Ladies and Gentlemen, the time has come to say adieu. We have worked hard and accomplished much. We have felt success, we have felt failure, and we have felt down right awkward at times. But that has not stopped us from succeeding in our goals. We forged our dreams and reached the pinnacle of level design success for Starcraft 2.
We are not leaving you empty handed, rather you are receiving one of the best of our efforts, Yeonsu, as a ladder map.
The following are the people we would like to give thanks to for their participation and or cooperation with us.
Nick "Scorp" Hansen--Creator of Atlas, Corey "eTcetRa"--Creator of Yeonsu, Justin "NewSunshine"--Creator of Phoenix Cluster, Teven "ArcticRaven"--Creator of Absolution, Adam "KingCorwin"--Creator of Israfel, Chris "ChanmanV" Chan, John Clark, Megan "Silvare", Kenny "Bullseye", Mona of the CSL, "Plexa" of Team Liquid, Tim Frazier--formerly IPL, now Blizzard Entertainment, "Cloaken" of Blizzard Entertainment, Richard Lewis, Felix "Lefix" of TPW, and any other persons we have not mentioned but have worked with. I cannot thank you enough for all the work and support you have given us over the past year.
The following is my personal anecdotes about creating, building, and finalizing a team of level designers for Starcraft 2, en full.
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The creation of Dream Forge Maps began as a sincere goal of improving myself as a level designer for Starcraft 2 (map maker). During a time when map making was still developing towards an epitome of quality, there were only 3 serious groups of level designers and only 1 group was paid for their work professionally. These groups were Crux, The Planetary Workshop, and E-Sports Vision (ESV; formerly ICCUP). The map designer community had spurred itself into existence, providing its own measures of success via monthly tournaments that judged maps on various criteria including style, balance, and artistic quality. At this time, many non-associated map makers were struggling to break the barriers that these teams seemed to posses, and several voiced concerns, myself included, about judges predispositions to select team associated designers as the winners. This raucous grew so loud that the associated level designers became disgruntled and proclaimed that non-associated mapmakers should simply make their own team. I chose to approach several other independent but good designers to see if they would want to form a team with me. Thus, Dream Forge was born.
At the outset of Dream Forge we all were concerned with 2 things: 1) Improving our individual merits by relying on each other as sources of education and criticism, and 2) Expanding our team. We grew quickly to a size of about 8 level designers and we were improving. We had not begun to see success of our maps, which we judged to be the inclusion of our maps into prominent tournaments. As a result of this and other life issues, our numbers dwindled over time with a core group of 5 of us remaining on the team.
Out of frustration with our performance towards our goals, and feeling I was a lesser skilled level designer, I decided to begin working more as an administrator by promoting the collective work of our map team. This was in response to several discussions I had with Patrick “Diamond” Soulliere of E-Sports Vision. Whereas the other 3 big teams concentrated their promotional efforts towards large and highly valued tournaments such as Dream Hack, GSL, and MLG’s, I decided to take a grass roots approach and build our reputation up from the bottom. Little did I realize that administrator’s work is not sprinting – rather it is a marathon.
Through this effort, we gained our first success by my contact with the creators of the Day9 sponsored Prodigy Cup. I knew right from the start that no tournament would give a second look to maps without some kind of documentation to help them understand our efforts and goals with each map. I began reviewing our maps and submitted a proposal of 5 with the intended purpose of narrowing it down to 2 for the tournament. The Prodigy Cup administrators were highly receptive and after internally reviewing the maps chose “DF Absolution” and “DF Wightbane Gorge”. This would not be the end of creating new materials that, to my knowledge, had never been created before by any other level designer team. This review proposal stage is what I attribute the majority of our success to. The other service that I planned for our first foray into competitive use was updates and emergency servicing of our maps if they proved to be detrimental to the tournament. I made Prodigy Cup aware of this, and of course, this exact measure was necessary to guarantee a well run tournament. Absolution in its original state had a LOT of water that caused performance issues for players on lower-end computers. Within about 2 hours of receiving the email the day OF the tournament (but around 3 hours before the official start), we re-worked the maps water and doodads to more appropriate levels. Prodigy Cup went off perfectly and Sean “Day9” Plott casted the finals (which I am still waiting to see!).
