Why do people keep mapping the same songs?

This is a post revamp from my old one, titled the same way - you can click here to read it, but it's not that good material to read (it was written 6 years ago). I'm attempting to reorganize the ideas here while still transmitting the same message.

Through my entire osu! career, my perspectives, my way of thinking, my personality - everything about me's changed so much, it is hard to believe that in fact it has all been me through this adventure. All kinds of things have occurred - some pretty embarrassing things, some pretty cool things, ranging from high responsibilities to low, all of it - it's something worth reminiscing about. And the entire path that I've drawn is what today allows me to keep standing where I am - as it was only thanks to getting obsessed with osu! that I practiced English and raised my level of speaking to the way I can speak now, so it's what now allows me to work at my current job, for example; this way, I can say that osu!'s changed my life drastically like this, and in so many other ways. I want to talk about a small change that occurred within me at the start.

I was pretty close minded when I got to know osu! - not to say I'm the most open minded person you can meet out there right now, but I always try to expand my horizons now and don't try to limit myself. But at the start, I wasn't like that, and specifically here would be my views towards anime - as I was pretty shut into trying to watch something like that. I was a "cool" gamer kid who watched only cool stuff, and anime was only for otakus and weirdos, videogames is where it was at. It wasn't much later, however, when I finally decided it to give it a shot and found out it wasn't that bad - it's just like any other form of entertainment and it's pretty enjoyable.

Try to think about it though... at the start, as an ingenuous kid who didn't know any better, what was it that made me hate anime at first? Was it just the bad reputation it gets?

Mostly you could say it's only because of the fanbase. I don't mind anime existing, but the people who tried to push it to me back when I was little were, in my eyes, weirdos or creeps. We're talking about 10 years ago, when I was 13 (it's been 10 years since I joined the game).
The kind of impression an otaku left for me is that they were solely obsessed with their japanese cartoons, and nothing else - that it's become their life and won't budge for anything that doesn't fit that category, that the sole reason they exist and live is for that. Sounds a bit too extreme? That's the idea I had, whether it's right or wrong. (It may be an interesting effect to think about whether this applies only with anime or it can also happen with other things, but that's a topic for another day).

After I found out that anime can be enjoyable (One Piece was the first one I watched), not now or ever again did I try to fit into a specific group or social category like being a "gamer", as I realized that's only limiting yourself into the kind of content that you can enjoy or explore - it's only putting a label or tag on who you are. The universe out there is immensely vast - and I don't want to miss out on it based on simple prejudices, or just by trying to fit into a specific category with people who think alike. I definitely understand people who look for others with the same tastes but - I don't need to feel like I fit in to enjoy something.

The way otakus are though, they often look for people that think the same way they do - and this is something that happened with osu! a lot, which I think it's a bit sad that it happened this way, since osu! didn't necessarily have to appeal to this kind of audience (granted, the original game is japanese but, the beatmap design itself is so much more than anime songs - any song from any language can be mapped). Although for the most part I still focus on my own songs myself, which are not all necessarily anime, among the community, more and more anime aficionados or weebs started to join and started creating this huge influx of japanese maps.

As I kept interacting with the community it was still pretty fun to explore and discover pretty good japanese songs. There's crazy good material to be found within this kind of music, and I will never regret trying out all of the maps I played or modded back then, as eventually it has lead to expanding my musical horizons (something I struggled with after my 6 year hiatus), although it has been for just a specific region only.

That's where the positivity ends when you realize the exact same song has 4 or 5 more mapsets to it and 2 additional remixes as well.

Of course, I would definitely understand different interpretations of the same musical composition, as perhaps one of the mappers was not content with the way someone else had already done the song - but that happening 5 times over is too much. Additional to that, mappers usually don't map all too differently from one another, as standard maps and the ranking criteria have created a mold for "acceptable" maps to fit in, which all have adhered to during this time, so I don't see much reason as for why map the same thing over.

Back then I had put it like this: it's as if all songs had already been mapped so they are in turn mapping them again. As illogical an example that may be, this may be the way people think within the community - and what I want to emphasize here is, there are many more, millions more, songs you can do. Why go over the same ones again?

The only thing I can think of is if for example, a popular song came out and 5 different people started mapping them all at the same time. But I think if someone else had already started and beat you to it, you should at least give the other map a quick look and see if you like it - if it were me, and I noticed the other map was drastically better, I would admit defeat and move on. I am guilty of mapping a few songs over myself, but this has mostly been instead to prove how maps can be different, so there is a different and clear purpose for these.

With my mapping choices, I'm guessing you can tell I always aim to have a varied song selection and always try to expand over my horizons. It is still the same nowadays - sometimes I fear that eventually I'll get stuck over the same selections, but that's when I will push myself to expand and discover more amazing songs, as I know I haven't even gotten to know one percent of all amazing songs in this world. I know I cannot force people to think the same way I do, but it is now obvious to see people don't think this same way, as otakus may in the end be as close minded as I suspected at the start.

My Mapping Values

Alright. This is just one post I want to do in this poor attempt of getting involved within the community again. This blog has been abandoned for quite a while now, you're welcome to read previous posts... just don't pay any attention to the grammar, and take into account the year it was written in (2013).

It sometimes still surprises me to see that a few people still follow me or know who I am within the community. It's hard to believe that I actually have "fans" - I can't really find myself saying that out loud just yet, and not just because I'm not confident on who I am or what I do, it's only that I'm still definitely so flawed and need so much improvement, if I were them I wouldn't hold that guy so up at the top. I'm a human being after all.

