I set up the encounters and triggers in the Big Room (what I'm calling the room I replaced the silo with.) There are enemies patrolling the catwalks, and more that come in as backup when the bridge is extended. Setting up the AI spawners and movement nodes took a while, as they weren't working how I wanted at first. Turns out that if you place a series of AINodePatrols, set one as a CAI's Initial Node, and set all nodes as SmartObjects such as MenaceNonInfinite or something, the CAI will perform the SmartObject motion on the initial node, but simply walk right past the rest of the nodes in the patrol. The fix: I set the SmartObject on the Initial Node to none, and the CAI recognized the commands on all of the following nodes. My main concern wasn't the SmartObject motion, but that there was a command telling the CAI to pause for 5 seconds at each node. With his Initial Node set as a SmartObject, the CAI ignored all commands and SmartObjects at the following nodes in the patrol, including the 5 second delay. Moral of story: use a neutral node outside of the patrol loop as the Initial Node when setting up the CAI on patrol, and make that neutral node's initial command tell the CAI to go to the first AINodePatrol. That way every AINodePatrol can have commands and SmartObject behaviors associated with it.


I also spruced up the space with some big imposing pillars for cover, and went back and associated all of the CAI earlier in the level with AI Spawners. I hadn't been doing so from the beginning, meaning that any CAI unassociated with a spawner and trigger existed from the outset of the level, leading to a bunch of unnecessary AI routines taking up processing power. So I did some housekeeping and now only enemies in relevant sectors appear when the player approaches them.


I feel like I need some more setpieces, or little flourishes to break up the level. I guess I'll get to that when I'm focusing more on the visual and polish side of the project, but at the moment the level just feels like "FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT pause FIGHT FIGHT." I should think of adding some side storage or control rooms to the main rooms, winding the path a bit more, and think of some bits of scripted events here and there. Of course, I've planned all along to include original voiceover elements frequently throughout the level, so that'll help.

I guess this was all sort of a note to myself. Sorry.




A somewhat significant change came over the map the recently. Can you spot it?

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
That cool-looking cylindrical nuke silo has been cut out and replaced. I'm sorry to see it go, as it was probably the most distinctive feature of the map in the large scale, but when I started laying out the AI stuff in there, it just didn't work on a gameplay level. Navigating the space wasn't interesting, and limitations of the Assassin enemy AI made implementing them in the space unworkable. In other words, the silo seemed like a good idea at first, but it just didn't work out in the end. So I'm replacing it with what you see here:
Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
All in all, I'm much happier with the design of this room than the last. Less striking, yes, but more interesting in practice. The player must fight his way up a set of metal catwalk stairs to a suspended control room, engage the drawbridge across the large gap, then fight back down and across the newly-extended bridge to the exit.

Like the silo, it focuses on exploiting the vertical axis of movement, which is nice. There's also a lot of uphill and downhill battling, and the moving bridge. The falling hazard under the drawbridge is actually a room that the player later traverses, which is nice in that it unifies the overall space a little. I guess from those screenshots the space is kind of hard to comprehend. It'll be more clear once I start dressing it up. The stuff in the shots is so placeholder that it's not even close to funny.



Followup: Waves

The way I ended up addressing the scripting of the sequence described in post "Waves" below:

When the player triggers the industrial lift in the combat area, a safety fence rises around it, preventing the player from leaving the lift until it reaches its destination. The lift takes 60 seconds in transit. Engaging the lift triggers five CAI-- four grunts and one heavy armor-- to spawn in the previous room, and they enter the combat area through the connecting door. These CAI fire at the player from the floor of the combat room, taking cover behind obstacles, and the player (presumably) returns fire. Each of the four grunts has an OnDeath command associated with them, which spawns another CAI in the previous room. The Heavy does not. Hereby, each of the four grunts is replaced with another grunt once it dies. The replacement grunts have no OnDeath command. So, the player faces a maximum of five CAI at any given time, and a total of 9 overall, the replacement schedule making the enemies' press near-constant until the challenge is complete. In my testing, I normally mow down the last enemy within 5 to 10 seconds of the lift reaching its endpoint. The safety fence lowers and the player is free to proceed, or to jump down onto the combat floor and collect the enemies' weapons. The obstacles the enemies had used for cover now form a series of platforms that lead back up from the combat floor onto the lift, and to the exit from the room.

