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Hitting Frustration Rock-bottom
I posted this last night to my Facebook but since it relates directly to Quake, I figured I'd share here. I'm sure some of the other pros here can relate.


So I had an interesting revelation today. I'm trying to participate in this current Quake jam and I had a moment of clarity.

Working on AAA games for the last 15+ years has ruined my ability to make levels. Specifically, Quake levels.

Hear me out... It's been drilled into me all through Gears of War and other games that every area needs a purpose. Every room means something. Passage from one room to another needs to make sense. Needs to feel like a real place and have coherence.

I finally hit frustration rock bottom the other night and realized that I'd been applying this to my Quake level design for the last few years. Every level I've managed to finish has been a place and had a story/narrative to hold it together (however loosely). But Quake doesn't need that. At ALL. Quake is abstract. Quake is suggestions of places and locations but nothing is specific or needs to make even the vaguest sense.

I lost sight of that. I lost my ability to just be loose.

So having realized this, I'm going to tear into this map jam with the intention of finding my past self in the mazes of brushes. I know I'm in there somewhere.
And if a mod could fix my spelling mistake in the thread title, I'd appreciate it. *sigh* 
I Can Relate To This 
I kind of wish there was a way to Like this post. It sounds very frustrating, but, as someone who loves 93-mid98 era mapping, this is great news to me.

I'm looking forward to this map jam quite a bit. 
I Can Relate To This As Well 
Also, making MMOS for over 7 years completely erases that oldskool feel and grasp to create Quake levels. It's kinda hard to return to old fun. 
Modern game design, with all its constraints and formulaic nature takes a lot of the fun and creativity out of the process, and you actually forget what games are all about if you're not careful. 
as an aside, it strikes me that our standards for maps are so high these days. Even in this dated map format. Imagine some of what you guys make coming out in the 90s in vanilla quake (yes I know we break limits, modern engines etc). But these maps would be instant classics.

I feel like although the community is smaller today than in the past, it is far more skilled and (seems to me at least) close knit.

Don't be crazy hard on yourself for falling back onto the skills you've developed as a professional. It actually gives you a greater repertoire, I guess the trick is knowing when to use what skills.

Anyways, thats just my $0.02 
Yes, And 
As written, I'm not so sure that those two notions are mutually exclusive, but it's clear that you're finding some friction between the two methodologies. I'll attempt (poorly) to clarify what that friction might be.

1) Attaching a purpose to an area presupposes that there is an area that is distinct from other areas. I believe there's a subtle implication here that encourages somewhat rigid node-like structures in level design.

"This area has gameplay that starts and ends within this area. There is then a short connecting path, then the next area may begin."

This can potentially remove mechanical continuity between these nodes, and this certainly wasn't the case in Doom/Quake. Part of it is the shift from world resources to inherent resources (med packs v some player mechanic), so the effects of the previous node are not felt in the next one. Another part of it is just the geometry structure. It can be very clear when you're "done" with one segment of the level, and moving on to the next. This was not always the case.

2) Giving areas narrative value is awesome. One of the core appeals of level design is communicating with the player via structure, world detail, and entity placement. I don't think this is necessarily a problem in Quake-esque abstraction, it's just that the world you're communicating follows a different narrative structure. It may be a structure that is contradictory, confusing, and muddling, but that's the theme. Lovecraft is the obvious parallel here, but it's fitting nonetheless.

Our AAA toolchains just aren't great at making these things quickly enough to feel like a Gilliam cartoon, at least not with the often demanded levels of fidelity. Either the tools need to break down the brain/screen barrier for faster iteration, or fidelity needs to stop being the Thing To Which We Sacrifice All. 
On This... 
Ever since you could download user maps for Quake, I've been doing that although I haven't played in a few years. However, I've played hundreds of user made maps over many years.

The thrill for me was spawning into something that I knew very little about other then what was written about it on a review site (Matt Sefton, TeamShambler, etc.) I prefered maps good enough to get on a review site since so many were awful if grabbed straight off of randomly.

The mapper had a lot of influence over the player experience but the player had to bring their own imagination and assumptions to complete the experience. It was not about fidelity or real world purpose, it was about you alone in some awful spot in the multiverse where everything wanted to kill you and whatever was responsable for creating the spaces you were trapped in was beyond your mental capacity anyways. Details were few but that didn't matter. If anything, I found lighting to be a major contributor or distractor to the level's feel.

I've played enough newer games (FEAR, Bioshock, Fallout 3, Stalker) to be familiar with real world fidelity and I don't knock these games - they are great and I've really enjoyed them. However, none are Quake or even DooM with respect to bringing you into something wondrous, unkown, threatening and personal because it is the player's imagination that fills in what the mapper didn't spell out in obvious detail. I do miss how I felt about gaming in the peak days of Quake. I still play games, but a part of me still feels that the best experiences I had were in the late '90s and '2000's. 
I can see where you're coming from, Warren. It's hard to turn off the AAA part of your brain when making quake maps. There are so many rules we've built up in the industry about what makes a level high-quality, which don't have to apply to hobby maps if you don't want them to.

I feel like i haven't fallen into this trap too much. The quake map that has most been influenced by my pro career is rub2m2, and I feel like I mostly took the good parts of pro design when building it -- primarily the idea that each gameplay space should have some sort of hook/concept behind it, rather than just being another room full of dudes.

Actually, maybe I have fallen into this trap. I have an unfinished map that RPG and I started years ago, and one of the things holding me back is the feeling that it's merely good, not great. Like, I tell myself it needs an innovative boss fight, and each room need more visual identity, etc. 
One Might Suggest.... 
....that a good released map is a damn sight better than a great unreleased map. 
I'm surprised you guys that have been working in the industry for years/decades still have the passion to come back and make levels in your spare time as well. My hobby became my job, but over time it no longer stayed a hobby as well, and is only work now. 
I feel a real pull with 3D art. I just love making it. So whether it's levels or, in recent years, props and meshes I don't care ... it's 3D and I'm compelled to play with it. I don't know if it would ever become just work for me. Seems like it would eventually but not yet! 
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