Map Design and You - A Guide on Map Designing

#1

Map Design and You

To preface this post, I would like to say this thread is NOT ABOUT MAKING MAPS LOOK NICE. Please keep that in mind. You can always make an ugly map look better later. It is more difficult to rearrange an already graphically fleshed out map.

Section I: Genning

To begin I’d like to address a big blunder in map design, which is using FEMapCreator to generate a map. My first piece of advice: don’t do this. Genned maps are awful 100% of the time. Some people like to use it just to gen annoying parts like mountains: this is workable, but overall a crutch, and as I’ve said, function should be prioritized over fashion. You don’t want to have to work around mountains just because you’re too lazy to make them look nicer later. Below is an example of a genned map. Notice how the map has no real flow or pattern to it.

Notice the lack of any defining features.

Section II: Creating a Flow

So, how do I make my map have some “real flow or pattern to it”? Well, that’s quite simple. Start by drawing out a clear path from the start of the map to the end of the map. It can be as simple as opening up MSPaint and drawing a line through the course of the map. In this way, it can be very easy to find “dead space” - map space that serves no purpose because it has no relevance on the path from the start to the end. I’ll use an awakening map to demonstrate dead space, because it has a lot of it.

In red, we have the actual path through the map. The areas in blue are near useless to the design.

The simplest way to get rid of dead space is to reduce your map size. Don’t include extra space that isn’t necessary - every area should have a purpose.

Now, empty space is useless and bad, but this brings me to the opposite end of the spectrum, which is creating a map so tight that the player has no breathing room. The most common form of this is known as one-tiling. What is one-tiling? It’s where there is only one tile that can be traversed through a passageway. The most common examples would be a 1 tile door, a cracked wall, a snatch, a bridge and so on. One-tiling can also be exponential if you also add terrain to further impede movement. This is essentially the map version of a traffic jam, as units have no room to move and the player is stuck spending several turns cramming units through - the opposite of fun. There are several ways to avoid one-tiling, but the easiest is to just add a second traversable tile. Be careful as one-tiling can occur diagonally as well!

These are all examples of one tiling.

Imagine how annoying moving your units through this could be.

Just for the sake of example, here is a terrible map, chapter 12 from FE8, where not only is there an abundance of empty space in the form of mountains, but also constant one-tiling.

Red highlights show the one tiling. Notice the overabundance of mountain, including a 4 tile tall mountain at the bottom of the map for no apparent reason.

Section III: Avoiding Linearity

In the previous section, I talked about having a map flow, and creating a path through the map. This is all well and nice, but leaving it at that causes your map to become a bit too linear. While this may seem okay on paper, it reduces the replayability and flexibility of strategy of the map.

The solution? Well, there are a few. The first is side objectives. These don’t need to be complicated: an extra room with chests, a village to visit, NPCs to protect, units to recruit, and so on. Not only does this make the map more interesting, it can also reduce dead space and linearity. The important part about side objectives is to make sure they are SIDE objectives. They should incentivize the player to take a path they wouldn’t otherwise. I will show an example to demonstrate what I mean more clearly. This is chapter 4 of FE8.

Your units spawn in the top left. Artur can reach the village turn one from his spawn location.

Note that the village on the bottom encourages you to try and send some units on a different path. This is correct. However, the village on top is in your direct path. Therefore it doesn’t become a side objective - visiting that village does not encourage any map exploration or deviation. I’m sure most players have visited this village turn 1.

The next solution is having separate paths through the map. Now, this one is more tricky. You need to be careful in balancing the two paths, lest one path be ultimately superior to the other and render it pointless (and thus dead space). You also need to consider the goal - do you want the player to split their group into the different paths, or do you want them to only use one path? If your intention is to split, I would recommend having two different side objectives along each path. In this way, the player is incentivized to go along both paths.

Section IV: Map Objectives

As I’m sure you’re aware, there are several different map objectives, the most common being seize, rout, defend and kill boss. I would like to preface by saying that seize and kill boss are near identical goals, and that seize only adds the precondition of also moving the lord to the boss. I will be giving a quick overview of what design should be like for various objectives.

Seize and Kill Boss: Should be more linear than other map types (but still not completely so). The goal is to move from point A to point B, so it should reflect as such. Avoid annoying terrain impediments such as the elevators and floating platforms in Revelation.

Rout: A more open objective. Since it is a requirement to reach all the enemies on the map, you are more free to create maps with open spaces. Avoid having space being too open, however, as this can lead to boring traversal. Awakening and Birthright had problems with this.

Defend: A more interesting objective that allows for more close quaters maps. Contrary to popular belief, choking a one tile passageway with a knight is not any more fun in a defend map then elsewhere. Remember to avoid one-tiling, as it holds up the enemy as much as the player. If you want the player to be incentivized to push through as opposed to stay still, use villages or chests. Chapter 10 of Conquest is one of the most infamous and well done examples.

