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How to Design a Good Overworld

How to Design a Good Overworld

Right, so this is a problem that I see a lot of hackers having; they can make a hack with amazing level design and a great gameplay feel but when it comes to making overworld maps, they're at a loss. Well, worry not, it's not that difficult, it just takes practice. Like everyone, I was bad at this at one time, some might still say I am and that's alright, it's all a matter of personal preference. It was a gradual learning process for me but I eventually got better. I'd like to skip over exactly how the overworld editor works as I'm sure you either already know pretty well how it works or if not, there are probably documents out there to answer your questions regarding that. Instead, I'll focus a bit more on my theories of what makes a good design in an overworld.

So, first off, let's start off with a blank canvas:

Fantastic! We're off to a good start. Now to decide what type of overworld I want; I'm thinking I want a standard generic island map, so how would I go about working out the forms of the islands? Well, I've seen tutorials before wherein an overworld artist might scribble around in MS Paint and try to contrive a landmass shape from that or perhaps kind of sketch out an overworld on some graph paper and transfer it Lunar Magic, and that's perfectly fine if that works for you, but I've personally always found it to be kind of time-consuming and tedious to have to replicate these results in the editor. My approach is to kind of think of a world concept and just go straight into the world editor with it.

Let's say the concept is a couple islands, maybe with a bridge connecting them.

It's important to remember that these concepts should be completely liquid. That is to say, they can be subject to change depending on how the the Overworld shapes out.

So, first, how are we going to determine what this island looks like?

One technique I like to use for creating landmasses is to make a 2x2 standard grass tile like so:

And just take them and start blocking in a general shape on the map. I ended up with this.

It's a pretty interesting looking shape and big enough to hold maybe 4-5 levels comfortably. (Very important to that into account when doing this- will it hold all the levels I want and still look nice?)

Regardless, I'm happy with this shape and it should work well with my concept so now time to add a little more detail. The shape looks alright, but to have an island made of 2x2 blocks won't look very natural, so let's go into the corners and start adding in individual tiles shall we?

And here is the result, definitely looking more varied isn't it? So continuing with the theme of starting small and building up to a bigger nicer world map, let's start to add on corner pieces and ledges.

Super duper! But if you ask me, I think the landmasses look a little boring still, so, I'm going to add a small beach area, simply for decoration. No levels on it, and that's okay; it's fine to have small decorative areas accenting the larger landmasses like this; it's a really subtle thing but it can drastically change the quality of a map.

Hot dog! Just look at that! Now you can see here, I've kept my overworld very fluid in nature, and not in the sense that the majority of it is just ocean at the moment but rather that I've had to move around and play with the shapes of the islands to get certain ideas to work out well. You can see I've moved the land near the bridge down a litlle, as I think it looks better there. Less crowded, no?

It's looking quite interesting, I may want to remove one of those islands in the upper right side of this archipelago but for now let's keep designing! I think it's about time to lay down some level paths. Now, arguably, this is really that is really the very first step you should do and then block out a shape around the paths, but who doesn't like a challenge of confining paths into a small space?

It came out a little cramped, but really not bad at all. As you can see, I've already jumped into adding decorations, so we're going to do that next!

And that is the end result! I'm aware of the cut-off tiles and that it's perhaps not the prettiest right now, but I will go over fixing some of that with a new map some time later this week when we'll venture out of vanilla and delve into custom graphics and whatnot.

Aaaaand, as an added bonus, here's an IPS file containing:

∙ The above world map to get an idea of how it's made up... or just to straight up steal if you want, that's fine
∙ A very early demo of a hack I'm working on (VERY Early; DON'T PLAY IT! It's not fun yet)
∙ Some graphics located in level 1 and 2, and possibly some more if you export the ExGFX file (You're FREE to take these and use them as you'd like. If you do, I only ask that you please give me credit, and it would be nice if you PMed me telling me you used them. Aaaaand if anyone wants to submit them to the graphics section, that would be neato, thanks!)


I hope you guys enjoyed learning about this process a little bit, hopefully it can inspire you when it comes to making world maps. If you have any questions, comments, want a critique of your overworld, or anything you want me to go more in depth with, I'd love to hear some feedback. Thanks for reading!
How To Design a Good Overworld
Perhaps you intended this for the tutorials forum.
That's a very interesting way of making an overworld, and seems very easy as well! It's definitely something everyone should look at when making a hack.

I'll try to do one with this method in mind to see what comes out. Thanks, Exor!
Haha, it's really a great way to design overworld!
Thanks a lot^_^
Wow, this is actually a pretty good tutorial. I'll definitely use this in my hack!

I think this should be stickied, but that's just my opinion.
Originally posted by HackerOfTheLegend
I think this should be stickied, but that's just my opinion.

The old age of doing that has passed...

Anyway, I can see this as really being useful for basic islands and stuff. Not sure about how other features of the overworld can be implemented using this technique but I will give it a try as soon as my issues here dissipate.
seems like a good tutorial for how to make overworlds since i've always had trouble with the shape, anything inside the shape was easy.
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It's minor but the icebergs seem kind of out of place. Can you do a palette swap to brown and just make them rocks?
But this isn't a showoff thread...? Also they never looked like icebergs to me.

Thanks for the tutorial! I actually used the paper2editor techinque but this seems more practical.
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It is indeed a good tutorial, although my personal methods are a bit different. I probably will give it a try, though, as I found this to be an interesting method to work with OWs. My only complain is that this method could be a pain if you try to design more complicated landscapes, but I think is a minor thing compared to the advantages of this method, like the fact you will have less problems with your levels and paths than when you start with the borders.

I'll sum up with this: Pretty good way to design OWs. I'll definitely give this a try with my next OW designs/requests/whatever.

Dream team (feed them, please):

This is a great tutorial, well done aspect wise, simple starting! If I found this one earlier....

In my next hopefully hack, I may use some tips from this tutorial, it seems easier that way actually, instead of my kinda long way on doing maps :p

Good job!
I used this method in my kaizo hack (which you can see by clicking my userbar), and it turned out really well! Great tutorial!

Hooray! 200 posts!

Ha ha ha ha. Very good. But WHERE i put the tiles?
I feel dumb. Like a noob. #tb{D:}

The same person? Oh nevermind.

Oh thank you friend! I was having a lot of trouble designing overworlds, thank you thank you! :D

Check my YouTube Channel!
Nice tutorial, but do you have any tips for if someone is designing an OW that's NOT supposed to be an island-type thing? I see too many of those often >_<
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Originally posted by KTBHacking
Nice tutorial, but do you have any tips for if someone is designing an OW that's NOT supposed to be an island-type thing? I see too many of those often >_<

SMW's overworld tiles were meant for use as islands, so if you plan on having your overworld be a massive stretch of land, good luck.
just fill the map with land and don't create coastlines. simple
I don't even have a clue on where to begin.. I'm just not creative at OW designing. #ab{;_;}