The teamfortress.tv New Map Cup sponsored by marketplace.tf is set to begin this weekend, with teams from North America preparing to fight on a selection of community created maps.
To get ready for the New Map Cup, we conducted interviews with the map creators that will have their maps featured, including Phi (cp_cardinal), FatherBrandon (cp_daytrip & pl_tfcl), Mould (cp_drudgery), Jusa (cp_kalinka), Hyce (cp_logjam), Yrr (koth_bagel) and Dagger (koth_warmfront). They shared their background and insight on mapmaking.
How about we start with an introduction about yourself?
Phi: Hi! I'm Phi, designer of quite a few maps played in the scene - Sunshine, Reckoner, Cardinal...you know them. Been in the TF2 scene for five or so years now, I think? I'm currently in the process of moving to the UK, which leaves me with little spare time, but I don't have any plans to stop working on TF2 maps anytime soon.
FatherBrandon: I've been interested in level design ever since I got my hands on the level editor for Wolfenstein 3D in the very early 90s. Very soon afterwards; whenever a new game would be released, I would immediately look to see if a level editor was included to see what I could do. I took a huge break from level design when I started work in 2004. The last few game modifications I did official work for were: Action Half-Life, Vampire Slayer, Pirates, Vikings and Knights, and Master Sword (an odd but charming 'MMORPG' HL1 modification).
Mould: I've been playing TF2 for almost 9 years now, competitively for 6 maybe, and mapping on and off since I started. I played exclusively orange before competitive, and I started mapping because I was pissed off that some orange maps weren't symmetrical, so I fixed them in Hammer and put it on some community servers. I also study artificial intelligence, and I love cooking.
Jusa: I'm Jusa, 21 years old, Studying Game Design at an University of applied sciences here in Finland.
Hyce: I'm Hyce, maker of cp_logjam. I've played about 5 seasons of 6s in UGC and CEVO as a demo main. I've made tons of maps in the past, but Logjam is my first real serious one.
Yrr: I started mapping for other source games in like 2011 or so, and decided to get into TF2 mapping shortly after Gun Mettle, cause it was my favourite game and I hadn’t actually made anything for it yet.
Dagger: I go by Dagger online, and I have been mapping for about 3 years on and off and I have been playing competitive TF2 for about 4. I'm not as skilled a mapper as Phi or Hyce but I do my best to keep Granary up to date.
How did you get into TF2 and then into mapmaking?
Phi: I don't quite remember the exact circumstances that led to me getting into TF2, but it was a perfect fit for me once I found it. I'd never been into FPS games before I met TF2, and the visual style paired with the iconic characters and standout level design community really pulled me in. Mapping came pretty quickly after I got into the game, since I love design, and the easy-to-access level editor and super open communities (TF2maps in particular) helped a lot.
FatherBrandon: I used to play Team Fortress Classic quite a lot. When I heard about TF2 in an old PC Gamer magazine I was excited, but the version shown was never released. Years and years later I heard about the TF2 that is more-or-less what we have today. I have enjoyed it ever since. In late 2016 I felt the mapping itch again and came across a UEAKCrash video tutorial which eased me into TF2 mapping very nicely.
Mould: I got into TF2 itself basically as soon as it released; I was playing Quake 3 until then and I just liked the cheesy intro videos. I only had a laptop at the time so I was playing at 10 fps on orange and less than 5 on normal maps. As for mapping I pretty much already said, I was just angry that the maps weren't symmetrical; I made about 5 fixed versions of things before I even started my own orange projects.
Jusa: The very first things I created with Source were for Counter-Strike: Source many years ago, but after a while I wanted to create something more serious. TF2 was at that time my favourite game (and still is) so I decided to start learning with it.
Hyce: A good friend of mine wanted me to play back in 2009 - just after the Scout update. I played the game and enjoyed it a lot, particularly payload. Back at that time, there was Goldrush and Badwater, and it got a bit old, so I got into mapping to make more payload maps for my friends and myself. When I started 6s was when I got interested in making 5CP maps.
