Thursday, June 30, 2011

MapCore Weekend Challenge: "Nightwatch DM"

Textures and level design by Henning Horstmann.
Many moons ago, I worked on a single player Half-Life 1 mod called "Nightwatch" with many of the the best and brightest minds of the mod community. Even with all our expertise, resources and manpower, we still overestimated ourselves and ended up not releasing a thing.

The world textures were amazing though; ~60% by Adam Foster, ~25% by Henning Horstmann.

This weekend at MapCore, we're going to live vicariously through you and actually release some Nightwatch maps -- make a small Half-Life 1 deathmatch level in 72 hours using these awesome textures!

The Half-Life 1 version of Hammer is more or less identical to the current Source version, except the design process is so much faster. No worrying about cubemaps or water shaders or prop models. Just start mapping!

Confer the thread for instructions, what to download, and various tips and tricks for working with Half-Life 1.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Unity for Source Modders

I still make Source mods and I like it, don't get me wrong -- there's no harm in a little experimentation though, right? Now, if you make levels for Source Engine stuff then you already have the skills to start using Unity. Think of it as learning another language and being bilingual or multilingual. Here are some general concepts from Source, their translations in Unity, and some tips:

> In the Unity editor, hold right-click in 3D camera view to enable WASD / mouse-look / noclip-style navigation, just like in Hammer. Hold "Shift" to sprint. This is probably the single most important thing for you to remember that you might not've figured out immediately.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Polonius (pre-alpha)

Against our better judgment, me and Eddie Cameron have made another Unity FPS for the Mini Ludum Dare #27, "All Talk." It's horribly unfinished because we spent most of the time playing LA Noire and going out to bars and eating amazing burgers, but hey, next time we'll know.

This game is based on the central setpiece of Francis Ford Coppola's classic espionage thriller, "The Conversation."

Here's how it works: you have three characters with microphones. Two have long-range parabolic "sniper" microphones in fixed positions, and one is on the ground to actively tail the target.

The target couple wanders into all kinds of obstacles (walls, trees, spheres, crowds) that prevents the snipers from getting a clear recording, so that's where the ground guy comes in -- he can tail them for a limited time, but then occasionally the target will turn around -- in which case he has to go run and hide.

Right now a lot of it is broken and the game doesn't work as well as it should. Specifically, it's either really hard or it's too easy if you find one particular exploit.

There's also a bunch of stuff we want to add: working gameplay, character animations, non-male character models, additional missions and scenarios, maybe a second "audio mixing" phase where you have to mix the 3 sources together before submitting to the client, etc.

Still... I think we're slowly getting better at this.

If you really want to play it, though I can only half-heartedly recommend it, the 7.1 mb Unity web player build is right here. Here are two important things you need to know before playing --

1) A yellow arrow hovers above your target for 30 seconds as an aid at the beginning of the game.  After that, you're on your own.

2) Also, keep your briefcase guy out of the target couple's LoS, or else you'll lose! They have really far LoS! Just hide behind stuff to break LoS.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A summer mapping initiative

It's so refreshing to make Portal 2 levels -- you have an idea, you make it, you test it, you detail it, you test it, you fix it and then you have a rather playable map in the end.

I've worked on so many unfinished levels and half-baked concepts the past year... and then I just cranked (crunked?) out a few chambers in the last few weeks.

Making a map pack is suddenly so much more manageable. Never before has the function of video game architecture been so clear and elegant. In a weird reversal of architectural history, ornament has even transformed into something functional (it makes a surface unportalable) and slanted walls become more than just visually interesting.

The only thing I dislike is the lack of a decent custom map loader interface in the main menu. Right now you have to go into the console and type "map [mapname]" which the average player can't be bothered to do. I'm sure it'll get addressed in the next update (DLC #1?) but until then, profound sad-face.

If you've been working on the same old project for the last few months (or years) then take a break and spend a few days on a Portal 2 map.

Remember the designer you once were and enjoy the feeling of actually finishing things.

Because I know I sure needed it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dark Past (part 3): Letting Go of the Immersive Sim, of flu viruses, ghosting, and why we're all Kate Winslets at heart.

This is a series of posts that analyzes the immersive sim. It's a play on the excellent RPS feature, Dark Futures.

In past posts, I argued that (part 1) immersive sims were so cool we got overprotective of them and suffocated them, but (part 2) we can still extend the same design theory to contemporary single player design.

For part 3, I'd like to explore the limits of "immersive sim theory" and even criticize it in light of recent research. This devil's advocate stuff will help us in part 4.

Both system dynamics (sort of the science of systems) and Looking Glass Studios came out of MIT in the 70's or 80's or some time around there -- and for the convenience of my argument, let's assume it wasn't a coincidence...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Further Reading for "Gay (But Not Gay)..."

I'm probably going to regret bringing up the "Gay (But Not Gay) Characters in Video Games" thing all over again.

However, I feel obliged to relate the whole matter to a somewhat recent "post-gay" article and the ensuing criticism. And then there's that whole snowballing mess that is GLAAD.

I believe that no non-crazy person disputes the necessity of having some LGBTQ video game characters.

Rather, the debate, I think, focuses on how they should be represented and what kinds of gays are most deserving of representation. This is the same debate taking place outside the sealed vacuum that is video games, in a small but growing civil war within our fabulous ranks.

... Of course, Jim Sterling is still wrong.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Question for the colorblind / an idea of accessibility and audience?

Was choosing "red" a bad idea / horribly insensitive to colorblind people? Like, will they be able to distinguish the non-portalable metal plating from the stone walls? I don't want a BioShock 2 debacle on my hands.

Or am I misunderstanding how colorblindness works?

I'm told a good guideline is to just desaturate a screengrab completely and make sure the brightness / contrast can speak for itself... I suppose I could darken the red texture a bit? Or is the light-dark contrast good enough?

Here are some breakdowns of other "player minorities":

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Close Reading: "Noveria," Mass Effect 1

I wanted to airlock Ashley Williams as soon as I met her. The vehicle physics are awful, like a shopping cart coated with Vaseline. The PC equipment menu interface still sucks. The squad AI is foolish. Tech skills seem rather worthless. Biotics are overpowered. Shops don't sell anything better than what you find. And so on.

... But the scripting and level design in Noveria? It's quite good.

Spoilers below, but only about the first 75% of the quest.