Thursday, 19 April 2012
Friday, 13 April 2012
He has a wonderful German accent and it's a genuinely funny video.
DrOcto makes a new friend called Paul and then kills him and loses him repeatedly....
DrOcto forgets about Paul completely and instead gets on with playing the mod.
Seems obsessed with gifts!
Bilaros sent through an almost completely cold playthrough of the mod. There's no commentary but what's really interesting is you can see his thought process as he approaches each puzzle. You can almost hear the cogs whirring away in his head and see the moment it clicks.
Fun to watch...
As a level designer it's fascinating to see how each player approaches each new situation. What are they drawn to, what misunderstandings occur. Do they understand what is important in that space etc...
Well worth a watch for level designers out there.
Wednesday, 11 April 2012
I've also been working with allied NPCs and critcal allies which can add their own frustrations to proceedings.
When you introduce a buddy character to the player who must be protected or its game over, you change the nature of a first person shooter. The player has to keep an eye out for a second party. This can be used in a variety of ways that can enhance or destroy gameplay.
1: The player no longer has to worry about running out of ammo, they can fall back on their buddies firepower if they need to. Anyone who had completed HL2: Episode One achievement "The One Free Bullet" will understand that it is totally possible to survive this way if you alter your playing style.
Firefights become more dynamic if you set areas up correctly. For example, adding raised areas the NPC ally is happy to move to can give a real sense of teamwork and allow for some strategic thinking by the player.
NPC allies are a great way of controlling the flow of play. Adding gates that only the NPC can open will allow you to control when the player can move forward and can solve many gating headaches. This is seen numerous times with Alyx and the Vortigon in Episodes 1 and 2. Often it allows time to pause, deliver some story or some form of reaction to the situation. All of this makes for a more pleasing game experience if used in the right measure.
Buddy characters can also be used to make the player feel special. Alyx in HL2 repeatedly congratulates the player on being awsome as does the Vortigon. In fact, this mechanic is used so much that its a huge slap in the face when you meet Dr Magnusson at White Forest who does nothing but criticise.
Still, FPS gaming can be a lonely experience sometimes and its nice to have someone telling the player they're smart and skillful.
From a map design perspective critical allies can be a real headache. The player must never lose them, they have to be able to reach the player through the majority of the map (aside from areas designed to seperate them). Also, they should never be in a place of danger unless the player can help to defend them.
The player can get frustrated waiting for the buddy to catch up.
Ive heard from players who spent the whole of HL2 trying to ditch Alyx. "she's always there again when the next section loads!" one player moaned "I hate her". Buddy gameplay isnt for everyone but you can certainly make it far more bareable by ensuring that when the player completes a loop in the map and they've left the buddy behind somewhere, that the buddy is right there ready and waiting for them to move forward. If the buddy is half a mile away, the player is going to get peeved, trust me.
The buddy can get in the way. Always make sure your walkways etc.. are wide enough for the player and the buddy to move past each other. As anyone whose ever played Counterstrike will tell you, there's nothing more infuriating than someone camped right behind you, so that when you need to back up, you cant move. Death often follows!
Always give the NPC buddy lots of room to move around so that they can make the best of the "get out of the players way" logic they've been programmed with.
They can reduce the challenge of a map. Because NPC allies often have huge health pools it can often make the game much easier. When it comes to combat, dont be afraid to up the numbers of bad guys as the npc buddy will seriously increase the players damage potential. Playtesting should help you find the right balance.
Thoughts on vehicles
Adding drivable vehicles to your map can add great variety to the gameplay but I've found you'll need to consider some things when designing you playing spaces.
Your map areas are probably going to need to be outdoors due to the large spaces required. This means that you'll need to learn how to make displacements and get good at making them. I have found that creating template sections of maps can be very helpful as these can be used to create various layouts which the mapper can then re-arrange at will. You'll need to create a straight, a sloped straight (to go uphill or downhill) and a 90 degree turn, at minimum. A 45 degree turn section can add a bit more variety and realism. Intersperse these template sections with larger areas with more interesting gameplay.
How do you make sure the player doesn't lose the car?
This is a bit of a tricky one. Where a car can go... people can walk... so how do you make sure that the player brings the car with them into a new section of the map where they are going to need it?
How do you make sure they dont end up stranded with no transport?
Well I've come up with several potential solutions...
