Musings on level design and quality control at TWP

Musings on level design and quality control at TWP

Postby npc_msleeper_boss » Wed Jul 25, 2012 7:00 pm

I'd like to preface this by saying that I'm not the average gamer; I'm a game developer, I've been making games for a long time, and I have long since lost the ability to not look at games critically. A chef analyzes every meal he eats. An architect studies every building he enters. I examine every game, every map, every puzzle I play. But more than that, I'm the type of person who views games as more than just trivial entertainment. I'm not going to go off on a huge tangent on “games as art”, but my point is that games (and custom maps) can and should be given the type of importance that you would a painting, a sculpture, a play, or a piece of music.

I recognize the disconnect that exists between myself as the site administrator and the chief forward thrust for what I want and work towards the culture here being, and the fact that many new map designers don't have the background that I do and don't have the same goals and drive that I do (even if I wish they did). When I give tough criticism to a map by someone new to the tools, new to the engine, probably new to 3D design in the first place, I feel like I really have to go out of my way not to make myself feel bad. Not because I'm worried about hurting someone's feelings, but because I genuinely, legitimately want to see everyone who does post maps to do their absolute best work for their own sake... And it's hard to articulate that to someone who doesn't have a firm understanding of what it means to really examine something critically.

The problem with this is that very frequently, I see new people “giving their best shot” and I know that isn't the case. The best artists all started out somewhere, so while I don't expect everyone who learns Hammer for the first time ever to produce something like this, I can't help but feel like you are just giving up if you're doing this in your map and say “This is the best I could possibly do.” I don't really know what would drive someone to make that and decide it's good enough to show to the public. My guess is that you assume either that because you don't have a high standard or care about your map then others probably don't care about quality either.

Or, what I'm afraid of, is that the mapping and modding scene – really gaming in general – is such that people feel entitled to encouragement and praise simply for putting forth effort, regardless of the amount or quality of that effort. And I feel this is sadly the case when someone says “you should cut me slack because I'm new.” That shouldn't matter, and here it doesn't. I can't even come up with a list of great maps made by people who were new to the tools or the engine. Unfamiliarity with the toolset does not mean that you as an artist – and that's what you are when you make a map, you're a 3D artist – have the right to totally forgo receiving criticism when you refuse to look at your own work critically.

Over the years, I've found that there are two very different types of bad maps made by new designers. There is the map made by someone who has put in the minimal effort required to get their map to work (despite lamenting that they put in “their best attempt”); these maps usually have single texture surfaces, very little or very poorly executed lighting or detail, and really just the bare minimum to get something that can be – and there isn't enough quotes in the universe to put around this – “played”.

And then there is the type of map that has all of the right elements of a map there at play – diverse world detailing, props, varied lighting, attempts at interesting game elements, and so on – but unfortunately gets most if not all of these things totally wrong. This is the person who has the potential to make something really great, even if they didn't do it on their first try. This is what I'm okay with seeing put up here, because it shows genuine and honest effort. These are the people I like giving feedback and criticism to, because I know that they give a shit about what they're doing, they just need to know how to do it right.

This is why I have worked for years to develop the “quality culture” here. Why great works are praised, why mediocre works are given the criticism they deserve, and why maps that proclaim “I made this in 3 hours it is fun map I am new to Hammer pleace rate 5 stars” get panned and laughed off stage. If you don't care, then we don't care. If you don't try to make the best thing you can, if you decide your map is “good enough” and upload it when you know that there are plenty of things you could spend more time working on, then we're not going to try to make you feel good.

I don't expect everyone who shows up here to be perfect. What I do expect is that everyone who uploads a map, regardless of skill or ability, will put forth their honest best effort. If you don't then, really, why are you even wasting your time making something in the first place?
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Re: Musings on level design and quality control at TWP

Postby portal2tenacious » Wed Jul 25, 2012 8:03 pm

Would a map with raining errors or other similar problems be deleted, or just badly rated?
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Re: Musings on level design and quality control at TWP

Postby npc_msleeper_boss » Wed Jul 25, 2012 8:31 pm

Is it too much to ask for both.
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Re: Musings on level design and quality control at TWP

Postby portal2tenacious » Wed Jul 25, 2012 9:35 pm

npc_msleeper_boss wrote:
Is it too much to ask for both.

