Investigation into Modular Design

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Investigation into Modular Design

GodlyPerfection
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Investigation into Modular Design


Forge is a modular object map creation editor. There are no BSPs, object scaling, object creation, etc. We are given modular pieces to use in various ways. Understanding modular piece design can really help you understand the philosophy behind working with such pieces. It is important to understand how to use the same pieces over and over again while creating a map that feels unique and cohesive... especially when everyone has the same access to objects as you do.

Just a heads up there are large sections of this that are highly technical. Also this is a really long research paper so feel free to pace yourself. Try not to miss any of the great modular usage tricks hidden in this research paper. ;) You can thank AtlasIsShruggin for saying Resource #1 was too short. lol... :P next one will be medium sized.

Here are some questions that can help get your reply started:

- What are your thoughts of modularity vs non-modular design?
- Did you learn anything that could help make your map feel like it isn't made up of the same pieces over and over again?
- What kind of modular pieces would you like to see added to Halo's forge palette?



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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

InnerSandman
I don't really understand what modularity is, but from what I can see it involves using the same pieces and items repetitively, which is what most people do some times. Looking back on my old maps, I actually seem to have tended away from modularity because of that repetitiveness. :/ However, I would like to see different sizes with basic pieces such as walls and bridges.
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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

Nitro
In reply to this post by GodlyPerfection
I know what the difference is between them, like I believe the game that I wish Halo's forge was/is like FarCry? I think thats right but I could be wrong. But with FarCry editor you are given a pallet that is completely blank, where you create Mountains, rivers to rain or night time levels. Only if Halo Forge was like that, oh would the creativity blossom. Now, forging off and on since H3, modular pieces can I either make or REALLY break a persons vibe on a map. Like for instance the floor. If a Halo forger uses coliseum walls for the floor throughout the entire map, it really can make the gamer hate the map. Now it switch it up a bit by throwing in some decorative pieces or letting it show some forge world nature into the map, the gamer's vibe about the map could really change. But that is just one scenario, this is something that I apply throughout the map. I would love to see various skinny/long pieces, like 1x8 or something of those sorts. I've always wanted to recreate something on the lines of Longshore in Reach. But with the pieces that we are handed, just didn't work for me. Hopefully some fan favorite pieces will return along with new ones that will wow us.
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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

external memory
In reply to this post by GodlyPerfection
Just on quick scan this seems written from more of a desktop game dev perspective. And a nonwriter one (where =/= were!); for a paper on how not to be repetitive this repeats itself as far as the non-technical aspects a lot.

...So the modular building elements discussed are on more of a micro than a macro scale from what forgers are used to, except maybe a few of the wall assets Wanlass uses as examples of how he generates modular content (2.7.4). As robust as Forge might be in its own way, the scale of modularity here is more about functional ease of use for a player not experienced with 3D design than it is about providing devs with a way to create detailed and varied environments from a set of modular assets, but there's no reason not to keep that goal in mind while forging.

It's all interesting, but the meat of the piece for forgers seems to be Section 2 through 2.2, and 2.5 especially Benefits of Modularity. Overall it's a very long read to simply broach the subject of making levels with modular pieces that you didn't build yourself, but w/e.

One thing you notice in the shots is how a micro-scale modularity can be a detriment to wayfinding and clarity on a map; while tiles are nice, too much contrasting details can really create a lot of visual noise where a simple flat gray piece might work better as a floor or wall surface. Of course being able to align linear textural elements with other pieces and their textures is important for keeping things looking nice as well as uncluttered; In using a kind of man-made aesthetic, lines don't typically just end abruptly but intersect one another; consider the trim on your walls and around your doors in the room you're in.

The idea of trim and using the texture of larger pieces that might not otherwise be thought of as simply "floor" or "wall" for those purposes is a really powerful trick in forge, if you think of it less as like wasting an expensive piece and more like using a texture to maximum effect within some very tight restrictions that don't necessarily always encourage it (as in, if used right it can make your shit look better than the rest). Never just for its own sake of course. This will return in Halo 4 of course but given lighting it can be more subtle, as differently-lit areas have their own way of breaking up a repetitive wall texture, acting as a texture all its own.