1: add a jump that only the speeding car can clear
2: add a wall/gate that only the player can break through in the car
3: add an electrified floor
(not very realistic...)
4: add more cars. Add a spare car in each new section of the game.
5: build a route for the player to go back and get the car on foot...
I may employ one or more of these methods in Deep Down... we shall see!
Sunday, 8 April 2012
A while back I added a post about some prefabs I had created that I added to my map pack Daylight. They didn't have a huge amount of purpose but were added as oddities that the player could interact with and simply made the player experiences a little more fulfilling (or at least that was my intention).
Continuing this theme I think it's really important to make as much as possible in a map, a game for the player. So what do I mean by that?
Consider a standard item pickup. You can add an item anywhere in a level and the player simply has to walk over to it in order to obtain it. Not much fun really.
Why not add a little challenge? Place the item inside something, behind a pane of glass or a fence or something that requires the player to just go that extra step in order to obtain it.
This kind of mini-game challenge is great in an area that has no bad guys in it. The player can take their time and simply enjoy playing with the mini challenge you have set them. These mini puzzles don't have to be complex at all. Just fun...
The best examples of these are the weapon cache items in HL2 Episode 2. Each cache had a mini puzzle or challenge associated to it, short, simple and fun.
Next time you want to add a pick up, think about how you could make it just a little less simple for them. It will add greater playing time to your map and the player will feel that they received a far more detailed experience.
Sunday, 1 April 2012
You have come to my blog... and as you have visited I shall give you a free gift.
An early preview of Half Life 2: Deep Down, a chapter entitled, "Into The Mines...".
You'll need HL2 Episode 2 installed to play it.
I hope you enjoy it and I hope it gives you enough reasons to be excited by this project. Personally, I'm having a whale of a time building it...
Don't forget you can find more dev work over at http://www.moddb.com/mods/half-life-2-deep-down
Here's the link to the download.
The ones that really get my blood up though are the mods that have an amazing gameplay demo video on the site, but they have not released any playable content after a huge amount of development time.
The old rule "release early, release often" holds true for games as much as any other software product. Initial betas of counterstrike were playable, but clunky. Still the team knew they had something fun that people wanted to play. Thats all you need! The community stuck with them because it was always fun to play.
Many mod teams have an unhealthy obsession with perfection or that someone will steal their ideas. They should probably realise that if your attepting perfection, you wont reach it and... trust me.. your ideas probably are not that original and it's doubtful there are lots of people out there just waiting to steal your mod content. If you feel your idea is original, its probably not that good. There are very few original good ideas around. You are not going to re-invent gaming as we know it and at the end of the day, its just a feckin computer game.
It's also very unlikely that your amazing mod, when finally released, will get you hired by a games company. Its far more likely that, by releasing actual playable content iteratively and regularly, you'll learn a lot more through player feedback and become a better game maker thus making you far more hireable. You'll also have a much higher profile out there if people are playing your stuff.
A strange confusion around the difference between a story and a game also seems to exist. I've seen so many mod pages or blog posts where people say, "we've almost got the story finished so we can start building soon".
Story means feck all when building games. Its a veneer painted over gameplay to make the whole thing more pallettable. It's a delivery package for gameplay but it should always come secondary to gameplay.
Finally I don't understand why weapon models seem to be the first thing that mod teams focus on. Its almost always the first sneek peek you get of any mod, most of which dont make it. There must be a humungous arsenal of weaponry out there that never saw the light of day...
Wednesday, 28 March 2012
Half Life 2:Deep Down is my new project and its more than well underway. I have one map complete with 3-4 maps to go.
A ModDB page is up here: http://www.moddb.com/mods/half-life-2-deep-down
Take what I learnt building Daylight and expand on that to create a full HL2 mini episode. The mod will feature a fully functioning Alyx, a fully functioning Vortigon with custom voice, driving sections and some new NPCs (I hope!).
It will also feature locations from Episode 2 such as White Forest base.
Modding for Episode 2 is tough because you have no access to the code base. So anything new must be created via entities in hammer.
For example, I want a new NPC that uses a grav gun to pick up prop_physics entities and throws them at the player. Via code this may be reasonably simple to achieve, by finding entities that act in a similar manner (zombs hit prop physics objects at the player). But through entities, these kinds of behaviors can be very difficult to achieve.
It's always the way with my work, the more I play test, the more the content of my mod grows.
To keep this under control I've given myself a deadline of End Of July 2012 to release.