Yrr: I got the Orange Box in 2010 and TF2 quickly became my favourite multiplayer game. My friend had showed me Hammer with Portal a couple years earlier so I started making maps for various Garry’s Mod gamemodes for friends and really enjoyed making levels I could play with friends.
Dagger: I got into TF2 through my good friend Deathy, who wanted to me to play Highlander with him and then 6s. A year later I started mapping, and after ETF2L dropped Granary from their map pool, I started to work on it.
What is it like to do mapmaking in general?
Phi: Mapmaking (both inside and outside of TF2) is incredibly fulfilling to me. Being able to envision out this environment for players to experience, then addressing the many nuances that come with advanced level design, is so satisfying to see come together towards the end of a project. It's exhausting, though, especially during the middle parts of a project, when you're slogging through the bulk of detail and tester feedback at once. Handling the balance of visuals vs. player recognition, flow, and interesting play spaces is a lot of work.
FatherBrandon: Very relaxing (but can be frustrating at times). You get to create your own world and set the atmosphere within. You end up doing quite a bit of problem solving (as people test your map and give their feedback) as well, which I find great for the brain.
Mould: I'd say it’s just like making anything else. If nobody really cares it can be unrewarding. If people dislike it it can be flat out depressing. But if you manage to make a gem, it's really a great feeling to have people enjoy it. It's definitely a mixed bag but I think it's worth getting into; it's not as hard as people often make out.
Jusa: I think it’s a lot more work than most people assume it is. A lot of problem solving and figuring out what makes the game fun and how to support it with the level.
Hyce: Mapmaking for TF2 is tough. At first, everything you make is the wrong size; it takes a while to figure out proper proportions. Then you have to get it to look "TF2" styled, which also takes time as that's a particular look as well. Of course there's also level design, which is pretty important and balancing flow vs. sniper sightlines and class balance can get tricky. And even if you get all of that right, the map can still suck because it isn't fun to play. Mapping is tough.
Yrr: It's a lot of work but there's something really cool about walking around an environment that didn't exist until you made it. Making something that people enjoy playing is a great feeling and really makes it all worth it in the end.
Dagger: It's confusing at first, but after a few dozen hours in Hammer Editor you learn to be proficient.
What are the challenges that comes with mapmaking?
Phi: The main one is time. When it comes to the maps I make, I write my own schedule, as it's essentially my job. To commit to a week of heavy editing means a lot of time gets poured into mapping, designing, sketching, talking - especially in the later stages of a map. A whole week of full-time work can be dedicated to just finishing and polishing one aspect of the visuals, or confronting a gameplay flaw (as in the later stages of Sunshine). When there's a huge map to be edited, with dozens of different things to polish and edit, those weeks add up.
FatherBrandon: Nothing comes out the way you expect. I start maps by planning them out on paper with pencil. By the time you're at the later alpha stages it's nowhere near the same as you planned it, which is usually a good thing.
Mould: The main challenge I'd say is the networking part. It's not even really about what you know, it's who you know. Outside of competitive, the sea is so big, and it's really hard to be noticed if you're not a big fish. Some of the best maps I've seen have gotten very little recognition, just because they weren't good networkers. In competitive it's probably getting people to try your map in the first place. It has to be far along enough that it looks good, but near enough the start that you can make new versions easily. It can be tough to get the balance right. Not only that, you never used to get very far without being in the community in general before MapChamp.
Jusa: I would say the biggest challenge is to find a balance between something unique and new and still familiar enough for players to feel comfortable in.
Hyce: Overall balance is tough. It's hard to get a specific area to feel "balanced" for both sides while still having well liked elements like ramps and height variation while not ripping off some other maps. A lot of times when you finally feel like you've done something right someone will just say "well you stole the design of this point off of cp____ so you suck" and it can be quite frustrating.
Yrr: Getting something started is like the number one hurdle; the period between empty file and first alpha is absolutely the part most people give up and I've started countless projects that just didn't get past that point. But after that the most common roadblock is when there's a big problem you're trying to fix and all you can seem to do is move the problem because every part of the map relies on every other part - something as simple as adding a new route or removing a wall can ruin like five other parts of the map and you gotta figure out how to balance all that.
