Author Topic: How to make an Eastern Front map  (Read 14379 times)

Offline Ts4EVER

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How to make an Eastern Front map
« on: 12-06-2014, 11:06:10 »
How to make an Eastern Front map

Hello and welcome to another FH2 devblog!
In this series we will be taking a look at the mapping process, our Russian static sets and some tips and tricks for custom mappers. We start at the beginning: planning and getting the basic stuff into the editor. This will not be a detailed technical tutorial: You are all grown men, figure it out yourselves. It is more about the process and where to start.

So where do you start? First you should ask yourself: What kind of map do I want to do?
In my case I wanted:
- A map with Russians and Germans in 1943 or 1944
- Tanks and infantry, but no airplanes
- Medium size
- Simple layout, easily and quickly finished

The last bit was important: I wanted to do a map that could be made into a testable state very fast. Generally speaking, the biggest time sinks in mapping are:
- Polishing (Nothing can be done here)
- Static placement

I decided to do a very rural map with complex terrain and forested areas, but no major settlements or fancy military installations. With this in mind, I started to do some research.



This picture was taken near the Dukla Pass area in northern Slovakia, close to the Polish border. In October 1944, Russian forces tried to force their way through the mountainous terrain here, which resulted in a huge tank battle in what was afterwards called the "valley of death". This being an awesome name for a metal band, I decided to base the map on this. As a bonus, it allowed me to do an autumn map. We don't have many of those and the Eastern Front lends itself to that kind of graphical style.
Before we can begin, another question:

What resolution will my map have?
This is a very important question and the reason why 90% of custom maps look horrible. You see, FH2 maps come at different resolutions. Some have very low resolutions, for example those made by Fenring. These maps tend to be very scaled, with exaggerated terrain features and a somewhat stylised approach. Think of Meuse River: There are three bridges directly next to each other in the town. No real life town looks like this, but ingame it looks very nice, since the whole map is scaled in the same resolution. Especially desert maps are often done like this, since they would all look like Alam Halfa otherwise.
Other maps have a high resolution, like those done by Knoffhoff, Otolikos or Mr Cheese. They use a much more naturalistic approach, being 1:1 copies of terrain or only slightly scaled.
Many custom maps mix scales and end up looking like crap. Usually these mappers use very scaled terrain (which is great for tournament play, since it lends itself to vehicle combat), but once they start doing a village or town area, they want to make Fall of Tobruk v2. There is a reason why the towns in Luttich or Meuse River are rather sparse, with few enterable buildings, compared to Brest or Lebisey.
Personally, I like high resolution maps, so I will use relatively unscaled terrain.

What will the layout of my map look like?

The wonders of Google Earth:



Make a rough gameplay plan using the measuring tools in Google Earth. Mark your flags and your combat area, then also measure a square around it, for the map borders. There are some basic rules of thumb:
- If you do a conquest map for public play, do not add more than 5 capturable flags
- If your push layout takes more than three sentences to explain, maybe it is too complicated
- In a sector push map, do not have more than 3 capturable flags per sector. 2 seems to be ideal.
- In a normal push map, there should not arise a situation where more than 4 flags at a time are "in play". If that is the case, maybe a conquest map would be more to your liking?
- In a normal push map, there should never be a situation where an attacking team has the bleed, while having to defend more flags than it has to attack

Since in my case the layout is fairly simplistic, there is not much to say about it. The Russians attack through the valley of death. They can choose to either drive right through the valley into the maw of the beast, or they sneak up over the ridge through the forest. There are both tank and infantry heavy areas.

I imported the Google Earth heightmap and made a colourmap with my plan on it:



Then the fun part begins...

How to make an Eastern Fron map - Part 2

Hello and welcome to the second part of this making-off/tutorial/tips-and-tricks/leak devblog. Today we will have a look at the second stage of mapping, a process I like to call:

Creating structuring terrain

"Structuring terrain" are the kind of terrain features that need to be created relatively early, since they determine the overall structure and layout of your map. Of course, small changes and detail work is done at later stages, but the major features of your map need to be created at the beginning.
The first one to mention here is the heightmap. As mentioned earlier, I imported one from Google Earth, so scratch that.
Next, have a look at the rough plan from the first blog. You may notice that there are five different elements to it:
- flags
- out of bounds area

These two are not important at this stage and can easily be added later.

- roads
- rivers
- forests

These are the three terrain features we will create now.