I'm happy with it.



Art vs. Design

This is about why I'm interested in the design side of game development, as opposed to the art side. There are personal reasons, and practical ones.

Personally, I come from an art background. I have an art degree, the only thing I've ever really been good at is drawing and writing, I've made a lot of comics. But I just don't think the art side of games is for me. My artistic skills are not really craft-focused; in other words, I'm bad at making visual art look finished and appealing and complete. Anything I do is far from polished. Art in games needs to be 100% complete, detailed, and visually flawless. My skills taper off past the concept and illustration stage. I don't know my way around Photoshop, and I'm just not interested in making that Perfect Texture or building that Perfect Mesh. I don't think it's right for me, even if I did put in the time to train and get good enough to do it effectively.

Another personal factor is that my interest in game development, and thought processes regarding it, always focus primarily on the systems, level, and gameplay design aspect. While my time working on character animation in 3DSMax was interesting, it didn't engage me in a complete way. I'm just not so personally invested in how a game looks, or how a character moves (not that they're unimportant aspects of the finished product at all.) Example: While I keep a sketchbook of general drawing and character design (currently being neglected,) I keep a series of notebooks completely devoted to notes and ideas on game mechanics and design (usually updated daily.) Like anyone, I love for a game to look great, but when I'm thinking about games, I'm thinking about how they work, how the levels are laid out, how the play systems interact, not all the details of how the characters or environment look, visual improvements that could be made, and so forth. My time spent with level design tools has hooked me much more strongly than time spent with game art tools. I think you have to pay attention to where your interests naturally draw you.

From a practical standpoint, I believe that a design position is much more sustainable, career-wise, than an art position. It seems to me that these days, when you're making game art you're constantly playing catch-up. Technologically, games are always changing. Normal mapping and parallax mapping weren't viable a few years ago, and now they're becoming standard. Ever-increasing texture detail, model complexity, DirectX shader capacity, and so forth make many skills a game artist has today obsolete tomorrow. Conversely, strong design sense, both in level/scenario design and game system design, is more universal and perpetually relevant. While keeping up with the latest advancements in game design and content creation is of course important to a designer, the concepts behind what make an effective playspace, an intuitive interface, and satisfying game mechanics are not contingent on changing technology. Scripting is based on consistent basic principles across the board; a level that was fun 10 years ago should still be fun today (while a game from 10 years ago will almost undoubtedly look terrible against current standards.) The core elements of solid game design found in such as Super Mario Bros. are still relevant today, while sprite animation is (largely) a long-dead discipline. Maybe the game art industry is just too fast-paced for me. Maybe I feel like design skills are something that will always be valuable.

Also, now that we're in the "HD Era," the sheer volume of art and man hours required to produce it are mind-boggling on a commercially viable game. Studios need exponentially more artists than they did five or ten years ago, but your role as an art contributor is liable to be proportionally smaller in comparison to the overall project. Artists are quickly becoming contractors, used to farm out particular assets and paid on a per-item basis. I don't want to work from home, I don't want to be a hired gun. I want to matter to the team I'm on, and I believe that design positions, even junior-level ones, are more individually important to the creation of a game than equivalent art positions. I feel like, in game development, artists are often largely expendable. Conversely, demand for designers seems like more of a constant. A single game will never need a staff of level designers numbering in the hundreds, nor can a developer get a contractor to just design one hallway of a level and drop it into the game. There may be less demand for design personnel by volume, but I feel their contributions are more central to the project, and their skillset more generalized, and applicable across projects and over time.

This is all the result of overthinking my role, I guess. It all comes down to: I want to make levels and design gameplay more than I want to make art and animation. I'm following my instincts here, but I think I have good reasons to back them up.




