Is the mapper always at fault?

25th March 2012

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

Late last year a pp reader posted a review about a map which went against the general consensus. Everybody has a right to their own opinion and if somebody doesn’t like a mod that most people do then that’s fine.

Well, most of the time it’s fine.

Sometimes it bothers me that players complain about a mod because I feel they have started playing a mod after reading all the good reviews and it didn’t live up to their expectations.

Other times, maybe they just don’t want to be a sheeple and they write something to sound cool and critical.

Other times they are just assholes.

This particular reader is none of those and their point is at least partially valid – if you can’t get past a particular section in a mod whose fault is it?

I fully understand the sentiment as I have personal experience of it. When playing G String I got stuck in one section that no matter how mnay times I tried to beat it, with varying tactics, I just couldn’t. As far as I was concerned the difficulty level was a significant jump on anything before or after.

It certainly left a sour taste in my mouth and I was pretty unhappy about it. Of course, this is different as it was a very small part of a huge mod, but what happens if it’s a bigger part of a smaller mod?

Now, I don’t want to talk specifics because it’s not right and actually not that important. But I do want to ask the question: “Whose fault was it?”

If a mapper creates interesting scenarios and has them tested by varying skill levels, is that enough? I think so.

I think it’s unfair of reviewers to mark something down because of one section that they couldn’t pass. I suppose the key point is if the jump in level is too much.


  1. Jim P (Aazell)

    This is a really good question. Think I should have picked this up on my blog lol..

    There’s varying levels of guilt on both sides in many cases. Some players don’t want to be challenged, they expect to be able to beat any moment in a game without really having to invest much in it.
    I think there is a place for maps like that. Run and gun type games where you just empty as many bullets into the enemy as possible.

    But a good map is one that makes you have to stop and think. Consider your tactics, look around and find the solution to a puzzle. If after a reasonable amount of thought you still can’t beat it then we’re into a grey area.
    So if the player is thick and can’t see a blatent hint at where they are supposed to go or what they are supposed to do, if 90% of people got it and 10% didn’t then I’m pretty sure it’s the gamers issue.

    If only 10% got it and 90% struggled, then it’s down to bad map design.

    I’ve played many official games and gotten stuck before. It’s not unusual that a player will simply not click with what the mapper is trying to hint to them.

    I think you suggested that after a few mins the mapper could build in a further hint into the map. I like this idea and I think it’s certainly one I’ll be using in future.

  2. I think the fault when you can’t get past a part is for both sides.

    First part of the stinky cheese would go to the level designer for not pointing out what your objective is.
    Just adding a lightbulb over a door at the other end of the sewer can change things.

    The second part of the cheese goes to the player, most of the times it is more the fault of the designer, but sometimes the players are just plain stupid.

    From my prespective the problem was never existant in the first place.
    The designer expects the way to be clear enough and the player expects such too. Therefore the shame would have to go on both of them at the same time.

    To make up for my criticism, I will tell you one kind of problem I had recently:

    I was playing some mod, can’t remember the name, but there was a part where you had to stick a gascan in a engine, and later on a part where you use a barrel to break wooden boards.
    That is NOT how I was taught to play.
    Halflife teached me from beginning on a few things.
    A: Wooden bars on the wall equal a crowbar in the hall.
    B: Canisters are for making combine bacon, not for a escort missions.

    The fault on my side was that I was thinking with the classical assumptions of halflife, my mind was not open enough to notice this from the start.
    And the fault on the creators side was that he has not shown me how he used these items like nobody ever.

    If a barrel would smash trough some old planks on the ceiling, I would get it.
    If a canister would be on the engine a little before, I would get it.
    So we both were the ones in the joke.

    However as long as a map is enjoyable and visualy nice… I can overcome the part where we try to find a door that is behind my back for the half hour.

  3. I hope it wasn’t me you mentioned above Phillip 😀
    Could be quite possible hehe

    1. Honestly, I can’t remember who it was.

  4. Noface/GeorgeC

    Agree with the above posts.

    I have something to add:
    While playing Cry of Fear, I got stuck, in a labyrinth of hallways and doors. Now, being stuck in that perspective is not fun. However, in G-String I was stuck several times, but the environment was interesting and varied. And therefore it doesnt feel as bad. Now, being stuck is not a good thing, but when you get out of the situation, into another interesting environment, it was worth it, you made it (although you must go on xD). Whereas if you were in a hall and managed to find your way to another hall, it isn’t worth it.
    An example of clever gameplay+nice environment in G-String which really stayed with me is this: After coming out of the building, near the very start, you find yourself outside but enclosed with tall buildings. There is a barrier of lasers, a gate, general decay on cars, the concrete floor. I was trying to figure out how to switch off the red lines (which were deadly), when I saw an ammo/health cache above. I thought, well there must be a way up. Meanwhile, you hear a woman over the PA talking of sending soldiers because of you, coming to get you (to that effect, really can’t remember the words). And a floating camera thingy flashes you. Anyway, I still couldn’t find a way up, or through the red beams.. I was truly stuck. Then I saw some crates, decided to stack em, to no avail.. by this time suddenly the red beams were off! And a large group of soldiers stormed through, I hid, with a pistol, shot at them, killed a couple. It was possible to kill all of them if I was clever. I didn’t, I died. Then I reloaded and it would be a good 5 minutes for them to be deployed and come get me.. but I found a way up to the cache, continued up.. went to a new map.. never went back.

    The mapper was expecting you to get stuck; a scripted timed sequence was there. It was fun, I enjoyed the whole sequence (which involved being stuck for a good amount of time).

