Beginning, Middle and End. Post-MortemVille

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

Now that BeginningVille, MiddleVille and EndVille have been released, I thought it might be nice to look back at the competition.

I have to admit that after every competition I say to myself “This is the last one” and this one is no different.

Perhaps I set my hopes too high and dream of ten entries for each competition – each one a really interesting interpretation of the theme.

Some Quick Stats

I’m not taking these statistics too seriously, I just feel they should be mentioned.

Downloads

I know that I only released EndVille yesterday but whenever you do the download stats they won’t be fair.

  • BeginningVille: 860 downloads
  • MiddleVille: 406 downloads
  • EndVille: 81 downloads

Of course, let’s see in a few months, but I fear people’s interest has dropped since the first one.

Entries

How many people entered, irrespective whether they were on-time or not.

  • BeginningVille: 5 entries
  • MiddleVille: 2 entries
  • EndVille: 3 entries

Now, the time of year could definitely have something to do with this.

Recommendations

Again, like the downloads, this will change for EndVille

  • BeginningVille: 9 recommendations, average score: 4.89 (out of 5)
  • MiddleVille: 4 recommendations, average score: 3 (out of 5)
  • EndVille: 2 recommendations, average score: 5 (out of 5)

No doubt the quality of entries plays a significant part of the above.

My Personal Feelings

When I first thought of this series, it seemed so much better in my head. The general concept seemed solid and I definitely had high hopes that it would help some modders build a proper mod. However, I have to admit I did a very poor job of defining, explaining and promoting the competition.

I had planned to make a video intro and do a better job of promoting it.

A good example is that I haven’t even built the 3×24 page that I have been linking to!

This is most likely the last mapping competition series as it seems that modders can’t commit to such a long time scale. Even if I had done my job properly, I doubt it would have made much difference to the number of entries. or perhaps I am just trying to rationalize my failure.

I feel the themes worked quite well but after having read the readme.txt from Of Talons and Wings, I wonder if my reviewing and judging could have been more scientific. In fact, I think I’ll ensure that any requirements for future mapping competitions are discussed in each map’s review, along with perhaps a scoring system.

I do want to run more competitions, but perhaps I need a definite schedule of events through the year, so that mappers can better plan their work. There’s always discussions about the length of time given and people always complain it’s never enough. But anything too long and people lose interest.

I definitely need to encourage the use of the BetaTestersCollective and I think I will make that part of the rules next time, building in a period of testing. As well as a means of encouraging more interaction between the announcement and deadline.

Now, the prizes have always been vague and that probably didn’t help. I admit to not wanting to offer $100 per competition only to have two entries, neither worthy of the prize but perhaps I have to take a long term view. Maybe, $15 per competition with a $100 bonus for the best proper mod. I don’t know. If I don’t run a series competition again then it doesn’t matter.

I do need to be clearer about the prizes though – even though nobody enters just for the prize. I was trying to source something special for this one but it didn’t work out. I’ll keep pondering this point.

Final Mods?

Now that it’s finished, I hope a few modders will take any unfinished work, along with whatever they released and polish it up a bit and send it to me as a proper mod.

I would feel as though I had at least achieved something with this competition.

Your Thoughts

I’d love to hear what you think about the whole series and any ideas, suggestions or changes for possible future competitions or events.

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34 Comments

  1. keywc

    You definetely did not promote it enough. There’s a simple way to do it, and it’s to make your future giveaways on steamgifts.com and describe the competition in the description of the giveaway. You can even force people to join your group to enter the giveaway.

    1. This has got nothing to do with giveaways. This is about the mapping competitions.

    2. JG

      Point stands – you did not promote it nearly enough. Beyond the initial post, there was nothing on the front page until the mod’s release. If you are a modder, you are probably spending tens (if not hundreds) of hours on your submission over the course of three long weeks. Having even the slightest acknowledgement that the competition is still happening would help. We get within two, three days to the deadline and there’s still nothing. Is this thing still on? How do you think that feels?

      Even now, there is no Endville banner on the front page like there was for the other competitions. I’m not entirely sure MiddleVille had one either. Now Endville is halfway off the front page and it just came out yesterday.

      Promotion wasn’t the only thing, but in a contest that long, you have to do more to keep people interested and potentially get new contestants to join. Otherwise, you’re starting with a small quantity of contestants on day one and it can only shrink from there.

