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Out of Order

You don't need to have a debut; you just need to release something

| Perspective

When I began creating levels for Portal 2, the first real map I built in Hammer was Detour. I wanted to create a level where the player would escape from a test chamber, leading to some traversal in the “behind the scenes” areas. While that was the original concept, the scope would end up expanding overtime as I began having more ideas for what could be within the map.

Initially the map was built from an in-game puzzle editor export, which I altered to have the player escape into the backstage. I would quickly start over from scratch, however, when I found the exported geometry too cumbersome to deal with; that, or I had difficulties with world portals. The second attempt was the true start of the map, as that was the point where I'd start working of implementing the custom chamber design that would accompany the map's main gimmick: gel doors.

Naturally, the scope increase also raised the time it took me to make the map. Of course, it doesn't help that I restarted building the map three times. While the first was a minor setback with me getting started, the second reset had me lose months worth of work. Still, I thought it was worth it for the sake of optimization, as the map up to that point had been created with minimal consideration to the grid.

Having Detour come out strong mattered a lot to me, as I saw it as my breakout map onto the workshop. It was my big reveal project — my “debut stream” in modern terms — that would carry me to the front page. I had this impression that I needed to establish a strong start for myself, hence the amount of effort I put into the map. Despite only having used Hammer for a year or so, I was already shooting for perfection.

During the time I was making the third version of Detour, the Thinking With Portals modding forum came back online after years of being down. To celebrate, they hosted a comeback mapping competition with the relatively short timeframe of 16 days. Wanting to submit something, I paused work on Detour to create my entry Laser Construction. I kept my scope relatively small, choosing to focus on a simple puzzle with some interesting visuals. Having taken advantage of a small deadline extension, I finished and released the map to the workshop on July 4, 2017.

Writing this now, it's kinda insane to think it's been seven years at this point. I remember being somewhat disappointed when I released it, simply for the fact that Detour wouldn't be the first map on my workshop page. Yet at the same time, I was happier for having released any map to the workshop — under a time constraint no less. I was even proud of coming in fifth out of seven entries.

Looking back now, I realize it didn't matter which map I released first. Both Detour and Laser Construction depicted my skill level at the time, the only difference between them being the amount of time I spent on one over the other. Considering that working on something for longer doesn't mean it's better, the more important factor was releasing them, building a body of work that I could build upon and get feedback on.

Even with recent projects like COVALRIA, getting something out gives us that chance to learn what works. For example, our recent release of the shorts wasn't the first time we launched the comic. We had previously released shorts as long form comics, rather than the four panel strips we've switched to. While we would pull the initial shorts when we went for a relaunch, they still served to help refine ideas and interactions within our world that we will pull from later on.

There is no specific order you need to release projects in. You don't need to have a debut for yourself, and neither do you have to make a big deal about coming back to a project. Just focus on creating stuff as it comes to you, minimizing the roadblocks in your way. It's more important to build up your portfolio quietly, rather than come out with a bang.