Flow Design Dogma

This post was inspired by this BU thread.

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the mapping community: flow dogma.

There seems to be an almost universal and uncritical acceptance of the self-looping midsize DM flow style. The ‘self-looping midsize’ style is my name for the type of level flow that is based around a series of irregularly shaped interior spaces, all of sizes on the same order of magnitude, which all tend to loop back into themselves. For examples look to DM-Turbine, DM-Tribulation, DM-Rankin, and so on.

I’m not dissing this style in itself. It works and it works well. What I think is wrong is the universal acceptance of it as the be-all and end-all of mapping flow; the belief that it universally beats all other flow styles in every way. This widely held view is so strong that levels which do not follow it tend to be marked down in reviews as ‘gimmicky’ or ‘poorly laid out’ simply because they are different. This is the fault of the reviewers, who tend to judge maps based on their own learned heuristic of what good maps should be, instead of on raw fun value. It also creates a self-reinforcing, homogenizing effect that causes level designers create more maps in this style, because they see that other types of maps review poorly.

There are strong counterexamples to the idea that the prevailing style is the ultimate in level design.



The most familiar to you will probably be CTF-Face. Prevailing dogma states that a map with a single choke point will play poorly. Prevailing dogma states that a map with sniper views on the enemy’s spawn points is downright broken. Strangely enough, however, CTF-Face is the epitome of these ‘mistakes’ and it was the most popular CTF map for UT.



Tactical Ops had a map called Rapidwaters. It was the most popular map for this game from its introduction. RapidWaters is almost stupidly small and simple. Unlike Face, it does have multiple routes. Like Face, however, players are all forced into the same general central area, and can all shoot at each other. This level was so popular that even when the map was released in accidentally broken form (a roof beam blocked one of the main attack routes), this map was still incredibly popular. It was so popular that there was actually a little ‘movement’ from the more involved community members to try to force a wider variety maps into circulation. RapidWaters was a map for the proletariat; a hyper-compressed blast-fest that consistently attracted that silent majority of non-hardcore gamers who played TO.



Liandri had one huge central area and a variety of small hallways surrounding it. It even had teleporters. Liandri is nonstandard because the size difference between different spaces is huge – the central area is much larger than the other areas. This led to some gameplay which would never be seen in the modern mid-size style. For example, Liandri was great for instagib matches with low gravity – it allowed a whole new class of tactics involving sliding on walls in midair, and very long jumps and falls.


The reason I think Face and RapidWaters work so well is compression. Forcing 16 players into one region of the map creates a density of action which has a variety of positive effects on the gameplay fun value. Extreme victories, like 8 enemies killed by one grenade, become possible (though appropriately rare). Players are forced to constantly make decisions about their actions because the enemies are so close. There is no empty ‘running time’ where players are running through empty areas looking for an opponent


But I digress. I’m not trying to say what we should be doing. I’m just sure that it’s not what we’re doing right now. There is no one flow style that beats all others. The self-looping midsized style works very well, but it is not the be-all and end-all. There are countless other possibilities that we have yet to explore simply because of the cultural momentum of this dominant method.

I wish we had maps with some areas ten or a hundred times larger than others. I wish we had maps that compressed players to ridiculous densities. I wish we had maps with small areas that are hard to navigate, or huge areas that allow jumps so long that you almost fly. I want a map with one room, or a map that transcends the concept of ‘rooms’.

Let’s go crazy. We can afford to fail.

2 thoughts on “Flow Design Dogma

  1. Eric Blade

    I’d say look at all the maps that people actually play in Quake 3/4 for some major differences. UT gets all the same ol’ same ol’ because the game itself is flawed. Try out some Quake 1, 3, 4, if you want to see a game with a lot less flaws, and a lot more ways to build maps that play well.

Comments are closed.