Creating roads

Do this early and do it well! In many custom maps, roads look awful, since the splines are just "painted" on the terrain. In real life, roads are added to terrain by humans, so they are cut though it or build on artificial dikes in order to create a level driving area. In order to do this easily, double the width of all road tiles you are using, then after placing them, move some of the nodules to disengage the road from the heightmap. Once that is done, press "apply spline" and set the road tile back to its normal width. You get something like this:



Now you can use the smooth tool to get rid of those sharp edges. It is easier to do this now than later, when you have walls or buildings placed near the roads already.
These roads also structure the map in gameplay terms, since they guide the players through the map and they connect the flagzones to each other. You can see this in my gameplay plan.

Rivers

This is where it got a bit complicated. The BF2 engine has only very limited possibilities for creating rivers, due to the way water works. It is easy to create big, wide rivers that stay on one level, but this map called for three separate rivers flowing down from the mountains in the form of small brooks. This is impossible to do in BF2, so instead I used the "terrace" method that you also see on St Vith. You make several levels or terraces of rivers and seperate them by water falls. It is not perfect, but about as good as it gets in this engine.



Placing these is generally a big pain in the ass and it took me a while to sculpt the terrain for this to properly work. It was probably the hardest and most complicated aspect of this otherwise rather simple map. Note that this picture was taken after the fact, so the planning colourmap was already replaced with a nicer one. You can also spot a nice new wooden bridge static, which I believe was made by Krätzer. When placing bridges, always test in editor if you can easily cross it without hickups. Generally: run around on your map early and often! This way you get a sense of lines of sight and distances. Planning is all good and well, but you can't make a map from the bird's eye perspective.

Forests

Making forests is very easy... in theory. In practice, people fuck it up constantly. But first of all, a look at forests in general:
Prior to FH2.4, forests were not actually a big part of Forgotten Hope maps. The reason for that is simple: Bocage. Bocage is the most awesome vegitation for every mapper, since it makes it very easy to structure your maps. You can easily bar player progress or deny lines of sight without it seeming artificial or unrealistic. In fact, Bocage is artificial, since it was made by humans. You can easily compartmentalize your maps and predetermine the paths of players by placing gaps in Bocage. It's great.
However, it can't be used outside of Normandy, at least not in large quantities. Compare the rural area of a Normandy map like Villers Bocage to Vossenack and you see that there are worlds of differences. Most Ardennes and Germany maps are structured differently, by dividing the maps in open fields and forests.
Forests have always been well liked by custom mappers, since they have one key advantage over Bocage: They can be automatically generated. While you have to place every hedge by hand, you can just preprogram your favourite trees in the overgrowth tool, set a  density and paint away. Don't know what to place in an area? Make a forest. Too little cover? A few trees should fix it. That meadow looks a bit empty? TREES!

I don't need to tell you that this kind of lazy mapping brings you less than good maps, both graphically and gameplay wise.
Have you noticed that while most Ardennes maps have forest areas, only one map, Hurtgen Forest, actually has a majority of flags and gameplay areas INSIDE a forest? That's because forest fighting is not necessarily all that much fun. The trees limit your lines of sight, but not in a logical, predictable way like the Bocage hedges, but in a chaotic, random way. In an effort to make their forests look thick, custom mappers often program in a lot of small trees, with low hanging branches, which exacerbates this problem. On top of that, thick overgrowth and many different overgrowth types are poison for your map's performance.
Look at the forests on Hurtgen forest, Vossenack or Bastogne and you will notice that they all work like this:



There are two different kind of forest really: A thick one for the edges, with small trees and low hanging branches, and a more sparse one for the middle, with large, tall trees that have no branches below their crowns. This approach has several advantages:
- less trees overall: better performance
- realism: Trees in the center of the forest don't have low branches, because light doesn't reach down there
- Clearer gameplay for players: You can hide behind trees and in bushes, but whole squads don't run past each other
- Looks neat

These are the major terrain features. Before we end this installment, some thoughts on two smaller topics that come a bit later, but fit in here.

Undergrowth

Undergrowth is an extension of texture, NOT an object. Do not place thick undergrowth to hide players like they are Velociraptors in Jurassic Park. This seems like a good idea at first, but in practice:
- Some graphical settings do not properly display undergrowth
- It means you can't see shit if you lie down as infantry
- It lags out your map (side note: NEVER MAKE UNDERGROWTH DENSER THAN 1.0)
Personally, I like my grass like this:



Subtle, but it lends depth to the texture.

Last but not least, in absence of Bocage:

Ditches

Ditches are wonderful. You can use them to graphically highlight roads, fields or even boundaries between farms. They serve as guiding terrain for infantry, as well as cover. Make sure to mark them a bit by using a different texture inside them, like dirt or mud.