Dagger: Using Hammer isn't challenging but it is very time consuming to edit maps, especially if you're new to the program.
What is your favorite part about mapmaking?
Phi: While the design and theory-crafting is intensely engaging, I'd say my favourite part hands-down is seeing people play on the first "beta" version of a map. This is the period where visuals and gameplay merge into something that meets many more people than any of the prior "alpha" versions do - and simply seeing the wave of people playing on your map is awesome. It gets even better as time progresses, when you start to push the map towards finished - people record videos on it, showcase wicked plays, and give extensively detailed critique on the map as a whole. Still gets me giddy when I see frag clips of Sunshine, even after all these years.
FatherBrandon: Detailing maps (particularly lighting and overall theme) and finding solutions to issues that may come up. For instance, I may need to think about and plan the redesign of an area I previously thought would work out well.
Mould: Honestly probably the relaxation part of it really; I like to put on some really chill album, pour out something to drink and just think about what I want to make, how it'll flow. It's really good for just calming down, like painting or drawing.
Jusa: Ever since I was messing around with Battlefield 1942 level editor like 13 years ago, I've always loved to create something others can actually wander around and experience. It's a really cool thing to be able to just imagine things, build them and have other people experience them.
Hyce: For me, I'd say there's two parts. I really like the creative aspect to it - I like being able to build a gameplay area and see how fights take place within it. It's fun to be able to walk around an arena you've made. The second part is for the community - the TF2 community may be small and have it's issues but making a good map that gets into rotation is something that helps the community and the players have a good time, which makes me happy as well.
Yrr: Seeing people playing and enjoying the finished thing for sure.
Dagger: I honestly don't get anything out of mapping. It's more of a relaxing (and sometimes frustrating) hobby, I usually don't map unless I’m inspired to make or change something.
What do you think about the way the competitive community reacts to new maps, and what do you think could be changed?
Phi: It really depends a lot on the mapper, which is frustrating when it comes to promising mappers entering the scene for their first time. There's a lot of projects that never take off, so I understand the desire to be wary when it comes to unknown people presenting new maps. However, even in alpha, there's plenty of maps that would benefit from more testing in general. I'm still surprised when people don't know about maps like Bagel - incredible new maps with so much promise. I'd love to see everyone (especially players in higher divisions) pay more attention to new maps and look them over more often. Testing is the bread and butter of competitive mappers, and providing more to promising alpha maps would provide a lot of good things.
FatherBrandon: In my experience, new maps have been met with curiosity. I have only been doing competitive level design for a short time and people have been enthusiastic about testing, which is very encouraging. I think people should be open to trying out more game modes or brainstorming solutions to game modes that may have a good concept but not play ideally. Lately a lot of competitive community map testing has taken place and interest in new maps has spiked so I think the competitive community and new maps are settling into a good place.
Mould: Generally I'd say it's quite bad. You have to be in the community to even get started really, even then you're not in the clear. I think there's a lot of times the community just ostracizes maps after one experience. One example I always bring up [is] Arnold. He made Gullywash and it was loved, he made bazillion afterwards, which people liked until they had to play it in season; suddenly a lot of people were shitting on the map and even though it got changes it was never touched again. There's a lot of pressure for maps to not break the mould or make big mistakes, for fear of the same thing happening. You can't really fix that, first impressions count for a lot, and that's just how it is in all walks of life.
Jusa: I think it’s a bit two sided; some comp players seem to really hate any sort of change and just want to stick to the old and familiar maps, but some comp players in the other hand are really good at giving feedback. I feel like everyone should be more open for changes and willing to feedback maps early on in the alpha versions.
