I am not a mapper myself, as for now, but I do make my observations while playing some of the content available here on the ‘Quaddicted’ portal. There are certain recurring design patterns that I see present throughout the creations of various mappers; the patterns that I personally, deem flawed - albeit, it is only a case of personal opinion. Here are some of these patterns, mentioned in random order:
Key following key. What I mean by that, is; in case there are two gateways, both requiring keys to be opened with, respectively; the second required key - in the issue discussed - is available right behind the doorstep of the first gateway unlocked, as if proclaiming: no further content here. It makes bad impression, questioning the purpose of the two gateways altogether, as apparently, one would already suffice - since the second key, is nearly just a “bonus” to the first one. The essential problem, is that of redundancy in design.
Dead-end puzzle. Progress throughout the map, should have certain momentum - ideally speaking. It ought to be intuitive or easy to spot in terms of what to do next for the player. That means, the player, is not to be stopped with an impression of a situational deadlock. Common fault in this case, dwells in overt distance between the trigger and the effect; such as a button unlocking an oddly placed gateway, with long backtracking in between. Other fault, may emerge from an overt complexity of a map, making the player confused about what exactly has happened in the aftermath of an action. Occasionally, a deadlock, may be generated by resources insufficiency - which equals improper difficulty balance; but this, is a separate world of problems.
Sometimes, in order to progress, one must find a passage that is hidden as well as an conventionally proper secret location, which leads us to another fault-pattern:
Crucial secrets. Secret areas, are meant to provide boost to the gameplay progress, not to make the progress doable altogether. If the gameplay progress, is a hostage to the player effectiveness at finding secrets, then we deal with a severe case of “dead-end puzzle”. The stage, should be doable without finding any secrets, at all. That is how I see it, at least on the “Normal” difficulty.
Obscure narrative feedback. The narrative feedback, is the text one would see in the middle of a screen display, while playing ‘Quake’ - not to be confused with the engine feedback, appearing in the upper left corner of the screen. The narrative feedback, is a tool in the hands of a mapper. It is a one-sided, direct communication pathway between the mapper and the player. The mapper, may decide to entirely skip the use of narrative feedback, but then, it is mandatory to make sure the symbolic representation of map dynamics, suffices for all. The issue I want to point out, is when the narrative feedback, when used, simply does not tell anything of use, despite using even a lot of words. Likewise, announcing things the player can perfectly figure out independently, fits into the framework of redundancy faultiness. The obscurity case, in turn, may be rooted in lack of both the precision, as well as the background meaning. The background meaning, is built through adequate naming and describing of things. Instead of announcing: “the gateway has opened”, maybe it would be good to precise that: “the gateway has opened in X” - where “X”, could be, for example: “the Atrium”. What is “the Atrium”? This, is where things start to connect - first, we need to have clear information, what or where is “the Atrium”; ideally having been informed with a similar, proper narrative feedback, bestowed upon visiting of an area. If a map is vast - especially when it is vast - giving names to specific hublike locations, is perfectly fine, I imagine; as long, as the player, is not being spammed with constant text throughout the continuum of gameplay.
To summarize, with narrative feedback, aim to: (1.) be specific; (2.) build a meaningful web of notions, on top of visual layout; (3.) be adequate - too much is as bad as too little.
- Indoable challenges. There are maps, which clearly have not been designed for simple, conventional gameplay - alternatively, maps which have not been sufficiently playtested and corrected. If a map, is not completable outside of cheating or ridiculous skill application; eventually if a map, is downright incomplete, such as lacking in functional exit portal or valid layout connections leading to an exit; it is not to be considered a map per se, but a mapping experiment and thus, invitation to play it, should come with a transparent warning. Inclusion of such maps in otherwise conventional bundles or even publication of such projects on common terms, should not be encouraged.
Final note or question, regards certain design trends, emphasizing on complexity of the layout and promoting explorative approach - which is good, to those willing - at the cost of gameplay integrity sense - which, in turn, is bad, in my view. I speak of maps that announce their exit portal at roughly 50% of the content having been seen by the player; concluding after the number of opponents persisting, in an example that I think about. Playing such maps, I feel somewhat odd at the completion - myself not being an ardent “secret hunter” - as if asking the mapper: what do you expect of me? We live in an era of information noise - take this into account. What is to assume, is that as soon as the exit route becomes legitimately available, the map, has expressed all the major owned qualities by then; which I know, is to be a false assumption in many cases. What remains, is a question of presentation - but I do get the other side of the spectrum, is a cutscene.