CTF Map Making Guide

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Q2CTF1 – McKinley Revival

This is a very popular and well done map. If you’ve played this map you know that the Rocket Launcher (RL) is located in each base. There is also a Power Shield (PS) along with 2 cell packs and a megahealth. Having the RL only in the bases can create a situation where it is difficult to flush out a FC who is holed up in their base. This was balanced though by having the BFG (the “Drano” of weapons smiley in the water. The problem comes in when you have a mod that allows this weapon to be disabled (like L-Fire CTF). While it’s not impossible to flush out the FC, if you spawn in the middle of the map it will take some time to get to your base, get the RL then go back to the other base. NOTE: I’m not saying the RL is the only weapon that players use, but it is probably the most popular — especially for distanced. The RailGun (RG) can also be used, but it too is located only in the bases.

Having the PS located in the base, along with cells, regular armor, and megahealth allows the FC to get pretty buffed with armor/health. This will also attribute to a style of “defensive standoff” or “dual FC holdup” gameplay.

There is nothing wrong with this — many people like this type of map. Again the purpose is to see how this affects gameplay. Now imagine if you moved the RLs out of the base, and had 1 or 2 located closer to middle (or leading into each base). This map would play quite a bit different if the RL wasn’t in the bases, and moving the PS out would also (although slightly less) affect the game as well.

Q2CTF2 – Stronghold Opposition

This is another very popular level. The flag rooms are small but have several ways in, which leads to a slightly more difficult defense than Q2CTF1. Items and their placement on this level drastically affect gameplay. In this case it’s a combination of items that combined can make for some hard-to-defeat opponents. Having the PS near flag room, along with 4 cell packs (and HyperBlaster) close at hand will allow a player to quickly accumulate 200 cells for the PS. Right outside of the flag room is a Bandolier, which will let you carry 50 more cells (for a total of 250). There are also 2 backpacks located in the middle of the map, which gives you 50 more cells as well as ups your limit to 300. So if this player, with 300 cells and the PS, happens to get the Disrupter Shield, they will be one very tough opponent.

The balancing item here is the open bases/flag rooms. There really is no place for the FC to hide for any length of time.

Q2CTF3 – The Smelter

Another popular, and very violent, levels. This map is very similar in overall design to the popular Forgotten Mines level in Q1 CTF. A classic “two quad” map which most definitely affects gameplay.

Having two quads in a level will definitely create a balance against the Power Amp, but care must be taken where the quads are placed. In The Smelter the placement of the quads are very critical. It forces defense to keep on top of their quad, or the opponent will pick it up before dropping in and causing havoc in their base. There is also not many wide open spaces, so using the quad with the RL can be dangerous to one’s health.

While this map may not be everyone’s favorite, it most definitely is one of the most intense and action packed maps for Q2.

LFCTF1 – Neurotica

Fair is fair. This is one of the levels I created for the Team 3 / L-Fire CTF Map Pak (I say “I created” but actually L-Fire provided major feedback throughout the entire design process). In designing and testing this level there were some very conscious decisions made on the items in this map. Early on in the development of the map it was decided to make this a two quad level. The quad room was made a bit more important to guard as there is also two grenades and two rocket packs there.

One of the major decisions made with this map was to have every dm start point (info_player_deathmatch) be within close proximity to the RL. All start points are within a few seconds of the RL, with four (per base) directly in line or above the RL. With a two quad map we knew it would be intense, so having everyone start out near an RL would only add to the insanity. In addition to the proximity to the RL, the two start points above the RL are near the Grenade Launcher (GL) which encourages even more craziness to the RL room.

The other major decision with this map was to have only one PS, and put it someplace out of the way. Having two cell packs in the base would allow the player (who just went through hell and back getting the PS) to keep the PS powered up.

The original map didn’t have a weapon above the flag. During testing the decision was made to move the SuperShotgun (SS) from inside the flag room to it’s current location. This allowed someone spawning above the flag room to pick up the SS before dropping in. This is a much better location for the SS, and something that wasn’t realized until testing.

