Labeling Locations - A Need For Narrative? (long)

Discussion in 'Mapping Questions & Discussion' started by 3Suns, Jul 22, 2009.

  1. 3Suns

    3Suns L1: Registered

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    Two of my biggest frustrations when playing TF2 maps, Valve's included, is 1) it is easy to get lost and 2) other than generic labels like "control point", there are generally no pre-determined names for various locations on the map, and thus calling out where we are, or where we need help, is almost impossible. This is somewhat ironic because reducing confusion was one of the primary objectives for Valve when creating the sequel to Team Fortress.

    I was delighted then, when I jumped into the territory control map Meridian_RC the other morning, and, even though I had never tried the map, I was able to run straight to the enemy intelligence and back to my base without any backtracking or getting lost. Every time I turned a corner, there was a wonderful "Intelligence" or "Exit" sign telling me where to go.

    However, being all by myself in the map, and thus never getting killed and dropping the intelligence, that was all I needed. If, on the other hand, I had died and had to tell my teammates where I dropped the intelligence, I would have been SOL. All the arrows and direction signs wouldn't have helped me a bit. This is the problem common to every single TF2 map I have played:

    One can spend 10s of hours playing a certain map, and still not know the names of places and how to call things out, especially if one plays with a variety of groups and randoms on multiple servers.

    I started to think about solutions for this problem because I don't think I am the only one who struggles with it. The most obvious way around this is for the map designer to actually provide names (and the signs stating such) in each of the most important rooms/areas. Though it might detract from the immersing quality of the map, it would definitely enhance its playability especially in the first few hours of trying the map. One could go one step further, and have the texture of the wall itself be a descriptor of the location a la Ubisoft's Splinter Cell Conviction notifications of mission objectives.

    Ultimately however, even that isn't fully adequate. People still need to play the map long enough, and visit each room often enough, to remember the names of the rooms, and how to get there. The problem still isn't completely solved.

    So the question remains, how can we make maps that are fully comprehensible and describable to the gamer, even in their first hour of play?

    About the same time I was thinking about this, I read an interview in which a Valve employee (Robin Walker, I think) described TF2 as being different from L4D in the requirements of narrative. Arguing for their increased emphasis on narrative in L4D2, and in contrast to TF2, he said that TF2 has the necessary narrative built right into the maps, and thus, there is no need to develop a "background" story. (Of course, providing a narrative for the game is at least part of Valve's motivation for the Meet the...videos - in itself, an acknowledgement of, and attempt to remedy, the utter lack of story. Where other FPS developers, (e.g., Infinity Ward) use many of the single player locations as the basis for the multiplayer maps, TF2 has no such campaign from which to syphon background.)

    His statement struck me as odd. In my opinion, there is no narrative at all for any of the TF2 maps. In the end, we have these incredibly beautiful play areas, all of which are like different stages in a Mario game: your lava level, your forest level, your snow level, and so on. Let me just stop here and say to the tireless level designers who are crying foul, please allow me to acknowledge the incredible efforts (in the hundreds of hours) put into detailing, and contemplating and developing a theme in the maps.

    Theme, however, is not narrative, and it is not enough. Somehow, we need to add narrative to Team Fortress 2, without literally destroying the gameplay itself. Then I realized that we could provide the gamer with an immediately comprehensible and describable play field through an enjoyable "pinball" narrative, or through referencing universally known literature and pop culture. By "pinball" narrative, I mean just the simple type of "story" pinball machines for generations now have had, just enough to make each target meaningful to the larger whole - as opposed to simply an A, B, C capture point, or a nameless checkpoints on the way to the goal, or stage end. By reference to literature and pop culture, I mean just that: pick a famous story, movie, comic, location, and have that as the basis for your map. (note: I realize that this perhaps takes away from some of the originality in the inspiration of the map - but maybe it is a sacrifice we need to consider, for the sake of the accessibility of the map.)

    Here are some examples (just ideas, not actual maps):

    ("Pinball" narrative)
    5 CP - CP_CannonballRun - where each of the 5 control points is named after an American city. The Blu base CP being New York on the east coast, and the RED base CP being L.A. on the west coast. The remaining three CPs being stops in between - all other points of interest could be "cities" or famous tourist sites in their respective geographical position. The actual props reflecting the locations need be only signs or small models iconic of the respective locations. Anyone familiar with American geography, would immediately be able to call out all of the locations, and regardless of which team they were on, would know exactly where, what was happening. Same thing could be done for any country or continent. Similarly, take any sport, use the names of the famous stadiums across the country. Again, it would be hooking into the gamer's common knowledge of geography or trivia, and the map would be immediately accessible in full.

