Mapping Style - "Fill Out" or "Fill In"?

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Which method do you use?

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Jul 30, 2009
This is something I've wondered for a while. Whenever I make a map, I find it really hard to go from a "top-down" approach where you know the overall positions and sizes of everything in advance, and proceed to "fill in" the details. I work much better from a "bottom-up" perspective, where I begin with some point of reference (usually mid, and if a control point is involved then all the better) and progressively add things on to grow the space in an organic kind of way (which I call "fill out"). I do this on a map level, but also on smaller levels too - if I'm making a room, I never block out the dimensions beforehand unless the space is already defined by existing geometry in the map. The room then only becomes as big as it needs to be.

I'd be interested to know which methods people tend to use and why. I can see there being pros and cons to both methods.

Fill Out
+ Don't need to know dimensions beforehand.
+ Not limited by dimensions you've decided on if you get them wrong. Can change things as you go on.
+ Can create spaces that feel more organic, rather than meticulously planned.
+ Spaces can be build alongside the context of what already exists so far - adaptive.

- Lack of forward planning means unseen problems can crop up, eg. too much/not enough space.
- Lack of design direction - you know what you want to make, but not yet how it fits together.

Fill In
+ Begin from a layout that caters for everything (objectives, spawns, etc.) - just need to connect them.
+ Forces forethought, so potential layout issues show up early and can be fixed.
+ Prioritises overall targets (eg. desired style of gameplay) by designing them in, rather than hoping they emerge from the end result.

- Geometry is less driven by its local surroundings, which can result in less natural-looking environments.
- If initial decisions were inaccurate, changing things can easily end up affecting layouts of surrounding areas.

My guess is that people who like focusing on one thing at a time (me), and have more trouble grasping the overall picture (very me) will prefer Fill Out, while people who like to have everything very clear on a macro level to make sure all the design aspects integrate together will prefer Fill In.


Jul 31, 2009
I don't think these methods are mutually exclusive.

You can fill out a map with a plan and design direction, for example.


heath ledger with some dreads
Jan 8, 2015
Like Freyja said, not mutually exclusive.
I usually have a vision in my mind and try to achieve it in editor. Then i'll end up changing it quite a bit until i'm (never) happy with it. I think if you where to follow either way you'd be doing it to a fault, either are efficient or quality ways of doing it.

Another Bad Pun

In the shadows, he saw four eyes lit by fire
Jan 15, 2011
Usually when I design layouts I have a main idea or some core concept in mind that I would like to explore, and so the method I use usually just depends on what that concept is, if that makes sense. Usually it's a combination of both, though - I've never really thought of it as "fill out" or "fill in" before.


a survivor with too much paint
Feb 7, 2008
A mixture of both. I tend to fill out maps from some starting point (usually an objective), but I'll also create targets to work towards so that the overall layout will probably make sense. The scale of an individual area is always fighting against the scale of the overall map, so I try to think about both at the same time.


L420: High Member
Jul 24, 2016
I tend to take an aspect of the map that is really prominent and don't really think how gameplay elements will fit, and adapt from there...

For Turning Test, I started with the "launchpad" that the point sits on, and worked out from there...
For Set (unreleased as of now), I started with the curved stairs that I knew would be prominent...
For Pumpstation (the failed map that went through nearly 20 alphas before I gave up), I started with the massive silo in the center...

Da Spud Lord

Occasionally I make maps
Mar 23, 2017
I usually use the "fill out" style mixed with elements of "fill in". For example, most of my maps were well-planned beforehand. The only one that wasn't pre-planned was koth_cliffside because I started with one idea and after 30 minutes in Hammer realized that what I was making wasn't going to work too well with my original plan, so I just made it up as I went along. I did slowly start developing new ideas for the layout, but they weren't planned as well, and when I went for the massive layout changes in A3, it was almost entirely improved as I was making it. All of my other maps, however, (even the A/D map that hasn't been released and I have suspended work on due to the MvM contest) I had a good idea of the design, playstyle, what direct attack and flank routes would be available, etc. For koth_skyfall, I had even built the map in MCPE (I was on a long car trip and got bored, okay?), and for the unfinished A/D map, I drew the whole thing on paper. So the point is, the "fill out" style isn't exclusively total improv; you can have a detailed layout plan and still build outward from one point.


L16: Grid Member
Jun 8, 2015
I prefer more fill out but as said before, not mutually exclusive. Fill in has the risk that you build a cube that you fill in, not as simple cube as often completely new mappers do but it can still restrict you


L4: Comfortable Member
Apr 11, 2016
Tend to use fill in. I find it really hard to to just build an an area without making a rough layout on paint first then adapt it in hammer from then on.


L3: Member
Jan 20, 2017
I normally try to smash Insanity, Stupidity and Magic to make my maps...
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