Dissecting FPS Maps: Do We Ever See it All?

Something funny happened the other day. During a match of Modern Warfare 2, I was killed on Karachi. Nothing special, except for how it was done. Keep in mind that my time tallied within Infinity Ward’s world is over 11 days of total playtime. Karachi has seen a lot of playtime.

This is one of those maps with a lot of negative space, lots of space behind a small cafe that never seems to be used. One of the areas of contention is a rooftop, a wall with a broken section prime sniper real estate. Leading up to that rooftop is a stairway, straight on at first, then turning to the right, generally primed with a claymore.

However, even after 11 days of experience, a grenade found its way to me, and in a panic, I looked up to track it. Lo and behold, the roof over those stairways is wide open. There is no ceiling, and I never noticed previously. It’s safe to assume this isn’t an accident, no modern FPS has any accident in its design, at least the good ones. Every angle needs to be accounted for.

It made me stop, at least later since you have all of three seconds to get back into the action. How many games have we played as gamers, hopped into a lobby, played a match or two, and never understood the full design? Now, who knows. Maybe that rooftop on Karachi has no purpose. Maybe it’s just there for lighting. It doesn’t seem like a chopper or harrier could find its way to you if you’re hiding in the hallway. It’s there though, and all of sudden I feel guilty for not giving some other games a chance.

It used to be you could release a map as a simple series of grids, but so much more is required of them these days. That’s one of the reasons why paying for them isn’t quite as painful as it used to be. Imagine having to test every angle, every wall, every object, all to ensure it’s perfectly balanced and fair.

When you jump into a game, how can you possibly decide if you enjoy the design without truly knowing everything that went into it? It’s one thing to dislikeĀ  the mechanics, frame rate, or collision detection, but is it every possible to realize the strength of a game map without hours, days, and weeks of play? Is it even fair? Imagine writing a review for a game after being at some kind of press event for a day or two and trying to find a means to state it’s all balanced, when lo and behold you completely missed an open roof that completely changes how you play.

It’s about time we take a step back and give some games a better chance. Who knows when exceptional map design could overcome some shoddy gameplay mechanics?