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Rapid Map Development
I would like to hear what approaches other people take to speed up the development of their maps so that they actually see the day of release and whether that comes naturally or whether you end up having to focus on the issue of development speed.

Back when I first started mapping in 1997-1998, my first few maps took about 3-5 weeks to make each. Now obviosly since they were first maps, they were also really shit. Over time, I learned to understand what actually made any given map good, started paying attention to polish and detail and this has caused the development times to balloon completely out of control.

Apinaraivo / Monkey Rage, the Q1SP I released a few years ago took 6 months of active development time, mapping 2-4 hours pretty much every single day. Right now I also have an UT3 DM map in the works and while I admittedly have been quite lazy, that alone can't really quite explain the numbers: I take a new backup of a map file every new day I am working on the map, judging by the amount of backup files, I have worked on this map on 35 different days so far amd while it does have some interesting things, it not even remotely close to a beta.

At least in part, the problem seems to be that I am not easily satisfied with the quality of my work, random XYZ thing has to be just right before I can move on to something else and this often results in me rebuilding a small section of a map 10+ times, making tiny adjustments, moving things around, etc etc so that at the end of the day, a lot of work has been done, but I have very few things I can actually point my finger at and say that "this is new stuff I've added today", so the progress feels very slow.

And then I see some people making absolutely jawdropping releases using new, modern engines that they have not only made the map itself, but also had to build all the meshes and create quite a few materials, test, polish and release into the wild, all done in a timeframe of 3-4 weeks.

WTF?
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I NEED to adopt some techniques to make things go faster because I get caught up in the visuals way too easily. I spend days tweaking how an area looks and the map doesn't move any further along.

I also need to start making plans beforehand. Even a vague write up of what I want the highlights to be would help. I wing it way too often. 
No Rush For Me... 
.. It takes the time it takes, and that's it.... also mapping runtime is around 7-8 months for me, let's say considering I map 3-4 hours a week best case... though....
In anyway, I'm trying to write a plan on the paper before starting something, else it truns out into a nonsense biult all the time... 
 
Yeah Jago I would say that the attention to detail is a big one. I've noticed more and more that a lot of big name developers lets a ton of visual bugs slide if the gameplay works - I've noticed some (although very few) in UT3, a lot more in TF2 and L4D and even more in the recent Wolfenstein. Things like missing floors, overlapping/z-fighting brushes or models, assets floating in midair when they shouldn't be, etc etc.

Especially in a game like UT3, and it's kind of ironic, but the visuals actually matter the least as players will be frantically hunting down their opponents and not looking at the scenery.

Willem is right about making plans too, because even a loose sketch can help anchor things. Getting the layout is most important early on, then testing gameplay, then when you're satisfied you start doing detailing. I mean, you can do some details here and there if you have a really vivid idea for an area that has this central pillar with like lightning shooting out of it or whatever, but yeah most people won't notice the 8-unit difference the ceiling had before compared to now, and if they do I almost guarantee they won't care. 
For Me 
I try and nail down the visual theme as soon as possible, having some kind of back story written down seems to help me, but a sketch or conept photo (not necessarily architecture) can do the trick as well.

Basically I find once the imagination is running the map seems to build itself.

The major block is thinking too much for me. Messing around, trying different variations of stuff before going back to earlier designs is symptomatic of not having the concept clear in mind.

Assuming the map gets finihsed this indecision doesn't hurt and tends to make for a more defined visual theme, but its also the biggest killer of a map.

What you're aiming for, in my opinion, is the turning point where you can't imagine scrapping the map because you're happy with how it looks and plays, and too much work has been done - maybe 50% of the map complete.

At that point I tend to relax and just continue filling in the blanks - work on it becomes more relaxed but also more regular. 
This Is A Very Good Topic. 
I'm sure many mappers have similar difficulties - and many players would benefit too from mappers being able to finish quicker (and would probably be happy knowing the map was palatable and efficient to make rather than being a huge slog).

