How do you make map design fun?

jkweath

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So anytime I see a thread discussing what people's strengths and weaknesses are, it seems like there's a trend: either people enjoy system design (pretty much anything handled in the database) and don't enjoy art design (writing, mapping, music, graphics, etc), or they're the opposite--with plenty of exceptions, of course.

Me, personally, I love designing things and I also love writing, especially setting up cutscenes... But I just can't get into mapping.

It's not that I can't make decent maps, but I just don't enjoy it. I can't be creative with something I don't enjoy doing. It's always my least favorite part of the game design process, so much so that I've often wished I had the budget to just hire someone to make a package of pre-made maps for me and be done with it.

I know that there's probably not much I can do about it and that it's probably a personality thing more than anything, but I feel like my lack of creativity and enjoyment for mapping is really holding me back.

If you're one of those people who loves designing maps, how do you do it? Is there some part of the creative process I'm missing? Or maybe some technique you use that makes mapping fun? If you're someone who once hated mapping but learned to enjoy it, what changed?
 

Htlaets

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My reason for hating it is that I often have a very clear vision of what I want my maps to look like, but then it's annoying searching for everything and then annoying to make it when necessary.

The actual process of making maps is also annoying, yeah. One thing that helps me is watching speed mapping videos like: It gets my head into the process. I still don't like making maps. Where it works, I really don't mind editing pre-made maps to suit my purposes.
 

SmashArtist

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I also dislike mapping.
The things that make it easier for me are:
  • It's an interior map (so it's smaller and I know what types of rooms normally belong in a house)
  • I have a clear vision of what I want and how the map would be used. (knowing the general look and shape of the map and the purpose it should fill ex: currently stumped on making a map for one of my projects, however I have some idea of what I want. The inner boundaries of a medievalish town will a large fountain in the middle that will serve as a hub to other maps)
These two things normally make it easier for me to make maps. I still don't enjoy it very much, but at least I know what to make. Having a vision of what I want is the hardest for me.
(so I guess my problems are the opposite of @Htlaets)
 

gstv87

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look into the concepts of graphic design: proportion, scale, rule of thirds, rhythm, palette, composition, etc.

it'd be a wall post if I explained each one, but trust me, they apply to map making as well.
 

fluffymonster

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I don't think it's one or the other. I enjoy some system design, though my main joy comes with writing and graphics. I'm not all that great with mapping at all. I think it's just related to people's personal preferences. My brother loves mapping-related things. He has many games for making rollercosters and the like. That doesn't stick out as something I find fun. I can appreciate a nice layout to a poor one, but it's always something I pause on for way too long.

I push forward by thinking like "If I get this done, I can go further in the story aspect, which I enjoy" or I'll take a break to work on an art piece or an art asset.
 

Finnuval

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I love mapping in general but before I could even hope in saying anything remotly helpful to you I need to know why dont you enjoy it? What about the process is it you do not like?
 

ImaginaryVillain

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I really didn't find mapping interesting until I stumbled upon Quxios https://quxios.github.io/plugins/QM+CollisionMap From that point on I could just build it in Krita, and save a groundless image with all of the obstacles to use as hit detection. It really hyped me up for map building.... Otherwise I found map building so "engaging" that I built an entire plugin to build the maps for me. :LZSwink:
 

FiercestPixel

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I actually really enjoy mapping. If done correctly, the map can not only create a games atmosphere it can also help tell a story. E.g. An unmarked grave on top of a mountain that took the player ages to get up to, how did it get there?

For me, maps are very relaxing and don't require a lot of critical thinking. Almost like painting. My work process for a map is to usually get a basic outline of what is essential for the games quests (usually using simple autotiles) then section of the map boundaries. After I'm happy with the basic shape, I go back and start adding the little things. Jamming out to some music while drinking some hot cocoa usually lets me zone out and get lost in artistic expression for hours.
 

Candacis

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I looove mapping. Especially in RPG Maker. Next to making graphics for it, it is my favorite thing to do in RPG Maker.

Some advice:

Don't make the maps too big. Especially if you don't like mapping. The bigger the map the more overwhelming it can get. Rather split outdoor areas into several maps. If the maps have something interesting going on, players won't mind small maps.

