Written by Alcator.
This article will be very different from anything I’ve written for the blog before. After a long row of guides and tutorials, I’m going to rant. I’m going to rant, because something that shouldn’t be happening is happening and it’s supported by those whom we’ve learnt to consider “authorities”.
The thing in question are the so called “mixmaps”. Mixmaps, with the name probably originating with TM/TMX user “Mixo”, are TrackMania tracks which contain blocks that you won’t find in the in-game editor’s building blocks lists, and/or transitions/connections of these blocks that are not possible within the editor. Examples of such “new blocks” are:
- Blend-blocks: These are two or more blocks placed at the same position such as a road booster and grass checkpoint at the same spatial unit (so you’re getting a speed boost and passing a checkpoint at the same time), elevated dirt checkpoint, or even start/finish blend block (so you start the race and 0.01 second later the finish gate registers you passing through it).
- Morph-blocks: These are blocks that have been transformed (such as shrinked or stretched in some direction). This means that there is now a two-floor ramp for desert (instead of the standard one-floor ramp that results in bumpy driving if you need to go more than one level higher or lower on it) etc.
- Bug-block: with these blocks, you’re experiencing driving or riding behavior (of the car) that is in discrepancy with the visuals – such as you’re driving in empty space (inside supposedly filled area, such as a mountain), or you fall into water (in Rally) without the game registering you as “sunk”… Or you may see things like a grass checkpoing floating in the air that you later drive through etc.
Before anything else can be said, one thing must be set in stone: Contrary to the claims of the “designers” of these tracks, these mixmaps are NOT done in the TMU game editor.
SOME of the things can probably be done using unpatched versions of some of the earlier games in the TM series; it seems that in one of the first versions of TM Power Up! (the free expansion to TM Original), you could move already placed blocks and thus cause them to blend with other blocks. After mixmappers create such “bug” using an unpatched version of an earlier game, they save the track, import it into TM United and have the bug in a United’s track – but the TMU editor doesn’t allow the creation of such thing.
OTHER mixblocks, however, are created using hex-editting of the track file (meaning: you open the track file in hex-editor, which is an editor that operates on Byte values inside a file) and modify some of them, thus avoiding the automatic checks performed by the in-game editor during normal in-game track building. In other words, while in-game, the editor won’t let you place a standard road block next to standard elevated dirt block (you need to use a transition block between them), this is possible using hex-editing.
Now, in the first paragraph, I said that mixmaps are supported by those we’ve learnt to take as authorities. This is perhaps slighlty exaggerated, as legally speaking, the administrators of TM-EXCHANGE.COM are not authorities for TrackMania, they just happen to run the greatest track swapping site in the universe and they just happen to pick tracks for showcasing and it just so happens that whenever they do pick one, people tend to try that track and think in the line of “wow, this is what is considered good”. Now, not only was a mixmap showcased, but one of the administrators made a tool that makes the hex-editting much less tedious, thus opening the Pandora’s box of mixmaps to the larger public.
Finally, I’m getting to the idea that “Mixmaps are evil”. I understand that it’s just my opinion and I cannot be considered an authority for this. There are multiple reasons why I consider Mixmaps evil:
- Replacing originality with hacks: while without mixblocks, authors that are aiming for originality (innovativeness) have to look for yet undiscovered ways of connecting or laying down the building blocks “legally”, with mixblocks, they simply brute-force blocks to fit. In normal building, you often try to solve a spatial problem created by the required transition tile between two tiles; in mixbuilding, you simply hack the blocks to connect. As one side-effect, this creates an unfair advantage in competitions where creativity or innovativeness is sought for – while some builders try to be innovative with what is available courtesy of Nadeo, others (mixbuilders) simply create the new blocks and automatically get an originality boost. I’d say it’s similar to things like bribing authorities in real life: As soon as bribes are not punished harshly, all companies that aim for subsidies etc. are “forced” to bribe just to “ballance out” the bribes of other companies. Back to TM: I don’t want to wake up one day and realize that if I wish to succeed in a competition, I have to violate the game I love, or I don’t stand a chance.
- Corrupting the TM’s idea: Trackmania has always worked in the way that “what you see is what you play”. When you saw a road tile, you knew it’s a road tile where things like acceleration, braking, sliding, landing etc. work some way. However, with mixmaps, this is no longer the case. It’s possible to create mixblocks that have “hidden” properties (meaning: a normally looking track tile that actually works as a reverse booster, etc.); so, when a player encounters such block on-line, he (or she) may be surprised that the car is behaving differently without any obvious reason.
- Blocking certain mechanisms: In normal maps, one of the things you can do is inspect the track using “free” (or orbital) camera. You simply look at the start, then travel with the view along the track and evaluate it, make notes about the needed driving activities. With mixmaps, parts of the driving may consist of moving through bug holes, invisible paths etc., which means it’s difficult or impossible to evaluate the track in this officially provided method.
Have you ever played Diablo 2 online? Have you ever met a player that was using hacks like maphack, chickenrun, or tradehack? How did it feel? Is it really fun to appear in an unknown map and see your teammate or opponent run directly to the exit that he or she sees on the hacked minimap, while you don’t? Is it really fun to play against someone who will be automatically logged out if his health drops below 5%?
Nadeo provided the in-game editor and offered a list of blocks and a set of connectivitiy rules for them. They did not provide a block-creating tool, nor does their editor have some ‘second layer’ option for placing two tiles at the same place. Some said that nadeo didn’t provide car-mesh editor neither and still, players are making models for the game, so why don’t I protest against them as well? Well, the reason is – I don’t have to see the custom model and I’m still able to compete against the player; in fact, the change of model does not change anything driving-wise. While messing the blocks certainly does.
Final thought: This is a rant. Still, I tried to keep it civilized. I’m not calling anyone any names, I’m not cursing anyone and I’m not using vulgarities or obscenities here. I’d appreaciate if any response to this was as civilized as my rant. Thank you.