Friday, October 4, 2013

And here's the reason I call these maps "fast-food" maps.

The osu! society seems it's come to accept a general standard for maps - of course, maps they think are very good, maps they think they deserve the praise. This standard... well, I can't say it's bad they want to play good stuff, but... the way I see it, they seem to think it's awesome to play the same map over and over again. I think people have started to reject maps that aren't in this standard because they seem weird, just because they're not mapped the way they expected to. Weird stuff is often considered by popular culture as ugly because it's not understood; it's just not fair.

The process repeats over and over again, from mapping that anime song, getting modders, getting it ranked... god, it's become so incredibly repetitive. I've complained in the past how people seem to map the same thing again and again, and now I'm complaining about how they map it the same way again and again. The sad thing is, people over at osu! enjoy it this way and don't complain.

But first, an important question has come to mind: why is it I think this way? Is it just because I have a stick in the ass, because I hate the new generation of osu! mappers, or...? It might be because I think so highly of my own maps, then I present myself with other maps and I think "this is nowhere near as good as I thought it would be", and I admit that's then just a matter of ego. But I believe I have legitimate reasons to think lowly of these other maps, reasons I'm about to present here.

Ever since I heard it from Egoraptor (awesome video, I recommend you watch it if you haven't), I have always remembered the metaphor where... one compares fast-food to high-quality food. He uses it to compare videogames, but it can also be applied to many other things, one of those things being beatmaps.
The heart of this metaphor is, there exist two kinds of quality, the fast food one and the high quality one. People can enjoy both, but they're really very different: the fast food quality centers its focus on quantity, effectiveness to produce and time used to consume, while the refined quality doesn't. The refined quality will always be better though; even though it's harder to produce, even though there might be less, and even though it might not last much, this one will always leave you a bigger satisfaction feeling, while the fast quality always makes you reach for more.

It might have been just me, but somewhere between 2008 and 2009 I started to recognize in some maps what I started to call "chinese style". I admit, that's silly, but honest, that's what I called it, and it's because I believed those maps were always created by chinese or asian people. The thing was, they looked kinda the same. And then it started to become more popular, with also affecting the hitsounding and stuff like that. You can almost be sure you can press Random Beatmap in osu! and you'll get a map that looks chinese. And this "chinese style" is what I'm calling now "fast-food style", because mappers from other regions have started to imitate this style too.

First of all: why? Well, basically, what I said earlier becomes true: these maps are easier to produce and easier to play. That's why.

Why do I say it's easier to produce? Basically, these chinese maps all go similarly: similar flow, similar spacing, you get me. They all started to get very fast pacing as recently, but it's still the same. And how are these maps built? I presume it goes something like this:
"Okay, I'll place a beat here. The next beat must go here. The next one here, and then I'll use a triple here, because it sounds nice. Oh, oh! An intense phrase is coming up! Let's create a stream then~ oh, and I guess I'll increase the distance snap multiplier while I'm at it." Let's keep in mind this is, of course, using distance snap. All mappers love distance snap, and while it's a very useful tool, using it this way is not right.

What do I think is the problem here? Basically, I presume all mappers think this on the fly. And they decide the general direction of sliders and the flow very randomly; like, there's really no solid, recognizable shapes around. While the mapper may have the necessary skill to hitsound the map in a good way, and give it a solid structure, spacing and flow... it's not the same as a high quality beatmap.

Let's also keep in mind, most asian mappers don't follow the lyrics; they prefer to map the drumline, which means it's even easier to produce - you don't have to listen as many times to the song to learn the proper drumming rhythm. And this means using triples everywhere, which reduces the originality even more.

Now, why do I say it's easier to play too? Building on what I just said, these maps look the same and follow almost the same rhythm. By just understanding how one is built, you can play several; you don't need to listen or know the song beforehand, because you can read the similar spacing and play the similar rhythm. If you have a fast-pace style dominated, you can almost always get S on any of these maps.
This easy playability was accepted back then because farming was the main factor of ranking up; now it's just accepted because it's what everyone else does, so it's become the main standard to make maps people like.