Okay, this update is going to look like I've just been adding a bunch of gimmicks to my map, but seriously that's all that makes for good screenshots. So check it out guys!!

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

And here's what that room looks like after you've had god mode on for a while, chasing the AI around to see what they'll do...
Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Really, what I've been up to, what the screenshots can't show, is setting up the enemy encounters and just generally learning a lot about AI Spawners, triggering events, the quirks of WorldEdit's scripting language, intricacies of AINavMeshLinks (note: positioning an AINavMeshLinkJump or AINavMeshLinkClimb plane at a perfectly vertical 90 degree angle will make your computer hard lock and have to be reset when you encounter an enemy nearby!) model attachments, and so forth. It's been a process of attempting to script an encounter, testing it, banging out why it's not working, refining the scripting setup, testing, why the fuck isn't this working right, trying something new, testing, what is going on here, asking on a forum or two, trying some more stuff, and finally it all comes together and the encounter works just how I planned and it's fun and satisfying! Phew.

I spent probably a combined 12-16 hours on this map over the weekend, and I loved it, and I'm looking forward to working out the rest ASAP. I've gotten past the initial laying out of the space, and am at a stage which is much more gameplay design than environment design, and it's awesome. I've been way more eager to hammer away at this AI scripting and play design stage than the stage where I was physically setting up the playspace. It's really fulfilling to make the game do what you want it to. I wish I could stay home from my job and work on this instead.




Hideo Kojima says that video games (or "videogames" in the OPM parlance) are not art. The coverstory interview they have with him is unfocused, but interesting as a simple record of a conversation with someone who's created something worthwhile. The heaviest point he touches on is whether video games are or can be art, and his role in that. The interview is sort of rambling and he mixes a lot of metaphors, at turns describing the games industry as a sort of "service industry," (in that if someone wants to ride a horse, he might make a game where you can ride a horse, thereby providing the service of being able to ride said horse.) He defines his role as a video game creator in a number of conflicting ways, ranging from the person who designs a functional car that everyone can use, to being the one who "run[s] the museum and also create[s] the art that's displayed inside," to "providing a canvas and paint and the paintbrushes to everyone who plays the game." In that case, wouldn't the player be the artist? Clearly it's just his stream of consciousness as he considers what the game creator/game player relationship is, but the core of the argument is that video games are not art, and he not the artist (which he states implicitly,) but that each is something else. Regardless of his specific analogies, I like the point of his argument, and agree.

That's a big draw to me, about the games industry. It seems to me that the majority of the people talking about "games as art" are outside the industry. They're writers, reviewers, pundits, players posting on message boards, grad students. What I love about the people who make the games is that they're very up-front about just wanting to make something "cool" that will entertain people and sell well. It's totally unpretentious, sometimes juvenile, often silly, but always un-self-conscious and straightforward. What you see is what you get with most games.

I guess, coming from the background of my Sculpture BA (Art History minor,) I've gotten my fill of the self-important, self-obsessed, very deluded modern art world. The whole tone of the creation and consumption of fine art is overblown, and I just don't buy it. Art is lovely, and wonderful, and as a means of transmuting a concept or sensation into a physical form, it can be incredible. But I don't want to be a part of it, or one of the crowd that invests themselves in it. Where art today is extremely insular, catering to a niche that makes up the "art world" (people who trade money and artworks around between one another and spend the rest of the time philosophizing over them) the video game market is bigger than itself, reaching out to as broad an audience as it can. Where someone like me, or the guy who's writing his thoughts about games as art on some obscure message board, can enjoy games on that very intense "insider" level, anyone without past experience playing games can pick one up and play it and enjoy it without needing to know who made it, their personal history, their thoughts or intentions, or anything but the content of the game itself. Games are not art because they are not about the author. They are about the player, the customer, the consumer. They are about being games first and foremost, and if they're anything else, well then that's just icing. The dominant attitude behind games-- that they simply want to be themselves, whatever that may be-- is incredibly endearing and feels just right and I love it.




