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Widely accepted bad MP level design traits

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Feb 26, 2015, 12:49 PM
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Widely accepted bad MP level design traits

When I began releasing my levels 5 years ago, I didn't care about good design. I was happy that my levels looked quite pleasing to the eye, there were no tile bugs, every platform was accessible in one or several ways, and there were many pickups spread randomly around the entire map. I didn't play multiplayer either so I couldn't know what exactly contributes to a good level.
After that initial period, ambition to become a valuable level designer made me try to understand why people consider one level better than another. I studied top rated levels, played online, listened to critique. I slowly began to grasp how everything affects level quality. I started following every useful piece of advice I could find and finally my J2O downloads gained appreciation and gathered high ratings. I learned from the best level creators and blindly accepted existing standards.
However, these days things became yet different. Doubts started appearing in my mind and I begin to question. Everybody on J2O is stuck with the same idea of what makes a level good. Opinions vary a bit regarding details; is a bit of camping really an issue?; how good exactly should flow be?; are the majority of Clan Ladder map pool levels complete bull crap? Regardless, I see tons of issues that are never addressed and, in fact, appear to be encouraged, and the best of level creators still implement them in their levels. Today I decided to start this topic and get a bit of a discussion running, and hopefully encourage JCS users to change their habits. Below I'll list and briefly explain the things that irk me the most.

"This level is huge, so I'll give it as many as 5 power-ups."
That's the mentality that killed most JDC events I attended. These days events may have anywhere between 16 and 32 people and guess what: 3 to 6 power-ups will never suffice for that many. How many power-ups would you place in a 4-player level? 2? 3? That's at most 2 players per power-up. What makes you think that 5 players per power-up will work well in a larger game where, additionally, people die a whole lot more due to the deficit of carrots? Where does the thought of adding 5 slowly spawning carrots in a level intended for 15 people come from?
What I want to do in battle mode is grab a power-up or two, use weapons strategically depending on situation, then run away and seek a carrot when on low health. How come all levels I've seen during events instead encourage creating a clusterfuck of 6 people around a single power-up spawn point that finally, after 20 seconds, generates the monitor, only to be taken by one person on low health and lost within the next second? Carrots become completely obsolete because you're unlikely to gather anything valuable enough to care whether you'll die, and even then, there can be so few of them and spawning so rarely that they're not worth the wait.
I say: make the power-ups and carrots rain. Place 15 or 20 of them, it doesn't matter. The more there are, the less campy your map becomes, the less luck is involved, the wider the strategical possibilities become. Don't stick to your traditional long generator spawn times. Pickups with a short spawn time are more likely to be found by people who are new to the level and, unlike you may think, won't result in increased camping.

The key item is secret.
That's just ridiculous. I really thought people would get over it by now but no, we're stuck with the awful idea started by Battle 1 and Diamondus Warzone. Secrets are fun. It's fun finding secrets and it's fun using secrets against your opponents who don't know them. But for the love of God it's not fun fighting against a person who knows how to obtain a seeker power-up, a shield, or a full energy carrot when you don't. I've seen many duels where one of the players didn't know where an important pickup was and they were just painful to watch. The same happens in large games, to a lesser extent, but it still does - I notice that many players who know important secrets score way above their skill level, and I would know best because I tend to be one of those players. When you create a secret, make it a secret path, or a stack of ammo, or even one of many power-ups, but not the most important item in the level.

Overpriced coin warps
They're not uncommon. In fact they're almost every coin warp I've ever seen. 50 coins to collect in a level that has 40 coin generators in total, designed with about 8 people in mind? That just renders them useless. Coins are not even a top priority in a battle. They don't result in immediate gain. You should be able to run around the level and eventually notice "hey, I have enough to enter the warp", then get a cool pickup. If no more than one person per match manages to enter the warp, how worth it can it really be? If you run around in your level alone and need a minute to collect enough coins to put them to use, think about how many players your level can fit, then multiply that number by the minute it just took you. That's roughly how long one will have to stay alive to enter the warp. Do you really think that's going to be possible and worth the reward you offer? I suggest placing way more coins in levels that require them, and optionally reducing the awards. A coin warp really doesn't have to take you to the most powerful item in the level.

Lack of landmarks
Many designers create really beautiful huge levels. You've just got to love running around those and seeing all this eyecandy that must've taken ages to create. The thing is, it tends to be consistent throughout the entire level, not to say identical. When you're the person who created the map, you know exactly where you are when you see an area, but you can't expect the same from players if you make everything look the same. Instead, make various places in the level differ. Introduce major changes in eyecandy style depending on location, make terrain vary, change layout style, add a structure so characteristic that it can't be missed. Simplifying navigation is important and makes a level more fun to play.

Food pickups
Let's face it, sugar rush is nearly useless in most game modes. If you're going to allow it by adding food in your level, and you don't have a gimmick that utilizes it in order to obtain some further pickup, at least place enough to make it common. Spread those apples and cherries all over the level so that even when 16 people play it, one can still easily rush after a minute of running around. Maybe that will at least allow for two or three sugar rush kills per game.

