Poll Question 138 – Should Valve “force” players to use Hammer?

12th September 2009

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




You haven’t even read exactly what I am talking about yet.


Ok, now that you have calmed down and are a little more responsive allow me to explain.

Have you played Trackmania Nations Forever? If you haven;t and you enjoy driving games I highly recommend it, if you have then maybe you know where this is leading.

When the first version of TNF was released, I loved it, I even played online against other players (shock – horror!). The next version was pretty good but as often happens with me I preferred the first one. I recently reinstalled the newest version and was surprised to see some changes.

Put simply, a player must create and share tracks if they wish to access certain levels within the game.

At first I was very skeptical about the whole idea but I really wanted to see and play those levels so I made a level using the editor within the game. It was simple, crappy level but I got access to the restricted track

Now, what has happened is that I have made a few more tracks and am enjoying making them. This would never have happened if I wasn’t “forced” to open the editor and create the very first one. So, it got me thinking would it work for other games and genres?

Let’s mention the differences between TNF and Half-Life 2. Firstly, TNF is free and that effectively gives them the right to do anything they want. Secondly, the editor for making tracks is much easier than Hammer. It’s essentially a drag and drop type of thing.

The quality of your first map is not mentioned. If you just added a start, one straight piece of track and a finish, you have fulfilled the requirements. All they seem to want you to do is open the editor and try.

I actually think it’s a good idea and would like to see something like this in EP3. Sure, you think it’s a stupid idea, but the more people who are encouraged (read “forced” in this case) to open and use Hammer, the more likelihood we will have more maps and mods to play.

It would be wrong and impossible to simply do it like TNF did it but Valve should find a way to encourage more of its players into mapping, especially for SP. In March 2007 I suggested a Hammer Made Easy and if something like this could be introduced then that might help.

Going back to a previous poll, I asked Why don


  1. Polo

    I would prefer the word “encouraged” to use the editor.

    But whichever way you look at it, the more people having a go with the editor can only be a good thing.

    Take me for example.
    I have been promising myself to learn about the editor and have a go. But I have yet to find a reasonable “how to for n00bs” out there. Is there even one out there ?

    1. I would also have prefered “encouraged” but “forced” is correct because if you wnt to play tose tracks you are forced to create a track yourself.

      Here is a good tutorials for beginners: First Room.

    2. Kyouryuu

      The thing is, if you want to become good at level design, you really need a lot of volition and drive to figure these things out on your own. Whether that’s hunting all over the Internet for a tutorial, or bashing your head against existing ones until it makes sense, you need to be able to stick with it until you find the solution.

      Some people don’t have that will and I don’t believe that rephrasing the tutorial makes it any more obvious because you’ll simply hit the same roadblock later on.

      You have to struggle and make mistakes. You won’t create Minerva your first time out, nor will you make an amazing 15-level campaign. Your first level will suck. So will your second, your third, your fourth. They will all suck. It’s not until that next attempt that you turn the corner and realize, hey, I think I’m getting the hang of this. And that’s when the fun starts. That’s when the graphical veil pulls back and you see the Matrix for what it really is, right? Entities, props, triggers, spawners, movers, particles… the list goes on.

      But there is no red pill, no instant cookbook, no magical set of rules for success. You just have to stumble through it and figure it out. The question is, do you find that adventure fun, or do you find it frustrating and tedious? If it’s the former, then I wish you all the luck in the world. If it’s the latter, then maybe this isn’t the right journey for you.

      1. I agree there is no red pill but at the moment some players may not even know an editor exists, whilst others just need that little “Push”.

        They may stop after a few hours but at least they tried. If Valve got 1000 players to open Hammer who had never done so, I wonder how many would stick with it?

  2. Jeff

    Ah… no. I’m only worried about your sanity, Phillip. You’d have to play all of those horrible, pointless levels and tell us about them. 🙂

    1. Good point, although making them and releasing them are two different matters.

  3. Joe

    In order to make it reasonable to forc players into Hammer, they wll have to do one of two things:

    1. Either Valve goes against everything they stand for in game design and thrust the player into the current build of Hammer, which can be enormously complicated and un-intuitive for a newbie, or

    2. Valve redesigns Hammer from the ground up, taking all Hammer’s community critiques to heart and making it “easy-to-use” on a scale that I can’t even dream about right now.

    Valve’s game design theory is “coddle to beginners then present them with challenge later” or the crawl-walk-run routine. It’s a solid design theory that has made them the leaders they are today in game design. (Ignoring their monumental storytelling, aesthetic prowess, etc., for the moment, of course.)