Well, as far as Halo 4 blocks I'd wanna see, just a variety of longer, flat modular pieces would go a long way in Halo 4. Just look at the brace large; it's a great piece but is limited in its use due to the goofy dongle on one end. I'm sure that leftover biscuit can inspire some interesting structures. But for long catwalks, narrow but tall wall sections that can't be "sunk" into floors and ceilings, the piece has its limits as far as filling a niche left between smaller flat blocks, bridges, and coliseum walls. Lose the dongle, and you've instantly made a great functional block piece.
EXEM
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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

Solo XIII
In reply to this post by GodlyPerfection
This paper has significantly more depth than the last article, and I can see it confusing a lot of people.

I found the subject to be relatively interesting, but I'm not sure how useful the information is for those of us who are limited to level design within the Halo "Forge." Simply by using Forge, we have already agreed to a high level of modularity. This is not a conscious decision based upon decreasing build times or decreasing the texture-work. Our modularity comes entirely because every inch of our map will be built from re-used pieces.

With that having been said, when you design a map within Forge, you have two options: You can either build environments to the exact size and shape specifications you want, or you can base your structures off of the components you are given. In the first scenario, your maps will tend to look messy, since your priority was size and shape over texture continuity. In the second scenario, your creativity is severely limited by the Forge pallet you are dealing with.

I greatly prefer maps that re-use similar components for similar purposes. For example: Many of my maps in Halo Reach would follow an object pattern. If I used a "Ramp XL" as a wall, I would continue to use this object as walls throughout my map, trying to maintain a high standard of consistency. In this same scenario, I also prefer to_not_ use Ramp XLs for any other surfaces. In this way, I hope to decrease the amount of confusion for players who are new to my map; The "Ramp XL" texture will be exclusive to walls. I try to maintain this same level of consistency with floors, pillars, ceilings, and ramps. Using the same structures (or similar structures of different sizes) helps keep continuity in your level and makes it look more professional.

One of my biggest problems with "Remakes" of old Halo maps is that forgers are seemingly unconcerned with aesthetic professionalism. Their focus is placed so heavily on proper scale and shape that the appearance of the map suffers. While gameplay is certainly more important than looks, an ugly map is entirely unappealing.

--

The region of the article that I most strongly identified with was where they gave examples of using modularity without it looking too repetitious: "[It is] important to note is the surrounding objects, these are not always the same as each other, this breaks up the repetitive nature of modularity and creates a scene that looks unique throughout." It's certainly true that a map which maintains object consistency throughout can begin to look monotonous; The different areas can bleed into another and be difficult to distinguish from one another. Utilizing common themes within your design, but breaking these up with recognizably distinct surrounding features could definitely be something I experiment with in the future.
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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

AtlasisShruggin
In reply to this post by GodlyPerfection
You just had to call me out haha.

I really enjoyed this article. I felt like a lot of it was common sense after working with forge so long, but only because we've grown used to it by using forge. I really like the part near the beginning when he points out that lighting can create the illusion that you haven't used the same pieces over and over again. That will be interesting to work with in Halo 4.

Also while I've always noticed the repetitive use of textures in games, I've never thought of breaking it down into pieces when I look at it. There were some great examples and its one of those things that can't be unseen. I'll definitely be noticing this when I play other games. It's a good way to look at it.

