Decorating maps

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Manofdusk

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 I love rpgs but one of my biggest weaknesses (aside from being a terrible artist) is that I am terrible at map decoration. I look at all the sample maps and they all look really nice with lots of detail... but when I try to do it, they always seem so very sparse... Particularly towns. Dungeons I generally have no trouble designing... but being someone of Spartan design tastes, I have trouble designing towns that other people look like they'd live in (and so, for some/most of my town designs, I'm often forced to use some sample maps for something that looks decent).


 So I thought I'd ask... how do you guys decorate your game maps? How do you get them to look like people actually live there?
 

HexMozart88

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Uh... I take the sample maps and edit them heavily.  :rswt:
 

Dr. Delibird

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Tbh, decorating maps is basically art. I mean you need to have a good idea of how composition works as well as a few other key artistic skills, but mostily the composition.
 


Try to define what you are going for in terms of your maps. Start out with bullet points on a notepad.
For this example we will say you want a "starting town" simillar to FFI which has an item, weapon and armor shops (three seperate buildings), an Inn and NPCs with plot. I perposely discluded the magi shops that game had as well as the place you went to revive dead characters as those are not common elements (from what I have seen) anymore. I also purposely chose an easy example simply because it will be easier to convey the process.

So just to recap, our list looks like:
*A small town with most/all services the player would need in a first town


*NPCs that say something pot related (this is listed for reasons I will explain further down but trust me this important)
*A "tranquility" vibe (green grass, river, no evil in the town itself)


Once you have defined what you want IN the town, you can now figure out the shape of it. Make sure to pick a shape that can fit everything in comfortably but don't overdo it. For this example we will go with a Square because that is nice and basic.

The shape is important because it is basically your canvas, without a canvas you have no painting and instead have a bunch of paint glooped together on the floor.


We can now populate the canvas. This is where the NPCs come in. You see, NPCs and other simillar events are basically another decoration except they might move around. You have to keep this in mind as even beautiful looking maps can feel cluttered if you place too many NPCs. Try to think about where things might be if this map was really. Do people frequent the Inn? Maybe make the pathway that leads to it look at bit more worn out than the others and maybe not put as many plants (brushes/flowers ect unless they are in like a flower box or something that people can't walk on). But don't just think about how the map would form over time if it was in the real world but also consider how it looks to the player. Try to get somebody to play test your bare bones map (non-decorated) and find out which paths the most frequently walk on said map. By knowing that we can make sure the areas most seen by the players have decorations that not only guide the play to the destination (ie going from the entrance to the Inn should feel VERY intuitive and you can influence that with decorations) but also allow the eye to sway away from the "beaten path" so to speak so that they can discover other locations on the map by themselves (this will make the player feel smart which is a good thing).


Either I have been helpful or I went into "hardcore word vomit mode" X3
 

Milennin

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Insert things that give a town something unique to make it stand out (church, statue, big villa, military outpost etc) and write a backstory about it that the NPCs can tell the player about. Give it a cool theme (like give it lots of water, height differences, surrounded by nature/trees etc)


Don't make all the roads go in a straight line because that looks boring. Avoid making the lay-out look symmetrical because that looks boring, too. :) Think of things that make it look like people have lived there. Add cracks in the pavement. Add shrubs and weeds in the grass or the corners of the pavement. When in doubt, just add a bunch of flowers randomly all over the grass in the town. More colours = Better, lol. :D Also add in NPCs that say more than just the generic things like "Nice weather today" or "Welcome to our village, lol". Give them cool personalities and add in extra events for the player to discover to make it feel more alive.
 

Corfaisus

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Most people default to the three-tile rule, but this is in no way the big kahuna when it comes to map design. As Delibird mentioned above, this sort of thing is an art. You really have to have experience and an eye for detail to make sure that you're not making your maps too big or too small or filling them with too much detail (also known as tile vomit). I've had to scrap entire maps before after sinking 3+ hours into them because I realized I started off the wrong way to make everything else fit in just right. Don't be afraid to make mistakes along the way, it's the only way you learn.


Once you've got your essentials down, try some overlap. Allow the player to walk behind roofing, under bridges, above the rest on castle ramparts, that sort of thing. This can help an otherwise bland location really pop. Consider making a centerpiece to the town, whether this be a grand statue, a temple, or some other man-made thing. In the middle of a desert city, I threw in a bridge with pillars descending down into an artificial fountain that connects the lower city to the queen's castle. It's just tall enough that you feel like you're on top of the world when you stand on it, all the while not interfering with the rest of the city around it. Consider potential empty space.
 