I'm thinking though, there's one thing that "my fans" and me have in common - we all like my maps. Yeah, I like my own maps. There's a reason I keep beatmapping, after all.

Through this post I want to write about a few things I do in mapping, hopefully so others can see a bit more about what I do and understand my point of view, values that I hold through the process of beatmapping and will always hold. I originally thought to write this post for modding, so people know what to look for, but it's turned out to be something more than just that.


Where my mapping's come from

My mapping has of course been influenced by other great mappers from back then in 2008, 2009, and most of all I would say, the DS games. This type of mapping was prevalent back in 2009 or 2010, however I would say only within a specific circle of mappers, which definitely had a different view on mapping and knew what the others were doing as well. People like RandomJibberish, DiamondCrash, Larto, among others, we were all doing something similar - although it saddens me to say I didn't play as many of their maps, I know for sure they kept doing amazing work with each map.
All these mappers however, they're all now long gone from the game - at least as far as I know. I don't know anyone else from my generation that has kept mapping like I have, and I guess it's OK. All I'm saying is, the way I map, I can't give credit just to myself, as it's been founded by other people as well. Although during all these years, I've mapped just for my own pleasure, and as a way to honor each one of the songs I've done as well, what I would like to do is keep that flame alive.


How is my mapping now different to modern mapping?

It is. A lot. If you're a player, all it takes is just to load one map of mine and then load up a modern map of anyone else. They're vastly different, but here I want to notate (just a few of the reasons) why. Listed, I would say:

1. Workflow
2. Symmetry & Visual Placement
3. Lead
4. Repetition

A disclaimer that I should add - I don't like modern mapping, but that doesn't mean I'm saying it's not fun. I recognize and admit that it's fun to play, though it doesn't hold up in the long run, unless it's using an interesting concept of some sort (most maps don't, however). Usually, back in the day, what I found was that modern maps were fun to play for the first time, if you didn't know the song but only that. Hopefully you'll see a little bit more of my reasoning why here.


Workflow

I was surprised to see pishifat's video in workflow, as that is in fact not the way I work with the editor at all - I pause constantly and leave things paused for quite a while. Sure, I repeat certain bits of the song from time to time but I keep things paused more often than not. This does, however, illustrate to me the way that mappers usually work - and the kind of methodology they use.

One of the main differences between mappers today and the way I map myself is, mappers often plan around the next objects based on how well it will flow and be playable - so they need to simulate (either by moving the mouse or on their head) where the next note should go. Myself, however, I plan everything in my head but in a visual way - so I don't (or didn't) consider mouse movement at all, just object placement on the grid (that's why some people previously said my maps were suitable for touch play). In my older maps, I always disregarded mouse movement or flow, but I've started to change that some time ago, so now I no longer do irreverent jumps or anything like that for the sake of visual placement.

They may sound like two different extremes - you shouldn't be on either side of the spectrum. A healthy way of mapping is one that's balanced between these two things - considering good mouse movement for playability as well as keeping visual aesthetics. I'm gonna go a little bit more in depth with my object placement in the next section, but I did want to mention this as an important factor - as I think it's a vital difference, not just in the way we all map but, in the way we think of the beatmapping process.

Most of all though - I consider that, what makes a beatmap interesting is the meaning behind the map. And not just the map, every single note that has meaning behind it, that's what adds substance to your creation. If you have arguments, as for what's the reason behind object placement - you're doing a good job. And the more arguments you have, the better your creation will be. I will always be an advocate of putting in brains behind what you're doing, and I aim to always get better at that.


Symmetry & Visual Placement

There are plenty of ways to give meaning to objects themselves, and one of the main ones is symmetry for me. When thinking of symmetry, I consider the grid or playfield like a pillar - it has to be able to stand up on its own, as well as support everything that's on it. That means it must be built in such way to support weight equally everywhere through the field. That's achieved by using symmetry through the grid's axis, among other ways. Symmetry and grid snapping is almost a must in all my maps - but even then, don't think either that I force it, after all songs themselves offer plenty of situations where symmetry can be used (I like to say music is symmetric itself, even if that doesn't make sense).

One thing that I see in modern mapping is that, symmetric placement is not used much - as everything is instead done "on the fly" or just based off the position of the last circle/object, considering mouse movement instead of the grid as a whole. This was also done back then, but now it's done in a different way.

Let's put it one way. In modern mapping, you see stuff like this:



You can instantly think and see the movement that it's doing here, as well as how it's flowing, how you'll move your mouse over it to hit it, and so on. That's what the mapper was thinking of when placing the second slider. The difference now is, I am actually seeing something like this:


Get it? I am always looking at the grid as a whole, so I see here something that's not balanced. If something is on the right side of the screen, usually (and it's a big usually, of course) I would expect something to make up the weight on the other side, on the next measure or next verse. It would need to use the same slider if it's for the same verse, or a different one if it's a different verse, syllable or note (I go into repetition later on). Or even if the verse is not repeated, I would at least expect things to be centered so weight is equally distributed between the left and right sides.

Granted, I know that we're missing context here (the objects that come before and after, or the song that was mapped), since I can't transmit that just with a single screenshot - I myself often place the symmetric part of an object measures later in the song. However, be sure that the reason I put this example is because, it does not balance things on the other side, and many modern maps do this.
What many modern maps do, however, is use symmetry but based off other axis, rather than the one on the playfield, which is better than not having any symmetry at all - but as it's still not balanced that much on the playfield, sometimes it still doesn't fly for me.

