Jim’s Rules Of Half Life 2 Mapping

24th April 2015

For those not following Jim Partridge’s RTSL livestream event, called Critical Jim, he plays and dissects a different mod every month.

He normally has a guest to throw and crush ideas around.

Here are his starting mapping rules. Don’t be surprised if they get added to and/or updated as he finds new elements to discuss.

Number 1

Get as much game-play out of each entity as possible
A combine soldier who is killed in less than 2 seconds is a waste of game time. Design to get the longest amount of game play from each NPC you add.

Number 2

Go vertical
Make the player look in all directions, above and below. A horizontal map is very dull.

Number 3

Design areas in terms of gameplay first, then disguise them to look like world environments
This is so important. Don’t build areas and fill them with NPC’s. Design areas based on NPC behavior using dev textures, then add textures and models to disguise the gameplay space.

Number 4

Every area should be a new game with different rules
Every new area should offer a different form of gameplay with different rules. (e.g. don’t tread on the sand, find the exit, kill all the striders before they reach the base, don’t stand up etc..)

Number 5

A puzzle everyone knows is not a puzzle (battery puzzle etc…)
Adding puzzles because you think you should have puzzle in your map is no use if they’re puzzles that everyone has done before.
The joy of puzzles is working out what you have to do. The reward for the player is that they figured it out. A puzzle that everyone is familar with is not rewarding at all and just a chore.

Number 6

The right NPCs for the right occasion
Learn what each NPC’s strengths and weaknesses are. Choose the NPC you use carefully based on the type of game you’ve chosen for each area

Number 7

Go large and use fences etc to create gameplay spaces (avoid room/corridor/room)
By building larger environments and guiding the player using fences and areas with windows etc… you create a feeling of a much larger world while delivering the same gameplay as with a room/corridor/room structure.

Number 8

Reward success in a big way! (I.E. make the player feel awesome!)
Find ways to congratulate the player. Reward with a new weapon that they’ve needed for a while for example. Have NPC’s cheer the player on. Play celebratory music.
Check out Peggle level complete for the best example in the business…

Number 9

Build in breathing space and reward exploration
It doesn’t have to all be puzzles and combat, build interesting spaces with no threat in them so the player can take their time and explore a little.

Number 10

Challenge is not the same as difficulty. Challenges are fun, difficulty can be very annoying if its not fun.
Throwing 100 combine at the player gets boring fast. If something is difficult but the player is always willing to give it another try then you’ve cracked it.
The best way to achieve this is to give the player multiple options of how to approach every scenario.

Number 11

Always include the grav gun. Without it, Half Life 2 is just another shooter.
Including the grav gun with lots of physics props allows the player to improvise with their environment. This adds loads of replay value and makes for a much richer gaming experience…


  1. Unq

    Wait, what? Have you finally come around to the idea of blocking out using dev textures?! 🙂

  2. JG

    Regarding #3, I have never seen gameplay and art as a dichotomy. In an ideal scenario, art and design should support each other. This is why I still don’t use HL2 dev textures. I feel you can plan about 3/4s of a map on paper. The broad strokes. What you want it to be. The rest, as the late Bob Ross would say, is a “happy accident.” Sometimes you come across a texture that looks nice, or a prop that you decide you want to build the whole room around. I don’t know when that inspiration will strike, so I end up evolving the art and gameplay together.

    I feel when you approach things purely from a “gameplay first” perspective, you can get into situations where things are too designed, which can break immersion in a different way, often manifesting itself through implausible architecture. I believe it’s a peril of modern game design to want to treat the player like a rat running through a carefully constructed maze, bringing all kinds of academic rules, theories and formulas to bear. But when the player realizes they’re the rat, they aren’t going to like it.

    1. Fair point well made I’ll scratch the dev texture comment but I still maintain that building a space and then just dropping npc’s into it and expecting good results is a road to a bad map.

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