    Valve’s Hammer Editor feels like a wierd child. Beginners have to thoroughly apply themselves to even get through the “First Room” tutorial. They are working with a professional game development tool, that features nearly limitless combinations of brushes, entities, and I/O interactions.

    If Valve wanted to force players to use Hammer, or something close to Hammer, they would have to build a “Baby’s First Level Design Tool” that had an interface similar to Garry’s Mod. In fact, I think packaging Garry’s Mod with Episode 3 would give Phillip what he wants, as well as allow the same thing to happen on consoles like X-Box.

    Because who’s gonna convert Hammer’s interface into a 360-controller-friendly version? Any takers? I didn’t think so.

    And I think, on that note, Garry’s Mod may become more popular than Episode 3 if it was given to the console in any way. Did you watch the Little Big Planet explosion of popularity/hatred? That kind of thing exists today with G-Mod, but only on PC. Can you imagine all the sexual-postion photographs and Gamertags the 360 will have to transmit every hour?

    Okay, maybe G-Mod on consoles is a bad idea. But I hope you get my point. Hammer is simply too complex, so Valve would need to simplify it for the lazy, retarded masses.

    1. I understand what you are saying but a well written and illustrated tutorial may be all that’s required to make the first step. A simple room with one weapon, one player start, one light and one enemy, is all that needed to either ignite the interest or scare them off. Either way, it’s only an hour of somebody’s time and may open up a whole new world to them.

  4. No never, please. There are game players and there are mappers/modders. Analogy: Books are read and it’s easy enough to write so how many readers would make good authors – not many, if any. I doubt that authors write on the strength of what they have read but rather that they have the talent and application – just like mappers and modders.

    1. Interesting. Good news for you Phillip?
      Quote from one of the download sites Games Modding
      “A little bird tells me the peeps who made ModDB have been busy.
      We might soon be seeing an IndieDB and hopefully a bridge between modders and indie game devs.
      We might also soon be seeing a Steam like download platform, but with a focus on player generated content.
      This may only be a few months away…”
      Link: http://gamesmodding.com/modding-the-future#comments

      1. I can’t really comment until I see what they have in mind. I got the impression it would be a database of indie games, in the same way ModDB was a database of mods. Maybe I have gotten the wrong end of the stick.

    2. I don’t believe your analogy is a good one – simply because everyone who can read can also write (at least 99.999% anyway). Maybe a better one is listening to music and playing an instrument.

      I am not suggesting that mapping is easy once you try or that it’s suitable for everybody, just that there must be things Valve and the community, including PlanertPhillip.com, can do to encourage as many players as possible to at least try. (That point is to everybody, not just you)

      1. Your anology is at least as good as, maybe better, than mine. Knocking up a 2 or 3 notes on a recorder or trumpet does not a musician make or composer make.
        We all have talents but the better mappers and modders have particular talents and expertises that I cannot even hope to emulate. Just as importantly, I do not even want to, in even a very minor way.
        When I read a book, I do not expect or want to find a blank page to complete in the middle of, say, an Asimov story.
        Likewise, how about a minute for writing some notes in the middle of a Beethoven Symphony?
        In both and any other anology, the idea is, to me anyway, abhorrent.
        I thank you for your contribution to the case of the prosecution, the no vote, which now rests confident of a guilty verdict.

  5. that’s the wrong way, people who want just to play and not to map and such things could be heavily pissed off.
    That is the same kind as downloadable but free extras for many games I have, if you don’t have now internet (or in my case in the past, no wlan to access with my psp) you are really pissed on that other people can enjoy more things than you.
    They should better insert many good video tutorials for the editors which should help you to learn the editor, then people who want will learn mapping faster and better while people who don’t want to can simply ignore it and play on.

    1. I hear ya, but were are not talking about “To find out what happens to Alyx” you must create a room, more like “To find out what is behind this door” (that’s one door out of 100 in the game).

      I agree better video tutorials would help but that assumes that everybody who plays the game knows there are such things as mods and I honestly don’t believe everybody does.

  6. Firestorm9000

    In my opinion, Hammer has to be one of the easiest editors to use at present (UnrealEd has to be the most difficult). The only easier alternative I can think of would have to be the level creator for the Timesplitters games (where levels are made out of prefab rooms). If Valve wanted more people to enter the modding scene, making and releasing something similar (and naming it Mallet) would be a good step.

    1. It may be easy to use but you might not feel that way if it was the very first editor you every used. Also, as I said in reply to Solidfake’s comment, that assumes that everybody who plays the game knows there are such things as mods and I honestly don’t believe everybody does.