Right before bed last night I was looking up something in the WorldEdit command glossary, and I think I figured out a problem. In the next section of the level, I'm planning to have the player fight waves of enemies that spawn one after the other-- a bit of an endurance battle, but nothing too serious. I wasn't sure how to script that, though. What I wanted was for a wave of four guys to stream into the room, and when the last of the four of them gets killed, another four spawn and take their place. The method I decided I could use: At the beginning of the level, a global variable is set to 0. When the player crosses a trigger brush, four AISpawners in the adjoining area spawn CAI. Each of the CAI has an OnDeath command that adds 1 to the global variable. When the variable equals 4, the next wave of CAI spawns in, and the variable is reset to 0. And so on.

But now I'm thinking maybe that each CAI should just have a delayed OnDeath command that spawns a new CAI from the AISpawner, creating a constant press from the enemies instead of a series of discrete waves.

Regardless, at the end of the area, the player crosses a trigger which disables the AISpawner, ending the onslaught. Or maybe for balance it would be better if the onslaught ended after a set number of enemies spawned. I'll see what works best.

So yeah, that was my breakthrough. Just wanted to share.




One bad thing about being a tester is that you can't talk publicly about the games that you're testing until they've been released. I'd really like to talk about game I was working on last week, because it had such potential in the production values and an acceptable premise, but it was just hamstrung by bad, easily-reversible design decisions. I can't talk about it yet, or at least, I can't name names.

The game centers around the player tagging walls with spraypaint and posters. It follows a fairly standard gameplay model wherein there are a number of primary and secondary goal spots in the level, each of which must or may be tagged by the player to proceed. They also included combat with roving enemies, and PoP-style pipe climbing and gap leaping to turn the gamespaces into puzzlespaces. In theory, this could work, as it's essentially Sands of Time but with graffiti.

However, the combat is irritating and cheap. Combat with the higher level enemies is simply punishing, in that the attackers both team up on you, and hit you with cheap shots that you can't avoid. When three enemies are crowded around you all taking free hits while you try to stand up, the combat has gone to a very bad place. Later in the game, some enemies get guns, which the player can never use. There are also turrets in some areas which fire on the player from offscreen.

Fixing the combat:
1) Limit unavoidable hits on the player. For instance, giving the enemies one free hit on the player when he falls down is fine as part of a combo; allowing multiple free hits on the ground from multiple attackers is unacceptable.

2) The player must be invulnerable to attacks at gameplay-friendly moments. The player cannot be hit while standing up (and thereby knocked to the ground again, allowing more free hits.)

3) There must be a give-and-take of vulnerability for the player and enemies. If the player blocks an enemy combo, that enemy must be vulnerable for a moment afterwards, allowing the player to attack. The opposite is also true. The player must not be vulnerable when executing a successful combo. If you get through an enemy's guard and begin landing a series of attacks, you do not want to be interrupted by that or another enemy. This is a case of being punished for success.

4) If the player does not have guns, the enemies do not have guns. If I'm going up against an enemy who is wielding a firearm, it needs to be feasible gameplay-wise to dodge all of their fire and disarm them. The player must have to mess up pretty badly to be hit by gunfire at all, and the damage from the gunfire must be extremely high. In this game, taking a three-round burst from an assault rifle hurts about as much as being roundhouse kicked. The player can also withstand constant fire from a remote turret for approximately 30 seconds without dying. When the player is wearing no more armor than a hooded sweatshirt, this is unacceptable. Considering the overall mechanics of this game, firearms should be omitted entirely (see: The Warriors.) Removing the remote turrets altogether and adding a weapon disarm move to combat could be an alternative.

