Now, I was going to write about something dull like how to get the most out of level geometry, but I had a far better idea before I got the first word out.

A week or so ago I had a little idea for an HL2DM map, pretty much following the same rules as football (aka ‘soccer’), so nothing very special there. I drew up a little plan, which consisted of one long stretch of road, with a barricade at either end for each team, each protecting the respective goals.

Now, usually that’s perfect. It’s simple, it’s neat, it’s symmetric, and it’s tidy. However, it wasn’t very HL2-ish. It was also rather flat, and a bit too easy. It lacked depth.

I then spent a while sat in front of Hammer, looking at the rough set of brushes I’d laid out to see if I could make it any more exciting, but I couldn’t. Everytime I had an idea, looking at the brushes brought the original right back to me. It was like trying to picture a rhino whilst playing a staring game against an elephant - I just couldn’t get the elephant out of my head.

Once the RSPCA had come to return the elephant to the Zoo, I grabbed a piece of paper and drew a quick sketch of the basic area I was having trouble with. Usually, the paper would then end up with more sketches of the same area with a few changes, but nothing too impressive. This time, I couldn’t be bothered to redraw the whole thing again, so I drew a little box, and simplified it to a little road with a mark in the middle. The mark is where the ball would start.

Brainstorming with teeny weeny doodles.

Drawing the little diagram took all of 10 seconds. It was pretty neat, so I drew a few more, just trying to come up with extremely basic alternatives to the simple, straight street, each time picturing them in0 my head as I drew them. First came a road with a circular centre, then one with a kink in it, then something totally different - a two layer road in a cross shape.

I then took these, and tried to evolve each of them a bit. The circular one lost a side and gained a lower-level road. The kinked one got a raised platform in the kink. The cross one had the ball spawn point moved to the lower road. Suddenly I had loads more ideas, just by keeping everything to a bare minimum.

By this point I had the map pictured in my head, so I just needed to concrete it. I did another quick drawing, consisting of a road with a half-circle cut out of it, and a road below it with the ball spawn point. This led immediately onto the idea of two roads, one crossed over the other, the upper road missing a big chunk directly above where the ball spawns.

Back to Hammer, creating a new map, and mapping this basic thing out, it felt a lot better. Just 10 minutes earlier I had been going slightly crazy trying to work out what I could possibly do, and now I had a solution. A simple solution that still gave me room to play around a bit when actually making it.

The result of doodling.

The screenshot above is what came out of it. It’s nothing spectacular at all, but the strange doodles I did really helped come up with something a little more interesting. As I was making it, I decided that the ball would spawn out of a big, dark crater-like pit, hence giving the whole structure some background and reasoning.

In a way, the process was like accelerated brainstorming. By intentionally taking the very simple principle out (“a road with a ball in the middle”), and drawing this in the tiniest of spaces, I was able to focus on the basic idea. I then evolved this into a few other ideas, stemming from the first, still trying to keep it simple, until they converged onto a solution I liked.

I’ve since tried this method a couple more times, and it’s worked a treat, even just for finding a slightly more interesting alternative to what was essentially a hallway with a door at the end. Of course, a simple hallway’n’door really shouldn’t require doodling to think around, but it did leave me come up with some truly leftfield alternatives…