Hyce: For a long time it felt like the community really did not like new maps. It was really hard to get noticed in the stages when it was easiest to make changes, which is frustrating. People didn't seem to care unless the map was somewhat "finished" or "detailed" which makes it difficult to work with; if no one takes you seriously until the map is finished, there's a TON of crap you have to undo to change even small areas that wouldn't even be an issue in alpha. This is why Logjam went through 9,000,000,000 mids and versions - people didn't care about it too much until it was in later betas when many of the issues could've been sorted in alpha if people cared more earlier. I think MapChamp and this cup are a great way to start, but some more of the top players and teams helping mappers out earlier on or collaborating as b4nny and Phi are would help tremendously.
Yrr: If you'd asked me this a few months ago I'd have said it's really hard to get new maps considered, especially non-5CP maps, without some kind of presence already in the community. It was really hard to get any kind of testing or feedback on a map and there was a general stigma attached to mapping for competitive because of that. Recently though it feels like people are pushing for better ways to get maps tested and considering other modes; it's definitely a good time to be mapping for competitive right now. If I could see anything change in the way competitive reacted to maps tho, I'd like to see more people writing about what they don't like about maps and why instead of silently disliking them; it would really help make the maps better.
Dagger: I don't think the community tests them nearly enough. Sometimes a new promising map comes out and it takes weeks before it is play tested. There seems to be more map testing groups appearing which is nice. I think more high level players need to be involved in play testing and providing feedback.
For the map(s) you made that will be featured in the New Map Cup, what was the inspiration behind it?
Phi: My map cp_cardinal, developed in collaboration with b4nny, is a map based around height difference and heavily varied pathing. Each route between points offers wildly different visuals, positioning, and requires tactical thought - as a result, it's a very dynamic map. We've tried hard to make each area utterly unique to this map itself, requiring players to plan out tactics and holds for the map specifically instead of trying to rip them from some other map. It's very hard to pin down any part of this map as being inspired by any other - uniqueness is a main goal of Cardinal.
FatherBrandon: cp_daytrip was inspired directly by a trip to Japan in which I visited a town in Kyoto, which had interesting streets that snaked upward toward a beautiful water temple in the mountains. It is also very loosely based on the overall memory of the trip (BLUSON shops in cp_daytrip being parodies of all the LAWSON convenience stores I saw in Japan for example). cp_daytrip was built using more of a bottom-up design and pl_tfcl was built using a top-down design. The planning and development for pl_tfcl had a very specific goal in mind, which was to find a way to make Payload play better.
Mould: Honestly I just thought there were problems with maps in general. At the time I started the project, there were weak links in the ETF2L [map] pool; I figured I could do just as good a job as others. I would say it was inspired by discontent in the pool, and Starkie who bounced a load of ideas with me. I also really wanted to use Gravel Pit B at the start; I missed Gravel Pit from ETF2L.
Jusa: The only idea I started with was: "I want to make a map set in Soviet Russia". From there on I just kinda winged it while trying to figure out what players like in a 5CP.
Hyce: I knew I wanted to make a new 5CP map after cp_intermodal got deemed "Highlander only" but "worse than Glassworks" - so Logjam began. Originally when I made Logjam it started with a super simple idea that didn't work at all. I remember sketching the spawn doors (still as they are) being 90° off from each other on an angle rather than flat on a wall and drew from last outwards. I wanted a spire because of HUGE AIRSHOTS (because they make me feel warm and fuzzy), and originally I thought it would be interesting to make a map in the shape of a Z rather than a straight or S shaped map as many others are. It turns out (unsurprisingly) that that emphasizes one flank route over the other by quite a bit and makes it super easy to just skip 2nd and go to last so eventually Logjam (which was actually called uintah at this point) was straightened out to a configuration more similar to what it is today.
Yrr: I was disappointed in the lack of KotH maps that play well in the 6s format, since I enjoy watching them as a spectator. I also had a KotH map sitting around from the 72hr jam that didn't have a goal yet. So, I decided I wanted to make a KotH map that did play well in 6s, and that pretty drove the whole development process from there.