You can also see the new "russian stickfence" static set in this one.

Next up:
Static placement and flagzone layout.

How to make an Eastern Front map - Part 3 (Subpart A)

Hello and welcome to the third part of this blog series. Today we will take a look at static placement and flagzone layout. Indidentally, this is the step many custom mappers do quite well in, since it profits most from gameplay experience. Sadly, if you done the first two steps wrong, your map is still going to suck.

Making a rural eastern European village

At the moment we have two Russian static sets in FH2 beta: rural and urban. The urban one is still relatively sparse, but we don't need it for this map anyway. The map is completely agricultural, with only a small industrial/warehouse style area near the German main. In terms of layout you need to realize that many of the layout guidelines for French or Belgian villages do not apply anymore. Western European villages were mostly structured around large, two storey stone houses, placed relatively close together along some kind of main street. Behind them are rows of walls that divide small lots of gardens and yards, with some smaller barns or sheds thrown in. The towns on Villers Bocage are probably the perfect example for this kind of layout, but you can see it on Omaha Beach, Vossenack, Purple Heart Lane etc...
The Russian rural static set in contrast consists of small, hut-like structures and one storey block houses. This alone means longer lines of sight and less cover for infantry. In a typical villages, these buildings are built a lot farther away from each other, with fences rather than stonewalls surrounding them. This creates a different gameplay flow that takes some getting used to.



You have to keep this in mind, even though the general gameplay guidelines still apply of course.

The flagzone

Designing good flagzones is possibly the most important task in mapping. Flagzones are where the action happens and where most players will naturally gravitate towards them.
Closed buildings get kind of a bad rep in the community. As far as some people are concerned, every building should be enterable. I disagree with this. For one thing, there are performance concerns, but there are also gameplay reasons for limiting the amount of open buildings, namely easier to understand structure and less clutter. Personally, when I plan a village like this, I will concentrate the open buildings in the flagzones, in order to give players something to attack/defend. But before we look at this in more depth: The second reason I place open buildings is to provide what I call "key terrain". This means a terrain feature that is not in a flagzone, but is very beneficial for players to control. Reasons may include:

- You can directly shoot from there into the flagzone or into an important approach/choke point leading to it
- You can hide in there as a squad leader to provide a forward spawn point for your squad during an attack
- You can hide there from long range fire while travelling between two flagzones

The rest of the buildings I usually leave closed.

Now back to the actual flagzones. They need to be fun to fight in and they need to be distinct. This means a player should easily be able to tell where he is and which building is the objective by looking at it for a second. Most FH2 flagzones are based around what I call "objective statics". Sometimes these are made especially for the map, usually churches or similar landmarks. However, there are also generic statics that often show up in flagzones simply because they instantly provide interesting gameplay, like for example that double house you find on almost every bulge map. These statics have these things in common:

- They are open
- They are large and stand out
- They have two or more entrances
- They have several windows

This last point is actually very important: If you place statics with limited entrances and no windows in your flagzone, you will get party-bunker syndrome. Bunkers (duh) and church towers often cause this. It's why I closed of the church tower on Omaha btw. I didn't want the Americans to fail at the last flag on this map, just because some asshole sl was pooping out soldiers in that tower...
Anyway, let's look at the four flagzones we have and which objective statics I used:

Kruzlova North



This is the school house static and it is quite nice, because it fullfills all of the requirements: While it has no second storey, it still stands out as special between the smaller huts. I also additionally marked it as an important area by making it into kind of a fortress: There are stone walls around it, which are more unusual here than in Normandy, and I marked the front entrance with little wooden poles.



This is the second, more sneaky entrance. You can also see how the layout of the static influences the layout of the area around it. There is an opening in the stone wall that lines up with this entrance, meaning people can rush in there without the flow of movement being broken. A little rabbit hutch area can be used as cover if you come under fire from the windows.

Kruzlova South

This area is a bit more complex and dominated by this khalkoz farm, made by Nissi:



This was originally made for a Kursk map, but it fits here too. What makes this building so useful is that it comes with a bunch of smaller, modular pieces, mostly cow feeders and the like. Together with the other rural statics, like piles of manure, buckets and grainbags, you can easily sculpt the large inside part to your liking, which is something that is not necessarily possible in the smaller rooms of normal houses. If you look at the flagzone, you can see how it is the one place that actually has two storey buildings, making it stand out and also tactically valuable:



While the khalkoz farm is the main objective building, there are actually some auxiliary open buildings around it, making the flagzone more dynamic and complex. I also included a little sniper's nest in the barn, with a G43 ZF for player use.