    (Referential - literature)
    PL_LoTR1 - I have already sketched out some ideas for the first two maps representing Book 1 and Book 2 of The Fellowship of the Ring. Again, for all those who have read the books or watched the movies, these locations are immediately recognizable and describable. Many players could be calling out very specific locations on their first play of the map, for example, "Frodo's Bed" in the Prancing Pony Inn in Bree. The payload itself is the RING, that must be taken to Mordor to be destroyed, complete with necessary ball of fire when it is tossed in the lava! (I actually have a rough sketch of Book 2, including the High Pass of Caradhras, the Gate and Mines of Moria including the Bolrog bridge, ending at Lothlorien. My pencil marks are too faint for scanning however. It has to be redone.) The possibilities are endless and very exciting. I.P. licensing issues may or may not present problems. In the cases in which they are problematic, just do what Weird Al does. Instead of Lord of the Rings why not do Lord of the Bling. LMAO!


    What do you think?

    Special notes:

    The other day, I came across Railroad for the first time and I had to give henry17 props for trying to tie in his map to the Meet the Sniper video. Really, that is the kind of thing I am talking about. We need to tie the maps into to something familiar.

    Similarly, just the other day, goldenhearted released his Band of Brothers poster. I cannot wait to find out more about what he is working on.

    RC_Meridian - beautiful - now, what if all the locations had some relationship to those of Gilligan's Island, or that of LOST. In the meantime, I can't wait to play it regardless of how long it may take me to call out locations. Beautiful map and I love the rope bridges!

    With respect and humility,
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  2. Dr. Spud

    aa Dr. Spud Grossly Incandescent

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    This really isn't an issue. I think you'd be hard pressed to find other people getting lost in Valve maps. Plus, calling out positions is not difficult in TF2, because layouts are simple. You can just say "I'm at CP 2" or "I'm in the left tunnel" and everyone knows what you're talking about. Even maps where direction changes all the time, like 2fort, don't suffer. I never have trouble following directions to the "spiral stairs," "front door" or "sewer."

    The mentality of making every area completely distinct and a real type of room applies to games like CS, because A) it's immersive and B) the map layouts are too complicated to describe in vague terms (usually). But those are two concerns not applicable to TF2.

    Also, giving areas names is forced. I don't need to go to "Bob's ranch" in CP 2 of dustbowl; I can just call the damn thing CP 2. And I certainly wouldn't compromise the simplicity of TF2's locales to make a map easier for someone's first hour of play, as you mention. Who cares if the first hour of play isn't absolutely-perfectly-understandable? It's a game meant to be replayed endlessly.

    Plus, when valve employees talk about "narrative" built into the levels, they don't mean it in the most overt sense of the word. What they mean is: Red is trying to launch a rocket in dustbowl, and its assumed that blue is stopping them. You can see in goldrush that there is mining equipment conveying gold to trucks, etc. The objects and their placement in a level "tell a story," as Valve says, and for TF2 it's all the narrative structure the game needs.


    That Lost map is false. How could Desmond's boat be on the coast between the Fuselage and the rope to the Hydra station? The rope into the ocean is one of the first things they find in season 1. Plus, the Darma medical station is nowhere near the caves on the map, even though it's a short walk in the show. You lose 20 points for linking it.
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    Last edited: Jul 23, 2009
  3. Trotim

    aa Trotim

    Positive Ratings:
    What Dr. Spud said. Besides, when you want to tell enemies where a CnD Spy is you'll have trouble either way because there's no sign every 16 Hammer units.

    You said TF2 maps are like Mario levels. They have a theme, good gameplay, clear-cut differencing visuals and aren't bound to be realistic or even logical. Somehow, all of these fail to strike me as downsides, as TF2 is a cartoony and playful game. Basing maps on movies or other games is possible and make them more accessible (mario_kart), sure; however, it's simply not a sacrifice I'd be willing to make as story really plays a minor role in games like these.