There are a number of other inconsistencies in the game. The pipe-climbing and edge-scaling mechanics are pretty much carbon copied from PoP, but the placement of the scaleable elements ingame is disappointing. Pipes randomly jut out from walls then duck back in, twisting around the edge of structures with seemingly no purpose but to be climbed on. Why are pipes attached at strange angles to the girders of a suspension bridge? Is there a sprinkler for the magical orchid garden that's been planted high atop the bridge that needs a water supply? Why would pipes be exposed on the side of a corporate office building? Easy access for wall-scaling plumbers? Bird perches? Who knows. The scaleable elements needed to be better integrated into the setting. One option might be to add unuseable segments of pipe to create logical, symmetrical pipe layouts. The unuseable segments could be tagged with a standard rust pattern, and shake then crumble when the player attempted to use them, leaving the same path that's already available, but in a much more convincing context. Also, elements besides pipes need to be used. Scaffolding, crevices cut into the wall, ledges, edges of support girders, sculptural architectural features, signage, and so forth should be mixed into the design but serve the same purpose as the ubiquitous pipes. This would avoid that "Why does this bridge's support beam have water pipes welded to it?" situation.

The spraypainting is also lacking. One of my co-workers was testing a fishing game, and noted that the fishing mini-game in Zelda: Ocarina of Time was better than the entire fishing system in this fishing-based game. The same could be said for, again, the game I tested vs. The Warriors. The Warriors tagging system took some precision, concentration, and skill. One has to trace the contours of a shape that popped up on the screen. The faster you trace the shape (which maps generally to the tag design going up on the wall) the faster the challenge is completed; if you go outside the lines of the target contour, you lose time and resources. There were a variety of contour shapes for each design to keep the challenge from getting too repetitive. In the game I was testing, you were simply shown the large outline of the tag to be placed on the wall, and had to "wipe" all over it with the analog stick to cover the entire area before time ran out. It was the same for every tag. The time limit never came close to providing a challenge as I was able to finish every tag with more than thirty seconds to spare. No matter which tag you chose, the challenge was always identical. Considering this was the main objective of the game and therefore was required up to a couple dozen times during each level, the tagging mechanic quickly became repetitive, tedious, and unsatisfying. NOTE: If you are making a game about graffiti tagging, make the tagging itself enjoyable.

SECOND NOTE: If you are making a game about graffiti tagging, allow the player to create his own graffiti tags. Even Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, a game about skateboarding, allows the player to create his own graffiti tags using an MS Paint-style program and a number of premade templates and stamps. This game does not.

Being a tester is good, though. I'm definitely playing a lot of games I never would have played otherwise, and a lot of bad games at that. I'd venture to say that you actually learn more from playing bad games than good ones, as the way that the good games succeed is put into sharp relief when compared to a similar game that fails. It highlights the ways one must approach a game design not to fail. I feel like this near-minimum-wage job, existing on the outside periphery of the games industry, is nonetheless beneficial in its way.



Artificial Intelligence

I'm beginning to set up the AI for the enemies in my Mapes' Bunker level. I could be doing such as snapping in doors and switches at this point as well, so that the level is 'fully functional,' but considering that the prefabs to be released with FEAR patch 1.03 should include a number of sliding and swinging doors already set up, I've decided to avoid doing any potentially redundant work until I see the exact contents of that patch.

Fascinating, eh?

For being so robust, setting up the AI characters ("CAI" from here on) in FEAR is relatively easy. Basically you just lay out a ground plane that dictates the boundaries that they can run around within, then place AI Nodes around which tell the CAI where to take cover, where to jump over or crawl under something, where a window is to dive through, and so forth. You set the variables of these nodes and let the CAI run loose. It makes its pathfinding decisions dynamically based upon the AI nodes and the position of the player.

So, in my first combat space, I set up the AI navigation meshes (navmeshes) like this:
Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Which translates into this ingame:

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

I spent a while trying to get the CAI to jump down from that ledge, and finally got it working. It was very satisfying to run around in godmode provoking the CAI for a few minutes, and finally to catch one jumping down just as I'd been wishing it would.

