Showing posts with label mods. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mods. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Postcards from Quakeland, 2022

Some random notes and thoughts from Quake modding land, in this cold wintery June of 2022:
  • Community Hubs
  • Official Mods
  • The Future of My Quake Maps

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The Forgotten City (2021) revisited

I've written previously about murder in Skyrim, epic Skyrim fan game Enderal, and a very bushy Skyrim mod called The Forgotten City. Since then, the mod makers have remade it into a UE4 standalone time loop first person RPG called... The Forgotten City (2021)

From a game dev perspective, it's been fascinating to play. They had to rebuild Skyrim systems in Unreal... but what to cut and what to recreate? In this post, I compare and contrast the original and this modern remake from a dev / design perspective.

DISCLAIMER: I played the original mod and remembered much of it, so a total newcomer's experience would probably be different. Or maybe it wouldn't? Who knows.

SPOILER WARNING: this post spoils much of what happens in The Forgotten City (2021).

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

"Quake Renaissance" for Rock Paper Shotgun

For Rock Paper Shotgun, I recently wrote a three-part series "Quake Renaissance".

Part 1 is an industry history of Quake's cursed development at id Software, Part 2 is a primer to 25 years of Quake community modding, and lastly Part 3 is a how-to guide for getting into Quake and enjoying its mods.

This series had some goals:

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

new Quake map: "It Will Be Summer Eventually"

My third Quake map is another multi-level arena, a bit similar to my previous map Smell It In The Street. I made it for Speedmap #210 (SM210), a weekend map jam on the Quake Mapping Discord with a theme of "overgrown" by jam runner Naitelveni.

For this map, I think I did a bit better with combat design. The arenas are a bit more open and free than before, and the encounters have a bit more purpose and push. I also make heavy use of Copper v1.11's improved ogre aiming, fiend jumping, and trigger_monsterjump spawnflags.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

new Quake map: "Smell It In The Street"

I made another Quake map! This one is called "Smell It In The Street" and it was made for the Doom Tintin map jam, a level design jam centered around using Quake mapping community member Tintin's texture pack that samples from Doom 3 textures.

Some brief level design thoughts follow:

Monday, February 11, 2019

Black and white and re(a)d all over: on SOD (1999), Half-Quake (2001), Jeux d'ombres (2007), and NaissanceE (2014)

Last week I finished playing through the entirety of NaissanceE (2014), an avant-garde walking sim / platformer game inspired by brutalist megastructure manga and filled with subtle callbacks to new media art. NaissanceE has a bit of a cult classic reputation among level designers and modders, due to its heavily reliance on abstraction, lack of concrete narrative, and punishing platformer sections.

To this day, the game still defies easy categorization and demographics. Who is this for?

The walking sim aficionado of that time (the Dear Esther remaster was in 2012, Proteus and The Stanley Parable remaster were in 2013) would've hated the platformer sections with instant-death traps, while the action jock might've been tempted to rage-quit with every coy architectural riddle and impossible-to-navigate dark room. Back in 2014, only a few critics dared to defend this design clash.

I think the work still holds up pretty well in 2019, and to understand why, we should take a brief trip back to 1999.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Forgotten City (Skyrim mod) as dense quest

This post kind of spoils (but not really) some of the Skyrim quest mod The Forgotten City.

Bethesda open world RPG games have developed certain quest tropes. One trope is the conflicting stories quests like Two Sides of the Coin (Oblivion), In My Time of Need (Skyrim), and A Business Proposition (Elder Scrolls Online) which present two NPCs with conflicting stories and no real way to discern who is right, so you just have to pick a side and hope you feel good about it. Naturally, this provokes heated debates among fans, such as this epic two year 500+ post multi-thread argument about which NPC was ultimately truthful in Skyrim.

I heard about the popular Skyrim mod The Forgotten City after their E3 2018 retail remake announcement. After playing it, I think The Forgotten City exists within a different open world quest tradition of complex "dense quests" with many characters and possibilities in a small space. It reminds me a bit of Whodunit (Oblivion), Tenpenny Towers (Fallout 3), Beyond the Beef (Fallout New Vegas), and Diamond City Blues (Fallout 4)... the retail version of Skyrim conspicuously doesn't have any comparable dense quest, so The Forgotten City sort of fills this gap.