That's all I could think of for the time being. It may not look like a lot and over half of it says "add more pickups to your goddamn levels" but I'd still like to see what you have to say about it. Am I wrong? Is there anything else that people keep doing to their levels while they clearly shouldn't and nobody ever brings it up as an issue? I'd like to see some discussion so I can adjust my ways of level design accordingly, and I wish this thread convinces some people to try stepping out of their comfort zone and creating something different.
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Feb 26, 2015, 03:15 PM
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Floor slopes on the corners of walls
Particularly areas you kick or jump from. Doesn't anyone realise how annoying it is when you get stuck in a corner for a second, with no means of turning back, messing up your jump? To make the matter worse, on areas that require you to actually gain speed. It's not a huge pet peeve since it doesn't happen consistently, however (when running and jumping). Infact, getting stuck on a corner from kicking happens with Spaz (but I admit I don't mind it too much since he's the best MP character and I use him irreguarly).

Pin-point 1 tile floor holes
Basically 1 tile holes that aren't in corners, which require much percision and slowing down. You know why no one uses them in-game? Because they're stupidly risky and mess with the flow. I can guarantee 9 times out of 10 I try to use them, I'll get hurt by some projectile. Multiplayer is simply too fast paced to accomodate for pin-point platforming. I can forgive TRF for doing this because it would be too easy to rush scoring, however. Oh and the bases in WW are quite like this, resulting in players not capturing because of the way the bases are placed between slopes. For hells sake camel, put the new version up for already (which fixes this issue).

Single paths to important areas
For example, CTF bases. Even worse if the area can't be attacked without getting yourself hurt. "Oh but it's a strategy" you say, well, if you define "Strategy" by whoever reaches that point first to win. If there's no way to counter it, wheres the strategic depth? Are we supposed to play the same map the same damn way to have "fun"? This pertains a lot more to old levels (albeit widely accepted), however.

Carrots that are too close to each other in battle
That particularly applies to smaller games. But if you ever want to over-centralise a map, this is the way to do it. It's not too common, however.

And I didn't mention anything about character compatibility and character balance. Shock-horror! But that's because I think most modern levels are playable with all characters, however (and that I can accept copter ears suck - I imagine you'll be able to do something about that in later versions of JJ2+).
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Feb 26, 2015, 05:47 PM
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A lot of the points brought up are skill-based, so that's an opinionated area.

As for increasing pu/key item usage in large levels: I'm for it, but I'd worry about other types of gameplay being sacrified because of that; I like to have some control of the map whenever possible.
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Feb 28, 2015, 01:27 PM
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Quote:
"This level is huge, so I'll give it as many as 5 power-ups."
This is why I dislike JDC events where gamemodes based on individual strength matters the most, like Pest or LRS or whatever. One player (for example CJ) knows every map and it's secrets and he has much higher chance on winning the event. I'm not blaming him or anyone else - it's our bad if we don't know secrets and PU placement. But I totally agree with you on this one. I mostly don't even know where the PU is when I play some old levels. I used to know some spots but I forgot because we play those maps only in 3-4 JDC events and never again until the next season.

Quote:
The key item is secret.
I think people make the most important item in the level as a secret because if any other item would be there, it'd be a waste of time to reach that secret. That is just my opinion as a level maker. Maybe other level makers don't think the same.

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Overpriced coin warps
Well this one directly goes to my latest level. If I implemented that what you said about more coins, people would only look for coins to get an award and they wouldn't focus on fighting and beating an opponent. That's why I added less coins and higher coin warp for the 15 seconds shield. You'll need to put more effort into collecting coins if you want to get that reward. That's just my opinion after testing and that's why I decided to add 14 coins in total. You can collect 20 coins in my level for like 45-60 seconds if you focus only on coins and not on PUs. But I've tested that in a duel against Anubis and I lost 5-1 because of that.

Quote:
Lack of landmarks
This is what I dislike in most of JDC events with huge maps. The latest PJ's level has the same problem. I played like 4-5 games there already, and I still don't know if I am at bouncer PU platform or the other one. Also I dislike when people use foreground tiles as a background tiles too, in a tileset where it's not necessary and where background tiles are different color. That makes hard to recognize is it a wall or a platform on which you can stand or it's just a background.

