Hammer Made Easy

8th March 2007

Introduction

As many of you know I plan to start making my own maps soon and feel that the resources available are not as good as they should be. I have discussed it many times before and won’t bore you again today. However I do want to talk about Hammer.

Hammer?

For those that don’t know Hammer is the application distributed by Valve that is used to create maps and mods. It’s not the only tool but for most it is the main one. I’m a big fan of applications like FPS Creator and am guilty of not promoting it more. It suffers from a few faults, but what product doesn’t? However, what it does do is make creating levels very, very easy.

My question is
“Why can’t Valve release a simpler version of Hammer that allows almost anybody to create new levels with little or no experience?”

What I am asking for is something akin to building blocks. Instead of creating everything from scratch why can’t I use pre-formed things? Sure, I will never be able to create fantastic levels that match the quality of current SP maps but that’s not the aim of the exercise.

People who have no experience in making maps feel that the learning curve for these types of applications is too steep. Consider this to be a stepping stone – something that eases new mappers into the concepts without forcing them to struggle with the technicalities.

Encourage Not Discourage

Getting new mappers interested and competent is not only good for the community but also for the game developers. The more people making maps using their games/engines the more people buy the games.

Nay Sayers

No doubt there will be mappers who reply that to make good levels you need understand the complexities of the applications and if people can’t be bothered to learn then they shouldn’t be making maps. These people have little or no empathy for new learners and should be ignored.

Consoles

Am I correct in thinking that something similar exists for some console games? If they can be made for consoles why not for PC games. In fact didn’t Pariah have something exactly like this? I think it was for DM maps though. Here is an IGN review of the Xbox version.

Conclusion

The graphics etc of games has improved greatly in recent years but not the ease of making levels, it’s time somebody took a fresh look at the process and open it up to the plenty of creative but non-technical players. I want a cross between FPS Creator and Half-Life 2.

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34 Comments

  1. Manual_Monaro

    No doubt there will be mappers who reply that to make good levels you need understand the complexities of the applications and if people can’t be bothered to learn then they shouldn’t be making maps. These people have little or no empathy for new learners and should be ignored.

    Exactly. They were once learners. Sure, some people have a natural talent for map building, (Well, in my opinion.) but they really should give empathy to newbies.

    I must say that it’s mostly true that with more advanced engines comes a much steeper learning curve for producing custom content. Take the BUILD engine. (Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior, Blood etc.) It uses what we say as “primitive” graphics (Nowadays.) but it has a much shallower learning curve than, say, Hammer. Once you learn the hotkeys, combinations and other tidbits, you can quickly pump out average to good quality levels.

    I haven’t tried either the FPS creator or Pariah, but the “building blocks” process is easy to picture. Take most RTSs. If the map editors were as simple as those that are released with this genre, then it’d be dead easy to make a brand new map.

    Nevertheless, I do agree that these maps (In an FPS.) would probably be of lower quality, but there could be at least some decent ones that people bring out to play.

    I have to note, however, that the closest thing to an “easier” hammer is a HL2 random map generator. I haven’t tried that either, but it looks to be at least a good start. I couldn’t find it on HL2 Files {Where I first found it. Huh!?) so no link at the moment…

  2. Manual_Monaro

    What happened there? 😛 (My post. Must’ve messed up the quote. Should’ve just used speech marks or something.)

    As for the Random Map Creator, I’ve got Mr. Link here: http://halflife2.filefront.com/file/HalfLife_2_Random_Map_Creator;47054

  3. Simple. If mapping was easy enough that Jimbo the Monkey could do it, then we would be swarming in half-arsed unintelligent maps and mods!

    Half-Life 2 hammer is made for map makers. Those who train in the art and know. If you havn’t noticed, most map editors among the games are actually quite similiar.

    Usually, you either have two types of map makers. Either simple, or advanced. Simple allows your every day game player to throw up a map with some familiarization to the editor. Advanced allows those with the genius to create fantastic works of art (Or fail to). If you try to strike a balance between the two, then you get arguments from both sides that it’s too hard and too simple. It’s hard to win.

