Tuesday, 14 February 2012

What I mean by Gameplay...

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...

Creating Mapping Toolsets

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.