As a result I need to cull many of the less than great ideas I've had so far.
Anyway, please drop by the Mod DB page and take a look.
Tuesday, 14 February 2012
I was having an interesting debate the other day about HL2 mods and gameplay. My friend maintained that when people create maps for HL2 the gameplay was already set out for you (i.e. you have guns and NPCs) so it wasn't necessary for mappers to design their own gamplay.
I disagreed and here's why.
We've all played maps where you run through corridors and rooms and shoot a lot of bad guys. It's the bread and butter of the HL2 game however, if you take a close look at HL2 game these shooting sections are actually quite small and well designed.
The rest of the game is made up of very specific areas of gameplay designed using the elements of HL2 in very different ways.
Here's a simple statement of gameplay:
Shoot all the descending aliens before the reach the bottom of screen.
Thats a fairly simplistic view of space invaders but accurate as the main goal for the player.
Heres another one:
Kill all of the Striders before they reach the White Forest base.
Sound familiar? These two games are 25 years apart yet the core basics of what makes a game don't change. Both require the player to master certain skills, both put the player under increasing pressure, both get more and more manic as the pressure intensifies.
I would argue that in this respect, HL2 is no more complex at a basic level than Space Invaders.
It's this core idea of the game itself that is something often missed by mod makers but without it what do you actually have? I mean if you're attempting to design a mod then surely the first thing you should have in mind is the game itself?
Mod DB shows so many projects with concept art, music, player models, weapon models but if you try and find a simple, clear statement of gameplay, you'll probably come up empty. The content mentioned above may be stunning but it may as well be for a movie or some machinma if the mod team have no idea of what the game they are creating actually is.
Here's a related question...
Why is it 95% of movie related game titles are shit?
They have the artwork, the soundtrack and the story all laid out for them. How could it fail?
The answer is of course that these games are rushed out the door to coincide with the film release and virtually no time is spent developing the gameplay. As a result movie titles are usually at best boring or at worst unplayable (Iron Man on the Wii I will never forgive you).
So next time you begin to plan a map challenge yourself with this question.
Is there a game here outside of opening doors and shooting bad guys?
If the answer is no then I think you owe it to the player to try harder...
I've been working on a new map series recently and retrying some mapping concepts that I started to explore a year or so ago.
The idea I had back then was that it was possible to create a series of map pieces that could be snapped together in any order you wished and rearranged at will. I originally used this idea when building a tunnel driving map. I created straits, turns, downward and upward sloping sections, junctions etc... I added prefabed lights to each section and a cubemap. Then I experimented with map layouts by simply rearranging the pieces depending on how it played.
It's a fantastic way to produce reasonable looking maps quickly and it lends itself to driving sections of games where the detail can be kept low as the player will most likely pass it at high speed.
The idea of prefabricating elements of a map isn't new but I do think it's underused by many mappers preferring to build and tweak as they go.
For me personally, I like to create a playset room for each map section I create. I make walls, floors, ceilings, lights, props etc.. all in one room and then use that as a pallet to fill out my map sections. Its like a style sheet for my map and makes the whole process of creating a playable, reasonable looking map far quicker. In addition, this process also lets me ensure that the little niggles with map details are dealt with early on. For example, if my light models are lower than head height I need to set the model to be non-solid so that the player doesnt get snagged on them when playing. If I were to paste this light all over my map before fixing settings like this, I could have over 100 lights to go fix afterwards. Very time consuming.
The best thing about a playset room is that it allows you to play around with the look and feel of your map without having to recomplile a huge area.
I highly recommend it.
Saturday, 28 January 2012
In the linked article over at World Of Level Design he talks us through his mapping process in relation to his Whoopservatory map (a favourite of mine just purely for the wonderful silhouette of the observatory with the crows against the nights sky... sigh...)
Hope this is helpful...
Here's the link.
Thursday, 26 January 2012
I'm a forward looking guy. I believe in open-source, I believe in sharing what we've learnt.
So here are the valve map files for each of the four maps that made up my recent mod Daylight.
Pull them apart, learn what you can, re-use what you like!
I honestly don't care if I see any of the elements from Daylight showing up in other mods. Please use it all and enjoy it!
Hope you have fun with this.
Tuesday, 10 January 2012
Daz is a mapper, and a pretty darn good one by the looks of it. In this video he takes us through several iterations of a map he didnt finish explaining the lineage of each section, why he trashed some of it, things he's not happy with etc...
