No matter the engine you use, you will find this tool useful, but first a story. I have been involved in game development for about three years now. I have worked in and around more than fifty mappers over these years and one way or another their development lags. From what I have been able to put together it is related to their planning, and I want to tell you about one of the way I experienced it, the way it should have gone and what can be done in order to make sure its done.
About two years ago I was involved in a now defunct mod, the name of which was a toss up between Homeland Security and White. The mod wasn’t funded or anything crazy, it was just a group of 3+ guys and eventually a team of 19 people getting together and working on a game for HL2. Our team eventually broke up into teams and we would eventually get to the point that our planning was not to the level we needed it to be, and we started lagging. Apart from the issues with our personnel and motivation, our administration was quickly overwhelming our abilities and it was becoming quite difficult to keep up with the team and still be able to be a developer myself.
Our mapping team in particular was having some serious issues. One guy worked entirely in hammer, another wanted to map things out in Maya and then move to hammer, and another liked to do top down layouts of everything on paper and or Photoshop. They would come together occasionally, but their minds were in separate worlds and would usually lead to some major inconsistencies and separations from what had been planned when the map was finally set up in hammer.
The issues that I mentioned above were more than irritating, but there were many things that could have been done to help keep things kosher. One step in the right direction would have been locking down the team and kicking their asses until they produced step in the right direction would have been locking down the team and kicking their asses until they produced something viable. But in order to speed up development there is a tool, from Google no less, that is actually the most impressive tool to come out of anyone. Its called sketch up and its pretty god damned amazing.
You see, the bigger issue that my team was facing was the speed of development. Hammer is good enough to create maps in, but it was far from being great. The main issue was the ease of use for developers. Mappers were unable to develop at the speed that their minds were working, and for that matter they weren’t able to get far enough ahead in planning in order to make the maps made smooth. Lots of issues arose through the development process that were not present in the planning stages because we had few points of reference, and we also had a number of issues with getting things fleshed out.
The power of Sketchup comes in its ease. Piecing together the elements of a map is simple enough that you can do it practically blindfolded, if you are able to envision the map in your mind and you still have the ability to operate the mouse pretty well without having to look at it. It supports most proprietary formats that are able to be output from the more well known applications, and even the most important and the only true cross platform format *.obj.
My suggestion is this, and It’s pretty simple. Use Sketchup to develop the basics of your map and then take the time to walk through the map and make sure things are as you had envisioned it. The emphasis is on the walk through, if you like the walkthrough in sketchup then you can take the time to put the demo into HL2. Your life will be that much easier.