be adapted pretty well to almost any map that has a sound structure.
In the past, I used to try to plan out where all my armors would be even in the earliest stages when the layout was still on paper. It was way too much to think about at one time, and this complexity severely slowed down my process. Then, when I actually blocked out the map and people would suggest large layout changes during alpha testing I would be very resistant to making the changes because they would mess up a lot of the structure and item placement relationships that I had spent so much time planning. It wasn't uncommon for me to get stuck for months in the layout process trying to get everything right in this way. Later on, I developed a system for generating great layouts which eventually got written up in the “Fundamentals of Gameplay” articles. Before publishing those, I decided to make a new tourney layout to make sure that my system definitely worked before I preached it to other people. I was totally shocked when I had my favorite layout to date up and running in a grand total of... 6 hours. I knew that I had finally solved the problem that had been slowing down my planning phases for years.
This brings up a really interesting question: Is it better to disregard item placement at the outset and consider layout structure in a vacuum? I think that this might be the best strategy for inexperienced mappers, but as I get more experienced at pumping out layouts my process is beginning to become more complex again. Lately, I've been doing more of a compromise where I place the most important armors and weapons very loosely as I build, and I think my layouts are improving because of it. I have found that making maps is a lot like a chess game in that the better you get, the further down the road you are able to look. I would suggest that if you haven't yet mastered the fundamentals of layout structure you should focus on that first and come back to this article later. Structure is king and no amount of tinkering with items will ever fix a flawed layout.
The secondary reason I didn't talk about item placement the Fundamentals of Gameplay articles is that Joel “wviperw” McDonald has already done an amazing job of this in his ”Competitive Level Design Guide”. If you have already read what Joel has to say about item placement, a lot of this is may sound like review. I mainly wrote this article to commit his principles to memory and organize them in my own way, as well as to bring the theory up to date with modern maps.
Goals of this article
I wanted to this article to be something that less experienced mappers could benefit from, even if the layout-first-items-after strategy is a little more simplistic and less suitable for competition at the highest levels. So when I suggest my systems for placing items I am going to assume you already have a layout made and you're looking to fill it with items, and you are not placing the items as you build. Maybe in the future I will try to write an article for more advanced mappers on how to plan for both at the same time.
Like Joel's guide, I've focused primarily on competitive play here, which means these principles are ideal for duels between players of comparable skill level, but they can also be applied to larger FFA maps as well. FFA can be thought of as just a simpler, more relaxed gametype than tourney that has less emphasis on domination and recovery and more room for health, ammo and powerups. (This article won't discuss powerups and other special items because they are too powerful to be included in tourney maps.)
The article is broken down into five classes of items/entities and I have listed them in order of how important I consider them to be for gameplay. For classes in which many different combinations of items are possible, like armor and weapons, I have done my best to include every loadout I can think of and the consequences they will have on gameplay. In addition, I have tried to systematize the item placement process as much as possible so you don't feel like you have to add all the items at once, because I think that would make just about anybody's head explode.
Please keep this in mind when reading: When I suggest the systems I have developed for making the item placement process easier for me, this is not by any means to say there is only one way to go about it. If you have a different strategy, please share it in the comments. I didn't write this to try to get everyone to make the exact same maps in the exact same way. The purpose of this article and all my others is to make gameplay design easier for myself and for mappers who struggle with it, and also to get people talking more about gameplay on forums. With that said, I hope you enjoy it, and please leave a comment telling me what you think.
Structure vs. item placement
Goals of this article
1.1 Introduction to the armors
1.2 Three armors
1.3 Four armors
1.4 Five armors
1.5 My system for armor placement
2.1 The important of weapon placement
2.2 Specialty weapons
2.3 All-around weapons
2.4 Limited weapons
III. Spawn points
3.1 The first thirty seconds
3.2 Spawn killing
3.3 The spawn-point checklist
4.1 How much?
4.2 Health distribution
5.1 Ammo placement
5.2 The hierarchy of ammo types
1.1 Introduction to the armors
Armors are by and large the driving force in any Q3A tourney match. They are the main reason players tend to rack up frags in streaks, because the "up" (dominating) player will gain control over the majority of the armor and have a strength advantage over the "down" (recovering player). Of course, if one player's aim is really hot and he is winning all the battles he doesn't need as much armor as his opponent, but these variances well average out over time and the player who dominates the armors more often will take the lion's share of the victories.
