Resident foodmonster
Mar 5, 2012
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I asked some people about tips for making better maps. I also wrote some as well. Here you go! They are grouped by contributor.

By Ocean’s Dream:

-When mapping, keep the exits of the area clear.
You want the players to know where they can leave the map instead of having it hidden by excessive plants or in a way that doesn’t seem like an obvious exit.

-It is not always necessary to fill in space for a big map.
If you’re finding it hard, reduce the size of the map. Don’t just stick everything in your upper layer to fill space. The objects should have a reason for being there. Don’t be afraid of some empty space either. It is best to stick the objects and most of the detail out of the players way. Some games have lots of plants, cliffs, objects and all but they are inaccessible to the player, while there is a more simple path that the player can follow.

Having shortcuts to get past a big area you already went through
One nice thing to do is have a shortcut open up after you defeat a boss of a dungeon to prevent having to backtrack through the whole dungeon again. This is especially good if the dungeon isn’t a passageway from one area to another.

-Late SNES RPGs are very good examples of mapping.
Final Fantasy 6, Seiken Densetsu 3, Star Ocean 1, Chrono Trigger, games like that. There are maps around, you could try vgmaps for ideas on how they map.

Use colors and lines to direct the player
This is one thing they teach you in art, but it can apply in maps as well. You can use colors to direct players to an important point or somewhere you want the player to visit. Make one house in particular very bright and colorful while all the other houses in a town is dull, and players will want to check it out. If you’re just throwing color all over the map, players don’t have any particular focal point. A subtle use of it can hint at where the player can go without feeling forced.

Think of interesting themes for your maps
They should make sense but also spice them up a bit. Everyone’s been through FIRE CAVE, ICE CAVE, TOWER. What will your fire cave do to interest the player to your world rather than be a filler? Why is it there? Is it natural? What types of obstacles might they face?

Use landmarks to make points that the player will remember
If you make a very mazey cave but in the middle of it is some giant statue in an open room, and that statue is not repeated anywhere else, then the player will remember where they are when they see that statue again. It will also make that statue more important than if you just threw it all over the map.

Provide some variety to get a feeling of progression
Just being inside a cave doesn’t mean that the entirety of the cave should feel exactly the same. It will interest the player more if as they go along, the cave feels different too. Like instead of going through a brown cave with narrow corridors the whole time, something like this would be more interesting: “As they go through the narrow cave paths, it opens up into a big underground lake with natural bridges going through it. Going down lower, and you’ll see crystals formed that no one has mined yet. The rooms are bigger and different types of enemies live here who goes by scent rather than by sight. As you go, there’s a path up to an opening, where you see the outside and a hidden ruins of a civilization”. That is just an example and it would help to have some actual backstory and reasons for your choices instead of having them there for the sake of it.

Less can be more
Don’t just toss everything from the upper tile on the map. The plants and objects should also make sense in the environment that they are placed. Don’t go placing cactus plants in an area that shouldn’t have them. It’s also not a goal to hide all of the floor tiles. Bare floor tile is not an enemy.

Try sketching out your ideas first!
You can try planning your map on paper first before you take it to RPG Maker. See how areas will connect, get a general layout, maybe scribble in some puzzle or gameplay ideas as well. It could help give you an idea of what to map in the editor itself.

Be consistant in how objects in game work
If you talk to a dresser in the beginning of the game and you don’t get any message or anything from it, then you’ll assume that dressers don’t have anything in it. Don’t go and place an important plot item in a standard dresser then, because the players won’t check it because they learned that dressers don’t give you anything. You want to build off of what the player has learned, not just break it whenever you feel like.


By Ciel:

Think about the mood
Think about the mood you intend to convey with your area and define the shape of the walking or playable parts of the map based on that.

Every map is split into playable and unplayable area
Most maps are very simple when you just look at which parts you can walk on and which parts are just decoration. So stake out the walkable area in your blank map and make that work then fill out the rest with thousands of trees.

Ground tile variation
To make open areas look good the key factor is ground tile variation people rally against ‘too open/empty’ maps but if you vary the ground a lot it looks fine.

Think of the Maps Composition
The map has to have some sort of composition the same as a photograph does. It has to direct the audience’s eye. The playable and non playable parts must be easily distinguishable to human vision.

Road Tiles
The function of a ‘road’ (dirt tile) going through a forest is to guide the player’s eye as much as it is to make it feel like “Yeah there is a path in this world”.

