Showing posts with label the book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the book. Show all posts

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"Coast Guide" for PC Gamer UK 0310

cover of PCGUK 310
A while ago I wrote about the process of importing Half-Life 2 levels into Maya -- but I didn't divulge why I was doing that work: because PC Gamer UK commissioned a design analysis feature from me, to complement their big Half-Life 2 retrospective / Black Mesa feature for their November 2017 issue (PCGUK 0310). (Thanks to editor Phil Savage for the opportunity.)

At the top of this post, you can see the "blank" overview map of Half-Life 2's d2_coast03. That's basically what I submitted to them for publication, along with some accompanying box-out text and images for their layout artists to use. Stylistically, it's similar to what I previously did for a PC Gamer UK retrospective on Half-Life 1, when I diagrammed the Black Mesa Inbound chapter and the "shark cage" setpiece in the Apprehension chapter.

But for this new illustration, I wanted to be more accurate and import the actual level geometry as a base. It ended up being rather time consuming to do all the test renders in Maya and iterate to that finished state, especially since I'm not used to working in a pre-rendered mode. I also didn't really know what kind of look I wanted? I knew I was partial to a sort of digital papercraft look, but I also struggled with keeping everything readable.

In print, the whole thing looked a little bit like this:

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Cleaning out some old Black Mesa archives for PC Gamer

Here are two old level design illustrations I did for a PC Gamer feature on level design in Half-Life 1, quite a few years ago. In the overview map, I focused on the construction of the Black Mesa Inbound chapter as a whole; and in the more focused cross-section, I concentrated my analysis on a single setpiece, the "shark cage" sequence in the Apprehension chapter.

(In the PC Gamer print version, the diagrams are annotated and labelled, but the image files I submitted were blank like these. I forget which issue it appears in. If you're interested in this topic, you can watch my Practice 2013 talk on this stuff to get roughly the same material.)

Anyway, here's a bit about my process and intent with these illustrations:

Monday, November 25, 2013

"Well-Made: Back to Black Mesa" @ PRACTICE 2013

Very special thanks for Frank Lantz for inviting me to speak, and to Charles Pratt / Kevin Cancienne for counsel and emotional support, and Brendan Keogh / Dan Golding for convincing me that people even want to hear about stuff like this. Many of the ideas in this presentation will be expanded upon for the book I'm doing with Press Select.

First I want to set the record straight: I love Half-Life, but that doesn't mean it's immune to criticism. It is flawed in many ways. (Hard mode is too hard. The game is too long. On a Rail induces hemorrhaging. etc.)

I also think games mean things so far as you can argue for certain interpretations -- and I think Half-Life's popular legacy does not endure much scrutiny. Specifically, Half-Life's narrative is not subtle nor sophisticated nor conceptually innovative: from what we know about its development history and acknowledged inspirations, it is designed to be a schlocky silly action B-movie about a sci-fi disaster conspiracy, and I argue that reading is more convincing than thinking it's "the Myst of video games" or something.

That does not mean a schlocky game is bad; schlocky games are often fantastic. What I'm arguing, instead, is that many players prefer the weaker reading of Half-Life because they are seduced by the promise of technology without actually understanding what the technology is doing. Half-Life is magical and interesting and subtle, but not in the way that gamer culture mythologizes it. (At the same time, let's still be critical of what Half-Life does, and the values it represents to both players and developers.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"Press Select" is officially announced / update on the Half-Life book.

So the cute-gay-dad couple that is Daniel Golding and Brendan Keogh (oh gosh this is how rumors start) have officially launched a swanky website and stuff for "Press Select," their publishing venture for long-form video game criticism. Each author will follow Keogh's example in dedicating one whole book to one game. (It's not announced or anything, but I already called shotgun on Half-Life 1.)

My peers (announced so far) in this thing are:
  • Patricia Hernandez, of Kotaku and Nightmare Mode fame
  • Michael Abbott, the man behind The Brainy Gamer
  • Maddy Myers, freelance critic for various outlets including Paste and formerly The Boston Phoenix.
  • Chris Dahlen, critic, co-founder and former editor of Kill Screen, and writer on Klei’s Mark of the Ninja.
  • Tim Rogers, game critic for and founder and director of Action Button Entertainment.
  • Jason Killingsworth, features editor of Edge Magazine.
  • Jenn Frank, game critic, formerly of EGM and 1UP, Editorial Director at Unwinnable, and voice of Super Hexagon
I'm a little intimidated because books are really long and complicated things, but I'm also excited and confident that my lovely editors will keep me on track.

Right now I'm just working on a rough outline and scribbling a bunch of notes. If you want a sneak preview of the material, you can attend one of three upcoming conferences. Each one will be pretty different and talk about different things and aspects of Half-Life 1 and other games, but they'll all be emblematic of a similar argument: that Half-Life 1's legacy of pioneering "in-game scripted narrative" has resulted in the crappiness of military FPS shooters today, and it overshadows what's actually a very finely tuned arcade-ish shooter -- and as with anything, there are politics and tensions embedded within an arcade shooter.

The conferences I'm speaking at are:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Half-Life book: some pillars.

(CAVEAT: Manifestos, by their nature, must be militant. I use environmental storytelling theory all the time in my games; however, that won't stop me from pleading for its death as the pre-eminent narrative methodology in action games. There are countless other ways to tell stories and mean things, we must simply discover, articulate, and disclose these new ways to each other.)

I guess I'm writing some sort of book, about Half-Life 1, for Brendan Keogh / Dan Golding's new recently sort-of launched book publishing project. So what's there to say about Half-Life?

I know I definitely don't want to focus on Half-Life's authored narrative (dialogue, scripted sequences) or "environmental storytelling" -- I think that approach is played-out, and the promise of that approach has proven to be a failure -- it's convinced so many game developers that a ragdolled corpse with some blood and bullet decals is supposedly a "good story" instead of a weak, generic vignette that's not really about anything. Two ragdolled corpses next to each other isn't a good story. A chair with a shotgun next to it isn't a good story. There are very real limits to this methodology if that's the most "subtle" we've been.