In case you are new to Q3A, below is the run down of the five types of armors in order of decreasing strength. Note that an armor can be considered anything that adds to the player's hit points over 100, and that's why the megahealth is included here. 5 healths are not included as armors because once a player's health goes over 100 hit points it counts down at -1 hit point per second. So 5 healths are so short-lived when the player is over 100 hit points that they usually aren't considered as armors.
Red armor (RA) = 100 armor
Megahealth (MH) = 100 health
Yellow armor (YA) = 50 armor
Green armor (GA) = 25 armor *Quake Live/Promode only
Armor shard (5S) = 5 armor
The MH is considered weaker than the red armor because of the 100+ health countdown effect. In addition, the player who picks up the MH is automatically over 100 hit points and cannot take advantage of the other health in the map like the player who picks up the RA. To make matters worse, the MH is usually on a 40 second timer, whereas the other armors respawn every 25 seconds. This places the MH about halfway in between the RA and YA in terms of strength.
Since the RA is clearly the strongest armor considering both its quantity and frequency of respawns, this is just about the only item that we can safely say will go to the up player most of the time. In general, we can assign the RA to be taken the player who is dominating or who is just about to overturn domination. And while we can be sure that the up player is going to grab the majority whatever is remaining, we don't exactly know which armors those will be. This is such an important point that I am going to repeat myself: When you are trying to imagine which player gets which armors in terms of recovery and domination, all you really can say for sure is that the up player is going to grab the majority of the armors, and this will almost definitely include the RA and frequently the MH, but as the armors get smaller it becomes less and less clear who will get what in any given cycle. It's easy for mappers (like me) to fall into the “microanalysis trap” where we picture pretty situations such as designating certain armors to be purely for recovery. In reality, both players are just going to fight for everything they can and it's not that organized.
You might think the dominating player who has RA control will almost always try to grab the MH too since it's the second best armor, but due to its longer timer the MH will occasionally spawn around the same time as the RA. Since the up player can't be in two places at the same time, this makes the MH more of a toss-up item and creates chances for the down player to steal an advantage. Top-notch players will actually try to desynchronize the RA and MH by deliberately picking them up at times that won't conflict with each other, but there are always going to be situations where neither player has enough control use this tactic (especially in maps with four or five armors where it's harder to pull off). In this case, the up player will just try to scoop up whatever armor is left, starting with the next available YA (or GA if it's a lot closer).
With five armor types there are quite a few armor combinations possible. I've come up with a whole list that I think are realistic enough to be included. I tend to think about loadouts in terms of how many armors they contain, so I've categorized them that way. Let's start with the simplest loadouts.
1.2 Three armors
Three-armor loadouts have generally looked down upon in the modern competitive mapping scene due to their lack of complexity and ease of domination. The fashion lately has been to include a minimum of four armors even in small maps (see "Blood Run", “Aerowalk”, "Lost World", "Toxicity", "Furious Heights", "Silence", "Cure", and others for examples.) The reason for this is to make gameplay more complex and to give the down player more chances to recover.
RA, MH, YA
As I was saying, this loadout seemed to be the Q3A standard for a long time, but there just aren't too many examples of it that have survived in the current Quake Live duel map pool. The only one that comes to mind is "Campgrounds" (pro-q3dm6), which often leads to heavily dominated games where the down player is forced to prematurely "gg" due to excessive domination.
Although there is a lot of space between the armors, "Campgrounds" is a unique case where players can cover vast distances very quickly. Once the up player starts running the RA and MH consistently, he can fairly easily encroach on the down player's remaining YA and it takes a blunder for him to lose control. Yes, "Campgrounds" is a classic that we can all learn a lot from, but not because of its item placement. It has stuck around because of it's exceptional flow and fun fighting areas (see “Fundamentals of Gameplay: Part I” for my analysis).
