Mapping often tends to create a dichotomy among game developers: it’s either like a cherry-topped dessert that’s thoroughly enjoyed or a monotonously torturous and painful chore. Regardless of which camp you fall into, we all agree that mapping is necessary and important. Screenshots tend to be one of the first things a player will notice, which gives you (developer) the opportunity to really inspire and entice.
However, like writing, mapping for short games can be a little different from your usual process. For one, you are likely working with a much lower and more limited amount of maps than you’re used to. This means that each map counts for a lot more when it comes to building your game world. With a few small tweaks, however, you can end up with interesting and appealing maps. Read on for a few tips on tackling mapping.
When thinking about maps for short games, our natural impulse is to assume that all we have to do is just make smaller maps. But this isn’t always the case. You could, for instance, base your game around exploring a maze. In that scenario, a single large map might be a much better choice.
Instead of focusing on changing the size, try focusing on changing the scale.
For example, instead of making a minuscule village and fitting just 3 houses on the map, adjust the scale and map in a way that gives the illusion that the player is zoomed in. In my map above, for example, there are only 2 houses the player can visit. But the addition of roofs, walls and roads gives the impression that the area is much larger than what the map displays. By changing the scale of what the player sees, I have created a much smaller map without sacrificing the size of my game’s world.
Scaling can also go the opposite direction – where you would condense your map to fit in a much smaller space. One of the best examples of this is in inner house maps, where it’s not crucial for the player to walk around. You can often decrease the size of the home by half, and still have it be usable.
The added benefit of mapping inner rooms on a smaller scale is that they look a lot cozier and more natural. It’s perfect practice for those of you who struggle with inner maps.
Shifting the scale of your maps will also affect the level of detail you want to add to your map. You might, for example, be tempted to add a lot of additional details to spruce up your maps. If you’re not careful, you could overwhelm your player and make it difficult to navigate through the map.
My advice is to first focus on making your maps functional – make sure the layout is simple, that the player knows how to move through each map and that entrances/exits are clearly marked. This is especially important when you’ve scaled your map to look like it’s a part of the bigger world.
Then, cluster the detail in a way that highlights the important game objects and the path between them. Make sure you’re leaving pockets of empty (negative) space, so the player has a chance to rest their eyes. Lastly, remember that color can quickly draw the player’s attention when it’s in contrast with the background. A red roof in a white winter map is very noticeable, as is a glowing white orb in a dark cave or a bright pink gem in the middle of tangled green vines.
Short games are the perfect place to experiment with personalization and custom materials. It’s a great place to include edits, recolors or even completely original pieces. Since the scale of the game is so small, there’s a much smaller chance you’ll get overwhelmed by the amount of work required to make custom material.
Adding custom material shows that extra time and effort went into creating your project. It also has the added benefit of making your game more unique and memorable – which is especially important if you’re competing in an event!
You can be a lot more bold with short games – try out a brand new graphic/music style, play with colors and settings you haven’t worked with before or (finally) make use of that resource pack you grabbed from our store when it was on sale…
Got any mapping tips for your fellow developers? Let us know below!