Core principles and map analysis

Discussion in 'Mapping Questions & Discussion' started by sevin, Jun 21, 2015.

  1. sevin

    aa sevin

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    i think one of the reasons I still can't make a map is that I don't think I understand the principles behind what makes a map fun in TF2, or any game really, despite having played TF2 for a few thousand hours. If you asked me why pl_upward is one of my favorite official maps, I couldn't really tell you. I like the way it looks, but I don't know if I could nail down what separates Upward from the rest and makes it one of the most fun maps to play in TF2. Could anyone answer that? Maybe it's not even a TF2-specific principle, but one that could apply to level design in general, because I can't make maps in any game despite having the drive to do it. What makes Upward fun? What makes Badwater fun? Is what makes Upward fun different from what makes Badwater fun? Stuff like that.

    I know a lot of these answers would come if I knew how to study maps objectively, but I don't think I know how to do that either. I'm just now identifying that whenever I study a Valve map or any map for that matter, I generally am just lookin at cool things they made: architectural elements, lighting, displacement work etc. Technical things. Is it possible to study maps in a way that reveals why they work from a gameplay perspective? Maybe what I'm studying is actually what you should, but I just don't know how to apply it or something.

    I'm just really frustrated at this point that I've spent so much time playing games, "studying" maps, reading articles and tutorials Hammer or level design in general, but have never actually been able to make anything. Any thoughts you guys might have would be really appreciated.
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2015
  2. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

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    I'm on my phone so I can't link them, but have you read through the longer guides in the tutorial section? Grazr has a lot of good ones in particular,but there's tons.

    I don't think anyone understands this stuff perfectly. But I think a great way to improve one's understanding is to simply make and discuss maps. I learned a lot more making my first maps than I did from reading anything on this website. I learned a lot also from trying to express what I liked or didn't like about the maps I played here. You say you can't describe what makes Upward your favorite map? I think you can. Think of the most interesting parts and the parts you don't use. Why do you favor those spots over others? What if you mained other classes? How is it different from your favorite and least favorite places on Badwater? What would happen if you tweaked some parts? What if you moved them around or combined them? And after all of these questions, ask WHY

    People that look at lots of paintings don't magically become good painters immediately. Same for TF2 maps. Practice, and challenge yourself to think critically about your beliefs and expectations, and you can make great maps too.
     
  3. sevin

    aa sevin

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    (I'm also on my phone) I feel like it's more over-arching than that though. Maybe I'm just looking for excuses for why I still can't make a map after 3 years of trying, but it feels like there should be some overarching principles of level design that you can extract and apply to your maps. I have read all of Grazr's guides and I enjoyed them but they haven't helped me begin a map. Maybe that's more what I'm asking. Is there a way to pull the essence of a map out and use it as inspiration and something with which to begin a new map. I like that Upward is constantly on an upslope as the name would imply, butt it's not like I could just make maps that are always on inclines. I feel like the answers I would give to the questions you posed would be too general to apply them effectively in a new map without simply copying them. I like playing spy and moving the tunnels of Upward or along the cliff side to keep out of sight of enemies, but I can't just make maps with tunnels in them or cliff sides. I don't know how to figure out what exactly about those places makes them special or how to put them in my maps in essence rather than physically.

    I'm just kind of letting my thoughts flow out right now so I apologize if I'm not being really coherent.
     
  4. Fr0Z3nR

    aa Fr0Z3nR Creator of blackholes & memes. Destroyer of forums

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    Things I see in Upward that make it really fun:

    • There's never a dull moment - I always feel like I'm in the action (You don't see this on some maps)
    • Each class can 'play up' it's roll. Heavy's have corners to hang around, spys have secret routes, scouts can jump and do crazy stunts, pyro's probably use air blast on this more than any other.
    • I never feel like I'm out of range of safety. I can pop in a fight, I can pop out.
    • It's epic (this one is tough to replicate). Fighting up through a cave (or over it). Pushing around a rickety bridge... being surrounded by red on all sides while pushing a cart over a ledge into a pit... and it's balanced.

    Onto the rest:
    There's a thing in the industry that you see often. Players say that their 3,000 hours in the game makes them understanding enough of the game to make a better game. How many times have you seen that. This is shit (98% of the time.) You get better at making games, by making games. You get better at seeing whats good and bad by making games. Just playing the game can only get you so far. After a while of making games/levels, you can play a game less to understand it's pluses and minuses more and more.

    For helping get to that point:
    • Look at maps of the same type. What do they have in common, what do they have that are unique. Why are those things unique and how does it compliment the common factors?
    • You see competitive 5CP maps follow basically the same formula, and while that gets dull after a while to a non competitive person, why does it work for a competitive player? Why do they only want to stay with that formula? Something must be working.
    • Look at height variation, how even crates are set up. (The way crates are set up in Granary mid is actually important.) Ask, yourself, if you changed up the crates on Granary Mid, how would that affect gameplay?
    • Look at the MACRO gameplay, how does the map flow. Look at timings (that is, at X second after the game, where is the farthest someone could be).
    • Look at the MICRO gameplay, how does that stack of crates affect gameplay? How can classes take advantage of this? One thing I like to look at is clip-routes. Everyone HATES bad clipping, but sometimes ignoreing to clip things can create some REALLY interesting gameplay. Badwater's opening yard is a good example of micro gameplay. If you're into Black Mesa, Stalkyard and lambabunker are good too.

