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NRT Ranig
NRT Ranig's picture
Joined: Feb 17 2013

Hi there!

I wanted to make this kind of post for a long tiome but never found the courage to do so (because it might be a long post). What follows is, globally, the "recipe" I am using for all my maps since the past year or two. I hope it can serve for people who would like to try mapping but are not sure where to start, but I also encourage other mappers to add their own thoughts, tips, or recipes into the mix (after all, we probably have different formulas, and there is no good or bad formula [even though there are good and bad maps, but that's another topic for another day ^^] )

Here is the short version:
1. Make a map
2. Test it over and over until you hate it
3. Fix what you hate about your map
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you satisfied or fed up

Warning, wall of text incoming!

And now for the longer version... The following recipe is not a 101 with the Trackmania Editor. It assumes that you are familiar with the different blocks and functionalities (including camera, signs, etc). If not, there are plenty of tutorials available Wink

Also, I will often reference maps I have made (sorry, I am too lazy for screenshots), just to illustrate my thought process.

Finally, I know that I usually deviate a little bit from the procedure I describe here (for example when I know what I want and how to do it). So of course certain steps are interchangeable. But they are all there, more or less.

Part 1 - The Concept

The map starts before I open the Editor. First, I want to decide what makes my map special, why do I create it. I don't open the Editor thinking "I'm bored, let's make a map!" I open the Editor because I have a relatively clear idea in mind.

I noticed that I have to types of concept:

a. The "transition". I have in mind a group of blocks that are arranged in an unusual shape, and the sole purpose of the map is to bring that group to life. For example, in my map Nacht Hexen, it was the wall ride with the inflatable going below it.

b. The "Feeling". I want a map that provides a certain driving or visual feeling. This map doesn't revolve around a certain section, but obeys some kind of general rule. For example, all my Tributes maps are made to ressemble maps of another mapper. Threads of Light was designed as a traditional, old-school, nascar map, this kind of things. The Monthly Track Contest (on ManiaExchange) can provide sometimes fun challenges for maps (not always the case however...)

The "Transition" type might be the one that require most work (notably, because the transition in question may not be as a good idea as you think), but I find it really rewarding when you find a clever idea and put it into a map.

The "Feeling" map can take some time before the feeling you want really emerges (especially if you want to play with the decoration...) so it's not trivial either.

I don't have any preference. I've made both types of maps and I will continue to do both, because they have their own merits ^^

Part 2 - The Mood

I know that you can change the mood of a map afterward, but I tend to prefer to choose it once and stick with it.

The mood has a great impact on the visual feeling of the map (and for me, it has a strong influence on the name I give to my maps, but naming the map is actually the last step), so here are some comments on each of them.

a. Sunrise. Very bright mood, but shadows can be quite long in that mood. If you have tunnels or bridges, make sure they are properly illuminated. But also, don't put too much light, it might blind the player more than help (like I did on Threads of Light...)

b. Day. I'm not fond of that mood. I try to use it for maps in which there are different types of terrain (road, dirt, indoor, platform). Nothing really to say here. If you use indoor in Day (or Sunrise) mood, the blocks inside will not be illuminated. So either keep the walls open (see Terraforming) or use no walls (see Icarus), or use lighting (but I prefer to keep the walls open).

c. Sunset. Kind of an intimidating mood (like "welcome to Hell"), and my favorite mood of all. When I feel that a map can become really really good, it's the mood I choose. You will have to play a little bit with the light, but there is less blinding problem than with Sunrise mood, and less glitches than with Night mood.

d. Night. A dark and gloomy mood which absolutely requires proper lighting all over the way. Beware, as with the SRE titlepack, there are some lighting glitches with the banked turns, which I find both ugly and disturbing for the player. Try to avoid them (the glitches) if possible, and make sure that all the way is clearly visible.

Generally, I work on a set of 4 maps simultaneously, so that I have maps in all moods. But clearly, I'm not that much inspired by the Day mood Tongue

Part 3 - The Start

Now the real work begins. I open a new map in the editor and I start placing blocks. Which blocks I place first depends on the type of map I have chosen in Part 1.

a. For a "Transition" map, I first try to realize that transition. Recently, I have tried to make it so that it involves some kind of crossroad (or at least, two parts of the map close to one another), which will help for Part 4. But it's not always the case, and it's not necessary.

The important part is to test that transition before doing anything else in the map. This means, add some bits of the track before (including boosters top make sure that the car reaches top speed before going to the transition itself). These bits are just for testing purposes, I remove them afterwards. Here, I just check that the transition really works as I imagined. And guess what, sometimes it doesn't. In which case you have to work on the transition (maybe the car must approach it from another angle, maybe at a lower/higher speed).