I'm not saying either that things must absolutely be symmetrical all the time - there are exceptions, after all you're not going to risk playability just because you're forcing symmetry. I'm only saying when the music and song calls for it. The thing is, music does all the time (with the basic time signature and measures, that's all you need to do symmetry). Many modern maps seem mostly arbitrarily placed on a certain position of the field most of the time, though, which is where I think some kind of balance would be great.

So that's one factor that for me, aids the map in giving every object meaning. As for patterning, it's almost the same thing, just not entirely based on symmetry. What I say is, if you place an object or design a slider in a specific way, there must definitely be a reason why it's like that. What I do pretty often is base it off another object previously or later set, perhaps building some sort of shape.

For example, I often see slider shapes like this:


Which make me wonder "why is it designed like that?". I know, for example, the gimmick may be in the sharp angle it's creating - but seeing as it's comparatively unique among the rest of the map (even if there are other sliders doing a sharp angle like this in the map, it's the only one that overlaps itself like this), and it was used for another regular verse in the song (as in, the song itself didn't have any particular distinction), it doesn't fly for me. It just looks like the mapper arbitrarily decided that it needed to go up at the end with a sharp angle for no apparent reason, and then continued the pattern upwards from there. It's not supported by any previous or after note, after all, as it was all done on the fly, the combo could have continued without issue down to the bottom, right?

Now, I don't want to bash this map too much, after all I just picked a random example of a modern map. This example however, goes to many modern maps ranked today, even the hard ones. Don't forget, however, I'm just explaining the reason why I don't like modern maps, don't mean to say in any way you're obligated to share the same view as me or map like me, you can continue on with your life if you enjoy these maps instead.

Now, as for a few examples where I use symmetry:



(Shh, the sliders at the bottom are not offscreen, it's just the chat ticker that was on)

This is to me something that's equally balanced, as it's symmetric on the y axis - and it fits the song so, because the notes on the song itself are placed on the timeline this way (they're held notes, so the sliders fit). The way I feel symmetry gives meaning to the general position of objects and placements, is because the mirrored object provides support for the original object, and vice versa.

There are many other ways we can give meaning to a single object, if it's not with symmetry, you still have plenty of things you can try - the other one related to visual placement is, patterning.



It's just like any other blanket you may see (a bit off, I admit), but even if it's not fully symmetrical, the meaning of these objects gets meaning as it's part of the combo - with one of them missing, the combo loses shape or meaning in itself (it would no longer be a blanket, of course). I think myself personally I use symmetry more than anything... because symmetry is synonym to beauty. And I know modern mapping does use patterning a lot, which I can recognize it's cool - it's only missing everything else.

As well as for the slider shapes, I can also give you another example:



For this one - it is indeed the only kind of slider like this in the entire song. However, this particular note is for a kind of... scream? Or shout in the sound that goes up high in pitch - that's why the slider is irregular and ends aiming upwards. Nowhere else you find that on the song itself - so it's also nowhere else to be found in the map. This is the meaning I give to this object.


Lead 

There is another major difference between modern mapping and my maps. That is, what the beats are following in regards with the music - which instrument or melodic line they're going along with. I always prioritize the main lead of the song, whether that's vocals or just an instrument - but it must be the most prominent thing that you hear when listening to the song. The one thing that you remember the song by.

What I notice is that many people don't actually do this, instead rather going along with drums or percussion. Each mapper of course, has their own reasons for this (they may want to make the map more difficult, they may listen always to the drums or so on), but for me, it will always be because, what a song has to get to me, and for it to be stuck in my head playing on and on, it will always be the lead, and there's no other way around it.

Don't misunderstand me though - it's not a rule that I always follow either. In other words, I'm not saying you should always follow the vocals - myself, sometimes I've resorted to something else, for example when the vocals are too calm on a certain bit of the song, if the vocals are too repetitive, or if I've mapped that particular beat before. But what I do most is, if it was the vocals first but then, at a different section of the song, the drums become prominent - that's what the map focuses on. So when the song changes its focus to something else, that's what the focus on my map changes to as well. Simple, after all, it's just another one of many ways to represent the song, right?

I know it's subjective in many cases, since I've clearly seen people don't actually listen to the same thing on the same song - and that is why, I know my maps are not for everyone, and other people's maps may not be for me. Still though, I have an issue with mapping to percussion most of the time since, although it may allow for more freedom to experiment with more varied patterns or combos (if it's more upbeat than the vocals, of course) - it hinders its originality or ability to stand out from other maps. First, of course, because many people do this, as it may be more "safe" to do so (for readability perhaps), and second, because percussion in the end will always be something that repeats from song to song. What's truly unique of a song usually is the lead (another big usually), not the percussion.

There's another vital difference here, which is related (although not strictly the same thing) - hitsounding. I always base off hitsounding from the vocals, and I'm a heavy user on whistles (though I think we can all agree that is more of a personal preference thing), as I use them where the pitch increases and to highlight certain beats of the song, and I always leave percussion as secondary priority. People, instead, hitsound based on drums alone, hindering even more its variety. I think however, this largely goes unnoticed because these maps are upbeat and difficult, while still being easily readable, and that's what competitive players look for - they don't care about how the map is representing the song itself, just that the map is hard and fun to play.

I did previously write a little bit more about this on this same blog - so if you want to give it a read, click here and click here.

Readability

As a side note - I'm not an advocate of readability if it hinders the map's creativity, and that may be like gasp to many people - since after all, it's only fair that a map is readable for all players. But I'm not going to use filler rhythm so more people can pass it on the first try and then forget about the map - or add more notes that would misrepresent the lead. But keep in mind, I wouldn't either add unnecessary jumps or unfair playability to force players to play the map several times.

