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Tyker

The user experience of Level Editors

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1 hour ago, Skybex said:

I can't count how many times in hammer I have abandoned ideas simply because I cant be bothered to go through the model importing nightmare or mess with the VMT's to bother with a texture.

Alt-tabbing in and out of CS and inputing mat_reloadallmaterials after every single VMT parameter/and or mask change is killing me right now.

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On 8/4/2016 at 7:11 AM, shawnolson said:

I did enjoy the video, but as both an expert and advocate of Max level design, I was keen on those aspects that were erroneous or skipped.

Sorry! I already had to cut so much good stuff when building the talk, and things had to go. Generally I'm still happy what the talk gave out as an idea, but originally I went over all 5 editors on each chapter. I loved doing this, and going into full detail, but sadly the time wasn't there. Even with those cuts, and talking super fast, I barely made it into 50 minutes. Please let me know what was erroneous though! I am not perfect, I do not know everything, and I'm always willing to learn.

8 hours ago, 2d-chris said:

This is interesting, but I feel a little too simplistic due to the time constraints of the presentation and assumptions on developers workflow, nevertheless it's a good rundown of a few of the many tasks performed in a level editors.

Yep, time constraints and cuts sadly had to happen, but as a general idea to share this knowledge (especially something I rarely hear people talk about) I'm still happy with it.

8 hours ago, 2d-chris said:

I don't know any designer who crates (pun intended) a new brush (bsp) for everything that they add, instead, you modify existing ones or duplicate them, and work from there, just that one change in workflow produces drastically different results for UX (for example in unreal you hold alt + drag mouse to duplicate anything) 

True! I work the same way in hammer. One of the first iterations of the talk actually had me build the exact same house/room in each editor to show different workflows, but this was much too time consuming, and made it difficult to compare the editors as there was a lot of time inbetween the different features. This resulted in the final format, which in this way meant the creating of the brush & the editing/copying/moving of the brush were split up. So I do talk about both placing and copying/edit to create sections (Or if it feels like I didn't, please let me know if that wasn't clear!) the two topics are so separate it doesn't look like normal level design workflow. Thanks for letting me know, I did not realize that until now!

8 hours ago, 2d-chris said:

Additionally, where as first time UX of where buttons are is important, once you've learned how to do something, you'll know for the future, UX often focuses on actions that needs to be performed for the first time, and to make sure that they are not frustrating, which obviously makes a lot of sense for a game, but something as complicated as a level editor is never going to be easy to pickup

It doesn't have to be easy to pickup, no. There is time to work with it and get used to it, but the section where I talk about the 'ok' button vs the 'x' button in the Skyrim Creation Kit (SCK) is exactly about this. "If you do something, you'll know for the future" is not always true. Many editors & tools have a problem that there are solely tool programmers involved and not designers, creating scenarios where the technical action is possible (pressing 'ok' or 'x') but the physical action of pressing them varies within a huge editor. The SCK is definitely not the only one to do this, of course. UX needs to focus more on what you are continually doing, again and again, and to make that smooth. Sure, level designers also need to deal with problems and bad tools sometimes, but if that goes too far, which it often does, then you reach that point of "Deal with it." and "A good designer/artist/developer doesn't blame their tools, and comes up with cool stuff regardless." which is incredibly detrimental both physically, mentally, and qualitatively, as I discuss in the talk.

I think that reality can change. It will be slow, it will take incredible time and effort, but the end result will be worth it both for game developers and for game players.

8 hours ago, 2d-chris said:

This is not to say that the UX experience of the tools doesn't matter, this is a great talk and a wish more people cared, it's just to say that every developer has their own preferences for workflow, some of the tricks I picked up at Epic make the hammer BSP method seem slow by comparison, it just requires that knowledge to be shared. The fact is that different developers use DRASTICALLY different workflows for creating levels, none of which are necessarily better or worse than each other, and this point alone makes comparisons complicated and messy, so by that point the best tool is the one that gives the most flexibility not necessarily the best single optimised workflow. 

This is something I'm sad about that I did not mention it. This is the answer I would've loved to give to the question at the end concerning finding a tool for a game that has thousands and thousands of props: To find the right tool, and the right tool UX, you need to look at: Your company, the genre you're building, your publisher relations, your developer workflows, your time limit, the studio culture, the country culture, your budget, etc etc.  and then make an informed decision with all of those factors in mind. 

