I originally wrote the following text as a response to a Doomworld thread called should i start by making a big map, a medium sized one or a small one? However on reflection I think it turned into more of a rant about playtesting than actually helpful advice to the guy, so it goes here instead.
Ok after seeing so many good maps i decided to try making my first one...but i wonder one thing...should i start by making a big map,a medium sized one or a small one?
I have found mapping tends to divide itself into two stages, architecture and gameplay.
The time to do the layout and architecture tends to increase proportionately with the size of the map, provided you keep the detail density roughly the same as you go. The second stage however, increases at a much higher rate as you increase the size of your map.
When doing the monsters you usually go in waves. You open a door, there's a wave of monsters ahead. You fight your way through them and press a button or pick up a key or whatever, at which point another wave appears. And so on.
So you put the first wave of monsters in at the start, and playtest a hundred times until you're sure it's not too easy or hard or whatever. Then you move on to the next.
But now, you have to play past the first wave of monsters to get to the second part. You can't just skip the first wave with god mode or whatever because the balance of the second wave depends on what you have left when you finish the first wave. But because you're in a hurry to get to the part you want to test, you're probably careless, so on half your test runs you die before you even get there.
Now imagine the numbers increasing as you add more waves. It's not hard to see yourself having to play the start of your map a thousand times. And that's not even including doing skill levels, which effectively triples the amount of playtesting you have to do.
[Disclaimer: I should say this is all based on my experience during CC3. Having been accused of making the most annoying map ever for CC2 I realised I needed to spend less time on making fancy bits of machinery - itself a reaction to all the idiots around at the time who refused to play maps that weren't pretty enough - and more time on the actual gameplay.
So I had six huge outdoor monster teleporters along with about four smaller waves inside caves and buildings. The large waves each required playing about a hundred times before I was satisfied with the difficulty level and monster distribution. What with dying carelessly I probably played the map close to a thousand times, which explains why it was so late.
I'd love to know how much playtesting other people do. In particular I'd love to know how Doom Marine made Deus Vult without going mad...]
Incidentally burn-out from CC3 map playtesting was one of the reasons I pretty much lost interest in Doom last year and now keep saying how jaded I am in reviews. While looking for a reference for this in old updates I found a progress report which says pretty much the same thing as I wrote here.