How to block in your map?
In the beginning of my mapping process I spend the majority of my on blocking in the map.
Blocking in is where you open up the editor and start roughing in the dimensions of the map. Big blocks, very rough and making you're your scale is right. Most of what you put in will likely change.
Think big blocks. Think large to small. What you are doing here is developing a sense of scale, a sense of geometry and a sense of architecture.
There are no details added, no texture work or lighting in the blocking phase. Everything is extremely rough. You want to be very flexible and being able to change things around.
Work the whole map; do not focus on any one part. You want to block in as much as you can as fast as you can. You want to jump into your map and start testing gameplay and how fun it is in the blocking stage.
These screenshots are from Half-Life Source Hammer editor. Note the big blocks, lack of detail and textures.
If you sketched the layout on paper in the beginning your blocking-in phase should go very smoothly. Reference back and forth between your top down drawing and how it's turning out to be in your editor.
Keep asking yourself questions as you do this.
Test for scale so your character is not a giant in your map or a dwarf. I often use a scale character provided in the editors. If one not available then just build a rectangle representing the character's height. You want to jump into the editor as soon as you can too see if everything is working from the point of view of the player.
After you have majority blocked in, do a quick compile and jump in run around and see how the flow of the map is. Time yourself running from spawn to specific goals in your map if that is what your map calls for.
In Counter-Strike I would time myself how long it takes from T-Spawn to a bomb site in the map and then I would do the same from CT spawn.
As you run around you will start noticing what is working and what is not.
Write it down.
Write everything down. Take some notes and go back in the editor refining things.
I guarantee that at this stage you will be moving things around and adjusting. Its just a part of the process.
Very often your layout will change and geometry will be adjusted. But since we build it from blocks it will be easy. That is why its important to block stuff in and not do a detail passes.
You want to keep adjusting and testing and adjusting some more until you are able to run around in your blocked-in map and be happy where it is.
Ideally you want to get some other level designers to test it for you. They will be able to see the map for what it is and they will know what to test for and look for. This feedback from others is one of the most important and underestimated aspects of building a spectacular custom map. So if you have a chance, play test it with others.
Before you start adding any geometry detail passes make sure that your layout is finalized because once you start texturing, lighting and detailing there is no going back to adjusting gameplay/layout elements.
Blocking in will often be very fun process. Everything will be fluid and evolving and seeing your level come to life at this stage is exhilarating.
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