Neurotica isn’t for everybody though. It’s a very intense map with almost non-stop action. This can make it difficult to defend the base — in all but one (out of close to a hundred) games I’ve played on this map there are normally a large number of caps and points. The point is we consciously made design decisions to affect gameplay, and the map plays as we planned.

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Map Size

There is an old saying, “Bigger is Better.” This normally isn’t the case with CTF maps. A lot of new CTF map authors make the mistake of creating huge maps. This is fine if you are guaranteed of having 32 players all the time, but that isn’t always the case. A more likely scenario is a server with 3-4 players on it to start off with. If they are on a huge map, they will quickly tire of the lack of action and leave. If however they are able to play (albeit a bit light on the action) then others may see people playing and join as well. There have been many cases of huge maps being “server killers” — everyone leaves.

The key here is to create a somewhat smaller map, but make it feel bigger. The goal is to place your items so they will draw players to specific areas of the map. The quad is a classic example of an item that will draw players to it. With a small map you can put the quad in a big, open room so a lot of the battles can take place there. By using item placement you can draw players into the larger areas of a smaller map.

One way to make a map feel big is to trick the players into thinking it’s bigger than it really is. One to do this is by having areas open to sky. This gives the illusion of more space when there really isn’t.


The old saying Keep It Simple S….. applies for CTF maps. Having a lot of twisting hallways and traps just takes away from the game — which is to Capture The Flag. The level should not defeat the player, that’s the job of the other team. If maps are too difficult to learn or there are too many pitfalls, people will probably just give up and not want to play the map.

Beta Testing

There is nothing more beneficial than to test your map with real people. You can do some testing with bots, but people provide feedback. If at all possible try to round up some friends and play test your level. You’ll be amazed what will learn from some live testing.

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Step By Step Guide

The following are the steps I go through when creating a CTF map. This is intended for the first-time CTF map maker, but others may find something of interest here. While I try to hit all the major steps I use to develop a map, some may do things differently.

Develop theme. This can vary per person, but I normally think of a general look that I want. This can be as simple as a texture set or more complex like “factory” etc.

Decide on texture set. This is normally part of the first step, but here I tend to look through various texture sets to come up with the basic textures I want to use.

Sketch out base. For some they use paper, others visualize it and others just jump right into the editor. I’ve used all techniques, but normally opt for the latter two. I get a good picture in my head of what I want (which is easy to do as I can do this anywhere — meeting at work, zoning out on the TV, spending quality time in the bathroom etc..). I tend to start with the flag room and move out from there. The main reason for starting with the flag rooms is that, in my opinion, the flag rooms are one of the most critical areas of the map, especially how players get in and out of the flag room.

It is important to initially plan on some of the entities you want as it effects the layout of the map. For example lfctf1 was planned around the Rocket Launcher (location being central in both bases, and all start points close to it). As you plan your base have an idea where you want certain items to be placed. Item placement should not be an afterthought.

Prototype in editor. Once you have the basic layout for the base, do some prototypes in the editor. At this stage don’t worry too much about final textures — the goal is to produce something so you can actually see it in-game. The purpose is to get a good idea of the size of things when you run through as a player.

Finalize flag room and base layout.

After your prototypes you should have a good idea of how the flag room and base should look. Finish the layout for these areas. Some thought of textures should come in now as texturing can sometimes force you to split brushes (which increases your r_speeds). While doing these layouts you will want to do some full vis compiles to check on your r_speeds. If you plan on using light textures, you will need to play for an increase in r_speeds for these as well.

Finish texturing the flag room and base.

This can, and should, take some time. You want to make sure you have a nice flow, and not drastic changes of textures. Use colored textures to help identify the base. If using texture lights (what I do) then place them now as well and do some light (qrad) compiles to see how it all looks. Once you finish the flag room and base copy this .map file to a new file name (to be used in step 9).

