To introduce this article, I thought it would be important to tell you a little bit about my story. I entered my final year at Supinfogame France, a French leading school dedicated to video game careers. This will be be my fifth year there. It has now been about 6 years that I do things related to game development (maps, prototypes, 3D, game analyses). Few people saw my early work and I took some time to produce satisfying content. In fact, more and more I began to appreciate my work two years ago. At least, I remained ambitious to work in the games industry without presenting my work to anyone but my parents for several years! Their feedback was not wholly artistically related. But it must be said quite plainly, I never finished anything I started during this period.
So what happened two years ago? I was in my second year of study at Supinfogame and not working on maps anymore. I was mainly doing theoretical things at school. I bought games on PC like Left4Dead 2 and Counter Strike and began working on some maps again. Unless you’re born a game dev genius that can understand every features and errors of a game engine, you’ll look for help on the internet. So did I. Like many people, I googled my errors and issues; that normally drove me to forums and answers hubs.
Most of you probably thought like me about forums: they’re full of dumb guys with nothing better to do than discuss issues on poorly designed websites. You may still have these kind of thoughts today. If so, it is probably one of the biggest mistake you’ve made so far on the internet.
While looking for answers to my issues I landed on a white and blue forum. It was oriented to Hammer and Source created content which was perfect to resolve my problems. I didn’t sign up the first time I went there. In fact, I registered several weeks later. In the beginning I was only looking for support for Hammer. Then I started to read some other threads from time to time. I realized that there were human beings behind these nicknames: crazy mappers, awesome environment artists and mainly professional people from the game industry! I understood that this place wasn’t only a digital forum; it was a real community. Of course, this community is MapCore.
This is a quote from the forum’s information page:
“MapCore is a game development community with origins in Half-Life mod production, which since its inception in 1999 was evolved into a thriving forum featuring all flavors of game development including level design, modelling, concept art, and programming. With 100+ members part of the professional games industry working for the likes Blizzard, Crytek, DICE, Gearbox, Rockstar Games, Ubisoft, MapCore offers opportunity for professionals and amateurs alike to socialize, learn, teach, and find talent.”
I have nothing more to say but that it is also kind of a big family.
Finally, we arrive at the point of this blog... How MapCore changed my life and my work. I may turn things a bit advice-ish but that’s what a little voice tells me in my head.
1) Open your mind
Opening my mind is the primary change I noticed. I have always been shy and careful; hosting parts of the geek/no-life archetype. It can be difficult to go out and speak with people you don’t know, particularly when you do not want to be weird. You just live in your own world, with your own references and never face others’ ideas.
I was curious but not very open-minded. My thoughts about online communities is a good example. I’m still a bit weird right now, can’t deny that. On MapCore, there were people from everywhere, every country and every culture. They were talking about so many things I didn’t know concerning games, books, movies, music, technology, working pipeline; I immediately knew I had to join them to share and learn from all of this.
The more I went on the forum, the more it became easier to talk to people. They won’t bite (even if you’ll receive some jokes). They already are open people. You just have to embrace this state too. Get some points and level-up your “open-minded” and “socializer” abilities.
2) Be humble
Not showing your work to others can make you so sure about what you do that you don’t even care about what other people think. When I arrived on MapCore, there was some guys that made amazing scenes, crazy and well-known maps for different games, and others were working in the best game studios in the world. When I met these people for the first time, I just sat down and read what they had to say. Beside the bad jokes, they were like the cleverest people I ever met online. Kind, humble and talented. I got a big kick in the ass from humility. Everyone has a nickname: you may not know who you are talking to, so shut your mouth, learn and don’t be dumb.
3) Don’t be ashamed of your work and embrace iteration
When you create stuff, you rarely produce something perfect the first time. You’re not completely satisfied with it but that’s O.K. The kind of work you don’t want to present is exactly the work you should show. Because it will make you grow; show what you’re doing on forums and show your creations to people you don’t know. You’ll get honest feedback from professionals and insane hobbyists. These people will tell you exactly what’s wrong but also what’s good and how you could improve things. Even if you don’t go back to this project, you’ll learn from these critics and start to understand how to identity problems and analyze your own work. It’s a very important point I want to make here. Share what you do! Don’t be ashamed of your work. If you know it’s not good, at least you’ll know what you should change and the community will advise you and help you improve your work. Trust me, they are game devs too. Keep their advices in mind.
4) Improve your acceptance of criticism
Showing off your work is a big step towards accepting criticism and how to manage it. I wasn’t surrounded by people that could really understand what I was doing: people in high school, they all wanted to be banker, politician, economist, diplomat. So nobody, or very few, could understand my work. In these moments, you begin to accept critics with more difficulty because you do not meet people whom, in your estimation, have enough expertise on the subject to comment. At this point, either look elsewhere to find these connoisseurs and share with them (in real life or on the internet communities) or you continue to think that these communities are populated with idiots and you stay alone with your bullshit. Of course, you’ve guessed that at first I chose the second solution and I can assure you that’s not something to do. Take criticism and learn how to manage it, getting the good from the bad. I know it’s hard at the beginning but the more you face criticism the more you learn to accept it. MapCore members are always nice but they don’t hesitate to tell you when you do shit work. That’s essential to improve your profile and your projects. If you can start analyzing your own work and be honest with yourself you’ll be able to quickly identify issues and ask the good questions. First you need to see how the community judges and analyzes your work to understand that process. Then it’s just a matter of iteration like any other method.
