238: Mapping Perfection

Mapping Perfection

Every year it gets easier for players to create their own videogame maps and levels. But is it any easier to produce a quality product? C J Davies speaks with Counter-Strike's David Johnston and LittleBigPlanet's Mark Healy about what makes good user-created content.

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I used to make maps for Heroes 3. It was quite simple. Paste mountains here, a lagoon there, and fill it with the strongest dragons available. Fun fun.

I spend four years making mods for TES: Morrowind and was impressed by the games huge possibilities, so was the community.

What is the secrect? It's simplicity.
Morrowinds Editor provied you with a quite easy and intuive handling, once you took time to lean some basic controlls.

With these controlls you could built what ever you want.

Bringing life, aka Npcs and quests to the whole thing was a little bit more complicated. You had to put your mind around the questing system. But one that happend, it was really easy, all it requirred you to do was to insert text were you wanted it to be.

Scriping, for example making a banner float in the wind, when the game generates stormy weather, took the form of a small programming language that also wasn't that hard to get hold of.

Bethesda then decided to axe the modding community by making oblivion use voiceacting, which was terrible in the original game and therefore only an bullet to the modders face. (It just breaks the immersion to have your modded in Npcs not talk or talk like teenage from Bribane). They also added the fancy cry-tech-style-huge-view-distance, wihch was awesome in the first five minutes of the game, but then again, broke modder's legs, because it was hard to change the distance-rendering of the landscape, to make it show your huge mountenside-fortress, once you got further away from it than fifty yards.

This, I believe, is the destiny of all modding in Games: Once stuff gets too complicted, you can't expect fans to just jump in and fill the pieces.

LBP, I think is a bad example. The game is supposed to be a modding-sandbox. Comparing it to modding in other games, that acually are complete games, not just toolsets, makes it like comparing a snowshovel to a spoon in a snowshoveling-contest: It can do the job, but the comparison is just unfair.

As a mapper I find this article particularly "touching".

A "formula" to making good content? I agree, there's no such a thing... Personally I'd say the closest you can get to one is "Will, perseverance, patience, perseverance, thinking and more perseverance".

If you have an idea run with it. As they say "when there's a will, there's a way", and there's very little that feels better than watching something you created come to life. Years of work feel like a minor effort when it all comes to life.

Mods are fun

Games that allow mods, or have included editors are sure to always live much longer than those who dont.

Stracraft/WC3 user crated maps. (editor is simple AND powerfull, the one from SC is the best imho)
Oblivion's Oscuro Oblivion Overhaul
Stalker's Oblivion Lost

While games like NWN2 have editor tools so impossibly complicated only the most dedicated people can do somethign with it.

You know, for me, what makes user generated content great is that it builds on what already is established. Instead of trying to be completely new. I'm gonna use Counter Strike as an example, as it's already used here in De_Dust, Italy_Remake was one of the best CS 1.6 maps out there because it was CS_Italy with a lot of cool new features and a lot more ellbow room to experiment with. Like getting on roofs and all that.

Another awesome thing is when they make references to real life things like that normandy map in CS or that Back to the Future mod in Crysis.

oliveira8:
I used to make maps for Heroes 3. It was quite simple. Paste mountains here, a lagoon there, and fill it with the strongest dragons available. Fun fun.

Oh, god, I remember this. This was fun, especially when tinkering with how broken some of the tier seven monsters were. And good times were had by all.

OT: I really haven't experimented much with game mods, as I'm primarily a handheld gamer, but I think a lot of these points can also apply to independent games. Mapping is a much bigger part of the game than players realize--maps can alter difficulty, pacing, and even gameplay based on a majority of factors. Applying the points of originality, accessibility, and presentation in some form or another is just another factor, and a blend of all three with the considerations of difficulty, pacing, and gameplay mechanics can result in some beautiful, fun maps. Otherwise you just get a Scrappy level, or one that falls somewhere in-between.

I tried the NWN toolset, it looked good and I did a couple of things - but I couldn't think of something that I could create into a full mod. Time is the most limiting factor, and I think an RPG with a really easy to use toolset (think Trackmania's mapmaker with RPG functionality) may well be a massive hit.

C J Davies:
Mapping Perfection

Console-based level-design is still seen as the younger, less mature brother of PC modding.

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That's interesting, my view of it tend to be opposite to that. Console games-modding is not only unpolished because it's new, it's because of the people who do it - and it's not only the age of those gamers, it's their relation to what they're playing. People who like to mess with stuff, find out how they work, and even learn how to create something new on eletronic media are all attracted to computer games, because it is on computers that all games are created. Gamers who just want to plug and play are more obviusly prone to choose consoles. That's a selection bias, if anyone here speaks "research".
But, of course, there are exceptions to that.