MH, YA x2
This is another simple loadout which suffers from the same domination problems as the first, but not as severely. Substituting the RA for a weaker second YA mitigates the domination issue somewhat, but unfortunately the lack of complexity persists.
I would not recommend either of the three-armor loadouts if you want your map to be played seriously by competitive players. Let's get on to the four-armor loadouts which create enough complexity to ensure that both players have some armor to work with.
1.3 Four armors
RA, MH, YA x2
Adding a second yellow armor the old three-armor standard seems to be the most popular choice for maps on Quake Live these days. Example maps include "Blood Run", "Toxicity", “Lost World”, and “Furious Heights". This loadout works because it isn't overly complex and still allows for some domination, but the fourth armor gives the down player something to recover with. When a player is dominating, he can usually control three of the armors at once, but it shouldn't be assumed that these three will always be the RA, MH, and YA. Sometimes less straight forward situations arise where the up player grabs either the RA or the MH and then two YAs. The important thing here is that there are enough armors on the map that the down player can usually hold onto one of them. Below are some quick notes on the example maps I mentioned:
"Blood Run" has the RA and MH centralized which produces a lot of central battles over these two items. The two YAs are on the periphery with a lot of spacing between them and that seems to result in the down player always being able to grab at least one of the YAs, but it's difficult to say which YA that will be in any given cycle.
"Toxicity" has more of a “four corners” type of armor distribution on the perimeter so that clashes in the center do not happen as often as in “Blood Run”, but that's probably a good thing as the center of the map is already so powerful for control. (Read about the relationship between height and center point in my “Fundamentals of Gameplay: Part I” article to see why.)
"Lost World" seems to be a bit lopsided at first since there is a whole region at the top of the diagram that is absent of armor. This turns out be an important area for the down player to escape from the action, and it is complemented by the room's structure which has a lot of secure corners and multiple ways out. You will see that some of the best maps don't place the armors for maximal coverage, instead they distribute armor in an uneven way to further specialize certain areas.
"Furious Heights" is an example of having an MH and a YA very close to each other. This looks imbalanced at first, but due to the fifteen second delay between their timers, players don't usually pick them up together and the down player can still get at least one armor. The placement of the RA on the lower level makes the up player a little more vulnerable after picking it up since he is always approaching his next item from the ground.
RA, MH, YA, GA
I haven't seen this loadout used very often lately except for the “Campgrounds Intel Edition” which was featured in the 2014 QuakeCon map pool. The extra GA doesn't seem to fix the domination problems of the RA, MH, and YA loadout as well as a second YA does. If you are going to use this loadout, I would suggest you supplement it with a couple sets of shards to give the down player more armor to work with.
RA/MH, YA x2, GA
RA/MH, YA, GA x2
RA/MH, GA x3
RA/MH, YA x3
There is also the possibility of removing one of the two heavy armors and putting a smaller armor in its place. I'm not a huge fan of this strategy because I favor the diversity of having all different types of armors and I usually save loadouts like these for more casual experimental maps. A notable example of the MH, YA x3 loadout is “House Of Decay”, which was played by the pros for a while but has since been abandoned.
1.4 Five armors
RA, MH, YA, GA x2
This is a popular loadout on Quake Live these days. It's used in the classic map “Aerowalk” and cityy has been putting it in his recent maps “Silence” and “Cure”. It is basically the same as having two YAs, except one of them is split into two locations which makes it even harder for one player to grab all the armor. The general trend is this: the more armors you have in a map, the harder it will be for one player to dominate all of them.
"Aerowalk” is a very small map and it's a bit surprising that it works so well because the armors are all pretty close together. This is a really genius example of showing that armors do not need to be placed for maximum spacing between them. In fact, here they are placed very linearly on the two middle levels, but it still works well because of 1.) the amount of armors, 2.) the defendable choke points between them, and 3.) the trick jump that requires a little extra time to get the RA. Usually the up player controls the RA and the GA near it along with the MH and he'll try to rush the other two armors whenever possible. The down player defends the YA and GA near it and he can try to rush the MH to turn domination.
“Silence” has a slightly different placement scheme than “Aerowalk”. The RA and YA are still on opposite sides of the central MH, but everything is a lot more spread out due to the much larger map size. In addition, the two GAs are both placed in the central room, making it an important area to control from either side. Note: if you're not familiar with this map, the MH is on the low level and the GA above it is on the highest level.
