Admins, if there are any formatting errors, I politely ask you to correct them if I don’t notice any. Thank you. Also, be aware, this is a very long article. Sorry if it sounds harsh. If you find this useful, please say so.
I made this article a) for reference, in future reviews and b) to provide advice for new people if they want to make their own CTF levels if they don’t know how to make sure that the community will like it. This is for capture the flag levels only, although some of these guidelines can apply to other levels as well. This is for new-comers to the JCS level-making scene, so it might be useless to people who are experienced with making great CTF levels (especially people like Cooba, Ragnarok, Odin or Birdie who deserve honorable mentions).
First, the no-brainers:
Include music, a level name and a tileset!
If the level has no music, it is generally automatically labeled as bad. If the player doesn’t have the music that you used, the music won’t play. Levels uploaded without tilesets are usually very frustrating because:
a) Levels without tilesets won’t run.
b) If the user doesn’t have the tileset, they will be forced to search, unless they downloaded it from a server hosting the level, by chance. Sometimes the user can’t even find the tileset, so always include the one that you used, unless it comes with the game itself.
The user can also infer if the level is good just by looking at the title of the level. If it is a nice, bold, creative title like ‘Rainy Revolution’ then it will generally make the player want to play the level. If it is a boring level name like ‘Snow level’ or even ‘Untitled’ then it will most likely be a boring level.
Also, if you need to know where you can put in the level’s settings, go to Tools —> Level properties. Checking out the Help option will help you get acquainted with Jazz Creation Station (the level editor, often referred to as JCS). If there’s no next level setting, it will cause Jazz Jackrabbit 2 to crash when the level cycles (This is fixed in JJ2+). Be aware of that!
Listed below are criteria to help the user decide if your level/levels are worth a download:
Does your level look good?
With some of Jass2Online’s newest features, users can virtually look at your level (and its layout) just by looking at the screenshots provided or clicking “Show” (near “File Contents”) and clicking on the *.J2L file. If you just run straight to one base and then straight to the other base, the player won’t be likely to download it.
Is the tileset good quality, and usable?
Sometimes the tileset can also determine the quality of your level. To see some very good tilesets that are recommended for use, go to the “Downloads” section, and where you see ‘View’, click ‘Tilesets’.
Does the music fit the level’s atmosphere? This is one of the most important parts of the level’s design, because it keeps the atmosphere going well. If you want a level that’s dark, creepy and epic, choose a piece of music that’s dark, creepy and epic. If the level’s bright and happy, choose some music that is bright and happy. This will keep the player’s interest indefinitely.
Are there any tilebugs? Tilebugs are created when two tiles set next to eachother look glitchy and do not ‘tile well’. Tilebugs are just like typos, oto amny itlebgus detract from the experience.
The amount of eye-candy used in the level should be enough to keep the player’s interest, not enough to block their path or make the level confusing. This is a no-brainer.
OK, as you have probably read from the title, it’s now time for the serious stuff now, like the event placement, layout planning, etc. As you can probably tell, I am a very experienced CTF-level creator. You should probably read JCSRef before you advance to this stage as it might become a little bit confusing.
First, go to Tools —-> Level properties and put in a few settings, like the next level and music file, if you haven’t already. This will make it a ton easier if you have difficulties understanding.
To further help you understand, first go download a few low-rated CTF levels (3.0 – 5.5 recommended) and download some high-rated CTF levels (7.5 – 9.5 recommended). Now play both levels and compare the two. This will make it easier to understand what I’m getting at.
If I am the player, where will I need ammo when I’m out? Where can I get health? If I can, is it placed well? Ask yourself these questions while playing the level in your mind or modifying it in JCS. Generally, if the ammo and health is placed where players need it the most, or need to use a strategy to get it, it will enhance the playing experience and keep the level flowing well. If you find that you have placed ammo where the players won’t need it, it’s probably best to remove it or to move it to another spot where the players will need it eventually.
Layout, as with tilesets
The layout of the level should partly depend on your creativity, and partly depend on what type of tileset it is that you’re using. If you’re using a natural tileset (located outside, with trees, dirt, etc) then you should make the level look as natural and realistic as you can, all the while using most if not every tile in the tileset that is needed for your level’s type. If the level is set in a natural area, there will generally be a lot more trees and hills than there will be straight paths. If your level’s set in a castle, then it’s gotta look and feel like it’s in a castle. Enough said.
The level’s “Flow”
Part of what makes a level great is that it has paths and areas that are easy to navigate, but not too easy (think the phrase “keep it straight, but not too straight”). If the player bumps into too many things this can easily get annoying and frustrating, and it will make the player want to quit. If the player bumps into too many things, this is called a “bad flow”. If the level is easy to navigate, but not so easy that it’s boring (i.e. straight lines, paths that are too wide), this is called a “good flow”. Levels with bad flows are generally frowned upon.
The level’s “Balance”
This is ultimately the most important factor for making CTF levels. Is the level fair and unbiased for both teams? If there’s one power-up near the red base, for example, there should be one power-up of equal strength near the blue base. A level with a good balance should give great results.
If you don’t have enough good ideas for a layout, try using a symmetrical one!
Symmetrical layouts are kind of like “mirror-images”; Each side is basically the same but flipped, and with small differences. This is my preferred type of layout, as it is the easiest (for me) to balance.
Last, but not least: Did you plan out the level’s layout? If you did, then that’s a great sign. Levels that take ten minutes to create are usually bad levels. Remember: Speed overload in the creation process gives bad levels!
If you are getting impatient because people are rating your CTF levels too low, be patient because you will become better over time. If you listen to the reviewers’ advice, you will have great levels up the yin-yang in no time.
Also, an extra piece of advice: Too many repeated credits text-strings can get annoying. Make sure to set the text event’s “Vanish” parameter to 1 to prevent this.
Eat your lima beans, Johnny.