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Mapping Art - Great Conception

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CHAPTER 2 : The Art of Great Conception
So, after fighting your way through the first chapter of my mapping article that dealt with tricks and ideas how to achieve a good level of detail, it's now up to me to take on the most important thing concerning mapping: The Conception of your map, which later can turn into an unforgettable atmosphere if done right.

Honestly, your map can have more than 5000 sectors and still that's no guarantee for success, believe me (and some doomers won't trust their eyes, that I am actually writing this, but it's true ;)). A real good map is just as good as the idea behind it but as we all know after the 38974th UAC Bases and Dungeon Caves, it's not always that simple! What you get here are several tricks to get a good idea, a memorable map and beyond some guidelines to set up a atmosphere that the player really can feel...

One of the real important things before you start with your map is to think about the setting. What is your map all about? Another UAC base? A Dungeon? A Spaceship? If you want a map that really gets some public attention, think about something, that hasn't been done before or something that can be done better. There are thousands of uac base/city maps out there, but just one map like Cyb's Void (shot 2) or Russel's Null Space (shot 3). When both of these talented mappers started with their maps, they thought about something new, something that has never been done before and that was the reason (beyond the fact, that they did a great mapping job on their wads) why both of these maps were so damn successful! So, if you are about to choose your setting, be creative, the only frontier you have is your imaginary, because nowadays, most of the source ports out there are capable of doing everything, even such an Armageddon effect seen in TNT4 (shot 3) And don't misunderstand me: I don't say, that yet another UAC Base can't have such a effect to the Doomers out there, but - as we are all curious and keen on sensations - many of us want to see something new, something that hasn't been done before and if you look closely at the "Annual Caco-Awards" you will see that most of the laureates are WADs with stuff that is new, something that exceeds the player's expectations! Go and convince yourself ;)

Summary: "Be Creative, Be Innovativ, Do Something New!"


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Another question every new mapper asks himself is: What makes my map/setting "real"? A lot of new mappers start off with a location or setting that doesn't need a lot of creativity and so did I. I though about creating a UAC Base with some resting rooms for marines, with a bed, a computer, a toilet and all that stuff that - out of a logical thought - must be found in a certain area of this UAC base, but honestly: "Little Did I Know!" Shot 1 shows a very old map of mine (my second map overall) and to be honest, it looks like total crap and has nothing to do with a "Real Place!" Two important rules: 1st, never ever create sector based objects from your real world (beds, wardrobes, and so on), use sprites and 2nd, if you still want to create that, never use original Doom textures for that (create new ones). You see, this is somehow a bit complicated: Although it makes sense to have toilets, beds and wardrobes in a UAC Base, it totally destroys the map!

Now you may still ask yourself: "Eh? So what is it all about with this Realness in my map?" The answer may surprise you but it is indeed quite simple: This doesn't depend on the amount of real objects in your map or on the architectural logic concerning routes to go or how the statics work, it only depends on the arranged atmosphere and beyond on the overall theme of the map. You don't believe me? Well, just check "The Ultimate Dooms" maps and ask yourself: Does any of these rooms or halls make any sense? The majority does not, so stop searching for rooms. Still, Episode 1 of Doom is one of the most popular mapset. Or think about Torment & Torture 2. A lot of people told me, that they loved the map because it felt so damn "real" but if you take a closer look on the whole installation (rooms & roots)...in some places, it absolutely has no sense :) It felt so real because I made the atmosphere and setting go hand in hand, it made sense how things turned out in the end.
The contra example (shot 3) is "Batman Doom". It actually presents a lot of beds, wardrobes, computers and other things in its maps,but (!) it doesn't interfer with the 2 important rules, because it uses new resources and new material and beyond - being a TC - has a certain overall theme that allows the usage of these things.
So you see: It doesn't matter if you are about to create a super realistic city with all the bureau rooms, toilets and cars or if you create something out of your mind that doesn't actually exist. Both things can feel perfectly real, it just depends on the execution.

