“Empire” is an environment loosely based on the Brooklyn Naval Yard, featuring a vertical layout. It was created for the Counter Strike Global Offensive 2014 Gamebanana / CEVO Mapping Contest, where level designers were given 90 days to complete an entirely original level for CEVO’s competitive league. “Empire” placed 6th after a vote by the gaming community. “Empire” is a team-oriented map which requires players to quickly adjust to new scenarios in order to maintain control of objectives. In terms of design, this was achieved by stacking objectives within a small area (a move which challenges the trend of placing objectives on opposite sides of a given map).The layout punishes teams for over-rotating, pushing too deep into opposing territories, and playing too passively. “Empire” rewards teams for protecting objectives, rotating collectively, and executing plays within a split second time frame. Communication and joint situational awareness--the core values of Counter Strike and other first person shooters--are key.
“Empire” was strongly influenced by Jo Bieg's “Nuke,” a rare layout with one bomb site on top of another. “Nuke” was introduced in 1999 for the CS Beta 4.0. At that time, it was regarded as a heavily Counter Terrorist favoring map due to slower rotation times and difficult entry angles for Terrorists taking objectives.
In the early stages of developing “Empire,” I decided to use “Nuke” as a reference. I began by testing the timing within each area of “Nuke,” using my results as a reference for making adjustments to the blockout of “Empire.” The above table compares timing in the final versions of “Empire” and “Nuke.”
After testing the timing of encounters between both teams in important areas, I placed props within each area to create cover. Props block players’ lines of sight and help to balance short- and long-ranged combat. The amount of cover placed in an area paces how the attacking team takes objectives. Strategic anchor points divide each team and create dynamic situations for both teams to adapt to. Each area is designed in a way that creates a subconscious awareness that an enemy player will be at a specific location, behind specific cover, at a specific time.
The layout of the Upper A area in “Nuke” is tense, with players from both teams entering at nearly the same time. In “Empire,” the Counter Terrorists arrive at Upper A earlier in the round, establishing positioning before engaging in possible combat. In “Nuke,” Terrorists have two options for entering A site, both of which are very narrow and difficult to pass through when Counter Terrorists are stationed directly above. The goal with A Site in “Empire” was to create wider entryways and remove playable areas directly above Terrorists.
When comparing the Ramp in “Nuke” to the Ramp in “Empire”, it’s clear that both teams engage in combat around the same time. The design of doorways and hallways into the Ramp area in “Nuke” allows Counter Terrorists to stop rushes with a single incendiary grenade or blind the Terrorists’ vision into Ramp with a single smoke. In “Empire” the entryway into the Ramp area lacks doorways; that creates an open field of vision. It also provides the Terrorists with room to strafe, avoiding snipers and possible incendiary grenades which would halt their movement.
The challenge in creating a well-balanced Outside for “Empire” was giving both teams more equal pacing. I limited the amount of space that Terrorists must scan while traveling Outside, decreasing the time snipers are hidden before being spotted. In “Empire,” the Terrorists must avoid getting shot from Window, Blue Crate, Boxes, and Pit while making their way towards objectives. That is less stressful than the approach they must take in “Nuke,” where they have more areas to scan. This hinders their progress towards objectives.
In “Nuke,” both vents leading into B Site are directly connected to A Site, allowing for Counter Terrorists to have an almost instant rotation between each site. “Empire” creates a buffer area by placing the vents in rooms next to each site, prolonging rotation times between them. Terrorists who secure B Site are rewarded with extra time, while Counter Terrorists must strategically retake the site.
After analyzing timing and cover in both “Empire” and “Nuke,” several important differences can be established. “Nuke” is heavily designed for Counter Terrorists, as it offers faster rotation times and positions cover in their favor. In “Empire,” Counter Terrorists take longer to rotate between objectives, giving Terrorists an opportunity to readjust their positions within smaller areas of combat.
The goal of “Empire” was to create a well-balanced, competitive map which focused on the timing between areas and had one bombsite above another. In the final version, both teams engage in firefights earlier in the round. In the development of new maps, I see the value in testing and comparing timings in order to balance the essential aspects of competitive gameplay.