Good at Level Design - Suck at Detailing

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Good at Level Design - Suck at Detailing

Postby Aazell on Thu Jun 20, 2013 9:40 am

I wanted to hear peoples thoughts on this subject...

This is me:

http://www.moddb.com/mods/half-life-2-daylight

http://www.moddb.com/mods/half-life-2-deep-down

I get loads of great feedback on my level design. I love level design, puzzle design, character interactions and combat design however I have very little patience for detailing and artwork in my maps. I think my maps look OK but I know its the one missing element of my work that would push it truely to the top of the pile.

I have to admit I struggle with detailing and art. It's not my favorite side of map building and I tend to veer towards function rather than form. I apply a minimum level of asthetic beauty to my maps. lol

I've always felt that theres a sort of unwritten code amongst us mappers that you have to be able to do everything yourself in hammer or you're sort of looked down upon. How many times have we seen people on these boards looking for a mapper to create an idea for them? And yeah... we all tell them to jog on and learn it themselves.

Thats all well and good (lazy bastards) but also the following thought occured to me:

- There are mappers who love to create great artwork but very rarely release their maps because they never finish them.

- There are mappers who create great levels but struggle with making them look pretty.

For Mission Improbable 3 Magnar employed the use of an art director to do an art pass on his maps (some people didn't like the end result witht he colour correction) but it totally made sense to me. Why not work in teams to create better quality work?

Is that cheating? Should you be able to create fun maps and make them look spectacular too? Is it OK to only be good at one of these things?

Given this communities enthusiasm for great artwork in the source engine, I'd love to know your thoughts.

Cheers

Jim
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Re: Good at Level Design - Suck at Detailing

Postby Major Banter on Thu Jun 20, 2013 11:07 am

I'm a function over form fag as well, but I learned my trade through making maps pretty. It's hard work and is part of a necessary good workflow in my opinion - beautiful lighting has as much function as basic lighting, but the former will increase immersion, direct the player more effectively and greatly enhance the overall feel of the map.

There's a good reason mappers are expected to understand every element of their discipline. I know both types of people you mention - the artists constantly bemoan their lot because they never plan, while the designers fall by the wayside because their work is function over form rather than a blend of the two. Neither is a good approach. In mapping, everything is in balance, and needs to be. Too much of one thing and too little of the other will kill it stone dead.

Then there are the elite; masterdonut, miigga, the Black Mesa team - people who have combined the two arts into a seamless and epic blend. They understand how the two weave together, how the design helps the art and vice versa, and by complimenting the two they become more than the sum of their parts.

However, art passes are serious work, and if given due care and attention require nearly as much effort as a solid greybox. This is why devs split level design and environment art into two sections - one makes the levels, one makes them pretty. While I've tried this with people before (though only tested, never a proper go at it) everyone has thier own particular styles. Chuck a map to a friend and tell them to finish it - it's fucking hard work. You're matching their architecture, their style, their expectations at every turn. Without consistent practice or outright skill, it's little more than a lesson in demotivation.

So obviously, it's ok to be good at one or the other, but ok should never be enough. A seperate team member is not an excuse to slack off - your level design must be 11/10, absolutely refined and optimised for the artist. Furthermore, it will cause already mediocre skills to rust and decline rapidly rather than refining them.

Remember - the person who practices what they love every single day of their life will beat the hell out of the talented individual nine times out of ten. My advice? Practice, practice, practice, and apply your design workflow to your art workflow.
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Re: Good at Level Design - Suck at Detailing

Postby Woe Kitten on Thu Jun 20, 2013 12:38 pm

Well in the industry we don't expect people to do both to a high degree. I expect all of my level designers to have a good understanding of aesthetics and some ability to deliver on that understanding but that is only so that they can properly guide and interact with the artists who will detail their maps.

Through long and hard experience I've come to the conclusion that the key is to have both parties understand both elements and to work together very closely from day one. When you design a space you should already have a good idea of both form and function. Generally speaking I think the mod/mapping sphere could really benefit from working the way the industry does in that regard.

In my opinion the level of detail required to build a level that is both functionally engaging and visually stunning is extremely prohibitive to individuals producing a project alone.
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Re: Good at Level Design - Suck at Detailing

Postby Aazell on Thu Jun 20, 2013 1:47 pm

This is interesting.

Yeah obviously I'm not going to deliver a dev textured block map to a poor artist and have him add a world over it. That would just be mean!

Translating gameplay into a believable environment has always been a challenge that I sometimes love and sometimes hate but always manage to come up with something.

No I'm talking about, lighting, decals, props, cables etc... the set dressing if you will...

