Whilst redesigning the main site (not live yet) I’ve been streamlining the content and removing some bits and adding others. In particular, I’ve added my full mapping history including all the maps I’ve ever released, plus some descriptions and commentary. This is when I noticed something: what separates my older successful maps from the unpopular ones.
The difference appears to be common sense, not just in design but in approach. Level design often involves problem solving and responding to the way the design is heading. It requires finding sensible and appropriate solutions to problems or issues (that’s the engineering element). It occurred to me that the reason some of my maps succeed (Dust, Cobble, ETC) and others failed (Charred Chaos, Castle) was partly due to my willingness to accept defeat.
I can, for example, remember many times whilst making Dust and Cobble that I had do deal with particular issues and how I came to the solutions, but not for many other maps. I know why I chose certain designs in ETC 2 and structures in Cobble, but no idea why Charred Chaos is shaped like it is, because it goes against everything I know.
The difference however is clear: Dust, Cobble, ETC 2 all involved me trying solutions, and if they felt wrong I’d delete what I’d done and go back to the last point where they felt good. It was willingness to try something else when it felt uncomfortable. Charred Chaos and Castle involved some forcing of solutions into place, and it’s those portions of the map which feel the worst when I look at them today. They could have been much better had I been sensible, gone back and tried something else. I should have admitted defeat.
So maybe that’s the secret of mapping: common sense design and common sense thinking.