As a non-mapper, a couple of things I would guess at would be to have clear, strong concepts before starting, so there's something that's going to make the map worthwhile and exciting without having to refine the details to the nearest pixel. And to have some personal styles and features that one is particularly efficient at so you can use those to speed up the mapping, knowing you're going to get it right (obviously there's a fine balance having a reliable style and have a repetitive style, but it might be worth considering - look how much Tiddles managed to churn out). 
Software Engineering For Mapping 
Low-fidelity mockups (layout and scene sketches) <=> analyze/test <=> high-fidelity mockups (build plain layout) <=> analyze/test <=> build actual product <=> analyze/test.

If you're talking about just visuals, then a similar approach would probably be appropriate, but a lot of level designers probably don't have the scene drawing skills to properly flesh out the mockups. So they skip straight to building the scenes in the editor, which leads to all the common slowdowns in development because they're trying to cram too many discrete processes into one step. Therefore we see inconsistency, getting stuck on specific details that are unimportant, lack of vision, etc. 
Something That Sort Of Worked For Me 
Pick a usable texture for mapping the bulk of the protitype map. Use 'sketch' brushes with this texture to flesh out the bulk of your layout and the major structures in a simplistic form. You can work item placement and enemies and mechanisms with this sketch map. After that, begin replacing the sketch brushes with the more detailed and properly textured real brushes and add your details. This is a good time to work lighting.

I did this for a couple of my Travail maps, the best example being the forth one in episode I which turned out to be my favourite. The first three were less focused and sprawled out of control and had to be broken down into smaller maps and ate up way too much time.

I also used this method for Fall Cleaning (the Halloween map I made) and that one was built in less than a week - a miracle for me.

Hope that offers some hope for reducing map time. The time required to map is the biggest reason I haven't mapped since Travail. 
Fall Cleaning 
was really cool. i was surprised how much was crammed into that little house! i never realized it was made in such a short time. :o 
Agent Orange 
Sounds like the way hl2 maps were prototyped with just a plain orange texture with grid markings. I suppose if you're using a base texture that matches the theme you can at least save yourself a bit of retexturing.

Perhaps fast prototyping like this could be worked on in a series of speedmapping packs. The first pack is 2-3 hours where everyone creates a sketch of their own map, then the next week do a lighting pass/detail pass/entity pass on the same map to build it up. Only problem is given the ratio of enthusiasm to participation in any speedmapping theme, imagine trying to get people doing it for four consecutive weeks... 
Great Topic 
This is an issue that bugs me all the time, what usually happens is that I'll sit down with the editor and make a fully detailed room, and spend time getting this 1 room or area looking just how I want it, with all the textures, lighting etc done and dusted.

2 things seem to happen after I get this area completed.

a) I loved the theme I made, and it inspires me to create more of the map continuing said theme, trying to keep the same atmosphere as the 1st room. This usually results in a pretty finished map after a while, then its just a case of dotting the T's and fixing it all up into something that plays well.

b) That was fun, I wonder whats on tv now?! <<sigh>>

I must admit that I am working with the "orange" dev textures in hl2 alot for blocking out maps and creating basic gameplay, as the game and editor are orders of magnitude more complex than Quake, but I see there definitely is merit in blocking out maps before you start going to town on visuals, even in older games like Quake.

I'll have to give it a try! 
Great Suggestions 
I have trouble with this too. My workflow has been like this:

1. have an idea for a cool environment / setpiece
2. build a small area with details, lights, and monsters, which captures the look and feel I wanted
3. try to build a map around this, maybe by stitching together multiple setpieces with filler sections

This leads to poor gameplay (and other things.. layout, consistency, etc), because I try to work around setpieces which I created with only visuals in mind.