Dagger: There needs to be more KotH in the rotation. It is good that we don't only rely on CP gamemodes and KotH is also wonderful for viewers as there’s little to no stalemates. cp_warmfront was a map that a lot of people liked but it had some problems (primarily with pushing last) that prevented it from making it into the ESEA map rotation. A mapper named Hooky edited it into a KotH version a few years ago and I've been editing it for a few months now.
How do you feel about mapmaking in the future?
Phi: It's a toss-up, honestly. TF2 as a whole is a very idiosyncratic game, not having any other examples in the industry to compare it to. Mapmaking for this game could easily thrive for years and years in the future, especially as fresh younger minds start filtering in due to the game's continual popularity and support. If the TF2 team keep up work, mapping will always exist. As long as TF2 lives, mapping for TF2 will as well. Of course - the future of the game is uncertain, but it's easily gonna keep another few years even in the worst case scenario.
FatherBrandon: I feel confident and optimistic that maps tailored towards competitive TF2 will continue to get their chance to shine. I think we will see more new and great maps carving out a place in competitive TF2 going forward.
Mould: All you can really say is time will tell. If MapChamp sticks around and stays popular, it's looking better than it ever did before; it removes the whole networking part. We also have more space for new maps than ever before; no longer are you competing to be better than the worst 5CP map in the pool. The push for good KotH, A/D, etc, is really taking place right now. Of course now you have to compete with Bagel, which is sick. If Valve support materialises maybe there'll be even more need for it. Or comp might just die within the year. It's hard to know really.
Jusa: The future seems bright to me, as Valve is taking steps to include more community made maps into the game. I hope people keep on creating as it is one of the main things that has kept this game alive for so long.
Hyce: With the way the community is now responding to new maps, it looks good. I know for me personally I've learned so much with Intermodal and Logjam (and the 10,000 other maps I've made not to be discussed) that it would be a shame to just "leave it there" after Logjam because of the knowledge I've accrued. If the community keeps up their interest in new maps as they are now, we should have some seriously excellent new maps coming in the near future. I'm optimistic - I don't care how "dead" the game is or how few people play - I love playing this game because of how it feels to play. There's no other game out there that is challenging, rewarding, and makes me have as much fun as TF2 does all at once.
Yrr: I personally have a bunch of ideas for both competitive and pub maps that I want to see to completion, but also pretty generally I think this is a great time for people to get into competitive mapping. It's both easier to get competitive maps tested than it's ever been and there's an interest in seeing what can be done to make nonstandard gamemodes work. I look forward to seeing what gets made in the future.
Dagger: It's not essential, especially with how small our community is. If TF2 does somehow grow in the future it is still not essential since there’s already established maps.
Is there anything else that you would like to say to the community?
Phi: Maintain an open, accepting attitude towards maps and towards people. This community has rough patches, especially when it comes to treating and being decent towards players in racial/gender/etc. minorities. If anyone knows who I am beyond "mapmaker" then you'll know I've experienced some of that, indirectly and directly. I won't carry on about it, I know a lot of you don't wanna hear it, but it's necessary to say. Regardless, the best years of my life have been spent alongside developing maps for this community. I've met incredible friends, people, done things I'd never dreamed I would do. Keep goin' strong.
FatherBrandon: I think great custom maps can help draw in new players to increase longevity. Continue to rock-on and harvest new blood, we need more people interested and involved in the competitive TF2 scene.
Mould: I guess all I would say is that I'm really thankful to all the people that ever tested my map, especially the ones that gave feedback. I'll do my best to make Drudgery a better map for the future.
Jusa: Thanks for sticking around with this game after all these years. Without all the active communities TF2 would be long gone by now.
Hyce: Thanks so much for continually giving me chances and feedback on Logjam. I know that I've tried to please everyone too much in the past and I know that it took a zillion mids to get it right (so I hope) but the fact that people stay interested and continue to support and test the map makes me happy. Special shout outs to b4nny and Carn for being so helpful doing 1 on 1 reviews on the map and seriously helping with much of the level design as of late.
Yrr: I want to say thank you so much to everyone who has played my map or any of the others in the pool; you've all been super important to improving these maps and the competitive mapping scene as a whole.