RA, MH, YA x2, GA
This is about as complex as you would want a loadout to get, at least in the current state of Q3A competition. (Since we've seen a clear progression from three armors to four in the past, I'm not ruling out that players could demand a six-armor loadout as the metagame continues to evolve. Although we also have to consider the 200/200 health-armor limit as a natural ceiling for adding more armors.) For now, we'll consider five armors to be the limit. Remember that complexity and domination have an inverse relationship, so this loadout will make it even easier than the last one for the down player to recover.
RA/MH, YA x2, GA x2
This loadout is similar to the RA/MH loadouts I discussed in the four-armor section, but I like it better because it holds a little extra armor. Still, I wouldn't risk using this loadout for a competitive map until I see players become more interested in maps that lack one of the two heavy armors.
RA, MH, GA x3
I've never personally seen this one done but I am sure it is out there somewhere. It is probably somewhere between the RA, MH, YA, GA and the RA, MH, YA x2 loadouts in terms of complexity and could lead to interesting games.
Right now I can hear you saying, "Pat, that's too many choices!" All these options may seem overwhelming, especially when you consider that armor shards can be added to any of these loadouts for yet another variation. If you are a beginner mapper, stick with the tried-and-true loadouts that I mentioned. Basically, these are the ones in the four- and five-armor categories that include both an RA and an MH, and no more than two of any smaller armor type.
If you feel that your map would be better suited toward a less conventional armor loadout, then I encourage you to experiment with the different types. The best way to do this is to get a good group of beta testers for duel matches who are of similar skill level and will give you constructive feedback. Remember that if your map is too easy to dominate, then you can try adding more armors. If you think that there is already so much armor that it makes it too easy for the recovering player to get back in the game, then remove some. If your map has domination issues regardless of the armor loadout, I would suggest making the heavier armors harder to get to. The RA in “Aerowalk” is a good example of a compact map that requires a trick jump to the RA to occupy the up player so that the down player has a little extra time to grab his own armor.
1.5 My system for armor choice and placement
Once you've decided what kind of armor loadout you want in your map, how do you actually decide where to place them? What I do is use a sequential kind of system to make it easier to think about one armor at a time. I suggest that you place the armors in your map in order of strength, i.e. RA first, and MH second. Your placement of these two armors will dictate where the majority of the action in your map happens, so make sure they are in engaging spots, preferably with lots of entrances, vertical action, neat geometry, and chances to take cover. Since the RA and MH are on different timers, you can get away with placing them either across the map from one another or in adjacent rooms. Just make sure they aren't in the same room or near each other on the same level of the map.
As you move down the ladder from big armors to smaller ones, the purpose of your placement will transition from creating fun battles to ensuring overall balance. In other words, you're going to make your decision about where to place the third armor (usually a YA) a bit further away from where you placed the heavier armors. If your map has three levels, the first place you will want to look is on the level that is still empty of armors, but it doesn't have to be there. The most important thing is that there is some distance between the third armor and the RA. If you put the third armor very close to the RA, you will probably be making it too easy for the up player to quickly grab the two of them together. Now he will be very strong with plenty of time to launch an attack on the remaining armors, and there is a chance that he could collect all of them.
As you place your fourth and possibly your fifth armor, you will want to think about a couple things regarding the balance of your map. First, are there any large areas of your map that still feel "empty" and have no incentive for a battle to take place there and no other special purposes? If so, place the armor there. If the map feels pretty well covered but you still want to add more armor, it is okay to place multiple armors close to one another, as long as they aren't too powerful. The MH/GA combination in “Aerowalk” is a good example of this. They aren't too overpowered since the two are on different timers and they only add up to 125 armor total.
Armor shards are the final thing you should add to your loadout. These are totally optional, and should be looked at as more of a diluted way to place armor over a larger region to give the space more value. Shards are usually placed in a line for easy pickup, making them a good fit for bridges or narrow hallways. For example, check out the armor shards on the bridge in "Furious Heights".