I guess not...
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Re: Musings on level design and quality control at TWP

Postby josepezdj » Thu Jul 26, 2012 3:18 am

Msleeper, I only wanted to share with you my feelings after reading your sincere musings and founded worries, if I may.

First of all you can't know how much I share that drive or thrust for improving yourself and everything you make each day to the very end of your possibilities. I do. Really. With regards to my work, my girlfriend or relatives... and of course when it comes to mapping. I have mentioned several times in your site that I'm a newbie who is still learning hammer, and never shared a single picture of my many tries to get something genuine and worth-being-shared, until I really felt I had someting polished. Yeah, I know, I haven't ever released a map yet, so I'm not really sharing a thing yet, and a game (or a custom map) is not a deployment of good looking pictures and such; a game is much more than that, it's a feeling, an atmosphere, a challenge... moreover when it's a puzzle game.

Just because I am a complete perfectionist I'm taking care of each single detail, not only when it comes to visuals but also regarding the puzzles. I love challenging maps and to find the so called "a-ha moment", very well known by all of us that like puzzle games, and God knows I'm trying my best to develop a good quality puzzle compilation, trying to use creative solutions with the given puzzle elements.

All I want you to know with these reflections is just that you are not alone. I like to help here, and I like to help ppl to improve their maps, overall when I see there's something interesting that is showing some potential in any of their maps. I remember Neco, when he released a WIP version of Momentum: I instantly felt something deep was going on there and I started to hlp him in depth, testing each new version of the map... and I was completely right after all, it turned out that he is an awesome mapper and person who pays attention to each detail, and really cares about what he releases and its quality.

What I would like to finally say is that your words kind of moved me. Truly. I perceived some sorrow or maybe tiredness into them, a very open-hearted msleeper, and I must admit that those words made me think back about my own replies in the forum, when I was able to help out, when I couldn't, when I fired a joke instead of focusing in the topic, when I really was constructive and helpful with my criticism over a map or a mapper... And on the other hand, your words also made me revise in my mind my own work, rethink about if I'm being autocritical enough, what could I improve here and there (there is ALWAYS somthing!), what am I still lacking as mapper in order to search more information about... and indeed, in order to be finally more helpful to others, apart from me...

Seriously, and without a single inch of will of flattering you boss, thank you for that... It really comes handy to hear something like that every once in a while :thumbup:

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Re: Musings on level design and quality control at TWP

Postby RubbishyUsername » Thu Jul 26, 2012 1:30 pm

I don't think that there's much that I can say that hasn't already been said by these fine people. In fact, anything I do say will seem petty and trivial - like if I said "hey, my first map did get retroactively community spotlighted!".

So I can only assume that the reason that few people have commented on this thread is that they too, feel the same but that their agreement would feel token in comparison to the essays here.
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Re: Musings on level design and quality control at TWP

Postby Alexander Bell » Thu Jul 26, 2012 2:23 pm

Firstly: Wtf are those errors supposed to even be...?

Second: Why the hell was that released? Did the maker even test whatever fucked up thing he tried to do with P-body and turrets? (clearly not)

Thirdly: That guy is better at Hammer than I am (well, almost everybody is), but even I wouldn't make a spray of errors... (spray of prop_exploding_futbols though? Hell yes)
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Re: Musings on level design and quality control at TWP

Postby Lpfreaky90 » Thu Jul 26, 2012 6:37 pm

Alexander Bell wrote:
Firstly: Wtf are those errors supposed to even be...?

Second: Why the hell was that released? Did the maker even test whatever fucked up thing he tried to do with P-body and turrets? (clearly not)

Thirdly: That guy is better at Hammer than I am (well, almost everybody is), but even I wouldn't make a spray of errors... (spray of prop_exploding_futbols though? Hell yes)

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Re: Musings on level design and quality control at TWP

Postby Jepp » Fri Jul 27, 2012 5:30 am

Altough I'm very new to the community and mapping in general I'd like to share my thoughts with you. I'm not a native English-speaker and I may not always express myself in the best of ways, but I really want to give it "my best".