If a song is unexpected in certain bits, the map will also be - if the song is generic, the map will also be. It's all about representing the song, always, and I find that this is what's most satisfying as a mapper, to properly represent your favorite songs. Even if it takes the player several tries, there's also an element of learning how to play the beatmap - and if they like the song, they will get why the beats or objects were placed that way, and it will turn out more fun to play once you get it (after all, you play beatmaps because you like the songs... right?). So if I use something unexpected in a map, which makes the player combo break, it will be something that the song calls for, and that's it.

...still, I know how the rage after a combo break feels, so I'm not going to necessarily force that - if there's another way to represent a specific verse of the song, without a combo break, I will.


Repetition

This one, I think, would be the one most obvious - but still, I find lots of people don't do it, perhaps thinking that copy-pasting is a cheap way of mapping or just filling in the timeline. I assure you it's not - as music itself is always repetitive. Hell, repetition is the substance of music itself. Popular songs thrive off this (cause earworms get into your brain), and if you have a song that's not repetitive - then just don't use repetition and that's it! Don't forget this will always be as to how to capture the song's feeling, so repetitive song equals repetitive map, and that's not always a bad thing (unless it's too repetitive, in which case it may not be the best song to map in the first place).

In truth, you can realize the same thing still applies - this is not something I force on the song, but rather comes by naturally as I keep listening to the song, repetition is what comes to mind when mapping as well. And I don't think there's much to explain here, only that - if the notes are exactly the same, the objects in the map should follow as well. It doesn't mean that they will always remain on the same place in the field though, as most of the time it will be flipped over or placed somewhere else - while still being the exact same combo as before. This goes hand with hand with symmetry.

I had also written about this long ago. Click here to see what I wrote.

I think that should cover things. I realize I most probably have repeated the same thing I've gone over before, but that would just show that I still hold the same mapping values I've ever had. I'm hoping to get more involved within the community (hopefully) and I'll be listening to what you have to say.

The Modding Problem

Modding... oh, how that's been haunting all mappers since the very beginning. Why do we all need to go through such a troublesome chore? Life should be more simple, you know? Yet, everyone who has ever tried to map, or even visited the forums, knows that modding in beatmaps is an incredibly fundamental process in a mapper's career. But why is this so?

The whole ranking process for a map is such a huge ordeal, it was only natural that people tried to systematize it so that everyone can get their maps treated the same way, at the same time, and everyone can chime in, to contribute to a greater good as community. But of course, the main point of this whole system was to try and make the whole thing less of an ordeal, or rather, make everything better... but has it done any good? Does it work? Has it not lost it's vision from where it started? Does it involve any side effects?
In this post I intend to analyze what modding is about, and a potential logistic problem in the whole thing.

Why does modding exist?

osu! is an amazing game by itself. The capability to create beatmaps in the same software, the timing precision and rendering, the sounds and playability of it all, it's super amazing. Easily stands above all other rhythm games I've tried for the PC. But peppy didn't stop there: he made the whole thing even more amazing by adding online functionalities. Online rankings, can you believe it? Everything you play is uploaded to the server, and upon that it builds a whole ranking system to evaluate every single player globally. Pretty cool, huh?

But well, for online rankings in maps, there needs to be maps already created... obviously. And where do those maps come from? The players themselves.
If you think about it, it's actually kind of a miracle osu! still allows everyone to map freely - other games wouldn't have done that. What other games would have done is restrict the creation of ranked beatmaps to certain staff only, and releasing only that certain amount of beatmaps per, let's say, week. Not only that's different in osu! - every player, whether newbie or experienced, has the same chance of getting their map sent into the online rankings (or as commonly said, getting it ranked). It's fantastic. But of course, to do such a thing isn't simple.

Well... people started mapping to get their maps ranked. But let's say... not everyone knew how to map good stuff back then. And they were a few of the only maps in existence... so the question arose: if the map was terrible, should it be ranked? That is obvious: of course not. Nobody would want to play it; it'd be a waste of space and time to acknowledge it in the rankings, not to mention it'd be harder for people to find good, fun maps to play. That's why people started creating guidelines and rules of mapping, and started modding other people's maps. Modding was then defined as checking other mapper's creation thoroughly to see whether there's a mistake or not.

The fact that only good maps can go to ranking makes a lot of sense. As the osu! community grows, more and more mappers appear. What would happen if you had a much more lenient modding system? Almost anything would get ranked, and even though that might sound good if you're a struggling mapper to get his map ranked, in reality it would be chaos. Just picture it for a little bit: imagine having dozens of maps of the same song, and the majority of them not being even remotely fun to play. Imagine not being able to change your submitted map later, because it was ranked even though it had lots of faults and could have been improved a lot more. Imagine the servers running out of space because there are over one hundred thousand of maps ranked. It would be disastrous, not fun!

How it has evolved

In the beginning of times, since there weren't that many maps, people ranked every crap someone created. This was because nobody had enough experience to say what was right or wrong, what was playable, and was what better than the rest. But of course, that didn't last long - players started noticing some things were awful to play. They started to realize they needed to control what the mappers created, in order to have a better quality standard for everyone, so everyone has good, fun maps to play.

Well, first things first, modders created definite rules that shall not be broken in any case... like for example, not putting two notes at the same time. Nobody complains about these because they make a lot of sense - you absolutely cannot play two notes at the same time, so why in the world would you do that on your beatmap? Do you want your beatmap to be unplayable? That's stupid.

