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(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)


In this article, I will be guiding you through many examples using Hammer. There are a handful of terms that will recur many times that you will need to know. It might be a good idea to bookmark this page, so you can flip back and refresh your memory.


A brush is a piece of world geometry created with block tool. Brushes make up the basic building blocks of a map and must be convex. A convex object’s faces cannot see each other, while a concave object’s faces can. Imagine if you’re lying on the pitched roof of a generic house. You wouldn’t be able to see the other side of the roof because the profile of the house is a convex pentagon. If you moved the point of the roof down inside the house, you would be able to see the other side of the roof because the profile would then be concave.

This can be seen in the following screenshot:

Got it? Good. Don’t think you’re limited by this; you can always create convex shapes out of more than one brush.

Since we’re talking about houses, brushes are used to create the walls, floor, ceiling, and roof. Brushes are usually geometrically very simple; upon creation, common brushes have six faces and eight vertices like a cube.

The brushes are outlined in the following screenshot:

Not all brushes have six sides; however, the more advanced brushwork techniques can create brushes that have (almost) as many sides as you want. You need to be careful while making complex brushes with the more advanced tools though. This is because it can be quite easy to make an invalid solid if you’re not careful.

An invalid solid will cause errors during compilation and will make your map unplayable. A concave brush is an example of an invalid solid. World brushes are completely static or unmoving. If you want your brushes to have a special function, they need to be turned into entities.


An entity is anything in the game that has a special function. Entities come in two flavors: brush-based and point-based. A brush-based entity, as you can probably guess, is created from a brush. A sliding door or a platform lift are examples of brush-based entities. Point-based entities, on the other hand, are created in a point in space with the entity tool. Lights, models, sounds, and script events are all point-based entities. In the following figure, the models or props are highlighted:


The world is everything inside of a map that you create. Brushes, lights, triggers, sounds, models, and so on are all part of the world. They must all be contained within a sealed map made out of world brushes.


The void is nothing or everything that isn’t the world. The world must be sealed off from the void in order to function correctly when compiled and played in game. Imagine the void as outer space or a vacuum. World brushes seal off the world from the void. If there are any gaps in world brushes (or if there are any entities floating in the void), this will create a leak, and the engine will not be able to discern what the world is and what the void is. If a leak exists in your map, the engine will not know what is supposed to be seen during the compile! The map will compile, but performance-reducing side effects such as bland lighting and excess rendered polygons will plague your map.


If at any point in your mapping experience, Hammer doesn’t seem to be operating the way you want it to be, go to Tools | Options, and see if there’s any preferences you would like to change. You can customize general settings or options related to the 2D and 3D views. If you’re coming from another editor, perhaps there’s a setting that will make your Hammer experience similar to what you’re used to.

Loading Hammer for the first time

You’ll be opening SteamsteamappscommonHalf-Life 2bin often, so you may want to create a desktop shortcut for easier access. Run Hammer.bat from the bin folder to launch Valve Hammer Editor, Valve’s map (level) creator, so you can start creating a map. Hammer will prompt you to choose a game configuration, so choose which game you want to map for.

I will be using Half-Life 2: Episode Two in the following examples:

When you first open up Hammer, you will see a blank gray screen surrounded by a handful of menus, as shown in the following screenshot:

Like every other Microsoft Windows application, there is a main menu in the top-left corner of the screen that lets you open, save, or create a document. As far as Hammer is concerned, our documents are maps, and they are saved with the .vmf file extension. So let’s open the File menu and load an example map so we can poke around a bit. Load the map titled Chapter2_Example.vmf.

The Hammer overview

In this section, we will be learning to recognize the different areas of Hammer and what they do. Being familiar with your environment is important!


There are four main windows or viewports in Hammer, as shown in the following screenshot:

By default, the top-left window is the 3D view or camera view. The top-right window is the top (x/y) view, the bottom-right window is the side (x/z) view, and the bottom-left window is the front (y/z) view. If you would like to change the layout of the windows, simply click on the top-left corner of any window to change what is displayed.

In this article, I will be keeping the default layout but that does not mean you have to! Set up Hammer any way you’d like. For instance, if you would prefer your 3D view to be larger, grab the cross at the middle of the four screens and drag to extend the areas.

The 3D window has a few special 3D display types such as Ray-Traced Preview and Lightmap Grid. We will be learning more about these later, but for now, just know that 3D Ray-traced Preview simulates the way light is cast. It does not mimic what you would actually see in-game, but it can be a good first step before compile to see what your lighting may look like.

The 3D Lighting Preview will open in a new window and will update every time a camera is moved or a light entity is changed. You cannot navigate directly in the lighting preview window, so you will need to use the 2D cameras to change the viewing perspective.

The Map toolbar

Located to the left of the screen, the Map toolbar holds all the mapping tools. You will probably use this toolbar the most. The tools will each be covered in depth later on, but here’s a basic overview, as shown in the following screenshot, starting from the first tool:

The Selection Tool

The Selection Tool is pretty self-explanatory; use this tool to select objects. The hot key for this is Shift + S. This is the tool that you will probably use the most. This tool selects objects in the 3D and 2D views and also lets you drag selection boxes in the 2D views.

The Magnify Tool

The Magnify Tool will zoom in and out in any view. You could also just use the mouse wheel if you have one or the + and – keys on the numerical keypad for the 2D views. The hot key for the magnify tool is Shift + G.

The Camera Tool

The Camera Tool enables 3D view navigation and lets you place multiple different cameras into the 2D views. Its hot key is Shift + C.

The Entity Tool

The Entity Tool places entities into the map. If clicked on the 3D view, an entity is placed on the closest brush to the mouse cursor. If used in the 2D view, a crosshair will appear noting the origin of the entity, and the Enter key will add it to the map at the origin. The entity placed in the map is specified by the object bar. The hot key is Shift + E.