Manofdusk

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well, in the game I'm working on now, you live in a central "hub" city that's pretty big. Currently it has about 7 town maps linked together. Since almost every map I make looks.... artificial somehow, I've strung together most of the sample towns into one big "super town". I'd like to make my own maps for these kinds of things... but when I start trying to build a city, it looks like one of those pre-built suburbs where every house was identical (despite any attempts to make them different).


 I tried taking the underground town sample map and re-making it with non modern tiles and that turned out pretty well... but anything I try to do without a reference just looks off:


 here's an example. This is the central map that connects to two others. It's got a temple and a museum (and the middle structure is where you start. It's very important to the story).


 Behind the church is a graveyard. Since death is permanent, any of your party members that die get buried here (via a parallax event). This is meant to be the "information center" (for story reasons, there are no living quarters or shops located in this area. Each "zone" has its own shops and living quarters). Despite having everything it needs, the map still feels forced and artificial and I'm not sure why.

Map006.png
 

Dr. Delibird

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Well for starters it is far too big. 3 buildings with that much space and not a lot going on will always look a bit off.

A few more tips apart from the size thing:


-try to not have all of the buildings like that in a line and relatively evenly spread out.


-Don't be afraid to "over do it" when it comes plants/rocks/other decorations. If it feels like too much slowly take a few bits here and their until it feels better (however overdoing it is harder when your map size is more proportionate to what is actually there).
 

Caitlin

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I always try to start with the basics, ground, in that the world was formed before the town was, so I try to keep in mind elevation.   From various height above and below ground level, plus, water and of course, trees.  (You can do this in your head, as you plan your city). Then, from there, you start adding plants and buildings, with the most important part being the buildings for now.  You can move these buildings, but when you get them where you need them to be.  You start adding details, like little things that people need to live, wells, flower beds, tomb stones, wagons (if you have them) and as much detail as you can possible get.  I know that there are plenty of people who make graphics and share them.  Of course, I learned how to make and edit graphics, because at the time that I was making games, I'd always run into the 'man, I can't do X, because I don't have Y graphic'


It's all about painting a picture of life in your city, so I do try to keep in mind the type of life that these people have and the environment.  Of course, this is just the way I do it and for the most part it does work, but it might not work for everyone.  I suppose everyone has their own ways.
 

JPaulC

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This might sound basic but you should look at examples of what you're trying to create - not just from other games but real life too. If you try to make a town from memory alone, you're nearly always going to miss details.


Of course you might be limited by what resources are available to you but keeping a folder full of reference images you can get inspiration from is always a good idea imho.
 

PixelLuchi

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@ManofDusk: You're already making some pretty basic mapping errors. One of them being that your map is far too large and there's too much empty space. The large building size has already been mentioned but you could also put them closer together. One trick I use when I map is to get a quick preview of the map in-game. If there's too much empty space or you can't see anything of interest, then fill it up. I can't really explain it, but the main goal here is to make your map interesting.


But I do have some advice for you and absolute newbies:


Use as much of the default map size as possible. You'd be surprised as to how much you can cram into it

  • Nature is not symmetrical. It's ordered chaos. So don't line up flowers, shrubs, bushes etc. when you're designing non-man made areas. Same goes for trees. Don't line them up in perfectly straight rows unless they've been planted in front of some grand structure.
  • Use editor mapping! Aka if you want to position the top half of the tree onto another object which has been mapped to the grid (and placing the top tree half would delete the 'mapped object'), you can just use the tree-top as an event graphic! Or you want some ivy-clad pillars? Event mapping! 
  • If I'm creating a central city hub, I'll keep the map size at its default and gradually expand it, while shifting the central hub to the centre ( do you guys use the Shift-Map command? You should, it's one of the most underused features in RPGMaker! ). Then grow your city from there. Normally a hub consists of a few important buildings, maybe a guild or two, and houses of the very wealthy. Of course, this really depends on what kind of city you're designing. Don't make your roads too narrow, or too large for that matter. I could go on and on ( seriously, I've written articles on the subject xD ).






This map was done using events and the default map size in VX. Just my little inspiration to those of you who are daunted by parallax mapping. ;)
 
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Kes

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We already have a thread dedicated to looking at maps and offering feedback here.  I don't think we should duplicate it.


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