I'd be building the fire escape, they'd me making it look lovely and grubby!
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Re: Good at Level Design - Suck at Detailing

Postby StefanC19 on Thu Jun 20, 2013 3:43 pm

Honestly, what I think is best in my own opinion is, copy as much as you can from others. If its something that looks great then why not use it? I don't mean literally copy, but copy the methods. Don't spend your entire life trying to learn everything and figuring it out. As far as I've read from other artists, they all do the same thing and it is a lot faster.
So what I would suggest is, try and find reference images, such as photos from real life and add those details into your map. Or look at other peoples work and see if those details that stand out, would fit into your own work. Also read articles from other artists, they tend to explain things out of their own experience and can teach you many things. Yes it might be boring and you might hate it but in the end you're gonna have to learn it, maybe you end up with some awesome skills and become really fast at it.

Good luck ;)
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Re: Good at Level Design - Suck at Detailing

Postby ErikKiller on Fri Jun 21, 2013 10:03 am

Aazell wrote:Yeah obviously I'm not going to deliver a dev textured block map to a poor artist and have him add a world over it. That would just be mean!

Not really, it would be easier to work with. I often find myself 20 minutes into placing a wad of cables in a corner where the player might not even go to. So yeah, I'm a detail nut.
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Re: Good at Level Design - Suck at Detailing

Postby Text_Fish on Fri Jun 21, 2013 12:19 pm

Woe Kitten wrote:Well in the industry ...

Generally speaking I think the mod/mapping sphere could really benefit from working the way the industry does in that regard.

In my opinion the level of detail required to build a level that is both functionally engaging and visually stunning is extremely prohibitive to individuals producing a project alone.


Personally I think "the industry" consistently produces levels that are very pretty to look at but horribly lacking when it comes to gameplay design, so perhaps it's not such a great model afterall. That's not a personal attack by the way as I'm not familiar with your professional work, it's just my general impression of triple-A shooters for the past five or six years.

In answer to the OP, I think a huge benefit of working on your own is that you feel ownership of every aspect of your product. It means you'll think harder about feedback and ways to improve.

I find a good strategy for detailing is to try and tell short stories throughout the level that are completely incidental to the main storyline. For example, instead of just slapping a graffiti decal on the wall to fill some empty space, put yourself in the scene and work back from it to show how the graffiti artist got there -- maybe there's a hole in a chainlink fence nearby and maybe since the graffiti went up the local authorities have put up some security cameras and maybe one of their engineers left his ladder behind. As long as you add a detail to tell a story rather than just to take up space, other details will fall in to place around it.

Of course, the biggest obstacle to any environment artist working in Source is the terrible workflow. It's such a pain adding new models that it's very tempting to just stick with whatever Valve gave us and then get disheartened when it doesn't look quite right.
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Re: Good at Level Design - Suck at Detailing

Postby Woe Kitten on Sat Jun 22, 2013 2:02 pm

Text_Fish wrote:
Woe Kitten wrote:Well in the industry ...

Generally speaking I think the mod/mapping sphere could really benefit from working the way the industry does in that regard.

In my opinion the level of detail required to build a level that is both functionally engaging and visually stunning is extremely prohibitive to individuals producing a project alone.


Personally I think "the industry" consistently produces levels that are very pretty to look at but horribly lacking when it comes to gameplay design, so perhaps it's not such a great model afterall. That's not a personal attack by the way as I'm not familiar with your professional work, it's just my general impression of triple-A shooters for the past five or six years.
.


It's a good point that the industry doesn't always get it right, in fact often gets it very wrong, but in my opinion I don't see the mod sphere consistently produce better quality level design than the professional sphere. Quite the opposite in fact. Additionally I don't think that the dumbing down of AAA is anything to do with our processes, the reasons are far more complex than that.

I'm not arguing, I think it's a shame that art is often valued more highly than good level design, but if you don't think you have anything to learn from professional game development then I think you are missing a massive opportunity.
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Re: Good at Level Design - Suck at Detailing

Postby Sathor on Sat Jun 22, 2013 2:45 pm

Woe Kitten wrote:It's a good point that the industry doesn't always get it right, in fact often gets it very wrong, but in my opinion I don't see the mod sphere consistently produce better quality level design than the professional sphere. Quite the opposite in fact. Additionally I don't think that the dumbing down of AAA is anything to do with our processes, the reasons are far more complex than that.


I certainly hope so, with some titles with a several million budget compared to single or a small group of people spending freetime hours on something they just like to do.
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Re: Good at Level Design - Suck at Detailing

Postby Gambini on Sat Jun 22, 2013 3:39 pm

Interesting discussion. As someone that has been doing maps for 18 years, I think I´m at the point of realizing that what really matters is enjoying what you do. Make the mod you always wanted to play. If you´re confident about your own vision, go for it. Doesn´t matter if your layout or eyecandy excels, so long as it´s what you wanted it to be. In the past years I´ve seen a tendence of modders working for a portfolio more than a project. The project is becoming a pro. AAA titles are a reflection of that. These new games lack charm and so many other things. You can tell a mile away they were built with money in mind instead of love (there are always a few exceptions).