Summary: "Reality Depends On The Arranged Atmosphere And The Overall Theme, Not On The Amount Of Real Things In The Map"


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One of the most important things in maps (and one of the things, most newcomer mappers don't consider) is the "Size & Scale" of your map. So what is meant?
If you start with one of your first maps, you tend to think in small dimensions, little rooms and tight corridors, because you don't have a lot of space left later where some portions of detail are required. This saves time and work but heavily decreases the value of your map. It's hard to fight and move in such small places and beyond doesn't look that good, if these areas also get cramped (shot 1). So if you create new rooms ore hallways, make them large, large enough that even 4 players could battle demons in there without getting in their own way and later fill them with some necassary detail and monsters like I demonstrated that in the second shot. It doesn't just look better, it even plays better because you have some space to move and dodge the demon's fireballs.
And for the second reason, why "Scale & Size" is so damn important: I can just say you already read this some paragraphs before: "Keen On Sensations!". Just think about large sector arrangements in "Phobos Anomaly Reborn" (Chris Lutz), the huge floating castle in "Torment & Torture 3" (shot 3) or even some maps from the game Unreal (Epic Megagames). These places are so damn large in scale, you will never forget them and surely visit these "sights" once more which makes up for a good replay value! Sure, they need a lot of work and sometimes even tricks but believe me if I say: It's worth the work!

Summary: "Size Does Matter,Cramped Rooms Are Bad Rooms"


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The choice of textures in your doom map is art! You have to consider hundreds of different factors if you skin your map. Color, Style, Transition, Material and Surface to mention the most important! It's easy to create a little cave out of different brown rock variants and to create a UAC base by just using silver textures but it's a real challenge to combine hellish flesh and bones with industrial metal and rusty engines.

Everything is possible as long as the Style of textures is almost the same (for example "Hexen & Doom 2" or "Quake & GothicDM" can be mixed, but never mix "Chex Quest & Strife" or "Blake Stone & Ogros"). If you have problems of finding matching color shemes, Google This!

If you start to work on maps with a totally new theme, you will come to a certain point, where one texture won't fit to another texture or floor (or vice versa) and the Transition from one Material to another might look to abrupt. This is when we start to use the power of sector borders again, with textures that fit to the overall theme (SUPPORTx textures, METALx and other textures that seem to support the architecture fit quite well). Shot 1 shows a good example (although the choice of textures/colors totally sucks) how drastic texture changes and clashes can be reduced!

The big problem a mapper always has are texture clashes of any type, wether the materials from one to another structure are similar or not, often where floor textures and wall textures meet on an edge. Take a look at Shot 2 (upper version) where all the brick stones are quite the same material but the transition seems too hard and looks not really realistic. Compare this upper version with the one below to see how to solve this with a simple extra sector!


The last thing to mention here is the importance about texture alignment. Map editors like Doom Builder and SLADE (and maybe even some more) inlcude a feature called "Auto Align Textures" and I recommend using that. Nothing looks as crappy as unaligned textures and these totally destroy the realism of you map so spend a lot of time by fixing misalignments!

Summary: "Reduce texture clashes and drastich texture changes with sector borders!"

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Since Zdoom 1.23 Beta 33 everyone's favorite sourceport is capable of Unreal style skyboxes if I can recall correctly but still this feature is often heavily underestimated. This is the only explanation why there are still ZDoom wads out there that just use a texture as sky. The great power of a skybox isn't the fact that it is a 3D object instead of a 2D texture, it is what you can do with it.


Shot one shows a screenshot from a map of Torment & Torture 4. Hundreds of burning meteors devestate the structures, thunder and lightning brawls through the bright enlightened sky... and almost all is done with the help of some scripts that change the sectors responsible for the sky.

The second shot shows another way how to use a skybox. Unfortunately this isn't animated but I think you can imagine what this is upposed to be. The simulation of a spaceship rushing through the space was always a big pain in the ass with vanilla doom or boom. But with the help of skyboxes this is very easy to achieve, making it almost look like the Starwars Hyperspace flight in the millenium falcon!

The third shot - last but not least - shows a full 360° skybox that makes you think, these platforms are floating high above a see of lava. In the background, a bright huge energy beam shoots plasma into space, hundrets of miles far away and you have to take care to not fall off the edges of these metal platforms.

I learned that with the help of these skyboxes every single scenario you have in mind is possible with doom. Just think about other places where a skybox might be helpful: Submarines, Space Ports, Planet Atmospheres... think about events and settings that have almost biblical proportions and you will see: It is possible with skyboxes!

Summary: "Do not underestimate skyboxes and if possible, always use them!"

