This time, I want to tell you about designing maps for Cities in Motion. Even good game mechanics would go to waste without good level design and well-constructed maps, so the maps were one of the parts that we really put a lot of time and effort into.
Cities in Motion is, as the name implies, set in cities. The team chose four large European cities to be in the game, and all of the buildings and props were designed to work well with these different cities. Since it wouldn't be much fun to completely replicate cities in the game world, some streamlining needed to be done. What are the most important parts of a city? How do you make the cities recognizable? What are the most important elements in a map to make playing fun?
First, we searched for maps, travel guides, and photos of the cities. Just running simple picture searches on the net provides a pretty good idea of what the most important buildings and sites are. After studying the cities carefully, level design moved on to choosing map sizes and molding the terrain. Even with the terrain, decisions had to be made on what to keep and what to drop, since all areas, such as small islands, just wouldn't have had enough space for everything. It was still important to fit the most important areas on the map, even if in reality they were further from the center of the city; there is only so much space on the game map.
After the terrain has been modified to suit the city, the next step is to add roads and eventually housing. The road system requires much thought, because small roads easily become crowded with cars but large roads take away space from buildings and don't always fit well in the center of a city. Also, there are many different road types, ranging from foot paths to multi-lane highways, so the design also needs to keep in mind the era and size of the city. In smaller spaces, like the center of Helsinki or Amsterdam, it was sometimes really hard to squeeze the roads and buildings to fit on tiny islands and other narrow strips of land.
Buildings are essential, since they dictate how many people live in an area and what social group they represent, and also affect the workplaces and leisure options. All in all, the buildings dictate where to put the lines when playing. For example, it wouldn't bring much to the game if factory areas were situated right next to the homes of the people living there, because it would be really hard for the player to offer cheap transportation from home to work. It is much more interesting to put industrial areas on the outskirts of the city, or even outside it, as in many instances that is where they are actually located, with the workers living near the center of the city. The player will have many possibilities in building lines to take the workers from their homes to the workplace.
When all the buildings and roads are in place, the last things to do are place props and name all the streets and areas. It's a huge task! Maps are used as a reference when naming the streets, so every road you find in the game exists (or has existed) in real life. To top it all, the levels have a timeline, so after building the whole city in the first possible year (1920) there's still a hundred years of changes, upgrades, and expansions to each city!
Cities in Motion’s lead designer
Colossal Order Ltd