Also since I'm watching Star Trek shows at the moment... I think I won't be able to ignore the design anymore haha

Also for those worried about the length, a lot of the pages are image heavy... it's a definite must read.
"This dread born of risk is not the opposite of joy, or even of quiet activity and calm enjoyment. It transcends such oppositions and lives in secret communion with the serene and gentle yearnings of creativity."
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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

GodlyPerfection
Administrator
In reply to this post by Solo XIII
external memory wrote
It's all interesting, but the meat of the piece for forgers seems to be Section 2 through 2.2, and 2.5 especially Benefits of Modularity. Overall it's a very long read to simply broach the subject of making levels with modular pieces that you didn't build yourself, but w/e.
Solo XIII wrote
The region of the article that I most strongly identified with was where they gave examples of using modularity without it looking too repetitious: "[It is] important to note is the surrounding objects, these are not always the same as each other, this breaks up the repetitive nature of modularity and creates a scene that looks unique throughout." It's certainly true that a map which maintains object consistency throughout can begin to look monotonous; The different areas can bleed into another and be difficult to distinguish from one another. Utilizing common themes within your design, but breaking these up with recognizably distinct surrounding features could definitely be something I experiment with in the future.
Bingo. Forge is a very specific editor with limitations so finding the information that relates to what we experience is a bit of a challenge, but when you find it, it can be a very powerful bit of information. The idea of changing up angles, creating a pattern then breaking it, merging pieces to make new pieces, using lighting to break monotony, etc. Understanding the reasons for modularity can also help. As much as I hate history, knowing why something is the way it is allows you to utilize it more effectively. Good talks. The next Resource won't be so cryptic. Promise. ;)


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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

Chili Squirts
In reply to this post by GodlyPerfection
While not making your map monotonous is always good, sometimes it can bite you in the butt. On more than one occasion I've had to completely rebuild a map because it became a convoluted mess of different styles and palettes because I went overboard on the "I don't want to make it all look the same" side of the argument.
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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

Randy 355
This was an interesting read. I am particularly fond of combining pieces together to make new pieces. Since forge virtually requires you to do at least some modular design, this is a technique adapted by every serious forger. Making an identity out of not only your maps but your own forging style is often expressed by the unique fusion of your pieces. While limiting, it has certainly made us use our heads to create clever stuff. But, now, with lighting nearly at the tips of our fingers, Forge will allow us to conserve when we have to use up resources to do this, and then allow us to use those remaining resources to really express what we wanted to in our overall design. We will be able to show our style with a much more expressive and interesting visual output.

Modular design in Reach was nearly the only tool for aesthetics in Reach. This is why some of the naysayers really need to understand why the new shadow system in Halo 4 is such an incredible tool! Forge maps in matchmaking are about to become more of an acceptable thing if you ask me.
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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

P1 Mario
In reply to this post by GodlyPerfection
Something that hasn't been brought up in the previous posts was the descriptions of instancing.  For those who didn't read it (yet took the time to read this post?), instancing is a technique used to save computing resources of multiple objects.  In essence, creating a new object, say a [1x1] block, takes up a certain chunk of resource units, X.  In a system without instancing, if I create another [1x1] block, I'll have used 2X units of computing resources.  1000 blocks means 1000X units.  With instancing, however, that second block, and any [1x1]s after it will take up only a fraction of the resources needed to create that first one.  So if I could make a level that needs 100 objects, I would want to use a small diversity of objects.  5 different types of objects with 20 instances of each object would use less memory than 10 different types with 10 instances of each.  (The how and why is explained Section 2.2.2 of the resource, Page 12 of the pdf)

In sum, less object types, less slowdown.

The application to Halo, I think, comes from number of objects you decide to use in a Forge map.  If you can make your map using only [4x4 flat], [strut], and the occasional [brace, lg], the game engine should have an easier time rendering it than if you used 50 different types of pieces.  Ideally, on maps that have to render a lot of objects in a tight space for visual purposes, repeating those objects would help your framerate drop like a plasma repeater at the rocket spawn.

This is, of course, assuming the Xbox 360 supports instancing (I believe it runs DirectX and supports), and assuming that Halo 4's engine can take advantage of that support.  If anyone's got technical knowledge of this, it'd be good to know.