The level designer probably decided that this room needed a little something extra to balance it out with the RA room, but placing a GA here would have looked kind of silly next to the YA and MH. Adding the armor as shards was a good way to make bridge as a whole into more of a control point for whichever player is holding down the room. Five shards are also a less potent alternative to a GA because they take longer to pick up and players don't tend to spend as much mental energy timing their respawns perfectly.
There is also a secondary, more devious motive behind placing armor shards and that is to signal a players location by the sounds the shards make when they are picked up. You can even do this in multiple places by adding different amounts of shards, say, three in one spot and four or five in another. This is a cool feature to add but it clearly shouldn't be overdone. Putting shards in more than two places would probably just confuse people more than anything. I personally don't like how a lot of maps place armor shards almost like "decorations" seemingly without purpose. I think it's better to make sure you are always placing items for a reason. When in doubt, leave them out.
Last edited by pathy; 12-15-2014 at 12:21 AM.
I. Armors (Continued)
Now that your armors have been placed, one of the best ways to take your map to the next level of competition is to compare all the different paths between the RA and MH. You want to make sure there isn't one path which is the clear best choice. The shortest path should be the most vulnerable, otherwise players will take it all the time and nothing interesting will happen. The best way that I have found to accomplish this is by making the shortest path into a choke point. I like to use a 256 L x 128 W hallway as my go-to dimensions for a choke point, but there are many more creative ways to create choke points too. As an alternative to a choke point, you can also adjust the entrances and exits of the path to make it further away from the items it leads out to, but I like this option less because it tends to disrupt movement flow.
As the armors get less powerful, pathing becomes less important, so I usually only seriously consider the paths between the RA and MH. But it is also good to double check the YAs as well for any paths that are really out of balance. For example, if you have two armors on the same level, you probably won't be able to keep players from taking the shortest path, but you can at least create a choke point between them which allows players to trap each other.
2.1 The important of weapon placement
With all that talk about armors, you might think that a duel match can be thought of as "a fight for the armors" and nothing more, but experienced players know that gaining a weapon advantage over your opponent is extremely important as well. A player with an incomplete weapon loadout can be highly exploitable, for example from long range if he is lacking a railgun. Likewise, a player without a rocket launcher is going to have a harder time controlling areas, and a player missing a lightning gun can get fried in mid-range battles. In competitive gameplay, players are constantly trying to deny weapons from one another and play against whatever weapons their opponent is missing. The best maps have a creative yet balanced weapon placement scheme. Creative weapon placement gives players opportunities to find unique strategies for weapon exploitation in a map, and balanced weapon placement ensures that they can't abuse these strategies. In this section we'll talk about how to accomplish both.
In general, the placement of your weapons should ensure that the recovering playing can get back into the game quickly, but should also require some time and traveling around to collect a complete loadout. Placing weapons can be an intimidating process when you try to consider all six of them at the same time, so I am going to advise another sequential approach to placing weapons where you consider only one or two at a time starting with the most powerful ones. I tend to think about the weapons in Quake 3 as being broken down into three categories: all-around weapons, weapons that have exploitable limitations, and weapons that are highly specialized.
2.2 Specialty weapons
Railgun (RG), lightning gun (LG)
The specialty weapons are very powerful in specific situations, and players should be forced to work for them to offset their demand. Not having these weapons makes a player extremely exploitable. You might want to experiment with placing these weapons in vulnerable areas since they are by nature the most interesting weapons for players to deny from each other. Since these weapons can be so powerful, they are often placed in an area where they are not immediately useful so that players can't camp on them. See the LG in "Lost World" for a good example, and the RG in "The Longest Yard" for the exact opposite of that (it's not really a tourney map, I know, but I never miss opportunity to make fun of dm17).
The LG in "Lost World" is placed in a way that reduces its initial power because it is in a tight corridor.
The RG in "The Longest Yard" is the exactly the opposite type of placement and induces lots of camping. Mm... pass the marshmallows.
