For this assignment we were paired in a group of 3 and had to make a tiered map. Essentially, each one of us had to make a map, but the maps and story had to be connected. Each level had a different difficulty and rarity for items. This time, we also had the ability to create items and generally do what we want, as the set of rules was much more lenient this time. I decided to go with the hardest level, which included harder enemies, but also higher item rate and the ending itself. 

We also had to provide an annotated map (the more the merrier)

I took the map one step further and, besides the annotated map that we had to provide, I also made a zone map.

A bit about the setting of the game itself. The theme was post apocalyptic alien invasion. Our team decided the players traveled around the world to save researchers that found the alien’s hideout and weakness. After saving them, they would head out in the final area, a Cave System in the Artic. As such, I tried to make the map look cave-like as much as I could.

Besides the map we also had to provide some concept art, so I decided to do some of the cave they are in, plus the two alien types they encounter throughout the level.

Not really good looking, but these are supposed to be just concept arts anyway, don’t really need to look good, just give the feeling I envisioned. I almost feel like I should have done some concept art for some of the items as well, maybe next time though. Speaking of which, you can find all the items I designed in my Personal Notes. I always create such a document to help me with my endeavors, but I might try to use Trello next time and see if that improves the quality of the map or my efficiency.

Now, to answer some questions about the map, after the test play.

  • What went right?

So what did go right? Well, the players told me they really liked the map, so the layout was good and realistic. They also liked the branching path, made them feel like they have a choice, which made me happy, because it is exactly what I wanted. Did I hope they went above? Yes, there was a lot of loot and special items they never got because of that decision, but it wasn’t detrimental to the gameplay.

They also liked the items and thought they were balanced, but felt like there were too many medkits.

  • What went wrong?

I fell into the same trap as in my previous assignments. I make a cool looking long map, completely forgetting that this is for a DnD playthorugh. As such my maps always end up taking too long and forcing me to rush the players to the end and improvise a lot more.

The problem is that I keep thinking this as a video game map, which in this case the map could take less than 20 minutes, but here players could talk between them and take more than 6 seconds per action.

And yet again, my enemies were too weak because I was too afraid they would be so powerful that the players could never get past them in a fashionable amount of time.

  • How might you improve your map next time?

I keep saying this for every map, but I might just reduce the map size. I keep making them big so they look nice, but maybe confining the map to a couple of rooms would be enough. It is really though to say though. Again, a map for a board game differs from a video one. Players usually take faster actions in a video game and everything happens faster, because you don’t need for the GM to set up anything, to roll for actions, for people to calculate anything. Everything is done by the computer, which speeds up the level by at least a factor of 10.

And again, I need to stop being so afraid to buff enemies, but at the same time I blame this on the time constraint. If I weren’t pressured into making it a fast level, I probably could have spent more time making it an interesting and challenging level.

  • Were there appropriate teaching mechanisms for new items?

There were a few. Most of my items were useful in combat, but there were the acid bombs, which is what unlocked the alternate path blocked by a pile of rocks (signified by the black squares on the map). Teaching the players they can use the bombs for both combat and to destroy certain parts of the environment.

  • Were there circulation elements?

No, I didn’t think it was necessary for such elements to exist in a cave. I feel like it would’ve felt forced. If the aliens took so much of their time to make this cave their base, they would at least take the time to flatten it out so they don’t have to climb to walk up stairs.

And just in general, I don’t really like circulation elements in games. Not in all games, but specific ones, like top-down ones. I really feel like height means nothing when you look top-down anyway and seem more like a waste of time.

  • Was the critical path obvious? Was it obvious where players were supposed to go?

Yes it was, the players had no problem traversing the map and even finding an alternate path.

  • How was the process of working on a Level Design Team?

Honestly, it was ok. The thing is that our team was formed right after GDC, so while every other team had an entire weekend and more to work on the map, we had just 2 days. Having those in mind, I think we did a great job in the end. I wished we could have tried to include more of each-others items in the play, but time was short.

Overall, the project went well and the map looks great. A bit too long and enemies too weak, but nice and interesting items and enemies, creative concept art and fun experience. The players enjoyed the map and to that I’d say I did my job fairly well.