If you like writing, then look at mapping as a form of worldbuilding. This is your chance to show what your world is like. For towns/villages my first starting point is to think about how the villagers are earning their money. Open plains? Well, maybe they are farmers or rancher. River? Probably trading or fishing. Mountain region? How about a bit of mining? Immediately you have a landmark point you can flesh out. Or you can switch it up and envision a village having farms on plateaus in the mountains etc.
You can start thinking about the people living in the town, what mood and atmosphere you want to convey. Are the people poor? Maybe all their houses are small or out of the same cheap material.
Maps can tell a story. Just search for that one piece of story (or background story) you want to tell with a map. A dark forest with a deserted campfire, that cave with an underground river, eating away at the stone.

I always try to find one thing for a map that is interesting and memorable. Not only for me, but for the player. If you have more of a connection to the human(or whatever creature) component in your games, you can try to insert a bit of human influence in every map. Think about who owns the land. Is it just a forest or is it maybe the Queen's Forest which comes with a camp of her guardians, looking for poachers, and some royal emblems put on trees and an avenue.

A good map can give a player a sense of your world and makes them think that there is a lot more going on than you have actually mapped (and worldbuilt). Maybe you don't have a map of the queens palace, but the player coming across her signs, the guardians camp, maybe even a poor excecuted poacher, creates the illusion that the world is bigger.

So, as long as I think about worldbuilding and what my world is about, all the little details, I know what to map. If I'm lost, I ask myself some of these questions: Who owns the land? How do the people survive and earn their living? What atmosphere do I want for the map? What is the one focal point of the map?

And this is just about mapping without actual gameplay in mind which can get oneself a whole lot of other ideas.
 

jkweath

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@Htlaets thanks for the link. I'll give that a watch later!

@SmashArtist I'm the same way. I usually don't mind making interior maps, especially houses since they're usually just a matter of drawing a box shape and filling it in with furniture and rooms. Its larger maps and outdoor maps that really get me stuck.

@fluffymonster I agree with your first point. It often seems like devs lean in one direction, at least from my experience.

I often push forward the same way. I love writing compelling or emotional scenes, and that alone can sometimes powers me through the map creation process.

@Finnuval That's a great question that I'll probably have to think over more even after writing this up.

I usually lack a good starting point. I mean, I'll think to myself, "okay, I need a wooded outdoor area"... And that's it. I have a base idea of what I need, but no idea what I actually want. If I try to envision something in my mind, all I come up with are blanks.

Usually what happens here is that I'll just start throwing some random stuff on the map, and then just keep piling onto that randomness until I have something that looks "good enough". Maybe that's supposed to be the process and I'm over-thinking it, but I certainly don't enjoy it.

Oftentimes what I end up doing--my dirty secret--is that I'll just take a sample map and use it as a 'base'. This makes the process a thousand times easier, but it's still not fun. Doing a combination of this and generally using smaller maps when I have to be original gets me through the mapping portion of game development, but that's it.

I just wish I could be as creative with mapping as I can be with writing, which is often the most fun and inspiring part of the process for me.

For me, maps are very relaxing and don't require a lot of critical thinking. Almost like painting. My work process for a map is to usually get a basic outline of what is essential for the games quests (usually using simple autotiles) then section of the map boundaries. After I'm happy with the basic shape, I go back and start adding the little things. Jamming out to some music while drinking some hot cocoa usually lets me zone out and get lost in artistic expression for hours.
It's funny that, for me, you could substitute the word "map" for "writing" and it'd be perfectly accurate.

So, as long as I think about worldbuilding and what my world is about, all the little details, I know what to map. If I'm lost, I ask myself some of these questions: Who owns the land? How do the people survive and earn their living? What atmosphere do I want for the map? What is the one focal point of the map?
Thanks for the advice, Candacis. Thinking about the atmosphere and focal points are often what gets me through the eventing portion of the map, i.e. the NPCs, shops, quests, etc. The actual design process for the maps themselves, though, I still struggle with.

Just to give an example, in my latest game, I have a town that was mostly destroyed by a volcanic eruption. It was simple enough envisioning the atmosphere and the NPCs, but actually designing the town itself was still a chore.
 

Finnuval

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Okay so have you ever tried writing the map first? I mean a short journal like story as it were describing the map and the feeling it envoke?
 

jkweath

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Okay so have you ever tried writing the map first? I mean a short journal like story as it were describing the map and the feeling it envoke?
I can't say I have. I've never heard of "writing" a map before, so I'll have to give that a try and see if it helps!
 