The greatest parts of this community I experienced when I first visited was the over all friendly atmosphere, people were so open minded, spoke freely and expressed  their thoughts without hesitation. All the regular people who took time and effort to write very well written comments on people's uploads and the happy sharing of knowledge that was going on. It inspired me and it still do. It makes it worthwhile to give that little extra when working on a map, even though I may not be the most pedantic person I truly want to do a good job for the sake of the community. I do not understand the people who do a half-arsed job on their map just to have hundreds of people spending time downloading, installing and running it. Do they really perceive their own map as well made and fun? How do they live with themselves knowing that they didn't do a job well done and maybe wasted many peoples time?

 I really like how many talented and intelligent people here come together and cooperate to increase the standard of maps and knowledge. To give eachother help and feedback, without getting anything but a thankful comment and a smiley in return. Reading the comments people made on others maps helped me to understand the importance of self-criticism and to look to what other people liked and disliked rather than only my own personal view of what's fun when making a map. To get that genuine feel that this could actually been in reality, to create a great and believeable atmosphere and to fill it with entertaining puzzles and whatnot is no easy task - at least not for me - and maybe we shouldn't make so many maps and chambers at once but rather try to polish the ones that we really think are good, fun and well made.

Lastly also I want to thank you - msleeper - for your passion and your love towards mapping. Reading your post moved me aswell and it made me feel more a part of this culture, I wanna help out, I wanna do well and I'll be looking on my maps more critically then ever after this .Without people like you, Jose and all you others sharing the same passion for map making there would be no forum here worth mentioning, and with that a great loss of inspiration, knowledge and creativity. 

I think this message should be shouted at everyone who has the intentions to upload their  map here on TWP. To put it where people can see it, saying something like "Community Policy, read before uploading" or anything of the kind. Removing those basic thoughts you expressed would take the point away from TWP leaving us with nothing more than another PTI, without puzzles or diversity and shrinking the possibilities of many excellent maps yet to be made.

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Re: Musings on level design and quality control at TWP

Postby npc_msleeper_boss » Fri Jul 27, 2012 5:37 pm

Jepp wrote:
I think this message should be shouted at everyone who has the intentions to upload their  map here on TWP. To put it where people can see it, saying something like "Community Policy, read before uploading" or anything of the kind. Removing those basic thoughts you expressed would take the point away from TWP leaving us with nothing more than another PTI, without puzzles or diversity and shrinking the possibilities of many excellent maps yet to be made.

I've thought about writing a "mission statement" and linking it on the download page.
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Re: Musings on level design and quality control at TWP

Postby FourthReaper » Fri Jul 27, 2012 5:43 pm

npc_msleeper_boss wrote:
I've thought about writing a "mission statement" and linking it on the download page.

Yeah, as in "Read this before you upload"?

Yes, do it. :) A lot of good reading material here that others should read too.
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Re: Musings on level design and quality control at TWP

Postby npc_msleeper_boss » Wed Jan 23, 2013 8:07 pm

Bumping this because someone complained about "elitism".
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Re: Musings on level design and quality control at TWP

Postby Lpfreaky90 » Wed Jan 23, 2013 9:19 pm

Well, talking about elitism, and all the other stuff in the posts before: the maps here on twp are on average just much better than on the workshop. With the rating system and moderation we as moderators keep an eye on this, but even more: everyone that gives input to maps does.

My very first map was a total disaster, it was off grid, no lighting, but it had a nice puzzle in it. I got some good feedback and some tips on improving my mapping skills. Without them I couldn't, and probably wouldn't have been half the mapper I am today. The danger of my map being removed for being fullbright also pushed me to fix that issue; I wanted my nice puzzle to stay here.

I've noticed over the past few months with more and more maps uploaded to the workshop there has been a bit less feedback to maps than before. That's a total shame, I highly encourage everyone to take a few minutes of their time to go back to twp and write down their comments. A good hammer map often takes at least 60-100 hours of work to be put into it. With bigger maps taking more time. The time you have to spent on giving some more detailed feedback is nothing compared to the work the mappers have put into it! And it will make them better mappers and that'll get you to play more, better maps!

For people who aren't sure if their map is properly functioning: we have a work in progress section, post not-yet-finished versions of your map there, so others can test it before releasing it to the real deal. Ask some experienced players from around here if they want to test your maps, sent them a pm, ask for help! A fresh eye can really help your map improve.

