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Thread: Connectivity Systems

  1. #1
    Member pathy is on a distinguished road
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    Connectivity Systems

    by Pat Howard

    Lately I've been studying the connectivity in classic and modern duel maps and I'd like to share what I've found in this article. I was motivated to study connectivity when I noticed that almost all competitive maps have highly complex junctions between their rooms, especially on the low level. Of course the rooms play well independently, but it's the serpentine way they are woven together that really elevates the gameplay to the next level. The junctions are so intricate that you can almost think of them as additional rooms unto themselves. I think this is what turns a good map into a great one that can be played competitively for years and still not be fully solved by the players.

    First, if you haven't read my “fundamentals” articles you may want to check them out below because I'll be referencing them from time to time.

    Fundamentals of Gameplay: Part I & Part II

    Connectivity is definitely the most complex topic I have written about yet so I won't be making as many de facto conclusions as my previous articles. What I'm going to do is just observe the connectivity systems using top-down diagrams, classify them into a few groups, explain how the different systems affect flow and map control, and talk a little about which systems I like the best. Of course I'll leave it up to you to make your own conclusions about what you prefer. Ultimately I'd just like to give you and entertaining read that improves your ability to analyze the connectivity in any map whether you are a player or a mapper, and maybe we can have a nice discussion at the end. Also, some of the principles I laid out in my fundamentals articles can only truly be applied to individual rooms, so hopefully this article will make for a more comprehensive model that better describes the big picture of these maps.

    Analyzing and classifying connectivity systems

    Connectivity can be difficult to describe because in a way it exists everywhere, but in order to study connectivity we have to break the maps down into simpler parts. Like my previous articles, I am going to do this using the different levels of the map (low, middle, high), and the level we are going to be focusing on the most is the low one. My main reason for classifying the connectivity systems based on the low level goes back to the height-and-continuity relationship. Basically this states that the low level is the most continuous and the high level is more fragmented. Therefore, the low level will be the driving force that lays the foundation for the connectivity system and the high levels will serve to support it.

    We are going to see a couple slight exceptions to the height-and-continuity relationship with the maps Furious Heights and Dismemberment. In those maps the continuity is more balanced between the high and low levels, but for consistency I am still going to analyze them the same way. Really it isn't that important which level we choose since the levels of a map are like cousins to one another, we just need to pick one that plays a dominant role and study it.

    I think of connectivity systems as a collection of branches and loops which form more intricate shapes. A branch is defined as any significant one-directional path and a loop is any path that has a circular flow. I am going to categorize the eight maps in this study into three groups: branched layouts, top-loop layouts, and bottom-loop layouts. Branched layouts have many one-way paths on the low level which usually end in forced transitions to higher levels. (By “forced”, I mean the player has to do a complete 180 to avoid taking them.) Top-loop layouts also have branched lower levels, but have an unusually expansive upper level that connects the majority of the map. Bottom-loop maps have a roughly circular path running through the lower level and have very few branches or forced transitions.

    A few other odds and ends to mention: Although transition points are colored in yellow in my diagrams, I am going to include the stairs on the low level leading up to the middle level as part of the low-level connectivity system. Basically everything up until the middle level cutoff point will be thought of as the low level. Also, for simplicity I am not going to be doing to much analysis on across-the-map teleporters like in Blood Run, but this would be an interesting thing to study another time.

    Finally, I have to mention that my model for studying connectivity only holds up for multi-atrium maps. Maps that are primarily made of one large central atrium, e.g. Aerowalk, can't be studied in this way. It's just too hard to distinguish the junctions from the rooms they are connecting. I'll post a diagram of Aerowalk below in case anyone is interested in studying it.

    Branched layouts (Blood Run, Toxicity, Lost World, Campgrounds)

    Blood Run by ztn
    Number of rooms: 3
    Connectivity system: T-shaped junction

    Blood Run is a great starting point for this article because it's a very obvious example of a branched connectivity system. If you look at the purple level, it creates a simple T-junction with the three branches of the T leading each leading to an atrium. (Note that this means each room can only have one door on the low level. Any other doors must lead to forced transition points within that same room or to teleporters leading elsewhere.) The T-junction makes for a really interesting connectivity system where players have many chances to cut each other off from passing between rooms. As a result, Blood Run has some of the most dominant positional map control of all the maps in this study.

