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Call of Duty: Warzone devs share the design secrets of the best battle royale map

The Vondel map in Call of Duty: Warzone is one of the best battlegrounds in the history of the battle royale genre. It’s a small-scale, densely packed map with a wide variety of points of interest (POIs) that feel distinct. Modeled after European cities, Vondel is a feat of level design as it simultaneously feels fun and functional. It’s a city that you can truly imagine as a real place, with a slew of different shops to enter, a canal, and even a water taxi service that moves throughout the map.

But behind the scenes, there are countless design choices that help the flow and pacing of the map. To get a better sense of just what makes this map work so well, I spoke with Beenox Senior Level Designer Fred Wilson and Lead Artist Guillaume Alain. The duo revealed how Vondel’s composition seeps into the players’ subconscious, with intuitive design choices that work better than any Warzone map that’s come before.

Pacing is king

Townhouses on Vondel in Warzone.
Activision

Vondel is meant to be a fictional city in the Netherlands and developer Beenox looked all over Europe for inspiration. It’s almost like a greatest-hits city that pulls from famous locales all across the continent. This is on full display with its architecture and implementation of a canal system, just like in Haarlem and Utrecht — two real-life cities in Holland.

But Vondel is more than just a beautiful, realistic-looking city. It never sacrifices fun and is designed to keep a consistent flow with fast pacing. Pacing, which Alain says is the most important aspect of making a Call of Duty map, unfolds at a blisteringly fast speed on Vondel.

“The distance between POIs, the amount of time the player has to run to get to cover — or the space between cover — the [number] of angles, and the density of close quarters fighting versus mid-range and long-range are mixed together without giving too much of an advantage to one or the other,” Alain tells Digital Trends.

Although Vondel isn’t the biggest Warzone map, it’s certainly the most dense, with highly concentrated areas consisting of townhouses, buildings, and the canals below. “We recognize that urban areas are always really popular with our players,” Wilson tells Digital Trends. “Tighter, more frenetic gameplay also resonates really well.”

The stadium on Vondel in Warzone.
Activision

In contrast to maps like Verdansk, Caldera, and even some parts of Ashika Island, there’s way more cover on Vondel. This makes it easier for players to rotate safely, without getting stuck in “no man’s land,” as Alain explains. “There were some situations [on Verdansk] where you had no choice. It was either you run left through an empty forest, or you run right through an empty field. And in front of you, a canal — also empty,” Alain said.

Many of these issues have been alleviated on Vondel, but the pieces of cover scattered around the map don’t feel random. Everything seems to be placed in such a way that makes it feel like a living, breathing city.

It’s really important to enable as many playstyles as possible because players come in all shapes and sizes.

There was a lot of iteration behind the scenes when designing Vondel. Balancing the right look and feel took months of work, with many changes made before the map shipped. Specifically, the townhouses received many iterations during development. In fact, a large portion of the buildings looked the same at the beginning. These townhouses ended up being the heart and soul of the map, thanks in part, to their visual and structural design.

“A type of gameplay that we wanted to champion on Vondel is a parkour or free-running style on the rooftops of townhouses,” Wilson says. The team envisioned players “jumping over gaps and then grabbing onto the ledges” to get around easier. This is possible thanks to the close proximity of the townhouses scattered around Vondel, allowing players to maneuver in a variety of ways.

Seeping into the subconscious

Side of building on Vondel in Warzone.
Activision

The buildings and structures in Vondel aren’t just there for looks, though. They’re designed in such a way that makes the game easier to play. But many of these design choices are ones that players may not even notice … at least, not consciously.

For instance, each neighborhood of townhouses features different colored roofing, which makes it far easier to effectively communicate callouts. Whereas previous maps utilized many of the same exact buildings across the board, Vondel is full of variety, even if the architectural design of certain structures is the same.

“There are many little things that are meant to be motifs to help the player navigate and orient themselves on the map,” Wilson says. This doesn’t just apply to the color of the buildings: “There’s also quite a lot of graffiti and paintings on the side of townhouses,” Alain says. All the art is unique, like a tiger sprayed on a wall, so as to allow players to make distinct callouts. “You can’t confuse that callout if you call the player near the tiger since there’s only one on the map,” Alain explains.

Building on Vondel in Warzone.
Activision

Beenox also wanted to make it easy to understand which buildings can and can’t be entered. Few things are as frustrating as being in the heat of battle, only to find yourself thwarted by a door you can’t open. The team took this into account and added little steps in front of the doors of townhouses, indicating they can be entered. You might not have even noticed this, but there’s a reason why players can flow through the map easily, and it comes down to little decisions that are seemingly insignificant — but make a world of difference.

Likewise, the doors you can enter on rooftops all have wooden roofing near them, which can even be spotted from the sky. “When you parachute in, you see that there are wood planks near roof doors on the roofs,” Alain said. “So that tells you — from the air — that those townhouses are playable.”

The art of balance

Large building on Vondel in Warzone.
Activision.

Vondel is packed with apartments and little stores, many of which you can enter. Nearly all of them feature multiple entrances, either from the roof, ladders, or from the ground floor. This is done — not only to enhance the realism and believability of the map — but for balancing purposes. In past maps, there was often just one sole entrance to the roof. This made it difficult for players to push any teams that were holding down that particular rooftop. But in Vondel, there are almost always two ways to get to a particular spot, including the roofs of apartments and stores.

There’s significant balance outside of the buildings’ designs, as well, mainly in the form of the canals. “The canals are one of those things that really evolved the gameplay,” Wilson says. They’re one of the map’s greatest strengths, and without them, Wilson says they’d “be afraid that players would feel trapped or are caught in choke points.” These canals serve as a way for players to flank or escape sticky situations but are also believable in terms of the European aesthetic.

Building next to water on Vondel in Warzone.
Activision

Vondel was designed to adhere to as many play styles as possible, which remained a core part of the team’s vision. “It’s really important to enable as many playstyles as possible, because players come in all shapes and sizes,” Wilson said. “And it’s important to stimulate variety and make it so that game after game, you can have a unique experience.”

Beenox and Activision created a map that feels balanced, believable, and fun while retaining a unified vision for the location at large. And that’s no easy feat. Practically every inch of Vondel feels intentionally designed to adhere to that criteria, resulting in the best map in Warzone history — if not the battle royale genre, period.

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Joseph Yaden
Joseph Yaden is a freelance journalist who covers Nintendo, shooters, and horror games. He mostly covers game guides for…
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