Something I've been wondering about after reading up on this is if Godly's used this on any of his maps.  I seem to remember from way back a claim that he had figured out what makes framerate dip in Reach, though at the time I thought he was just referring to line of sight object rendering.  I think it was regarding Affinity...

I suppose it would be easy to check by loading up a few maps and "Delete All of These" to get an object type count, but then again, I know he'll be reading this to check for points... :p
~Ask not why I get to be Player 1.
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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

Der Flatulator
In reply to this post by GodlyPerfection
Something that hasn't been brought up regarding instancing is that the smaller the subset of forge pieces used with an arbitrary amount of total objects, the better the performance. This could be a crucial tool in increasing frame-rate. For example, if you have used 1x1x1 blocks many times on a map, and a 1x1x0.5 only once, it could possibly increase the performance of your map (to the slightest degree) if you replaced that smaller block with the wu cube. Whether or not this margin is negligible would require some actual testing, and would depend on the Xbox's GPU's implementation of instancing, as well as Bungie/343i's implementation of modular objects in a dynamic "forge" environment.

From a less technical perspective, the thing that I noticed in the paper that is transferable to Forge is the art of making the same object look non-repeating. Using the same object in a variety of orientations, or even using different sides of an object would achieve this, as I'm sure most Forgers already do.

The actual paper was poorly prepared, lol. Coming from Computer Science, pretty much everyone marks up their documents in a typesetting language (a la LaTeX), so documents written in MSWord hurt my eyes! :P
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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

GodlyPerfection
Administrator
Chili Squirts wrote
While not making your map monotonous is always good, sometimes it can bite you in the butt. On more than one occasion I've had to completely rebuild a map because it became a convoluted mess of different styles and palettes because I went overboard on the "I don't want to make it all look the same" side of the argument.
This is an important point to pull out. While making your map unique  and making avoiding that feel of "all blocks are the same" is important, it is also important to keep a general "theme" around your map by using similar textures all around. Picking a group of textures and sticking to it can really give your map a sense of "all of this belongs together".



Der Flatulator wrote
Something that hasn't been brought up regarding instancing is that the smaller the subset of forge pieces used with an arbitrary amount of total objects, the better the performance. This could be a crucial tool in increasing frame-rate. For example, if you have used 1x1x1 blocks many times on a map, and a 1x1x0.5 only once, it could possibly increase the performance of your map (to the slightest degree) if you replaced that smaller block with the wu cube. Whether or not this margin is negligible would require some actual testing, and would depend on the Xbox's GPU's implementation of instancing, as well as Bungie/343i's implementation of modular objects in a dynamic "forge" environment.

From a less technical perspective, the thing that I noticed in the paper that is transferable to Forge is the art of making the same object look non-repeating. Using the same object in a variety of orientations, or even using different sides of an object would achieve this, as I'm sure most Forgers already do.

The actual paper was poorly prepared, lol. Coming from Computer Science, pretty much everyone marks up their documents in a typesetting language (a la LaTeX), so documents written in MSWord hurt my eyes! :P
P1 Mario wrote
Something I've been wondering about after reading up on this is if Godly's used this on any of his maps.  I seem to remember from way back a claim that he had figured out what makes framerate dip in Reach, though at the time I thought he was just referring to line of sight object rendering.  I think it was regarding Affinity...

I suppose it would be easy to check by loading up a few maps and "Delete All of These" to get an object type count, but then again, I know he'll be reading this to check for points... :p
The two of you brought up the same point and it was something I was hoping people would catch so bravo. Instancing is a very powerful technique and something that gets even more powerful with the Xbox's GPU. It is a very specialized technique that only works with modular systems. These are systems with pieces that are reused a ton of times rather than a bunch of unique pieces or a whole map created inch by inch. The least amount of different objects you use the better. Instancing has the greatest effect on larger quantities than forge's limits, but it can still be helpful.