Its a really interesting watch if you have an hour to spare.
Now you know the problems happening in your map, how on earth do you go about fixing them without having to rip the whole thing up and rebuild.
Well there are some fairly effective "sticking plaster" techniques we can use to turn a problem area around.
Problem: Player doesn't know where to go
Player direction is probably the easiest issue to fix as there are a multitude of directions tools that we can use to help them.
1: Light and Sound
A repeating sound with assocaited light is a sure fire way to get the players attention to a specific point in the map. Think a sparking wire or blinking lightbulb, a red light with associated siren. As long as the sound is timed correctly with the light the player should go straight for it.
Alternatively, remember that players will head towards light and away from darkness so brighten up the direction you wish them to go in.
Place some pick ups along the route you want the player to follow.
Sometimes, when you place a barrier in front of the player, if they can't see any indication that there's a playable space on the other side of that barrier, the player can often assume that it's a dead end and that this is not the way forward. It's best to place a pick up (either health or ammo) on the far side of such a barrier so that the player knows they are supposed to continue on in that direction and set themselves to the task of how to move the barrier.
3: Lines and arrows and signs
In the real world we see player directions all over the place. One way arrows painted on the streets, exit and no entry signs.
Make sure you fill your map with these elements whenever possible to keep the player on the correct path.
You can also add more subtle direction. If in a sewer one tunnel has many pipes leading into it from different directions, the player will be drawn down that route. The pipes create subtle lines that urge the player in that direction. Think if it like swirling water drawing you down a plughole.
4: Railings and low walls
Small barriers can be very useful in guiding the player and can be thought of almost like the guides in a pinball machine. Players bounce off these and are slowley guided to their destination.
5: Follow that bad guy / good guy
A great way of demonstrating the correct path to a player is to have either a good or bad NPC head down it first. The player will naturally follow them.
Problem: The player doesn't understand my puzzle
This one's a bit more tricky to solve and often depends on how obscure you've made your puzzle.
Just remember that the player is playing a mod of a game they probably know quite well. In Half Life 2 for example, the original game set up rules to the world. Make sure you're puzzle fits within these rules first of all. If an object is often not breakable in the original game, don't assume the player will understand that it is breakable in your map.
Here's a few ideas for helping the player out to get past your puzzle.
1: Demonstrate the solution first
Depending on your puzzle, you can always demonstrate the concept first using an NPC. So if you puzzle involves moving between large moving walls you could show an NPC trying it and getting it wrong. This has the added benefit of communicating the danger of the area to the player too.
2: Add a hint that triggers after 5 minutes
A nice suggestion from my mate Philip.
If the player has not progressed after 5 minutes then they are probably reaching the point of quitting the game or noclipping on to the next area. Add some kind of hint to the map that fires at the five minute mark. Try not to use screen text but have some automatic action that occurs in the map to draw the players attention to the key elements they should be paying attention to.
3: Draw the players attention to key elements
Use some of the elements in the First section of this post (i.e. player doesn't know where to go) to draw the players attention to the important points of the puzzle
4: Provide an instructional video or diagram
If your puzzle is skill (running / jumping / shooting) based, you can have a lot of fun making an instructional video and then showing it to the player on a screen in the game. Add a cheesy american voiceover for additional fun... or just add an audio announcement instructing the player on what they should be doing. Alternatively, create an instructional diagram and post it on the wall for them look at.
5: If all else fails, ditch the puzzle
If you've tried all of the above and your playtesters still aren't getting it. Ditch the puzzle. It's not gonna work!
Problem: My firefights are over too quickly
This is often a problem where the area for the fight is too simply laid out, the player blasts through the enemy NPCs in seconds, as a result people are often tempted to simply add more enemies to add length to the gameplay, often though this is not needed. Here's some ideas that should add some longevity to your firefights.
1: Add more walls / geometry to your firefight play area
NPC's often operate best when they have a number of paths available to them. Add in columns and walls to break up the playing area and give the NPC's choices to make. They should be come far more interesting to engage for the player.
2: Add unbreakable glass windows to solid walls
If the player can see the NPC, and the NPC can see the player but they can't shoot each other, you'll find you create a dynamic cat and mouse game where both have to make a decision about which way to go to kill each other.
