Map design is inherently integral to gameplay when it comes to low-TTK, first-person shooters, and Riot Games’ Valorant is no exception to that fact.
Level layouts, corners, plant site entry points, and sniping angles, all determine how the game is played in particular maps. And it’s safe to assume that each map in Valorant is as unique as they get.
After the latest addition of Icebox to the shooter in Act 3, Valorant fans have been quite curious as to how the devs plan and develop such arenas in the game.
So to answer community curiosity, Valorant’s 3D Environment artist Lydia Zanoti came up with a blog post titled “The Art of Valorant Map Environment”. In the post, Lydia goes into a lot of details, which documents the entire process of making a Valorant map, and the total amount of blood, sweat, and creativity that goes behind it.
Lydia primarily bifurcates the map-making process into 7 steps:
- After level design
- Map Foundations.
- Out of Bounds
- Construction minus the hard hats
- Map Clarity
- Map Motifs
- Under your Feet.
Each step in map formation is as important as the next, and Lydia says that the entire process is a “real collaborative feat getting a map from greybox (the earliest playable version of a map) to a version that's ready for you, the player.”
How Riot designs a map in Valorant
1. After level design
Lydia suggests that the first step to designing a map involves Art Leads and Creative Directors,
“to iterate on finding an iconic look for our maps using a series of blue-sky concepts.”
This stage involves a lot of:
“back and forth between the artist and project leadership to make sure the map follows the VALORANT narrative.”
It is only after this stage that 3D artists like Lydia take over and start putting in the necessary foundations and motifs to the map.
2. Map Foundations
When it comes to creating the map foundations Lydia breaks it up into greybox, art blockout, and art production.
“Our maps are completely built using Unreal Engine 4, and the majority of the team uses Maya for 3D modeling (though a few of us use 3ds Max). As we start to model the maps, we try to playtest them on a weekly basis to get a feel for the spaces, check for bugs, make sure there is accurate collision, and to spot areas that are too noisy or compete visually with our Agents.”
Level designers will also be allowed to shift things around while the foundations are still being laid down, and Lydia states the example:
“Icebox’s blockout phases of "kitchen" and "mid," where changes were made to give some spaces more breathing room.”
3. Out of Bounds
This step deals with the performance of the new map, and Lydia realizes that aesthetic appeal alone will not float well in a game like Valorant.
“Performance is super important in tactical shooters, and we spend a lot of time working with engineers when we finish a map to clean it up and have it running as smoothly as possible. There are many ways we do this and there are always trade-offs like having to sacrifice visual quality to get a small performance gain. Those small gains add up, and they matter.”
After the performance aspect of the Valorant map is done with, optimizing it and filling it up with other textures and “a ton of props” is the easier part of the map making formula.
4. Construction, Minus the hard hats
The 4th step deals with the textures in Valorant’s new map and Lydia says:
“We try to model and get the basic architectural shapes into the map before starting to unwrap and texture them. When we start to add colors on the meshes, we make sure that they aren't too dark, especially in interior spaces. The objective here is to maintain gameplay integrity by making sure that the environment doesn't impede with clarity, and that the characters are always clearly visible.”
"Tiling textures" are primarily what the design team uses, as well as using trim sheets, for larger structures.
5. Map Clarity
Clarity deals with the looks and the feels of the newly made Valorant map, but it will always come second to gameplay. This step deals with visual clutter, and Lydia suggests that:
“To help with visual noise, we make sure that our materials are similar in value and there isn't too much contrast or darkness. We can also improve clarity by using lights to illuminate dark areas, or to spotlight spaces where you would want the most visibility possible, such as a Spike plant site or a commonly peeked corner.”
6. Map Motifs
Map Motifs are the callouts, and every Valorant player will be able to tell you just how important such motifs are in tactical first-person shooters.
Lydia too understands the importance of map callouts, especially when it comes to Valorant’s competitive scene. She says:
“For theming and call-outs on the maps, it’s best to come up with ones that are simple and easily understood to avoid the pain of hearing your teammates scream “over there!” when really they mean “garage” or “market.” We also consider callouts that are quick and easy to say while in the heat of a match. Some of our callouts are very obvious, such as “kitchen.” In other cases, we try to use colors as a way to help distinguish certain areas and structures, like the yellow shipping container on B-site.”
7. Under your feet
Lydia concludes the blog with the final step that deals with the wider Valorant community getting involved in map formation.
As Riot likes to keep their ears close to social media channels that deal with player feedback, the new map will finally go live once the community has a chance of trying it out and pointing out the various issues that still exist with it.Published 17 Nov 2020, 00:00 IST