    Advanced and complicated map makers are more mainstream then non-advanced. If you want an example of an easy map editor, I wholefully recommend downloading Starsiege: Tribes ( http://www.pcrpg.org/main.php?action=viewpage&page=downloads&viewfile=1 ,don’t worry, ’tis freeware!). That game has a map editor that any feces-throwing monkey can use.

    FarCry has an awesome editor too, especially when using other people’s maps instead of making your own terrain (something I never figured out).

  4. I agree with Phillip. A few months ago I tried to learn mapping to create Half-Life 2 maps. I was discouraged when I was unable to create even semi-good maps. This poses a problem for many novice mappers, because many of the things that seems natural while playing the game are not quite so intuitive while mapping.

  5. I just had to say…

    No doubt there will be mappers who reply that to make good levels you need understand the complexities of the applications and if people can’t be bothered to learn then they shouldn’t be making maps. These people have little or no empathy for new learners and should be ignored.

    What the hell? Just because someone doesn’t agree with what you say, you should ignore them? Let’s throw free speech out the window then, shall we!

  6. I just had to say…

    [quote post=”3113″]No doubt there will be mappers who reply that to make good levels you need understand the complexities of the applications and if people can’t be bothered to learn then they shouldn’t be making maps. These people have little or no empathy for new learners and should be ignored.

    What the hell? Just because someone doesn’t agree with what you say, you should ignore them? Let’s throw free speech out the window then, shall we![/quote]

    I can’t say that free speech was ever the conviction that you HAVE to listen to everyone that says anything. The “veteran” mapmakers are entitled to their opinions just as much as we are, but we don’t HAVE to listen to what they have to say.

  7. Manual_Monaro

    Meh. I guess Our Lord and Savior Fluffy The Hamster is right, we should at least listen to those ‘veteran” mapppers. But there are some who seem to shun those who are simply new to the whole thing. Still, at least there are those who don’t ‘shun” Mr. (Or Mrs.) Newbie. Many even help out newcomers or at least give out some constructive critisism. Those type of people are the ones I like very much.

    I’m still on Phillip’s side with the building block editor idea, but Fluffy has made some good points nonetheless.

  8. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s downright rude to say “Oh, he doesn’t agree with us. Let’s ignore the bastard”. Come on!

  9. fitzroy_doll

    There was a wealth of information on using Valve Hammer Editor (formerly known as WorldCraft, and there may still be tutorials that call it that) back when I mapped for Half-Life 1. The new Hammer doesn’t seem to be too much different from the old one (I converted one of my maps) so old WorldCraft tutorials might help as well…but you may just be reading defunct information.

  10. Let’s throw free speech out the window then, shall we!

    I haven’t stopped you or anybody else from commenting, therefore you still have free speech.

    Everybody is entitled to their opinion and I expressed mine. If you don’t like it you can either respond, which is what you did, or stop visiting the site. It’s your choice.

    I’m tired of hearing those points of view. I think they lack any sort of empathy and are unhelpful to improving the situation.

    If somebody was to discuss the concepts in intelligent and interesting ways then I would be prepared to listen. Unfortunately I have yet to hear either of them from people who hold similar view to you. Why should I waste my time listening to people who I believe miss the point?

    Why did you need to use “bastard” in your reply. I insulted nobody just expressed my view.

  11. There was a wealth of information on using Valve Hammer Editor (formerly known as WorldCraft, and there may still be tutorials that call it that) back when I mapped for Half-Life 1.

    I accept that there is plenty of information available but I continue to question its value for complete beginners. Especially older players who have not grown up with computers and don’t find everything intuitive.

  12. Nevertheless, I do agree that these maps (In an FPS.) would probably be of lower quality, but there could be at least some decent ones that people bring out to play.

    There’s little doubt that these types of maps would be of lower quality, as much from the fact that they would be used by new mappers as well as the limitations of the editor.

    The point is that it could open mapping to a whole new group of players who previously shied away from it.

    As I said in my main post, it could be considered a stepping stone. Something that gets people interested and competent enough to progress to the full editor.

  13. Why did you need to use “bastard” in your reply. I insulted nobody just expressed my view.

    I didn’t need to. Like most people, I enjoy swearing.

    Most (if not all) of the map editors that come with games are the map editors the professionals use themselves to make that game, meaning that the map editors are designed for professionals! To dismiss the fact that if you want to map like a professional, then you must learn how to use professional tools is downright stupid.

