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How to Design a Good First-Person Shooter Multiplayer Map / Level? What makes a map great?

Updated on March 29, 2011

First-person shooters are a very popular genre in video gaming. These games are played online by many all around the world. People who are looking to get into the video gaming industry should know what distinguishes a mediocre level from a great level. Even casual level designers should take an interest in learning more about their craft because it can make or break a map.

New levels or maps are regulary created by those who have learned how the level editor of their favorite game works. Some of these creations match the quality of the professionally designed levels provided with the game. Interestingly enough, many maps that don't have the best looks are still played frequently in the online multiplayer mode of these games. What makes people play those maps anyway?

I have played quite a few first-person shooters for hundreds of hours and I have also created several levels for some of those games. I don't consider myself an expert level designer but I know the basics of what makes a good level. In this article I'll share some insights on how to design a great first-person shooter multiplayer map.

After reading this article you'll see that a great first-person shooter multiplayer map all comes down to a great gameplay experience. How to accomplish that is a unique challenge shaped by the style of playing and the ways of attacking opponents that each game provides.

I won't discuss a game in particular but rather I will discuss some general ideas that apply to many games in this genre. This article gives some ideas on what to do when you have mastered the technical aspects of creating a level. You know the game and you know your tools but how do you use them to create something great?

Singleplayer versus multiplayer

In singleplayer maps the player is usually guided from one battle to the next and these battles together form the story that the game wishes to tell. The principles that should guide the design of a multiplayer map do not fully apply to a singleplayer map.

In multiplayer maps it is more important to keep the game fair and fun. While this is also important in singleplayer it is acceptable to restrict the player's choices in singleplayer. This provides a more structured gaming experience and the levels are also designed to be experienced that way. In multiplayer games people focus more on staying alive and gathering weapons and ammunition to fight off their opponents.

Great first-person shooter games for Xbox 360

Risk versus reward

Every game has rewards and a first-person shooter is no different. You can get kills, you can get a higher score and you can unlock new weapons or maps. But there are also other smaller rewards that make a game fun, such as getting a weapon that you want or getting more health to survive longer. In many first-person shooters you can grab these weapons by going to certain locations on the map, such as in the Unreal Tournament and the Quake series.

When designing a level you should think about where you want to put all the weapons, ammunitions, health items and other special items. For example, a good weapon should not be put in a very safe spot because then everyone can get it and that can significantly alter the gameplay. A good weapon or item should be put in a risky spot where there is a real chance of getting shot by other players. The player needs to take a risk but he or she is rewarded with a great weapon when successful.

The reverse is also true. When a new player enters the battlefield it should be easy to get a basic weapon. In many games you get a basic weapon to start with but that weapon is usually not very good and you won't last long with it in a battle. A player should be able to find a better weapon soon to stand a better chance of surviving.

If you don't carefully place the items that can be picked up then a few things can happen to the gameplay. It can turn into a spamfest where most people have the better weapons and too much ammunition as well. A particular weapon can also dominate most of the fights because it is easy to get.

A fair design that is hard to dominate constantly

During battles in multiplayer maps there are usually one or more players who are very skilled and they have the upper hand most of the time. If they can get a few kills then it can be hard for the players who have just been killed to make a comeback. If the design of the level allows a winning player to easily kill people who have just entered the arena (again) then they cannot make a fair comeback. This leads to a practise called spawn killing where a player is killed just moments after spawing (coming back into the game).

As a level designer of a great multiplayer map you should put the spawn positions all around the map to give players good survival chances. If they can stay away from the stronger players for a while then they can get some better few weapons and ammo. This is in particular important for multiplayer maps that are designed for "1 versus 1" games.

Great first-person shooter video games for PC

Design stages of a great first-person shooter multiplayer map

Many level designers design their levels in a certain order that pretty much guarantees the resulting map will be fun to play. Instead of creating a whole map and then checking if it is fun to play, they first create the bare basics of the level and then the level is tested by playing it with others.

They can improve the design by continuously improving it until it is fun to play. If the layout of the map is fun and all the items are in good locations, they can begin to add the visuals and sounds of the map. If the design really has no chance of becoming good enough then no time has been wasted on creating a visually appealing map that is not fun to play. Professional level designers can also rely on their previous experience but every new game brings its own style of gameplay that they need to work into their levels.

Here is a step by step list of how you should design a great first-person shooter multiplayer map:

  • Design the map with basic building blocks first. Open your level editor and design the map by creating a layout, adding some basic lights and placing the items in certain locations. Give the walls and floors a basic texture so players can at least see the difference but don't waste time on making it look really great yet.
  • Play the map with others to see what works and what does not. Your initial idea for a map layout might not work as well as expected. Try to figure out which areas of the map need improving and then change them. Improve the design and polish it until the layout and item placement is fun to play.
  • Add visuals and sounds with a consistent style and theme. You can now decorate the map by adding better textures, better architecture and some sounds to make the map come alive. Give the whole map a consistent style and theme. You can use a color scheme throughout the map to make it feel like all the areas in the map belong together. For large maps this can be difficult because they take a long time to make and you don't want the lighting of one area to look out of place with the areas that you have done earlier.

What makes a multiplayer map great?

The above approach really focuses on creating great gameplay first and the rest comes second. This also explains why some ugly looking maps still do well in online multiplayer games: they are somehow fun to play! That is what first-person shooter gaming is all about: get some weapons and stay alive long enough to get some nice kills on your opponents!

A great multiplayer map is really well balanced and remains fun to play even years after it has been released. If you do really well then your map can become one of the icons that a game is known for.

This article was written by Simeon Visser. I am earning money online by writing here at Would you like to earn money online as well? Read the success stories and sign up today to get started!


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