And after that was settled, people took on topics a little bit more subjective, like... Burai sliders. These are sliders which have their path go at least twice through the same position... or in other words, sliders that run over themselves. After the community had a friendly debate, the majority agreed sliders should always have a clear path to follow, because otherwise it's impossible to read. In order to play Burai sliders, you'd need to memorize the map first... which is unfair, not difficult.

But what happens once you nail down all these objective things to follow? There had to be a limit of how many things you could forbid and still be able to judge a map objectively. These first things helped many mappers to realize what made their maps good and what didn't, but many others were still left in doubt... and there were still many mappers who released their not-so-great creations on the website. Would it be acceptable to rank this map if it's not good, even though it follows all rules?

So, to solve this problem, guidelines were created, which are like toned-down rules. Stuff you should follow, but are not obliged to do so, like... spacing. You're free to use whatever spacing you want to, and change it if you like, but everyone knows that maps with consistent and clear spacing play better. That's why they created this guideline. All guidelines only judge subjective matters, stuff that can't be ruled out objectively, and where it's not really wrong if you decide to ignore it.

Guidelines serve a good purpose and are very helpful, specially for mappers who are still starting up. They indicate what you need to know to make a really awesome beatmap, and newbie mappers can learn something every day. It also helps modders who are still starting, so they know what to check in other's maps, and what would be better suggestions to improve them. That's the bottom line here - modding not only helps to check for errors, but also for improvements.

In the modding scene nowadays, it's very common to see modding posts that contain more than anything, suggestions. Sometimes they only contained suggestions, implying that the map was actually completely error free. And even though modders always said "you're not obliged to do this or that", they always strongly advised they do so - to make the map better, and so to add it to the rankings as a high quality map. After all, the maps that go to ranking must be of a certain standard up, to appeal the whole audience.
This is where potential problems arise - some mappers disagree with everything they say, and want their map ranked as it is (considering that it is error free), while staff and mods disagree. Clash of opinions arise all the time when modding.

Modding guidelines - is it right or wrong?

Modding is for checking errors and suggesting improvements in maps. The way modding often goes is "if you move x object here, it would be a lot better" or "it might sound better if you put a finish hitsound here". So... considering this is the way everyone mods today, we have to ask ourselves, is modding serving its original purpose? We must remember that the original goal of this is to get high quality maps on the ranking.

Beatmapping is art. I have proven this several times. And when you get a map ranked, it means the modders acknowledge the map as being a good, very playable product; as being above the average quality standard of beatmapping. But in reality... how would you be able to judge that? Can quality be judged objectively? I'm afraid to say that no, it can't since, once you get rid of all technical errors, it becomes an entirely subjective matter. One map that you enjoy a lot, might not be that good for the next player, and so on.

Let's put an example here... with some other type of art. Let's say you want to enter a drawing contest, so you create your drawing, and are waiting to receive a reply to your submission, to see if it's been accepted or not.
If your drawing was good, you'll receive an acceptation letter, but... what happens if it wasn't? Would you really receive exact and precise details of why it wasn't good? Would they really say stuff like "the bit around here looks like it wasn't drawn with the correct perspective" or "it seems you missed a line here", or what would be even more ludicrous, "it would look way better if the hair was green instead of orange"? Of course not! You would just receive a "sorry, your submission wasn't accepted" reply. Makes sense. Would this really work the same way in osu! ?
And just picture it a little bit further... if your submission was accepted, but was only questionably good, what comes after that? It might enter the contest, but take last place among all submissions. So yes, this could work for modding beatmaps - the beatmap gets ranked, is playable and all, but receives low ratings and doesn't enter the ranking charts (I talk about ranking charts a little bit later).

Another example: if a musician uploads their creation to a service like SoundCloud, and people start commenting on it, would they really say stuff like "the background beat here sounds like it wasn't mixed correctly, maybe fix that" or "this would sound better if it was on the D major scale"? Nope. They often just say "I love this part" or "I don't get this part", but they're not telling the musician to change anything in their song. It is, after all, his very own form of expression, and he has the right to do with it whatever he wants.

Well, you might argue that the SoundCloud example might not apply that much to beatmapping, since there's really no approval standards on what gets published there, but still, as a place to share your creations, no one should order you to change anything. Getting your creations judged and approved is not the problem, it's the way they're being judged


So, back to beatmapping. When someone mods your map and tells you many suggestions, first of all... they're saying your creation could be improved. Depending on the view of the mapper, it might be pleasant or not to know about that and, the way art is, that is almost always the case - you will never be able to release a "perfect" creation, so you can always improve it. But what the modder is really saying is how the map would be better according to them, and not according to you. They're changing your creation, your expression of art.

I know it sounds a bit silly for me to keep calling beatmapping art, but we have to face it, it's true. And that's how a mapper feels with his beatmaps when he's experienced and takes pride in his work; it's not so easy to just let anyone else change it as they like. Perhaps you wouldn't understand as well until you feel the passion of beatmapping like vicious people like me do.

For newbie mappers, all this suggestion-based modding works, because they're still starting. They're open to suggestions and new ideas, because they still don't know what makes their map better and what doesn't. They still haven't developed a sense and style for their own beatmapping, and they learn every day they keep mapping. But it doesn't work the same way for experienced mappers. And thing is, they're often treated the same way as newbies; people keep suggesting all they want, even though the map is perfectly fine as it is.