3: Add height and routing possibilities
Horizontal firefights are pretty dull. As in Multiplayer maps, always add a higher or lower path that NPC's and players can take to get the advantage over the enemy. Also, try and make sure that no area can be used as a sniper nest. Try and make every corner of the play area accessable from two differt routes.
4: Add lots of cover
A firefight with no cover is basically just a mexican standoff. The player will be lucky to survive at all. Make sure you add natural cover for both the player and the enemy. Make sure they can move from cover to cover without exposing themselves to enemy fire too much.
5: Make your play area a circle
Circular firefights are hugely more exciting than those designed in a horizontal fashion. The brilliant thing about a circular play area is that everyone can be flanked from one direction or another. If your heading left they can attack you from the right, etc... have a play with circular arena's and see what I mean.
I will continue this subject in a future post...
Sometimes a map feature you're in love with turns out to annoy the player like crazy. Playtesting should reveal these of course but I think we can narrow down some things to be avoided where possible.
1. Lighting Issues
Flickering lights, torchlight and strobes should be used sparingly. Never use such lighting where the player has to make precise actions and try and avoid this in combat also. It can become very frustrating for the player.
I recently played through a mod where the extended usage of flickering lights actually made me stop playing. Round every corner was another flickering light, another esparking wire as the only light source. So frustrating. Use these lighting effects sparingly people and always have another low light source in the map so there is some light available.
2. Hideously precise jumping
Unless your designing an FPS remake of an 80s platformer (chukkie egg anyone?), keep your jumping puzzles simple and fun. Make sure each platform is obvious (no jumping on 1 inch wide pipes please) and if youre platforms are moving then playtest and tweak the hell out of it to ensure a good balance between fun and challenge.
3: Fake Doororama
Ever play a map where u spend youre whole time trying fake doors just to find the one that works? ANNOYING!
Fake doors are fine for detailing, just make sure the player understands visually which are fake and which are real. An easy way to do this is to only add door handles to the doors that work.
4. Repeating Noises
A looped sound effect can really drive the player insane. Sirens or alarms are usually the guilty party here. Make sure, if you set off an alarm you either turn it off again once youve made youre point or allow the player to turn it off themselves.
For background noise make sure you use the ambient noise set shipped with the game. Its ambient because it ISNT annoying on a loop...
5: Cluttered Play Areas
Theres nothing worse than attempting to run backwards with an enemy closing in and getting stuck on a random chair, or crate, or barrel that serves no purpose. Cursing the screen as you die once more... oooh the language...
Keep that detail to the edges people!
Keep the main playin areas clear and guide the players movements with railings, low walls etc... to ensure smooth, playable firefights...
Saturday, 7 January 2012
There are several rules and you can check out the full explanation here however there is one element of this theory that is most important to us mappers.
Chekhov maintained that if you place a cannon on a stage during a play, the audience will expect that cannon to be fired at some point.
The mapper could look at it this way. If you are going to put an object in your map, the player could very well assume that that object has a purpose and be distracted from their main goal.
This is at it's most important in puzzle areas. In order for your puzzle to be clear to the player you need to keep things as minimal as possible. Don't add fake buttons or consoles, don't add pointless props to a puzzle area and don't add lots of detail to the walls etc...
Such additional detail to a puzzle area will only promote "Use button Spamming" which is the sure fire signature of a puzzle area done poorly. Yep, the moment the player ends up jumping round the walls hammering the "use" key, it's time to go back to the drawing boards.
Here's an example:
If I were to create a courtyard and place a combine antlion thumper in the middle of it. The player would naturally assume that they were supposed to interact with the thumper (by either turning it on or off). If I had just placed the thumper there to purely add an interesting centrepiece to the courtyard, I've actually just placed a huge distraction to the players attention, which should have been focused elsewhere (say on the jumping puzzle in the far corner).
The player will naturally be drawn to items of interest in your map. Make sure that those items of interest are also items of importance.
If you want to add items of interest to your map that are not important to the gameplay, make sure you place them in areas where it is obvious the player cannot reach (e.g. behind a fence or on a high ledge etc...).
In my map pack "Daylight" I added an explosive barrel hanging from a cuttable rope in the first area. It was presented there as a sort of play thing for the players to begin to understand the new gameplay feature of cuttable ropes. Unfortunately some players really didn't understand it's purpose and thought they had to obtain the gas tank in order to progress to the next area.
This is a classic case of Chekov's Gun Theory. The player assigns importance to objects that have been placed in the map whose purpose is unclear.