With Archy Vial
Archy Vial, a professional mapper with over one year of experience, has been interested in computers since he first saw one in a Target Store. His earliest experiment with 3D mapping technology was an ambitious attempt to recreate a neighborhood Seven-11 using only Elmers glue and exactly 417 coffee stirrers recovered from the snack counter. Consistency and accuracy have always been hallmarks of his work. He came to popular notice within the mapping community when he announced the creation of a total conversion for Quake based on the hit television program, "The Frugal Gourmet." Public broadcasting executives quickly moved to quash the Frugal TC, but despite the loss of his cherished brainchild, Vial found that the heated controversy swirling around the "PBSing" of the TC raised interest in his work among 3D game companies. Since that time, Vial has worked fulltime and on contract basis for nearly five professional software game development companies. At the moment, he is employed at Annelid Software, a start-up company which plans to release its first game "as soon as it's not unfinished." His first map for Annelid, sure to be a crowd-pleaser, is aptly named, "The Maze." He is currently at work on a second.    - A. Vial


The most common question any mapper hears is, "Where do you get your ideas?" I wish this were as easy to answer as it is to ask! The truth is, ideas for maps are as numerous as maps themselves, and there are as many different ideas for maps as there are different actual maps. Probably more. It is much easier to think of a map than to build one, so in all likelihood people have had plenty of ideas for maps that they never got around to building, either because they couldn't quite figure out how, or because they just didn't have the time.

When you are a professional mapper, time is not as much of a problem for you as it is when you are an amateur or hobby mapper. Not to "put down" the part-time dilettante who has yet to reach even semi-pro status, or the occasional tyro "3D dabbler," but it is hard to create a professional map unless you have the luxury of mapping for a living. For one thing, the word "professional" implies that you are getting paid to make your maps, and no matter how good your map might seem to folks who download it from the internet, if you weren't making it for pay, it simply cannot be considered a professional product. One thing the professional mapper has is plenty of time for mapping, and that includes time to think about what you are going to create before you sit down on paper.

One thing I like to do before I start a new map is make a list of places I might like to make a map of. Here's an example of a recent list I made of possibilities for maps:

    1. A bus station.
    2. A parking lot.
    3. A department store.
    4. A bunch of small gift shops at a mall.
    5. The food court at a mall.
    6. The restroom at a mall.
    7. The security office at a mall.
Each of these locations offers a unique set of interesting possibilities-and poses a particular set of problems. And depending on the nature of the game for which one is designing, all or none of these levels might provide rich environments for appropriate kinds of gameplay.

Keeping this in mind, it's time to think even more. Let's extend that list a bit. I do this with pen and paper, both because it's a refreshing break from hours at the monitor, and because I don't have a laptop to carry with me when I am at the mall.

Under #1, "A Bus Station," I might jot down the following: Benches. Revolving doors. Fluorescent fixtures. It's easy to picture an exciting shoot-out among the benches and the ticket counter, with glass shards flying as you dodge enemy gunfire-or, in the case of a sci-fi game, laser bursts.

For #2, "Parking Lot," you would have to consider things like whether the game's artists would be willing to work with you to model all the different kinds of cars you would find in a realistic parking lot. Nothing shakes a player's belief in a computer game like asking them to swallow a parking lot map that is true to life in every detail, except that every third car is identical! I would think that a minimum of 50 different car models, with different coloration and textures, would be necessary to create a convincing illusion of an actual parking lot. If you forge ahead with your map only to learn that after hours and hours of solid work, no artist has even given your car models any kind of priority in their schedules, then you will have lost hours and hours of solid work with no promise that your parking lot will even get into the game.

It is better in some cases to simply avoid problems like these altogether, and go on to work out the details of more promising maps. Thus, last Saturday at the mall I ended up spending a great deal of time studying the workings of the diaper-changing station in the men's room, determining whether I could reconstruct a faithful 3D version, complete with a shelf that actually folded in and out when you triggered the device. (I am fairly certain that I know how to make this. And if you are thinking of trying to beat me to the punch in your own "Men's Room" map-DON'T! This column is protected by the copyright laws of the United States of America and also by the World Intellectual Property Organization, which is in Geneva. And if you don't think that the idea for a working model of a diaper changing station constitutes "intellectual property," then you are welcome to try me-and the Annelid lawyers!) (The same goes for a working hand-dryer, with an accompanying view-model of hands which wipe themselves together and then rub briskly down the thighs of the player model's trousers.)

And here I should caution enthusiastic mappers against obsessive attention to detail, as in my attempt to accurately list and sketch the precise workings of the urinals, I lost myself in my work and apparently offended some real-life patrons of the facility, who convinced some of the mall's staff to remove me from the premises. In this case, citing my credentials as a professional mapper did not carry quite the weight I had hoped (although one of the security guards confessed that he had had quite a Doom addiction at one time, and had had to stop carrying his gun immediately after playing because he was so much more likely to shoot at his reflection or anything else that moved).

In the end, this list proved to me to be an invaluable exercise in freewheeling creativity; in the unlikely event that I ever run out of original ideas, I can always go back to this list-and pick my own brain, as it were. Of course, when you are a professional mapper, there are other considerations. After my brainstorming trip to the mall had ended in the courtesy of a free ride back to the office, I approached the producer of our game (whose title is still very much hush-hush) (the game's title, I mean; the producer's title is "Producer), and asked what level I should work on next. Five minutes later, I was able to sit down and lay the first brushes of my next masterpiece, tentatively titled: "Arcturan Abbatoir." I am fairly certain I will be able to work the changing station in there somewhere soon. Right now I'm just waiting on some textures.

NEXT TIME: Wait and See