And yes Mario. This is a theory that I've had since Affinity. I tried to encourage it in the forge community by suggesting people use as few object types as possible for creating a central aesthetic theme. The reason I did this was because as Flat mentioned we don't know if Reach's rendering system uses instancing... it might and if anything it is bound to be in Halo 4. So rather than push a theory onto people I prefered to teach people the technique indirectly. So keep this in mind as you are forging your maps. It is a theory that I've kept in my back pocket and now it is out in the open for all of you. ;) Enjoy!


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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

Carpetfresh
In reply to this post by GodlyPerfection
"- What are your thoughts of modularity vs non-modular design?
- Did you learn anything that could help make your map feel like it isn't made up of the same pieces over and over again?
- What kind of modular pieces would you like to see added to Halo's forge palette?"

1:  My thoughts are that I love creativity so I love non-modular design.  As a child I had tons of legos and blocks and I kept on getting more and more.  This is a combination of the two though (The pieces are static and I can not "create more" but I can build how ever I want with as many pieces as I want).  I love being able to go in Autodesk Maya/Max and just creating my own things.  Its fun to make characters, maps, environments, special effects, etc.  I have called Halo Reach Forge 'The Lego Kingdom" since Halo 3 but I never truly applied it to 3 because Forge stunk in 3.    I wish forge was like UDK but that won't happen at least until Xbox 720 (Hoping).  Modular (for InnerSandman) is static.  Never changing, the pieces are always there and there are a limited number of things that can be done with said pieces (Not saying it's small just talking about it through Mathematically possibilities).  NonModular is where the people can create their own things.  As design goes it'sboth better to have both.  I will try to explain with an example about 3D modeling.  When I was being taught about 3D modeling I was taught that if I can create a character using Low End Polygon Count, that I could do anything.  That principal somewhat applies to modular and nonmodular.  Except building maps is far different than building characters.  3D modeling is about art while maps is about game balance.  Use Modular as practice with a set number of things so that when you get to the place where you want to make anything so that you will not be overwhelmed with "what-ifs and the endless possibilities."

2:  Color the objects differently, using shadows, using rotation, and using placement can make the same object appear as different.  Just by overlaying blocks you get different blocks, using different angles can also create a different feeling.

3.  I would like to see every asset that is in the campaigns be made available to the players so that we can create big environments for more than just Matchmaking and games.  It would be cool to use in campaign assets inside of forgeworld so that we could make machinima better.  The Unreal Engine 3 struggles in Instances, there is no way 343 in Halo 4 (I hope to be proven wrong) can make an engine better than it.

-Michael Cusack-
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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

Dr D04K
In reply to this post by GodlyPerfection
An interesting read (well, for the most part, since I just skimmed the more technical sections).  I guess I feel it is kind of stating the obvious in a way though, especially for map building in forge (in fact, a greater challenge would be forging a map by only using any one piece once).  The performance points that previous people made is an interesting, and useful, note.  I've always tried using the fewest pieces possible, thinking performance was mostly driven by the number of pieces rendered per view, but this makes me think that that wouldn't necessarily be the case.  It would be nice to see some testing of this in H4 to verify its utility for boosting performance (though lets hope performance isn't an issue).  I'd like to point out that while the article mostly concentrates on the advantages of modularity in terms of reducing costs (either computational, labor or construction), and design methods to cover up the potential repetitiveness generated as a result.  Modularity in design can and should be used as a positive tool to create an aesthetic theme, and help players navigate through your map by creating uniquely themed  spaces.
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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

Der Flatulator
In reply to this post by GodlyPerfection
For those interested in the more technical implementation of instancing specifically to the Xbox 360:
A system feature planned early in the Xbox 360 project was to allow the GPU to directly read data produced by the CPU, with the data never going through the CPU cache’s backing store of main memory. In a specific case of this data streaming, called Xbox procedural synthesis (XPS), the CPU is effectively a data decompressor, procedurally generating geometry on-the-fly for consumption by the GPU 3D core. For 3D games, XPS allows a far greater amount of differentiated geometry than simple traditional instancing allows, which is very important for filling large HD screen worlds with highly detailed geometry.
From Xbox System Architecture (page 5)

This is one of the primary reasons why we can have such varied amount of geometry generated on the fly, which actually aids modular design. It's potentially the reason that features such as the forge is possible!

