Death is my interior decorator: PAR builds a vaporization arena in ShootMania’s map editor
Like its older brother TrackMania, the just-launched competitive FPS ShootMania Storm is designed to be open to interpretation. Don't like a map, or think you can make a better one? Jump into the game's map editor and see what you can do.
The Report recently spent some time tooling around in ShootMania Storm's map editor to see just how easy this would be, and we enjoyed the process. So what does ShootMania get right?
First of all, you don't have to jump out of the editor in order to experience your creation. At any point, you can jump into the boots of your avatar, and test out how well your magnum opus actually feels. The ability to move quickly and easier between design and testing is useful for rapid iteration and, while it's something that's becoming common in the larger commercial engines, seeing that feature is something so easy to use is welcome.
Second, the maps are huge – if you want them to be. It seems that scope has been a dying trend in games that allow you to create content. Here's me looking out at the background scenery, before I started actually making my map. Take notice of the mountain:
And here's me looking back, from on top of that same mountain:
Lastly, here's what I saw when I turned around on top of the mountain:
Can a game's backgrounds go on forever? No invisible wall stopped my progress, and I was able to scale the low-res cliff face without difficulty. If nothing else, ShootMania looks fantastic, and it's astounding that Nadeo put this much landscape in when most players won't ever even see it.
You can't build this far out, but even so, the regular map size is hardly limiting. I often built things too large, and it wasn't until I spawned in and ran around that I realized I needed to scale things down.
Ah, well. Enough sightseeing, time to dig in.
Lost in translation
ShootMania's map editor comes in two flavors: simple and advanced. The simple editor is a great way to mess about and have fun, placing objects and getting a feel for how the map editor works. You have a small selection of paths and objects to sprinkle around, and the game gives you a pre-made landscape full of hills, valleys, even some trees and boulders.
You can take a look at what I made in the simple editor below. While it's absolutely not what I would call a creative map, I have a spawn point, obstacles, roads, and objective all placed. This took me roughly 10 minutes to make.
Making a map is simultaneously easy and frustrating. Placing an object is simple: mouseover to the object you want, click, and then click again where you want to set it down in the map. You can rotate a piece by right-clicking, and choose whether or not to elevate something by scrolling with your mouse wheel. You can also turn on underground view if you want to place any tunnels or create interior structures.
The editor is grid-based, so you'll be placing obstacles down as square tiles. Landscape features and terrain can be stretched, but they too operate according to the grid. All of this is good – the frustration comes when you're trying to do something you've never done before.
The editor, like the game itself, is pretty terrible at telling you what to do or how to do it. There's no in-game tutorial or explanation of what piece does what, what the “R” and “P” letters on some tiles mean, or what effect you'll get from each tile. You just have to fiddle around and trial-and-error your way through, which will alienate anyone hoping for a more accessible editor.
It would have been nice to have step-by-step instructions as an option to get started, but thankfully, there are plenty of people out there willing to help, and the ShootMania official site has plenty of links to wikis and forums. Although it's a little old, this is a good introductory video guide from FPSGeneral:
I've also got my own suggestions. Namely, pay attention to your tiles' elevation. Elevation is one of the most important things to keep in mind as you're creating your map. Even if your intention is to create a solid stone wall or underground path, you don't draw these things out - you place each tile separately. That means that if you're not paying attention or your finger slips and you move up or down a level in elevation, you might end up placing something that doesn't connect properly to the piece next to it.
For example, if you place a ramp tile and want that ramp to go higher, you need to move another ramp tile next to the first, scroll your mouse wheel until the next piece's bottom lines up with the previous piece's top, and then place it. It sounds tedious, but it's important to keep in mind, lest you have this happen to you:
In the image above, you can see I accidentally made the entrance to a tunnel too small. A fair portion of my map took place inside, and without this entrance, I was missing out on half of my designs. I eventually got what I felt was a good balance of mobility and size by placing a new tile, jumping in, testing it, jumping out, removing the tile, placing a new one, rinse, repeat.
You'll get better with practice, but the lesson here is that even with simple tools, map and level design is hard. There is no shortcut to practice, adjustment, testing, and building your skill. These tools may make level design simple, but nothing will ever make it easy.
Once you've acquired a level of skill you're comfortable with sharing, it's very easy to share your map. Simply click the “share files” button under the editors menu and you can publish your creation to the Steam Workshop. You can see my map is available for you to check out right now, in fact.
Now is the time for experimentation
The upside to the trial-and-error nature of ShootMania's map editor is that it forced me to explore and experiment. Going through each of my options and placing it on the map led me to discover all sort of possibilities I hadn't conceived of when I started. My jump pads became a Death Star-like gauntlet. My ground became a network of underground tunnels. My mountain became a hollow arena, and then a multi-tier maze, complete with deceptive entrances and traps.
Here's one of my favorite features on my custom map: each of these four holes goes the opposite of where you might think it does. Theoretically, you want to stay away from your opponent, so you think to drop into one of the two holes that are farther apart. However, these two will drop you into a cramped tunnel with no obstructions or turns to affect line of sight, making you easy targets for one another. It's not an escape hatch; it's a killbox.
Even with all my experimentation, I barely scratched the surface of what ShootMania allows to be edited. Weapon properties can be altered. You can use personal songs for background music. The environment can be set to trigger visual and audio effects. I have no idea how they did it, but the men and women at Nadeo have even altered the game to be an FPS MOBA, complete with unique champions and spells. I have no doubt the community will be able to create some amazing content with the tools that have been granted to them.
As for me: I don't know if my map is any good. But I'm proud of what I made, and that's enough. Say hello to The Spire, readers:
This took quite a bit longer than my test map with the simple editor; just under 2 hours, all told, most of which was spent wondering what each item did and was. Still, it's functional, it looks nice, and I'm happy with it. To go from blank canvas to this in the time it takes to watch a movie is impressive, and I can't wait to see what some dedicated craftsmen do. The better news is that the next map will take less time, and be better designed. The more you play in the editor, the more efficient you will become.
Download the map, play it, tell me what I got right and what I got wrong, and may we one day meet on the field of battle, where I will destroy you for the glory of the Sophie Empire. ShootMania Storm is available now.