Showing posts with label the dark mod. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the dark mod. Show all posts

Friday, June 14, 2013

Design reboot: Thief.

This post relies on familiarity with the gameplay / affordances in Thief. You may want to read Dark Past or my write-up on "Assassins." You're also encouraged to read through Mr. Monahan's Design Reboot blog.

I've been watching Thief 4 coverage over the past months and I'm increasingly convinced that I'm going to hate it. So let's pretend, just for fun, that I'm making a Thief-like... What are the best qualities of Thief to preserve, and which parts of the sacred cow would I lop-off? Here's what I'm thinking:

KEEP: Level size. Thief levels vary from medium to extremely large. "Life of the Party" was a single mission where you had to traverse an entire cityscape of rooftops through two dozen buildings and then also infiltrate a huge skyscraper at the end. Sheer architectural scale is important to maintain a sense of...

KEEP: Infiltration and exfiltration. You have to get in, rob the place, and get out. There's always an outside and an inside, and it's great to feel that you're not supposed to be inside. But previous Thief games usually neglected exfiltration as redundant backtracking or worse -- something totally nonexistent because you've already incapacitated the entire guard garrison by the end of a mission. (My favorite Thief 1 mission, Assassins, is one of the few missions to really do something with exfiltration.)

ADD: Organic use of dynamic lighting. With dynamic lighting and shadows, you can do totally unimaginative setpieces where you have to hide in a guard's shadow or hide in the shadow of moving objects on a conveyor belt. But something else is going on here: with dynamic lighting, open doors and windows become light sources -- and if you can close the door or block the window, you've "extinguished" that light -- but if there's a ramp in front of that window, you can't put anything there to block it because it'll just slide down, etc. That possibility sounds much less horrible than a contrived puzzle that you designed to death.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dark Past (part 4): The Useful Post (?) or Randy Smith's "valence theory" of level design.

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

Many moons ago, I began by (part 1) emphasizing the robustness of systems in immersive sims before (part 2) moving closer to level design, then (part 3) criticized both ideas, and now the point of all this: (part 4) Randy Smith's "valence theory" of level design, as applied to the Thief games. (NOTE: he never called it that, but I am.)

We're done with the theoretical basis. Now this is the "Useful Post" of the Dark Past series, a primer on some level design theory for immersive sims with stealth mechanics. It's also particularly relevant, given the recent announcement of Dishonored.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Levels to Look Out For (January, 2011)

These are WIP levels / env art that I liked, and most of them are hopefully close to release / are released. I command you to like them as well.

 > l4d_yama by Mark "the0rthopaedicsurgeon" Edwards
Four years in the making (?) and probably the most ambitious custom L4D campaign being made, surpassing even the impressive I Hate Mountains custom campaign. Whereas "I Hate..." was the work of three very handsome Europeans, l4d_yama is just a one-man effort, which is perhaps even more impressive. I've personally learned two important tricks from watching this map get made: (1) vignette the corners of a texture and add a subtle gradient to make it seem like one of those lightbox signs, as seen in the electric city section of this level, (2) use Propper once you've finalized level geometry to optimize everything, as Edwards did with all those signs in the alleys.

> "Tron Scene" by Joshua "Vassago" Stubbles
I featured the concept art last time, but here's the final product. I chose the wireframe screenshot because I liked the way he did the giant blue laser writer tower things. Specifically, the furthest one in the back is actually a sprite imposter. Final Fantasy XIII did this a lot too, the ol' "real 3D tree close to you but fake 2D sprite away from you" trick -- and here I didn't even suspect it. Also pay attention to his gorgeous use of matte painting in the background... Mobile devices these days, e.g. iPads, seem to have a lot of texture memory but not as much polygon pushing power. Expect more matte painters to find work in mobile games and a shift towards higher production photorealism. (If / when Square Enix does a Final Fantasy game for iPad, it's going to make Infinity Blade look like scribbles.)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dark Past (part 1): On the immersive sim, mechanics, and mod communities.

Thief has always been a hardcore FPS series: uncompromising, often difficult, with large sprawling levels that you inevitably get lost in -- all designed to maximize emergence and spit on the linear scripting of the modern arcade FPS today.

Games of this breed (System Shock, Deus Ex, BioShock, Arx Fatalis), dubbed the "immersive sim," are supposedly dead, they say. They're probably right. In fact, almost every person interviewed in RPS' amazing "Dark Futures" series makes a gesture towards accessibility and user-centered design. The guy I quote extensively, Randy Smith, is tired of the hardcore 3D game market in general. The future of games is mobile and usable -- prophecy never lies.

But!... Eidos is now working on sequels to the two pillars of the immersive sim, Deus Ex 3 and Thief 4. Consider how much BioShock had to drop in order to be successful: they stripped away basically any system or mechanic that didn't relate directly to shooting someone in the face. Is it worth that price, to preserve this bloodline of game design?

That's why I enjoy the team at The Dark Mod. Currently there's a discussion in the forums about keys attached to NPC's belts, how they're too dark and no one can see them. Yet the brighter and more sensible "after" fix is not being merged into the main build! For some crazy reason, they're not standardizing key brightness -- "some players like it that way."

Well then, I'd say that this supposed "silent majority" can download an optional "key darkener" file, but that's not what the team does. Nope! At the Dark Mod, legacy behavior trumps all.  

I love it. It's such poor design, practically intended to alienate as many new players as possible. It's uncompromising... No, seriously, this is a really awful approach to design. ("This is a problem for many players? But I, personally, like it this way! Oh well, too bad for the players. They can download this tweak and edit all these files to get what they want.")

... In this sense, it's artistic in how stubborn it is. Maybe even poetic. It's the idea that a player should conform to a system rather than the other way around.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Recommended: Dark Mod v. 1.03

I realize this blog is quickly becoming a "Dark Mod" blog with the recent glut (or tangible lack?) of posts lately, but that's because (a) I'm playing a bunch of Dark Mod levels, (b) I'm actually getting a decent amount of design done.

The real game-changing feature in the freshly released 1.03 is the in-game mission downloader; now you can command the game to automagically download and setup levels from the mission select screen, and it works amazingly well. With a few clicks, you've got hours of Thief-y goodness, ready to deploy. (Next step: a rating system so I can make sense of which missions to play?)

If you like Thief games / the Thieves' Guild quest line in Oblivion, you gotta play the Dark Mod. Thief 4 is still years away, Thief 3 is unwieldy and aging, and Thief 2 requires an hour to get working / the leaked code is still incomplete and will require months or years of fiddling.

It's only getting better and better. (It plays nice with the Steam version of Doom 3 too.)

Though, if you want a list of complaints...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Nothing to Report

Agenda for 12/19 - 1/22:
  • Finish Radiator 1-3, get it out the door. I haven't looked at it for months because of schoolwork, but in the past few months I've learned how to cut corners to finish stuff, so hopefully I'm better prepared to work on it.
  • Block out my Dark Mod map, "High Society." The mod's included assets bother me a lot; no consistent texel scale, inconsistent art direction (some textures look straight out of Photoshop with generic bevel and emboss filters) and the Doom 3 engine is really weird in general.

    Like, look at my WIP screenshot below -- the skybox should be LIGHTER than the level geometry. That's what looks right in real-life. I think it's minor art direction stuff like that which is preventing the mod from getting more popular... well, that and the fact that no one has a copy of Doom 3 laying around. (I'm pretty sure they're banking on idTech4 going open source in a few years.)