    The problem with the T-junction is it doesn't have very much flow. In Joel McDonald's Competitive Level Design Guide, he states, “Generally, a map needs to have a circular flow on the macro level.” That's where the top levels (green and red) come in. The top levels connect the branches and create a perfect figure-8 flow for the whole map. Now you have a map that flows AND gives opportunity for interesting control of areas by allowing players to cut each other off between rooms. Blood Run is a perfect example of a connectivity system where the low level lays the foundation and the high level serves to complete the circular flow of the whole map by tying together the loose ends where the low paths branched out. Of course it's not a totally linear layout either. Some paths still overlap such as the top path above the T-junction and this allows the rooms to have interesting multi-level gameplay.

    Toxicity by thefury
    Number of rooms: 3
    Connectivity system: U shape with two branches

    Toxicity is another classic branched layout and it has a unique and complex low central junction. I'd describe the top-right portion of the low path as a U-shape and the rest of the low level as two branched paths sticking off of it. (I suppose you could also call it an X-junction.) The branches lead into the MH and RA rooms and both ends of the U shape lead to the high YA room. This kind of isolates the RA and the MH from each other while keeping them both well connected to the high YA room. The low passage also allows players to see straight across the map and this can be exploited by the dominating player for lining up spawn kills. The high paths generally sit on the sides of the low branches rather than being directly joined to them and they turn the overall flow into a triple-ring shape.

    This is a good point to talk about door placement and introduce a principle that I call the rule of two sides. If you look at the three rooms in this map as simple rectangles, you will notice that each room has its doors stacked on at most two sides of that rectangle. Exceptions to the rule can be found in maps with a large centralized room such as Lost World or Campgrounds. Central atriums tend to have doors on three sides. Otherwise, the rule holds up quite well. You may have to use your imagination a bit as to where exactly the boundaries of a room are, but directionally speaking in almost all cases you will only enter/exit a room from two of its four sides.

    At this point I can imagine some Q3 players scratching their heads thinking, “Well, DUH!” Pointing out the doors-on-two-sides rule or saying that the rooms in branched layouts can only have on door on the low level may be overstating the obvious to some, but I think this could help a lot of mappers during the gameplay-planning phase of their maps. Understanding the consequences of door placement allows mappers to be a lot more intentional with their designs. If a mapper starts a layout by designing a room that has entrances in three different directions, he knows that this room is going to have to be centrally placed. If he wants his map to have a branched connectivity system, he knows that he can't have more than one door entering/exiting his rooms on the low level. This could save mappers a lot of headaches during planning and allow them to make intentional rather than random decisions when connecting their rooms together.

    Lost World by id Software
    Number of rooms: 3
    Connectivity system: loop with three branches

    In the case of Lost World I am going to analyze the connectivity system on the green level since the two levels below it are negligible. Lost World is a three-atrium map with the largest of the atriums centralized. The connectivity system is composed of a looped path which connects the central and top room and three branches sticking off of the loop. Each of the branches ends in a forced transition upwards. Interestingly, the YA room with the curved staircase only has two doors and is quite isolated from the rest of the map, so players have to be very wary about getting trapped there. The connectivity on the upper level is similar to the lower level except it doesn't have a complete loop. The complexity of Lost World's connectivity system leads to slower games, but its heavily branched layout provides a lot of interesting opportunities for map control and I think this is a key reason for its longevity in the pro map pools.

