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Deathmatch level for Half-Life 2 Deathmatch
(Level design)

Page contents

- Summary
- Screenshots
- Download links
- Design documents
- Design post-mortem


I made the HL2DM map 'dm_promontory' as part of my application for the Level Designer position at Micro Forte (that I successfully gained). The map was requested by the guys there to demonstrate my multiplayer level design skills, and I maintained regular correspondence with them while I worked on the map; keeping them updated on its progress. Once the map was complete, I released it on the Internet for other people to play.

The art assets used in the level were included in the base game: none were made by me. This was purely a level design project.

Included on this page (in this order) are some screenshots of the map, download links, some of the design documents for the map, and a design post-mortem on the project.


Download Links

Download #1: Planet Half-Life
Download #2: Half-Life Files (FileFront)

Design Documents

[The following text and images date back to August 2006, when I was designing this level.]

Gameplay flow diagram (initial layout)

Map and material overview (initial layout)

This is my initial plan for 'dm_promontory'; a small deathmatch map for Half-Life 2 multiplayer. The action in the map takes place over a wharf, concrete yard, two small warehouses, a lighthouse, and several suspended walkways; and is contained by fences, moderate stone cliffs, and deep water.

This document should be read alongside the two initial map images for 'dm_promontory' (see above). The first image - the gameplay flow diagram - contains coloured areas labelled with numbers. Match the numbers against the list below to see what my intent is for each of these areas:

1) The pier - Players can access both above and below the wooden pier/wharf. Below it is shallow water over sand, in a forest of wooden pylons. This area is intended as a place for intricate, frenzied firefights, where exacting and constant movement is required to stay behind cover, or to expose an opponent. It is also a place for a quick escape from the 'arena' area above (see Area 4); a short underground passage leads up to the concrete yard, and two natural ramps lead up to either side of the upper pier area. The upper pier area serves as an extension of the arena area (though with a little more cover available), and players can jump off the end, down to the under-pier area.

2) Dirt ramp - A transition area: natural ramps of sand/dirt/stone leading up to the main arena and the rest of the map. Walls of dirt/stone provide cover for players moving from one area to the other.

3) Warehouses - A pair of small, single-room warehouses on either side of the concrete yard. Stairs lead up to walkways forming a ring around inside of the room. A number of shipping containers (open at either end) are arranged to create a cat-and-mouse hunting area - especially between players on the walkways and players down among the containers.

4) Concrete yard - The central arena area; mostly open and without cover, for fights that involve more distance and room to move; and a more direct test of skills among players. Shipping containers (probably closed) on the sidelines provide general cover from other areas of the map, to guard against 'outside interference' from players outside the arena (to an extent). The suspended walkways above (see Area 6) provide some protection from the sniper point on the lighthouse (see Area 5). Stairs near the centre of the yard, leading down to the underground passage, provide a quick escape route - though the cramped passage limits maneuverability for players choosing this route.

5) Sniper point - A small balcony near the top of the lighthouse provides a sniper point; though sniper-hopefuls must put their back to the lighthouse interior (see Area 7), with its multiple entry points, if they want to keep an eye on the concrete yard, walkways, and pier.

6) Suspended walkways - Metal walkways link the upper floors of the two warehouses and the lighthouse. Areas where players might be able to get the drop on their opponents, but where they also need to keep an eye on the sniper point above - and the multiple entry points from the lighthouse and warehouses - if they want to avoid being surprised themselves. An area for moving quickly. Players are able to jump over guard-rails down to concrete yard, to quickly enter the central arena.

7) Lighthouse interior - A cylindrical shaft with a spiral staircase leading from the ground floor up to the second floor, and then on to the 'sniper-point' balcony on the third floor. Players wishing to climb up to the sniper point are exposed during most of the ascent to attack from opponents entering the interior on the ground floor.


The scale of the map is probably the thing most subject to change; based on how the level plays during tests. dm_promontory is intended a fast-paced map for a small number of players, so developing a layout that is neither too cramped or too spread out is important.

The various entries to the lighthouse might need to be tweaked, depending on how they fit in with the spiral staircase inside.

Map and material overview (revised layout)

[End of material from August 2006.]

Design post-mortem


The basic plan for this project was to make a fun, small, straight deathmatch map for Half-Life 2 Deathmatch, using only the art assets that came with the base game. What follows is a summary of what I thought was successful in the project, and what could be improved upon.

What was successful

The design process was effective. I began the project by identifying in my mind the environment I would use for the level's setting. It had to be practically achievable using the art assets included in Half-Life 2, and be capable of supporting enjoyable gameplay in (ideally) a believable manner. From there I proceeded to pencil sketches of the map layout, followed by a 3D 'block map' with simple placeholder geometry assembled in Half-Life 2's Hammer editor. I tend to find it easier to visualise and present my ideas for a three-dimensional environment in 3D than on paper, so my sketches are usually quite preliminary and simple in nature.

This block map was made playable (with player-start locations, weapon and ammo spawn locations, etc all implemented) as soon as possible. I and some helpful friends began play-testing the map regularly, discussing what worked and what didn't on our forum after each test. I would then iterate on the design based on the test and this feedback - followed by another play-test, and so on.

Through this process the block map was changed to facilitate better gameplay, until I felt that the layout was good enough to be locked down and made pretty with a detail/art pass (this was basically around the time that I and my friends could no longer find things we didn't like about the layout). See the 'map and material overview (revised layout)' image above: it is a close representation of the final layout.

