Structured Collaborative Mapping

Discussion in 'Mapping Questions & Discussion' started by bittman, Oct 8, 2009.

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Would you be interested in this type of project?

  1. Yes

    8 vote(s)
    47.1%
  2. Maybe

    6 vote(s)
    35.3%
  3. Outline needs refinement

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  4. No

    3 vote(s)
    17.6%
  1. bittman

    bittman L1: Registered

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    [TF2Maps.net] Structured Collaborative Mapping


    Introduction

    So today I was on the train, writing some speech about independent game development, when I was struck by an idea. You see, I’ve been a fairly long time lurker of the mapping scene for TF2 (though I very rarely post), and though I’ve started many a map I’ve never gotten to a stage where it would even be worth showing off my work. I know there are many out there like me. On the flip side of the coin, there are many dedicated mappers who spend months of their life creating, refining and refining outstanding maps which are able to make Valve hard enough to consider including them into official updates.

    So would it not be better to combine people of various levels of skill and commitment in order to create maps of higher quality and larger scale? If my quick search through TF2maps forum was anything to go by, “apparently not” is the answer. Collaboration is often messy with ideas overlapping but rarely meshing together. But ask yourselves: is that because mapping is better as a solitary project, or is it because we’re doing it wrong?

    So on the backing of the idea that I doubt Valve sits one guy in a room to create a level and then brings him out only for playtesting, I thought I’d develop a bit of a collaborative movement.

    Overview

    Structured Collaborative Mapping is just a random string of words I came up with to get across the general idea of what my aim amongst all of these words. But what does it all mean? The aim here is to create a more organised attempt at making some maps by using more than one person. In fact, possibly a whole host of people, each with a specific role in regards to the creation of the map.

    There are quite a few pros regarding collaboration to create a TF2 map, and I’m of the firm belief that we can negate most of the cons with this process. The main bonuses regarding a collaborative mapping effort are the reduced workload and timeframe. Have the chance to have your name on the credits of a map (or even many maps), to learn from more skilled mappers or to take on a scale of map beyond an arena.

    Meet the Team

    Mentor ((required + unique role))

    Role: The Mentor acts like the manager of the collaborative effort. Though a mentor may take on other roles, generally they are an advisor to other members and the one who maintains the “vision” of the map whilst overseeing their work. Mentors may often be required to assist another member with a part of the map, and may also be required to properly merge and refine portions of work from other members.
    Requirements: Worked on at least one completed map, or have demonstrated knowledge of mapping.
    What do I get out of it?: As, effectively, the manager of the map’s development, the Mentor may have the toughest job, however in regards to the credits you are the main name in lights. A mentor will also have the satisfaction of knowing they have helped others learn and grow proper mapping skills.

    Designer ((required + combinable role))

    Role: The Designer is in charge with designing the map. The design can be as thorough as the designer wishes, but should take note of the makeup of the team (i.e. if you have no modellers, don’t rely on a ton of custom models). A good designer will provide a design which already incorporates balance, precise measurements and suggestions for themes and objects without encroaching too much upon a mappers creativity. A designer may be challenged to alter or evolve their design as it is worked on or other members challenge design decisions, in which case the Mentor will have the final say. This role may be merged into other people’s roles, or even done entirely as a group, however the designing action should still be undertaken.
    Requirements: No specific experience, though a demonstrated knowledge of the mechanics and level design rules of TF2 are a plus. A designer should also be open to criticism and input of other members.
    What do I get out of it?: Your design and ideas will be implemented by other team members.

    Mapper ((required + multiple role))

    Role: Mappers are effectively the people who are putting together the map from the designer. As an “all-levels” role, a mapper can have little experience and learn a lot from the mentor and other mappers, or be quite experienced and put in charge with developing large sections of the map. Mappers should follow the design, yet still be allowed to act creatively and independently to develop their skills. Since multiple mappers may exist, a map will need to be effectively and efficiently broken up, yet be able to reconnect the sections (discussed further below).
    Requirements: No specific experience, though previous experience in mapping in hammer is a major benefit and load off the Mentor’s back.
    What do I get out of it?: Credits in a completed map for working on a part of it with a team.


    Modeller ((optional + multiple + combinable role))

    Role: The Modeller is an optional role which involves creating custom models and textures for the collaborative map. Depending on the level of customisation, multiple modellers may work on custom models and textures of the map, even having a mentor-junior structure of their own. Though custom models can be “outsourced” to people not in the team, it’s a good idea to assign someone to this, if you’re going to have custom content, in order to keep the style of that modeller.
    Requirements: This role can possibly have a range of experience in various tools, and anything demonstrated regarding them is a plus. If multiple exist, and a hierarchy is created, a “Mentor Modeller” should have proven experience in creating custom models and importing them into TF2.
    What do I get out of it?: Your art installed as custom content into the map with credits regarding those pieces.

