TsarbucksThis is just a few general questions to you, but how did you get into mapping, what is your favorite of the maps you made, and what advice do you have for new mappers like myself?
1) I got into mapping because the TF2 blog posted a link to the Source Wiki and I was like "okay lets make some maps". I was playing on a pub server at the time, and the server admin was keen on hosting community maps, even really terrible ones (terrible map tuesdays never 4 get). I basically trawled the TF2maps.net forum and tried to learn as much as I could from the resources there, as well as opening up decompiled versions of valve maps and seeing how they did things. From there, it was just something I never put down, and I got better and better every time I made a map, and now three of them are in TF2 and I'm steadily working towards my goal of full time level/game design.
2) I haven't thought about it in a while, but I still think I have a real soft spot for Metalworks. It was my first map that really took off, the layout is pretty much my own design (not really incredibly influenced by existing maps), and it also taught me the value of starting over if something isn't working (the original map was cp_resonance, but I did a complete reboot, and even reworked the basic shape of the map from a U to an S). Obviously, cp_process is probably the most popular of my maps, and it clearly had a pretty profound effect on what constitutes a 5cp map, so thats cool, but yah Metalworks probably.
3) Oh man, I could ramble for days. First thing to keep in mind: your first map will be bad. This isn't something that you've done wrong, it isn't the result of a mistake or a failing on your part. Its all just part and parcel to the learning process that is level design. The first thing you make is bad, both because you're just learning how to use the tools, but also because you're learning how to make GOOD levels. Its one thing to figure out how a brush/displacment/hint and so forth works, its another thing entirely to understand what good gameplay is, what a good combat space is like and so on. So take your first map as a learning process; make a messy, stapled together, poorly optimized trash heap and then move on. The next map will still be bad, but you'll have learned from making the first. And then the third will be better, but still not amazing. AND THEN... and then and then you just keep going and eventually you'll start making GOOD maps.
A level designer from Valve that I follow on twitter, he made a comment on his maps that basically is like "I'm constantly making better maps than I've ever made before", because every year he is getting better at making them. So don't get discouraged! If you stick with mapping, you'll look back at your first maps and recognize the necessity of your failings as a stepping stone to where you are today.
Second, there is a fine line between observing other maps and learning from their success, and trying to re-implement their success exactly. A good example of this is sunshine. Clearly, its a map very much informed by the success of process, but its definitely not (strictly speaking) a clone of process either. Its got its own last, its own take on middle and how it handles flank routes, its own visual design. Being able to tell when you are just retreading the same exact footsteps of another map, versus when you are taking the formula of that and spinning it off into your own thing is really important. For a new mapper, learn the distinction between copying a map exactly versus evolving the concepts the map deals with and you'll go far.
Finally, acknowledge the necessity of feedback to grow and change the map you're working on, but never forget: Its your map! You know its ins and outs. You know what you intend to do with it, and how long a change will take to make. If someone tells you to change something, don't just blindly follow their input, but consider the implications and ask yourself "does this make sense?". Design by committee is never a formula for interesting game design, and allowing yourself time to think and consider is huge for improving a map.