The RG can be used and abused for its infinite range, high damage, and instant impact. In many maps the RG is the weapon that requires the most work to get, and it is also the one that players consider the most important to control. For this reason, I like to make the RG one of the first weapons I place. I place it based on map structure and I usually don't pay too much attention to where it is in relation to the armors. I have seen maps work well with an RG that is close to the RA, such as “Toxicity”, and also maps that have it much further away, such as “Silence”, so both are legitimate strategies.
When placing the RG, consider that its effectiveness varies greatly based on how long the map's lines of sight are. In more confined maps, it's safe to make the RG a little more accessible. In more open maps, you'll want to make the RG less accessible to keep the map from becoming a rail arena, but also make sure it isn't too easy to deny, otherwise you will have too many situations where one player is rail-less. I think "Campgrounds" is a fine example of how to place an RG in an open map. It's not in a high-visibility area or super easy for the up player to control, and yet players are forced to either make a challenging trick jump or go down a long path to get it (see below). For an example of a map that omits the RG, see "Lost World". The designer probably realized the RG could totally overpower the main room which is really open and also has very tight choke points at all the entrances.
Let's move on to the LG, which is by far the best weapon in Q3A for fighting in mid-range and open areas. Great players can use the LG like a tractor beam that can only be dealt with at very close or long distances or with lots of cover. It is usually not so powerful that it has to be omitted, yet how powerful it is can depend heavily on the geometry of the map and you can take this into consideration when placing it. For example, cityy's map "Silence" is a good example of a map with tons of cover where the LG is a little less effective than usual. In cases like these, it's a good idea to place the LG in a slightly more accessible spot. Usually the LG doesn't require a trick jump because it not quite as important as the RG.
The LG in "Silence" is placed in a very accessible spot and can be used well in its location.
Note: there is a difference between creatively making your players work for a weapon and just placing a weapon off in a corner. Players will often get annoyed by designers who "corner" all their items (trust me, I know from experience!) because it breaks up the flow of their movement. Instead, try to place key weapons off the beaten path, but make sure they can still be picked up at high speeds.
2.3 All-around weapons
Rocket launcher (RL)
There is a reason you see it in all the ads. The RL is the primary and most popular weapon in Q3A. It is the only weapon that truly belongs in the all-around group because it is not very exacting and has a lot of uses including spamming, defense, tossing opponents around, and dealing serious damage. The RL is probably the only weapon you would never want to omit, and you may even want to put in two of them in your map. I usually place these once I have figured out the RG and LG positions. It's a good idea to put RLs in well-trafficked areas, but make sure the RL isn't really easy for the up player to deny from the down player if you only have one in your map.
2.4 Limited weapons
Shotgun (SG), plasma gun (PG), grenade launcher (GL)
I call these "limited weapons" because you are really weak if you have them on their own. They are what the down player settles to work with until he can build a more complete loadout. Of course, they have their strengths which are often underestimated by simpletons, but they will be used less and less as the player acquires more powerful weapons like the RL, LG, and RG. Avoid placing these weapons in far-off corners or places where players will be unwilling to interrupt their normal movement flow to get them.
The SG is good for close range, but it can easily be dealt with by long- and mid-range weapons. That being said, the SG isn't useless. It has the highest maximum damage of any weapon (110 hit points if you hit your opponent dead-on). It is my personal favorite weapon because it can be oh-so-powerful in up-close and frantic situations. With just three well-placed pumps, you can frag a fully-stacked player without dealing any splash damage to yourself in the process. It also functions as a spam weapon for instantly doing small amounts of damage at medium range, which seems to be favored by pro players who rarely get so close to each other. Since it is still a recovery weapon by definition, you may want to place it in a less heavily-trafficked area than the RL, but accessible locations can work well too. Adding two SGs is good for ensuring that the recovering player will always find a weapon to work with. This could be seen as an alternative to placing two RLs in a map, or both could be done to fill up a large layout.
The PG is a good all-around weapon but usually is not the best option in any fight. Exceptions include when you have a player trapped in a tight tunnel, or when you are coming around a corner and want to spam into your opponent's line of sight to protect yourself. It should be noted that the PG does damage faster than any other weapon in the game (correct me if I am wrong about this in Quake Live.) It's just not too often that you find a battle where you can hit with enough cells to make this happen. PG should be placed in a similar way to SG, maybe slightly less accessible, but never place more than one – it's just not used frequently enough. Note that some maps such as "Aerowalk" don't even have a PG.
