[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.