Friday, May 18, 2018

So you want to try playing Thief 1

I've been streaming some Thief 1 for the past month, which has gotten some people interested in trying the game for themselves. You definitely should, especially if you like eclectic first person games, immersive sims, open world games, or walking simulators... it's almost 20 years old, yet it still feels really different and fresh and distinct from anything today.

That said, it can be a bit tricky to play for modern tastes, so here's a bit of advice for getting into Thief:

Friday, May 26, 2017

From modders to mimics: a people's history of the "prop hunt" genre

This post contains minor gameplay spoilers for the first hour of Prey (2017).

Contemporary game design is built on the blood, sweat, and tears of countless modders. MOBAs, tower defense, realistic squad shooters, walking simulators, survival royales, all started as mods. (For those keeping score: Aeon of Strife for Starcraft 1 or DOTA for Warcraft 3, innumerable tower defense UMS maps for Starcraft 1, Counter-Strike for Half-Life 1, Dear Esther for Half-Life 2, Day-Z for ARMA.)

Add the "prop hunt" to the list. The prop hunt is interior design meets hide and seek, where hiders "hide" in plain sight, disguised as the decorative clutter common in video game worlds, and seekers must guess what is inanimate clutter and what is sentient clutter. Arkane Studios' recent sci-fi shooter Prey (2017) cleverly commercializes this mechanic in a way that modders never could, and while it's nice to know they're paying attention to current trends, I think it's also important to remember the modders that usually get erased from game design histories. In this case, I argue that modders predate AAA design practice by at least 19 years.

CrateDM was a Quake 2 mod released on April 14, 1998, made in an hour by Chris "Shatter" Holden. As far as mods go, it was really simple from a technical perspective: a small map full of crates, and a PPM (plugin player model) that let players appear as crates, and no custom code or anything... which, I think, is brilliant. We often argue video games are made of code, and here was a new game genre created without any code at all!

Here is Holden's process and notes from the readme.txt:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"Psycho-material geographies" of 3D spaces, and The Beginner's Guide by Davey Wreden et al

This post gives vague conceptual SPOILERS for The Beginner's Guide, and spoils a few specific moments. You really shouldn't worry about it, I mostly just talk about me in this.

I was one of the people who secretly played The Beginner's Guide long before its public release. Why was I given access, and not someone else? Well, that's kind of what the game's about: a "Davey" who is talking through his relationship with another designer named Coda. Who did Coda want to play their games?

In her own excellent post about TBG, Emily Short argues that the game has a very spare "personality-light" kind of style compared to what Short regards as more distinctive contemporary experimental designers like "Stephen Lavelle, Michael Brough, Pippin Barr, [... or] Robert Yang." That shout out (thanks!) is what stirred my memory...

I remember playing this seven months ago (back when it was simply codenamed "The Author") and suddenly thinking... wait, is Coda supposed to be me?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Level With Me, vol. 1 re-release (v1.1)

I have updated my old experimental Portal 2 mod "Level With Me" to work with current versions of Portal 2. This mostly involved repackaging a menu file and rebuilding the sound cache. Assuming you have Portal 2 installed, you can download and play this collaborative interview / playable journalism project at the page.

  • Remember to feel free to stop playing the first chapter at any time.
  • Previous posts / notes are here.
  • Interview subjects were: Dan Pinchbeck (The Chinese Room), Jack Monahan (Stellar Jockeys), Brendon Chung (Blendo Games), Magnar Jenssen (Avalanche Studios / Valve), Davey Wreden (Galactic Cafe), Ed Key (Twisted Tree Games), Richard Perrin (Locked Door Puzzle)
TECHNICAL SOURCE ENGINE NERD NOTES: It was fun trying to figure out how to update everything; Valve updated every Source game to use .VPK v2, except Portal 2, so it was pretty much impossible to find the old VPK.exe compile utility. Luckily, I had a hunch that Alien Swarm hadn't been updated since forever, and I turned out to be correct. (For anyone who googles for this post, you can grab the one from the Alien Swarm SDK, or download the old v1 VPK.exe here. Make sure you place it in a \bin\ folder with a tier0.dll, and then you can just drag-and-drop folders onto it or a shortcut, etc.)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Notes on working with Source SDK 2013 Singleplayer Base