What these two flagzones have in common is that they are relatively infantry centred, being part of the Kruzlova village. In contrast, the remaining two flags were designed with tank combat in mind, but more on that next time.

You can find the last part here:

http://fhpubforum.warumdarum.de/index.php?topic=19731.msg327006#msg327006
« Last Edit: 26-06-2014, 12:06:47 by Ts4EVER »

Offline NTH

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Re: How to make an Eastern Front map
« Reply #1 on: 12-06-2014, 14:06:04 »
... you stop mapping to have a schnapps and write a blog about it?



Good writing on the rules of thumb for conquest/push, etc modes.


Milton Gault roared, "Roffey, I know bloody well that Jerry knows we are here but you don't need to advertise the fact!"
(From: First in the Field, Gault of the Patricias by Jeffery Williams, page 72.)

Offline Flippy Warbear

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Re: How to make an Eastern Front map
« Reply #2 on: 12-06-2014, 14:06:40 »
Who let you out of your cage?!
Current projects - Hatinaal, Tnom Melor, Ilat, Vimorafisech

Offline Turkish007

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Re: How to make an Eastern Front map
« Reply #3 on: 12-06-2014, 15:06:14 »
Nice to see how a map is made!  :D Hope the next part comes soon.

Offline Roughbeak

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Re: How to make an Eastern Front map
« Reply #4 on: 12-06-2014, 16:06:24 »
Cool work, and thanks Ts4EVER.

Online Matthew_Baker

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Re: How to make an Eastern Front map
« Reply #5 on: 12-06-2014, 17:06:02 »
Awww yeaaaa devblog time! ;D
I was hoping to see something like this again. I hope this can show all the way to te end of the mapping process too and give some inspiration to our custom mappers out there.

Very interesting idea about mapping resolution. I'd never heard about that before. Although Fenring's maps are very good, I think I enjoy high resolution more.

- In a normal push map, there should never be a situation where an attacking team has the bleed, while having to defend more flags than it has to attack

Somebody should tell this to Bardia and Girarabub. :P

Can't wait to see the next few parts of this. 

Offline TASSER

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Re: How to make an Eastern Front map
« Reply #6 on: 12-06-2014, 18:06:10 »
Good stuff man! Really appreciate the insight into map design: level of detail, scaling, flag layout. Stuff the casual player doesn't think about at all.

It's things like this that help us appreciate just how much thought and work goes into map making.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! –ping       <3

Offline NTH

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Re: How to make an Eastern Front map
« Reply #7 on: 12-06-2014, 21:06:56 »
Who let you out of your cage?!

What are you rambling on about?!


Milton Gault roared, "Roffey, I know bloody well that Jerry knows we are here but you don't need to advertise the fact!"
(From: First in the Field, Gault of the Patricias by Jeffery Williams, page 72.)

Offline Mudzin

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Re: How to make an Eastern Front map
« Reply #8 on: 13-06-2014, 10:06:02 »
So, only 4 flags?

Offline Ts4EVER

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Re: How to make an Eastern Front map
« Reply #9 on: 13-06-2014, 11:06:01 »
Yes. In my experience, 4 or 5 flags are ideal for conquest maps.

Offline Mudzin

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Re: How to make an Eastern Front map
« Reply #10 on: 14-06-2014, 00:06:00 »
Well, 5 flags is perfect, but I don't like when theres even number of flags... I think always 1 team must be on bleed.

Offline jan_kurator

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Re: How to make an Eastern Front map
« Reply #11 on: 14-06-2014, 01:06:05 »
Tests will show what's the best, this map is in early beta stage.

Offline Ts4EVER

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Re: How to make an Eastern Front map
« Reply #12 on: 14-06-2014, 13:06:43 »
We will test the map tomorrow for the first time.

edit: which is lucky, cause it means I can spend my free time on devblogging while waiting for the test session ;)
« Last Edit: 14-06-2014, 14:06:26 by Ts4EVER »

Online Matthew_Baker

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Re: How to make an Eastern Front map
« Reply #13 on: 14-06-2014, 17:06:46 »
We will test the map tomorrow for the first time.

edit: which is lucky, cause it means I can spend my free time on devblogging while waiting for the test session ;)

Niiiiice. That means we get to see what the fun part is? :)

Offline Hjaldrgud

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Re: How to make an Eastern Front map
« Reply #14 on: 14-06-2014, 20:06:45 »
Lovely devblog :D

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