8 hours ago, 2d-chris said:

I've been saying this for years, but the tools matter a lot less than the experience of the developers themselves (I've heard some comments in this industry that believe tools are everything and that they can replace experience!!) I've managed to master every editor I've come across pretty fast, because as mentioned they all do similar things, the knowledge of HOW to do something soon becomes trivial  and then the tricky question is WHAT to do, which unfortunately is not so easy to answer :)

I disagree, and this is where I think change needs to happen. Tools affect the end result of developers, both of experienced and inexperienced ones. If a badly placed exit button makes you lose 30 minutes of work, then your production, mood, and creative quality have just gone down. I won't say tools are everything anyone needs to make something awesome, but I also won't say tools matter less than the developer experience. If working with the editor is annoying enough to get a developer out of a good mood, it's not the fault of the developer, it's the fault of the tool. And we can fix tools. Telling developers to deal with bad UXd tools is reasonably okay, up to a point, but that point should not be 'running into the tool programmers room asking what the hell is going on', but should be 'getting annoyed over a consistently repeated action'. Again of course studio culture, time limit, budget, etc come into play, but the argument of how to do something becoming trivial and what to do becoming important is, in my opinion, not entirely accurate. It's missing a critical element. It's not just how to do something, or what to do, but in what way is it being done? If you have an awesome idea (what) and you know how to do it (how) but then you need to wrestle with a bad UXd editor to make it work (in what way) then you might not act on that awesome idea, or your creative energy will stop flowing because you will start to get annoyed, and then you might instead produce a less awesome idea in the end. Now the game is in a worse state purely due to bad editor UX. Experience might help here, but it's not a catch-all for these problems. In the end developers are only human. Bad tools can bring down amazing ideas and awesome games. You can punch through bad tools, and come out with awesome games, if you have enough willpower, force, budget, or time, but many times the sacrifices in final quality are not worth the small time it would take to fix a UI/UX issue.

@Skybex's post also brought this same argument to light, and it's exactly how I feel, what I've heard, and what I've experienced in the industry. Amazing projects & ideas have been lost, just due to bad tools that human beings could not healthily deal with. Anything might be technically possible in an engine or editor, but it also has to be humanly possible.

8 hours ago, 2d-chris said:

Anyway, keep it up, thanks for being brave, tackling the subject and fighting for the user experience! 

Thanks! And that's why I wanted to say in the above point: I disagree. I think it's useful to say that publicly, even though I may be talking to someone with more years of experience and a more senior position. I'm going to keep fighting for better tools & editors, not only so that developers enjoy work more, but also so I can play even better games! :)

Edited by Tyker

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I have been summoned! Awesome to see more people talkin' about this stuff.

I made some videos called Level Editing In UE4 Kinda Needs To Catch Up To Quake 1 and Hypothesising Negative Effects of Ubiquitous Modular Mesh Based Level Design, latter of which was discussed at length on the UE4 forums (I'd be interested in whether you saw that, @2d-chris). These days I'm working with UE4 but making my maps in Hammer, because modular mesh based level design is only a sensible idea for large studios with lots of artists, and Unreal doesn't have good level design tools for anything outside that situation. I do love Unreal though.

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For example, I don't know any designer who crates (pun intended) a new brush (bsp) for everything that they add, instead, you modify existing ones or duplicate them, and work from there, just that one change in workflow produces drastically different results for UX (for example in unreal you hold alt + drag mouse to duplicate anything) 

This is totally a thing, but compare the UX of alt+dragging a brush to clone it in Unreal to shift-dragging a brush to clone it in Hammer. Same thing, except with Unreal, you have to click-drag on the pivot, (why does it have a pivot?!?!), which is a tiny target for your mouse, which is probably not in the center of the brush, or might be nowhere near the brush if you've resized that brush a lot, and then it drags really laggily across to where it belongs, and then either you've got to manually hit "rebuild geometry" to see the result, or you have automatic rebuilds on, and now you have to deal with a potentially-very-long hitch while Unreal rebuilds the entire map's geometry because you moved one brush...  

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some of the tricks I picked up at Epic make the hammer BSP method seem slow by comparison, it just requires that knowledge to be shared

Epic's BSP implementation is so slow I don't know if I could come up with a method that didn't make it feel slow by comparison :P But that's because it's a bad BSP implementation.

I'd be super interested to hear some of your tricks, and see if they're applicable to a smaller-scale operation than you have at Epic. 

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Flow is also important, but the realities of being a level designer in a studio pretty quickly ruins any chance of that, since you'll be interrupted or asking questions constantly, on the rare occasion it happens though, it's a wonderful thing

This is interesting. To me, if you're in a studio that ruins any chance of you getting a flow going, that... sounds like a pretty bad work environment? Shouldn't that be a priority?