This map encourages you to move forward to try and collect items from the villages.

There have also been cases I’ve seen of more strange objectives, but these usually come back to these 3 with minor additions. For example, escape maps are the same as seize maps with the addition of usually having enemies chase you through the map. (Conversely FE5 escape maps are just seize maps where every unit needs to seize.)

Section V: Other Common Blunders

By this point, you’re nearly a master map maker. However, there are still a few more problems I commonly see that need to be sifted through, so I’ll go over them in point here.

Fly-Skipping: This occurs when a map tries to use terrain to impede the player, but is unsuccessful because flying units can cross over it. This is most common with water and mountains. This can be avoided by either using terrain that fliers cannot cross, or adding in archers, wind magic, or ballista to dissuade the fliers.

Empty / Boring areas: These occur when there is a lack of different terrain in an area. This is easily solved by sprinkling in forests, forts, pillars or similar to said area.

Large Maps: A lot of people seem to get the idea that big maps are cooler, however these maps are usually ripe with dead space. As stated before in the dead space section, the solution is to just cut the size down.

Forest / Terrain Spam: This occurs when too many terrain tiles are placed in sequence, which causes player units to have to crawl through the area because of terrain costs. The solution is simply to remove some of the terrain.

Don’t be a Kaga.

Final Section: A tl;dr

Don’t gen maps.
Don’t make maps big and empty.
Don’t one-tile.
Don’t make your map play in a straight line.
Don’t throw “side-objectives” in the player’s face.

An Aside

If you’re having problems with map making, please feel free to DM me (or just post publicly and ask for help)! I’m always happy to see people making maps, even if it’s the hottest garbage I’ve ever seen. The best part is being able to take something from bad and make it into something fun. I would also really recommend playing your maps several times over and trying different strategies to get a feel for how your map plays out. Good luck with your maps!

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#2

I do not have much to contribute but I am definitely, according to absolutely every word of this post, especially with the “Do not be a Kaga.” and with the chapter 10 of Conquest.

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#3

I think something that should also be kept in mind is how much movement options your giving the player. fe1/11 for instance actually has smaller maps then they initially appear to be thanks to the higher mov values classes sport with 2nd tier infantry often being able to move at a gba paladins pace in most cases and flying or mounted classes sporting 10 mov. if you were to adapt fe1/11 to a gba scale, one of the things you would have to do is scale down the maps to accommodate.

also, on chapter 10 of conquest i personally disagree since i’ve always felt its too easy to move through that map in order to reach those incentives that it might as well be a route or kill the boss map as opposed to a defend map. personally i feel RD’s chapter 3-13 is a better example of a pure defense mission, since it focuses on keeping you on the defense with little wiggle room, but that does come with the caveat of not having much incentive in that level to venture beyond your defensive line.

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#4

Insert obligatory 3-13 archer meme here.

1 and 11 do give you higher move, so that is true, bit it doesn’t save them much from having largely empty maps anyways. It does affect the relative size like you said though, for sure.

My purpose with chapter 10 was showing how you can encourage the player to move forward in a defense map, yes. Pure defense maps should take opposite measures to try and enforce the player to build up a defensive position, which may or may not actually be terribly fun depending on how you go about it. I would recommend having “waves” of sorts, coming from different positions, so that your defensive line has to move about.

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#5

oh certainly fe1/11 has plenty of other problems in its map design mostly to do with big empty spaces, chapter 18 being a pretty good example because of all that empty water and fields (it’s also fairly linear but in this case though for that one i dont particularly mind but its a good example for bad fe map habits). I mostly wanted to illustrate relative size though since i feel its something people get a bit caught up on (the maps in some fe games are huge so my fan map has to be as huge!) without realizing that of the fe games with huge maps most either have bumped up mov values, or its an absolute chore/takes to long to move through them.

as for chapter 10… yeah okay thats solid reasoning on why you would use it as an example.

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#6

I would disagree on a few of these points, personally.

Fully genned maps are awful 95% of the time. Using the map generation feature can be a very powerful tool, depending on the map in question. If you don’t have a specific idea in mind for a map or only have a rough idea of what you want to do, letting the generation help out can be a large boon.

If you know the tileset you want to use and a rough size for the map, you can repeatedly random gen the map to spur some ideas for features or chunks that you want to use/adapt from the full map randomization - a specific formation of cliffs or a winding river - some element you hadn’t thought of. You can also do the same principle if you’ve got, say, 3/4s of the map made but you have no idea how to lay out the rest and use it to randomly fill in the bkank space until you get something that clicks that yoy can further modify from there.