    These types of things are just some of what I look for... I look at FAR more than just this, but this could get you started. After a while, it just becomes second nature and you can tell how a map is going to play just by glancing at it. (this is NO SUBSTITUTE for actual ingame testing)

    Stop playing the maps, start making the maps.
     
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  5. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

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  6. sevin

    aa sevin

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    Fr0z3n, do you think you could answer the questions you posed? A lot of what I'm asking is because I'm not sure if I could answer those questions in a way that could help me make a map. I don't know what exactly separates a payload layout from a 5CP layout. Symmetry? Maybe I'm missing your point. What is the 5CP formula you're talking about?

    You say to stop playing and start making, but that's exactly what I can't do. I sit down at Hammer and maybe I simple spawnroom before I go limp and stare at the screen for 2 hours while I try to figure out where the fuck it's going from there. Then I end up texturing/detailing the spawnroom because I don't know what else to do and then I quit.

    Tyler: getting stuck in the last room because of engineers maybe? I'm scratching my head. Upward gets stalemated at last a bit I guess. Can't think of anything else at the moment.
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2015
  7. YM

    aa YM LVL100 YM

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    The finale. You can get stuck in a loop of jumping in, dying, only to respawn and start over.


    As for staring at hammer, you'll never know what to make if you haven't made anything.
    Start by iterating aimlessly. Get a full map down, since you're struggling start simple, koth. (arena and ctf are bad starting points because they're overly simple and overly complex respectively) It's either mirrored or rotated, so you only have to really do half a map, plus balance is sorted for you.

    Now you have a super-shitty, boxy or horribly scaled map. Great! Now you have something to iterate on. Play it. Not sure what changes to make? Make a bunch of random ones! Play it again. Were those things you changed better? If so keep them, if not change them again.

    Repeat this process until you have a map you're happy with. After going through this full process several times you'll start to gain an intuition of what works and what might not
     
  8. ibex

    aa ibex

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    Sounds like you are thinking too hard about it, and I thought I spent too much time thinking over my designs. To start I think you should really backup, you're used to coming to a map at the end of it's development cycle/optimizing it. What you yourself need to think about is starting basics before you can really let your design flow. Everyone's first map is generally straight lines and boxes.

    For tf2 straight lines and boxes encompasses arenas and the paths between them, the fluidity of that design comes as you get better at understanding what you want to try to do with your design. (And I say "try" because I believe a map/idea being well received comes down to luck).
    So you should focus on the boxes and creating paths between the boxes, then you add geometry that gives advantages, disadvantages (ramps, height differences, anything you'll think will be fun). And for a first map your spawn should probably just be a box anyway (you just need to consider spawn camping -> multiple exits/spacing).
    Things like the 2-3 rule of paths/flanks are also helpful for starting. A lot of guides and people will say that a good idea for paths is that you want at least a main path and a flank + a possible additional route. This still holds true as you become better at designing, but this sort of basic idea gives you a point of reference. So start with a simple area and create 2-3 paths connecting it to another area (doesn't necessarily have to be a box, but that's what a lot of first timers start with).

    This has become a bit "train of thought", sorry. You are thinking too hard, but saying that won't really help. Try the basics, and move on if you spend more than like 30m - hour on an area. Or you could pick up an orphaned map at the alpha stage and try to fix-up/change the map, that might help you understand what parts make a map fun/un-fun.
     
  9. squintik

    squintik L2: Junior Member

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    Instead of directly starting working on the map in Hammer, perhaps you should try to find ideas that motivate you and that will "guide" the map development.
    It could be a setting (lunar base, dam, nuclear facility, etc...), a specific gameplay thing (having moving saw blades next to a CP, navigating on floating wood logs moving down a river, mixing two game modes, etc...), a global layout thing (upward has the spiral going up, double cross has two perpendicular bridges one over the other, etc...), or whatever cool idea you think you can integrate inside a map.

