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How to be a good playtester

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Playtesting is the act of playing a doom map while reviewing it analytically, with the purpose of assisting the mapper in finding errors or improving the map in such a way that more players will enjoy. If you’ve never made a map before, the mapping process can be long and unclear. Sometimes things happen that the mapper didn’t want to happen and sometimes they design their maps with certain goals, and they happen to miss the mark by the time the map is done. Playtesting has been said to be probably the most important phase of doom mapping, and when knowing a map ahead of time, the perspective a mapper has when playtesting their own maps can be compromised and negatively effect how the map turns out by the time it’s complete. So getting volunteers to help a mapper play the map with new eyes and talk about what they would like to see added/removed/changed is an extraordinarily valuable asset to the development of a good map. The unfortunate thing is that simply knowing how to speak the same language as the mapper and being a decent doom player doesn’t necessarily translate to being a useful tester. Testers are nearly exactly as important to the quality of a map as the mapper that made them. So to be a good tester, you’ll need to develop the skills to help a mapper make his/her maps the best they can be.

Talk with the mapper – find the goal

When you start playtesting a map or a set of maps for a mapper, it’s important that you ask the right questions. Most importantly, make sure you know what map numbers the maps are on, what source port it’s designed for, what video settings it’s designed for (software or OpenGL), any compatibility options you should include, if skill levels were implemented, if it requires additional files such as a dehacked patch, texture resource packs, or a gameplay mod. The mapper may already have other testers, and you may be needed to fill a certain niche in particular. Ask questions pertaining to the map(s) before you play it. Ask them if they could describe their wad to you, the goals they had in mind, and what properties of the map need to be reviewed. That way if you tell the mapper the map is too dark and doesn’t have enough rocket launcher in it, that information could be potentially useless if the mapper was designing a dark scary ambient map. So make sure you know what you’re playing and what your mapper needs you for.

Understand your feelings

Keep a your head on straight when you’re playing and try to look at maps objectively. Do your best to avoid any sorts of positive or negative bias you might have towards that particular mapper, as that can impair the results of your mapping review. Understand that many characteristics and events that happen often induce certain feelings. Control your emotions while playing especially by the time you write your reviews. I often see youtube “let’s plays” and twitch streams where the player may quicksave themselves into a hole, where they simply don’t have enough health to beat the chaingunner snipers ahead. The player will proceed to moan and criticize the mapper for not putting enough health in the map and question why they would make a map deliberately to piss someone off. Mappers are rarely interested in making people upset. It’s much more rewarding to make something fun, so keep your cool while playing and if a map makes you feel on edge or angry or bored, see if you can pinpoint those exact moments and identify what contributes to those feelings.

Be thorough

The plethora of Let’s Play videos and Twitch streams may suggest otherwise, but for testing purposes, first impressions rarely matter. Maps have alternate ways of being played. An all-star playtester plays and replays the map over and over. It helps very much to test the maps in the source port it was designed for, but it’s just as helpful to test it in other source ports people may try to play in as well. (i.e. a vanilla wad that uses visual errors as features may display incorrectly in more modern source ports) Try the map in alternate ways – on different skill settings, with –nomonsters on, with cheat codes, with a popular gameplay mod such as brutal Doom (if compatibility with gameplay mods matters to the mapper, of course) This may impair your ability to judge the gameplay and difficulty fairly if your foreknowledge can disrupt the effect of the danger ahead, so keep that in mind if that is important to your mapper. Otherwise, playing and replaying the same maps on different settings can really help you identify easily missed errors that the mapper will be extremely grateful for.

Use text as your map editor

It may be helpful to communicate or ramble on about what things are good and bad about the map, but more importantly than anything is to offer suggestions to the mapper. Understand what parts of the map are within the mapper’s control. If a part in a map was particularly frustrating, offer the suggestions like adding in more ammo or health items to cushion the problem. Think about the things that bother about the map and explain what you would have done if the map were yours. Talk positively about how the map can be improved instead of leaving the mapper with dead-end reactions to problems the mapper may not know how to fix. Its also very effective to know the mapping vernacular and to observe the map in an editor to find thingid numbers and linedef/vertex/sector/sidedef numbers so the mapped can easily change things. Respect the fact that the mapper may be mentally exhausted at this point, so keep solutions simple and keep the ball in your court when it comes to brainstorming complex solutions to inherent problems, so the mapper can use your words as a guide or a reference for what to do next.

Use multimedia

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Take screenshots in game of visual errors that are hard to describe, such as texture misalignments or locations where you got stuck. Take automap screenshots or from the map editor view to pinpoint exact locations or things that need to be changed Record demos, record videos to upload to youtube, live stream your playthroughs, etc. Allowing the mapper to watch someone play their maps differently than they would play it themselves gives them an opportunity to view their map from an alternate perspective. Seeing the map being played without them being in control lets them see the map a bit more clearly too which can help them find errors on their own that they may not have noticed while focused on playing the map. You can also use more tangible stuff to assist with your review. I usually keep a notepad nearby to jot down quick thoughts I had while playing (usually anything I catch myself saying out loud while playing) to elaborate on when writing my review.

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A few other tips:

1) Be a flexible player. If a map is relatively easy, and you try to play in a typical survivalist FDA manner, you might miss that the map is quite fun to play recklessly. (This is a mistake I made quite a few times some months ago, before I started maxrunning regularly. :P)

2) Understand when a map just isn't your thing gameplay-wise, and focus on other aspects of the design if you decide to comment anyway. For example, if you don't like tyson/attrition maps in general, and you end up playing one, don't go through every encounter one-by-one and explain the particular way the mapper could have placed more health and weaponry in order for you to enjoy it. Quickly say something like "I don't like this type of gameplay" and then move on to the visuals, the layout, or some other thing.

2a) Similarly, it helps to pass on maps in genres you are totally not amenable to.

3) Useful fact to know: In prBoom+, you can record FDAs with saves in not only -complevel -1 but also -complevels 9 and 11. Try it: record a demo, then save the game. Upon death (or at any time you wish), exit prBoom+, and then start recording again with the same parameters and demo file name. The game will jump to your latest savepoint instead of overwriting the demo. (Don't try this in the vanilla complevels though -- it will overwrite it there!)

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I wouldn't advise that testers change their style of play. Play the maps naturally. If the map isn't your cup of tea, I think its beneficial for the mapper to know that. But of course providing a demo that the mapper can watch (and scream at for playing wrong) would assist in explaining to the mapper why you felt that way.

I guess I should note for both testers and mappers that the mapper is the one making the judgment calls so they don't necessarily have to do everything the tester says no matter how much they demand it.

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A bit late to respond, but it's ok I guess.
Man, I love this tutorial series you've started! They're really well written.
Thiough, this post contains some minor typos, but nobody, except grammar nazis like me, cares.
Moreover, I think you should've written some tips on playtesting if you are the author and the playtester. Stuff like "how much should you rely on secrets".
Still, a great read.

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