      1. Yes, I didn’t disagree that it wasn’t promoted it. There definitely needs to be more “before, during and after”. And not just banners, but other things too – maybe like a group podcast or other things.

        I think it would be really hard to get new contestants, as most would feel at a disadvantage, but as you say “the point still stands”.

        1. JG

          Well, the “during” really only came up for these competitions because of their extended length. The 6×10 didn’t need quite as much.

  2. Karl

    I believe a huge (HUGE) part of it was the fact that Valve and Steam chose this particular time to break Hammer and the SDK.

    I mean, just look at all of the comments on the announcement page. Hardly any were about the competition itself – nearly all of them were questions/comments/bitching about getting Hammer working.

    I had actually planned to enter (I have some time off, want to do a full mod anyway, and have steadfastly failed to get a job). But I spent so much time getting Hammer to work, that I only got a few corridors done.

    1. Yes, that’s definitely true for EndVille.

  3. MisterAddy

    I don’t think it’s true that the competitions were a failure, after all they gave us some new maps and at least one complete new mod. Perhaps you could have done a bit more promotion but I’m not sure what else would have increased the number of entrants.

    Having only entered BeginningVille, perhaps I can partly explain why entries didn’t continue through all three parts. I did have a majority complete MiddleVille map, which honestly I could probably have got to a releasable state if I’d rushed it. However I had a lot of other work to do that I couldn’t compromise on so I had to put the entry on hold. I think that is better than releasing an unpolished level that I wasn’t happy with anyway.

    The issue is that no matter what time of year the three competitions were run, I’m sure something would have prevented me entering all of them. Just for comparison, how many modders entered all of the 6×10 competitions? This might be the reason that 3×24 works in concept but not in practise. In addition it seems like the theme didn’t really encourage stand alone entries enough, so people like me who dropped out were not “replaced”.

    Perhaps the answer is not to have “competitions” in the traditional sense. After all the prize was never a factor in entering to me. I see the competitions as a way to be given inspiration for a map, and a definite deadline to get to. That’s probably why I’ve only ever released maps through the 3×24 and 6×10! I don’t know exactly what you could do instead, maybe arrange some kind of collaborative mod that individuals could make maps for.

    Regarding the SDK updates recently, whilst they have been a bit annoying they can’t really be to blame. I have been using Hammer throughout this period and for individual maps it has been no more than a minor inconvenience.

    I don’t think it’s fair to look at the statistics for a measure of their success; in fact looking back I never posted a review for MiddleVille because I didn’t get to the end of one of the maps. Plus I’ve downloaded BeginningVille more than once, so it must be me skewing the stats!

    As to the final mods, I hope we can see several made thanks to this competition.

    1. I agree, the competitions themselves weren’t a failure. What was, was my lack of effort to maximize their potential.

      I fully understand and agree with your point about not releasing unpolished work, but one of the things I hope to do with these competitions is get modders better accustomed to managing their workflow and controlling their time.

      I believe a direct comparison between this competition series and the 6×10 is unfair. This one had the specific goal of encouraging people to enter all three because of the end result. Whereas the 6×10 only had the points system and prize (Which I still have to give!!) as the reason for entering all.

      I also disagree that the theme didn’t encourage standalone entries. I felt the themes were defined enough to use. Of course, as a mapper, you can disagree and that’s fair enough.

      Well, I suppose I don’t have to call them competitions and I have considered simply having a new theme every 3 months and just letting people create what they want, but somehow the competition gets people into the right mood, even if they are not actually competing.

      As I mentioned in the article, the stats were more for reference rather than judging success.

  4. Thanks for running these competitions, Phillip.

    It happened that all three of the competitions ran over periods where I had quite a bit of free time, which is why my two entries were so large. For Collector’s Compound I wanted to see how much I could do in the time span, and for Mastermind’s Museum I designed the shell of a map far too large to fill with enough interesting stuff.

    I didn’t enter the last competition because there were some other things distracting me and I was feeling a lot more apathetic/burned out in general. I did work on a map but didn’t really get into the spirit like I did with the first two competitions. Even if I had a map that was nearing completion, I wouldn’t have been willing to put in the last-minute crunch that it took to get the first two entries in. I don’t think running the competition any differently would have helped though.

