Simple tips to give you amazing looking maps

While I am not active enough over here to be known for my level design/maps, I've become quite known for it over at my 'home' site, RMW ( RPGMakerWeb ). This tutorial, though quite long, while give you some tips and hints as to how I go making my atmospheric maps ( that is, if you played either Enelysion or The Lady of the Lion. plug plug ^^ ).

Although it says this tut is for VX, the style can be applied to Ace as well.

Copy-pasted from RMW:

It's been a while since I did a tutorial, so I'm going to share some of my wisdom in creating really eye-catching maps. It will only cover basic editor mapping, but attractive maps can still be achieved even with the basic RTP ( VX or VXAce ). And naturally, I will show some screens as well. No mapping tutorial is complete without them.

So, let me start with some basic tips:

1) Think practically over style. You aim is to guide the player on their journey, not to give them graphasms on every map because its so cluttered with visually appealing maps. Those maps are worth zilch if they only serve to confuse the player if no basic layout is planned before hand. This is especially true on dark tinted/night maps. Which brings me to my next point.

2) Keep your tints SUBTLE. Don't overdo it. A simple tint can do wonders for even an ordinary RTP map. They can also convey mood, atmosphere, even hint at a change in weather ( Eg. a map with a tint more inclined to the grey-scale can hint at rain or create the effect for a real moody scene ). And I'd stayaway from Khas's awesome light effects for VXAce if I were you... It makes my eyes bleed just looking at maps with that script. Harsh and anything but subtle.

Even the RTP can look nice.

3) Ease down the lighting effects. I've seen far too many games that used the dreaded large sunbeam effect without bothering to turn down the opacity. If you want to use a sunbeam, fine. Just keep it subtle ( like 30-40% Opacity ).

4) Nature is NOT symmetrical. It is ordered chaos. The opposite is true for buildings on a grand scale ( like palaces, large temples, mansions ) where trees/shrubs/bushes etc. may be planted in neat rows, flanked by symmetrical pillars on either side. See below image for an example.


The number of shoddy interiors I've seen brings up this next couple of hints.

- Try to use as much of the default map size as you can. I prefer black borders as well around my homes ( think SNES-era small interiors. Those are the best, I assure you ). You can always expand the map if you feel you need more space.

- Divide the rooms up. Make a small lobby that maybe leads to a lounge area, then create more rooms for the kitchens and bedrooms ( and bathroom. Just don't make it the first room the player sees as soon as they walk into your house. :\

- Think practicality again.

I will update it if anyone has a query on how to map a certain area they're having difficulty with. And I will add how to add lighting effects without the use of a script as well ( as seen in the last screen ). Well, maybe not entirely without a script. You still need one that holds the image in place.

Lighting Effects:

It is a really easy tutorial, but to achieve the best effects, you will need some knowledge of shading and the use of tints ( covered in another tutorial of mine. It is in my signature ). This tutorial is recommended for small to medium-sized maps, but you are welcome to use it with larger maps as well ( 60x60+ ). I prefer to keep even my large interior maps under 50x50. But small-scale maps are my fort.

First of all, you need:

- A script that will keep the picture in place ( like the parallax-lock script for VXAce and OriginalWij's Sprite Picture script for you VX users. I'm not too sure about XP.

- A graphics editor like Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. Basically, any program that allows you to work with layers and supports transparency.

1) Take a screen of your WHOLE map ( for large maps, you can use the script that allows you to take an entire screen, but I just use the Snipping tool because my maps are generally pretty small. But you will have to crop this image EXACTLY the same dimensions as your map as well. Even if it is off by one pixel, it will be noticable. So zoom in if you must and crop from there ).

2) After you are done with that, open up your image with your graphics editor of choice. I prefer PaintShop Pro 8.

3) Then, create a new layer, and fill it with black, then drop the opacity to around 40% or so.

4) Now comes your light sources. Using a soft eraser ( 0% Hardness, 30-35% Opacity ) start to erase the black portions where your light sources are coming from ( windows, lamps, torch brackets etc. ). It will take a bit of practice getting it right, though. You can't have too much or too little light.

5) I rarely add in shadows unless there is a VERY strong light source, because the black that you filled the map with created automatic shadows once you are done with the erasing.

6) For torches or anything that uses fire, use the colour replacer tool and select a colour from the torch bracket ( preferably a light orange or so ) and use a very soft brush and paint around that area. Unfortunately, I can't make it flicker...The same technique could apply to your crystals and other shiny objects. But only for objects that emit light. If you want to make the effect even more intense,
you CAN use Khas' Light Effects for Ace or BulletXT's for VX/XP. But I prefer keeping things subtle.

You'd get something like this:

7) After you are done with that and happy, save it as a png with the transparency still intact. NOTE: If you are using VX and Original Wij's Sprite Picture, you will need to save it with (mapname), otherwise the image will move with the player. I've never used the parallax-lock script for Ace, but I'm quite sure you guys know what I'm talking about.

8) Next, open up your game editor and find the map you just made a lighting overlay for. Run a parallel process and use the Show Picture command ( for VX ) or run the script needed for Ace showing that overlay you just made. You may need to mess around with the opacity depending on how dark you want the map to look.

9) Next, add a subtle tint to your map.

10) Here's the before and after images:

No tint and overlay. Regular editor map.

The difference is subtle, but instantly noticeable.

So, I hope you found this tutorial easy to follow. If you would like something else/request something to be explained in this thread, then feel free to ask. =)

That's all I have for now. Happy RPGMaking. =) I'll do more in the future.


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This is extremely useful advice about mapping. I think it's good to recognize that maps should be functional as well as visually pleasing. It's no use having a visually arresting map if you find it hard even walking through it, or seeing where you're going, right? I also learned the hard way about the dangers of using Khas' Lighting System. I mean, it's a cool script, really, but it's just hard to use without it being overly distracting. And you can use it to try and disguise bad mapping, but it'll show in the end.

Excellent tutorial.
You the practice of self-promotion
So that's how you are able to get those visual goodies ... I had a sense there was something special about the way you made things. I'll keep this tutorial in mind whenever I do get around to make anything of my own so that my RTPishness (lack of artistic skill) isn't bland or boring.
My next tutorial will emphasise the importance of tints. Yes, tints. They play an unbelievably important role in setting the mood/scene for a map. =)
Great tutorial, yuna21. And I’m with thatbennyguy where I hate having to navigate through huge massive clusterf*cks of maps that may look all stylish but are a pain to actually walk through. When I look at your maps, they achieve a very nice balance of simple and clean to visually pleasing without being too much of a chore to explore around.

I’m not the greatest when it comes to mapping. But after reading your tutorial on how to spice things up a bit, I think I might have learned something that I can use to improve on.
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