's user interviews - Issue 1

Discussion in 'Mapping Questions & Discussion' started by Shaar, Aug 20, 2009.

  1. Shaar

    Shaar L3: Junior Member<BR>toboruin

    Positive Ratings:
    First interviewee is user Dr.Spud

    1) being a former CS:S mapper, what did you find most difficult about the transition from one game to the other? How were you able to counter these problems?

    The biggest difference between CS maps and TF2 maps is how you detail them. It's not just a matter of replacing realistic textures with the TF2 palette- I really had to wrap my mind around a different architectural style. When I first started to detail HAARP, I build all the rooms in the first section instinctively and without much trouble. But then I realized it just looked bad. My insticts told me to design rooms in such a way that looks great in CS, but awkward in TF2. I don't think you can put into words exactly what the difference is. Sure you can say "oh there's less fine detail in TF2 architexture, or doors are build in this way and walls are this height" and so on, but that doesn't relay it correctly. You just got to have an eye for what looks good in the TF2 universe, and I'm still developing it myself. It's definitely been more difficult for me to make TF2 maps look good than CS maps.

    Of course, the level design (ie layout) of TF2 maps are also different from CS. The thing is though, the design transition was fairly simple, because both games share the same fundamentals of source engine layouts. It's like I had the same "tools" that I had to use in different ways to confront the situations of a TF2 match. And by tools I don't mean Hammer, I mean layout considerations (eg how far sight lines are, how many paths there are, etc).

    2) When you first started mapping on the source engine, how did you become acquaint with the controls of it?

    I just jumped right into it and made a full map. I was fortunate enough to have a basic understanding of how levels are built in the engine (geometry made with brushes, props placed on brushes, entities controlling game logic), so I picked up the basics pretty quickly. But to be honest, hammer is really friendly to beginners and within an hour I think anyone can figure out how it works. Anyways, so I just dived in a built a map to completion. I think that's the best way to do it because, no matter what, your first map WILL suck. There's no way around it. If I had started a map, then abandoned it and started another, and then another, until I finally finished one a year later, it would STILL suck. So I think beginners should go out and make an entire map just to rack up the experience. If you don't know how to do something, you just look it up and fix the problem, and keep trudging-on until that map is done. Experience is the best teacher, and there's no better way to get experience than to make finished maps. Even if they're bad maps.

    3) When you begin a new mapping project, how do you plan out the map? why do you prefer this method over other methods of planning?

    I draw it out on paper. It's the best thing to do because it's the easiest. And I guarantee, no matter who you are, if you draw out your map on paper it will end up better than if you had chosen not to. Using photoshop, or some other alternative to paper just makes it more difficult on you. A pen and paper let you plot out a map without any interference or complication, and they let you picture your map in seconds, and its easy to cross things out, make changes, add things, and above all else, it's easy to crumple up the paper and start over. Plus, your drawings don't have to be good. Whatever you put down on that paper is for YOU, and its a way to put your thoughts down so that you can understand them better.

    I hear many people say that after their first or second map, they are certain they could build a great map off the top of their head. This is complete bullshit.

    There's one other important thing: I almost always have some other person that I bounce ideas off of from the very beginning. This person DOES NOT NEED TO BE A MAPPER, although they should be familiar with TF2 of course. For me it's usually my brother, who has never used hammer in his life, and actually doesn't play games as often as I do. But getting feedback from him (or anyone else) on my very early ideas is invaluable. Everyone starts a map with some amazing idea, and you get delusions of how revolutionary, solid, perfect, and inovative it will be and how much everyone will love it. Having another person in the room is the quickest way to shoot down that craziness and put you on your feet.

    4) what were the key things you had in mind when you were creating both pl_problematique, and ctf_HAARP?

    I always think a new map has to have some kind of great hook to it - otherwise people would rather play stock maps. With Problematique, that hook is the new payload circuit gamemode. I wanted the map to have this vibe of old school arcade games, where you're just racking up a high score. According to the announcer, Blu can never win in that map. And in fact people keep asking me to come up with some win condition for them. But really, I think that would just muddle with the real draw of the map. Even though Blu can't win, it's by far the most fun team to play. Once the map goes final, and I want players to be like, "Oh, the best I did on Problematique was two laps. Tomorrow I want to break three!" Basically the same draw as survival mode in L4D. Of course, Problematique isn't quite there yet, and I'll have to make some revisions down the road.