 

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I think the difference is I don't let things get to me, I've learned the quirks of something like 5 engines, and the blockout phase is actually a small part of my job, so I'm not going to lose sleep about it. I have thoughts on improvements for all the tools within the various engines, but I've never hit a point where I can't create what is in my mind, you can do just about everything with all modern engines, of course, if you go out of the box from what the rest of the team is doing, you'd better know how to do it because that is asking for trouble :) In crysis 3 I pushed the boundaries by building a level where the two major location you play in both get completely destroyed, that was a nightmare and a real challenge but worth it in the end, it was possible because I understood all the tools (cinematic tools, scripting etc) and was able to prototype it myself.

This is going a little bit off topic, but @Lacabra if you want to sit in a corner and get work done, being a designer who is coordinating relatively big teams on your vision is probably not the best job, when you work on a smaller team it becomes even more critical to communicate, I'm sure there are plenty of studios that assign task and you just execute, but I personally wouldn't go near them with a ton of bricks! Ultimately, it is up to me to decide how best to spend my time, flow happens when I need it to happen, but we're not grinding out content like slaves, we like to talk a lot and discuss options. This is especially true when you work on a new IP

I uploaded some videos of working with unreal's geometry tools, it's in the spotlight section on the right, Sid also produced some videos of his workflow, which is very different than me but a lot more traditional, I've built up a combination of Hammer, Unreal, Cryengine and Maya ... so a hybrid between all of these usually fits no matter what I need to design.

I want to add a little point that is overlooked, great tools allow you to make things faster, but guess what usually happens then, you get moved onto something else, so you will usually produce MORE work, but not necessarily BETTER work, the best companies will realise this and give you time to improve, but I just want to be clear in stressing that more efficient workflows doesn't actually make better content, out of the box, but it might produce it faster. It requires considerable commitment by management to understand this. As your game becomes more formalised, development times become even tighter, I can give an example of this. For Crysis 2, AI pathing used to take considerable time, as each point in buildings was hand placed, we later replaced it with an automatic solution for Crysis 3, what ended up happening is the time to work on the level dropped, and designers became lazier, before when doing the AI pass by hand we would carefully check that the space was good for the player and AI, afterwards it became something that was pretty much ignored. Now we could of added a task to make sure that everything was valid, but it was forgotten for time and convenience. Everyone wants things faster, but the realities is when things move at a certain velocity, mistakes are made and ignored, sometimes taking your time is a very, very good thing. 

 

 

 

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Wow... these are some insane observations to me! I kind of get where you're coming from, but it's such a completely different way of looking at a thing.

Yes, taking your time is a good thing - being forced to take your time because your tools are slow is not. 

A lot of what you're saying seems to be... that if you improve your efficiency, your efforts are probably going to be undermined by bad project/office management and you end up no better off... so you're better off not trying?

Improvements to tools aren't supposed to make you lazy because things are taking less time, that saved time is time you can invest in the other stuff you're doing. 

Edited by Lacabra

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Don't get me wrong, I get the theory, I've just observed very differently in my career. No, I'm not suggesting people stop trying to improve tools, I use very good tools every day ... I'm saying ... I give up, theirs no way to not offend people in these discussions hehe, this is why developers don't like to talk about this stuff ... :P It's just, a tool. (this is my own opinion of course!) tools don't make games, people do. 

FYI - tools are usually made to speed things up, to save time, to save money (and often peoples sanity) they might, depending on the tool in question, make the game better, but not always. 

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I've seen good developers spending all their efforts on trying to improve tools and somewhat forgetting about the game, this is why usually you have technical roles for people who enjoy this type of work (and it's very important) but one must not lose sight of the game in the act of trying to make a perfect workflow, the workflow will mature over time, this is why sequels usually get developed faster each time. As the very wise Buddy Rich once said, "Don't think about it, just do it" It's very easy to overthink something, we are level designers, responsible for communicating and envisioning an experience for players, this has been masterfully accomplished on some of the worst tools you could possibly imagine. I;m starting to sound like an old fart here, but it works for me since I don't feel bad using any tools I've come across, there are always limitations, always problems you have to solve, that will never change no matter how good the tool :P If you think it;s bad now, wait until you've used some of the "best" tools, then join another developer and go back in time, you'll feel even worse :P so don't sweat it, think about the game and players experience as much as you can. 

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Well I can say we are actively working on new geometry tools, just don't hold your breath. I agree hammers geometry tools are great, unfortunately just about everything else is dated, with the exception of the physics and how they are integrated, very nice, still the best I've seen. 

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On ‎8‎/‎5‎/‎2016 at 7:13 PM, Tyker said:

Sorry! I already had to cut so much good stuff ... with those cuts, and talking super fast, I barely made it into 50 minutes. Please let me know what was erroneous though! I am not perfect, I do not know everything, and I'm always willing to learn.

I understood that time constraints limited the talk. And, again, I enjoyed the talk.