    Overall I’m happy with the result of the competition. I would have liked to enter the last part but that was squarely on me. I got two playable maps and some feedback out of it which is nice.

    I have to echo Mr Addy regarding prizes. They weren’t really a factor in deciding whether to enter or not. To attract people with the prize itself you’d need it to be worth the value of their time spent mapping- at least $500 I’d reckon. That’s obviously untenable, so you’ll have to rely on people entering out of enthusiasm. It is nice to get a little something for winning though, prizes on the order of $15 is fine.

    It’s tough to say how you could increase the number of entries. Having a firm schedule for the competitions far ahead of time is helpful, but people can only plan around competitions so much. If something comes up, they won’t be entering no matter how much early notice you give them. You’re always going to see the number of entries fluctuate just due to people randomly being busy during that period.

    Theme probably is a factor in whether people enter competitions, but there’s no way of choosing a theme that makes people want to enter. Who knows what’s going to interest people? I tend to think that a good theme is something like Alphabetville- it heavily constricts what people can do but in a such a way that they have to think creatively around the constraints. On the other hand I did appreciate the non-specific “build-a-mod” concept for 3×24.

    I’d support a dedicated period for testing/polishing. It’s extremely important, but when there’s only a couple of days left and the map isn’t finished testing falls in the “optional luxury” pile. More interaction before the deadline would be nice, but you can only do so much to make people post WIP pictures/update progress and there’s not much else to talk about other than “yep, still have a map that I might enter’.

    When I was thinking for ways to drum up more entries for future competitions, I had the idea for competitions that were more ‘relaxing’. You could loosen the time limit but have strict requirements that limit the map size. An example might be to have a 3-week competition where entries must be structured around a single combat encounter. That way people can quickly create a map that meets the spirit of the competition, but there’s plenty of time to tweak, polish, or add more stuff if they want to. Though that might that sound attractive to me just because I always end up trying to make maps that are far too large for the time frame.

    1. Yes, you are probably right. For people to enter simply because of the prize it would need to be a significant amount and that’s just beyond me. Although, if I can get some things that money can’t easily buy, then that might change.

      The point about firm schedule is interesting because people knew months in advance of this last one and it didn’t seem to make much difference.

      I always try to select and sue themes that restrict modders but hopefully encourage creative solutions to those restrictions.

      BetaTestersCollective will be part of the next comp, for sure.

      One possibility is to split the comps into “Gameplay and layout” and “Polish”. SO, people must submit very rough entries by a deadline. Get feedback from the BTC and then polish after that. Might be worth a try.

  5. The SteamPipe update was more a psycological thing. In practice, the Source SDK and Hammer kept working fine (at least for me), except for some minor annoyances (such as having to change the path that the program searches content in), but all the horror stories circulating on the internet probably discouraged some people.

    I think that the problem with these competitions has been that they encouraged continuity (which is a good thing) but felt somewhat harder if you didn’t enter the previous one.

    However, the 6×10 competitions received more and better entries, despite being twice as many as the 3×24 comps and only giving mappers 10 days of time. Why?

    Well, firstly, there was no continuity involved. I don’t like saying this, but I think it needs to be said because in my opinion it’s the truth: for most amateur mappers, no continuity is preferable, it creates less worries when designing levels. Think about Miigga, his maps have absolutely no story or continuity whatsoever but they are very good in all respects.

    Secondly, 6×10 had many interesting concepts. Verticality, chase, forest, they are themes that strongly motivate mappers, because they feel new and refreshing and allow to explore the concept to come up with good gameplay ideas. For example, think docks. A generic theme like that creates all kinds of ideas in a mapper’s head. Maybe having to fight a combine warship, or, assaulting the dock with a bunch of rebels.

    In conclusion, the way to go for new mapping competitions and similar events, is the 6×10 style. Maybe with more time and less subsequent competitions, but the important is to give a single theme which gives great inspiration. You could even make a “one word” mapping competition, where you give mappers a single word and they have to expand around it. “Ocean”. “Airbase”. “Desert”. “Combine base” (I know that’s two words but you get my point). These simple words can be a lot more inspirational and appealing to mappers than “you have to create the final part of a mod with many explosive barrels and at least one secret area and at least one huge drop…”.