I've been working with Source SDK 2013 base for the past few months, and I thought I'd share some notes on workflow for any future modders who google to this post:
  • If you are making a simple mod that uses default Half-Life 2 features, then you do NOT have to compile your own binaries. You can just tell Steam to use the ones that come pre-compiled by Valve from the already included "sourcetest" mod instead. Steam automatically downloads the correct binaries for the client's platform when they download the Source SDK 2013 Base -- which means you presumably get free and painless Windows / OSX / Linux support, as well as any new changes Valve merges into the codebase... As far as I can tell, most of the basic Half-Life 2 entities work in sourcetest, though env_screeneffect seem to be broken due to some missing shaders.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Porting simple Half-Life 2-based singleplayer mods to Source SDK Base 2013 in 3 steps

If you have a lot of custom code, there are probably some compelling reasons NOT to try to upgrade your existing code to Source 2013 unless you have a lot of free time to hand-merge everything... but if you just have a mod consisting of maps running on Half-Life 2 or the episodes, the relatively easy update to Source SDK Base 2013 gives you better performance (the Steampipe VPK-based loading is much faster than the old GCF system), integrated VR support, and maybe most importantly, it is a freely available "standalone" release to anyone with a Steam account.

The process is basically 2 steps, but I added a 3rd pretty crucial "step" that came up in my own mod...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Much Madness is Divinest Sense.

A couple things got me thinking:
  • Source SDK Base 2013 does not require any purchases whatsoever, and is freely available to all Steam users.
  • DOTA2 is using Source Engine 2, or at least some substantial derivative of it.
To me, that means Source 1 is definitely nearing the end of its life, and Source 2013 will stand as (perhaps) the last definitive engine fork for Source 1. There's a good chance I won't have to fix up my release ever again because of Valve updating Episode Two and breaking all mod compatiblity: furthermore, anyone will be able to download Source 2013 and play my mod.

Preliminary tests look promising: both chapters of Radiator 1 worked in Source 2013 with just a little massaging. So, contrary to all expectations (I'm as surprised as anyone), I'm dusting off the rest of Radiator 1 and the whole thing might actually get completed now, several years later. I'm cutting a lot of the stuff I planned before (mostly boring puzzle gameplay stuff that I was trying to hack-together using map scripting) and the end is already in sight, it's just going to be a lot of narrative scripting and re-learning the rhythms of working in Hammer.

... And hopefully this'll be the last time I have to edit and update this thing.

(Oh, and I've also updated my portfolio with all the latest trends. HTML5! Bootstrap-whatever! Responsive-whatsits!)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"Keys" by Ryan Trawick, and the emerging shape of post-mod culture and walking simulators

Keys is a newly released single player Source mod, made mostly by Ryan Trawick, that is freely available to anyone with a Steam account.

... Which is made possible by Valve's generous licensing of their Source SDK 2013 Base. This is kind of a big shift in policy for Valve. Historically, mods have been locked to their parent platforms so that they could drive-up sales of triple-A retail (e.g. people buying Arma to play the original Day Z, or Warcraft 3 to play the original DOTA), but something here has changed. Perhaps Valve has decided they have enough money, or perhaps they realized Steam is already a powerful platform to lock-in people anyway. So now, Source 1 is kind of transitioning into more of a middleware platform like Unity or Unreal, though most people outside of the TF2 / CS:GO communities have generally moved on already.

What are Source mods in a "post-mod" age, where they're not even modding a retail game anymore, and they're freely distributed and shared? Can we even still call these things "mods", or have they transcended that type of framing?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Someplace Else source files (for Black Mesa Source) + "Majestical" env texture set

A year and a half ago, I was working on a Source re-mastering of Adam Foster's classic "Someplace Else" to plug into Black Mesa Source. The appeal of modding a mod to remake a mod was intoxicating. Unfortunately I haven't really touched Hammer since then though, so I think I'm now forced to admit that I probably won't get around to finishing it.

