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Dote Night: The Petting Zoo Of Disaster

It's dead butterflies all the way down

Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart. THIS WEEK, however, she will be complaining about her Dota 2 petting zoo!

I am staring at a hang screen in Dota 2. I think I just tried to compile a map but I can't be completely sure because programming words have always been a bit of a mystery to me.

Being sick and jetlagged I took the obvious decision that this would be a good time to build a petting zoo as a custom game mode using Dota 2 Reborn's toolkit. So far I seem to have made a horrible map in the Hammer editor where the trees look goofy and the textures are unsubtle and there's an army of butterflies completely by accident that I can't get rid of. The totally separate INTENTIONAL army of butterflies is in a totally different location but I got cross with rotating them individually so they're currently in grid formation and now they look weird and menacing and, crucially, unable to fly. I think they might all be dead.

When I went to build the map so I could maybe see what it looked like in-game that's when the compiler had a tantrum because something was missing. I didn't know how to find the files it wanted so I overrode whatever the warning was and then my petting zoo crashed.

A YouTube tutorial from a few years back told me how to add what I'd missed - a spawn point - but after adding it in the map still refused to compile and I didn't understand why.

Why doesn't the world want me to have my petting zoo?

These are the butterflies I didn't create.

And before any of you point out that you're not supposed to touch butterflies and they would be a shitty addition to a petting zoo, they were a placeholder. I wanted to check that the idea worked before adding in a load of chickens and pigs in pleasing arrangements near ponds and in muddy shaded glades. I figured everyone could play as Enigma because he has this hand outstretched animation that might look a bit like you're feeding or stroking the animals. It was going to be so lovely.

The thing is, being able to do any of this is far more than my meager understanding of game creation can cope with. I've watched a lot of YouTube videos trying to work out where I'm going wrong but what I really need is someone who knows a thing or two about Hammer leaning over my shoulder so I can say "how do we do the petting bit of this zoo?" and sort out what that actually means in terms of game commands. I don't even know whether Hammer is the place where you add animal models but they're listed in the interface so I assumed you could. I figured once the map compiled then the game would have the model info to hand and the butterflies would wake from their weird slumber and flit about.

Pip does game creation, all butterflies die.

I suspect anyone who actually knows anything about programming will be rolling their eyes right about now. Of course you need to do x, y and z - you can't just assume you put a butterfly in a map from a menu of items and think it'll know what you were hoping for!

I get that, but the longer I try to play with this map and this idea, the more I'm aware of how little I know and how time-consuming this tiny idea will be. Intimidated, I set the thing aside for a week, wondering whether fresh eyes would help. When I booted it up again this afternoon I found one of the things which was wrong (a save file in the wrong place) and fixed that but I still can't boot into the map because I now need to find a way to assign myself to a team before I can spawn. Apparently setting a spawn point and being the only person there isn't enough.

I also don't understand why there's a grid over one of the bits of ground or why a rogue node is floating on one of my ponds. I suppose it might be a satellite come to visit?

Where are you from, space visitor?

Given this experience, I know some people would persevere, bashing at it until it made sense. Others, like me, would not. I've tried to learn or understand tools like this before and I've tried basic programming on a number of occasions. The process is always a mess of forum visits, YouTube snippets, tweeted irate queries, glaring, practice, and trial and error.

I suppose in that respect it's a lot like learning Dota.

The difference for me is that learning the actual game involved pockets of pleasure between mental brick walls and bad games. I was there with other people, I had a knack for some of the heroes and the cause and effect generally made a lot of sense. I don't get that with the creation side of things.

With the types of tool at my disposal in Reborn, I found it relatively easy to create a basic map, but doing anything with that map – even something as simple as seeing it in the game – is a different proposition entirely. To me that side of things is as unintuitive and unenjoyable as ever. Questions beget questions beget more questions as you try to break what you thought was a simple problem into ever simpler problems which might be remotely Google-able. Eventually you've gone so far back you can't even remember how what you're looking at now relates to what you'd wanted to do in the first place.

I'm even cross with the trees at this point.

To be fair to Valve, they're not billing this as a system everyone will be able to use, just one that people can if they want to. But in a climate where there's all this rhetoric about the sheer accessibility of game design, I still find myself frustrated when I try it and fail, reality colliding with the fantasy. I also have a lot of respect for those who do push through.

Look. The main point here is that I just wanted a petting zoo. Instead I have a field of dead butterflies trapped forever in a level editor and that is probably the best summary of my game creation experience to date.

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