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I recently conducted an interview with one of the top mappers in the Tribes community - NecroBones. Lets take a peek inside this mapper's mind...
NecroBones: Quite some time now, since I was mapping in Tribes 1 for a while before T2 became available. I remember this time last year I already had about a dozen Tribes 1 maps out, and I wasn't making them as frequently as I am right now.
NecroBones: Not really, though I've always been fond of customizing games in a variety of ways. For instance, I was notorious for making silly sound replacements and monster graphics for Doom. So for about as long as the first-person-shooter (FPS) genre has existed, I've played around with tweaking and modification, but this is the first game I've fully gotten into mapping. It was very natural for me though, since I've always been a "behind the scenes" sort of guy in general... I used to DM a lot of AD&D games, and wrote a lot of shareware games in DOS before it went the way of the dinosaur (and for a while afterwards too.. hehe!)
NecroBones: Absolutely. Just the other day I realized my ideas were growing faster than I could put them into map-form, so I wrote out a list. It turns out I have about 10 ideas floating around at any given time now, so that should keep me busy for a while. :)
As far as anything specific, I don't want to say much since sometimes ideas fall through due to quirks or limitations in the game, or just evolve into something different.
NecroBones: A little of each, actually. :) I'd say other games are the least of the influences, since there are few that can actually compare to Tribes (apples to oranges), and I'm not playing many others at all right now. I do take a lot of ideas from existing maps, mostly the base maps, but sometimes other people's work as well. Sometimes seeing how someone else put a base together, or made creative use of a forcefield, or whatever will spark an idea and then you can run with it. Most of what I do comes from a combination of things: imagination, the tools available, and a sense of gameplay. Sometimes ideas just come from what's in the game. For instance, the sheer fact that water is in the game meant I had to make something with little land (WetWorld), and something completely under water (Ocean Floor). Also, right from the start, the map has to be something that will be fun to play, or it's nothing but eye-candy. So I try to come up with ideas that will work within the game's limitations, not hurt the framerate too badly, but still encourage players to find some interesting strategies that will hopefully be new and refreshing. It's not always an easy line to walk, but these are things that all good mappers think about.
NecroBones: All it took was for me to hear that the map editor was built in, back in the days of Tribes 1. I always wanted to create maps, but didn't really know where to begin. Then one day I discovered how easy it was to get started in T1, and next thing I knew I was churning out maps like RelayStation and DeepSpace, which had structures that no one had seen before (a 300m radio-dish, or a starship with shuttlecraft), and yet were still server-side (meaning players didn't have to download them, and there were no custom prefabs or terrain). Sometimes the prefabs have to be treated as puzzle-pieces, and it can just be a matter of finding a good way of putting them together. So I was completely hooked, and I knew before T2 came out that I'd be mapping for it as well.
NecroBones: That's a tough question, especially since I make a variety of maps that require completely different types of gameplay. I guess I have a few favorites. Air Support 2 is probably one of them, since I love aerial combat, and I'm also amazed at how much people like it. Sometimes people beg to have the time limit disabled so they can just keep playing it. For ground battles, I think Artillery is a lot of fun. And for Ambience, I think Sarcophagus is really cool. Try starting it up sometime with no other players. It's eerily quiet, except for the screaming bodies, and howling air vents. :)
I still have a lot of fondness though for some of my T1 maps, and I plan to try to recapture that in T2 soon. For instance RelayStation was something really unique in that it was fun, and had spectacular visual appeal with that ominous dish looming overhead, and Two-Towers was an advanced-map in that only those with superior jetting skills would do well, due to how vertical the map is.
NecroBones: It's a combination of both. Personally I enjoy CTF the most, since to me it is the epitome of teamwork. In no other game style do you have people who specifically try to stay out of the fight so they can run with the flag. I'm very tempted to try some Siege and CnH maps as well, but I'll have to actually play those game modes more to get a good feel for them first. But yes, there is also the issue of the size of the audience. I know that if I make a good CTF map, a lot of people will be willing to try it. By making most of my maps server-side, I allow anyone to try it without forcing people to download the maps. As I discovered in Tribes 1, it can be difficult to convince a server admin to use your maps, and so I know it's even harder to convince players to download them before-hand just to play on specific servers.
