[TIP] Things To Avoid When Designing Your First TF2 Map

Discussion in 'Tutorials & Resources' started by tyler, Jan 17, 2012.

  1. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

    Messages:
    5,035
    Positive Ratings:
    3,991
    This is a thread meant to explain to TF2 mapping newcomers why a lot of people around here may seem rude or exasperated when they play or post feedback on your map.

    If you are new to mapping and looking for advice or constructive criticism from us, please read this thread and ask yourself if you are doing anything described within. I have been posting here just over a year at this point [Ed. note: this was written in 2012], and have been reading and studying the forums and community for much longer. I have seen all these things and more and they never go over well with the people here.

    This is not to say any of these elements are necessarily bad, but you should avoid designing entire maps around them. You are not the first person to think of the idea, and you are not going to revolutionize mapping with something no one else has thought of. Dig a little deeper and you'll find hundreds of maps like this across the internet for every game, and very very few of them are played. Don't read this and think, "Well, my version of a water map with huge sightlines is far more thought out than anything before it... I can make it work." You can't. Please don't subject us to it.

    As a short aside, don't bother testing with bots either. They are useful only to make sure the game entities function, and beyond that are not a viable alternative to human players (and probably won't ever be). Balancing a map around bots before showing it to humans will probably just make your map worse!

    There is a reason you don't see...

    ...water-based maps
    There are a lot of reasons that water-based maps are frowned on. The most obvious reason is that it severely reduces the usefulness of Pyros. If you can simply extinguish yourself any time you are lit on fire (or completely avoid being on fire for entire sections of the map), that's not good. It also completely disables certain weapons--for example, the Huntsman. Even having just a bit of water in one portion of your map changes gameplay. Soldiers and Demomen can jump higher and farther when rocket or sticky jumping out of water.

    Water is also hard to map with because you cannot have water on different levels in the same playable area, or one of the surfaces just breaks. This means that any map built around water is likely to be the same general height at all times. If you have a large volume of water that players have to travel in, they are forced to pay attention to literally everything in all directions. Combat is far too unpredictable to be fun or enjoyable in a full 360 degree spherical range.

    Finally, players don't like swimming. In any game. Ever. If you like swimming in any game besides Ecco the Dolphin, you are insane, and that is a fact.

    What to do instead: If you want to use water, take cues from Freight or Well, where they are used as alternate routes, or Sawmill, which uses water as a way to completely change the battle on sections of the map.

    ...dark maps
    Dark maps are really bad. There is a difference between setting the feel of a map with a moody, night setting (Doublecross, Nightfall) and making an unplayable, pitch black mess. If you look at Valve maps, the play space is actually well lit and the environment settings, though sometimes using a dark color, are very bright! This is because it is frustrating to not be able to see who you are fighting, what class they are, or what weapon they are using. Despite the amount of new items and hats added to the game, the general silhouette of the nine classes is still pretty important and more or less intact in a lot of cases (though someone will inevitably post a silhouette of something ridiculous to make me look like an idiot). Regardless, when the play space is pitch black--even if the center of an area is well lit and the only the corners are dark--it's not fun for anyone.

    You might think, "Hey, what about Spies and Snipers? Don't they benefit from dark places?" That's true. It is not uncommon to see a spy path that is somewhat poorly lit, or a sniper spot which is in the middle of the fog fade distance so that he's somewhat obscured. But it's not the entire map. It's usually one spot in the whole map, and difficult to use as well. Not only that, but do you think two snipers in total darkness will ever hit anyone? No. Neither of them can see anything. It's a bad idea. Don't do it.

    What to do instead: Create moody lighting in the map and darker lighting outside, in the non-playable areas. Be sure you run around in third person and can clearly tell your team color instantly in all areas of the map. I wrote a guide on lighting recently, and it could help you if this is unclear.

    ...really tall or really long maps
    Think it'll be cool when everyone sees your 20-story map with a control point every third level where BLU has to storm to the top? It won't be. Think it's gonna be awesome when your map features long hallways that are difficult to run down because of oncoming enemy fire? It won't be. Go play cp_orangex for a while and see what I mean.

    Height and length create really pronounced class disparities that strongly affect game balance. Soldiers and Demomen have an easy time using splash damage against targets lower to the ground than them--the exact reason you see good players jumping around during fights a lot. Engineers also gain an advantage by having a sentry watch an entire area while limiting the range they can take damage from severely. Long hallways or otherwise long rooms or areas similarly unbalance gameplay by letting powerful Snipers and skilled Scouts dominate the open field. You will notice nowhere in this do I mention the power of Medics, Heavies or Pyros. They effectively lose all usefulness.