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This is for those who have always thought: "Doom lights are the way they are and there is nothing you can do about them!" because you can. And you know it: Better lights means better atmosphere if done well.


Shots one and two demonstrate the first light enhancement that is already available since Boom and Hexen introduced the TranslucentLine special. But although this trick is already well known and has already been used in a few wads, most of the active projects don't use it at all. The idea behind this is adding a color gradient (from black to full color/brightness) and placing this at the correct offsets as middle texture with the TranslucentLine special activatet (additionally arg1 = 1 making it additive for a better effect).

Shots three and four demonstrate a very new light effect that is done via ZDooms DECORATE feature and was developped by Paul "NMN" exclusively for Knee-Deep in ZDoom. Here we are using circular sprites instead of gradients that use the Additive Translucency effect for new actors and decorations where the sprites themselves are just circle gradients (from black to full color/brightness). With DECORATE you can adjust their size (scale) and their brightness (translucency amount)

I think it is still a matter of taste if you want to use these new light techniques or not but in my eyes they are a real enhancement and therefore part of Knee-Deep in ZDoom.

Summary: "If you like em and if they fit into your project, use them, cause they are simple but convincing!"

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Another underused and underestimated feature of many new sourceports is the Fog/Haze feature, in ZDoom used with the Sector_SetFade ACS special. So "What's so great about having different fog/haze colors and the option to use these?" The thing about this feature is their value for the overall atmosphere of the map and even a single room.


The problem with computers is that they can't make you really feel how cold an area is or what the consistency of the air is. But with a right fog or a good haze factor, your map can achieve this to a certain degree.

Let's check shot number 1, showing the snowy icey peak from Torment & Torture 3: Just looking at it gives you an idea on the coldness of this place and its frosty and aching air. 

Shot 2 shows the mining area from the same map and comparing to the first shot, this feels totally different. It's obviously warmer and beyond the air is dirty and dry, making you breath very tight.

Feel free to imagine other colors that make you feel even more different, for example dark green (like in a jungle with high air humidity), dark red (like in a metal processing installation, very warm, very hot and dirty) and even light green/yellow (bio hazard accident where the air is stinging painful). 

Summary: "Fog and Haze creates temperature and consistency of the air so use it if it supports the place you are working on!"

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After all - without considering EDGE and GZDoom right now - Doom is still a 2.5D game and therefore very limited. But with a clever usage of sky windows (and sky boxes as well) you can make your map not attracting the player's attention on this restriction.


Just think about many old and new maps you have played before where you have thought: "Yes, another map that shows dooms limits!" but also think about Scuba Steve's Action Doom that is full of tricks that make you think that doom actually became fully 3D!

One of the simple tricks you can always use that achieve these "I am in a 3D world" effects are sky windows. Openings in walls, floors and ceilings (or more of them at the same time) that are just there to make the player see what's beyond this room.

Take a look at both shot one and shot two. Imagine how they would look like without the openings and now see what they affect. The rooms get larger and also more realistic, as it feels more 3D instead of limited 2.5D. The power of these additions is obvious and don't forget: With the right skybox you can use them everywhere: Space Windows, Bull Eyes in the Sea, Atmosphere, Floating Hell, Burning Cities... you're restricted only to your imagination!

Summary: "Sky Windows are powerful as they are one of the things being able to create a certain reality 3D feeling!"

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In the last chapter I told you to use new resources if possible or create your map based on a texture pack but I missed something that is very important: Don't limit yourself to this texture pack because that autimatically limits your creativity. If you are in the need of special resources like textures, sounds, sprites or anything else to make your "idea" really look good, try to create them on your own. And if you fail, look for it in the internet and other resources and wads. And if you fail once more, ask for it in the community forums. My experience tells me that there are many nice persons around who are glad to help you in any way, just ask for it.


Summary: "A one man project is always a hard thing, but don't limit yourself on your momentaneous skills, ask for help or learn something new!"


So this is the end of my second "Art of 2.5D Mapping" article. I hope that some of you might find this useful and helpful, that's the reason why I wrote this. And have in mind most of these tipps are things that I am used to and that both articles are based on experiences I made. Sure, there might be persons which absolutely don't understand why I wrote something or do something just the way I did it but that's just the thing about editing for this old engine :) If you have proposals, fixes, ideas or language tipps for me, feel free to comment this and I will do something about it if it makes sense for me. ;)
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