Geothermal is a 6-10 player Capture-The-Flag map for Unreal Tournament 3.
The map’s setting is a geothermal power plant with the red base underground and the blue base above it. The plant draws a strange molten substance from the depths of the red base in order to transform it into electricity inside the blue base. Each base’s flag room is a huge circular arena with multiple entrances and exits. Geothermal has no atrium and instead players use pneumatic tubes to go directly from one base to the other.
- A Capture-The-Flag map with no atrium and a vertical layout
- Players travel between the bases using pneumatic tubes
- Two different visual themes that form dangerous hazards and an interesting power plant environment
- Unreal Tournament 3
- Unreal Engine 3
- Individual (150 Hours)
I created Geothermal using the Unreal Tournament 3 editor, which is powered by Unreal Engine 3. I made this map as an experiment in non-conventional level layouts. More specifically, Geothermal has three unique characteristics about its layout. The first characteristic is that Geothermal has no atrium. This breaks one of the basic rules of Capture-The-Flag map design, which I explain in the Design Goals section. Second, Geothermal is a vertical map, with its bases being on top of each other. I created pneumatic tubes that take players between the two bases. The final layout characteristic is that the bases are circular.
Besides layout, I also created an interesting visual theme for each base. I accomplished this by making the bases part of a geothermal power plant, where one base harvests the geothermal source material and the other converts it into electricity.
There’s a reason why Capture-The-Flag maps have an atrium. They provide a neutral ground between the two bases that facilitates interesting cross-team encounters and adds length to the map to provide balance. An important characteristic of an atrium is acting as a time buffer between the two bases. A time buffer eats up time and the atrium does this because it takes time for players to traverse the atrium to get between bases. This time buffer exists to regulate the length of matches and facilitate pacing.
If players can move between bases quickly, because there’s no atrium, cap times can become really short, leading to matches ending too quickly. Additionally, with no atrium, players defending their base have no down time to regroup and strategize because opponents are constantly attacking. A final consequence is that a level designer is effectively removing a third of the map by not including an atrium. This means they are removing a large portion of the map that could be a potentially fun and interesting play space.
Knowing all the things I mentioned above, I still decided to make a map with no atrium and I think I was successful in avoiding the pitfalls. I explain in detail how I did this in the Maps section on this page.
Since Unreal Tournament 3 is a science-fiction first-person shooter, it offers a lot of futuristic assets to make other-worldly and memorable visual themes. I wanted to take advantage of this by making a sci-fi power plant as my map’s setting. The idea of a geothermal power plant fit well with the bases being on top of each other. I put one base underground and the other on the surface above it.
The red base is the underground base and it harvests a strange molten substance. I used the substance’s warm color to create an underground lava base feel. The blue base takes the molten substance and converts it into electricity. To have this base contrast the red base’s warm orange, I used a lot of cool purple. I feel that I was successful in making each base feel unique and interesting. The Theme section on this page explains the visual themes in further detail.
Geothermal’s bases have three major sections: the Outer Hallway, the Flag Room, and the Spawn Room. Below are sections that explain each one and how they helped in accomplishing my goal of making a successful atrium-less map.
If my map had any neutral ground at all, it would be the outer hallways in both bases. These sections are my compromise to not having an atrium and are part of the reason my map is balanced without one. The outer hallways act as a middle ground between the flag rooms. They ensure there is at least some travel time for players.
The outer hallway’s most prominent feature is the pneumatic tubes that take players between the bases. Because of the bases’ circular and symmetrical structure, players always have two paths into the flag room when they enter the outer hallway via a tube. Stairways on either side of the tubes lead to the flag room on the second floor. There is also a doorway directly in front of the tubes, which players use when coming from the spawn room.
If the outer hallways are the “atrium” of my map, then the flag rooms are the “bases”. The flag room layout heavily favors the defending team. I did this purposefully in order to balance the map due to the lack of an atrium. I wanted it to be hard for players to escape with the flag. Once the flag carrier exits the opponent’s flag room with their flag, there’s a good chance they will cap it because of the short travel time. As such, I wanted it to be difficult for them to leave the room with the flag.
The defending team has a positional advantage in the flag room. The raised flag platform in the middle of the room acts as a slight height advantage and the columns underneath provide cover. Additionally, there is a Berserk power-up under the flag platform, which gives them the occasional firepower advantage when it spawns.
To ensure offensive players aren’t completely outmatched, the flag room has three entrances. Though defending players have a positional advantage, they must defend it from multiple directions. Offensive players have the element of surprise because any defending player can only look at two entrances at a time. A well-coordinated attack can work in the offensive team’s favor, especially if there are only 1 or 2 players guarding the flag. Additionally, offensive players can use health vials and an armor vest in the outer hallway to buff themselves. The extra HP helps to balance the fact that they have no cover.
Each base has a spawn room under the flag platform on the first floor. The room has four teleporters that lead straight to the flag platform and two jump pads that lead to the pneumatic tubes. Defending players will usually use the teleporters and those going for the flag will likely use the jump pads.
As the map’s name implies, Geothermal is a geothermal power plant. The red base is deep underground and serves to harvest the plant’s power source. This source is a warmly colored molten substance similar to lava. Large glass tubes funnel the molten substance from a large pool up toward the surface. The plant then converts the substance into electricity using mysterious science fiction technology. Additional tubes funnel the electricity into a futuristic generator in the blue base. The electricity is the visual anchor for the blue base just as the molten substance is for the red base.
Each base also has an exterior environment that players see through the glass windows in the outer hallways. The exterior in the red base is a cave with a few small pools of the molten substance. The blue base has a snowy exterior with the skyline of a city in the distance. I could have just as easily not had windows in the outer hallways, thereby removing the need for exterior environments. However, I feel they add a lot to the immersive experience of the map.
The pneumatic tubes are the way in which players move between the red and blue bases. Since the map is vertical and the bases are so far apart, I wanted a quick way for players to move between them. Elevators would be too slow and players would have to wait for them if they were in use. Teleporters would be too fast, making the travel time too short. Pneumatic tubes were the perfect solution. I implemented them with a series of invisible jump pads. I wanted the tubes to be as intuitive to use as possible so I used color and arrows to make it clear which tube went to which base.
I would say my experiment was a success. I was able to make a Capture-The-Flag map with no atrium that is fairly balanced and fun. Those who playtested my map thought it was fun and there didn’t seem to be any major frustrations for players. I wouldn’t say my map is perfect, but I do think it has decent pacing and balance. The vertical layout and the circular shape of the bases also added a lot of uniqueness to the map in both gameplay and visuals.
My map still has a balance issue related to the flag room and respawn time. Since players spawn directly beneath the flag and use teleports to appear right next to it, the respawn time is extremely fast. Offensive players can kill a defending player and within seconds, they’re back. This was one of the few frustrations that I didn’t address and if I had more time, I would have found a way to fix it.
I went through multiple revisions of my map before I got something that was balanced and fun. The bases were originally complete circles with four sets of pneumatic tubes and north, south, east, and west entrances into the flag room. My map was so big that players rarely ran into each other. Also defending the flag room was nearly impossible because defending players always had their backs to an entrance. They would often get shot from behind. I’m glad I took suggestions from my professors and peers to make my map better.
Decoration and world building has never been my strong suit. I’ve always been better at scripting. However, making this map gave me a lot of practice with layout and modular construction. My map’s actual play space is pretty small, but the map itself is huge. I had to do a lot of decoration to get it to look good. The one thing that saved me was that I did a man-made space and could get away with repeating patterns. Also, since my map is symmetrical, I did a lot of copy-pasting, which saved a large amount of time.