    What to do instead: Long sightlines and height disparities aren't necessarily bad, and I don't want to discourage them, but you have to be careful in your implementation. The start of Badwater is one of the largest height differences in the game and it's not something that could work in any map at any point: it is only because BLU is otherwise so shielded and has so many routes upward that the cliff in front of their spawn is not totally overwhelming. The roof area near the second point is a good example of equal opportunity height advantage. Also on Badwater you will find long sightlines, but they are quite often broken up or obscured with brushwork or props, and only 1 or 2 powerful ones exist in the map. It is necessary to limit them to ensure everyone has fun. One of the worst sightlines I can think of is on Doublecross--a single Sniper can control almost the entire upper mid section alone if he is skilled enough. There are enough routes that this isn't really an issue, but in an attack/defend map it should be avoided.

    Grazr wrote a fantastic guide on this that everyone should read 100 times.

    ...maps with colored lights
    Similar to dark maps, maps that utilize a lot of colored lights are annoying. Colored lights make it difficult to identify what team a player is on. Avoid large areas colored red or blue, or even purple or green or yellow. All of them will bleed into the texture of the player models and frustrate and confuse people playing your map. In addition, if any of your light change colors, flash, or otherwise are dynamic, your filesize will increase in leaps and bounds. It's a pretty simple thing to avoid, so don't do it.

    What to do instead: Using accent lights that are colored on computer consoles (2fort), gameplay signs (most signs you see in game have a colored light near them), or very, very lightly shade a team colored area are fine. A good example would be a final capture point: at this point in the map, the RED base having a couple red glowing lights that don't cast very far or aren't very bright won't really affect much (Coldfront is a good example). If you don't like white, use cool or warm colors to help set the mood of your map (Thunder Mountain's lights are a great example).

    ...maps with hard coded engineer buildings or player models
    Don't put buildables into your map. It doesn't matter if they are sappable or not. It doesn't matter if Engineers can fix them, use them for their own team, or whatever. It is confusing for everyone. Similarly, don't place player models into your map. Imagine trying to kill a prop. Sound stupid, doesn't it? That's what people will do. I don't kno what else to say here. Just don't do it. It's not clever, interesting, or original. Don't do it.

    What to do instead: If you've got a lot of time, create the kind of scenes found in Thunder Mountain or Foundry. But probably don't do that either.

    ...maps that break the art style
    Don't use textures from Half-Life, Quake, Minecraft, Pokemon, Zelda, or whatever else. TF2 is a semi-cartoony game that has bright visuals and low-density texture detailing. It is not gritty, dirty, dark, filled with ponies, or designed after another game. There's nothing more to say on this. The same goes for custom models.

    What to do instead: Check the downloads section of the site for a ton of custom textures you can use and remember to credit the authors. If you make your own, reference the TF2 color pallete often and keep it in line. Post in the WIP thread to have people help you.

    ...maps that combine two or more gametypes or use a non-standard gametype
    Combining two or more gametypes simply does not work. While you may be able to work elements of one gametype into another (invade CTF is a good example, and so is King of the Flag), the inability to change the HUD really limits what you can explain to the player succinctly and efficiently. While you might wonder why no one has made a payload map where you need to capture three points to unlock the cart and then capture the gasoline to power it and hold a point that the defending team can capture back to defend the track and blah blah blah. I'm already confused. What is even happening in your map anymore? TF2 is a simple game with simple art and a simple style. Keep it that way.

    Similarly, we don't really care about your jump/surf/VSH/dm/prophunt/class specific map. It's not that people don't necessarily like them, but this is a community for people who make (usually) serious maps. We want to make maps that follow the general TF2 style and theme that most players will enjoy with the hopes of servers putting them into rotation or, at best, Valve buying it. This is not the place to post a map based on Canterlot or Touhou, and if you can't find that place on your own (yes, it exists) we will tell you. The idea here is to make professional grade, quality maps. We are pretending we have a job. We want to do our job right.

    What to do instead: Adding a few dynamic elements to an otherwise vanilla map is fine, but it needs to be extremely clear what both teams should be doing immediately. Capping a point to open a door to let a payload through can work, but make sure it is integrated into your map well and is clearly defined as the next objective when players are required to do it.

    ...maps with a gimmick
    The problem with gimmicks in TF2 maps is that they often leave players confused, frustrated, or bored, depending on what you've done. And that's assuming you can get it to work. The truth is, TF2 uses a very limited version of the Source Engine, and while we as mappers have some tricks we can use, the reality is that you cannot do quite a lot. This includes creating new NPCs or "boss" encounters, or some kind of storyline, or any number of entity-driven elements in a map.

    One of the most common gimmicks I see is RED attacking and BLU defending. This isn't cool or interesting. Players don't catch on and get frustrated, and end up blaming what could be a good map for their own bad experience. Don't buck tradition and focus on making a strong project without frills. That's not even to mention the payload HUD won't work that way.