Note that sometimes, my initial idea is a bad idea period. In which case that's okay, I adjust the transition so that it becomes at least playable/enjoyable, even if it doesn't correspond to what I wanted exactly. So here is a piece of advice for this kind of map: don't hesitate to modify your ideas if they don't work that well. I think it is better to have a map that flows well rather than a map that has an innovative but awkward piece somewhere. (For example, the jump through the looping in my map Apocalypse wasn't a jump initially. But after many tentatives, I found it was way better than what I wanted to do at first).

Once I am satisfied with the transition, I remove the testing blocks, and add the start somewhere on the map (generally the other side), with one turn before and one turn after.

b. For "Feeling" maps, things are generally more simple. I place the start in one place and complete it with one turn before and one turn after. Then I place a CP somewhere else on the map, again with one turn before and one turn after. I try to vary the height or the surface if it fits the theme I want to achieve.

Part 4 - The Path

At the end of Part 3 (and regardless of the type of map), I have already two pieces of tracks on the map (the start and either the transition or another CP). Then, my goal is to link the two sections.

I try to follow some simple rules:
- Test frequently. Like really frequently.
- Don't let the car go over 550 on the road (it's okay on the platform or indoor though, if there is enough place to drive). This is my main building rule. It's okay if you disagree ^^
- Control the speed with one banked turn (drif) or a looping. I've noticed that I need one every 2-4 turns (depending on the length of the straight lines and the curvatures of the turns). I generally avoid the anti-boost, I feel it's a lazy move by the mapper.
- No blind turn. If there is a turn after a jump or a loop, add the proper signs right away.
- Avoid going immediately from banked on one side to banked on the other side. It makes an awkward jump.
- Place a booster before a loop only if it is necessary to keep up speed. I've noticed that most of the time, we don't need it.
- For jumps, make sure there is enough straight before the jump to put the car in the middle, and make sure there is enough space to land afterwards.
- For jumps going down, I try to make sharp angles (instead of using blocks with a smooth slope transition), as I find it reduces the risk of landing bug.
- One CP every 2-3 turns, or as needed everytime to avoid a cut or before a section with a high risk of crash (such as a jump)
- CPs and the start line can move during the process, it doesn't really matter generally.

At this stage, don't bother with the scenery, really (However, make the camera work for the looping). You want the flowiest racing line, nothing more. So it means testing, testing, and testing agin. And Part 5.

Part 5 - Stop

Seriously. Compute shadows, validate the map, save the map as a draft, close the editor, go play on a server, do something else. I try to avoid doing a map in one run, this really makes the difference between a kind-of-OK map, and a good map.

Don't reopen or replay the map for 1 or 2 days.

Part 6 - The Noob Test

After waiting 1 or 2 days, go play the map in the Local Play. I call that the "Noob Test". Your goal is to put yourself in the shoes of someone who plays the map for the first time. Is he/she going to enjoy the map? Or is there something somewhere that is going to piss him/her off? It's important for me as I want my maps to be enjoyed by as many people as possible.

Generally, at this step, I always find a couple of things that are a little bit awkward. That could be a drift badly placed, a jump slightly too lucky (OK, too difficult), a blind turn, whatever. It means that this section needs correction.

So I go back in the Editor, and I modify what I found during my Noob Test, with little tweaks here and there. Well, sometimes it needs more than a little tweak...

I only do one Noob Test (because it takes time and effort to do that), but in a perfect world I would do a second one after the first, but I don't have the time or the energy to do it. Also, ideally, it would be someone else doing the Noob Test for you, but feedback is not always easy to describe in this kind of situation.

Part 7 - The Scenery

Once I am satisfied with the racing line, comes the part I'm the least fond of, the scenery. Here, it depends if you want your scenery to convey a particular feeling or not (if yes, good luck, I have no real adive to give other than "trial and error"). For maps which don't require a specific kind of scenery, I apply the following procedure:

1. If I want terraforming, I do it first (either to fill empty spaces in the map or to isolate different sections from one another).
2. I start from the start/finish line, and add along the road signs (advertisement, arrows if needed), light, and walls for the platform. Notably, I try to place the NRT letters somewhere visible from the path. Also, I place the podium at this stage, so that I don't forget it.
3. Starting from the start again, I place at semi-regular interval some small group of blocks, notably at cross-roads or around turns. I try to place the same group multiple time so that it provides a sense of unity to the map.
4. I play the map once or twice and see which sections of the map feel really empty. Then I try to put something in these areas (if there is enough space, I like placing some dirt sections in empty spaces of the map, because it gives a feeling that there is something in there even though there isn't that much actual blocks). Also, I place inflatables in so that they can be seen from different sections of the map.
5. I play the map again, and adjust the lighting. This is the annoying part, especially in the Night mode, because you want to make sure that what you see when you play the map is the final shadow (to make sure there is no sections that are too dark or too bright).