If it turns out that your puzzle is completely broken: don't worry, try to understand what you did that made this solution possible and try to fix that issue. Sometimes however, the unintended solution can actually be better than your original plan, be flexible with this. Eventually you'll map will turn out even better than you originally planned.

Lastly always playtest and let others playtest. YOU know the solution so YOU can solve it, how do others see it? If players miss a certain vital part of your map: how can you fix it? Add more light maybe? Do the other players try something that keeps *almost* working? - try to remove that way, it really confuses players.

If you keep those things in mind and just spent time and effort into your maps, properly texture, model, test, test, test, test again until you're totally happy with the map and listen to all the well-meant feedback you get you'll be a great mapper.
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Re: Musings on level design and quality control at TWP

Postby josepezdj » Thu Jan 24, 2013 8:49 am

npc_msleeper_boss wrote:
Bumping this because someone complained about "elitism".
Ha, and so what?

Let's see....

'Elitism' is a very controversial word... If "that someone" took the meaning of that word in the sense of "we only accept the best quality maps and dismiss the rest, if your map sucks get out of here, and stop mapping on the way", well then he/she is completely wrong and judging completely unfairly because that is not true!

To my understanding, this thread was all about a complaint against laziness and lack of effort already stated and patent in maaaaaany maps/mappers; this was a call to improve, and it was unusually kindly written, boss, if I may add ( :-D ). All above said was simply about "go ask yourself: is this the best I could possibly do”. Come on, we all can identify when a map has got at least the minimum features to be considered as a "merely-well-done map", it's all about paying a bit of attention to lightning, textures, settings of the elements to work properly and testing the puzzle before releasing. This only requires perception!

Then there are exceptional maps, those that are noticeably above the rest, with a lot of attention to details, awesome lighting, fog, sounds, etc. clever puzzles, blah, blah, blah... I understand these ones are difficult to create, not to "percieve", but maybe difficult to emulate. A hammer beginner will have to spend really much time if he wants his map to look like those. This requires a certain "good taste" altogether with the above perception.

As it's mentioned above, there's a WIP section. This simple detail should mean for anyone "hey, post your map here first, let the community know you are a beginner and this is your first map... and get advised!" ... is this elitism? is this kind offer offensive at all? WTF? doesn't that mean "ey, we're here to help you improve"? You have to be really obtuse to don't be able to see these intentions there! This must allow a beginner to receive feedback, not only about the puzzles, but also about the aesthetics. I guess this section is intended to make ppl improve whatever feature of their maps that needs more work. Here the community helps to identify those weak points, in the case that a mapper is not able to do by himself.

But, I guess all above said is maybe only for those mappers with true will of improving, which are the less. There are many others that simply try to "make their map to run", careless about doing a quality thing... and I repeat that I think this thread was about that, a complaint agaisnt that kind of laziness.


Above thoughts is what I think this community is about and this thread meant. Now there's still another approach to the concept 'elitism', and this is maybe my personal feeling. I won't do any apology of elitism (I don't consider myself an elitist), but I use to think: will I really spend THAT MUCH MORE TIME to make this perfect instead of just fine? NO... If I know how to do things better, would I allow myself to make them only average? am I in such a rush to don't be able to spend a little more time in it? I am a bit perfectionist, I must confess, but I if I like the result after all effort then I'm satisfied and happy... And ey, I DO like to help, I DO cheer up ppl to chase perfectionism or at leat a certain neatness, and I DO check how everyday the rest of mappers so do...

So that said...

Do I prefer a certain high quality maps? YES I definitely do. And so do many many other users.
Would I prefer to CLEARLY IDENTIFY a good work from the rest? YES I definitely would. I guess the rating system helps on that. Though I also play other not-too-highly-rated maps!
Do I want this community to have a good collection of good quality maps? YES!

IS THIS SITE A REFERENCE IF YOU WANT TO FIND HIGH QUALITY MAPS? FUCKING YES! Where else? the workshop?? Muahahahaha...


One last thought: the forum even created a PTI maps section to welcome EVERYONE's maps to the site, even when the majority of them suck! who the hell said elitism?
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