Massive Multiplayer Map Design and the Level Designers Ever Changing Role

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Recently, several co-workers and I have been working on a pet project tentatively entitled Boot Camp.  Mechanically, it is a tactical team based military shooter which can handle up to 120 concurrent users per match.  With that amount of people running around shooting each other, how do we ensure that it doesn’t start to feel overcrowded?  Well, by building a 4 km2 map.  As the level designer on this project, this is a somewhat colossal task.  The map is currently a work in progress, but the following is how I got to where I am, and what my next planned steps are.

Height Maps – the broad strokes

What is a height map?  Well, when you look at a map on a piece of paper, elevation is communicated with lines at certain height intervals.  The closer together the lines are, the steeper the incline.  A height map is similar to this, but uses values of grey instead.

You start with a blank canvas, and simply paint where you want elevation to be.  It works in greyscale; white is low, black is high.  Using these, along with shades of grey, a broad stroke overview can be created.

An example of a rough height map

After the height map is created, it can be imported into the game engine of choice (in our case, Unity) where it is then converted into a terrain asset.  In the engine, the maximum height value (black) can be modified and tweaked.  Once that’s done, we get into touching up the terrain and smoothing out the odd pixels so the terrain looks natural and flowing.

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