    I'm not even a fan of custom CP names as they add to the confusion: Why does control point C have to be called "The Laser Gun", for example? Why not "Control Point C"? All the other signs say that. (Who reads these messages anyway?)
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  4. 3Suns

    3Suns L1: Registered

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    Thanks for reading the whole thing, Dr. Spud and Trotim. I sincerely thought it was a problem felt universally. I should be clear, also, I wouldn't want to force either labels or narratives on the maps. I am suggesting rather the reverse. I think that themes could be chosen in which understanding important locations/access ways etc. would just be common sense/knowledge. I just noticed today, for example, the map CTF_Cruise. It starts out with Starboard and Port, Bow and Stern as legitimate unambiguous and unmarked labels for immediately and unforced naming of location/direction. This is actually an excellent example of what I am advocating. Add to those terms, captain's quarters, pool, bridge, upper/lower deck, galley etc. and before I have even run through the thing, I can already describe what is most likely going to be the major areas of the map (besides the CPs). Even just that, is "narrative" enough for labeling purposes.

    I disagree about the complexity of TF2 maps. Indeed, because some of them have several stages (e.g., PL or even Attack/Defend), I find them FAR more difficult to get used to, or to master than maps for almost all other shooters I have played (mostly console - including Halo, CoD games, and Gears of War). In fact, the only way in which I think of TF2 maps as "simplistic" is in the fact that they are so spartan and generic in detail (done purposefully, I know, so that the detail doesn't distract from class silhouette recognition etc). But this is exactly why the various props/passages themselves need to be all that more distinguishable.

    Even after having played many hours in both 2Fort and Goldrush, I found that I still didn't have a quick, accurate vocabulary for describing the maps. I finally looked them up on the wiki, and then wrote up a guide for my friends so we could all play more intelligently.

    While I haven't put as many hours into TF2 as I have other games, I certainly prefer to avoid terms like "left" and "right" when calling out locations, partly because I may confuse them myself ("No, your other left" syndrome), and partly because in the heat of battle, I don't want to have to consider the direction I or my teammates are actual facing. Left and right are ambiguous terms.

    I am not a competitive player, but neither do I just want to run around a map giving semi-useless information to my teammates, playing discovery and die. "There is a sentry in the building at C. Where at C?" I want to be able to tell my friends quickly and precisely which direction they need to approach a given location so that they can take it without dying first.

    Thank you again for reading and for your comments. :)
  5. BrokenTripod

    BrokenTripod L5: Dapper Member

    Positive Ratings:
    You know, I find that it's helpful to use left and right in Tf2 maps for calling things out, because when you walk into an area, it's usually unidirectional where you should go next. This is defined as "forward."

    From there, you can say the building on the left, or right, and then everyone on the left side of an area knows it's the one near them, everyone on the right side knows they're safe.

    Here's some examples I can come up with: In push maps, for example Goldrush, by simply saying: "in the building" anytime before the first CP, there's only one building from the attacker's perspective. After the first CP is taken, left and right buildings work for explaining where people are. The track that the payload runs down is the "center" of the map at that point. "Roof of enemy spawn" or simply "roof" tells you that there's a sentry on the enemy's spawn roof. If it's off to the right, it's easy for experienced players to just yell: "It's where the SG always is!"

    In, say, granary, the spawns always have you rushing straight out. If you're at the base spawn, left and right is easy to define, since everyone runs out of spawn the same direction. At the spawn 1 area up from that, it's the same thing, just instead of spawning in the middle, you spawn off to the left. From there, your next spawn is straight ahead, off to the right again, but the enemy's base can be defined by left/right/center. If your sense of direction is good enough, it should be easy to adjust, especially since there's signs telling you which way is forward.

    And typically you shouldn't use voice chat to yell something at someone unless you know there's not many of them. Saying "Pyro! Watching your back!" makes all the pyros in the level turn around, so there better not be 4 pyros!

    Um, if you want more examples of how I use left/right, then feel free to ask and I can define a map for you. I never yell commands based on my position, I name them based on the direction we, as a team, should be heading.
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  6. Grimes

    Grimes L1: Registered

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    Each level of tf2 for the most part lacks a general purpose narrative to which it is to follow. In my opinion most of the attack/defend levels do follow a slight narrative and progression of the level. After all it is a linear progression from A to B to C and so on. That narrative isn't strongly defined but it does exist. On payload maps for instance the cart moves toward a central location of importance. Similar to your LoTR map there, a friend and I both drew up payload maps, where each cap area served a clearly defined purpose to the functionality of the world which the level was set in.

    It is an interesting point to make is that most maps do feature easily identifiable locations that are difficult to confuse one with another. Very rarely is there a location that matches a description of an area to the extent it would cause confusion. Even on mirrored CTF maps or cp maps, you would be given a frame of reference to base where a given location a player mentioned would be. Most follow the (Red/Blu) then Location formatting and it is easy enough to pick up. Personally I think signage only needs to inform players where relevant objectives are located.