But still, we all know that this is a necessary process for ranking maps. They absolutely must comply with a certain standard of quality, as I explained earlier. The problem here, though, is that all this talk about suggestions, quality standards and guidelines, is subjective talk about subjective stuff. There's no way everyone will agree with the same thing, and there never will be. At best, we have to compromise. There's no clear line to identify what makes a good mapper an experienced one, or what makes a good map good. This is the big problem with all these suggestions; everyone will push their own mapping beliefs and styles onto others. When the mapper refuses to apply any and every suggestion people say, the mapper is often seen as stubborn, even though he's only reserving his own right to leave his own piece of work unchanged, like it should have been from the start.

Furthermore, experienced mappers should be respected and their creations should be ranked more quickly - because it should no longer be the modder's responsibility to send a good map for ranking, it's the mapper's. The mapper should know what he's doing. In these situations, modders should only check objective stuff in case an accident or something happened, but by now the mapper should know that ranking the map involves leaving their map like that forever, having it available as long as osu! lives, with anything that might imply. If the map sucks, the mapper should know it sucks, and he must be okay with it.

But well, that's the way it is. What should be the correct approach? What would it involve, what needs a change in this system? Believe it or not, there's been attempts to fix this whole thing, although not directly. An idea I've seen discussed in the past is, people shouldn't just aim for ranking in their beatmaps, but something more.

The Ranking Charts - the future of beatmaps


peppy, some years ago, created the ranking charts - a ranking competition of sorts that takes place every month, with different maps each time. This is a way to create competitive rankings besides the global one, because before performance points were implemented, it was not a matter of who was a better player or not, but a matter of who played more maps and farmed more score. It was kind of unfair, for sucky players to be able to achieve any position in ranking, if they had enough time to waste. After all, rankings are supposed to measure a player's skill, not dedication.

The ranking charts just take in account a certain amount of maps, a specific selection of maps chosen by a few experienced players. This was the way to make certain maps stand from the rest - these players try their best to choose the best picks of the month. This is the way the staff wants to make people not only aim for ranking, but aim for the ranking charts. In the end, we want mappers to release better, higher-quality creations. It sets the goal higher. But is it working?

The way this would work, is if the mappers wouldn't just map anything like whatever. They wouldn't just map it like they usually do, but try their damn best in every single map, being innovating and doing new things all the time. Map quality would be left to one's own judgement - after all, creating a good map is your responsibility, not anyone else's. It's your chance to compete among others for a spot in the next month's chart!
It definitely is the correct approach - for people to be motivated for something more than just ranking. To not just make it "passable", but make it the best possible... but the problem is, people don't know what makes their map good and what doesn't. They're still unsure of what they should do in a map.

The way I see it, people need to know not only what you need for ranking, but also what you need to make an awesome map, so it can truly become a competition for the best, not just an evaluation to get an okay. The bad thing is, it's all subjective. The people that pick the best maps of the month, are the best maps according to their perspective. Since there's no consensus about what makes a map good and what doesn't, the whole community is left in the dark about what actually gets them to pick maps. It's not really promoting improvement, it's just suggesting it; people don't have a clue about what to do and just remain doing the same.

In what way would the ranking charts affect the modding system? Well, if everyone tried harder and created better, high-quality, error-free maps, people would complain less and the modding system wouldn't be as overused as it is right now. Also, mappers would start taking pride in their work, and stop accepting so many suggestions in their maps, since they wouldn't take it the same way. Modders would be okay with that; they wouldn't worry as much about any extra improvement for the overall quality, since the ratings and ranking charts would later decide how good the map really is. But the way everything's turned out right now, things have stayed exactly the same; mappers only aim for ranking, so when a mod suggests things for their map, they keep changing it freely so they can get it ranked more quickly. They don't care about anything else, they just want to get it ranked. It hasn't made any actual change in the quality of beatmaps, nor in the modding system.

I'm not saying the ranking standard should be lower, but it should instead allow more freedom in beatmaps... or well, less suggesting. The modding system would adopt the idea of "it's up to you and only you", and there would only be an objective ranking criteria all modders need to adhere to. The rest of the judging would be decided by ratings and ranking charts.
Of course, the modding system cannot disappear - we can't start sending crap to the rankings, I perfectly know that. I'm just saying it shouldn't be as necessary, or that the use it has today needs to be toned down. Right now the modding system is not used correctly - people suggest and keep suggesting regardless if it's a good map or a bad one, and they all do according to their opinions. We need to formulate a way to mod maps correctly.

Judging beatmaps the correct way

The whole way modding could work, is if modding wasn't as systematized as it is right now. For example, picture a BAT modding a map, and if the map isn't high-quality enough, giving general pointers of what could be improved... kind of like how judging is done in beatmap contests. Not just saying "move this two grid squares up and it'll be okay", saying stuff like "the spacing overall needs to be a little more spread up - this hardly feels like an insane, it feels like a normal". Get the general idea?

It makes sense from the perspective of "I can tell you what's wrong, but I can't tell you how to fix it - it's your creation". The problem would then be... mappers have grown accustomed to having direct pointers to check so they can get their map ranked. They only know how to fix something if they're told directly how to do it... and that's not good at all. Mappers would then feel abandoned, because... depending on the situation, the mod could never be satisfied with what the mapper creates, but still refuses to say specific ways to fix it. It'd get tiresome and frustrating, and we know nobody wants that.

In the end, it all comes down to what we all think is a quality beatmap. If the staff is able to recognize what makes a beatmap good, it should teach it to the rest of the community. The problem is, we all have different opinions about that. The community needs to reach a consensus before it decides to make any changes in this system.

