Level Design: CTF – Corporation

Technical Designer
Level Designer

September – December 2019

Designing a Unreal Tournament 4 Capture The Flag map

This was an university project during my second year at BUAS.

We were tasked with creating a level for the game Unreal Tournament 4, with the gamemode Capture the Flag in mind, over the course of 8 weeks.

The finished product can be seen below, and downloaded on the bottom of the page.

Knowledge is Power

The whole project started with researching Unreal Tournament and it competitors – making SWOT analyses, researching different FPS games and figuring out how the genre works. This provided a lot of insight into the current state of the market, as well as throwing up an interesting questions: why did Epic Games stop developing Unreal Tournament and switch to Fortnite?

To answer this question, I had to first understand how much of a cult status Unreal Tournament had already reached. The game – as well as its mechanics – were completely engraved in its loyal playerbase, and from the release in 1998 up until today, the mechanics have never changed. This put Epic Games in a peculiar position, of course they wanted to iterate on the game, and continue making money with their big product, but without making changes to the game, all they could do is add new content that didn’t change the gameplay – in this case, maps.

Sidenote: this is also what sparked its vivid modding community. After going on to develop Fortnite, the games code was publicly accessible in the unreal editor, allowing veteran players to continue adding new content.

Without being able to change their core gameplay, the series was slowly stagnating, and only keeping its most veteran playerbase – people that had been there since the start and were hardcore fans.

From Concept to Content

After this initial research face, I started concepting.
I made node-map upon node-map, all referring to and trying to emulate the flow I had found in all of the CTF maps I tried so far. The main thing I knew: the map had to be symmetric. Balancing an asymmetric map in the time we were given was a task I could not have completed.

The first node-maps were rough sketches, made to simply convey the flow of the level I had planned. All I had defined was the amount and type of nodes – something that I had carefully studied in other CTF maps.

Then, I started iterating on this node-map. Over time, the idea took form, started to be more concrete, and looked like it might actually be possible to pull of in the time we were given.

My very first nodemap

While iterating, I also learned the helpfulness of player stories. When applied correctly, this can immensely push the content creation into the right direction, since the developer knows what the end goal is for, and how it should be for the player, not just the product owner.

Iterations as a way of life

The first blockout of the level I was creating was rough. So rough, to be honest, that I had to initially scrap about a week worth of work, simply because nothing was aligned, nothing was where it was supposed to be, and there was little to no flow of the map.

After rebuilding everything from scratch, this was the second blockout. A very simple layout of the rooms, the positions of nodes and the approximate size of the level I wanted to build.

From there on, it only went upward. Linked in the button on the side, a slideshow with all iterations up from that point.

The level got an identity, a purpose, and started to feel like a playable map, having moment to moment gameplay, emergent behaviour with its double unknown factors and a general flow of the map.

The main goal during the weeks 3 to 8 of the project were play-testing, iterating the level, and polishing it as much as possible. With weekly, if not daily playtest sessions I gathered heaps of data, allowing me to iterated continuously and efficiently, pumping out updates upon updates day after day.

In the end, this project taught me a lot about producing a game, or in this case content for a game, taught me the value of scrum and a properly set up Conditions of Satisfaction document, and let me explore the Unreal Engine even more in depth than my previous projects.

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