  7. Knowitall66

    Personally I do do level design, though for the idTech 3 (Using GTK Radiant) . I have tried several times to get use to Hammer, but to no avail. In my opinion it is like comparing Pain.NET to Photoshop. Photoshop has a horrible interface making it impossible to find what you want, where as Paint.NEt has a simple functional interface which allows you to create something in half the time it would using Photoshop.
    If Gtk Radiant or a similiar editor was avalible for Source then I would have no problem designing. But untill then I’ll just keep mapping for idTech 3.

    1. Knowitall66

      Oh, and I’d just like to add that I am not the only with this opinion. I know many Level Designers who find the transition from GTK Radiant to Hammer an impossible task.

      1. hey there,
        I’m also mapping with the gtkradiant (well, now with netradiant) and I’m very well used to it.
        I wanted to start source mapping in the future and I already took some looks into the hammer editor, but I had totally no problems with the usage of it. Some things are even easier like the brush selection!

    2. You could be right but I don’t believe it’s that important. I believe it’s more important just to make them aware there is an editor and get them to try it.

  8. Planetary

    This reminds me too much of TF2’s unlock system, which encouraged achievement grinding to access the new content.
    Besides, it would just waste development time making things only a some customers will bother jumping through hoops to experience. If I had a good idea for a mod (which I don’t) and time to learn that stuff (ditto) and the will to do it (ditto) then I would.
    But I don’t.
    Jasper said it better then I can.

    1. I see your point about the achievement system but hopefully the end would justify the means in this case. It’s worth pointing out again that I am only talking about a small amount of content, one or two rooms. Something a modder could do in a few days. It’s not what the content is that matters so much but the way to access that content.

      As you said “If I had a good idea for a mod (which I don’t) and time to learn that stuff (ditto) and the will to do it (ditto) then I would” which is great, but there could be a lot of players who don’t know mods exists.

  9. Pingback: C:16601 » Podcast17

  10. On this week’s Podcast 17 William flipped the idea around and suggested that instead of making players open Hammer and produce a room, Valve says “To access this content you must play XYZ mod. That’s a great idea, it would introduce players to the concept of modding and perhaps could lead to some players try Hammer. If the mod had a video at the end introducing players to the concept of modding, that would be brilliant.

    In fact, I am going to email Valve and explain the William evolution of my poll question and see what they say – if I get a reply.

    What do you think of his idea?

  11. If my orignal idea or William’s evolution of it aren’t acceptable how about this.

    As the player is playing he reaches a door, the door is locked and when the player tries to open they recieve a mesage saying soemthing like this:
    To learn how to re-create this room yourself please check your desktop after you have finsihed playing. It would only happen once during the game.

    When the player opens the door in the game and shortcut is palced on their desktop that links to a website/page designed to explain the concept of modding to complete beginners and a professionaly created tutorial (written/illustrated and video) that explain how to create that room.

    This idea, doesn’t limit access to any areas but opens up the possibility of more modders.

    My only reservation is would it spoil the immersion too much? Maybe it could be includ only as part of the Developer’s Commentary. Again, what do you think?

  12. Armageddon

    I don’t agree that hammer should be made easy. If an engine map editor is hard I think the maps will look better in the end. But with drag & drop (most ofthe time) is on a grid and you only have a few square pieces to place to make your map.

  13. Jonathan

    Instead of creating your own maps but were able to reuse existing maps. The example is CSS SCI FI based off SMOD using scripts and lua he was able to reuse CS maps and remake them into Single player without decompiling the original maps. If would be great if you were able to take all the source maps and place them in storyboard editor then connect them together anyway you want. So you could take HL1, HL2, EP1, EP2, Sin, DOD, CSS, and HL2DM, connect them together and run the maps from forwards to backyards and even having maps that where you have 3 different directions to choose. From the storyboard editor you then edit each map using an interface similar to Garry’s 10. You can add entities or remove them then save them in a script. If the designer and the user have the same games all they would download is a text script. Of course if they had extra entries like models that can also be included. I thought this would be alternative then to recreate maps from scratch but allowing users to get their feet wet in regarding to creating game content.

  14. Grey Acumen

    This is simple. The answer is No.

    And Yes.

    No, Valve should not FORCE players to use Hammer, but it SHOULD be encouraged. This could easily be done by tying a few achievements to it and maybe tying it to a server filter thing, such that people running servers could require certain of these achievements of the players trying to join.

  15. Jonathan

    This is interesting!

    SketchUp: Import into Left 4 Dead Engine

    Use Hammer to create models

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