    (Now I look obsessed with the game.. xD)

    1. I got the same experience with G-string at that point. The path was obvious, once I’d died a few too many times! This game forces you to think on your feet and make your own paths with no mollycoddling! it’s a good one to be obsessed with.

      1. Jim P

        The player should never have to die in order to solve a puzzle. Everything should be solvable on a first playthrough. That doesn’t mean is should be easy, just possible.

        Learning by death isn’t a great way to design a game and just upsets most players IMO.

        1. Noface/GeorgeC

          No, I think he was talking about dying from combat. The only thing you had to learn was deadly was the red lazers, but that wasn’t really a problem as you didn’t even need to go through there. Basically, the path I took didn’t need any deaths.

  5. I agree with what Phillip has said; I mean, if the mapper has a mod play tested before releasing it what more could they do?
    They can’t help it if a player is too dumb to solve a problem, find a path or that door-opening wheel on the gantry that I kept walking past! Was it the modder’s fault the wheel was almost the same colour as the gantry and not the bright orange I was looking for? No, but I still thought it was at the time! (RETURN is a good mod by the way).
    A modder’s work will never please everyone and that is not their fault.

    1. Jim P

      Actually, yes it was the mappers fault that the handle blended into the wall. That’s bad mapping and lack of sign-posting.

      1. Rikersbeard

        The wheel I was referring to was lying on the gantry in the first room. Just climb the ladder and it was there about halfway along. I missed in several times because I was expecting to find the brighter orange, HL2 wheel and this one is chipped and darker. That was my point.

        1. Jim Partridge

          Playtesting should have picked up on that fact. Why wouldn’t the mapper have used the orange wheel?

          More to the point why use that some old puzzle in the first place…I’m so bored of that puzzle…

  6. Hec

    Noot is not allways the fault of them, with the city 21 mappack I got angry because the freakin cmb were a lot and were almost unbeatable, but I the fault was totally mine!!, I had my difficult settings ond hard, so that was my mistake, and not the mappers.

  7. dougjp

    Phillip, I think you “hit the nail on the head” in your second last paragraph –
    ” has them tested by varying skill levels “. If the mapper actually did that, and also by nature isn’t intentionally trying to make people miserable while playing with his/her map, then there’s nothing more a mapper should have done. The player is then at fault for not trying hard enough, sticking with it long enough, or, whatever.

    I believe the problem is, in a very small number of maps, it becomes obvious the mapper didn’t do those things and therefore got called out by those willing to speak up. And rightly so. However I think these instances are in such a minority, maybe 2-3% of all maps at the most, that its “just normal”.

  8. Grey Acumen

    I think the onus should be on the mapper, purely from a statistical sense.

    Ultimately, if a player can’t get through a map, it affects their game, and both review and rating should reflect that. If this is just an individual, case, then their review SHOULd be a drop in the bucket, and overall not have too great of a negative impact against all other reviews, but if multiple people are coming out with “this section was too hard” then obviously the mapper needed to work on that section more.

    No player should be discouraged from reviewing on this basis, as doing so makes it less likely for other players to be warned of the issue, and less likely for the problem to be noticed so that the mapper can learn from this problem and either fix it, or at least remember it for any future attempts they may make.

  9. alencore

    The player is to blame most the time hehe. one good example for that is g-string mod.
    Obviously the mapper experimented a lot reason why there
    are things that seems inappropriate but then again that’s what mapping and modding
    is all about…experimentation, discovery and hopefully lots of creativity original or not.
    Once I get lost on a certain sp map then I congrats the mapper for that coz
    it’s always a goal for a mapper to make things challenging enough and make sure to confuse the player.
    Good gameplay and hard enough action parts gets a little overlooked every now and then
    but we can’t blame a mapper for that coz he’s doing all this stuff for free and during
    his spare time. I expect better games on gaming companies but they do tend to fail
    as well on that and sometimes mods are better. default Mw2 vs AlterIWNet winner is aiw
    coz they made the game the way the community wanted it so unfortunately it got
    shut down by the monsters above. So don’t blame mappers if you can’t beat their game.
    Blame those noobs who release underdevelop mods they got so excited about that’s just a basic mod everyone can create…LoL! Blame also those developers who are so slow to finish their mod…example…Black Mesa haha lazy bastards!

    Now mappers who are into mp maps now that’s entirely a different ball game something I can totally relate hehe coz I use to make dod, ahl, ts and cs maps. You gotta make an mp map the feels like it’s a nice basketball court LoL yeah haha!

  10. CosmicD

    I remember that some people had problems with the last part of my portal 2 campaign. There, I kinda capitalized on “portal lore humor” and went a bit overboard and introduced a “puzzle element” that was kinda unreadable in the first build, but improved it with the patch.

    I actually had more complaints about my fairly rooky map design skills rather than anything else. I never got these really asshole comments like OMG you are a terrible level designer cause I can’t solve ur puzzlez. Neither did I ever try to look down on players that wanted to finish that puzzle and would gently cuss me for it. Nobody gets better from that kind of stuff. I take a look in the mirror and think how could I make the level readable, but not “idiot proof” at the same time. It has to have a bit of a balance between being a total brain cracker and being a cake walk.

    I hate stuff which is unneccesarily hard just for the sake of it. The mapper might have a cool idea in mind but what I’ve learned from that one difficult spot is that it needs to be readable, it has to give a hint.

  11. Mman

    The designer is at fault in the vast majority of instances, but I think “the designer is always at fault” is a dangerous concept that can lead to interesting and unique ideas getting dumbed down into slush just because some people didn’t “get it”. This especially applies to mods given that designers there don’t have money to worry about and are therefore free to be more experimental (although that doesn’t mean just completely ignoring feedback, because if the majority of players/testers have an issue with something it’s probably more than a matter of taste).

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