  14. Like most people, I enjoy swearing.

    I disagree that most people enjoy swearing.

    To dismiss the fact that if you want to map like a professional, then you must learn how to use professional tools is downright stupid.

    I’m not dismissing that. I am dismissing the opinion that if people find it difficult to learn how to use the editors then they shouldn’t be mapping.

  15. [quote post=”3113″]Why did you need to use “bastard” in your reply. I insulted nobody just expressed my view.

    I didn’t need to. Like most people, I enjoy swearing.

    Most (if not all) of the map editors that come with games are the map editors the professionals use themselves to make that game, meaning that the map editors are designed for professionals! To dismiss the fact that if you want to map like a professional, then you must learn how to use professional tools is downright stupid.[/quote]

    But, you miss the point that these people don’t necessarily want to start mapping “like professionals”. They may just want to start at an amateur level, then move up to Hammer’s more professional level. That is all Phillip is trying to say. To make an analogy, when you learn math in school, you don’t just start on graphing parabolas in the 2nd grade. You want to work up to that, but not immediately. In the mean time, the 2nd graders are graphing parabolas, others are saying that they are not doing it correctly or good enough. The same type of thing happens in the mapping community, especially when mappers are beginning.

  16. Then we should pay people to make amateur map editors, just like schools pay people to write 2nd grade books on working up.. to.. parabolas..

    Yeah!

  17. Zeroth404

    I accept that there is plenty of information available but I continue to question its value for complete beginners. Especially older players who have not grown up with computers and don’t find everything intuitive.

    I was a complete newb to level design when I started with Hammer for HL1. I made some oopses like you should expect from any newb. However, I didn’t deal much with scripted sequences or anything. I did mostly deathmatch levels and the most complex things I ever made were a spinning ceiling fan, a gun turret, and a push-able toilet.

    there was one official Hammer site that I uses, and I think it was called “Verc collective”, but that was years ago. I don’t even recognize it anymore: http://collective.valve-erc.com/

  18. Zeroth404

    “older players who have not grown up with computers and don’t find everything intuitive.”

    you either “get” computers, or you don’t, in my humble opinion.

  19. you either “get” computers, or you don’t, in my humble opinion.

    I disagree. Some people get them on their own, whilst other people need a little help.

    Also, it not just about getting computers, there is also the issue of manipulating 3D environments, which cause more problems.

  20. AI

    To Zeroth404, I don’t want to get to insulting but “expand” on the statement “you either “get” computers, or you don’t” I’m 61 and have been working with these headaches called computers since 1982! I never got into programming or gamemaking, I leave that up to the youngsters now! Yes I’ve tried that “FPS Creator” and didn’t care for it! Hammer??? My design endevors are for other things and not game design! I’m sure that most of the other “older players” on PP know more about computers than just turning them on, give us more credit!!

  21. zeroth404

    firstly, age is irrelevant. Donald Knuth is 70 years old, and let me tell ya — that guy gets computers more than I ever will.

    But…there are just some people that are so far out there…like my grandmother. I let her use my computer once and you know what she did? she sat down, put her hand on the mouse backwards, started at the screen of the switched-off machine, and said “how do you make it go?”

    I’m a Systems Administrator by career, and I deal with all kinds of people. some get computers, some don’t. some have been educated enough so that they can manage a spread sheet or so, but their brains just work different.

    Don’t get mad at that, let me explain:

    I started fussing with computers when I was about 6 years old. I sat in front of a computer ever since (I’m 21 now) and the way I see the world is not the way others see the world. because I was attached to a computer from such an early age, I believe I learned to learn differently.

    I’m not just rattling off… it’s also said that people like me are far more susceptible to develop OCD.

    manipulating 3d space is another topic altogether.

  22. firstly, age is irrelevant.

    Again I disagree and later in your reply you also seems to use age as one of your points. I think age is relevant here because the users rarely can grasp some basic function because it is so different from their previous experience.

    Generally older people do have more trouble than younger people. It’s probably partly because they are older and learning is more difficult and partly because the concepts are very different from other everyday activities.

    That’s not to say that every older person will struggle, just an honest assessment of the situation.