GL is only used for spamming or defense. It is usually not directly sought out, but players are willing to take a second to grab it. As the “Competitive Level Design Guide” pointed out, the most important thing to keep in mind when placing the GL is what level it is on. High placement of the GL leads to spamming, whereas low placement discourages it. This is important because spamming can be used to control areas of the map. For example, players often take advantage of the high GL in "Blood Run" to spam grenades onto the MH with infinite ammo and keep the other player from getting it. They can use this strategy to kill time while waiting for the other armors to respawn. Feel free to omit the GL if you don't like how it plays in your map.
III. Spawn points
3.1 The first thirty seconds
Spawn points are key in any competitive map because the first thirty seconds of the duel heavily influences who is in control and who is out of control for the next several minutes. Ideally, this should work like a chess game (yes, I'm doing more chess analogies). In chess, white always gets the first move, and while this isn't such a strong advantage that it makes the game unfair, it does encourage white to attack and black to defend. Quake, like chess, is such a complex game that we can be sure the in-control player will make a less-than-perfect move eventually, and this will give the down player the opportunity to turn things around.
An initial advantage usually occurs in the first thirty seconds because one player spawns in a place where he can grab a little more armor and weapons than the other player. (Thirty seconds is actually a generous estimate, it's more like fifteen if the players don't engage each other.) The down player has to respect this and play defensively for a while until he can do something to swing the map control in his favor. It's not the best situation for the down player, but it's not the end of the world either because he knows his opponent is only human and cannot hold onto a slight advantage forever. This only turns into a problem when the first spawn creates so much imbalance that it converts into a frag. The most common ways to make this mistake are to put a spawn right next to the most important armor or weapon, or to have two spawns near each other with one at a clear advantage for the nearest items. This can cripple your map's gameplay, which is why I've ranked spawn points as being even more important than health. It's pretty tragic to see maps released with this problem because it's such an easy mistake to fix.
3.2 Spawn killing
Once the initial spawn is over, a new problem arises. Every time a player gets fragged, he has to wait a few seconds before he respawns as a fresh, unarmed weakling, and the placement of your spawn points is going to determine whether or not he can regain enough of a stack to hold off the next frag. There are two ways to make things a little easier for the down player. First, you can place more spawn points so it's harder for the up player to predict the next respawn. I think around eight spawn points is a good ballpark number for any tourney map. It's not so high as to be confusing, but it's not so low that it's predictable. Second, you can place these spawn points in less vulnerable areas so that he isn't immediately visible to the up player. For example, you can place them in hallways and small rooms with minimal traffic.
3.3 The spawn-point checklist
Here's a little checklist to make sure your map doesn't have any big mistakes in spawn point placement.
- Do I have the right amount of spawn points in my map (not impossible to remember them all, but there is a low chance of guessing the next spawn)?
- Are my spawn points well distributed throughout the map?
- Are my spawn points in protected areas?
- Have I made sure my spawn points are not right next to the heavy armors?
- If I have two spawns near each other, are they well balanced positionally?
4.1 How much?
The most common question about health is how much of it there should be in a map. It seems like most of the duel maps in the Quake Live pool have 125-175 health, not including the MH or the 5-health bubbles. I wouldn't go below 125 health because it is really frustrating when players can't recover between battles. You may want to be on the higher end of the range if your map is very open and the players are fighting constantly, or if the map is very vertical and players experience a lot of fall damage.
4.2 Health distribution
50 health (large), 25 health (normal), 5 health (small)
Once you decide how much health you want in your map, it is fairly easy to break it down into chunks and distribute it. First, decide how many large healths you want. I tend to only put one in my maps, but I have seen some maps use two, such as "Silence". The reason you don't want to overuse the 50-health bubble is because they are easy to control. When a player scoops one up, he denies about a third of the map's normal health from his opponent. This is why I often place 50 healths nearer to the RA because I think of them as belonging more to the player who is in control. I also like to place them in sequestered areas to enhance this effect, but it's just my spin on things.