My main rules are:
- Don't hide the racing line. The player must be able to see the road.
- Avoid huge blocks of grass or dirt without anything. That's just sad.
- Don't overdo it. The map needs to appear full of blocks, not be full of blocks.

Tip: you can save groups of blocks, so that you can reuse it from one map to another. I almost never do it, but I know other mappers over there do it and it works quite well^^

Part 8 - The Name

Time to validate the map one last time, compute the shadows in high definition, put a password, and save it. And now, find a name for the map.

Generally, the name I give depends on the mood of the map (it's not always the case), mostly so that it reinforces the feeling I want to give to the map. Generally the name is associated with some kind of mythological (or allegorical) creature/legend/whatever, again to stimulate the imagination. I try to make names that would be remembered (if you really really like the map, I prefer that you remember a cool name rather than a number...) Also, I tend to avoid colors/l33t in the name, again to make sure you can read it easily and remember it easily (s2dm has very nice maps, but I can never read his stupid map names...)

a. Sunrise. Names associated to light, the sun, harmony, this kind of thing (Helios, Aurora, Threads of Light, Icarus...)
b. Day. Names associated to travel, animals or nature (Albatros, Terraforming, Xyris [it's a flower if you wonder what it is...], Pastorale...)
c. Sunset. Names associated to fire or hell (Pheonix, Caldera, Belphegor, Apocalypse...)
d. Night. Names associated with death, sadness, loneliness, etc (Forza Jules, Hades, Wraith, Melancholia...)

Also, I tried to have names for all letters of the alphabet (more a personal challenge than anything), which is why I ended up with weird names like Xyris or Zone of Three...

And here we are!

I hope it was informative, and don't hesitate to discuss, either if you have questions, or if you are a fellow mapper and want to give tips and advices of your own Wink

There is no dark side of the moon. Matter of facts, it's all dark.

NRT Middenrat
NRT Middenrat's picture
Joined: Feb 15 2011
good theories

Thanks Ranig, these points should stimulate some good thoughts Love

Mid Hypnotized

NRT AntiKytherA
NRT AntiKytherA's picture
Joined: Feb 2 2014
yep, interesting insight but

yep, interesting insight but the thought it stimulated with me is leave it to people who know what they are doing Big smile

Vamosdikar's picture
Joined: Apr 19 2011
Saving this thread to read

Saving this thread to read later.

Vamosdikar's picture
Joined: Apr 19 2011
okay, i read the whole thing.

okay, i read the whole thing. it's definitely interesting but i feel like you're overcomplicating things here and there (stopping for 2 days for example). building isn't for everyone but it's not rocket science either. anyone can do it - i was just the nerd to actually do it years back because i wasn't satisfied with the maps being played. (also didn't have a lot of school back then)

i'll chip in as a builder myself, take your points and try to explain how i went about them.

most of you probably know me for my nascar maps that i built between 2010-2012. five years later these maps still circulate on most tm1 nascar servers. i think i built a couple of hundred maps of total, stadium only, many of which were never uploaded to any server because i didn't publish them (too similar to others, not satisfied etc.)

i started building after i became friends with n1ckp1ck3r from the dTb-clan. i hope many of you remember that name. dude was the ab-so-lute god of making maps. i believe he has over a thousand published maps. he got me into building. to this day i think he set the golden standard for good nascar maps. he was very versatile in his building styles but some of his better maps were absolutely amazing.

anyway, let's get to the point:

1. the concept

to be honest, i've never thought about concepts. i just started building and usually made up a track on the fly. there are some basic 'rules' that you have to build by to not fuck up the flow of a track but other than that i just did whatever i wanted.

- don't use boost. boost makes your speed unpredictable and i didn't want that. let the player decide how fast they want to go.
- no high jumps into corners, the bugs are bad enough as they are. never really liked jumps at all. avoid jumps as much as possible actually.
- when designing turns, use the right amount of blocks between them so you don't fuck up the flow. (going 590 through two long 90 degree turns without two blocks in between them is bad. you need two transition pieces. probably one for 500-570 speeds. depends on the angle too. this requires testing, so i did that.

2. the mood

i barely used the nightmode, didn't like it. when i went to building i usually randomly chose sunrise, day or sunset. i think i liked sunset the most but i randomly distributed the moods between those three.

3. the start

not much to it honestly. build the track first. place the start somewhere on a straight. never used the whole 'boost on the side'-thing that i see a lot nowadays either.

