1. Lesson 3: Path Manipulation

      written by Ray Benefield
      So I would say that yesterday's video post on the new Helix layout was quite a success. I got tons of feedback on the new layout and few on the video. That must mean the video was good and only the content mattered right? And it got tons of comments not just on ReachingPerfection but at The Custom Experience, The Guardianz, and XForgery as well. Anyways as I promised today brings you Forge Lesson #3. There is a new Forge Lessons page in the menu bar if you missed the other two. The next forge lesson will be released Monday to make your miserable Monday a little bit better. Today's topic is a big deal and a lot of you have heard me talk about it before. Here is a brief introduction into what I consider one of the most important level design theories out there... Path Manipulation.

      What is path manipulation, you say? Well obviously it is the way of manipulating paths. More specifically it is learning how to control a player’s movement throughout your map. While players are free to choose how they travel around a map the designer has the ability to completely influence their decisions through various techniques. Some of the more obvious techniques being weapon placement and objective placement, but there is much more to path manipulation than just that.

      What does Path Manipulation consist of?

      What makes players move the way they do? If a player sees a Rocket Launcher are they going to head straight for it? If a player sees a bunch of explosions are they going to go near them? If a player finds an optimal sniper perch are they ever going to move? Path manipulation is a good majority of level design. Everything in level design works together to create a smooth and enjoyable gaming experience. Placing spawn points around a map is important to Path Manipulation as they decide which direction and where a player begins their journey around the map. By placing weapons on the map you encourage players to move around the map trying to gain an edge over their opponents. By adjusting lighting and color contrast you can encourage players to look towards and explore various areas of the map. By placing a turret in one spot and fusion coils in another spot you force players to work around their area of effects.

      Controlling your audience

      Why is controlling player movement so important to us? One of the main reasons is to show off the various parts of a map that we have put our time and effort into. Why build a beautiful and aesthetically pleasing room if players rarely take the time to traverse it? Another good reason is to “teach” the players about the important parts of your maps like power weapons, landmarks, and objectives. Knowledge is power, right? Designers also use path manipulation to ensure that certain parts of the map don’t get congested with combat. It ensures that players do not end up fighting in a huge chaotic mess and allows them to utilize their skills in more organized encounters. By controlling player movement we craft their experience to our liking.

      The golden rule

      The golden rule of path manipulation is to remember that players are most inclined to take the shortest path possible to their current goal until their goal changes. When learning to control player movement this must always be kept in mind. It is your job as a designer to know what persuades players to want to wander from their current goal. By default the player’s long term goal is to win the game and will first do what it takes to win the game, and as time progresses and as players explore the map they will change their short term goal to achieve that long term goal of winning the match. There are various techniques that exist all of which will be covered in extensive detail in future lessons. We build maps to offer players a particular experience. Path manipulation is just one of the many tools at our disposal that we can use to share our dreams. If we want players to circle around a map in a warthog, path manipulation allows us to give players that experience. It is not something to be taken lightly.


      wiggums said...

      I think I understand... It's just a matter of keeping a balance of advantages around the map, to keep players moving, and also provide them with clear steps that they have to take to get their. They are presented their options from the very beginning, and as they choose where to go and what to do, they put everything together in their head, and get a better understanding of the map.

      BadCompany Brik said...

      Hmm, nothing to say really, this was a good post with good advice. Well done. Also, might I be so bold as to ask what your next lesson is going to be about?

      GodlyPerfection said...

      Actually wiggums you are reading a little deeper into it than you should be at this moment. All you need to know is that you have the full power to make them move where you want to move. Keeping a balance of advantages may not be the experience you are trying to create. Maybe you don't want to keep players moving. The point is you have the ability to control exactly what you want your players to experience and can move them as you please.

      As far as getting a better understanding of the map you are getting a little ahead of yourself. That is a different theory I would like to call Area Introduction, which is a technique to move players to a new part of the map and add allow them to put it in their head to get that better understanding... hope that makes sense.

      As far as my next lesson, it may be on Path Maps since I have that one mostly done. However I am trying to figure out what a good follow up to this post might be and I'm thinking that if I find the time to do Incentives, Deterrents, or Area Introduction I will do one of those instead.

      IxFlashPointxI said...

      Hmmm... Seems interesting. I think I can use this for something. Good job godly.

      Anonymous said...

      Your topics are interesting, but I wish you'd actually divulge into how can we actually get these intended results. I learned about the term, but I still don't know how to achieve these results.

      GodlyPerfection said...

      The actual results and tricks will be revealed over time the next lesson is coming on Monday. Stay tuned.

      Cerberus Beast said...

      Anonymous, there are two generally-used tracks for achieving desired design results: Trial-and-error and map analysis. Trial-and-error is better if you want to learn as you go and begin getting feedback as soon as you can. Map analysis is actually a large class of sub-analytics which can be abstracted in various ways.

      If you want to design and achieve results in a more active and responsive way, I would recommend trial-and-error. You'll be producing more maps that may not be of the highest quality as you start out, but you'll learn with every iteration and every new design as you receive feedback.

      If you consider yourself to be a person who is oriented more towards preparation and organization before going through with things, try analysis. You basically abstract certain aspects of well-known or highly-rated maps and deduce your own design principles from those abstractions.

      @Ray: Are you going to be covering path interaction as well? Simply having divergent paths that avoid certain obstacles is an important aspect of design, but weighting choices against each other and examining how players on different paths and in different areas can interact can be just as critical to success. As a final note, player skill, experience, and mindset also determine the tendencies of their actions given any set of choices.

      I would suggest bringing some basic map theory into one of your related articles, including weighted paths and nodes, minimum-spanning trees, and directional concepts as well.

      GodlyPerfection said...

      Don't you worry Cerberus this is only Lesson 3... I have material for like 30+ lessons easy without actually trying hard to think of more. I will be bouncing around and slowly connecting the dots as I go.

      Haloacl said...

      Very informative post Godly. At times certain areas of maps can get congested in battle but it never last long, I guess that would be the result of path manipulation (Attraction of power weapons or a better way to enter the contested area).

      I didn't really know we had the power to choose where a player will most likely go.

      Overall great post.

      Eric said...

      Very Informative once again Godly, from path manipulation is the answer to the human tendency to path-find, or simply look for the shortest path to one's goal, and playing in to risk/reward the shortest path should be the most risky while the longest the least, but one may stumble upon a surprise for straying from that direct line, am I correct in my analysis?

      GodlyPerfection said...

      That is quite a good analysis. A good designer takes the time to understand the standards and practices that exist in the industry, but a great designer knows how to stray away from those standards and practices to make something truly unique and still keep it fun and balanced.

      May I ask what your gamertag is Eric? I have asked several to view my blog personally and I can't quite put my finger on which friend you might be.

      Eric said...

      My GT is StingerSplash01.

      GodlyPerfection said...

      Alright sounds good... I just couldn't figure out who you were... now I know. Thanks for the comments stinger and keep up the good work. Your analysis skills are quite good.

      Cfuller93o7 said...

      i find this very interesting because once learn the path manipulation of a game i try to go against it as to take my enemies by suprise

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