    But…there are just some people that are so far out there…like my grandmother. I let her use my computer once and you know what she did? she sat down, put her hand on the mouse backwards, started at the screen of the switched-off machine, and said “how do you make it go?”

    I have spent quite a bit of time with non-technical people and it is very easy to see these sorts of things think that the person in question will never be able to understand.

    Firstly, as a teacher with quite a few years of experience teaching many different things I know that often if somebody doesn’t understand something it’s because I am not teaching that particular person in the right way.

    Sure, some people will never understand but it’s too easy to assume that is the case for many people. Let’s look at the teaching methods, not assume that these people can’t learn how to use computers.

    but their brains just work different.

    I agree but that simply means the method of teaching needs to be adapted to those types of people.

    don’t get mad at that

    We’re not, at least I’m not.

    What I have been trying to say (And it seems that your partially agree) is that some people require different methods to explain commonly excepted ideas.

    My Hammer suggestion is just one of many ways that could be tried to bring people into the modding scene instead of assuming they are incapable of developing these skills. (I’m not saying you have said that specifically).

    manipulating 3d space is another topic altogether.

    Again, I agree. partially. It’s relevant to this discussion because you need this ability to create levels.

    Hopefully you can see that learning to use a game editor places a lot of demands on these types of learners. Not only do they have to become accustomed to using computers and the myriad features, they also have to start thinking in 3 dimensions.

    As you mention you have been using computers since you were six and whilst you seem to understand that this has made life a lot easier for you, others have no empathy.

    I have been racking my brain to find some kind of analogy but can’t. It’s possible that by the time you are in your late 40s or early 50s something new will come along that will seem like science fiction to us. (As PC’s and the Internet kinda were 30 years ago).

    All your previous experiences and skills may count for nothing. Whilst you will no doubt still be intelligent and creative, making that jump to understanding may seem like a sheer cliff face.

    The youngsters will be walking up that wall as if they had suction pads on their feet while you may be struggling to get a foot hold.

    All I’m asking is for people to take a step back and say “How can we make this as easy as possible for everybody?”

    I apologize if I seem to be attacking you personally, that’s not my intention. I am ranting at the other, less vocal readers (and industry leaders!) who seem to have:
    A: Not realized the HUGE financial potential of the older gamer.
    B: No understanding of the thought processes of new learners.

    I’m not just writing and ranting about it, I’m planning to do something about. I’m working on a whole series of tutorials starting right at the beginning. What qualifies me to write the tutorials? The fact that I find things so hard, unlike most tutorial writers who find things quite easy.

  23. zeroth404

    Software is as easy as it’s ever going to get in terms of presentation, though ergonomics can always be improved upon.

    The problem certainly lies within education of the subject of the software.

    If I were to write a tutorial, I’d write it in three parts:

    1.) Explain the structure of the tutorial and a list of everything that will be taught. This way the student can go research other things if necessary to comprehend the entirety of this tutorial

    2.)Fully teach the subject with as little reference to the software as possible

    3.) Explain all the “this is what this button does” kind of stuff.

    This way, not only does the student learn gradually instead of all at once, but he will quit the tutorial long before the second part if he can’t comprehend the subject and won’t blame his inability to understand the subject on the software. If he quits in the middle of the second part, we wouldn’t have wasted his time with the program which represents it because he cant comprehend the subject of the program in the first place.

    I would write it so that sections 2 and 3 complement each other as best as possible, so thta the student would only have to read as much as he wants to know before looking to the third section of how the program represents his task.

    Also, if the person already knows the subject but hasn’t had any experience with the program, he can skip right to the last section.

    I’ve never written a tutorial before, and for all I know this method may be horrible…but it’s certainly what I would try first.

  24. If I were to write a tutorial, I’d write it in three parts:

    Sounds like a good start but I would add a few points. The first one is that it should be part of a series. Too often people write tutorials that are not connected with others. I personally believe that you need to prepare the potential student in many ways. One would be the clear objective of completing a playable level. This will motivate the learner to continue with the tutorials, even if they struggle. OF course you have to be realistic about the level and not aim too high.

    The next part is to clearly define any prerequisite experience and knowledge. This may mean giving links to previous tutorials.