I wrote a very long response but deleted it. I think direct answers will best be served with actual video demonstrations rather than words, which I will try to get to when time opens. But the real gist of what I have to share with the Source LD community is that if you think Hammer is the best tool for A/B/C, there is a very good chance that your experience in Hammer itself has conditioned you to think that (in other words, you have picked up design strategies from the limitations of Hammer and let those limitations turn into "workflows" or "matters of importance").

The problem with Hammer (I'm talking of Source Hammer, not S2 Hammer) is that it spent ~20 years with almost zero innovation and stagnated the design strategies of the would-be level designers. So even if it has a few good things--it's general lack of innovation is a disservice to the design community that becomes "faithful" to it.

I cannot speak for the Creation Kit, but 3ds Max, UE4 and Unity have evolved with the design community. And any little aspect of Hammer you want, it's pretty much trivial for any team to add into Max any day of the week (3ds Max is just the ultimate design tool that you can morph into whatever you need it to do, and almost every Hammer function is included in Wall Worm). In fact, many of the tools for Source in 3ds Max result from me just saying to myself, "Wouldn't it be so much easier to..." The same cannot be said of the Hammer that most people are using. Of course, Dota's Hammer is a different story... but it wasn't a part of that discussion.

Please understand that none of this is critical of you and that most of the principles of your talk align with my own views. I'll possibly share specific cases about factual errors in a video at some point.

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I'm not sure anyone who has used all the tools mentioned in the video could make a valid argument that Hammer is better than any of the others mentioned. It does have some aspects that are better than in other editors, but they pale in comparison to all the drawbacks Hammer and the source pipeline. I could list maybe 5 or 6 things hammer does better than other editors, but write entire essays on its drawbacks.

Max, as powerful as it is, suffers purely from the fact it is not an engine level design editor but a 3rd party tool that is designed to cover many facets within many industries and skills. Sure with a programmer designing some tools to fit your project can make things a lot easier, but it still keeps the very steep learning curve and prevents people who may not work with the design tools every day from doing simple tasks to test their work. Issues such as an audio guy wanting to test and make alterations to their sounds suddenly becomes a much more difficult task because the tools are more complex, and the tools are separated from the engine.

Unity I think is the shining example of a quality toolset and one that has adapted over time to fit its users needs. What he does at timestamp 51.28 (editing the game while its running) looks kind of small and is glossed over, but as a level designer this is such a huge thing that I could write pages and pages about its usefulness. Something that cannot be achieved in an editor like max because of the separation between tools and engine. 

Basically what I am trying to get at is that as great as some tools may be, Having an editor that runs the engine real time cannot be underestimated and is probably the greatest time saver for anyone that ever needs to use the tools. And can save an insane amount of time during all stages of development for multiple departments, not just the level designers.

 

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4 hours ago, shawnolson said:

But the real gist of what I have to share with the Source LD community is that if you think Hammer is the best tool for A/B/C, there is a very good chance that your experience in Hammer itself has conditioned you to think that (in other words, you have picked up design strategies from the limitations of Hammer and let those limitations turn into "workflows" or "matters of importance").

The problem with Hammer (I'm talking of Source Hammer, not S2 Hammer) is that it spent ~20 years with almost zero innovation and stagnated the design strategies of the would-be level designers. So even if it has a few good things--it's general lack of innovation is a disservice to the design community that becomes "faithful" to it.

Oh absolutely! But I do cover all of that in the talk. After explaining how great the basic geometry editing of Hammer is I then switch to the next chapter and explain how awful the complex geometry editing is in Hammer and how much better it is in Unreal and 3dsMax. I'm not sure if your reply was focused on me and the talk, but if it was: I think I covered those topics and those ways of thinking in the talk, and how while Hammer is great sometimes, it's also awful sometimes, as are all the other editors I discuss. Apparently I did not make that clear enough, or that slipped through the cracks, as I have gotten the argument of "You are much too positive about Hammer/CSG/BSP!" multiple times after the talk, which is why I wrote this Gamasutra article to explain that wasn't my intention: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RobinYannStorm/20160503/271373/Dont_fear_the_Hammer_The_importance_of_UX_in_editors__tools.php

3 minutes ago, Skybex said:

What he does at timestamp 51.28 (editing the game while its running) looks kind of small and is glossed over, but as a level designer this is such a huge thing that I could write pages and pages about its usefulness. Something that cannot be achieved in an editor like max because of the separation between tools and engine.

Did that part feel like it was glossed over? I hoped with the words I used and the inflection of my voice to really set straight that this 'pause-edit' system was absolutely amazing and that any editor benefits from such a system, regardless of team size or game genre. Please let me know if I did not make that clear enough!

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