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3 Workflow Techniques - How to Draw Top-Down Level Design Map Layouts

Category: Source: CSGO SDK, Level Design
January 14, 2016

NOTE: Following tutorial is focused on Counter-Strike defusal (DE) gametype BUT the technique and principle behind it can be applied to many other games with similar gameplay mechanics.

Top-down layout is a schematic design or a floor plan of your map.

It could be created in Photoshop, Illustrator, Google Sketchup or AutoCad but using software for layouts is unnecessary.

Best and most practical way of creating top-down layouts is pen and paper.

Hand drawing layouts are not complicated. You do not need to know how to draw. All that's required is ability to visualize how your level is going to play. You have to plan out map's playable paths, alternative routes, connecting routes, choke points, objectives, obstacles and boundaries of the world.

Before you jump into a level editor and begin blocking-in your map with BSP, you should have a top-down layout to guide you.

So how do you draw one?

There aren't any tutorials out there that show you a workflow for creating a hand-drawn top-down layout.

Until now.

In this tutorial you will learn three different workflow methods of hand drawing your top down layouts for Counter-Strike.

I understand that there are some who don't like to draw or design top-down layouts. That is completely fine. There are many different ways to create a map.

In my experience, paper layouts makes me think through all possible scenarios of what the layout is going to look like before I jump into the level editor. As I design the layout, I visualize how the area is going to look like, feel like and play like.

I used to jump right into a level editor and begin blocking in the map. That didn't work for me. It would start off well but would quickly fall apart.

Things began to come together when I spent time creating a top-down layout on paper. Then, I would take the layout and use it as a template to block in inside the level editor.

Important thing I want to mention is your top-down is only a starting point for your BSP gameplay block-in. Your layout will change based on play testing and constant iteration.

So let's get to the 3 techniques you can use to create hand-drawn top-down layouts.

Each has similarities and you can mix-n-match between all three.

Now this tutorial assumes you have already watched two important tutorials on this topic. If you haven't, then you can watch/read here:

CS:GO 6 Principles of Choke Point Level Design

CS:GO How to Design Gameplay Map Layouts (Complete In-Depth Guide)

Let's start.

Method #1: Pathway Flow First Then to Map Layout Boundaries

In this first method you start off with a basic path flow. I've mentioned this technique before in this tutorial.

Use this method when you have an idea of what your map is going to play like and you have already thought about the layout but you are not clear on all the details.

Works best when:

  • You have an idea for your map
  • You have thought about the layout
  • You have a rough idea of pathways, choke points, spawn points, bombsite/hostage rescue locations
  • Use of distance for gameplay style options

Start with drawing simple lines to define main pathways of the map.

Include connecting pathways, label choke points, and place hostage rescue or bomb site locations:

If you are creating a DE (defusal) map, start with T side first. Since Ts are the attacking team, they will need to arrive at the bomb site. CTs only have to defend it.

If you are creating a CT (hostage) map, start with CT side first. Due to CTs are now the attacking team and Ts only have to defend.

Keep pathway layout extremely simple. Don't design any boundaries. Focus on player paths for both teams.

  • Mark CT and T spawns
  • Mark bombsite or hostage rescue locations
  • Mark choke points

Once you figure out main pathways, grab another piece of paper and place it on top. Use the pathway flow as a guideline to begin drawing more complete layout of the map:

Continue drawing until you know how you figure out the rest of the layout – boundaries of the map, sight lines, CT/T spawn points, bombsite or hostage locations, choke points, connected routes and alternate routes.

Method #2: Focus on One Section at a Time Then Combine

The second method is probably one of my favorite ones to use.

Use this method when you don't know what your map layout is going to be. You are stuck and can't quite figure out what to do with each section.

Works best when:

  • You don't have a clear idea of your map layout
  • You are stuck and can't figure out each section of the map

Start by picking one section of the map. Such as:

  • A site
  • B site
  • CT spawn
  • T spawn
  • Middle
  • Any choke point

Pick one section then design and draw the layout for that section.

Don't attempt to expand to entire layout. Focus on that one area until you have something interesting.

Then, pick another section and do the same thing:

Once you have a few areas figured out, bring it all together into one main layout by combining all the sections:

Then simplify the layout by drawing pathway flow from the completed layout:

Method #3: Full Layout Then Simplify Pathway Flow

In this final method you start off with a full layout right from the start. There are no preliminary pathway routes or individual sections. You sit down, begin with a part of the layout and continue all at once, until the layout is complete.

Use this method when you have thought about the layout a lot and know exactly what it's going to be. Maybe you've already drawn this layout a few times before and you are redesigning it.

Works best when:

  • You thought about the layout a lot
  • You know exactly what it should be
  • Redrawing or reworking an existing layout
  • You have figured out all the layout details and each section already

As you begin drawing, visualize each section and expand from it to the rest of the map. You are drawing the entire layout all at once.

Start with a specific section of the layout and expand from there until the entire layout is complete. If you get stuck on one section, move on to another area of the map. Work the entire layout all at once:

When you are done, take another piece of paper and simplify by identifying pathway flow:

Pathway flow distills the layout down to pathway routes so you have a clear idea how each team is going to rush the map's objectives.

In Closing:

Each method works best in certain situations, but feel free to mix-n-match until you find something that works for you.

You will end up with a completed top-down layout and pathway flow to use as a template to begin blocking-in your map with BSP brushes inside the level editor.

Recommended Tutorials:

CS:GO 6 Principles of Choke Point Level Design

CS:GO How to Design Gameplay Map Layouts (Complete In-Depth Guide)

CS:GO From Top Down Layout to BSP Block-In Workflow


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My name is AlexG. I am self-taught level designer, game environment artist and the creator of World of Level Design.com. I've learned everything I know from personal experimentation and decades of being around various online communities of fellow environment artist and level designers. On World of Level Design you will find tutorials to make you become the best level designer and game environment artist.

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