    Next would be very clear regarding your target reader. Too often tutorials include phrasal verbs or colloquial language. Whilst I accept that non-native readers will probably use their own language why not open your possible readership up? (“Open up” include as an example!)

    I agree about trying to separate the subject from the application but that might be easier said than done.

    One of the problems I see too often is that the people who write the tutorials may know “how” to do something but they often lack the ability to communicate it.

    Here’s a real example:
    “Before we start, I recomend that once you learn something, you play with it, experiment, figure out exactly how it works and why so that you know how to do it in the future. “
    Whilst I agree that a user should practice a skill how can they “learn” why it works? Isn’t that the job of the teacher to explain why?

    I suppose it depends on exactly what skill is being learnt but I feel it’s representative of types of assumptions being made by the tutorial community.

  25. Sorry missed this:

    Software is as easy as it’s ever going to get in terms of presentation

    I seriously doubt that. There will always be improvements made and perhaps an application can change it presentation mode based on the type of user using it. In the same way that some Microsoft Office products display menu items differently based on the number of times each feature has been used.

    I think is naive to assume that anything regarding computers has reached “the best it’s going to get”.

  26. ATIX

    Ha Its so easy to map you can learn in less than 1 hour with my audio/video tutorial.
    http://www.fpsbanana.com/tuts/1768 Literally hammer is the Easiest application to Map among others and its quite simplistic as just building blocks and shuving entities~

  27. Ha Its so easy to map you can learn in less than 1 hour with my audio/video tutorial.

    I don’t think that tutorial is very good. It misses the point, like so many other tutorials. I don’t mean to be rude but your voice is very monotone, you make too many assumptions, in fact I could list lots of things. You cough a lot, which is not very good and the video starts with you talking about some truck.

    Near the beginning you say “I’ve kinda sorta customized the views”. That really doesn’t help the learner. In what way have you customized them, why and how will that benefit the user? You tell people to do stuff but don’t explain why.

    I didn’t watch until the end, so things might get better but here is the question. What experience have you teaching? Do you have empathy for completely new learners?

    I accept that you have tried to make a good video but teaching well is much more than simply know a subject well.

    Lastly this site is all about Single Player games, so learning CSS mapping is what my readers are likely to be interested in.

  28. zeroth404

    I seriously doubt that. There will always be improvements made and perhaps an application can change it presentation mode based on the type of user using it. In the same way that some Microsoft Office products display menu items differently based on the number of times each feature has been used.

    I think is naive to assume that anything regarding computers has reached “the best it’s going to get”.

    I agree, but I’ve cracked my head over this issue for a long time and I really do think that there is no other way to represent data more elegantly than in windows, icons, and buttons. 3d? that might confuse people further. I just think that the closest we can get to “easy” is as far as mockign the way we do things I nreal life: moving papers around, putting files in the trash, pushing buttons, etc. we’ve already got that, so where do we go from there? I don’t think there are any plausible options.

  29. I agree that the current way of representing information on the screen is very good but you only need to look at the quality of user interfaces to see that it’s not just what you’ve got but how you use it.

    There must be plenty of improvements that can be made without change the basic display/interface method.

    I wish I could give you some specific examples from mapping applications but I can’t.

    Maybe they could simply offer a couple of installation variations. “Advanced” and “beginner”. The “beginner” would have less options available and more expansive tool tips etc. The user would only need to select “advanced” to have their installation “upgraded”.

  30. Baltic Forever

    The Hammer editor is just a watered down version of the editor which the creates of HL2 used. The commercial version has a lot more features.
    That was what I was told from someone who purchased a license for the game engine.

    I agree that there should be a beginners version of the editor which comes with a bunch of prefabs (like with the Far Cry editor). It should also have only a basic set of entity’s to choose from.

    There should also be another two versions of the editor.
    Intermediate and professional (the current editor).

    Although I agree with Phillip on this one, I think you will find that this will never happen. It will be down to individuals to modify the editor, like they did with the GTK Radiant editor for SoF2.

    Unfortunately this would mean breaching the license agreement, so we are back to square one.

  31. Cameron

    Yeah, cause my copy of Photoshop has a “Mountains Scenery” filter, level editors should have that kinda stuff too!