By Titanhex:

Outdoors can feel more alive with some activity from animals or people.
Keep in mind though setting animals and people’s paths to random will hurt more than help. Have people follow a set path or be doing something that makes them look busy or something with a purpose. Animals move in a variety of fashions as well. Birds may fly slow at first then quickly, and perhaps even dive. They may hop from tree to ground to tree. Squirrels and rabbits may scamper for a while, then pause briefly before resuming, and squirrels may even climb up into trees.

Indoors people should also be given a purpose such as cooking, cleaning, reading, writing, playing, or a number of activities one may do indoors. Avoid dropping a person who moves randomly and says inane garbage.

Special effects aren’t simply limited to Fogs, Screen Shakes, etc. Remember the Show Animation with careful use and a bit of creativity can be useful in special areas, or during conversation. It can be looped with a parallel process and a wait time as well.

References can help greatly. Whether you reference another person’s map, a drawing, or a photograph, you can figure out how to make your map look by referencing, which will help you during the beginning of mapping. Just remember nothing is better than studying and learning, so try to figure out why something is the way it is.

By Lunarea:

- Get used to the scale.
It’s the sort of thing you don’t really think about when you know how to map, but it’s an important lesson to learn. At any given time, the player will get to see that 17×13 (or equivalent resolution dimensions of other makers) section of the map. This means that the 100×100 map that looks fine in editor may be completely off in the player’s experience. Play-test your maps, experiment with different map sizes and post in-game shots when looking for mapping critique (I can’t stress that last part enough). This is also something I would recommend to seasoned mappers, as well. I’ve seen a few maps that have extraordinary detail, but it’s placed in such a cluttered way that its effect is entirely lost.

- Function before aesthetics.
A lot of emphasis is put on visual appeal in mapping, but function and context are ultimately what decides if your map is good or bad. Take a square room with straight walls, uniform floor and 3 objects, for example. If its function is a puzzle room where the player slides around a boulder onto a switch, the map is great. If, on the other hand, it was an NPC home with a bed and a table/chair, it’s probably a bit too bare and boring. By the same token, an enclosed and cluttered NPC home can be charming, while an enclosed and cluttered puzzle chamber is frustrating. While mapping, think about what purpose the map has in your game. It doesn’t always have to be cutscene/puzzle/quest either. You can have maps that teach the player about the game world and the characters, or small maps that give the player a break from talking or fighting (ex. a lovely park with a fountain in the middle of a bustling town). But remember that the player wants to play the game, not just look at a series of beautiful screens. That long, winding path in the woods may look very natural, but if the player has to press up, left, up, right, down, right, up, left, up to move through it, it loses its charm. Not that the path should be straight, mind you. It’s just that it shouldn’t be an obstacle course to get from A to B, especially when this is the case with every map.

- A few small details can make a big difference.
A couple sacks of flour and two large ovens turn a faceless and generic shop into a bakery. Piles of clothes on the floor and dishes in the sink make it clear that the NPC living in this house is a lifelong bachelor. You can tell a lot about a person or a place by bringing attention to small details. Omitting a detail can also make a place stand out by creating a contrast. If first four towns you’ve created had flower planters and you don’t add them to town #5, the player will notice and may be curious about it. The key, here, is to only use a few. Using too many details or objects at once makes it hard to focus and you lose any impact you may have had with your details.

- Be conservative with the use of fogs, screen tint and weather effects.
Yes, you can create an extremely powerful atmosphere and mood by using a fog or a screen tint. You shouldn’t, however, use it on every map. If you use special effects often, the player gets acclimated and virtually stops seeing them. When that happens, you’ll have a much harder time creating memorable/important areas or events. Try to keep special effects for special areas. It is far more impressive to see fog roll from a lone tower where the bad guy sits if you haven’t seen the same rolling fog in the cute bunny forest.

By Liberty

- Keep scale consistant
In that, if a house is 2 tiles outside and 2 tile inside, don't later have a house 2 tiles outside and 3 tiles inside for example. Just keep note of it!

This is from a post in my blog and I'm sure there's plenty more to say on this topic but I'll keep it at this. The basic idea is to get you thinking on these things and hopefully be less about making better screenshots but more on trying to make it a more interesting world to explore!

The 3 tile rule shall be explained... someday... the elusive 3 tile rule will be revealed in a future post!
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Modern Exteriors Posted!
Apr 25, 2012
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Thanks - these are great tips, and I look forward to the illumination of the rule of three!

Miss Nile

Jul 6, 2012
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Wonderful advice from our mapping experts. ^^

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