TF2 Mapping: Soldier

by | February 8th, 2010 | Articles | 3 Comments »

This is going to be the first in a series of articles centred on Team Fortress 2. The point of these articles is to explain how each class affects your level design, and to provide some key examples of how you can create interesting gameplay scenarios for each class, while at the same time keeping your map balanced as well. I’ll be doing one with each class, starting with the most important class, the soldier.

The Soldier

Of course, it might seem that which class is most important is an incredibly debateable topic. After all, each class has quite a devoted following, and affects the game in many significant ways. To single one out as most important might seem a bit reductionist. However, one of the key aspects that sets Team Fortress apart from other games revolves around the absurd movement physics. A game like Counterstrike or Call of Duty, while interested in different heights and the way in which players combat one another in three dimensions, is always stuck with the basic movement rules of the real world. With the emergence of the rocket jump in the original Quake, we see a whole new way of traversing terrain, and a variety of level design opportunities (as well as restrictions) emerge from this new formulation. Team Fortress, emerging from a cobbled together set of Quake mechanics (as well as some new ones) is subject to some of the same absurd treatments of space. And, as the designers are keen to note, one of the things that is most compelling about the TF2 art style is the way in which it enables completely unrealistic height differences. They are, after all, making three dimensional levels, while the common sense world we live in is largely focused on only two.  The class which most frequently and skilfully utilizes this unreal height based geometry is the soldier, and so considerations of height should be at the fore front of your map design.

The soldier is clearly a class which emphasizes height advantage. Its primary weapon offers both the opportunity to acquire said advantage (rocket jumping), but also the fundamental way in which to utilize said advantage (splash damage). We’ll start with some rather basic observations about splash damage, and how level design can provide advantages or weaknesses for players in different positions.

To start with, consider how soldiers treat one another while meeting on perfectly flat terrain. First, because the rocket has travel time both soldiers want to dodge the fire of the other, while at the same time predicting the potential location of the opponent. However, the rockets splash damage and physics bounce add an additional complication. Rather than aiming directly at the opponent, you want to aim at their feet, as splash damage is much easier to hit with than a direct shot. This will also bounce the opponent into the air, potentially throwing off their aim and giving you the opportunity to predict their landing.

Now let’s give one soldier a bit of height, say a small incline or a hill. The soldier on top of the hill still wants to fire at the ground, but it has become a great deal easier, as the amount of ground to target has increased.  Inversely, the opposing soldier has almost no ground to target, and must settle either for a minimal amount of splash at the lip of the hill, or a direct hit, which is even more difficult now given the lip of the hill can block significant portions of the dominant soldier’s body.

The third example pushes the second scenario to the extreme, by positioning one of the soldiers on top of an almost inaccessible height (say, the building at B).  The soldier on the top of the roof has a significant advantage: he only has to step back a tiny amount to be fully concealed, thus preventing all damage. Likewise, a single step forward and he can target the soldier below completely, maximizing splash damage and ensuring safety from reprisal. The soldier on the ground, on the other hand, has little chance of landing a hit, splash or no. The only recourse in this scenario is retreat or a rocket jump to nullify the height.

The most obvious way to implement this sort of gameplay into your map is rather straightforward: if you want to offer an attacking or defending team an advantage for their soldiers, provide them with height to fire down upon the opposing team. This picture from pl_frontier offer an example of switching this advantage from defender to attacker, and how to layer several distinct height sections to provide counters to opposing heights.


However, you shouldn’t think that height is necessarily a question of putting a large structure, set of stairs or tall prop. Even the slightest difference in height can disrupt aim and provide a benefit. Examine the final point of cp_coldfront, where the stairs leading the main combat space net the attacking team a significant advantage, or the slight displacement alterations throughout cp_gravelpit, providing minor adjustments to potential combat.


So we know that height offers soldiers a significant advantage. Is there any way to offset this advantage? The most direct manner to ensure balance between high/low positions is health and ammo. A soldier is not an autonomous force: rocket jumps burn up health, spam burns up ammo, and even a slight fall on a wounded soldier can add up over time. As such, removing health from a high area ensures that it isn’t overpowered (see Valve’s director commentary on Gravelpit’s B roof).

Another way to ensure a fair advantage is to artificially limit the view from above. While the completely exposed roof at gravelpit B is significant, you should note that the small windowed structure in the middle often blocks line of sight, forcing anyone on the roof to expose themselves to get a correct bead on incoming enemies. If the structure was removed, a soldier could pop up and over the lip continuously with little disadvantage, covering almost all of the entrances into B.

A final tactic is to build in splash damage potential from below. As we have seen, soldiers firing up rarely have a chance to fully utilize their splash damage. The target above is protected by the geometry below them. But, if we add a wall or a prop near the height advantage, the soldier below can bounce their rocket damage off the obstacle, making it relatively dangerous for a soldier to take full advantage of the position offered by the height. This can be seen in my map cp_frost, where I removed a rather extraneous hallway, and put a glass wall in its place. The overlooking window provides an interesting sniper/soldier spam position, but allows soldiers lower down to spam back, preventing the position from completely dominating the combat area.


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3 Responses to “TF2 Mapping: Soldier”

  1. Nerdboy says:

    I hate to sound rude, but for an article on a class you described as the most utilizing of vertical space, there was very little mention of rocket jumping in design. Strictly speaking, there’s more to rocket jumps than giving a soldier a ledge.

  2. grazr says:

    Nerdboy, The article isn’t about rocket jumping, it’s about balancing height advantages, and the ramifications of height differences in your level, in regards to the soldier.

    The height can be achieved in any variation by X class, but at the end of the day it needs to be considered critically, and here we see the consideration over the Soldier.

    It’s not designing for rocket jumping, its designing for class balance.

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