Everyone hates sewer levels.
Too often they are cramped, repetitive, and disorienting. They limit the range of gameplay systems and require one right way to play. They are the antithesis of playgrounds and sandboxes. At their worst, a sewer level drags with no end in sight and stretches a game thin.
Yet, there is an appeal to sewer levels that is so hard to achieve:
- A good sewer level is a moment to breathe. In its tunnels, there is quiet and refuge which invites introspection.
- A good sewer level is raw design. This isn’t the place for the one-off scripted sequence or the expensive art setpiece. Instead, a good sewer level is subtle in its mastery of the craft: geometry, lighting, and textures working in unison.
- A good sewer level is also environmental storytelling at the scale of systems. As we navigate the space, we glimpse something larger than us. We see the flows in, the flows out, and the processes they undergo. There is history and logic at play in the sewers.
- And sewer levels, both good and bad, are a space for dreams. Unlike the tombs and dungeons of tabletop RPGs, sewers exist alongside our daily urban life but unseen, like the city’s subconscious. They are an id to the ego of the streets. They are also a home for nightmares.
Wolfenstein: The New Order, Chapter 7
How do we solve these conflicts of design? How do we take a sewer level—which everyone hates—and make it good? This is the goal of the Quake Sewer Map Jam. This design problem is the theme.
If you are up for this challenge, here’s what you need to know:
When does the event start? When is the deadline?
The jam begins July 28th and ends August 31st at 1 PM Eastern Standard Time.
My hope with the longer deadline is that more people can participate as they have time. I don’t expect anyone to use the whole month+ on a sewer map. Please pace yourself and reduce scope if you run short on time!
Also, if your map only took you a few hours, you are still welcome to submit it! There is no barrier for quality so long as your map is playable start to finish.
Are new mappers welcome?
Yes! Newcomers are encouraged to participate! Sewers have a lot in common with traditional tabletop dungeon design, so this should be a great opportunity to pick up the tools.
If you aren’t sure where to get started, most of the talk about Sewer Jam is taking place in the Quake Mapping Discord, so stop by and we’ll be happy to get you started. Or, if this is your first time mapping for Quake, here is a Quickstart Tutorial.
Are there any special modifications?
We will be using a new version of the underwater jam’s mod. This allows for dynamic water! You can read more about these features Here. I will update these links once the new version is available.
If you want to stick to vanilla id1 features, that works too! The progs add features, which you can ignore, but they don’t alter any of the standard features.
Are there any special textures?
We’ve gathered some textures from id1, Daikatana, and a few community packages into the sewerjam_wad.zip. I hope these textures provide a starting point for some ideas, but you are welcome to use different textures.
What is the naming convention?
Please name your map “swjam_[username]”. For example, my map would be “swjam_yoder”. If you build the map collaboratively, please include both names.
Where do I send my map?
Once you have completed your map, you can send it to me at AndrewYoder@live.com or on the Quake Mapping Discord. If I don’t reply within a day, feel free to nudge me again.
Please also include a readme file, and consider including the “.map” file so other people can open your level in the editor and learn from your design.
How strict is the theme?
Your map should draw on the ideas of sewer levels, but there is flexibility. You can make a canal, a cistern, or water treatment plant. It may also help to think of a secondary theme. What does a blood sewer look like? Or a sewer in space? What kind of sewer would you find under a dark mage’s tower? All of these ideas are welcome!
Anything else I need to know?
Your level exit should go to the “start” map.
Dishonored, Dunwall Sewers
Despite a mess of design problems, sewer levels are rich with theme. They are also a place to practice the subtleties of our craft. Over the next few weeks, I will be writing about some of my favorite sewer levels, like the two pictured above, and why they work. I may also write about the sewer levels that failed and why.
I know sewers make for a bizarre theme for an event, but I hope you all will join me in showing what a good level a sewer can be!