    I have to say, you missed the mark on this one.

    Adding in lots of prefabs that allow a newcomer to cobble together something quickly is also a bad idea IMHO. Personally I think Hammer comes with too many static props as is, there are far to many truly horrible maps around were people without a clue have tossed together elements without thinking about them simply because they are there and they looked cool.

    Mapping is more than just technical proficiency with a slew of software applications, there’s a lot of theory and well placed thought behind those layers of tech wizardry. As an artist, once you come to understand what creating environments for games is about, the technical aspects are a lot easier to grasp and work with.

    Defiantly gotta say nay to the “lesne flare” filters for game editors. Do the hard work, get the good results. Cheap cookie cut solutions are and always will be cheap and not with the hard disk space they occupy.

    If you enjoy building things then there are already a wealth of FPS creators around to play with. Claymoring for game develoeprs to create point-n-click tools to appease your whims will simply add to development time, costs and as a result saturate the mod communities with hords witless mods, maps and general crap. No thanks.

  32. Mapping is more than just technical proficiency with a slew of software applications, there’s a lot of theory and well placed thought behind those layers of tech wizardry. As an artist, once you come to understand what creating environments for games is about, the technical aspects are a lot easier to grasp and work with.

    Nicely put. It has been discussed here before about the difference between the simple technical knowledge of using an application and the creative/3D thought processes. That’s one of the points; let’s try and make using an application as easy as possible for newcomers. They have enough to worry about as it is. Remember, this type of application should be seen as a stepping stoine to the real thing. Not a replacment. Whilst there may be similar products, FPS Creator being the most obvious, why can’t there be something for the Half-Life universe?

    I would love to see a collaboration between the FPS people and Valve. In fact FPS should be trying to work with older game I.P.s to bring some of that atmosphere to their system.

    Claymoring for game develoeprs to create point-n-click tools to appease your whims will simply add to development time, costs and as a result saturate the mod communities with hords witless mods, maps and general crap.

    Again, nicely said. But whilst it may increase development costs what about the longer term effects of increasing your customer base? The more people making maps and mods the more chance of selling engines and editors.

    You also make the assumption that these witless mods will be released. I happen to agree with you but that may not be the case. If that were to happen sites like planetphillip.com will still be able to filter the good from the bad, allowing people to choose which map or mod is worth their time and effort.

    No thanks.

    If I have to take a 50% rise in the bad mods to see a 25% rise in the good ones then I am prepared for that.
    Yes please.

  33. The Hyena

    An old post now, I realize, but I thought I’d put in my two pence. The thing I find with map editors such as hammer – is that they’re not in fact hard – they just require that you put a bit of thought and a imagination into the process. In Hammer, there’s not really many buttons and boxes, what you see is what you get, and there’s no magic set of tools that does things for you. You build your level from brushes, entities, and textures. And on the techincal side, the difficulty is no more than that – you just have to learn how to place entities, draw and manipulate brushes, and apply textures – not too much of a learning curve. The real difficulty in using a proper map editor such as Hammer is artistic – there are no prefabs, no one to have an imagination for you, you’re doing it yourself, and as long as the idea’s clear in your head, Hammer should not hold you back. Sure, it takes time to do what you want to do, but it’s not actually difficult per-say. Hammer merely requires patience, and some time and effort to make a good level – not computer genius.

  34. is that they’re not in fact hard – they just require that you put a bit of thought and a imagination into the process.

    The problem is the type of thought required. I am taking a chance now but I presume you are youngish and fail to understand that some concept that you find natural are in fact quite different for people who have grownup with computers and/or design software.

    what you see is what you get

    That’s great but if you don’t know exactly what you see then it doesn’t really help.

    you just have to learn how to place entities, draw and manipulate brushes, and apply textures

    This is the sentence that really leads me to believe you have little empathy for learners. You might know exactly what enetities and brushes are within the context but I and many others don’t.

    .

    Sure, it takes time to do what you want to do, but it’s not actually difficult per-say. Hammer merely requires patience, and some time and effort to make a good level – not computer genius.

    I have plenty of patience but if the instructions for leaning the software are not written properly and make too many assumptions regarding previous knowledge, then it becomes a struggle rather than a joy to learn.

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