    Another one I see a lot is elevators or teleporters. Neither of them will work for gameplay. You might be aware that each class has distinct ways to get around the map at different times. Changing them, even subtly, can be disastrous. And (you will never expect this) both of them are more likely to confuse or annoy players than make them enjoy their experience.

    You will find it hard enough to design, build, balance and iterate a map without messing around with some ridiculous gimmick that barely works. It will be frustrating and it isn't going to help you. If, after you build a fully functional, finished map, ask yourself: does my map need the gimmick I originally planned? The answer is always no.

    What to do instead: If you're new to mapping, troubleshooting the problems while balancing for a game you haven't mapped for is going to be too difficult. Until you've got some basic map experience under your belt and have balanced something well--and other, more experienced people agree--avoid any kind of gimmick whatsoever.

    ----------

    Most of these are things that take balancing for classes to an extreme. You don't need to specifically design with Pyros or Scouts or Medics in mind, in most cases. If you are building a TF2 map properly and thinking about the way your structures will influence and direct gameplay, natural favorite areas for certain classes should emerge naturally. Or at least, that's the ideal scenario.

    Would we advise making a trade or idle map? No. Will you learn anything? Nothing more than you would learn making an actual map, and if you made an actual map you would learn a lot more. And it'd be useful.

    If you are a new mapper, the best thing to do is start with a small, simple map that follows the traditional TF2 theme, both in terms of art and gameplay. Learn how hard it is to balance a map for both teams and all classes before you even consider doing anything else.

    Am I saying never do any of this? No. Do it for yourself to learn, to have fun, to screw around, or make a joke map. Who cares! But don't release a map that has one of more of these elements in excessive amounts and expect a lot of praise. It will not come.

    If I missed anything, please let me know so I can add it to this list.
     
    • Thanks Thanks x 49
    • Agree Agree x 5
    • Like Like x 1
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2015
  2. Freyja

    aa Freyja ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Messages:
    2,878
    Positive Ratings:
    4,955
    Perhaps you should add it's best to follow an official gamemode, rather than deathmatch or surf.
     
  3. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

    Messages:
    5,035
    Positive Ratings:
    3,991
    I've kind of got a thing along those lines at the end but I will add a larger bullet point for it.
     
  4. grazr

    aa grazr Old Man Mutant Ninja Turtle

    Messages:
    5,436
    Positive Ratings:
    3,571
    You should add that prospective mappers don't really learn anything when deciding to make a trade or idle map. They think it's a get fame quick option which simply isn't the case. Nobody gives a shit about trade or idle maps and making a box with spawn points and a trigger hurt is of no value to a map author who intends to get something from his map project.

    The same can be true of orange maps, the purpose of orange maps is usually to create purposefully unbalanced areas for the sake of "creating unique gameplay experiences otherwise not found in TF2", failing to realise there's a reason for that.

    You should also include a warning about gimmicks. There's a huge trend for new mappers to want to make stupid gimmicks that are insanely complicated to implement in any feasable manner. New mappers should start with a basic game mode with basic goals, banging your head against a brick wall trying to get a gimmick that wont work, to work, is not how to spend ones time learning building TF2 maps. Leave that stuff to the novices who understand which gimmicks are reasonable for TF2 gameplay and know how to troubleshoot them in order to get them to work if they don't.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2012
  5. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

    Messages:
    5,035
    Positive Ratings:
    3,991
  6. LeSwordfish

    aa LeSwordfish semi-trained quasi-professional

    Messages:
    4,113
    Positive Ratings:
    6,077
    My advice with gimmicks/new modes/ pretty much anything: make a map without it. Make a map, test, iterate, etc. Once you have a great map without a gimmick, look back at your gimmick. Does a map with three control points unlocked at once seem such a cool idea now you've realised how hard it is to balance the two points on a gravelpit-style map against each other? etc, etc.
     
  7. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

    Messages:
    5,035
    Positive Ratings:
    3,991
  8. Leminnes

    aa Leminnes

    Messages:
    1,317
    Positive Ratings:
    801
    This is great, yyler. I can even say I was definitely a offender of a few of these back in my early days (oh god, was I.) This needs to be stickied.
     
  9. AngryAngus

    AngryAngus L3: Member

    Messages:
    101
    Positive Ratings:
    115
    [​IMG]

    I agree with pretty much everything in this thread, I personally dont understand why or how people can think that hl1/quake textures would work in TF2.
    Would be nice to see this sticked for new comers.
     
    • Thanks Thanks x 1
  10. What Is Schwa

    What Is Schwa L6: Sharp Member

    Messages:
    375
    Positive Ratings:
    220
    Wow us old time mappers are a bore.