We now had 1 success under our belts. We needed to continue working and improving ALL of our products. The Prodigy Cup success was quickly followed by another success, a show match of the CSL schools representing Albuquerque, New Mexico and Chicago, Illinois. I had made a “demand” that one or two of our maps be used in the show match because “it’s my birthday”. Both school’s representatives and organizer Silvare decided it was a great idea, and the original version of now famous Yeonsu was used. Needless to say, I was surprised that they had responded at all. The players of the show match appeared to enjoy the new map, and Silvare’s Chicago show matches and her associated Ignition Tournament would quickly become a staple user of Dream Forge maps.
This was not the last stop as we continued improving our products. At the height of the “map pool stagnation” crisis, a member of IGN’s Proleague administration (Tim Frasier) contacted the collective group of level designers looking to put on a tournament spotlighting community maps. All map creators were excited about the possibilities of a sudden influx of new maps into the competitive scene, but as we were all rivals and disjointed with a meager communication circuit at best, it was by pure luck that I helped drive the spreadsheet for Tim’s use to pick maps. This spreadsheet later became the basis for the Dream Forge “pipeline” of maps, helping me direct what maps were at which stages (work in progress, early ready, team approved, and competition).
It should be mentioned at this point as well, that IPL was not the only tournament recognizing the need for new maps in competitive Starcraft 2. Major League Gaming had come to grips with the outcry as well, and MLG’s Adam Apicella tweeted a call for map makers to contact him. 2 of us, Felix “lefix” of TPW and myself responded. Adam, Felix, and I met on a skype call in the late afternoon one day to discuss the state of competitive maps (i.e. Daybreak, Cloud Kingdom, Whirlwind). John Nelson of MLG also joined us on that call. It was a confusing call that was loosely structured and difficult for all parties I believe – which at the end led me to offer to produce a consulting product to help MLG determine their next map pool. They accepted the offer and Felix and I began collaborating to produce this document (a highly unrefined version). This would become the basis on which all my future Dream Forge products for tournament administrators would be used. MLG received the document, gave us their thanks, and moved forward with their plans (none of which incorporated our recommendations as far as I know). Consultation #1 was a failure in respect to our work with MLG but a success in the development of new product for Dream Forge.
Back on the IPL front, Tim had picked his maps and they were used in a highly publicized event, the IPL Maps Tournament. A few maps would stand out of the pack, the most well known now being DF Atlas (yes, THAT Atlas). It was only a couple of weeks (at most) before the administrative team of the GSL contacted the designer of Atlas, asking if they could have the file and utilize it in the GSL (this was before multi-region play/publishing). Our answer was “OF COURSE!”. At this point, Dream Forge felt we had reached a pinnacle of western map making having now been partnered with 2 major brands. However, I was not fully satisfied with our progress and felt it was appropriate to continue our work with smaller organizations. This was, I think, the best decision as Atlas’ first outing was a short game between GSL players Eve and Aphrodite.
Riding the success of Atlas, I began surveying the “Tournaments” sub-forum on TeamLiquid’s website more. I noticed a particular tournament, the “Community Team League” that interested me due to the participating teams registered. This tournament was sponsored originally by FXO NA, but due to a last minute change in their organization became sponsored by the xSin Gaming community. I produced materials similar to my previous regarding Dream Forge’s maps, and they accepted our offer. The maps they would use were DF Illumination and DF Phoenix Cluster. Unfortunately, this tournament was unorganized and suffered many serious setbacks. Additionally, we suffered the loss of a key member of our team. However, Atlas was STILL going strong in the GSL, and Silvare’s Ignition tournament would pick up Atlas along with Yeonsu.
We reached another lull point wherein it was difficult to find new tournaments to pick up new maps. I had sent some cold contact emails to various larger organizations such as Dream Hack and NASL, but never received word back. At this point, I began further diversification of our team’s efforts to increasingly include consultation and education services (the latter NEVER took off). The result of which is now the Dream Forge website: http://dreamforgemaps.net/. But we were recognized by many as a premier team. Galaxy eSports began about this time, and they produced a website as well as partnered with a professional team. While they were our competition, I believe greatest accomplishment they provided was a model on map fragmentation. This is a model I realized we needed to quickly follow in order to maintain quality and quantity control of the use of our maps.