NecroBones: There are some good tutorials out, and I've been tempted to write one myself. Dynamix put one out as well, which is a good launching point, but it's also surprisingly anemic and incorrect. Generally there are a lot of people on the message boards who will be glad to answer questions, but the best way to figure things out is to read the tutorials and then just play around with the editor. Experience is the only way to go, since you can't just read a tutorial and say "I know mapping". And don't be afraid to look at other people's maps and open up the .MIS file in notepad to see how they did things. I get asked a lot of questions that people can easily answer themselves, just like I did (and still do). For instance, if you want to know how to make a vehicle pad serve up only specific vehicles, find its datablock in the mission file and see what variables it sets. It's that simple. Want fireballs raining from the sky? Just copy the datablock from another mission. Can't get water to look correct? Copy it from another mission and then just change it's altitude to where you want. So basically, the tutorials can teach you the editor, but only by experimentation can you learn mapping.
NecroBones: Well, Stormdash isn't a good yard-stick for this question. Actually, I was rather surprised when it was chosen for map of the week, since it's just a variant of an existing map rather than something completely new, though as both I and the review said, it does change the gameplay significantly. Anyway, to answer the question, Stormdash took most of a day to make, since it was my "learning to use the Tribes 2 editor" map. I started with something that already existed, learned how to add buildings, move things around, add weather, and the like. I was still used to the T1 editor, so it took some adjustment to get used to the T2 editor and figure out it's quirks and details. When I was done I saved my changes and gave it a name. Now my maps can take anywhere from 2 hours to more than 6 to make. After that, I do a walkthrough, cap the flag a few times, make sure everything's powered and things look good, then it goes into testing on my server for at least a few days, and may receive some tweaks and corrections along the way.
NecroBones: I try not to update in the future if possible. I prefer to get it right straight off the starting line. Usually it's not a balance issue that I end up tweaking, but rather bugs (like generators that float a foot above the floor, or an unpowered turret, etc), and sometimes I have to make a few tweaks to aid in the framerate. Usually I have a decent picture in my head of what the gameplay will be like, and so they're balanced by design. I do get surprised sometimes though, such as in Desert Guns... I originally meant to force people into tanks by not allowing them to equip. I forgot to remove the MPB from the vehicle pads though, so suddenly I saw heavies deploying turrets and the like. At first I was annoyed, but I saw that this really improved the gameplay so I left it that way. It gave the MPB huge tactical importance, and meant that people could equip as they desired, just not as easily as normal. This reduces the amount of missiles firing at the tanks, thus allowing the tanks to still be the most important offensive equipment in the mission.
NecroBones: I think both have helped me greatly. My server has a good ping to an awful lot of people, so I get nearly a thousand individual players a day. That sort of exposure helps greatly, and so does having one large map site that has also gained a lot of traffic. Generally I always hope that my maps will speak for themselves, but exposure is always necessary for them to do so. :)
NecroBones: I tend to want to jump up and down and shout "YES!". :) Really, it makes me very happy. It's hard to judge how well a map is being received in-game since there are people who get frustrated and try to vote to change the mission whenever they're exposed to something new, and there are always people who don't like each map for one reason or another, and they tend to be the most vocal. I do get a lot of compliments though. So I've been very happy with the reviews and comments on tribes2maps, since it's been very constructive and insightful most of the time. Of course, recognition is like a drug though... you always want more. Hehe :)
NecroBones: I'd say the most rewarding thing is to see people playing my maps, having a blast, and discovering new tactics and strategies specific to those maps since it means they've been playing it, having fun, and learning it. It shows that the map has become a part of their world-view of the game, a part of the experience for them and is almost becoming like a real place. I always find it very satisfying to see something I created taking on a sort of reality to other people in that way. So in that way, I've gone a long way towards influencing the whole tribes universe in a positive manner, and helped shape it. And in some small way, left my mark and helped push it slightly towards my own vision of it.
NecroBones: Too much. I have way too many empty bags sitting next to the computer. :)
NecroBones: Just that I'm honored to be a part of this community, and I look forward to seeing my maps put to more use. I hope that some of them might even be considered for ladder-use and so forth. I've got more ideas in the works, so keep your eyes open for what's to come.
NecroBones: Thanks, and good luck to you as well! :)
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