When trying to design a fun competitive multi-player shooter, you have several options. You can try to create community by allowing players to find their spawn-camping soul-mate through matching you based on vectors of compatibility, like eHarmony – or you can design the maps to be fun in and of themselves.
Call of Duty is doing both.
Making a good map, as it turns out, has to do with “flow,” such as in directing the flow of traffic and bullets through a game environment. Or as in how likely a map makes a player want to turtle up for fear of being shot.
“We wanted to determine what is it about the flow that is interesting and fun. If it is too simple, then it is just not interesting. If it is too complex, then it is not as fun”, says producer Mark Rubin.
He points out that in MW2, many maps had increased verticality, which translated into being generally more exposed and having to check a lot more angles of attack for guns being pointed at you.
At some point, that stops being fun and starts just becoming tedious, thus negatively impacting the flow.
“When we looked at that with MW3, we decided that we wanted to get the cool part of verticality and the cool kind of engagements, but we didin’t want to make it so complicated that anywhere you ran you were under fire or that there was danger from every single point,” Rubin explains. They explicitly looked back to older Call of Duty maps that had good flow, like Crash, when making maps for MW3.
In addition, they implemented features like Kill Confirmed, which encourages you to keep moving by letting you pick up the dog tags of players you killed. Interestingly, new group dynamics emerged out of this effort, such as people using the people running ahead trying to pick up tags as bait.
Thus, new strategies can form on the same map by changing the mode of engagement.
However, Rubin admits that getting a map right is a tricky business, and that despite all the careful planning, the designers will only truly have useful feedback when the game goes live. “What it comes down to is trying not to put in places that are cheap,” he explains. “But that is always a problem, and we always have a concern about that.”
This feedback will come in droves when the game ships on November 8th for Xbox, PS3, and PC.