Due to these diversification efforts, I made contact with Chris “ChanmanV” Chan about his upcoming episode of Climbing The Ladder centering on the state of maps in Starcraft. Chris and I began a dialogue that eventually culminated in my appearance as a guest for the episode and additional exposure for community maps. Oh my, I’m going to be on a talk show?! The episode had mixed reception within the community, but resulted in 2 positives for Dream Forge: 1) I formed a contact with a member of International Gaming League’s administrative team, John Clark, and 2) Blizzard’s own “Cloaken” (name omitted for privacy) asked for and watched highlighted portions of the episode that Chris and I felt were important. Chris remains interested in the map making community and a vocal advocate for us – his efforts are greatly appreciated and I hope to work with him again in the future.
As for the first positive, I sent Mr. Clark a cold email post CTL regarding some of the topics discussed during CTL and my personal recommendations on how a tournament organization might approach the level design community. Mr. Clark and his administration team were receptive and asked me to send them a consultation product. Again, as with MLG, Mr. Clark received the document and thanked me. As far as I am aware nothing came of this with IGL, which I consider to be attributable to their particular product structure and lack of interest in Starcraft 2 by their user base. Still, it was another step in the right direction.
The second positive of course was that Blizzard themselves had taken notice (finally!) and were showing interest in our concerns and thoughts on the matters of maps, map pool rotations, and tournament emphasis. I cannot say what the result of this was as I have never received an email from Blizzard (although they most certainly have it). At the very least, they demonstrated an interest.
The third lull in the period of Dream Forge’s existence occurred at this point (around March/April of 2013). TeamLiquid’s “Plexa” (name omitted) begun contacting and working with Blizzard to approve and produce the now past second TLMC. A fact immediately made aware to the slightly organized members of the map making community. All teams refocused their efforts towards TLMC 2, and for several months we all worked hard.
Because of my administrative position and emphasis, I neglected the TLMC other than to direct Dream Forge members to work towards TLMC and began with a cold email to the Collegiate Star League. This was during the CSL’s association with Azubu and I was thus unsure of whether they would respond (as always with cold emails). Low and behold, Mona with CSL did respond. Originally I had asked if they would consider community maps because they were in a unique position similar to the GSL/Kespa because of team competition structure. We began working towards what is now culminating in the Summer Collegiate Champions tournament. The TLMC went off, and Dream Forge member eTcetRa’s Yeonsu took 3rd place overall. As with the first TLMC, Blizzard had approved the incorporation of at least 1 winning map into their ladder pool pending their review/approval.
Post TLMC, and prior to Blizzard’s ladder maps announcement, we reached our final lull period (kind of). Due to increasingly difficult personal schedules, our team communication began to fall off gradually but we were still working on finalizing arrangements with CSL. We acquired our newest member, “KingCorwin”, and improved his quality rapidly. We finalized our work with CSL, even producing an educational product (FINALLY!), and Blizzard announced their prospective ladder maps. This, I believe, was the absolute pinnacle of our accomplishments. The announcement of the prospective ladder maps was far reaching, such that ESET Masters out of Germany immediately picked up Yeonsu without contacting us, but that’s OK (we forgive you ). The issue of map fragmentation occurred here, as ESET renamed Yeonsu (due to open publishing) to “EM13 Yeonsu”. However, there was no measure of recourse available to us, as has been the lament of all map makers—Blizzard retains copyright and intellectual ownership of all maps made, and thus we let it go.
As for now, Blizzard just announced their ladder maps officially – and Yeonsu made the list. But it is not the Yeonsu that eTcetRa originally created, fixed, revised, and revised again per suspicion of an impending Blizzard email stating they wanted it revised for ladder. Instead it is a new incarnation based on Yeonsu. While we do not blame Blizzard for exercising their rights per the End User License Agreement, we are a little disappointed. But that’s OK – because there is always tomorrow.
Every stage of this journey has been an evolution of the members of our team. I believe we accomplished our mission goals: 1) To develop the best Starcraft II maps for use in competitive play, 2) To promote and develop the greater eSports industry, and 3) To promote and develop each individual team member as a capable leader in their endeavors.
Why do I think these things? We had our maps used from the lowest to the highest levels of competitive play, we developed changes in the eSports industry through our consultations and efforts, and the individual team members are now all going on to bigger and brighter things—leading in their own endeavors. While we may be saying goodbye to Starcraft 2, we are not saying goodbye as a team. We achieved our goals and are ready for the next step.
We will fulfill our commitments through their remaining periods.
I will be making the various materials we have created available over the course of operation publically available within 24 hours on the Dream Forge website for anyone that is curious – omitting personal details as necessary. http://dreamforgemaps.net/media/downloads/.
Goodbye, goodluck, and GG!