Conclusion

osu! has something great in the works. It's truly amazing to be able to map and get something ranked just like everyone else - but there are many unsolved problems that arise. What makes a map good, excellent or the best? When do we start saying a mapper is experienced, and until what extent should he be respected? What should be done about all these suggestions in modding, and what should be the correct approach?

In any case, this is just brainstorming, and shouting my opinion about the modding situation - the whole community must make a consensus here, if there were ever to be a change in the system. But I can certainly say, I feel like the modding system needs a change very badly. It's kind of sad to see modding has remained the same since 2008-2009.

Oh damn, this is a huge post! I never thought I'd write so much in my free time. Haha! I'd love to hear if you have any opinions about this!

Mapping to the Vocals: Why

So, in summary, you should always map to the main melodic line.

Yeah, the summary shouldn't be at the start of the post... but you know, it just makes sense.

Well, before I start, note how I always say should, instead of must. That's because mapping is a subjective art, one that each person will understand and enjoy in a different way, one that cannot be regulated by strict rules because it's just about expressing yourself... so if you know you map to something else and still enjoy your map, well then just help yourself. But in most cases, you'll likely want to map to the vocals so your map makes more sense.

Why is it so awesome?

You have to ask yourself: why do you listen to music in the first place? It's probably because you can't get a bit of the song out of your head; perhaps it's because you like to listen to the beautiful sounds of harmony, or you think the backbeat loop is very catchy. In any case, you love music and enjoy it very much.

What if you ask yourself now, why do you map? If you have met some osu! beatmaps, played a bit, then you'd probably love to map some of your favorite songs so you can play them the same way, and nothing more. But what's involved when you map, and how should you map that song you like so much? Many people know why they map, but don't ask themselves how they should map, and it's a very important point.

When you map, what you want to do is represent that song in beatmap form... of course, so you can play it afterwards. The way you capture it is your job. How should you represent that song you love so much? That should be with that certain part, that certain something you like to listen to, in the song.


In a song there exist many melodic lines or layers, so to speak; like the drums, the melody, the counter-melody, the bass, the piano, the vocals, and many more. They all harmonize at the same time, forming a beautiful song. You listen to all of them at the same time when a song is playing, but... when you listen carefully, most of the time you'd only be able to focus on a single track or layer. And also, most of the time, you'll be able to remember one (although sometimes several) that, for you, represent the song entirely; this is most commonly the melody or the vocals track. Perhaps in a certain song, you wouldn't be able to remember the drumming line so much, nor the counter-melody, because it's hard to discern, but 99% of the time you'll be able to remember the vocal line perfectly, even more if you like singing. When you think of those lyrics, you think of that song, and that's the song for you, and probably for many other people too. That's the little earworm that crawls inside your brain and repeats itself so many times while you're absent-minded, that makes you think "damn it, it's still stuck in my head!".

Now, when mapping, what do you do? Mapping allows you to... let's say, add one layer on top of that song, for it to play at the same time. In technical terms, mixing one more track on the song. If this track is what you want to play in osu!, then you need to take some other track from the song as a guideline, and start capturing that track, representing its very soul to make it as fun as possible (in case you forget, that's what we want in beatmaps). It's just one layer though, one track that can only correspond to a single other track of the song. In that layer, you can't reproduce all the notes of all the tracks of the song in hit objects... because it's just impossible, and it would be a disaster if someone attempted to do it.

If you have only one layer to mix on top, you'll want to take the one thing that you'd remember the most of the song, that one super-catchy part that you can't get out of your head... which is, as I said before, the vocals or melody. Taking as guideline some other track would be wrong, because then it just doesn't feel as good to play to something else while you're thinking of the main, catchy track. It doesn't feel satisfying, it doesn't feel right.
You want make your map as unique to the song as you can... and usually, the melody is the one thing that doesn't repeat in another song, ever. Perhaps the drums sound the same or the bass is similar to some other random song, but the melody never repeats, or it's copyright infringement.

That's how you should represent the song as a beatmap. In a nutshell, you could say... just map to whatever you would hum about that song, because that's what you like the most.
If you can remember the song just by watching the map, if you're happy with how the map sings along to the song, or if you think your map is impossible to confuse with others, then you did a good job.

Mapping to the drums - the popular thing today

There's always the odd case where the mapper says he likes to map to the drums because he likes rhythm more, and it's perfectly understandable... perhaps that guy is a drummer and he always focuses more on listening the drums, and no one can blame him. As I said at the start of this post, everyone understands music in a different way, and if you know you map that way and enjoy mapping that way, then it's fine. No one has the right to tell you it's wrong because, in reality there's no wrong... but of course, everyone has the right to voice what they don't like, just like I'm doing right now.
If you wanted to appeal to more audience, then you should be more interested in mapping to the melody. There are many mappers who map to the drums, and I consider it a problem of originality; I believe that right now, everyone who maps to the drums is just because that's the way they've seen other people map, and that's the way everyone educated themselves. They think it's okay and it's quite acceptable to just do the same, and they hope their beatmap will also get recognition because it complies with everything. Yet, it's not correct, and that's not the way it should be.

Well, I know I shouldn't say it's wrong, because, if you play a map like this without too much thought, it can be pretty fun. These maps are fun if all you do is just follow approach circles... but the problem in my case, is that I can't enjoy the song in these kind of maps. The map can be very dynamic and exciting, but I get lost when I try to follow the song. I also listen and enjoy the song too, which is the main purpose of beatmaps. That's the reason I used to say (and many people still say) these maps are good, because I didn't know the song beforehand and clicking along to the rhythm was okay; following the vocals is actually harder to sight-read and hit the first time you play a beatmap. But once you become familiar with the song and start learning the vocals, it's not fun anymore.