    Other Possible Optional Roles:
    • QA?
    • Scripter?
    Team Mechanics

    There are a few things I’ve learnt from running an independent game development team over the internet, but the primary lesson learned is communication. Though the team designed above allows for a part-time commitment, knowing where everyone in the team is at the moment in regards to their work is essential. To this point I would suggest, at the very least, weekly meetings to discuss work and progress. Even if only one person managed to get around to anything in the entire week, and it wasn’t a lot, it’s a great idea to schedule meetings for when issues do arise and for everyone to come together as a team. Meetings are best held in some sort of chatroom, though face-to-face is a little better, I’m assuming most people who will come together here aren’t within 100 miles of one another.

    Typically, it should be up to the Mentor to manage the team and avoid conflict and extinction of the group. However there are a few points a group should acknowledge, and the Mentor should keep in mind, in undertaking a collaborative map:

    • Sectioning off maps: when more than 1 mapper exists (particularly on larger projects), it’s best to section off maps and assign parts to different mappers. Though things may appear a bit fractured in regards to style, it’s the mentor’s job to ensure common ground is kept. A good tip for this may be to constantly update the sections in a combined file so other mappers can personally see how their changes work with the others.
    • Joining sections: If sectioned, joins can often appear strange or just plain wrong. It’s best to have the merger of different sections as a task of its own, with a bit of “grey area” left between the areas for this.
    • Critical Design: Everyone has ideas, and as a designer it would be unwise to ignore them or place your own over others without consideration. Often friction can be created as people have different visions on the design of the map, however this is where the Mentor must step up and play both mediator and producer by making a decision and smoothing over any hostility.
    • Loss of Members: People here, as far as I’m aware, have a real life to return to when they close Hammer Editor. People may suddenly need to get up and go with barely an explanation, and there’s not much you can do about that. Collaborative mapping, unlike individual efforts, should be much easier to jump into for those who may be interested, especially with existing members remaining to explain the work so far. Of course, remember that credit for the member who left would still be due so long as some of their work remains a part of the final product.
    • Giving Credit where it’s due: Most people will be a part of this so they can get credits on a finished map. Make sure you give credit to anyone who works on the map, but also give as much credit as you can to those who have earned it. If someone only did the spawn room, you can’t just ignore their contribution even if you changed it a fair bit. On the other hand, if someone did 90% of the map, it would be wrong to put them on the same level as a modeller who contributed one custom model.

    Aiming for Quality


    As mentioned in parts above, I’m of the belief that Structured Collaborative Mapping should result in maps of a much higher quality. With many people reviewing each others work and a Mentor in place, most people should see a noticeable improvement in what they work on. Not only that, but the workload that can be accomplished by multiple people could result in maps of a much larger scale (perhaps you’ll make a decent TC-format map?) or much more in-depth design (a completely customised KOTH map set in a skyscraper?). The possibilities are much grander than that of one person.

    The End is Nigh

    So in conclusion, this is just a brief (pffft, not brief really, it’s quite long) overview of a plan I’d like mappers to undertake and I’d like to be a part of. Not a big part, I’d be happy just being one of a few mappers in a team and getting credit on a map, because honestly I don’t have hundreds of hours to dedicate to one map that might not even be that good when I have work and other projects on my hands.

    What I’ve written above is rough, and I would appreciate any comments regarding what is there, or suggestions for things that should be included into this. If you like the idea I’ve written above, let us know if you’re interested in working something out along these lines and we’ll work out teams later. Instead, I’d like for the replies to this thread to comment specifically on the structure and ideas mentioned above to improve it because, though I’m getting better at managing collaborative efforts, I still have no proven experience in mapping for TF2.

    I’ll edit with regards to your suggestions, and add with your ideas until we can agree what is above actually makes mapping in a collaborative environment sexy. I’ll also add my own ideas when I get them, because after 4 pages of typing my ideas have all gone with the hayfever-inducing wind, making me feel like this might be a bit more incomplete than I might have wanted.

    ---

    Apologies for the wall of text and Best Regards,
    Andrew Bittman

    ---

    P.S. Thought I'd also note: I see the community project, but that seems to be more like "everyone come and join in the fun" rather than breaking into teams. This sort of project is probably best done in a team of 3-5 and would be a lot more private, though not as private as doing your own stuff.
     
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  2. Radaka

    Radaka L7: Fancy Member

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    There's already a project like this though, please don't kill me or yourself :(
     
  3. Garner

    Garner L4: Comfortable Member

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    It wouldnt hurt to have a second collaborative map, different team, different ideas. I would be interested, but currently have a project im working on unfortunately.

    I hope there is interest in this as it will be pretty decent imo.
     
  4. Tapp

    Tapp L10: Glamorous Member

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    As for the other collaborative mapping project, there are so many people working on it, most people have/will finish their part within days of it being assigned. I think that while a collaborative mapping project is interesting, I would like to see a team of people going around mapping sights and requesting permission to finish/fix up unfinished maps. Both would be nice, though.
     
  5. bittman

    bittman L1: Registered

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    Why would I do that? Has this other project slept with my girlfriend?

    Responding to both of the above here:

    I might not have gotten this across as well as I'd hoped, but what I wrote above is more of an outline for people to make a map collaboratively and what would work best for a team's makeup.