I am open-sourcing the map file and textures I made for it in hopes that maybe someone more motivated can pick it up. If you're interested in finishing what I started, here are some design notes:

Thursday, January 9, 2014

"Black Mesa Source: Makeover Xtreme" at Indiecade East 2014

Indiecade East in New York City is happening in... about a month... and I'm giving a talk there. (A talk that I should start writing. Shit.) I should also note that the entire speaker lineup is very exciting and diverse and Indiecade is a lovely games event with a very good signal-to-noise ratio.

My talk continues the "technical politics" theme of my other talks these past few months:

"Makeovers are serious business. That's why dozens of modders volunteered to makeover Half-Life 1 (one of the most influential games ever made) in a new game engine with new graphics, architecture, animations, voice acting, choreography, sound effects, etc. So much work goes into the video games we play, but what exactly does that work involve? Get ready for excruciating detail about the blood and sweat that goes into just one room of one level of one game -- and why us modders w-w-work it for years to give it away for free. See? Makeovers are serious business."

My relationship with Black Mesa Source is strange -- I did a lot of work for them for a few years, then left because I couldn't commit time to it anymore -- so I recognize a lot of the content, but at the same time it feels somewhat alien to me because someone else finished it.

There's something interesting to dissect about the identity of work, here, especially given the intangible status of mods.

Are mods "games"? In terms of distribution / ownership / sales, no. In terms of artistry / concept / craft, yes. Is this Black Mesa Source level mine? Yes and no. When you get a makeover, are you still you, or someone else? What are the politics of makeovers? etc.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Radiator 1-2 Handle with Care, Sourcemod gameinfo.txt fix for Steampipe VPK file format shift

In the last few weeks, Valve has dropped the GCF file format. A "GCF" was like a ZIP file containing thousands of game files. They were usually quite large (several GB was common) and so they were prone to file fragmentation, which balloons loading times as games need to load more files and assets. With Left 4 Dead, Valve started shifting their filesystem infrastructure to a "VPK" format -- instead of being stuffed into one or two colossal files, game assets are distributed among many more smaller .VPK files, improving loading times. Valve has now converted all their older games to use the new VPK file format too.

It's great, but it has also broken most Source mods made before 2013. Fortunately, the fix is pretty trivial: it involves editing the "gameinfo.txt" to mount the file assets in a different way / order than before.

If you want to play Radiator (or any single player mod based on Episode Two), just follow these instructions:

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"From Earth" mod needs writers / narrative designers / concept artists / voice actors.

"From Earth" is probably going to be one of the very last Half-Life 2 mods ever made. It's Mirror's Edge-ish first person parkour + a mechanical machine-shop crafting-puzzle system + original science fiction setting. If I had time, I'd totally help them out... I don't have the time, unfortunately, but I really want to make time...

However, I really do think this is a golden opportunity for people with some mod skills but want to collaborate on a bigger project and focus on specific design problems. This is a veteran mod team that has already finished and released 2 very big mods already; they're small, focused, and they know what they're doing. (Most mod teams have difficulty getting coders, character modelers, and animators -- but that's exactly what they already have, so they're in a really really good position.)

This project is looking for writers / narrative designers, level designers, concept artists, and voice actors. (Again, these are traditionally the easiest roles to recruit for mod projects, the so-called "idea people" who are considered plentiful and worthless. The fact that this team is focusing on recruiting for these roles, consciously and thoughtfully, demonstrates they're different from the vast graveyard of dead projects -- these people get things done.)

Imagine you're a writer / narrative designer who wants to get into AAA, but you're incapable of making games yourself. Ideally, you would learn how to make games yourself, go indie, and bypass AAA entirely -- but if, for some reason you still want to go into the mouth of the beast, this is fantastic chance for you to actually do what they would do... You'll make demands for animations and audio logs and scripted sequences; the team will helpfully explain to you why that would take several years of work; you'll work around these limits and genuinely improve your own ability to design narrative; it'll be hard, but rewarding.

This is a solid project. They're doing a lot of things right. They have most of the core game already working and implemented. If you're a decent writer or multiplayer Source Engine mapper or environmental artist or someone, looking to hone your skills or practice single player design, you should definitely jump on-board. You will make good work and get results.

(Disclaimer: I've playtested From Earth.)