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L4D1/2 Campaign Design; Why Less is More

Category: Source: L4D2, Source: L4D1
May 31, 2010

Following article was written and contributed by Andy 'Nexusdog' Purnell

What better way to make the Left 4 Dead experience last than to have bigger, longer maps and campaigns? It seems reasonable, we want more maps and more campaigns, so let's create something, which will keep us playing longer. However, there are problems with this concept, both from a player and mappers perspective.

As a player what I want out of a map:

  • Has good gameplay, something which provides a decent challenge
  • Is interesting visually and layout - an understanding of composition & flow
  • Lasts long enough to be fun and not be fatiguing

How many custom maps have you played where the game turns into a slog through repetitive mazes and scenery?

As a mapper, if you want to maximize your ability and impact, creating large maps & campaigns is counterproductive.

Two things to keep in mind:

  • First, it locks you into a single project, which will take an enormous amount of time and energy to create.
  • Secondly, because it is just one project, does it provide enough variety of gameplay and locations throughout?

The average time on a Left 4 Dead level is around 15 minutes, that's one criteria worth thinking about when creating your maps. Filling those huge maps with sufficient scenery, props and variety is infinitely harder than populating small maps.

Big just simply isn't better. For mappers, a start point is usually a survivor map as it is self-contained and a good way to get to know the working of Hammer. That's another point to bear in mind, make your maps self contained, yet diverse, but linked into a campaign if your project has that scope.

So, big maps bad. Why?

  • Iit stunts your learning of hammer simply because you are focusing on something that takes far too much time and effort.
  • The project is the goal, not learning more about the mapping process which can be accomplished by tackling smaller projects.

The same is also true for large campaigns - 5 or more maps is verging on the fatigue boundary, and if those individual maps are huge, well players will get bored pretty quick because there is no end in sight, it becomes an endless foot slog.

Crash Course was a good example of creating a 2-map campaign, which was a short blast of fun. Most people miss that simple point. As a mapper, that probably feels like it's too small a project - how can you fit in all your ideas into two measly maps!? But turn it around for a moment.

If you can create a 2 map campaign in a month or 2, you're set to move onto the next.

You have a campaign released, started building a portfolio of work and you get exposure and experience far quicker than concentrating on that huge project you had in mind.

You are ready to create something different from your previous work, so you stay fresh, inspired and your imagination continues to tick over.

Of course, making that epic campaign isn't to say it's not worth it, but if you do decide to create one, make it a long term back burner project where you can put your experience gained from making smaller, leaner projects in the short term to keep you going.

What are your thoughts? Do you think less is more?

Recommended L4D1-2 Articles:

L4D2/1 Visual Reference Guide to Campaign Design

L4D2 Level Design Tips Part 1

L4D2 Level Design Tips Part 2

Following article was written and contributed by Andy 'Nexusdog' Purnell

Updated & Revised - Preproduction Blueprint: How to Plan Your Game Environments and Level Designs

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