I would not worry if you suck at detailing, you surely have another talent to compensate. Being just another head of the cattle trying to get a job at Valve will put your dreams aside. Will make you hate your own work because it doesn´t meet the modern standards. It´s imprtant to learn new techniques and get with the times, and improve your skills but at expense of what?
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Re: Good at Level Design - Suck at Detailing

Postby MrTwoVideoCards on Sun Jun 23, 2013 11:25 pm

The expense of being able to survive by getting paid doing what you love? Some of your advice gambini is kind of weird. You can make what you love and be a successful game designer at the same time. If your passion is to go off and make another call of duty clone then you're probably better off mapping/modding as a hobby unless you plan to innovate in that area.

As for making maps pretty, there's nothing wrong with being a okay at env art, but excelling at gameplay design. What Woe kitten pointed out is a good example of that. In a real world example: crisis 2-3. Fantastic example of talented env artists, but poor/lack of attention to gameplay design. There's always a spot where a team needs someone that excels at something is what I am saying.

Learning additional skills just makes what you bring to the table much more attractive, but it isn't entirely necessary all the time.

Imo I wouldn't be disappointed of making a project and it lacking in some department, especially if you're the only person producing that content and you don't have anyone assisting you, such as a team. A lot of mods have come and gone, failed, or shelved. The key aspect regardless is that you learn how to manage your time, refine your workflow, and understand how crucial it is to have a skillset beyond just basic level design in the event you don't want to work with a team, but even with a team you'd end up developing a proactive approach to design problems earlier.
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Re: Good at Level Design - Suck at Detailing

Postby Epifire on Mon Jun 24, 2013 1:11 am

Pretty much what VideoCards said. Even though I've been building levels for a lot less time than most of these fellows, I think just taking it a step at a time along with dedication are what really pay off. I would say a lot of the outcome for a level really depends on how clear the plans were before building it. I know some great stuff can be built on the fly but knowing what the space will be used for and what that space should convey will benefit much in good planning.

To me a lot of the art pass comes down to developing the personality of the level. That and of course the intended purpose of the level altogether. Whether it relies on a vast back story or just a simple function for the specified area, it all plays into how the art comes out.

The mood of a level is a very interesting thing and just how visuals can make people feel. Thin sharp objects are one example. Even if they aren't designed to look imposing (such as spikes covered in blood) the player will associate more dangerous looking objects with feelings of uneasiness. That's just one pointer out of many but communicating the mood of the environment often can give you a good idea as to how you want to portray that in the environmental art.
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Re: Good at Level Design - Suck at Detailing

Postby Gambini on Mon Jun 24, 2013 3:54 am

What I mean is that there´s nothing to worry about if you dont meet today´s standards on every department, unless your only objective is to get a job.

If your passion is to go off and make another call of duty clone then you're probably better off mapping/modding as a hobby unless you plan to innovate in that area.

Sorry if I wasn´t clear, but I was saying exactly the oposite. I want to play outside the rules of what people expects these days of a playable product. I want to enjoy doing what I´m doing and not just follow a rigurous workflow method to end up with the same result everybody else´s getting. Today´s gaming industry, and for what concern us here: today future game developers, just seem to be peeking behind the shoulders of their "contenders" to see who does the exact same thing a bit better. If I ever make a living out of this, it will be doing the games I´d love to do and not just being another piece of the saturated gaming industry, collapsing the market with just another call of duty clone.

I´m not sure if what I´m saying is an advice for everybody. But It´s for sure an advice for those that want to enjoy the ride.
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Re: Good at Level Design - Suck at Detailing

Postby Jeeves on Tue Jun 25, 2013 2:41 am

Sorry if I wasn´t clear, but I was saying exactly the oposite. I want to play outside the rules of what people expects these days of a playable product. I want to enjoy doing what I´m doing and not just follow a rigurous workflow method to end up with the same result everybody else´s getting. Today´s gaming industry, and for what concern us here: today future game developers, just seem to be peeking behind the shoulders of their "contenders" to see who does the exact same thing a bit better. If I ever make a living out of this, it will be doing the games I´d love to do and not just being another piece of the saturated gaming industry, collapsing the market with just another call of duty clone.

I´m not sure if what I´m saying is an advice for everybody. But It´s for sure an advice for those that want to enjoy the ride.


Gambini, in my opinion this is worth going off on a tangent over. I agree, innovate -- Just for the sake innovating. It sounds backwards, but what's the point of doing the same thing over and over again; gotta be in it for the love, make the mod/game you want to make. As we all know: clones are easy to make; and are always going to be enjoyed, people in general just want more of the same. It takes innovative developers to show people what they want.
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Re: Good at Level Design - Suck at Detailing

Postby Epifire on Tue Jun 25, 2013 3:07 am

Yup, I gotta agree with that. You don't do well in the games industry if your purely in it for the money.

As we've all seen in major triple A titles and countless other examples, just making games for the profit alone kills a title. The best games I know of were built out of the passion and vision of developers who again, wanted to create something innovative. Money grabs kill the industry, in contrast to the creative sparks that make it something worth seeing.
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