I remember when my friend showed me his Goldeneye 007-esque version of a Resident Evil 2 Multiplayer game. The mapping was well done and later on I see that people make a Resident Evil 2 map & mod for The PC version of Left 4 Dead. I was sad to realize that not getting the PC version meant I would never get to play it.

I will most likely never own the PC versions and never get to play these maps but I still like hearing about them and checking them out because the creators deserve their kudos and credit for making such awesome maps.

I first started getting my hands dirty with modding with Starcraft. The map maker for SC was so incredibly flexible and simple. It got to the point that some user-created maps didn't even feel like Starcraft anymore. Any SC veteran can identify with me, when I say that when the Dragonball Z map was created, it was hands-down better than any licensed DBZ game on the market at the time. I don't know when tower defense games got started, but when they came to Starcraft, they were better than any tower defense games before or since in my opinion. I guess my point is Starcraft was an excellent starting point for me, or indeed for many modders looking to make their own content.

Flash forward to The Elder Scrolls Oblivion game (I haven't played Morrowind yet, sorry), and then to Fallout 3. I remember the vanilla Oblivion game to be filled with quest-breaking bugs. There were user-created patches for the bugs and glitches coming out way before Bethesda got around to making official patches, and I daresay that the user-made fixes were better, and more thorough than the official fixes. Its the same with Fallout 3. I, myself have only made some minor texture mods to both of those games, partly because I don't have as much time as I used to, but the potential is still there. This is why I still enjoy Bethesda products even though they often release hellof buggy games, because they give the community a real chance to shine.

I think listening to user feedback is important as well. In DotA they extensively used the community to find bugs, balance the game, and even propose new ideas for heroes and abilities. That always seemed to be one of the reasons it was so popular; it didn't seem to be created by one or a few people.

I'm getting into mapping and its an incredibly odd thing at first its daunting and hard even frustration but once you get a feel for it its like crack ive lost sleep over it i map for a mod so the obscurity is even more imense than usual but its ties into the other article the game you always wanted as a mapper i am bulding the levels ive always wanted for the game i always wanted

(Disregard, one of these days I'll start paying attention to where I post. Someday. ;) )

Ah modding. I first discovered the modding scene way way back in day with Star Wars; Dark Forces, not the sequels, the original game with 2D sprites for enemies. The game was a draw for me because it was (arguably) the first FPS to attempt a heavy story structure, complete with cutscenes and dialogue. Anyway, after the game ended and I'd mastered the various levels it left me wanting more, some of the best user created content has come from this game. People have created full games worth of content online with this game. (most can still be found on this site http://www.df-21.net/reviews/crowsnest/ Levels with their own stories, varying in quality of course. One that comes to mind immediately was a user created level set called "TIE Defender Base" by stringing together cutscenes from some of the other lucas arts games, adding dialogue and well developed mission briefings, you send Kyle Katarn on a mission to destroy a factory of cloaking TIE fighters. A fully developed story arc spanning 3 immensely large levels for their time.

More recently though I have to say I've fallen in love with a simple flash game called Knytt Stories http://nifflas.ni2.se/index.php?page=1002Knytt+Stories . With the engine put out there for users to create their own 2d platforming worlds there have been many fun levels out of this game.

It seems some of the most continued fun I have gotten from a game has been from one that has very accessible user created content. Don't have Little Big Planet yet (don't have a PS3) but have been wanting to play it for that very reason since it's release.

While every year, Games get better graphics and physics which make them look better, I think we are making them more complicated in other ways too.

Look at old doom map making and no multilevel maps were possible and very limited functions too.

Now with Left 4 Dead 2, maps can be multi storeys high, there's soo many functions to learn, while they have properties to change and prebuilt functions, you still have to learn how to use them correctly.
So no its not getting easier, used to be easier before, but also looked worse and had less functionality.
So I prefer the newer games/map creation like hammer, for its functionality and looks..
It is WAY easier than learning Blender 3d, or Maya..and then having to write fucntions in code yourself too.. etc..:)

I map for Left 4 Dead, TF2, and Css...
and I have to say that it gets harder as the years go on.
L4D has tons more features to learn, like particle systems and running scripts, whereas CSS is easy as pie.

Caliostro:
"where there's a whip, there's a way"

Fixed that small error for you

anyway, I have never understood the huge pull of user-created content. I mean, before I had comp trouble, I had more content from mods than there was in the normal game, but I still dont see why having the PLAYER make the game has become so popular. Spore, for example, is only fun for small children and the people that care to build the creatures and planets.

I get the idea of taking something you enjoy and adding to it, but why BUY a game you have to build from scratch?

just get some legos!