    With HAARP, I don't count the A/D CTF gamemode as the hook, since it's in a group with other similar maps. And this is a case where it's totally fine to have the draw of the map be the look and vibe of it. HAARP's theme has two things going for it: 1) it's built into a mountainside, and 2) it's a play on the real HAARP facility, which is an Alaskan research station with some conspiracy theories surrounding it. Namely, some people feel it could be used as a doomsday device, so it's a prime candidate for TF2-50's-spy antics.

    With any map I make, though, the layout is what really needs to set it apart. The gamemode of problematique and the theme of HAARP are great and all, but they'll get stale if the layout is just the same-old shit. I've always said that the most important thing about a map is how interesting it is. I'd put that above balance even. I'm not nearly as concerned with a map being emperically "perfect," because Blu and Red win an equal amount of the time, as I am with a map being interesting to play. I want to stick obstacles and routes in there that make the player think a little bit, and make him do some work to wrap his play style around the map. I often criticize maps of being no more than very pretty corridors. A map like that would be ctf_turbine. It's "balanced," it "works," but is it much fun? Is a choice between a left corridor and a right corridor (and a "vent shaft" corridor) interesting to anyone? No, no it is not.

    5) Problematique features a different set up to a normal payload map; this could confuse new players, how are you overcoming this problem? were there any other solutions you were tempted to use - if so why did you not use them?

    First of all, the idea of a circuit payload is just easy to understand for most people. Racing games in particular have engrained the idea that tracks can be point to point, or circuits with laps. A few people get hung up on the fact that Blu can't "win," and they keep asking me "but how do you win?" I'll tell them that you can't win, and you try and get a high score. "... but... how do you win?" and then I facepalm. There's not much I can do about that; those people will get over it. I guess an intro video can alleviate some of that confusion.

    People also get confused about how the spawns work. Although, once I tell them that each team has one spawn with multiple exits, they immediately get it. In the future I'll have to make it more obvious that you always start in the same spawn zone in the center of the map. One thing to note about this though: I tried to make the layout of problematique as simple as possible, and the single spawn zones is an example of that. I don't want players being thrown all over the map and lose their orientation with the world.

    6) As we all should know, some map features can make classes overpowered, or underpowered. do you specifically try to design areas to incorporate this, or do you prefer to try and keep all classes on equal footing and why do you choose to keep it like that?

    Keeping all classes equally useful in all situations is impossible. And actually, I think it's kind of a bullshit idea that people latch onto - but really it's not something to strive for. All classes should have viable options, but if every class could be equally powerful in a map, you're basically grinding down TF2 into a game based entirely on lightning-fast reflexes. That's just boring.

    What I mean when I say all classes should have options is that anyone can make a difference in the game using any class. Maybe a sniper can get a good angle on ONE area, but a demoman is a better choice for the another. Or maybe a pyro will die in an instant if he rushes toward enemies, but he can keep them held back to let an engineer build in a tough spot. Also, everything a class does should be counterable. For example that sniper should be able to snipe well, but also be vulnerable on his flanks.

    When I design maps, I keep in mind a few key class abilities to guide me. I try to control these handful of things in the map, and then for the most part it works out pretty well. I've got to control engineer spots (do I want this area to be a good offense "safe zone"? Do I want a team to easilly lock down this area?). I've got to control rocket/sticky jump spots (are there unintended jumps that break the map's balance? Do I want an extra route for a team that only a few players can use?). I've also got to control close-combat areas, keep long range areas, and "camping spots."

    7) optimizing can often be hard, especially for beginners. how did you learn what all the specific brush entities did, as well as how to design maps with optimization in mind?

    Whenever I talk about optimization, I stress how important it is to design a layout with it in mind. What I do with all my maps is try and detail the whole thing without ANY optimization brush entities, or even fading props. I get the map running at a respectable framerate, and then later I add a few entities here and there to improve it. It works great, and it's good habit for mappers not to use optimization techniques as a crutch. They should only improve a good map, not be the foundation of it.

    The hard part about learning optimization is understand how VVIS works. Knowing exactly what each brush entity does is useless if you don't know what VVIS is thinking. It would be hard for me to go off on an analysis of VVIS in a brief paragraph, so beginning mappers (and expert mappers, for that matter) should read up on how VVIS works on their own.