    When a player is new to a map, yeah, things can get a little confusing. But for the most part its incredibly obvious as to what someone is referring to and if the map is made correctly a player will pick up on this information quickly and wouldn't need a sign stating that they are entering the sniper tower or the warehouse.
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  7. ParanoidDrone

    ParanoidDrone L3: Member

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    I, for one, never noticed the laser gun on top of C until I read the message one day and decided to look up to see wtf it was talking about.
  8. Sgt Frag

    Sgt Frag L14: Epic Member

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    I really don't think extensive labeling is gonna help much.

    Like someone said, if points are A,B,C then you can say 'below C', 'to right of B'.
    Easier to remember if you play alot of maps, easier to read a giant A and say 'A' then 'captians dining room'.

    As far as Meridian goes, it has the same exact issue as Hydro and any other TC map will have. It's almost like 5 maps in one so it's gonna take alot of playtime to get used to it. But it is CTF so there's a compass to the flag, there are only 2 ways to each area I believe and to me it's probably one of the easiest to call out areas. Under the robot, by the sub, on the boat, in the village, by the temple entrance. Since you only see 2 of these area per round and you have a compass it shouldn't be too hard to find the intel.

    As far as marking them according to a show, movie, or book I don't think that's gonna make it easier.
    I've watched gilligans island. All I remember is it's an island, and I bet alot of players have never seen it.
    LOTR, yeah, I've read the books and seen the movies. But if someone said it's on Frodo's bed the only way I'd be able to find frodos bed is if I played the map before and there was a sign that said frodo's bed. Why not just have a big A sign right there?
    Lost, I watched the first season. There was an island and a ladder. How would that help me find my way around a map? DO I have to watch 5 seasons of lost or can I just play a map 5 times to learn it.

    I'm not saying you shouldn't make a map based on any of those things, but how is it gonna make the map easier to learn unless I am an expert on those shows and the author stuck 100% to the layout which would probably only work with LOTR because there were maps in the books you could use.
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  9. Nineaxis

    aa Nineaxis Quack Doctor

    Positive Ratings:
    The biggest problem mappers seem to have is making their map too complex, too extensive, too big. Team Fortress 2 is a game of simplicity up until the strategic depth of team play. When mapping, you should build something simple enough that people can easily navigate and recognise certain areas and paths before it is even detailed. There will be objectives, and paths surrounding the objectives, and spawns. "Outside of spawn", "next to the cap point", "long hallway" are all just as good ways to identify a location as "Laser Core", "Loading Dock 34", or "Albuquerque, New Mexico". And what''s better about them is they aren't forced and don't have to be learned. Everyone knows what "outside of spawn" is, where it is, how to get there. If I said "get to Albuquerque", you'd wonder where it is, get a map, and constantly check you're travelling the right way.

    Team Fortress 2 maps are supposed to flow. Directional arrows should be ambient, not necessary. Labels for cap points are ambient, not necessary. Names for areas are ambient, not necessary. Players will familiarise themselves with the map however they please, forcing them to do it your way will only alienate them. Valve didn't put a big sign over 2fort's courtyard that says "COURTYARD", they didn't encourage people to call it that, that's the name people generally agreed on because it worked and it became standard to use.

    Summary: keep it simple, and let people name sections of your map however they please. If they have trouble referring to an area or directing teammates, your map lacks flow and simplicity which enables it to play out well in this game.
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  10. 3Suns

    3Suns L1: Registered

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    Thanks again to those who have replied. I have spent a lot of time thinking about your responses and I understand now that part of my misunderstanding of TF2 gameplay (to which I am relatively new) comes from other FPS experience that I am bringing with me. Specifically, I played Gears of War (the original) for almost 2 years straight. In Gears, you only have 1 life per 5 minute round, and spawn locations swap every round, therefore brief and unambiguous communication (which was only allowed if you were still alive), was far more important than great skills with any of the weapons.

    Anyway, I just came across another example of what I am talking about, and again, I am not expecting a huge backstory, or a complex map, just a little more "purpose" to the action. I haven't had a chance to try the map yet, but I look forward to doing so.

  11. Mar

    Mar Banned

    Positive Ratings:

    edit: ok, to more easily memorize places but I've never had that problem to start out with. Just call the area by what it looks like/ is. I've never had that problem on any map.
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2009
  12. Mexican Apple Thief

    Mexican Apple Thief L3: Junior Member<br>LEAD FARMER

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    To be honest people can figure out where most things are by visual features. Also, you have a pointer for flags anyway.