Fluffles:
I map for Left 4 Dead, TF2, and Css...
and I have to say that it gets harder as the years go on.
L4D has tons more features to learn, like particle systems and running scripts, whereas CSS is easy as pie.

As someone who did some funky mods for Raven's Jedi Academy moded Q3 engine I can tell you, it's more about the complexity of the game itself than the actual times. CSS is quite a simple game. Make the visual configuration of the map, optimize, set up buy zones and spawn points, and you're set... But you can do more. I was already messing with target_scriptrunners, trigger_multiples, spawnflags, scripts, shader remapping and other funky Q3-engine shenanigans long before L4D came around.

Once I started mapping for TF2 I found it refreshingly simple by comparison.

On the other hand I recently finished a guide on director controlled whether effects for l4d2 which was borderline nightmarish to do.

The more complex the game, the more potential available, the harder it'll be to work with, to explore that potential, but the more potential is available.

8-Bit_Jack:

Caliostro:
\"where there's a whip, there's a way"\

Fixed that small error for you

inb4Rockstar...

8-Bit_Jack:
anyway, I have never understood the huge pull of user-created content. I mean, before I had comp trouble, I had more content from mods than there was in the normal game, but I still dont see why having the PLAYER make the game has become so popular. Spore, for example, is only fun for small children and the people that care to build the creatures and planets.

I get the idea of taking something you enjoy and adding to it, but why BUY a game you have to build from scratch?

just get some legos!

The problem with those kind of games is never user created content, but whether the ORIGINAL, unmoded, game provides enough value by itself. If it does, user created content basically adds unlimited potential to something good. When the player MAKES the game it's generally bad... When the player can ADD to the game, it's amazing.

Look at TF2. An amazing game by itself, even without a single pixel of user created content added to it. But users have created some amazing things, specially maps, some of which became official because of how good they were.

As to why making content is fun: creation and destruction are cathartic in opposite, yet fairly equivalent, ways.

Caliostro:

Look at TF2. An amazing game by itself, even without a single pixel of user created content added to it. But users have created some amazing things, specially maps, some of which became official because of how good they were.

I could be wrong about this, but aren't the extra maps in Portal: Still Alive user-created content that was judged to be good enough to be packaged and sold with the original game? Or am I thinking of a different game or some crack-addled dream I had once?

SonicWaffle:

Caliostro:

Look at TF2. An amazing game by itself, even without a single pixel of user created content added to it. But users have created some amazing things, specially maps, some of which became official because of how good they were.

I could be wrong about this, but aren't the extra maps in Portal: Still Alive user-created content that was judged to be good enough to be packaged and sold with the original game? Or am I thinking of a different game or some crack-addled dream I had once?

As far as I know the Still Alive pack wasn't "officialized", but maybe... Speaking of which, I gotta download and try that.

I was a little surprised that when the author said 'accessibility' it meant exposure rather than playability.

I don't have a PC and confining my gaming to consoles helps me actually get work done, so I haven't played much in the way of mods, except for LPB. And the thing about Little Big Planet is that so many levels I've played haven't been tested very well to ensure that the player can just get through the level.

Maybe this isn't an issue with PC mods? It would seem to me that the really successful modders made a level (or a shift) that was fun. Tested and tweaked so players have a good time, and doesn't just look cool.

I mean, sure; all those user created levels on LBP function but that doesn't mean they're playable. The good levels aren't necessarily familiar, they're the ones that are fun to play. The familiar ones-Bioshock, Resident Evil, Sonic themed ones look pretty but don't automatically add to your gaming experience. They work on a nostalgia front and once you remove that the substance frequently is thin, or frustrating because the level wasn't designed for fun, just to look cool.

Interesting article though.

people want better graphics, more features, more detailed physics engines and interactions. which exponentially increases modding difficulty.

i still remember playing the aliens total conversion mod for doom when it first came out. first time in a game ive ever been scared and nervous like that

Lots of other notable mods but sticking with the console-oriented mentions: Timesplitters series. Although I was always holding HL, CS, etc as the prime modder success, I loved creating all kinds of maps on Timesplitters whenever I wasn't on the PC. If I still had the game, or if part 3 (or hopefully its sequel) was ported to the PC, I would love to make more even with the restrictions it had.

If a mod or user level makes me yell "Oh snap!" at some point, it's a good mod.

My favorite mod of all time is still the Better Cities crossed with QARL's Texture Pack 3. You then boot up the game and OH SNAP!

It completely transforms the cities and makes them VERY pretty to look at... I will never view the Imperial Arboretum the same way again.

It doesn't majorly change any of the game itself (except some tunnels in the Imperial City), but the amount of hard work that clearly went into it really makes it shine.

Although it will be eclipsed by this if it ever finishes.

Disappointed the article doesn't mention the Kodu tools available as part of XBL indie games.

 

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