After you’ve been playing games and designing maps for a while, you tend to get a good feeling about what works and what doesn’t. Whether it’s simply through looking at existing maps or making your own, your brain takes it all in and starts to link up what you’re seeing with the qualities of the map itself. At least, that’s how it seems to me.
It’s hard to explain exactly what I’m thinking when looking at a map for balancing issues, especially the ‘gut feeling’ I get with some maps. The best way I can describe it is as if I were holding the entire map in my hands, trying to work out the best grip to hold it with. I get a feel for the weak links in the map and the bits that are too large. If the map is set on more than one plane (Dust is effectively one-plane because it’s quite flat, but I’d consider Assault two-plane due to its height), I get an idea for where most people will find themselves by trying to work out if the map feels top- or bottom-heavy. I work my fingers around the map to find areas that are too complex and twisty or simply too large and dull. I try to determine where the ‘balancing point’ is (the point as if I were balancing it on the tip of my finger.)
It also works to change what the map is made of. Instead of being solid, I imagine it being slightly plasticy (like the plastic trays you get in boxes of chocolates). That way I can picture how (for example) the stresses of a large part of the map pull on the material along small connecting hallways, bending it downwards. Imagine it as being wood, and consider how it would float, and what sort of angle it would sit at on the water - this helps indicate the ‘gravity’ of the map and the direction players will find themselves pushed in.
There are a few problems with this approach though - occasionally I imagine the props too and they end up falling out. Daft but true.
This probably seems like nonsense to most people, but this is simply how I seem to work these things out in my head! How do you see yours?