Friday, 8 July 2011

I am one with the darkness...

... a shadow, of a cat, in the night...

Torches are a pain in the ass.

You spend days of your life getting the lighting just right on your map and all the player has to do is hit the torch button and it's ruined.


Recently I've tried my hand at creating an almost pitch black level in order to creep the player out. The concept was pretty straightforward...

The player moves through a section of the level which is in total darkness. All the while creepy monsters move around them. Across pipes above, along walls adjacent to the player path, under floor grating.

The idea was to make the player feel surrounded by something they only caught glimpses of. I had the monsters (in this case the NPC_fastzombie from HL2) only move when the player performed an action like opening a door or jumping down onto a new ledge.

In practice however, I've found that total darkness is no fun at all. It puts the player under pressure but they quickly lose patience with the inability to see anything and the game play suffers greatly as unless the player is looking directly in the direction of an oncoming creature, they miss their entrance and end up just fumbling around in the dark.

So I added some lights, fairly minimal at first. You know what I found? Having just a few small lights is even more annoying!

Eventually I found the solution. Have alternating dark and light areas for the player to move through. Always give the player a light to go for in the distance. The light areas act as rest stops and relieve the pressure of being in total darkness.

I'm not saying that dark levels can't be fun, Valve proved it could be done well in HL2:Episode 1 but it requires a lot more skill to make it fun, than I thought it would require.

If you're interested in making a dark section for your valve based map I totally recommend you look into the env_flare entity. I pretty much does what it says on the tin. It's a flare, but it's very pretty, gives out minimal red light and can really add atmosphere to a map. Basically it creates a small island of light in a sea of darkness but the player feels totally isolated. Very cool!


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