Fully genning a map can also be useful for making little maps for CGs that you don’t want/need to put a ton of effort into, as well.

That said, having a solid plan in mind and doing it manually will usually help produce a more concentrated map that works better (skill depending) than genning ever could and should be a preferred method of going about doing it if you’re capable of doing so.

When it comes to “flow” and “empty, dead space”, it depends on the purpose of the map. If you’re making one for your own project and you have a set objective, set design in mind, then yes, you would be correct on most occasions.

However, if you’re making one for a map blitz or other alternative situation, giving the user(s) that will eventually use your map more options in design is a very powerful choice. One of the things that came up years ago over on SF from user Celice was creating a map that could not only allow the player to approach progressing through it in different ways but could also facilitate being used for different chapter objectives, and maps that “have no flow” or have “empty dead spaces” could be interpreted in drastically different ways by different users that might want to use the map.

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#7

I believe I went over genning pretty well but to be more detailed for you:

Genning for inspiration is fine, but I would recommend doing that and then redoing the map by yourself once you have an idea of what you want. You can definitely paint over the gen, but at that point it’s not really genned anymore. (Same with the “micro-genning” where you fill in a small incomplete area and paint over it)

This was more for playable maps, as opposed to CGs where you just want them to look pretty.

Map blitzing is definitely interesting. My intention was making maps with one specific purpose in mind. I can agree with your points here and would like to say my guide is not pertaining to making maps for public access. I would generally say that making your own maps to fit your project will probably turn out better than using premade ones, however.

#8

Honestly, most of your points just feel like opinions :confused:

The biggest issue with generated maps is… they’re not authentic; you didn’t do anything but press a button a bunch of times until you liked the result.

I don’t get your point about fe8 ch4, given the point of that village is to explain how snags work and gives you a weapon that can break them down easily; you sort of want the player to see it, but in the end, they still have to decide to visit.

I’m not really a fan of the map design of conquest ch10, but that’s my opinion
haitaka tho :ok_hand:

You’re sort of assuming everyone is making a map to be played when some are just for design/fun in most of your points.

Also, uh… can we see any maps you’ve done lol

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#9

You can consider it opinion if you want, fun is subjective. My point in this post is to avoid common pitfalls in design.

Yes, that is also a good point; genned maps don’t really require anything to make. I’ve just seen an abundance of them floating around recently.

This is fair. My point is that it doesn’t add anything to the map, and thus doesn’t add anything to the map design.

God bless rally lord Haitaka.

Again, this is about designing maps functionally, to be played. If you want to make something to look nice or have fun, that’s perfectly okay, but that’s not what I’m trying to express here.

Most of my map work has been editing stuff, and not making things completely custom (not that I haven’t done fully custom stuff). I could upload some examples if you’d like, but I didn’t feel like it would add anything to my post.

#10

I’d say it’s half half, because certain things like pathing don’t seem like opinions and that mountain map is a pain when you take that into consideration.

Personally, I like dead space because it makes it feel more real and less game-optimised. For example that same mountain map looks like it’s taking place high up because of the sheer amount of mountains that take over the map visually, you feel cramped because you’re basically walking slopes.

This is also Map Design, so it’s more the ideas behind making a map and I feel in that regard it’d be more considerate towards the eventual implementation of the map.

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#11

but it adds to the map itself lol
not super important, but it has a purpose and you’re overlooking it

see that’s fine… but that wasn’t stated. The title, if anything, is misleading

This is more because I found myself disagreeing with your points, so I went to see how you applied these points into your own maps, but couldn’t find any. No topic regarding them, your hack topic has snippits of old maps, etc

sure, avoiding 1-tile spots is a general suggestion; I agree with that

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#12

I was thinking the preface stating that “this is not about making maps look nice” was clear enough, but if not I can definitely edit that.

My old project is pretty much dead, so I wouldn’t have anything to show regarding that. Unfortunately I’m still waiting for progress to be made within GFE1R to get most of my mapping on.

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#13

Personally the words Map Design to my mind immediately make me think of how the map plays out. I don’t find this to be a misleading title myself.

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#14

Chapter Designing to some degree.

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#15

Very good topic and suggestions. Bravo!

I wouldn’t neglect FEMapCreator like that. Once you have some experience as a map designer, you could use the tool to get some inspiration. You would still change roughly 95% of what comes out of it, but it’s still a valid starting point for some people. That’s it: a starting point. Sticking to the genned maps is the real mistake.

Edit:

^ this.

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#16

tldr; yeah, you can gen for ideas or paint over the gen but you’re not really genning at that point.

#17

The real question is how the heck do you do mountains, also I saw your 2015 post about how you liked the Map Creator.

#18

Good for you!

#19

I can’t tell if that’s sarcastic or not.

#20

Mountains are easy.

cough