Just something I came across while reading that I thought I would share, not too important ;)
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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

Gnappy As5A5sin
In reply to this post by GodlyPerfection
The depth to which I have used pieces for anything but their intended purpose is insane. I built a towering nuclear reactor in UDK out of traincars, and I've made traincars out of doors and ceiling lights. The value of Modular design is not to be underestimated. The more reusable bit we have to work with the better.

What's the most curious to me is what individual chunks we'll get. I still wish we had a palette  of all the bits and bobs on Boneyard. If we can get as much as half of the things that we see littered across the other maps, we'll be set for anything.
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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

deathxxrenegade
In reply to this post by GodlyPerfection
 What are your thoughts of modularity vs non-modular design?
- Did you learn anything that could help make your map feel like it isn't made up of the same pieces over and over again?
- What kind of modular pieces would you like to see added to Halo's forge palette?

1) I actually think that the modular design is better as it symplifies the creation of maps. I feel it would be WAYYYY to complicated to make it any other way.
2) I think i was able to pull that off in my best reach creation, Earth Temple.
3)For me, i would like to see more peices that are natural (larger variety of rocks, live trees, bushes, logs)
To command the past you control the future. To command the future you conquer the past.    

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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

A 3 Legged Goat
In reply to this post by GodlyPerfection
I think part of the great thing about forge is that it IS modular. In a way this is what us Lego builders had to work with for  years and we created amazing things with those (well I did at least!).

I do often feel that there are some unfavorable limitations imposed on us through pieces. e.g. sometimes I'll need to use a piece a certain way and it'll be too long or too short. However, some other people may find it to be just right for their map, which is the beauty of forge. People think that building a map is easy or that anyone can slap a few blocks together, but the reality is that it takes a profound and unique skill to not only build a fun playable map, but to also work within the limitations of Forge. I feel like we would lose a lot of the creative process if Forge allowed us to edit terrain or the objects themselves.

A lot of old favorites in addition to amazing new pieces seem to be returning. I honestly feel overwhelmed by how many new things they have added. I can't wait to work with (and rage at) the new Forge.
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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

Lord Daerk
In reply to this post by GodlyPerfection
I personally would have liked to have seen the system integrate a SCALED modular function, allowing scaling in degrees of percent from -300% to +300% for size, possibly with tiled textures and mapping. Imagine a ramp sized to +300%...

Having the ability to scale an object in size would add a whole new dimension to level design.

But more importantly than scale, I believe some native shapes are necessary to fully "round out" ANY modular level editor. I mean, we didn't have a SINGLE spherical object in Forge 2.0... hopefully there will be one in 3.0 so we do not have to resort to using multiple pieces spun around on an axis to produce the appearance of a sphere... more options for native shapes that at LEAST come in differing scale such as a small, normal, and large piece would provide a multiplicative effect on the use and usability of the editor.

-- Lord Daerk
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Re: Resource #2 [10/7]

ForgedExodus
In reply to this post by GodlyPerfection
While it is true that Modularity  can make a repetitive and boring map space, It is needed. (Obviously).

My cure for this unseen poison is making the same walls, but using a variety of objects to MAKE the pattern.

Take my map I'm building right now, i believe up to about the players height, it is a wall Colosseum, and after that, it is a little thinner with the Brace Large on top.
While I'm using those two objects all the way around the map, You get a sense of "Wow, those walls belong there, Couldn't have done it better myself" Now I know that is probably untrue with most of YOU guys, the average gamer sees nothing past the gameplay itself UNLESS the map is unappealing.
Breaking the Limits, Without Breaking the Rules.
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