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Attitude and Intent - Ken Banks


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I'm sure many of you know who Ken Banks is. Many of you have probably seen this or read this already as it is from about 2002. Some of you may have read it and forgotten about it, others progbably still remember it. Regardless, it is still something to keep in the back of your mind when you read all of these other articles about the topic of game design.

It's pretty disturbing to me to see that the vast majority of this community's (Half-Life and its MODs) level designers seem to have lost the entire concept behind amateur level design and gaming in general: Fun. Instead they opt to go for the fame and popularity that the hobby may bring. They'd rather be "awarded" with a 10/10 - wait, scratch that, 9.9/10 - from the kid running the newest review site down the block, then create a fun and entertaining level that they had fun designing. It's a shame too. There would be so many more quality levels out there if this were not the case. Because when it all comes down to it, your level is only going to be fun to play in if you had fun making it. Trust me on this one. When you design for yourself, and are really just aiming for some obligatory compliments from a couple people you don't even know, you may turn out something real pretty but it sure isn't going to be a fun and exciting level.

Let's use an example: Have you ever gotten really stressed out over something, and decided to go work on you latest map for a little bit, just to cool off? Or maybe you were designing already but someone else came into the room and turned the TV on really loud and it was starting to get on your nerves? What did you come up with? I'll bet you anything you didn't like it. This may not relate to your intentions for creating the map in the first place (as mentioned above) but regardless, you still weren't having fun. For the most part, if you are designing a certain level to boost your reputation (thus your ego), you're not really having fun. And you're not going to have a fun level on your hands.

I should know. A couple years back, I joined the Wasteland Half-Life team as lead level designer. The problem was, I had absolutely no interest in the theme of the MOD. I had really just joined to get my name out there and win some popularity. I'm quite embarrassed about it now, seeing that I produced absolutely nothing of worth for the team. I made some great friends in the team, but I can't imagine why they would decide to put up with me. Probably because a large number of them were on the same page as I was.

It is also a shame that the designers with the biggest egos and who have all the wrong intentions in place, usually do end up becoming the most popular and well known. But that's not what you should aim for anyway. If your overall intent is to become employed at a professional game developer, then you're going to have a much better chance at doing so if the average HL player wouldn't know you by name, but you have some beautiful and creative maps under your belt, then if you are the most popular mapper in the community, yet your levels lack any sort of originality or creativity.

Don't design for the ego boost of being the most popular in any community - It won't do you any good. Don't design for the review sites - It won't do you any good. Don't design anything if you are not enjoying the whole experience - It won't do you a singe bit good.

Go out and find something that actually interests you. Don't design for a game or MOD just because it is the most popular. Find something that you truly have an interest in. Myself, I found Natural Selection. Not only is it a very professional and mature community (for the most part), the people involved actually help each other become more creative and successful in their level development. That's awesome. Rather than cut each other down, and say "Haha, I could to a thousand times better than that!" if they find something they don't particularly care for, they offer sound advice and constructive criticism. And their comments are generally taken without offence. It's a great community. This is how I wish the entire HL mapping community was like. It quite obviously isn't though.

I'll close this article with the following:

Amateur level design should be fun. You don't have the pressures and constraints that the professionals continuously face. You get no compensation for your work, rather the whole point of it is to have some more fun with your favorite game, yet there is an unfortunate race to see who can become the most popular. Like I said before, that's going to do nothing for you. If you want to get hired by a professional developer, that's fine and well, but just keep in mind that they are more likely to look for originality, creativity, playability, and the overall fun factor in your levels, rather than employ you based off of how many times your name is displayed on PHL each week.


Ken Banks

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Never read that before, but I learned that lesson quite late. Lots of my first CS maps I only did in the hope of getting them official. Obviously they had no soul and I always ended up hating them, which obviously was why they were no near official CS map quality (except some of the last official CS maps), which I then learned later on.

When I then started doing silly maps (A.k.a the Pringles Era) I started having fun and really got into how layouts work and how you get a flow going in your map. I also started working alot faster when I worked for my own pleasure rather than trying to gain something from it.

Its also something that is simply a must if you want to go pro, because you wont put out quality work if you're not into it and having fun.

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You really pay attenttion on the flow of the map when it doesn't matter what the map is made out of, and it can be seen in many of the TFC maps, many of them are just wild, completely wild compared to CS and DoD maps, and to me, they were always fun to play.

And that is one thing about realistic games like Rainbow 6, the accurate model of Alcatraz or something might not be fun, and there are alot of advantage places that ruin the flow.

One such game I should mention that has never had a map that I completely hated (official maps ofcourse) is Natural Selection. Maybe it is the fact that most of the maps are identical in visuals so mappers can spend more time designing the flow or maybe it's that the maps are built out of love for the game, but the maps are just fun to play, always.