Do final entity placement in base. This includes weapons, ammo, armor, flags, ctf banners, dm start points and team start points. Hopefully you have a good idea where everything goes by now — as this should be part of step 3.

Prototype middle (crossover) area. If you editor doesn’t support regions (QERadiant does) then you can do this part in a new map file. Make sure the middle area is centered at 0,0 in your editor.

Verify r_speed values are good in the middle area. The first thing to check is r_speeds of the middle area alone, then with the first base “attached”. Since the middle area normally looks into both bases this could be considerably high. At this point you only have one base hooked up, so you will need to compensate for the second base. The best way to make sure you r_speeds will be good enough is to stand in the middle, against a side wall. With your back to the wall and the completed base in your side view (and the future second base location is also in view) make sure the r_speeds are low and can handle an increase once the second base is added. Since the middle area will normally have lots of action you will want to keep the r_speeds as low as possible.

Create the second base. Now comes the fun part. This will depend on your editor, (I use QERadiant) but hopefully you can do something similar with your editor. In step 6 you saved off your first base in a separate file — load that into your editor now. The first step is to rotate the entire map 180 degrees on the Z axis. I found it’s best to do a 180 degree turn rather than two 90-degree turns. The problems most editors have (some much worse than others) is that with each rotation textures can get skewed/shifted. Doing a single 180 degree rotation lessons the amount over two 90 degree rotations.

Once the base is rotated, replace the colored textures. If your editor does not have a texture replacement function, you can do it manually or be brave and open up your map file in a texture editor and do a global search/replace of the texture names.
Move base into position. If you look at your middle area you should see where (x/y coordinates) your new base should go. In your other map select all brushes and move the base into it’s position (don’t worry about exact placement, the idea is to get the general vicinity).

Adjust textures. After the rotation some textures will be mis-aligned. This is a slow process, but you need to walk through the entire map and fix any textures that have “slipped”.

Tie it all together. After finishing the second base it’s time to pull it into your main map file. Some editors support importing another map, while others you’ll need to copy and paste the second base into your main map file. Normally after doing this the new brushes are all selected — while they are selected move them into final position. If your editor supports groups (in QERadiant you select the func_group entity) you may want to group all these brushes in case you need to do more movements later. Once everything is in place you’re ready to test it. NOTE: if you left the middle section closed off (i.e. not open to the new base yet) then you obviously need to cut openings to the new base.

Verify r_speeds are good with both bases intact.

Beta test and fine tune map if needed.

Wrap Up

While there is no guaranteed methods to a successful CTF map, hopefully this guide will help you to avoid some things that will make a bad CTF map. While success is measured differently by everyone, if people play your map more than once, you are successful.

About The Author

I started creating maps for Quake1 back in June of 1997. My first CTF map was Test For Echo and was part of the Quake1 ThunderWalker 4.0 release. For Quake2 I have a couple DM maps, but mostly focused on CTF maps. I have two maps in ThunderWalker 2, three maps in Capture! (and because of this, the Extremities CD) and two maps in the L-Fire CTF Map Pak (one of which, lfctf1 – Neurotica, is also in Expert CTF).


I’d like to thank the following people:

Team 3 – for feedback — and just being an awesome group!
L-Fire – despite all the abuse I went through on the L-Fire CTF Pak project, I learned an incredible amount during that process.
Dakota and Tungsten – for comments on the guide and supporting me and our team over on Captured.com.
YYZ players – the beta testers and players on the YYZ servers were great and had some very good feedback on our maps.
PlanetQuake – especially Joost, Fargo, Gestalt and Mix.

1 thought on “CTF Map Making Guide”

  1. Blast from the past… I wrote this guide many many years ago. Doesn’t list author name tho – but it was ‘Geezer’ (Al Harrington). Thanks for re-posting this, though not sure how valid it is with modern games. 🙂

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