5) Receiving feedback and support from people other than friends is a huge motivation
Getting feedback from people you know is great but they can have a lot of restraint to state when they think there’s something wrong. Remember when you were drawing awful stick-men to your parent and they were like “Oh yeah, that’s great son…” It can be the same problem with friends: if they’re not used to giving feedback on work of any kind, they won’t do the job for you. Not because they are idiots but because they don’t want to offend you or simply because they don’t know how to express their feelings.
So, who do you turn to? Well, going to Supinfogame helped me a lot: I found people that had the same interests and were doing stuff like me. But let’s be honest, we weren’t as good as we are now during our first two years there and we had a bit of restraint when we were talking about our work with each other. That’s were MapCore or any other online community can help you (or irl community if you have the chance to live in a city where there’s one). I think there’s no better way to accrue honest thoughts than asking strangers (relevant people of course). They don’t know you, they don’t really care, so they say what they have to say and that’s it. You will quickly see progress. After I solved my issues, thanks to MapCore people, I started posting pics of my progress; I’ve never improved my work so quickly. Right when they tell me I’m doing shit, I’m not very boosted. But then someone comes and gives me the right advice, the right thought to help unlock the pacing of the map, the lighting disequilibrium or the color grading. That’s gold. You go from “I may not finish this” to “Damn it that’s genius, how could not I have thought of that before!”
Finally when you release something: a game, a map, a scene; everyone from the community is here to congratulate.You may not release your finest, maybe it’s not perfect and they’ll tell you but they’ll always outline the fact that you’ve finished something. All of us know the importance of finishing your projects. Having a community behind you is a blast of motivation when it happens and it keeps you motivated during the several states of your project. I already went back on an old project because some guys brought out from the shadows an old thread of mine saying “hey man, that was cool, what’s up with it?”
6) Demystify professional game developers
For someone who wants to join the game industry, people already working in it are half-gods. To me, they all had the best job in the world. I wanted to be each and every one of them, just like my childhood superheroes. MapCore helped me demystify these guys if I can say so. Did you know that they were watching movies and going to the gym like everyone else? That’s insane! Seriously, there are different parts on the site: you have the creative threads, the employment threads and the general threads. This last one is where you learn about people. Movies, music, books, we talk about everything there. What about the “What’s going on in your life?” thread. Isn’t it a proof of a great humanism? This is how we learn about people and understand who they really are. Sometimes I never go to the Creative threads and only stay in this general part where you can talk about everything to everyone. Our live chat is also an amazing place where you can see people from all around the world and start talking. Everyone is there because they like this community or because they want to be a part of it. The ancients (let’s call them like that) have seen so many people come and go in this community that they know how to make you feel at home. They are like an old family where everyone is welcomed.
7) More than just people, some became friends
It’s been two years now that I’m going on MapCore almost every day. Two years I’ve been involved in this community. Two years I’ve met extraordinary people. You can’t avoid creating links with other members when you visit the site on a day to day basis. You exchange about work, then games and start playing together, then exchange about culture stuff, then your private life and finally you add people on social networks and talk regularly together. The live chat on MapCore is quite powerful for this. Strong allies and amazing support are waiting for you if you’re ready to commit to the community.
I wouldn’t write an honest article without talking about networking. Online game dev communities were forged by game industry members. MapCore started in the early 2000s, almost 15 years ago. I can’t even imagine how many people went thought this family. People knowing people, knowing people etc. Today you’ll find two types of people in this community: actual game industry members and aspiring ones. Both are extremely important. Of course old ones can help you reach the right person to forward your resume or get an interview. But people who want to get into development are also extremely important. You’ll forge strong relationships with them because everybody is in the same mud. Yes, there is a competition between all of us, all the time. But it’s not a good reason not to help each other. You’ll find a job if you’re good enough and determined. I’ve already helped some MapCore members and some have helped me. We won’t get this result after a week or a month. It takes time to reach this point. It shouldn’t be an objective either, people will feel it. Everything is a matter of trust and respect.
Since I’ve met MapCore, I’ve changed a lot. Parts of these changes are thanks to my friends and colleagues from Supinfogame but many come from this community. I’m grateful to all these game devs that share my real and online life. I still have much to learn from them but I’ve already made a long journey. *screams*
No matter which community you choose, look for one that can fit your goals. Go on MapCore, go on Polycount, go on the Unreal Engine network or on the Unity forums. You will find amazing people there that will make you grow. Don’t come to find job. It will take you time to create relationships with members. But when you get there, you’ll find gold, things you never thought you would find or hoped to. Get involved in the community’s life, take some time to answer threads when you can, organize events, and most importantly, come and share you work. You’ll get the best feedback that will increase your motivation, your work and your profile. You won’t be the same person: you’ll be a better communicator and you’ll iterate on you method and your work more efficietly.
I’ll finish with a personal message: MapCore, I love you and I’ll always be right by your side. <3
Thanks to John “Sigma” Emerson, MapCore member and friend, for correcting my English ;)