    8) where do you look for inspiration to map, after you reach a mapping block?

    The best way around a block is to give it some time. Close hammer for a day, go do something else, and take your mind off it. A smart teacher I once had told me that if you stop thinking about a problem, your brain will subconciously work on a solution while you go do something else. I usually find that a section of a map that really stumped me the night before suddenly becomes a peice of cake the next day.

    As for sources of inspiration, I'd say the best thing is Google image search. That should be pretty self explanatory.

    9) when your beginning a mapping project do you aim to please both the pub communities and the competitive leagues? or do you just focus on the pub/competitive players? why do you focus your map this way?

    I don't cater to either one in particular. Actually, I really want to strangle people who post their maps and proudly proclaim that they are making it for pub or competitive players. Guess what: the official maps getting played in competitive leagues are being played in pub servers too.

    The people I aim to please are people who like fun. If they happen to be pub and/or competitive players, so be it. When someone designs their map with only one group in mind, I think they're shooting themselves in the foot, because what they're doing is neglecting a large portion of players that COULD enjoy the map.

    10) Which part of mapping did you find the hardest to pick up (E.g. Blocking out maps, displacements, optimising, logic entities ect ect) and why? do you still have problems with it?

    I think the hardest part by far is scaling the architecture of maps correctly. It was difficult to begin with, and it's still difficult. Hammer doesn't do a good job of letting you picture exactly what the player will see in-game. Often times a map will look great in hammer, and in-game it falls apart and looks really sketchy. I think poorly-scaled paths, buildings, walls, etc. is largely responsible for this. The hardest part is: even slight changes within a couple dozen units can drastically change how good part of a map looks.

    It's also easy to miscale an entire map and as a result have poor gameplay. A big part of balancing TF2 games is controlling how far each team has to run and how large rooms are near encounter spots. Doing this correctly can sometimes be nearly impossible without testing alpha builds repeatedly.

    11) what game mode, for TF2, Do you enjoy mapping for the most? would you recommend the game mode for beginner mappers, and why?

    So far I've only done payload and A/D CTF, so I don't know specifically. But I will say that making a full 3-stage map is much more difficult than a smaller map. I also don't enjoy making payload that much, because making spaces for the track to go through can be somewhat restrictive on how you can build the map. I guess the kind of map I'd want to make is a 5-CP map. I think that kind of map gives you a lot of freedom to design the layout. Sure, copy/pasting half of the map can be obnoxious, but it's not terrible. I'd probably recommend 5-CP maps to beginners too, because it's well established as a fun gamemode for TF2, and because as I said before it gives the mapper a lot of room to be creative.

    12) Do you often feel limited by the source engine and TF2's capabilities? if so how do you come around these problems to solve them?

    Not really. But I think the source-engine's biggest limitation is that it is overly-difficult to make maps that aren't based on the grid. Basically TF2 maps are build with a lot of blocks, and not a lot of diagonals. Newer games coming out usually have levels build in Maya or 3Ds Max, and they have levels that curve and slope in any direction. A good example is just about any racing game. The developers can easilly make road sloping around in any angle, while in the source engine this is nearly impossible.

    13) Have you ever tried to implement features from CS:S into tf2 maps? If so were they ever successful?

    What has carried over from CS:S mapping into my TF2 maps is how I approach the level design. This has been extremely valuable, I think. I get the feeling that many TF2 mappers don't think about their map layouts in terms of discrete routes for each team. But from a CS background, where maps are built of various routes connecting a handful of rooms, I've naturally brought over this mindset. Unlike CS, TF2 has more of an "arena" feel to it, with open spaces for teams to have large-scale battles. However it's still crucially important that a mapper gives each team very deliberate paths to and from (and at times within) these battles. A good example is in Attack/Defend style maps, where the offensive team generally has more routes into a battle than the defensive team.

    14) TF2 has a unique art style; do you feel you have achieved it in your maps? What would you recommend beginner mappers to do in order to try and achieve the same art style?

    I've kind of achieved the art style. As I said in response to the first question, this is probably what I have the most trouble with. But what I would recommend to beginners is what I'm currently doing right now - immitate Valve. I know some people will turn their noses up at this, but there's really nothing wrong with doing it. Every artist in the world has to start out by immitating other successful artists to some extent. It's only after you master immitation that they can start making something new.