Okay, so this wise-ass is blabbering a lot about my favorite maps; if that's not a quality map, then what is?  A high-quality beatmap is the contrary of this; it's a well thought beatmap, with thought-of beforehand and well designed shapes. A beatmap that follows the most unique attribute of a song: the vocal line. A beatmap that represents this vocal line in the most creative way possible. That's what I say.
Why do I say this? Because the other maps are very forgettable, because the other maps may feel messy (because they lack design), because the other maps don't give you that satisfaction feeling. All these maps rely on their song and structure to provide fun, but they lack the most important artistic aspect, creativity. Often, I feel those maps don't do justice to the songs, because they represent the song as "whatever". Creating well-thought out beatmaps, instead of doing it on-the-fly, is what true beatmap design is about.

There are very few creative mappers out there now, but there still are. I often attribute myself as creative, even though I may lack heavily on other technical aspects like flow or spacing, so it's like I'm the contrary of chinese. Well, I encourage you to be the judge, whether creativity is better or you prefer fast-food!

God, I always manage to write a lot about these kind of things. And I just realized this probably should be on my other blog... but well, this is more like a formal complaint rather than a mapping lesson. Teehee.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mapping is such an art.

I just love to write about beatmapping, don't I? I just can't help it; I realized beatmapping is such a beautiful art, and it's the one I love doing the most! I'm definitely sure I'm never going to stop it, since it's made such a huge impact on the way I live. I'm not kidding. Even though I'm not logged in most of the time, whenever I get a chance at wasting time I browse my WiP list. I notice the evolution of osu! along with my maps, how much they've changed and improved... and how I can keep improving. It's something very relaxing for me; I can spend hours doing it, as I've done so in the past! It might be a weird thing to say my favorite hobby is beatmapping, but it's true; it's even above playing videogames and listening to music, which are two of my favorite things.

So here we go with my philosophy again. Why, exactly, is it I say beatmapping is an art?

There's many kinds of arts people say to exist. You often see people speak about the "art of massage" or the "art of running", just to say a few examples. I think, what they mean when they say this, is that this activity is something you can become an expert at, or practice the correct way. But then... isn't it the same to say it's a "skill"?
Now, even in this context the definitions are a little bit different; skill is something you can measure, while the "art of something" speaks about the correct method to do it. This can go even further, like saying it can mean it's a very well defined activity, creating and perfecting your own methods for it, or that it has sub-activities that stem from it. Stuff like this can make the definition more complex... but well, that's not the point I'm trying to make here.

I don't think that's the true definition of art. Now, I'm not really checking into any sources or documentation here because I'm lazy, but I think there must be a more appropriate definition of the word.

To me, art speaks about the subjective method to do something you create, not simply... do. Art is about creating stuff. This narrows down the things that are "art", by a lot. For example, now you can say cooking is an art, but eating is not. Acting for the TV is art, but watching it is not. In the former, you create art; in the latter, you simply consume it.

So, there's still some theory holes left, like... if I say creating is art, then even taking a dump is art, is it not?! Of course not, stupid. I think what makes the difference here, is that art is designed specifically for people to consume. It's something you create, for people to enjoy. So, speaking would be an art, as you're creating a speech, but making weird noises with your throat is not. Playing a musical instrument is a complex and beautiful art, but randomly mashing stuff around you to create noise is not. No, I don't care what artists say, that's not art.

So we have that art is something you create, and people consume. I think there's another factor to consider here, very important to the definition of art: it varies greatly from artist to artist. In other words, it's very subjective; there are no hard rules enforced for it.
It's very common to say, when speaking about art, to first learn the rules and then forget them. This is very, very true - you first have to grasp how to create something good, and once you do, you're free to experiment with whatever you want. The rules you had to follow to create something at first, you won't follow them for the rest of your artistic career, as it's human nature to feel curious and experiment with other methods.

Besides that, every artist will unavoidably have their signature feeling to their creation; you can easily distinguish paintings from famous artists, for example, or songs by the same composer. I don't think we can ever hope to perfectly imitate another artist's creation, or radically change our style. There will always be a certain something you can feel with someone's creations. Every mind thinks in a different way, artistically speaking at least.

And of course, the skill here comes as a factor, not the definition. You can get better at recreating yourself, with whatever you want. Everyone is a beginner at first, only with practice one can get better. As I said on my other post, an inspired, but beginner, artist, doesn't have the necessary expertise to create exactly what he wanted; there's always something that looks bad about your creation, but you don't exactly know what it is, and don't know how to fix it. It's not until you become an expert at it that you're able to pinpoint what it was. And as an expert, is when you enjoy recreating, and feel fully realized as an artist. As art is a subjective topic, though, there will always be room for improvement - you can never hope to achieve the perfect composition because of the nature of art itself.