Quote:
Food pickups
I mostly add food pickups because of the eyecandy. If I added more food in my level it'd be hard to notice is it food or ammo and would just make it harder to notice what's going on on your screen. Again - just my opinion.
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Mar 1, 2015, 12:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sir Ementaler View Post
"This level is huge, so I'll give it as many as 5 power-ups."
That's the mentality that killed most JDC events I attended. These days events may have anywhere between 16 and 32 people and guess what: 3 to 6 power-ups will never suffice for that many. How many power-ups would you place in a 4-player level? 2? 3? That's at most 2 players per power-up. What makes you think that 5 players per power-up will work well in a larger game where, additionally, people die a whole lot more due to the deficit of carrots? Where does the thought of adding 5 slowly spawning carrots in a level intended for 15 people come from?
What I want to do in battle mode is grab a power-up or two, use weapons strategically depending on situation, then run away and seek a carrot when on low health. How come all levels I've seen during events instead encourage creating a clusterfuck of 6 people around a single power-up spawn point that finally, after 20 seconds, generates the monitor, only to be taken by one person on low health and lost within the next second? Carrots become completely obsolete because you're unlikely to gather anything valuable enough to care whether you'll die, and even then, there can be so few of them and spawning so rarely that they're not worth the wait.
I say: make the power-ups and carrots rain. Place 15 or 20 of them, it doesn't matter. The more there are, the less campy your map becomes, the less luck is involved, the wider the strategical possibilities become. Don't stick to your traditional long generator spawn times. Pickups with a short spawn time are more likely to be found by people who are new to the level and, unlike you may think, won't result in increased camping.
In response to this, most levels that were designed for JDC events were made before JJ2+ allowed more than 16 players per server. While 3-5 powerups may still seem limited for an 8v8, it's actually usually still quite playable. Any more than 16, I'd say yeah you want at least a few more than 5 powerups.

Also, to add, you die in seconds anyway in those big events, so everyone having powerups would just make that happen more frequently would it not? I find that lack of carrots is usually the problem, not powerups.

Last edited by Ragnarok!; Mar 3, 2015 at 05:04 AM.
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Lack of landmarks
This, this is why eyecandy is ALWAYS important and I honestly don't understand why JDC admins disregarded this during the ODT level contest.
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Mar 3, 2015, 12:26 AM
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Originally Posted by ShadowGPW View Post
This, this is why eyecandy is ALWAYS important and I honestly don't understand why JDC admins disregarded this during the ODT level contest.
Probably 'cause some of us here don't have good eyecandy skills...
Yes, me.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ShadowGPW View Post
This, this is why eyecandy is ALWAYS important and I honestly don't understand why JDC admins disregarded this during the ODT level contest.
When I said that eyecandy wasn't important, I meant that it wasn't mandatory that you make your levels look fancy; as long as the eyecandy is functional and serves its purpose then it's fine.
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Mar 3, 2015, 08:23 AM
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Originally Posted by Jelly Jam View Post
Probably 'cause some of us here don't have good eyecandy skills...
Yes, me.
Most of good level makers (all?) can make a decent eyecandy.

By the way, I'll just add one more thing -

Levels with bad flow

I dislike levels where everything is so tight and wherever you go with your full speed and momentum, you just hit or bump into the wall (some spots on Diamondus Warzone). It's just bad to always watch out not to hit a wall and lose momentum and speed. JJ2 is pretty much all about running around and shooting - that's what most of players actually do. You, indeed, need to stop at some times and not just rush. But with good strategy and good ammo mixing it's all about fast running and spamming ammo. I like levels that are more open, but not so much because you can get air hit more often like in JE.
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Levels that noone plays

- Self-explanatory?

Not having "Battle/CTF/Treasure MP level" checked in JCS

- The opposite of being explanatory at all?

Horizontal split screen mode instead of vertical

- Obviously any two people playing split screen will be sitting on left and right sides of the screen, not top and bottom sides of the screen. The person on the left should use left side and person on the right should use right side. Using top/bottom split screen is virtually pointless.
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Horizontal gives you more viewing area in left and right which you need more. But what you said makes a lot of sense too.

Edit: What happened to KR Splat? Aren't you the same dude Calm splat?
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Calm Splat View Post
Levels that noone plays

- Self-explanatory?

Not having "Battle/CTF/Treasure MP level" checked in JCS

- The opposite of being explanatory at all?

Horizontal split screen mode instead of vertical

- Obviously any two people playing split screen will be sitting on left and right sides of the screen, not top and bottom sides of the screen. The person on the left should use left side and person on the right should use right side. Using top/bottom split screen is virtually pointless.
1. Nevermind this. He meant untested maps. I can guarantee "Levels that no one plays" will be interpret as obscure maps by most people, though.

2. People don't check Battle/Ctf/Treasure because it makes some events illegal, like pinball bumpers and such. No one should give a crap about checking this, as it doesn't effect the level in any way. This checkbox has no need to exist, it is there only as a mere unecessary limitation.

3. I believe the vertical and horizontal splitscreen options are there for layout type. Sometimes it's better to see what's ahead of you, or in the case of race2, it's better to see what's above and below you. If you put vertical splitscreen in horizontal levels, it would be difficult to know what's coming ahead.
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Last edited by Treylina; Mar 6, 2015 at 07:50 AM. Reason: Misunderstanding
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Overcomplicated eyecandy using the same tiles as layer 4

I know that it's important for levels to be pretty, but GOD do I hate not knowing what I can stand on. Sometimes it's not really the ground tiles, but a whole bunch of stuff like leaves or weeds that obstruct the view so much you'd think it's a secret path but no! It's the middle of the level and you can't goddamn see where you're going! Clarity. That's a thing I learned to really appreciate over the years. And yet when I check out the newer MP levels from time to time, it often seems like few have learned the same lesson. Particularly nature-themed levels are the worst offenders.
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