    Everyone's first map sucks satan's scrotum. I say go make the wackiest dumbest shit you can imagine. No-one is going to play your first map; it might as well be something that inspires you. Later, when you have some skills under your belt, you will be jaded and boring just like the rest of us.

    To this day I am still proud of my first project Circlejerk. It broke nearly every single rule above, but was fun as hell to make. I might not have attempted it if I read these rules, and I think I would be poorer for it.

    New mappers, listen up. Your first half dozen projects are going to be uglier than Rexy's butt. Even if you follow the above rules, no-one in their right mind will willingly play your first project. Do whatever the hell you want and have fun with it. Likely you'll make a lot of mistakes, but your next project will be better.

    SCHWA OUT
     
    • Thanks Thanks x 14
  11. Tarry H Sruman

    Tarry H Sruman Large Orphanage Proprietor

    Messages:
    871
    Positive Ratings:
    820
    That isn't saying much.
     
  12. Monsterclip

    Monsterclip L2: Junior Member

    Messages:
    57
    Positive Ratings:
    37
    Awesome post, Schwa
     
  13. Fr0Z3nR

    aa Fr0Z3nR Creator of blackholes & memes. Destroyer of forums

    Messages:
    6,391
    Positive Ratings:
    4,906
    I shed a tear.

    It was beautiful.
     
  14. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

    Messages:
    5,035
    Positive Ratings:
    3,991
  15. A Boojum Snark

    aa A Boojum Snark Toraipoddodezain Mazahabado

    Messages:
    4,769
    Positive Ratings:
    5,535
    On the contrary, there is no better way to learn than experience. People can read about how/what to do, but unless you've done something it won't stick nearly as good. Despite the fact that everyone thinks I have all the answers, there has been many a time people have come to me with a problem I had a very hard time figuring out (or couldn't) just because it is something I "skipped over" by not doing things wrong. Granted technical troubleshooting is a bit of a different thing than the general design theory in this thread... but "doing it right first" reminded me of that and I felt like mentioning.
     
  16. Rexy

    aa Rexy The Kwisatz Haderach

    Messages:
    1,795
    Positive Ratings:
    2,367
    This thread has me butthurt.
     
    • Funny Funny x 1
  17. Tarry H Sruman

    Tarry H Sruman Large Orphanage Proprietor

    Messages:
    871
    Positive Ratings:
    820
    I don't think anyone wants you to hurt your butt.
     
  18. ForbiddenDonut

    aa ForbiddenDonut

    Messages:
    391
    Positive Ratings:
    338
    I'm pretty unknown around here, so people may take my advice with a grain a salt. However, I spent years mapping for HL, Portal and Portal 2 (Portal 2 being my all-time favorite mapping experience).

    I absolutely agree with Schwa - experimentation is essential for developing mapping experience. Whenever I have a kooky or presumably "stupid" idea, I'll jump into hammer and give it a test. As any mapper knows, especially ones like me who spend a lot of time sketching and drawing their designs, what the design looks in your head or on paper rarely equates to how it turns out in Hammer or compiled.

    That said, my biggest advice for anyone getting into mapping - a lesson that I have learned and still continue to learn - is to put your ambitions into reality. While it would be so cool to have that four stage payload that whirls around an erupting volcano or the cp_steel influenced map that is floating by giant air balloons in the sky, you will have a horrific time trying to execute it.

    Start small, and conquer each obstacle as you go. You'll run into bugs, problems and difficulties almost as soon as you start. So many new mappers are trying to reinvent the wheel when they forget why we have a wheel in the first place. When you the skills and the experience, then try to make that awesome amazing 6-month-in-the-making map. Don't forget your ideas. As Schwa said, you don't want to become jaded and boring, but you also don't want to get frustrated and keep restarting projects over and over because you get stuck on how to tackle a gargantuan workload.

    Pick your battles intelligently. One of my favorite architects was once quoted saying: "It's better to be good than to be original." I agree, but I want to take that a bit further:

    Be good. And then, be original.
     
    • Thanks Thanks x 5
  19. Moose

    Moose L6: Sharp Member

    Messages:
    312
    Positive Ratings:
    299
    this is pretty much what my advice would be. Just realize that you have a lot to learn and tackle things with that in mind. hell, your first map doesn't even necessarily have to be terrible if you get a bunch of practice first, read up on a bunch of design theory, and think really hard about how map layout effects gameplay.

    Although most likely you'd still want to jump in and force people to play a bad map, which is fine as long as you're planning to listen to the people who yell at you for your mistakes.
     
  20. Fr0Z3nR

    aa Fr0Z3nR Creator of blackholes & memes. Destroyer of forums

    Messages:
    6,391
    Positive Ratings:
    4,906
    The one thing I like to keep in mind is that you're building and designing an environment, not a map. That has helped me make things feel more natural and not so "square with stuff in it"

    Admittedly. I still do it from time to time.