I definitely want to try a more disciplined approach on my next map, with planning, building sketch mockups, and testing gameplay before detailing :-) 
 
I think the problem is that for mappers like me, the visuals are more than half the fun. I'd say 70% of the enjoyment I get from Quake mapping is in creating cool looking areas. The fighting that takes place in those spaces is fun and I enjoy plotting that out, but the creation of the actual space is what turns my crank. Fussing with textures, playing with lighting, etc. Unfortunately, those things are not entirely productive in terms of getting a map out the door. 
 
I'm going to create a WAD file with basic blueprint textures in it and see if I can't shell a map out completely before bothering to texture and light it.

This is basically how we work at my day job so it shouldn't be a huge stretch for me... I'm going to see if I can get a small map completed like that. 
 
 
I tend to use a complete mix of the above processes. To be fair I haven't finished/released anything in a long time but development-wise I sketch everything on paper first, from rough sketches of how the map would visually look to detailed floor plans.. Infact I go completely overboard in that respect and plan way more than I actually map.

As for the actual building of the map I try and make myself use dev textures wherever possible but often find it hard to go back to these maps as they lack the visual interest that you want to get cracking on straight away; therefore I gotta say that a combination of mapping with a basic set of textures and lower, but not no detail is probably best. I also found with source engine related stuff that you can work with some pretty low poly brushwork and then just throw in a ton of props to imply the detail of an object or building, as well as helping alot with scale. 
Well 
If you have a strong idea of a central area that you want to have a certain look, it's certainly not a bad idea to spend some time setting up a quick, rough detail pass to make sure it looks/feels how you imagine it, then leave the finer detailing to later.

I generally start a map only when I have a good idea about at least the initial layout of a map with strong inspiration for one or two areas. Then while roughing those out in the editor I'll either think about the rest of the layout or go over the existing layout in my mind to see if I can make it better.

I personally think I'm a horrible detail guy, and I much prefer the layout/gameplay aspect of a map the most. I think more about pacing, where I should put ambushes, sniper spots, etc.

Ask Pope, we switched maps, he had a very small map with a lot of detailing done (like two rooms) and I had an entire layout that fell out of the bounds of the Quake grid. So now he gets to do a bunch of detailing and I get to do a bunch of layout stuff.

/me shrugs 
 
I made a WAD file of blueprint style textures (just blue textures with white borders of varying sizes) and started into a small test level.

My plan is to get this small level taken to completion to see how I like the process. My attack plan:

1) Build entire level, unlit, using blueprint textures. This includes monster gameplay, triggers, etc. No detailing.

2) Set a minlight and a sunlight and play with that until the sunlight looks the way I want.

3) Add hot spot lighting and textures. These sort of need to go hand-in-hand since textures can sometimes be light sources in themselves.

4) Take out the minlight and add fill lights to take up the slack in really dark areas.

5) Profit.

Here's hoping this works out! 
You're 
missing the architecture pass!

Which always takes the longest and is the most complicated. At least in dm maps, where the layout imposes such tight restrictions on architecture. 
 
Oh yeah, well, that would probably fall in during the texturing pass. When the map starts taking one more of a real visual personality, the detailing would also take place.

Adding additional cuts to walls, loose bricks, etc. 
 
Note that step 1 isn't big flat walls and floors - the basic theme of the level is conveyed, it's just not textured or lit. It's done through shapes and silhouettes. 
Willem 
If you're making this like a project do you think there's a way you could record your progress either via hourly or half-hourly screenshots or just plain record your progress via some program? I find stuff like this incredibly interesting. 
 
I was planning to blog it a bit so I'll see if I can stay on top of it for documentation purposes. 
 
Keep many many map/bsp files so one can make a sexy progress animation with bsp2bmp. 
 
Can't promise map fragments but I will definitely blog with screen shots.

Don't get too pumped up, this is going to be a small scale test so I can (a) see how this process feels to wear it for real and (b) actually have a chance of completing the level. 
NO! 
HUGE test! Lots of extra .maps! Hourly updates on your Twitter! YOU WILL BEND TO OUR WILL!!!


Or not. 
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