TF2 Map: Laying down the foundations

Since my first post, I have been playing around with the Hammer Editor (the map-maker for Source games) and worked through the tutorial on the Valve developer site. I was going to go through it on the blog, but it’s seriously so easy that there is no point! I’m sure things will get tougher, however, so when it does I’ll share it with you guys.

I have also read a few articles on The first I read was Scale and your map. I was wondering how big a typical TF2 map is, so I searched on Google and that post came up. It’s really interesting stuff, and taught me a huge amount which I’d thought of but never really weighted as that important. Here’s a very interesting tidbit from that post;


Combat and TF2.

Lets talk theoretical figures for a moment so that people can get an idea of predicting gameplay in general. Combat is often resolved at a distance of ~64-256 hammer units. At these distances damage fall off is insignificant so players deal maximum damage to each other. Fights are usually quick to resolve lasting only mere seconds. But obviously fights can start and resolve at further distances; right when players see each other they will attempt to start applying as much initial damage on their enemy before moving in for decisive blows. At about 1028 units damage fall off applies a lot more (halving most weapons damage out put), but these are still hits that can easily cause fatalities, adding up significantly over time. Beyond 2048 units kills tend to lean towards rocket spam, lucky hits on significantly injured players and sniper kills. These figures already hint to the scales we should be using in our maps, anything from 1028 units to 2048 seem to be sensible area sizes for players to duke it out in. But lets look at Valve’s maps and take from our own TF2 experiences of these maps to see where our options can take us.

Existing, proven scales.

Approximate area of play sizes in Hammer units.

Dustbowl area sizes:
Stage1 Area1: 2432 long 1344 wide
Stage1 Area2: 1920 long 1344 wide
Stage2 Area1: 2368 long 1488 wide
Stage2 Area2: 1984 long 1536 wide
Stage3 Area1: 1792 long 1024 wide
Stage3 Area2 consists of 2 winding corridors 1408 long and 1472 long
Stage3 Finale: 1536 long 1664 wide


This is fascinating stuff and it’s very helpful that everything is done in hammer units. A good TF2 map will be designed with all classes in mind. Manipulating the areas and sizes of objects will effect all the classes in different ways. At its most simple, the Engineer will dominate areas that are up to 1100 hammer units, since the sentry gun has that range. At its most complex, designing areas for effective Pyro airblasting will be much more precise. Pyro is one of my favourite classes, so I promise you that the Pyro geared areas will be pretty good!



Dustbowl - My favourite TF2 map


The next section on Height is another very useful read, especially since it goes into specific heights themselves rather than a layman’s “Higher ground = advantage” description;



So far I’ve discussed scale on the X and Y axis, but what is just as important in TF2 is scale on the Z axis. TF2 has a high focus on vertical combat. Ambushes from above and below, rocket and sticky jumping in particular all influence the out come of combat. So how do vertical scales affect our maps playability? Well, the greater the height advantage the greater the chances of successfully killing ones enemies, as well as increasing the chances of ones own survival (depending on class and weapon selection of course).

From an aesthetic and ease of development point of view it’s sensible to stick to a 64 unit grid size (which is also Valve’s personal recommendation), sticking to a simple grid size allows for easier modifications to your layout further down the road, should feedback dictate that need. This inadvertently means working in unison with the texture scale. Giving clean aesthetic results since textures are created to a 256/512/1028 scale, the same scale used by the world editor.

256 is a significant number in the vertical scale because it is not only the scale of most textures, it is the maximum height you can fall without taking damage. This itself hints to us as to the intentions for height limitations in TF2, if we are taking damage from drops of 256+ hammer units, it would be prudent not to exceed this height for playable areas in our map.

Out of personal experience 192 is a great height to utilise as it does allow for the space below it to be used if need be, and comfortably at that. The average door height is also 192 units high and provides just enough room for combat in rooms; any lower and explosives tend to pin players against the ceiling which can be frustrating as you cannot move to escape from or advance on enemies. 192 units height also removes fall damage for players jumping from this high ground. At this height it provides a significant advantage but still allows players below to fight back sufficiently, so that they don’t feel cheated in combat. 256 is a good standard height too, which, as the same scale for most textures, syncs your aesthetics neatly. Since players generally learn from deaths, and take appropriate tactical actions to increase survival and/or the chances of making more kills, if the environment is the cause of a lot of their deaths (rather than a better player) they will learn to avoid that area of the map altogether. You can call this an imbalance. Additionally, heights exceeding 256 hammer units start to affect weapon damage falloff. Unless you are a sniper, actually engaging in combat would largely be a waste of time. hit scan weapons are effectively ‘nerfed’ with significant damage falloff and projectile weapons become increasingly easy to dodge.

16 units is the maximum height players can walk up although steps tend to be 8 units tall. 64 units can be crouch jumped onto, but is a comfortable height to gain and fight from. 128 is also a comfortable height to fight from. what are nice about these heights are that players can still feel like they are engaged in the combat, rather than being shot down on from the heavens. If it wasn’t for the narrow gaps in 2fort’s battlements which focus cover fire, the 256 units of height could seriously effect the ability for teams to even enter the enemy base, let alone get to the intel room and return with the intelligence, which is often considered a feat in itself.


Now I’ve got some heights and distances to work with, I think it would be best to construct a test map before jumping in at the deep end. I’m going to create a single room area with as many different, useful, heights that I can squeeze in. I’m also going to play around more with the brushes and with props (which are often used as cover).

Here’s to a productive day in the Hammer Editor!






One Comment to “TF2 Map: Laying down the foundations”

  1. Hi Sam,

    I just want to say thanks for sharing your build process on your blog. I am thinking of building a map myself, and your blog has been really interesting, helpful and encouraging, so thank you : )

    Look forward to alpha testing your map sometime?

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