If you think about it, a melody consists of certain notes of certain duration and certain pitch. Melodies between songs can be very varied, there are literally infinite possible combinations of notes that could form a song. Drumming, on the other hand... consists only of hits. One hit, at a precise time, and that's it. No duration, no pitch; although there are a few percussion sounds that do have a certain duration (like the reverse cymbal), they are the exception. There are only so many combinations you can do with the drumline, so unavoidably, if you keep mapping to it, your map will get repetitive. Repetition leads to dullness, which is not what we want in a beatmap. Besides, when so many other beatmaps have also followed the drums, they're bound to meet similarities in their songs, which then leads to confusion and generic look.

In the vast number of beatmaps there exist today, you don't want people to confuse your beatmap with some other, do you? Considering a beatmap consists of only three different kinds of objects, it's particularly easy for someone to do that. Saying your beatmap gets confused with others is saying your beatmap is like any other, generic-style out of a factory, which is never good. You don't want people to say that - well, that's if you want to create a spectacular map, because not every map is spectacular. If you don't want to create a spectacular map, well, you just lack pride.

Conclusion

This is the huge why I always talk about. Over the course of all these years, in my experience, I've found that following the vocals, without a doubt, makes the map more enjoyable. Curiously, all my favorite maps (plus almost all original iNiS maps) do this! I have so many examples I would like to post about.
Of course, though, this is a much broader subject - there is also an explanation to when you need to map to them. This was just the introduction. Leaving it for some other day seems like the most healthy approach!

Quick thoughts: Analyzing a beatmap is complex

Well, it's something I've always known. Beatmapping isn't as simple as it seems. A beatmap is a very complex piece of art, consisting of several layers of work one must do. Creating one is, therefore, time-consuming, considering you want to do it right. Analyzing it is even more time-consuming, because not only you must know what beatmapping involves, whats in technical terms correct and what the better choice would be, but you are also trying to understand something abstract that has infinite interpretations. Beatmapping is a subjective art, after all. But indeed, there must be a way to qualify and rank beatmaps by quality. It's a question I've struggled with some times.

Well, as I said previously, a beatmap is made of several aspects, several layers that play an important map of the beatmap. In beatmapping contests, things like creativity, technical aspects and flow are evaluated, but I've found that evaluating all these at the same time on the same layer is way too difficult to do. So, for optimum and objective evaluation, you must go step by step, taking a different perspective each time you observe it. A different perspective for each layer of depth in the beatmap.

Layer of depth, huh? Well, this is the main purpose of my post. I've come to realize there are three important layers of depth in a beatmap (although, there may be more). In order of importance, these are: Timeline placement, Visual placement, and Sound Placement. For a beatmap to be really good, all three must harmonize on the same song. All three can be vastly different one from each other (in terms of quality).

Timeline placement is the most important. If you have fun timing positions, you can let yourself go with visual placement and hitsounding because it's almost guaranteed your map will be fun. Likewise, if you have discordant rhythms in your objects, not even the prettiest combo will help you; your map will not be as fun as it could be. Of course, the way to correctly place things to the timeline is according to the vocals.

The one thing that makes the most fun out of a song is, representing the song completely. That is, either timeline wise or visually, where both would be the ideal thing. But when criticizing a beatmap, you must decompose it on each of these three layers, and talk about as if they were separate. Even though the map might have really good structure (has good technical skill), it doesn't represent the beatmap visually in any way. Even though the hitsounds might not sound bad, the beatmap might not be fun because the timeline placement is messy.

Just some quick thoughts. Next, I think I might post about how hybrid mapping works and how it should be; also, I need to address the issue of whether 'quality' is really quantifiable, and if it is, what it means for a beatmap to have good quality (in other words, whether I'm right or wrong to map to the lyrics).

Quick thoughts: Symmetry is beauty.

Take this as a small post-it note to remind myself that I need to write about symmetry. Symmetry is a very important aspect in every artistic composition, and it takes an equally important role in beatmapping!
Many people think it's just lazy copy-pasting, but when done right, it's not like that at all. Granted, not everything should try to be symmetrical because then it'd feel too fabricated and not natural, but symmetry is essential to give your map a good visual feel. I like to think that symmetry is a very important aspect of beauty.

Well, blah! I need to make several drafts before I can say something concise. But for now, you can read this interesting page I found on the topic: http://daphne.palomar.edu/design/bsymm.html it's about visual arts in general, but some parts of it also apply to beatmapping too. Maybe it doesn't help that much, but it helps! I know I need to get off my lazy butt.

Oh, and also, just as a quick notice, I'll be working on editing existing posts to include videos encoded in the amazing webm video codec! So it may take me a bit.

Quick thoughts: I'm not a crazy theory maker

Just thought I should leave this wise quote here:
"Within modern music the main platform for melody occurs in the form of the lead. Whether vocal or instrumental, the lead is clearly the most important melodic part of the music—and thus it is often the ingredient by which we chiefly remember the music itself."

I read this in a book "Harmony for Computer Musicians", in one of the introductory chapters; and I couldn't agree more with it, as it's exactly what I've been saying these past years. The melody, the lead, is what you remember about the song. It's musical theory! So fundamentally, mapping to the lead is what one must do to represent the song appropriately. Mapping to the drums, the rhythm, or the 'whatever', is not the way to go.
Now that I think about it, it's not really that hard to figure out... it's just a matter of thinking it through a bit. But well, I guess I'll leave that for some other time!