Finnuval

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I can't say I have. I've never heard of "writing" a map before, so I'll have to give that a try and see if it helps!
I could give you some pointers in pm if you want. Not right now though as I am currently enjoying playing a game and its 1:20 am lol
 

jkweath

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I could give you some pointers in pm if you want. Not right now though as I am currently enjoying playing a game and its 1:20 am lol
That would be great. I probably won't be back until around the same time tomorrow anyway, so take your time!
 

Waifus69

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I can't say I have. I've never heard of "writing" a map before, so I'll have to give that a try and see if it helps!
It’s like telling a story through visuals. For example, someone were attacked in the wood while they were out camping. The player stumbles upon his campsite, which is a pretty big mess. The player can kinda deduce what happened through environmental clues like bloods on the ground, belongings are still there but no one is in sight, claw marks, etc.
The map tell the story instead of text boxes.
 

Finnuval

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It’s like telling a story through visuals. For example, someone were attacked in the wood while they were out camping. The player stumbles upon his campsite, which is a pretty big mess. The player can kinda deduce what happened through environmental clues like bloods on the ground, belongings are still there but no one is in sight, claw marks, etc.
The map tell the story instead of text boxes.
This is actually not at all what I refered too in relation to the OP however this is certainly an approach one needs to consider when doing map design - how to let the map tell a story :)

I was however refering to using your skills as a writer to build up the map from that approach before actually mapping it so you have a good starting point and a general line to follow when you actually build the map :)
 

Danitinkis

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With maps, I'm very lazy and I always say I don't like doing them. But when I start making them, it's some sort of addictive and fun. One thing I'd recommend doing while making a map is listening to music that fits the story, location, and all the things like that. For example, for making a fortified city where there is lava and there are many rules and discipline, I used the Bravely Default's theme "the civil war country".
The effect that music has on us is very powerful, remember that
 

fluffymonster

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@fluffymonster I agree with your first point. It often seems like devs lean in one direction, at least from my experience.

I often push forward the same way. I love writing compelling or emotional scenes, and that alone can sometimes powers me through the map creation process.
What I was saying was it wasn't a binary in case that wasn't clear. I consider map design more technical than general art. I think people have differing interests in all of the minor categories you gave, despite the binary they were placed in. People just have different passions and different talents.
 

CraneSoft

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Mapping is similar to art creative process, I love seeing art or maps coming to life and could make half-decent maps as well if I bothered - but the initial process of planning the layout and design (similar to rough sketches and WIP) can be tedious and a sloth for even artists because most of the time, we are not making a particular map because we WANT to, but because we NEED to. The moment you had to "force" yourself to do something, the enjoyment tends to take a nosedive.

I'm one that prefers art-related work over system design, and I still don't like mapping myself. Although I could do decent parallax maps if I cared enough to spend the extra time and effort, most of the time I simply don't feel like doing it. The only time I enjoyed mapping is when I'm creating specific maps with a very clear artistic vision in mind, but most of the time it's mostly filler (caves, towns, plains etc) maps which I can't bring myself to give my all.

With that said, let's say if you WANT to find a way to enjoy the mapping process, then at the very least you'll need to identify what kind of things you actually like to design, and incorporate them into your maps whenever possible.
 

Kes

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My approach may be similar to what Finnuval has suggested - except it's all in my head, rather than written down.
Some things which help me:
Before starting, I ask myself a series of questions
- What is the actual purpose of this map? Is it just to get the player from A to B, or can it do more than that? I find that the richer the purpose that I have, the better the map turns out to be. For me this always has to be the first question, as it determines everything else.
- What does this map show of the world, or at least that portion of it that the player happens to be on? For example, is it a world of poverty? Or extremes of wealth and poverty? (Useful especially for towns and villages?). Is it a place of welcome or of suspicion/danger - affects things like town walls, size of entrance, big or small windows in the houses and so on.
- What emotion, if any, do I want the player to feel with this map? It's not just things like fear, or threat, or relaxation, or the obvious ones like that. It can be as simple as - Hmm, I could put my feet up in this house.
- Can I incorporate an element of story or character development while crossing this map? If so, how can my map help me to do that?
- What element(s) of game play is going to happen here? What needs to be here to make that interesting?
- How small can I make it? I see no point in making a map bigger than it needs to be.
 
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