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good read. i really agree on it that the most important thing of amateur level design is having fun at doing so, when i create a map i usually just start to build some crappy stuff not even having a layout or anything else done. i just go crazy with the geometry and most of the time something cool comes out of it. then when i have created a lot of pieces like this. i start thinking about combining them to create a nice and interesting layout. its not that i NEVER draw a layout before i start with a map but i find working like this much more fun and interesting and yes it does make creating a fun map much and much harder but it also gives me as creator a lot more fun and for me that is what its al about. i also find that this way i learn a lot more of how i can make things work within a map then when i start with basic layout totally done already and just add the details. when i first started with creating maps i learned to first draw my layout and the n detail it and stuff and i would allways find myself with cool ideas i couldnt fit in anymore because the layout didnt let me. working out of the wild takes a lot more of your imagination and ability to come up with sollutions for layout problems etc.. wich wil eventually make you a better level designer AND create maps that are way more original then maps created by drawing a layout as a base because you take a lot more time for the base and look at a lot more possibilities in doing so...

now your probably thinking what does this all have to do with the topic??

well when i first started mapping and all i got pointed at all kinds of sites with tutorials and stuff to learn from and i allways found it very interesting to read about how people work on them. and most of the time the articles i would read would go like: you MUST draw a layout first and you HAVE to do this first bla bla you know it all. and as a newbie your being thrown totally in the dark with this kind of talk. you shouldnt be limited by how the pro's say you HAVE to work, instead take on your own turn have fun at what your doing and find yourself creating things that can be equally fun as when doing it their way. working like this wont allways give you a playable and fun level and it will probably give you a lot of unfinished maps but i can tell you once you have enough pieces created, things will come together and will emerge in a map that was created with a lot of fun and is also a lot more fun to play.

as you can now probably understand the thing im pointing at is that its the communities that create the kind of mapper that has to be the number 1 cool guy that designs things for the purpose of making him more cool and thinking that he is "pro" in what he does but instead he should just have a fun time at creating his maps and let people have fun at playing them

comments people!

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If I wanted fame and recognition I woulda moved onto mapping for mods that people actually play :D

He raises some good points there but a few I don't agree with. He seems to be saying that you should only map when you are in a good mood, but I've often used to it to get out of a bad one and I don't necessarily think it always results in poor work. He also seems very jaded about the scene and possibly taking some jibes at more of the famous names, but most of the biggies I've come across in my time have been really nice people who do it for the love of it. People often say there is too much one-upmanship and non-constructive criticism around, but I musta been lucky over the years because everywhere I visit has been far more full of camaraderie than competition.

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I can see his point but what he seems to forget is that there's also people who have fun doing their work but create it with the intention of getting it official. I was kinda like that when I worked on DOD. I had lots of fun texturing the maps but I worked on a lot of them cause I knew they would probably make it into the official cycle. And I don't see anything wrong with that attitude because at the end of the day it DOES get your name out there, and you DO gain popularity and most importantly this is the stuff that gets you noticed by other companies and ends up getting you jobs.

So yeah, I agree with him about people who create maps for the sole purpose of getting their work into counter-strike without actually enjoying the process of creating.

But he needs to realize that the two can go hand-in-hand and you can have fun creating WHILE working on getting your name out there and getting somewhere with your work.

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Good read, I hadn't come across this article yet. I wasn't really that far with mapping in 2002 anyway.

I definitely agree you should have fun making a map. That's why most people started, isn't it?

But different people find different aspects of mapping fun. For me, I liked to experiment a lot and play with graphic effects to fake players, but after a few years I really don't like having just 2 maps finished. For me, part of the fun now is to see one of my maps being played and being liked in-game by others. Heh, I've actually started to play HL2DM after betatesting a map of mine again... :)

I also think you shouldn't just map when you're feeling like it. Sometimes this can keep you from finishing anything and I've found that to feel worse. Maybe that requires restructuring your workflow or whatever, which may not sound like 'just fun', but if it pays of it can be so much more fun. It really depends on how much time you are willing to invest in it, I think.

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Is there some not so hidden parallel between the fact mappers who make levels for Natural Selection can go crazy with scale, reality, etc? Where as cs or dod you're limited by many factors, and as such can't just take carte blanche on creating something insane?

All level designers are quake designers at heart I guess.

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Maybe, maybe not. David Johnston wrote in his blog I believe that he gave up on mapping in the Quake time, but got going again for HL and then CS, which was where he really broke through.

But I do agree that the more restrictions a games theme has, the less it's liked by most mappers, or at least, it won't give most people what they would really like to do. I think. At least I know I especially wouldn't want to do a WWII theme because it's so limited in area's and themes.

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I have read a lot of banal articles here the last few days...

I know no mapper who maps without having fun. The persons who not have fun will give up after a few weeks.

I dont understand the intention behind such articles. It reads like "see how pro and experienced i am and you others are all noobs and must learn from me!!!!!11111"


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Good article :D Whats Kens nick? Since I've seen the name alot of times, but cannot connect it to a nick :o

I really hate to work on something that I do not like, like most maps now days for HL2. I have no fun at all, why? I have no idea, its just like that. When I made ts_tomb, I had so much fun making it, since I didn't really have any idea about what a good dm map had, so I just made random traps and stuff that I thought was cool. But now I think too much about gameplay and stuff, so all the fun goes away (in my mind).

Thats why I mostly make props these days, cause they are quick, don't need any "gameplay" or anything. You just make it like you want (or as requested) and be happy with it.

I agree with you Klein, its nothing wrong with making stuff that you think will go official, as long as you have fun doing it. Its like working at a gamestudio that only make god damn boring games which you doubt will be fun..

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