I'm going to talk for a bit about graphic design, which I will eventually tie back into level design, so bear with me. What is graphic design? First, I should explain what graphic design is, just in case the concept is fuzzy to anyone. In a nutshell, graphic design is visual communication. It is taking a message or an idea and conveying it through an arrangement of graphic symbols, including letters and words. To do this well is a lot harder than it sounds. You've probably seen plenty of bad graphic design, and may have recognized it. There's the club flyer with stretched text and randomly placed images. There's the sign in the mom & pop store window typed in comic sans with odd line breaks. There's the odd package that makes you wonder how it ever got approved. Bad design is not limited to things that are ugly or shocking, however. You wouldn't make a grungy urban punk advertisement for Lincoln automobiles. You wouldn't design a Norman Rockwell album cover for a death metal band. Good graphic design, on the other hand, is a whole lot subtler. Unless you're someone who deals with it every day, you're probably not going to notice that the poster you just saw drew your attention to all the right spots in just the right order to tell you exactly what you needed to know almost at a glance. When you're trying to decide between brands to buy, you probably won't be aware that the one you feel more familiar and comfortable with is because of memorable ads or an abstract idea conveyed by the shape of the brand mark and font used for the logo. These are things you experience because you are meant to experience them. Good graphic design is like a sentence you read and immediately understand without having to think about the punctuation or word order. The advantage bad graphic design has, though, is that it's cheap. Anyone can make bad graphic design. It's also a lot easier to notice as something that has been designed. However, the problem is not that the design is bad. The problem is that it devalues good design. Bad graphic design is not only ineffective for the person trying to use it, if it becomes prevalent enough people start to view it as standard, and are less willing to pay for good design, regardless of how much it will improve the reception of the message (such as "our stuff is better; buy it"). Or worse, people will stop seeking out better quality design because they think they can do it themselves. In short, bad design destroys public perception of design in general. So what does this have to do with level design? Unlike professional graphic designers, this group of amateurs, hobbyists, and professional-hopefuls does not have clients that we are trying to satisfy with our designs. We make maps because we enjoy creating environments for people to have fun in. However, there's a group of people that effectively act as clients. In a multiplayer setting, nobody will experience our designs if servers don't run them. Valve has provided professional quality maps for server operators to use. That means for the majority of server operators, ones who may not be dedicating the entire server to custom content, anything else must compare in quality. If they start looking at what's available, and see a lot of maps that aren't even close, chances are they just won't bother looking anymore and stick with what they've got. So what constitutes bad level design? Like graphic design, a lot of it is visual, such as poor lighting, bad texturing (or no texturing), bad brushwork, and unnatural geometry. Some of it may be more subtle. Maps may look wonderful but play poorly. They may result in constant stalemates. They may give a single class an extreme advantage or disadvantage. They may cause players to wander for extensive periods of times, seemingly in circles, without encountering the enemy. Or even another aspect may be whether the map fits in its context. It may look great but be completely devoid of the TF2 visual style. It may have an interesting play concept, but be for the wrong game. Just has Norman Rockwell does not fit a death metal band, surf maps, puzzle maps, jump maps, etc do not fit a game designed for strategic team based gameplay. The more we stress the quality of the final product, the better the overall public perception of custom maps. If server operators just see orange maps and the like at first glance, the well designed maps will remain buried, and the majority of the servers will be stuck playing the same seven maps ad infinitum. We want people to begin at least considering their rotation open to more than just what Valve feeds them. But what about those servers that run orange maps 24/7? Well, they're like those used car dealerships that think the owner screaming and acting crazy at the camera will be good for business. That's the real battle. There are plenty of people out there with good taste. The ones with bad taste though, they're noisy and prolific. If we can convince any of them that there's a better way to do it, even if it takes more time, effort, and help, the battle for better custom content is half won. If we can't, the most we can do is just make our own efforts as high quality as we can, even if it means eating some humble pie and listening to the advice of others. So what can we do? This is why I am writing this. Snipergen correctly criticizes the maps that will really hurt public perception, even if he goes about it the wrong way. I see it as a lack of proper language. Mapping experience is not itself enough to put into words exactly why something should be changed, improved, or never publicly released. Most people jumping into mapping aren't aware that what they do has an effect on everybody else, and it can be difficult to properly explain the social psychology involved. The long term outweighs the short term, not just for us, but for the aspiring mapper as well. The prospect of not finishing a project, or changing it drastically, may not be pleasant for someone, but in the long term it has the potential to mean better exposure for future projects. Our challenge is to come up with a way to tactfully explain this. Besides that, I won't claim to have all the ideas. This is more a call to arms of language (though I wouldn't say no if someone suggested a group rating raid on FPSB ). Language demands discourse, though, so what do you guys think?