Ok, over the past 4 weeks I’ve written about 11 maps whose screenshots were sent to me. I’ve pointed out features I like and flaws I didn’t like, potential problems and possible solutions. It was fun, although not nearly as mean as hoped. Next time I’ll have to be extra cruel and merciless.

The maps featured were picked to pick as broad range as possible, to prevent repetition and in the hope that the points I made are relevant to other maps that I didn’t see.

Of course, I had a distinct advantage - I hadn’t made the maps I was looking at; there was no emotional attachment. It was all new, and fresh, and I also only saw a small slice of each map - not the whole picture. However, I believe that 80% of the time, the quality of the map and what I see in the screenshots are proportional. Sometimes this isn’t the case, but it’s a handy general rule and gives me a neat little get out clause when I discover I got it wrong.

Being able to look subjectively at your own work is a valuable skill. You must be your own best critic. People will always find flaws, so don’t ignore them. Similarly, people will always find features they like, so appeal to that as well. Always try to stamp out the negatives and enhance the positives. It’s about finding the balance.

With the screenshots I saw, I tried to do several things:

Work out where they were set, Work out how the areas in the screenshots relate to each other, Work out how the areas in the screenshots would play, and Compare to maps I’ve played in the past.

The first stage is to help set up assumptions. If the screenshots look urban, I’ll assume the map is meant to be urban and look for things that help establish this fact. If I see cars and trucks, then I know all is well. If I see blocks of sand, grand wooden doors and donkeys, I know something isn’t right. I expect an urban map to use the Z-axis a lot, and be fairly refined. I don’t expect it to be largely flat, open and untidy. As a player I’ll change the way I play according to the sort of environment I think I’m in.

Looking at gameplay, I tried to see how the areas in each screenshot were connected, basically trying to build a layout of the map from very little information. It’s a bit like when you play a new map for the first time, you see a few things a few times and often have no idea how to get from one to the other. The more you play, the more they all start to connect and make sense. I was basically trying to do the same, and the times I failed were indications that players would get aggravated when getting lost, or find it difficult to work out where to go. Maps shouldn’t need an A-Z.

Then I considered each small area on it’s own. If a CT is in spot A, and a group of Terrorists are in spot B, what would happen? What if the numbers were reversed? How would I attack/defend the area? What sort of chance would I stand? All these questions for each small area. It’s not something I took hours on, it was literally a couple minutes for each just imagining how the area would play and potential problems there would be. Spectating on lots of CS games helps a lot, but that’s mostly because I’m the eejit that buys $10,000 worth of equipment, rushes ahead of the team, jumps round a corner and gets headshotted before I even consider firing at the menacing guy standing in front of me. I’ll learn some day.

Finally, the most valuable part is comparing to maps I’ve played in the past. I try to think of situations I’ve been in, as a player, that might mirror the area in the screenshot I’m looking at, or even the style of map. If another, similar map does something well, it’s worth trying to work out why and see if the same effect can be transposed into your map. Or, if one area is familiar from another map, and doesn’t work, it’s worth trying to avoid that same issue or finding a fix before it’s too late. Some of the screenshots reminded me of other maps I’d played that I really liked, so it was quite enjoyable.

By far the most important part of the process is however, to be cruel. Be as cruel to your own work as you would be to anyone elses, and be honest. Don’t think that players won’t notice or won’t exploit a bug because it seems insignificant or too difficult/boring to fix, because they will spot it (especially the CS lot!) Sometimes bugs slip through the cracks, and that’s ok if they’re minor, but never avoid an issue simply because you can’t be arsed to do anything about it. It all adds up against the map in the end.

It really is that simple - if something looks and feels bad, improve it. If it’s looking and feeling good, keep it. If you can’t decide, change it until it’s one or the other. Keep the good bits. Throw away the bad bits.

It’s just common sense.