    A mapper most of the time is a creative free spirit (thin about Starman that constantly defies Half Life 2 mapping conventions), giving him too much rules or a strong design limitation (like “it must be an ending scene”) will strongly discourage him.

    Still, I have to thank you Phillip, because thanks to your EndVille competition I managed to finish an actual map for the first time.

    EDIT:
    Oh, almost forgot: you NEED a mapping competition button in a visible spot in the website that allows quick access to a list of mapping competitions and to view info about the current or upcoming one, and the latest finished one. This way anyone accessing PlanetPhillip will be able to easily access everything about the comps without having to scavenge the blog for old posts buried beneath the newest ones.

    1. A ‘single word” themed series along the lines of 6×10 sounds like a decent idea to me.

      Better visibility for the competitions is also a good idea. Having a banner during a competition and another banner for its release like with Beginningville is important, I think. An easy to find, integrated page that listed all the competitions (even just a single page that only had links to the posts for each) would also be nice, since it can take a little while to find past competitions.

      1. There is the 6×10 page and there should be a 3×24 one too. And the Mapping Competitions page was started but dropped for more important things. It will be finished one day!

    2. MisterAddy

      I completely agree with all of this. That style of competition sounds like it could work, and the competitions definitely need their own place on the site. Maybe a link on the header to a page listing all the previous Villes, what the next one is and perhaps some links to places like the Valve Developer Wiki to help mappers.

      1. Remember, this was an experimental concept competition and there’s no doubt that having individual ones seems better.

        It’s clear that better promotion of the whole series of comps is needed, but since I am not a modding-based website, links to mapping resources seems out of place. That said, it can only help.

    3. Well, this concept was just an experiment and I can say that I probably won’t run anything like this again. The single competitions are better. But I had to try it. Just like I had to try the EastVersusWest idea (Basically, the idea was to have a group from the Americas against a group from Europe – but it never got off the ground). I don’t mind trying things and then failing, although obviously, I’d prefer they succeeded!

      All the previous mapping competitions were “one Word” concepts, so that’s something we know can be successful.

      Yes, having better access to the competitions would help. BTW, there’s a list of the previous *Villes at the bottom of the sidebar.

  6. It is not your fault, Philip. You run a site 24/7 and do a damn good job with it.
    I just want to state that there is a difference between a mapper and a modder. Now I can hardly finish one map, so I don’t even try to plan a mod with several maps.

    If you ask me, the 6×10 competition have been the most fun so far. I was so exited to see what the next theme would be.

    Anyway, don’t hesitate to push up competitions and the likes a week just to double check and polish instructions and stuff just so you are prepeared. I’m sure the readers will understand.

    1. Maybe “fault” is the wrong word, but definitely “responsibility”. I see a mapper as somebody how uses Hammer and does the basic actions of building a working map. I see a modder as somebody who maybe does texturing, coding and looks to build something bigger than just maps. Of course, that’s just my idea.

      The problem with timescale is that no matter how long you give people, they always rush at the end. Although, now that I have decided to include a specific period for testing.

  7. Hec

    Well it was overall an interesting lets say; “experiment” to see if you can sustain at least one constant mapper through the three competitions, well, we have a result! only one guy stay!!!! yeah the Missed Flight PT 1,2 and 3, which it was not the best mapper but at least was constant, and kindly share us his work.

    Now, it seems to me kind of awful the winner of the first comp. was absent in the second and third further villes!!! come on!! I guess also the goal for this beginning middle and end villes was to deliver a proper complete story or mod!! which honestly it was not achieved, maybe with missed flight entries but we don’t know if we are going to see it as a complete mod someday…

    For me, just playing an awesome first entry in the beginning ville and then not even seeing further parts in the next comps was like a big middle finger pointing to my face as a gamer, a shame!! what an unnecessary and kind of cruel teasing!!!

    I may sound kind of angry, but I feel kind of disappointed, also I liked the collector’s compound and Master mind museum, which I eagerly wait to see it complete at the end ville and IT WAS NOT!! so bad for it…. 🙁

    Overall, I guess if are going to be further competitions, please do them in a more reasonable time, don’t give just 24 days!! I guess that was the main point that just discourage many mappers that should have had continued!