    Campgrounds by id Software
    Number of rooms: 3
    Connectivity system: loop with two branches

    People have talked about the flow and connectivity of Campgrounds for years so I won't spend as much time discussing it here. Campgrounds used to be a staple in pro duels and it was my favorite layout for a long time, but in recent years it has been all but abandoned for being too easy to dominate. This is mainly because the map only has three armors and the dominating player can occasionally run all of them, but it's also because the map is so well-connected that the out-of-control player has nowhere to hide. Campgrounds is unique because it's like two connectivity systems built into one map. The low system is a loop with two large branches leading to YA and RA, and the middle system is a large figure-8 with another branch sticking off. If I was going to make a Campgrounds remake, I'd be interested to see how the map played with a more fragmented middle level system. Any of the three middle level paths between the RA and MH rooms could easily be removed and the map would still flow fine. (Don't worry though, I'm not going to make a Campgrounds remake.)

    Top-loop layouts (Furious Heights, Dismemberment)

    Furious Heights by id Software
    Number of rooms: 3
    Connectivity system: hip junction with two branches

    Dismemberment by Hubster
    Number of rooms: 3
    Connectivity system: hip junction with three branches

    I'm going to talk about both of these maps at the same time because they both employ the same tricks to balance their extensive top routes.

    I remember these maps were an enigma to me when I first saw them because I didn't think they could possibly be balanced. Why on Earth would the dominating player ever drop down to the low routes of the map when he can get to every room using the top level? Well, from a continuity standpoint, both maps use a lot of stairs, choke points, and forced jumps to balance the upper level. From a connectivity standpoint, both maps have a direct connection between the RA and MH rooms which I call a hip junction. The hip junction makes it extremely fast to run the main items using the low level, which makes the dominating player more inclined to use it. The upper paths are much slower, for example in Furious Heights the high path to the low-YA room actually forces the player to meander out and behind the armor before dropping down to it.

    One other thing I'd like to point out which is not connectivity related is that Dismemberment has only two levels and Furious Heights barely has a third level between high and low. In maps with only two levels, top loops seem to be less of an issue but they still need to be balanced.
    Last edited by pathy; 06-10-2015 at 03:45 PM.

  2. #2
    Member pathy is on a distinguished road
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    Bottom-loop layouts (Sinister, Cure)

    Sinister by yellack & akm
    Number of rooms: 3
    Connectivity system: loop with one branch

    Cure by cityy
    Number of rooms: 3
    Connectivity system: loop with two (small) branches

    Sinister and Cure are two popular duel maps that I have identified which have little to no branching in their connectivity systems. (My map Goldleaf is another example.) You can see that the rooms are connected on the lower level by a simple loop. This means that there are two ways to enter/exit any room on the lower level which makes it a little harder for players to cut each other off between rooms. It also means the transition points are not forced because there is a functioning circular flow on the lower level. In other words, the levels on the map function more independently compared to branched layouts where the levels are woven together by the transitions between them.

    Although maps like Sinister and Cure have proven that bottom-loop systems can work well, this is probably the type of connectivity system I prefer the least. I think branched layouts incorporate the different levels together more naturally and also encourage exploitation of the connectivity system for map control. Loop layouts also just feel less complex in general. That's not to say that I don't enjoy fragging in Sinister and Cure – I do. I also don't think any one formula exists for optimal map making and I'd much rather have variety in the map pools anyway. I'd be really interested to hear what other people enjoy the best!


    That's all for now. For any players reading this, I hope you now have a slightly better understanding of the connectivity systems in your favorite maps. For mappers, hopefully this gives you more foresight and saves you some headaches about how to connect your rooms together. Rather than thinking about connectivity as simple hallways from point A to point B, I suggest you consider it to be just as important if not more important than the gameplay of each individual room. With this in mind, we can think about connectivity less in terms of the quantity of connections in a map and more in terms of the quality of them.
    Last edited by pathy; 06-10-2015 at 03:40 PM.

  3. #3
    Member pathy is on a distinguished road
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    And here are two maps that I didn't talk about in the article: Aerowalk and my new map Trespass.

    Aerowalk by Preacher & Hubster

    Trespass by Pat Howard
    Number of rooms: 3.5 (maybe 4)
    Connectivity system: Jughandle branch

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