Making Maps – Outdoors Details

The town of Vidar was made entirely with RPG Maker RTP - it's possible!

The town of Vidar was made entirely with RPG Maker RTP, no fancy photoshop business. It’s possible!

 

Last week we talked about laying the foundation for an outdoors map. The principles could be applied to anything – a forest maze, a volcanic dungeon-crawler, or as the example discussed, a snowy town. But laying a proper foundation only gets us halfway there – to continue, we need some details. As with before, you can use these tools in every outdoors map you make!

1) Flesh Out the Important Parts First

Mapping is all a means to an end – if you have a gorgeous map but the player can’t reach the exit, the map is useless! Now that you’ve got a semblance of structure in your map, make sure that it does what you need it to do. Define the maze. Add your puzzle, with all of its switches and statues. Build the shop. Even if your map is just an entrance to a dungeon, now’s the time to nail down 100% that transfer event. Because the rest of the stuff is just gravy.

Add your doors, from here on out we need to build around them.

Add your doors, from here on out we need to build around them.

2) Vary the Floors

One nice thing about the RPG Maker RTP is that each floor has a few variants, and now it’s time to put them to use. When you’re outside, unless you have a man-made area, curved and irregular lines tend to dominate straight ones. You might’ve noticed in the picture above, we added some grass under the trees, but we can certainly go further.

 

If this were the entire map, I'd say this is a good amount of variation. As you can tell from the top post, this is but one corner; so let's fill the whole thing up with grass!

If this were the entire map, I’d say this is a good amount of variation. As you can tell from the top post, this is but one corner; so let’s fill the whole thing up with grass!

If you’re not using the RTP, but you are relying on someone else’s tileset, make sure to look for one that has multiple floor variants, otherwise things can start to look a little samey.

 

3) Go Big to Small

When it comes to accent pieces – those rocks, flowers, trees, tools, etc. that decorate our map and make it come to life – start with the biggest pieces first. Four-tile trees are big, and can often block a path. You’ll want to know this information before you start drawing little cracks in your roads. Work your way down to individual rocks, tiny thing that the player will pass over without even noticing. A few extra notes for when you’re placing your decorative tiles:

  • As you work from big to small, also go from rare to frequent. That is, have a few big items, some medium items, and a lot of small items.
  • Since you’ll only have a few big items, there’s no reason to have two of them in the same 17×13 (screen size) space. When big items are duplicated, the duplication is noticeable.
  • However, duplication of small items is not only necessary, it’s encouraged. Grouping small items in an area can make them seem both like they belong, and like they’re part of the ground or tileset. A lonely tile of fallen leaves looks like a stray mark (or worse, like something your player should interact with). A bunch of them under a tree look like Fall.
  • There are very few things people need two of. Avoid duplicating tools, manmade objects, etc.
One statue, two lamp posts, one log pile. But then we duplicate small rocks and grass variants.

One statue, two lamp posts, one log pile. But then we duplicate small rocks and grass variants.

4) Level with your Level’s Levels

Last time I strongly suggested adding varied height, because it’s a great way to fill up space and add a dynamic visual feature to the map. If you’ve got some really good height, let’s mix that up even more by creating intermittent ledges. It’s simple!

  • Using your ground tile, draw a 1-tile high ledge right into the middle of your wall. You can do it at any height; I like to play between 2 off the ground and 2 from the top.
  • In any column where there is a ledge, add another wall tile to the top of that column.
  • Add in shadows on the left of your ledge.
Ledges can do wonders to even further break up a cliffside, particularly if you're defaulting to 2-high.

Ledges can do wonders to even further break up a cliffside, particularly if you’re defaulting to 2-high.

5) Shift Click

The most tedious, the most painful, and the most important step. BigEd781 has a great tutorial on how to shift click – go read it if you don’t know how! We’ll need to use this technique in a few places. The most important thing about shift clicking is to be consistentexperiment with different looks!

  • Any time a path reaches a doorstep or a stairway
  • Any time the ground abuts a building in a way that looks funky
  • For bridges, or anything that goes under another thing

 

Cleaning up around paths, connecting them to form a straight line. Now Vidar is starting to feel like home!

Cleaning up around paths, connecting them to form a straight line. Now Vidar is starting to feel like home!

6) Tinker

The last part is up to you. Look at areas in game and see how they feel. Play with them accordingly, until you’re satisfied!

7) Revisit

In a week or a month or two, you’ll come back to this map and realize you’ve learned a lot about mapping (notice how the top image for Vidar doesn’t have any inset cliffs?). After you feel comfortable with a map, put it aside for a little while and revisit it once you’ve made some progress. You’ll be surprised how much you can always improve!

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