The Block Tool

The Block Tool creates brushes. Drag a box in any 2D view and hit the Enter key to create a brush within the bounds of the box. The object bar specifies which type of brush will be created. The default is box and the hot key for this is Shift + B.

The Texture Tool

The Texture Tool allows complete control over how you paint your brushes. For now, just know where it is and what it does; the hot key is Shift + A.

The Apply Current Texture Tool

Clicking on the Apply Current Texture icon will apply the selected texture to the selected brush or brushes.

The Decal Tool

The Decal Tool applies decals and little detail textures to brushes and the hot key is Shift + D.

The Overlay Tool

The Overlay Tool is similar to the decal tool. However, overlays are a bit more powerful than decals. Shift + O will be the hot key.

The Clipping Tool

The Clipping Tool lets you slice brushes into two or more pieces, and the hot key is Shift + X.

The Vertex manipulation Tool

The Vertex manipulation Tool, or VM tool, allows you to move the individual vertices and edges of brushes any way you like. This is one of the most powerful tools you have in your toolkit! Using this tool improperly, however, is the easiest way to corrupt your map and ruin your day. Not to worry though, we’ll learn about this in great detail later on. The hot key is Shift + V.

The selection mode bar

The selection mode bar (located at the top-right corner by default) lets you choose what you want to select. If Groups is selected, you will select an entire group of objects (if they were previously grouped) when you click on something. The Objects selection mode will only select individual objects within groups. Solids will only select solid objects.

The texture bar

Located just beneath the selection mode toolbar, the texture bar, as shown, in the following screenshot, shows a thumbnail preview of your currently selected (active) texture and has two buttons that let you select or replace a texture. What a nifty tool, eh?

The filter control bar

The filter control bar controls your VisGroups (short for visual groups). VisGroups separate your map objects into different categories, similar to layers in the image editing software.

To make your mapping life a bit easier, you can toggle visibility of object groups. If, for example, you’re trying to sculpt some terrain but keep getting your view blocked by tree models, you can just uncheck the Props box, as shown in the following screenshot, to hide all the trees!

There are multiple automatically generated VisGroups such as entities, displacements, and nodraws that you can easily filter through. Don’t think you’re limited to this though; you can create your own VisGroup with any selection at any time.

The object bar

The object bar lets you control what type of brush you are creating with the brush tool. This is also where you turn brushes into brush-based entities and create and place prefabs, as shown in the following screenshot:

Navigating in 3D

You will be spending most of your time in the main four windows, so now let’s get comfortable navigating in them, starting with the 3D viewport.

Looking around

Select the camera tool on the map tools bar. It’s the third one down on the list and looks like a red 35 mm camera.

Holding the left mouse button while in the 3D view will allow you to look around from a stationary point. Holding the right mouse button will allow you to pan left, right, up, and down in the 3D space. Holding both left and right mouse buttons down together will allow you to move forward and backwards as well as pan left and right. Scrolling the mouse wheel will move the camera forward and backwards.

Practice flying down the example map hallway. While looking down the hallway, hold the right mouse button to rise up through the grate and see the top of the map.

If you would prefer another method of navigating in 3D, you can use the W, S, A, and D keys to move around while the left mouse button is pressed. Just like your normal FPS game, W moves forward in the direction of the camera, S moves backwards, and A and D move left and right, respectively. You can also move the mouse to look around while moving.

Being comfortable with the 3D view is necessary in order to become proficient in creating and scripting 3D environments. As with everything, practice makes perfect, so don’t be discouraged if you find yourself hitting the wrong buttons.

Having the camera tool selected is not necessary to navigate in 3D. With any tool selected, hold Space bar while the cursor is in the 3D window to activate the 3D navigation mode. While holding Space bar, the navigation functions exactly as it does as if the camera tool was selected. Releasing Space bar will restore normal functionality to the currently selected tool. This can be a huge time saver down the line when you’re working on very technical object placements.

Multiple cameras

If you find yourself bouncing around between different areas of the map, or even changing angles near the same object, you can create multiple cameras and juggle between them. With the camera tool selected, hold Shift and drag a line with the left mouse button in any 2D viewport. The start of the line will be the camera origin, and the end of the line will be the camera’s target.

Whenever you create a new camera, the newly created camera becomes active and displays its view in the 3D viewport. To cycle between cameras, press the Page Up and Page Down buttons, or click on a camera in any 2D view. Camera locations are stored in the map file when you save, so you don’t have to worry about losing them when you exit. Pressing the Delete key with a camera selected will remove the active camera. If you delete the only camera, your view will snap to the origin (0, 0, 0) but you will still be able to look around and create other cameras. In essence, you will always have at least one camera in your map.

Selecting objects in the 3D viewport

To select an object in the 3D viewport, you must have the selection tool active, as shown in the following screenshot. A quick way to activate the selection tool is to hit the Esc key while any tool is selected, or use the Shift + S hot key.

A selected brush or a group of brushes will be highlighted in red with yellow edges as shown in the following screenshot:

To deselect anything within the 3D window, click on any other brush, or on the background (void), or simply hit the Esc key. If you want to select an object behind another object, press and hold the left mouse button on the front object. This will cycle through all the objects that are located behind the cursor. You will be able to see the selected objects changing in the 2D and 3D windows about once per second. Simply release the mouse button to complete your selection.

To select multiple brushes or objects in the 3D window, hold Ctrl and left-click on multiple brushes. Clicking on a selected object while Ctrl is held will deselect the object. If you’ve made a mistake choosing objects, you can undo your selections with Ctrl + Z or navigate to Edit | Undo.

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