The testing and iteration process continued from here in the same way as before: only it was limited to cosmetic changes and minor tweaks to entity locations (player and item spawn locations, etc). Soon enough the level was complete: fun to play and pleasant to look at.

This whole design process and work-flow was quite successful, and was very similar to the process I adopted in my Level Designer role at Micro Forte shortly after completing dm_promontory. Creating 3D block maps after a few preliminary sketches proved to be a fast and efficient method of visualising and improving my design, as well as communicating it effectively to other team members.

This almost goes without saying, but the practice of holding regular play-tests of the level - followed by honest discussions and feedback on what worked and what didn't - was invaluable. Getting several different perspectives on the level was tremendously useful, and made the completed level much better than it would otherwise have been, I'm sure. Holding the bulk of these post play-test discussions on an online forum - so that there was a convenient record of what was said - was also very useful. For the same reason, I made notes of what was said during the play-test (as much as I could remember, at least) immediately after the play-test finished.

Also very obvious is the benefit of creating block maps with simple geometry up until the layout is finalised: changing the layout of a map with art already created to fit the existing layout is much more difficult, time-consuming and disruptive than changing a map made out of simple cubes and cylinders.

In my mind another successful aspect of the project is that put simply (or not; 'fun' can be hard to define), the level is fun to play. My friends and I were playing it again just recently, in fact - well more than a year after I finished it - with everyone on voice comms, and everyone seemed to be having a blast - including some random Internet people that joined our server. To attempt to describe why the level turned out to be fun, I'll go into some detail on some of the specific parts of the level that work well:

- As in a lot of games, being on higher ground than your opponent in Half-Life 2 Deathmatch is a definite advantage. Reaching higher ground in this map is a calculated risk, with climbing the ladders on the outside of the warehouse exposing your back to most of the rest of the map, the ladder-shafts inside the warehouse making an excellent place for tripmine-traps and ambushes, and the spiral staircase in the lighthouse providing a stage for interesting fights between players at different elevations on the stairs.

- If attacked by an opponent who has reached higher ground, it often prompts the player on the ground to join their attacker on higher ground – and the layout of the map means that the 'safest' route to take is through the warehouse or lighthouse interior – therefore drawing players through the map.

- Combat in and around the lighthouse is interesting: the sniper point on the top, which can only be reached by the spiral staircase inside, makes for some exciting gameplay dynamics. A sniper on the balcony means other players have to concentrate on using cover while outside (and while fighting other players), or often draws other players up the staircase to confront the sniper. Snipers in this situation might see other players entering the lighthouse below (or not, if their opponent is particularly sneaky), and want to head down the stairs to meet them (in order to avoid being surprised on the balcony), leading to cat-and-mouse (or cat and cat?) fights on the stairs; which prompt creative use of weapons (bouncing grenades, etc). This has the effect of removing the sniper from the balcony (one way or another) for a little while, at least.

- The 'sun' in the map is positioned near the top of the lighthouse (when viewed from most areas in the map), meaning that the shadows it casts give a useful visual indication as to the approximate areas where cover from the sniper point exist – useful when engaging other players at the same time as avoiding a sniper. This is especially noticeable on the warehouse roof (the area probably most vulnerable to being attacked from the sniper position), with the long shadows cast by objects coinciding almost perfectly with cover from the sniper position.

- Fights in the under-pier area work exactly as I had hoped (see my original gameplay design plan, in the Design Documents section above).

- Placement of the physics objects that can be thrown around by the gravity gun (barrels, car parts, etc) seem to work well; especially in the arena and upper-pier area. The explosive barrels make excellent targets for snipers on the lighthouse - especially when another player picks one up with the gravity gun.

- The open and non-linear nature of the map sets the stage for some interesting and free-form battles. It's possible to play this map many times and see something different each time.

- Fights in the arena and upper-pier areas are suitably frantic and deadly - there is plenty of cover around, but also plenty of potential angles of attack to watch.

What could be improved

More frequent play-tests would have helped: as it was, a play-test was held once a week. I would make improvements to the level based on the results of those play-tests in the time between the tests - but the fixes would not take a week to implement, so there were occasions on which I was waiting on the next play-test to see if there were issues with the current build of the level.

Once per week was about the only time that the group of friends who were helping me test the level were able to get together at the same time, however; it would have been unrealistic (not to mention ungrateful) for me to have expected more. More frequent tests would have led to the level being completed more quickly though, of course.

From a visual point of view, I think DM_Promontory could stand to be prettier. I think the lighting and overall aesthetic are fine, but some areas are lacking in fine detail. The warehouse interior is the main one: it's perhaps a bit bland and bare. The lighthouse interior is maybe also lacking that extra detail to make it more believable and convincing. I'd probably also call out the terrain in the non-playable 'backdrop' areas as needing some more work.

In gameplay terms, for a lot of the project I was in two minds about including laser trip-mine pick-ups in the level. I attempted to balance out their inclusion by placing them in relatively difficult to reach locations, but there are many opportunities in the level for particularly dastardly placement of trip-mine traps. An especially single-minded player could make playing the level a frustrating experience for other players through 'abuse' of laser trip-mines.

To an extent, however, I believe it would be virtually impossible to design an enjoyable level that could not support dastardly placement of laser trip-mines. I possibly should have simply not added any to DM_Promontory.


DM_Promontory was a marked success for me, as it contributed to me getting my first job in the games industry. In my opinion it also remains fun to play and pleasant on the eyes. At the same time, I can certainly look at it now and notice a range of minor things I'd do differently were I to make the level again now. I'd probably be worried if this wasn't the case, however: it means my skills have developed since I made the level.

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