    If you have something like this, you can either search references for the setting, or prototype areas which could contain your specific gameplay thing, or search for ideas of environment that could fit with your global layout idea for example.
    The good thing is that when you don't know what do to, instead of just "I need to find an idea", it will be "I need to find an idea that fits with this or reinforce this idea", which is generally a lot easier. (and will also help having a map where everything fits together)

    For example, let's say I like the idea of a train factory.
    A simple search on internet, and I see this picture, and I think a train suspended in mid air could be fun (perhaps a CP inside ? or just a cool platform for navigation ?).
    I'm also trying to think of different areas so that everything doesn't look too similar (area where they build the trains, offices upstairs, an outdoor area where they test the trains, etc...).
    I also think it would be cool to show the different steps of the construction, so it already gives me some ideas for detailing.
    I think it would make sense to steal the blueprints for the next cool train built by the other team, and I'm interested in building a CTF map as I think the game mode has potential. Perhaps the flag should be in a room full of design desks, with giant plans all over the walls. (which makes me think I should look at "The Wind Rises" again, as there was some similar things which could inspire me)

    Anyway, most of the difficulties are later on in the creation of the map (doing a proper layout that's both simple and interesting without being too big, creating interesting rooms where you can have cool fights and options for most classes, etc...) but at least now I have something I want to build, and whenever I'm searching for an idea, I have something I can relate to.
    And now I can also start working in Hammer and begin to iterate so that I find new ideas while building a 3D environment.

    You'll probably still be frustrated and have a hard time making a great map, but at least if you have a general idea that motivates you, there's more chance you'll end up with a playable map you can learn from and discuss with others.

    Don't think too much about "how to study maps objectively", better find some things that appeal to you (I'm sure they'll also appeal to other people) and learn how to avoid most mistakes. (if you have some cool ideas in your level, and if you avoid things that just "break" your level, you're probably on the right way in having a "fun" level :))
     
  10. KubeKing

    aa KubeKing Back home in Jupiter, things are getting harder

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    If there was one thing I would add to this conversation:

    Iterate Iterate Iterate Iterate

    Growing over the course of making a map might just be as important as growing as a mapper in general. If you look at the original Half-Life beta (or alpha?), it is so far away from the final product and looks so much worse that you might not even think it could become the success it turned into. Valve also has a great article over the different versions of Gorge. I'm on mobile, so here's a shabby link:
    http://www.teamfortress.com/post.php?id=8124
    Valve went though quite many second point designs before getting to something that worked. So maybe your map design strength might come from not really finding the key gameplay points of other maps, but how you can expand upon your own premises and fulfilling a greater vision for your own gameplay spaces.
    Oh, and sorry for getting so off-question :p
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2015
  11. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

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  12. sevin

    aa sevin

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    I had read all but your write-up on the development of Anthem. While I think they're interesting, they are still more about the exploration of a particular map and specific challenges that arose and were overcome, almost like a diary. I'm just having trouble even beginning to block out a map, which is something those articles understandably skip over. If I could get a map to A1 I'd find those more helpful, though, like I said, I've read them and enjoyed them.
     
  13. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

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    I think you have to just do it. Just start copying other maps if you have to. Mash together the best parts of Upward with whatever else you like to create the ultimate frankenmap. Don't stop until it's done. If you don't know what to do, steal another thing from another map. Who cares if it's good or bad? Test it and change it again and again. Then abandon it and start another map. Or finish the first. Who knows.

    I hate to say this, but if you can't even copy other maps, you might want to spend your time doing something else? Don't force yourself to stare at Hammer all day if literally nothing comes. Do something else.

    I know this community will always love having helpful people around, who are down to test and be cheerful with everyone else. There've been plenty of people through the years who come and go, and not all have made maps, despite trying constantly. Harribo comes to mind--I think I've seen a single screenshot of a map in Hammer from him in all the years I've been here. And I only saw one map from Snacks and it wasn't playable. And I never saw that guy Matt do anything.

    Don't beat yourself up over it. It's fine.
     
  14. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

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    I mean like, to be clear, I linked my thread on Anthem to show you that I essentially stole every idea and then made the rest up as I went along. You just have to do things and adjust later after playing. You won't get an idea of what is good, bad, or interesting from never doing anything.
     
  15. sevin

    aa sevin

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    I wouldn't have made a thread in the first place if mapping wasn't something I really wanted to do. That's why it's so frustrating. I can't get an A1 out but I also can't leave it alone.

    I think this is more about about my actual personality than I thought. When I start blocking stuff out I can't help but think "That's ugly, I need to bump the grid down and fix that." or "This is obviously not going to play well, I need to remake this." I guess I'm a bit of a perfectionist and I can't turn it off while I try and block something out. A lot of people can just push past that and I haven't been able to so far. But it is something I know I want to eventually do, so no, I'm not going to give up.
     
  16. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

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    Try not going below 16u, or even 32u when you're making something. Instead of fixing things you think might be wrong, leave them in and see if you were right or not (except like, glaringly obvious things). I'm a perfectionist too, but you wouldn't know it, because perfection only matters at the final stage of the map. Along those lines, I've left some bad spots in Thrust intentionally to see if anyone actually cares or if it's as bad as I thought. And when I made Anthem I did the same thing.

    I think it's definitely partly you, and I don't mean that negatively. You can decide--right now, you can decide this--to stop doing what you used to do and do something different. Even if you hate what you release.

    If it helps, remember that whatever you make will be forgotten soon enough; most maps barely see play after they are finished. Who cares if it's perfect? Who will even play it?