I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for good old Unreal Tournament. Quite simply, it's a classic, and continues to be fun even several years after its debut. However, I have discovered something possibly more fun than playing the game itself, and that is making maps for the game.

Every version of UT I've encountered (including the Game of the Year edition) comes with UnrealEd. UnrealEd is a Windows program that you can use to make your own worlds in which to run around and shoot stuff. Its interface is rather daunting at first, and no help file comes with the game. If you want to learn to make maps, you have to have plenty of patience, as well as a steady hand and the endurance to stare at the screen for a really, really long time.

First of all, the tools in the editor are represented by a number of cryptic icons. I spent an hour clicking on them trying to figure out what they did, and finally had to resort to looking up tutorials on the Net. Tutorials are invaluable if you want to make maps; they often go into great detail on a single action, such as making a door that will open or close when a character gets near it.

Second, the landscape you are given when you load UnrealEd is not a blank, empty field where you can just place solid shapes wherever you want. Rather, it IS solid. To start your map, you first need to create a room. The room is created by cutting out a chunk from the solid area you are given. This chunk can be as small or as large as you want. If you try to instantiate a solid object within another solid object, the results can be, well, interesting. And not in a good way.

The simplest possible map you can make is a single room. But wait! If you hit build after simply cutting out a cube, and then load your map, you will end up with the following:

(1) A pitch black room
(2) Constant screaming death as the game tries to figure out how to spawn your character, since you haven't added a spawn point.

You need to add some light sources, which will look like quaint little torches in the editor. (Don't worry, they won't look like this in the game!) Put them high up near the ceiling if you want to light the entire room with a single source; put them near the walls for other effects. You can adjust the brightness of a single light source; this will be represented by enlargement of the torch. Experiment with light sources in different places, and with different numbers of light sources.

You need to add a spawn point, or more specifically, multiple spawn points. If you only add one spawn point, you, your bots, and your friends will all try to spawn in the game simultaneously, resulting in a massive telefragging bloodbath. This, while amusing the first time, becomes irritating quite quickly.

Which brings us to the subject of bots. On very simple, one-room maps, path nodes are not really necessary; the built in AI is sufficient to assure that your virtual opponents will effectively run around shooting rockets at you and yours. But once you decide to get snazzy, and implement spiral staircases, stacks of towering crates, teleporters, cages, and floating platforms, you will need to give the bots a little help. If you don't, they will stupidly run in place and will consequently be sitting ducks. Which, of course, is no fun.

Path nodes look silly from within the editor; they are represented by tiny red apples. Why, I have no idea. If you want a bot to run up a staircase and pick up a gun, you should place a path node at the bottom of the stairs and then another one at the top of the staircase, along the line of sight of the bot. You can easily change the camera position and zoom in the editor to make sure you get an appropriate line of sight from one object or area to another.

So now you have a room, or perhaps two rooms. You have a light source and a few spawn points. Your bots move intelligently. This is about as far as I can take you; if you are really interested in mapping, look up some good tutorials and practice! Your maps will get better and better. My most recent one makes me beam with pride; it even has a preview screenshot!

Note: The information in this writeup was gleaned from long, long hours of experimentation and trial and error. I had way too much free time during the summer of 2002, when I was unemployed.