    I would give some 3 to 6 months instead, to see some big but fun and good maps in the competitions, also centered on a main topic or just free as a bird, so I’d say constrain the mapper is not good, and to give it freedom of creation and more time would led us to better competitions more entries and fun game time, which gaming is all about, to have fun.

    1. MisterAddy

      Well, you can blame me for not entering MiddleVille or EndVille. I explained myself in the comment above. But don’t worry you will get to play the rest of the mod, eventually.

      1. Fingers crossed it’s this year.

      2. Hec

        COOL!! Im glad to hear that!!! 🙂 Thank you so much keep the good mapping please dont give up.

      3. I would give some 3 to 6 months instead, to see some big but fun and good maps in the competitions, also centered on a main topic or just free as a bird, so I’d say constrain the mapper is not good, and to give it freedom of creation and more time would led us to better competitions more entries and fun game time, which gaming is all about, to have fun.
        6 months is too long. People can’t stay focused that long.

        The idea behind the competitions is specifically to include constraints. It helps mappers develop their skills. If the competition is just “open” then there’s no reason to enter the comp. People would make maps anyway.

        The constraints, encourage creative solutions.

        1. JG

          Plus, you may just dislike the theme of the competition. Since Phillip doesn’t run multiple competitions at once, that means you’d have to wait a whole 6 months for another one to enter.

          As it stands, now that 3×24 is over, I would welcome the shorter “one word” contents again.

    2. JG

      People can say what they will about Tony’s work, but we can all agree his maps are light years beyond some of that dev textured nonsense we’ve seen in earlier maps.

      I shudder at the thought of that one level with all the rotating platforms and balance beams…

  8. I think there is a general misunderstanding here about how much work and time is required to produce reasonable looking playable maps. It’s one thing to enter one competition once or twice a year. It’s entirely different to deliver 3 different maps of reasonable quality to someone else’s time constraints.

    Mapping as a hobby is about inspiration. If the inspiration isn’t there then its almost impossible to produce something releasable.

    I think the Ville competitions are a fantastic way to keep playable content being produced but keep em to one off competitions in future I think. I personally could never enter one because I tend to only be able to map when I’m feeling the vibe. I’d never be able to create and release a map to someones timeline.

    1. My point here is that anyone who produces even one playable map in a ville competition should be commended… its very tough and I think 3 maps was probably just a bit much for some people.

      1. I think 3 maps was probably just a bit much for some people.

        I agree, but I didn’t expect lots of people to enter all three competitions anyway. That’s why I specifically made it easy to enter a standalone map.

      2. JG

        “Tough” depends on how you look at it.

        On one hand, sticking to deadlines and knowing when to move on is an art form. It requires a certain amount of anticipation, speed and luck to head off problems before they occur and effectively being able to multitask the development of a level. This is hard for a lot of people.

        On the other hand, we’re all under the same gun. There is a known point where it will be over. We can schedule around this fact with the knowledge that not everything can be perfect. It’s not like you have to Facepose all the scenes (not that you could anyway these days) or try to squeeze 30 minutes of gameplay out of a single level. I wouldn’t expect meticulous detail work on the walls or the world’s most gorgeous displacement mountains. It has to be serviceable, yes, but the dogged focus has to be on extracting the fun out of the concepts you’ve been given.

        Myself, I think the difference is kind of awash. I like having the time to stretch my legs and try out different ideas to see what sticks, but I also like being able to make a map that I know won’t take several months to complete.

  9. s.anchev

    EndVille has a very appropriate name to end all the “Ville” competitions indeed… We ust face it, in 2013 there aren’t too many people playing/modding on Source…

    Just let the “big ones” (Underhell, Opposing Force 2, Operation Black Mesa, Guard Duty, Black Mesa Xen) release and then shut off the site.

    1. This isn’t the end of the *ville competitions. All my future competitions will have the suffix Ville. It’s become almost a trademark!

      Even if nothing is released from today forward, there is at least a year’s worth of work left to do on the site, so it will not be closing for a long time.

    2. Why would you suggest that? In the relative drought of SP releases, PP will remain an oasis of content. Unless of course vlavle manages to finally **** everything for good, then it will become a mausoleum/crypt.

      However, until that fateful day, “Long Live Mods – Long Live PP!”

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