    So I'd hope to use an outline like this as a base for people to get together and create their own "teams" to work on a map. Something along these lines could spawn many teams with a mix of members, yet all have some sort of rules to come back to should it, for lack of better words, "all go to shit".

    So yes, though I know the community project is going on and is currently taking a fair bit of people's interest, it is a "community" thing with some sort of a time restriction on your work. I think this has merit to start also even with that happening, though it will depend on who is interested and how many who's are interested.
     
  6. tovilovan

    tovilovan L6: Sharp Member

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    Well-written and well thought out! I am very interested in starting a project like this, I think working as a team will push you to work harder and accomplish more than if you're on your own. Anyone interested in starting a team can PM me :p
     
  7. Gerbil

    aa Gerbil

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    Sounds like a very good idea. I might join a team at some point :)

    Pretty useful when there's a bunch of people with great ideas and no way to execute them. Or people with the skill but without the ideas.
     
  8. The Political Gamer

    aa The Political Gamer

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  9. tovilovan

    tovilovan L6: Sharp Member

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    If you'd read the thread youd notice he's pointed out twice that this is something completely different. Also, this is not an idea to start a project, it's just how he thinks a collaborative project should work.
     
  10. SPHinx

    SPHinx L2: Junior Member

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    With all such proposals, I think the value is really in the result. From what I can tell, the community map project is moving along, and hopefully we will have something fun and playable in the near future. If and when that happens, that says something about an "anyone come and contribute" structure.

    bittman's proposal, as tovilovan points out, is not really and idea for single map in the same way. Rather, it's an idea about how a collaborative map project could be structured. What comes of it is going to depend (in part) on who gets excited about such ambitious plans, who actually gets involved, and what they decide to do.

    Sooooo . . . as someone interested in this kind of thing, I will take this opportunity to plug a collaborative project proposal I've been working on here. If it interests any of ye like minded folks, PM me and we can start working together.

    And I would like to add that one way to keep these kinds of big team projects successful, even in a potential failure to produce the aimed result, is to be diligent about posting progress reports, early versions, design sketches, and all of those things that come along the way in the creation process. This way, the whole community can still give feedback, learn from mistakes, and stay involved in some fashion.
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2009
  11. A Boojum Snark

    aa A Boojum Snark Toraipoddodezain Mazahabado

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    But, that is how they do it. :p One guy maps the map, a couple others work on the art for it. Granted, they do have playtesting a lot and have constant input/feedback... but it's still just one guy building it.
     
  12. SPHinx

    SPHinx L2: Junior Member

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    Is that right? I would have thought it was more of a team setup. Interesting . . .

    I guess when you're all pros, it's more efficient to have one person map it the way they want and then modify based on feedback, rather than have multiple people working on the same map in different stages. But when you're all just learning, does it make more sense to have help along the way? Or do you learn more by doing it all yourself?
     
  13. A Boojum Snark

    aa A Boojum Snark Toraipoddodezain Mazahabado

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    It is right.

     
  14. Terr

    aa Terr Cranky Coder

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    You really want structured collaborative mapping, you'll have to wait until I slam a VMF-parsing library into a Subversion client at relativistic speeds after infiltrating CERN and avoiding being shot in the leg by some mouth-breathing guard.

    (*I have no plans for such a programming project at this time. I've got a map's B3 release to plan, my parsing grammar to arrange, my project to finish, and a maven builder to blame for it. I'm swamped.)
     
  15. Jamini

    Jamini L4: Comfortable Member

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    I'll throw in my .02$ here since I'm officially heading up the TF2Maps-UCMP.

    What you suggested is very similar to what we are doing, and yet very different. What my project is aiming to achieve is something of an amalgam of the efforts of the members of TF2maps in an organized setting. A fun map that we can call "ours" and show off our skill as a community, rather than a production that is supposed to be super-high release quality (it is important to note that I AM still striving for valve quality or higher in the map itself. However the goal of the map is not to become an official custom, but rather to become a custom that everyone can know and enjoy. Something like the current state of cashworks.)

    The way I have organized the UCMP's open-submission format is by dividing the people who wish to participate into separate teams depending on the phase of the map they wished to work upon. My first teams, the members responsible for layout, were divided into three four-man teams that would work in concert to design areas thematically based upon the original community votes. After those teams are finished this week, our entity team (myself) will be importing the game mode and Territorial Control gates. After that our three-man detailing teams will be given or request specific areas on the map to improve and alter. Unlike the layout and entity teams our detailing teams will be in direct contact with our director and each other on a much more regular basis. Finally, after the detailing team members have reached a level of detail that we are happy with, the most experienced mappers who have signed up to assist will be given the entire map in order to optimize as much of it as humanly possible.

    While the scope of your project and mine are different, our methodology is not dissimilar. Each of your team members is similar to the "teams" that my project has and will run, and I predict that you will have several of the same problems, shortfalls, and boons that my project has seen. Regardless, I for one, would love to see more collaborationist like this, the UCMP, or furnace creek. I wholeheartedly support this idea, and would love to see it go forward even though I would be wholly unable to work on it due to other constraints.

    Good luck with your project, Hopefully you'll produce something great for all of us to enjoy!