    That's not to say beginners should copy/paste parts of Valve maps into their own and stitch them together. If you do that, you're not learning anything. But if you're starting out and don't know how to, say, detail a building, then use a Valve building as a reference and make a similar one. Even expert mappers do it all the time.

    15) Weird question time! How long do you spend mapping, on average each day? Why do you map for that time scale?

    During the summer, depending on how productive I feel, I'll spend maybe 3-8 hours a day (sometimes skipping a day or two to do something else). I don't make a schedule for myself or anything. But now I'm starting up school, so I'll only be able to fit in long mapping-sessions a couple times a week at most. It's definitely a hobby, not a job.

    16) having two mapping projects on at the same time, do you find it hard to juggle between the two? would you recommend doing this to a beginner mapper if they need to do it?

    Don't do it if you're a beginner. And actually, I don't juggle between HAARP and Problematique anymore. I'm only working on HAARP right now and I'll go back to Problematique at some point. It can sometimes be nice to work on a second map to take a break from a main project, but it's easy to bite off more than you can chew and suddenly end up with 2 unfinished maps, instead of 1 finished one.

    17) Have you ever had any major problems with previous maps? how did you solve them?

    I have with old CS maps. And when that happened, I would either re-think the layout, or abandon the map entirely. It's not a big deal to abandon a map - I have probably half a dozen mediocre CS maps in alpha stage that I stopped working on because it just wasn't worth the time. I would much rather release a couple really good examples of my best work than shove out every map I've ever worked on regardless of quality.

    When I do decide to rethink the layout though, the way to solve the major problems is to delete and rebuild. It can be hard to work on part of a map for hours and hours and then have to delete it - and in fact most people will just keep it and try to "make it work." But if a map isn't fun, it isn't fun. You'll be a better mapper if you don't attach yourself to your work and can bring yourself to delete things. What I find is when I build a problematic are for the second time, it comes out much better.

    18) what tools do you use to aid you in your mapping? (Aside from hammer obviously) would you recommend any beginners to use them?

    I use Photoshop and 3Ds Max. Maya is a good replacement for 3Ds max though; they're both very good. I don't like Softimage XSI though. But anyways, custom props and textures are a great way to make your map better.

    A beginner doesn't need to worry about making props or textures, though. If a beginner desperately needs a new prop or something, they can just ask a modeler to make one for them. There are plenty of people willing to help.

    19) what one big thing would you warn beginner mappers about when they're creating there first map? what would the solutions be to this problem and why have you chosen said problem?

    I think I'll go back to what I said early. I would warn beginners that they will fuck up. There's just no way around it. And to overcome this, you've got to be willing to delete your work and redesign. The other thing you can do is start talking with another person and get feedback. Even if they're just a TF2 player and not a mapper, having a second person there to bounce ideas off of makes it easier.

    20) Is there anything else you'd like to add?

    I'm going to college to study game design, and I want to be a game designer. If you're looking to break into the industry, starting out by making maps is great. If you're really serious, you may want to work on a HL2 mod as well, but the maps alone are still good. They look great on a resume (you're using professional tools, remember), and it shows that you're dedicated to it. Showing that you've designed something for a AAA game like TF2 is a lot more impressive than just showing a platformer you made in Gamemaker.


    Hope you guys find this useful as well as interesting. Thanks to Dr.Spud.


    Users interviewed:

    Users yet to be interviewed:
    Da Beatz Project
    Mr Muffin Man
    The Political Gamer
    • Thanks Thanks x 17
  2. Icarus

    aa Icarus

    Positive Ratings:
    This is damn extensive and I love the personalized questions.

    Very insightful. Thanks.

    I need to go back and reread it more carefully now.
  3. The Political Gamer

    aa The Political Gamer

    Positive Ratings:
    A long read but a good one I must say!
  4. Fearlezz

    Fearlezz L10: Glamorous Member

    Positive Ratings:
    I love how personalized the questions are. Can't wait :)
  5. Waif

    Waif L7: Fancy Member

    Positive Ratings:
    A bit long but still very interesting.
  6. Kronixx

    Kronixx L5: Dapper Member

    Positive Ratings:
    i think i'm too antsy and dont spend enough time on the pen and paper stage....pen and paper feels counter-productive, like i'm overthinking obvious things. I know i know, it's bad practice to skip the pen and paper, i don't recommend it either. USE YOUR PAPER, unlike me.
  7. grazr

    aa grazr Old Man Mutant Ninja Turtle

    Positive Ratings:
    I tend to disagree with some of the advice he gives about the Source Engine. Ignoring optimisation until you're detailing out your map is a fools errand. This isn't Crytek.

