3 very important, very useful sites for mapping and more.
As for the skybox, it varies. When just testing certain parts of the map; say a puzzle but it’s the only part you’ve done, just use the cordon option. It’s the little black/yellow striped (I think) box on the top; click on it to toggle cordon on/off. There should be another, similar box next to it with, I think red dots on the corners. Click that to start adjusting the dimensions of the cordon; make sure EVERYTHING you want to be in your map is inside the dimensions; anything outside will not be rendered. If you just want to experiment with ambiance and the general time of day feel, use the 3D skybox texture. Make a nodraw box around the stage (WITHOUT HOLLOWING), then texture all of the face on the inside of the big box you made that you’ll be able to see with the 3D skybox texture. You can set what it’ll look like ingame in Map properties. There’s a list of all the possible skybox names here: http://developer.valvesoftware.com/wiki/Sky_List
That’s also just for testing. When you’re map’s done, use an actual 3D skybox. There’s plenty of information on all of those if you look for it.
As for my preferences, idk what you really mean. I just open it up using Episode 2 on the Orange box engine.
You should probably start by just experimenting. Look around the Hammer interface, try some entities that interest you, and just figure out how everything works. Set a goal and/or a theme for a map, and start working on it, maybe sketch it out first. I don’t, personally, but some say that helps. And it’s ok to ask questions, just make sure you look for the answer on your own first; we don’t like answering questions that could have been easily answered with google.
Oh, and make sure no entities are outside your map; everything that isn’t a brush HAS to be completely enclosed by brushes or that cordon thing I told you about earlier. If your map wont compile, check the compile log for “LEAKED”. If you see this, press Alt+P in Hammer before asking anyone for help; that will show you the entity you left in the void. And if you’re water’s invisible when you’re not in it, it’s a leak. I’m trying to preempt another topic about that.
Aw man, I was working on that off and on for like an hour, and I get ninja’d by 3 minutes. :frown:
Oh and yeah, I’d recommend just using the Half life 2 episode 2 configuration for the orange box engine, if you have it. It depends on what game you’re mapping for really.