4. the path

you say; don't let the car go over 550. i say 600. i think 600 is where you can't properly take flat turns anymore because your car will spin out. not on banked turns, but nobody is going 600 in banked turns anyway. as for loops, no boost. once again; fuck boost. i always putted a camera change in loops but i never used a lot of loops. only every once in a while. as for checkpoints. just use a few, make sure you eliminate the possibility to cut and call it a day, it's not rocket science, just don't spam them.

5. stop

i never stopped. a good mapper makes good maps regardless. it comes down to understanding a few basic 'rules' and within those rules you can do whatever you want to make the track feel good.

6. the noob test

never did this either. i'm pretty sure i was able to pump out three maps an hour if i wanted to. i built all 15 maps for the ESNTT2011-tournament in about two or three days. most of these maps are still around today.

7. scenery

back in 2010-2012 i had the shittiest laptop imaginable so scenery was never one of my priorities. scenery should be complementary and undistracting. i used blockmixing here and there to create cool structures but never let the blockmixing touch the tracks. on empty spaces i just put water or random trees. if a track ran smooth on my laptop, it would run smooth on anyones computer.

8. name

never really thought about names very good. my first maps were random verbs, made up words or names of other people to tribute them. after a while i did the 'gymkhana'-series (named after the popular youtube video's back in the day) and the 'pillarz'-series (because i used those colory pillars a lot). after that i just continued making up random shit, geographical names or names out of mythology. i did use a lot of 'weird' characters. worthless for finding maps but /list vamosdikar usually did the trick in most servers.

anyway, that's about it. i made a video once on how i built a map but i can't find it anymore. i'd like to think i created my own style / flow that's still being appreciated nowadays but who knows. i haven't been active in years now. people ask me if i'm going to play / build again but i don't know. after building hundreds of tracks it might be too hard to come up with 'original' shapes. never say never though.. i might have something in the works at the moment...

i don't have access to the account anymore unfortunately, but here's my tmx; https://tmnforever.tm-exchange.com/main.aspx?action=auto%23auto

have a nice day.

NRT Middenrat
NRT Middenrat's picture
Joined: Feb 15 2011
Good read

Thanks Vamos for the modus operandi, which made it sound easy though it isn't. It was a pleasure to see you on servers again recently, that caused a little 'buzz' among your old comrades Smile

Mid Hypnotized

NRT Ranig
NRT Ranig's picture
Joined: Feb 17 2013
Wow, hello there ^^ it's good

Wow, hello there ^^ it's good to see you around ^^ As you say, your maps are still played to this day, for a very good reason, they are generally very well done, if not perfect Tongue Funnily enough, I don't remember maps by n1ckp1ck3r (I might have seen a couple, but clearly they didn't have an impact as yours did). Is there still some place where we can find his maps?

A couple of comments on your comments (because commenting comments is fun XD ) I started as a very bad mapper. And I have made some really good progress over the years, I think (Marty and Mid are to be thanked for that, for their comments helped me quite a bit). The thing is that even if I have progressed, I know that the bad mapper with his crazy ideas is still here somewhere, and I need to make sure that he stays asleep (It's like Cthulhu, we don't want him to awake from his slumber [OK, I'm out]). Joke aside, I have made several maps for the NRL which I found infuriating to do 50 laps on, generally because I left one awkward turn somewhere (guys, sorry if you felt the same). So stopping for a couple of days and revisiting the map later on is a way to prevent that from happening again, hopefully... That's why I prefer to take my time ^^

I do agree for the boosts (mostly), I find it very annoying when someone puts a boost a the start of a straigth line and then have a relatively sharp turn afterwards... However, I find boosts on the side useful, notably for maps with loops, simply to ensure that the map is respawnable ^^

For speeds, well, 550 isn't a "hard" limit. Also, I have to consider that I am not the fastest player out there, so I always count that fast players may go around 10-20km/h faster than me. However, I think it's a bad idea to have a drift turn above 550 (let say 570), it's a really easy way to crash (again, depends on the angle and the sharpness of the corner but still...)

For the mood, the night and sunset moods work way better on TM2 than on TMN (except that with their last update they messed up the night mood, obviously...) I am not fond of night on TMN either ^^

Which brings me to my last point, TM2, and more precisely, the titlepack. We (Suma, actually) have made a titlepack (~mod) for TM2 in which there is no border (no Rammstein bug, wouhou!) and a couple of other new blocks (larger turns, half-step banking, couple of other features). This changes quite a bit the dynamics of the maps (possibility to go faster notably). Have you tried it? I would be interested to see what you would come up with it Tongue

Cheers ^^

There is no dark side of the moon. Matter of facts, it's all dark.

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