25 healths should either be placed alone or in pairs. Placing more than two in one spot would be putting too much of the map's health in one area. A pair of 25 healths is similar to a 50 health, but it's less easy to dominate because a player has to be below 75 health to pick both up. For this reason, I like to place 25 health pairs in very protected areas where I think the down player might want to go to recover. This helps make sure there is almost always some health available for the down player. I usually only place one 25-health pair, and then the remainder of my map's health get distributed as single 25 healths. I try to balance these single 25s as much as possible so that there is at least some health in each area. The area that holds the MH can have a little less health than the rest, but you don't want the MH to be the only health for miles because it respawns so infrequently.
5 healths are similar to shards in that they can be used as sound cues. They are also useful in that they can pad a player's health over 100 hit points, which protects him from death by a single rail. The rules are similar to shards: don't overdo it with 5 healths, just place them in a maximum of one or two spots in different amounts.
5.1 Ammo placement
Ammo placement is probably the simplest of all the item classes and in my experience it is what players care the least about since Q3A is fairly generous about how much ammo each weapon comes loaded with. Nonetheless, there are a few important considerations to make about ammo placement in order to not mess it up. First, don't put ammo right next to its weapon where it isn't needed. Second, to avoid cluttering your map with ammo, you don't want to include too much and you want to keep it out of the player's normal movement path. People shouldn't be tripping over ammo boxes when they run through your map, so keep them up against the walls. To further reduce clutter, it's a good idea to place the ammo for the limited weapons in pairs. Just don't put two of the same ammo type together because it's usually redundant.
5.2 The hierarchy of ammo types
As you saw in the weapons section, all weapons are not created equal, so some ammo types are more important than others. The most powerful ammo types are the RG and LG because these weapons are usually placed in the least accessible spots, so their ammo will be the most desirable when players run out. Place one box of slugs and 1-2 boxes of lightning. I like to use a similar strategy to how I placed the weapons to emphasize the effect. For example, if I want the RG to be a hard weapon to work for, I probably wouldn't want to mess that gameplay element up by placing a really accessible ammo box.
The RL is going to be used more than any other weapon so it should have a couple boxes of ammo. I usually use them to balance out the areas that don't have an RL. SG is the only limited weapon that I think really needs ammo and one box is usually enough. PG is used less and ammo is optional for it, but I usually include one box for players who like to make good use of the PG. Ammo is also optional for the GL, but one box can be included to encourage strategic spamming. Finally, although we haven't talked about the machine gun yet, it is a useful weapon and it's a good idea to include some accessible ammo for it. I usually place a box on the middle or lower level away from the RA where players are likely to run when they have less of a weapon stack.
That's it for now. As always, thanks for reading and don't forget to join the discussion in the comments! Special thanks to Ferdinand “cityy” List, for giving me great feedback on my maps and especially for teaching me about the importance of considering the pathing between items. I'd also like to thank Daniel “ddk” Kapadia for his great commentaries on the hours and hours of Quake Live footage that I watched while writing this article. Also, thanks to Kevin “strenx” Baeza for his valuable YouTube lessons on duel strategy. Last but not least, I'd like to thank Joel “wviperw” McDonald for writing the definitive “Competitive Level Design Guide” that first got me thinking about all this crazy stuff.
woah, nice work, that must have taken a lot of time to put together. I'm sure many of us will find this a good resource. I've only skimmed a couple paragraphs, but it looks like you've developed some nice insights, and the top down views are very useful (for someone like me who is horrible at learning maps).
Helpful not only for mapmakers but players also.
thanks. i was just rereading parts of this article and i wanted to revise something:
in the spawn points section i implied that you shouldn't place a spawn point near the MH or the RA. i'm not sure why i thought this is a bad idea, because it's a perfectly reasonable strategy for balancing out maps where the armors are a little too easy to run. for example, in Toxicity and Aerowalk there is a spawn right by the red armor (i'm not 100% sure if they are still there in the QL version) and every once in a while this allows the down player to steal it for free.
that said, i do still think it's a bad idea to have two spawns right near a power item because this can make for some really annoying starting battles. i'm not sure if QL has fixed this, but Q3 isn't smart enough to always spawn players into different rooms.