The way you start developing this skill is, most naturally, by starting to imitate someone else doing that thing. Monkey see, monkey do; everyone does it. If we wanted to become as good as random stranger is when composing music, for example, we would have to analyze in detail and try to copy his songs. But that's how you can start to discern what you can create as an artist - you can't be copying someone else's work the rest of your life, because you wouldn't be creating your own stuff.

What does all this apply to, then? Well, I can mention a few ways to express yourself through art:
-Origami (paper-folding)

Etcetera etcetera. There are many ways, and they all have the freedom one needs to express himself. Of course, the main point of this post was to prove that beatmapping is included in the above list (perhaps as stage or game design, but it's design of some form).

Not sure why? Just take a look at the checklist of everything I babbled about above!

-is to create beatmaps.
-is designed for other people to enjoy those maps.
-is very subjective from mapper to mapper; has rules you can forget later.
-has a signature feel for every mapper.
-can be developed with experience.
-starts when you imitate someone else's style.

Am I right or what?! Yeah, you know that's right. Sad thing no one reads this.

But there's still something left to discuss. What does beatmapping exactly involve? Beatmapping can be seen as just placing circles somewhere, but it's really far more complex than that.

What beatmapping does... is link two things: bi-dimensional space on a grid, and time. So, at a specific instant, a specific bit of the screen is used. That sounds complex enough?
When you place circles around, you're selecting many spaces of the grid, and the approach circle of all these indicates the time. But it's not only that - when you place several circles, one after the other, you're also indicating a direction to go. A specific sense, a specific path to follow. This last property is not explicit, as you can only notice it if you follow the circles in order. So, what we do when we play, is follow the indicated path while also clicking at the indicated times.

Here's where the fun starts: the magic of this concept is that, it's designed to be synced to a song. Without the song, it'd be too dull and confusing. The times when you have to click can be followed with the rhythm, so when playing along with a song it's much easier to play and understand, because of the straightforward rhythm and structure. Besides that, if you like listening to that song, you'll enjoy playing that map a lot, because you're playing while listening to it again and again without getting tired.

Okay so, when you beatmap, you create these two dimensions of the beatmap and link them. Is there any way to create these two properties the proper way? As beatmapping is an art, I can't say there's a wrong or right way, but I can tell you there's a worse way and a better way.

The times where you press the button, that's more of a property of the song, although you are free to choose whichever melodical line you wish to map - whether that's the vocal line, the drum line, the melody or countermelody, etc. The vocal line is always the one I go for, since that's the catchiest part of the song and the one that makes it unique to the rest. The skill here comes in when choosing when to use which object - circle, slider or spinner, they're all to your total freedom... but of course, you need to choose wisely every time.

Talking about the space: you are free to put the circles in the grid anywhere you like! That's where the creativity in beatmapping comes in! This is really the most important attribute of beatmapping. Since you can select both a space and direction, with that path you're creating, you can make it as if you were waving a baton in a concert, for example, supposing you're used to touch controls or you like to wave your finger around. If you're following the vocal line, for example, you can indicate at certain phrases, things such as abrupt stops, sudden changes, repetitions or pitch changes, or anything else that comes to mind! And if you're doing it right, that musical line will be represented exactly as you wanted to, and the map will be as enjoyable as the song.

Now, waving your finger around is not something people usually do (if you're playing on a normal PC of course), so it might sound stupid, but that's really the beauty of beatmapping. You're not, per se, creating a musical line, but representing one, but the way you represent it is what it's about. Maybe you like to represent certain phrases of the song with a bit of copy-paste, making symmetrical patterns, or by pacing the general flow of the map, who knows, everyone thinks and appreciates music in different ways!

Of course though, just one last note: even though your mapper self may sometimes tell you to do silly stuff like overlap sliders or put two circles at the same time, impossible-to-play stuff like that, please remember that this beatmapping business is for a game, it's for people to play. Sure, you may think that something like that represents the song better (and it might do), but you need to design your maps so people can play them, not just watch them. As I said, when you create art, it's for everyone to enjoy, not just you.

Phew... well, I guess I'll leave it like this. As I've said in some occasions before: I love videogames, and I love music, so music+videogames=addiction. This has proved to be true many times in the past!
Thanks for reading, I hope you appreciated this post. I would've liked to add some graphical aid to this post to make myself clearer, but meh, I'm lazy and I don't have the necessary knowledge to do stuff like that.