I’ve been playing quite a bit of Trackmania Nations recently and it’s pretty good fun. Half of the formula is its simplicity (4 keys is all you need) and its arcade aspect (i.e. if something happens that costs you the race, it is always something you could have avoided and hence spurs you to try again.) It’s those attributes that make it a fun game to just download and play. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its faults, but compared to BF2 it’s like pure gaming heaven.
Inevitably, I couldn’t resist the temptation of putting together my own track or two. After a couple of real dirty system crashes I finally remembered to save my creation (in its third incarnation) and finally had something worth playing.
It then dawned on me that the 30 minutes I had spent making the track was surprisingly similar to the 30 or so hours I might spend putting together a map. Very similar…
From the start I had a basic idea - loops that intermingle with straight road going right through them. Very simple. They were the bits I did first, along with a basic starting piece of road to get to them. This would be akin to making the major landmark in say, a CS map. As marketing folk might call it, ‘creating the brand/identity’.
Then the bit where you try to work out where to take this landmark and start to tie off the ends. The aim here is to keep adding interesting stuff but without taking the focus from the landmark itself. This is typically the ‘dip’ of a map, where the real engineering comes into it, weighing up possibilities and consequences. A bit draining and disappointing but that’s alright.
Finally comes a lot of tweaking for the last 10 minutes. This has the most surprisingly similarity when it comes to flow. Just like the player in a DM map (for example), you need to keep the path for the car ‘clean’ and appropriate. Of course the gameplay has fundamental differences, but the concepts remain, and you need to predict the most tempting racing line for players and adjust the track for it. You can use the motion and views of the track to give the player a preview of what’s to come, and to use trackside furniture and props to give hints. All have parallels to FPS mapping.
…and finally, with the track ready, you realise that for every minute you spent putting it together, about an hour would have passed putting together a map. Both have landmarks and hopefully a unique identity. Both have surrounding material that supports the gameplay and its focus. Finally both are fun for new and experienced players (there’s always something new to try.)
That’s not to say the best FPS level designer on the planet would create the best tracks on the planet, but there enough parallels there to give them the upper hand. Game design and indeed design in general really does transfer between genres after all!