Mapping for Half-Life

Okay, let’s get this show on the road! I will write about how I recently got into Half-Life mapping, which tools I’m currently using and a fast way to get something done in the editor. Please note that this post is about how it works best for me. There may be other methods that are more efficient for you. Please feel free to inform me if you know a better or faster way ok of doing things in the comment section below, so I can update this post.

Then versus now

In my early days of mapping, I used to fire up the level editor and start building my map. I built my first room and immediately started texturing and adding details and just went from there. While going with that method, I was incredibly slow and would often hit the so-called ‘mapper’s block’, leaving me with no inspiration and forcing me to rework parts over and over again until I got it just right. Talk about wasting time, right?

As I released more projects and learned more about level design, I started to make sketches of my levels on paper and made sure I drew the basic layout of the entire map while using various pictures of locations and other levels as inspiration before I even opened up the editor. With this method, I could avoid a ‘mapper’s block’ more easily and noticed I was way faster than before.

For my Half-Life map that’s currently in development, I still make use of pencil and paper to draw the basic layout but I found a great way to make a very clean sketch.

From paper to DoomBuilder

After a very rough version of my sketch on paper is done, I use DoomBuilder, the mapping software for id Software’s classics Doom and Doom II, to draw a detailed and cleaner version of the layout. It’s very easy to change the layout and add more details so there’s no need to use my pencil and eraser.

With the available grid options, I can make my sketch on the same scale as my Half-Life editing software so I can just use the length of the lines I drew in DoomBuilder as a reference.

A screenshot of an early sketch of my Half-Life map in DoomBuilder

From DoomBuilder to TrenchBroom

When my sketch in DoomBuilder is completed, I use TrenchBroom to block out the map. You could do it straight in Hammer, the Half-Life editor but personally I find the speed of creating maps in TrenchBroom unmatched. I managed to block out my entire map in just a few hours. Unfortunately, TrenchBroom doesn’t have full support for Half-Life yet so the texturing and everything else remains to be done in Hammer.

There is this editor called J.A.C.K. which does have support for Half-Life. I never used it so I can’t comment on its user friendliness but I read that it’s a very powerful editor with many great features.

The block out of my map, created in TrenchBroom

From TrenchBroom to Hammer

After the block out in TrenchBroom is finished, I simply save my level as a .map file which I can then easily open in Hammer and start texturing. Before I start texturing however, I compile the block out and test it in Half-Life to make sure everything is on scale and it plays well. Texturing, scripting and entity placement take up the most time for me when I’m designing levels but the method above significantly reduces the total amount of time I have to spend.

My map as I start texturing it in Hammer

The compiling tools

Using the right compiling tools is also an important part of level design. The tools that I’m currently using for Half-Life and which I personally think are one of the best available, are Vluzacn’s Map Compile Tools. They’re fast, forgiving and add many options compared to the traditional Half-Life compiling tools.

What about you?

This should give you a good idea of my method when it comes to making levels. What about you? How do you create a level from start to finish? Where do you get your inspiration? I’d love to hear about it.

This concludes the first tutorial. I hope it has been helpful and gives you some motivation to start making you own maps. If you have any questions or suggestions, leave a comment below. I will gladly answer them.


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