    Whilst he has released beta maps for TF2 and perhaps CS Dr.Spud still comes across as a novice mapper and some of the advice is not.. sound. Which shows through with his comments (or lack of) about displacement technology. Does he realise several racing mods have been released on the Source Engine?

    His statements are not well researched and often contradictory

    2 out of 5 stars.
  8. Dr. Spud

    aa Dr. Spud Grossly Incandescent

    Positive Ratings:
    I've been working in the source engine since HL2 was released, and I used Worldcraft for a bit before that. I'm not the end-all be-all mapper or anything, but I do have a lot of experience. If I come across as novice it's probably because I choose not to use highfalutin language to try and sound smart. Also I'm pretty sure I didn't contradict myself up there...

    You may want to re-read what I said about optimization. I never said to ignore optimization till a map is detailed. Quite the opposite. I said to design a map with optimization in mind - which is a tricky process. Your geometry needs to be carefully trimmed to control the amount of objects drawn on-screen. You also need to gauge which areas will get the most traffic in-game and control how much detail is seen from there accordingly. I spend hours tweaking basic geometry to get it optimized right from the start, then I detail it without using any of the brush entities.

    And, with regards to the thing I said about making roads, I've done my homework on that. Check out this map, where I made a fully curved, sloped, and banked road (for the record, of the racing mods I've seen none of them have roads this clean). Displacements failed me - they were sloppy, imprecise, and frankly a bitch to work with. In order to get that road in brushes, I had to make it in 3Ds Max, import to XSI, break it into triangles, export to vmf, and then re-texture it by hand in Hammer. That is NOT convenient, which is why I said it's overly-difficult to build off the grid. If you're making a road in 3Ds Max, you just plot out a curved line, and project a shape down it; plus you can tweak vertices to make embankments. You're not going to do that with Hammer displacements. To get the same result in Hammer as I did in 3ds Max, it took about 10x as much time. Hence overly-difficult.

    If my answers aren't helpful to you, then I'm sorry. But don't assume I don't know what I'm talking about.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2009
  9. eerieone

    aa eerieone

    Positive Ratings:
    False, put your heart into it, dont be afraid to destroy whole areas, learn quick and listen to advise, then your first map can be salvaged

    Wrong, i do that all the time. Just because you don´t do it doesn´t mean others can´t :)

    nice read though
    • Thanks Thanks x 2
  10. Waif

    Waif L7: Fancy Member

    Positive Ratings:
    :O Well my first map is Nuclear, I hope people don't find it shit ( although I would rather them tell the truth about it so I don't waste ages on it for nothing:p) Although as eery kind of implied, I have learnt much more from it by trudging on and making needed changes then I would have if I was to give up straight away and made a new map.
    Its all the stupid mistakes that I made ( well really am making) that give me all that needed experience to become better.
  11. Dr. Spud

    aa Dr. Spud Grossly Incandescent

    Positive Ratings:
    Eerie actually brings up a great point, now that I read his and potato's post. When I say everyone's first map will suck, it's hinging on peoples' "first map" being the first build they release. In hindsight I should have thought that statement out more, because in my head I don't consider a final build a person's first map, but most people probably would.
  12. JoshuaC

    JoshuaC L7: Fancy Member

    Positive Ratings:
    You know I never made the correlation that first map = first release map either.

    Heh, I actually went though some of my first maps a little while back and was actually disgusted at some of the things I did back then.
  13. Acumen

    aa Acumen Annoyer

    Positive Ratings:
    wow, that came out nicely. good work you guys !

    i just request more pictures next time :D
  14. Dr. ROCKZO

    Dr. ROCKZO L8: Fancy Shmancy Member

    Positive Ratings:
    Great Read, I look forward to more.
  15. Psy

    aa Psy The Imp Queen

    Positive Ratings:
    A really good read. :D
  16. Steff0o

    Steff0o L6: Sharp Member

    Positive Ratings:
    I agree with you:p