You'll notice how flat and dull-looking everything is. I expect that after I set up all the AI, my next step will be finalizing the shell geometry (the contours of walls, pillars, etc.,) texturing it, and then lighting the whole shebang (followed then by placing prefab decorative objects and atmospheric sounds, and whatever else needs to be done.) In the meantime it's all lit with a flat ambient light across the level with no textures or artistic details. It's ugly, but it's heading towards functional at least, which is exactly what I'm going for at this point.

Also, those stairs didn't used to be there. I originally had ramps leading from the upper to lower level, but found that the AI had trouble with clipping through the floor when it was going up or down the ramps. So I replaced them with stairs, and an AINavMeshLinkStairs path. But they would still weirdly float above or clip down through the stairs when ascending or descending. Eventually what I figured out is that the CAI can only navigate the AINavMeshLinkStairs path in an exact 45 degree angle, meaning that the only coordinate that really matters is X; the distance from one end of the stairs to the other will be traversed by the AI at a 45 degree angle regardless, so more gently-sloping flights of stairs are impossible. FEAR is kind of weird. It's stuff like that where you can really begin to feel the baggage left over from earlier Monolith projects like No One Lives Forever. I remember that in that game, if you killed an enemy on stairs, they would pop into a rolling animation, play that as they descended the staircase, and then pop into a death pose at the bottom. I assume that they could only play that animation in a 45 degree path as well. If it ain't broke don't fix it, I guess. Though, it kind of is.

Side note:

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
That's nazty!

There are some things that are better left unseen fullbright!



Considering that I still have Christmas thank-you notes to send out, I'd say there's still time to wrap up business from 2005. So, off the top of my head--

-My Favorite Games of 2005-

One of the first to come to mind is The Warriors. I think there's some personal history involved with this one. One of the first games that I was completely in love with was Double Dragon for the arcade and NES. It was a really raw experience (for my 6-year-old self,) what with unapologetically knee-smashing a bunch of jean vest-wearing dudes in the face and throwing them into industrial equipment, tossing knives at a guy (or kicking those knives out of the air with your incredible martial arts skills) and generally just stomping ass in a gritty, no-ruffles setting. I got much the same thrill out of River City Ransom for the NES, then Crime Fighters and Final Fight and the rest of its ilk
. Something about the games reached out to me with their dangerous back-alley appeal. They were edgy. I think that somehow they managed to be my punk rock. I even used to wear one black batting glove with the fingers cut off to play Double Dragon in the arcade at the mall (hardcore!!)

Long, rambling leadup finally meets its end. The Warriors hearkens back to those glory days, reviving a genre that's as dead as Adventures today. It even amps the beat-em-up edginess factor to degrees I wouldn't have been able to handle when I was a kid--drugs, swearing, rampant vandalism and looting, and of course not shortage of blood. It takes its source material and fleshes it out, but also wears away the oddly innocent tone of the original film. The film focused on one crazy night where the Warriors had to keep it together just to survive-- there was no acknowledgment of the daily workings of gang life. The game has more time to wander through old Coney, and focuses on that seedier, dirtier aspect of gang life. The player steals from shops, cars, and passersby, snorts methamphetamines, and straight-up murders dudes. Any naivete leftover from The Warriors film is ground completely out of the game, which isn't necessarily positive or negative, but definitely a notable difference in tone from the source material.

What I love is how Rockstar approaches making a game. They've used modified versions of the same engine for all their games since GTA3, which I think works wonderfully for the scope of projects they choose. Each game builds off of the last, so their entire series of games is part of an iterative process. The Warriors picks up the fighting from Grand Theft Auto but expands and polishes it to an incredible degree. The fighting mechanics aren't overly complex, but neither do they ever get boring. There are a number of different possible vanilla attack combos, plus layers of power moves, reverse holds, tag-team attacks, throws, context-sensitive environment-enabled attacks, thrown and swung weapons, jump attacks, dives, and so forth. The stealth mechanics from Manhunt and GTA: San Andreas make an appearance, but thankfully aren't mandatory in practice (in other words, well-integrated stealth mechanics in an action game, no joke.) The workout routines from San Andreas also pop up. Playing through the game, you can count the various aspects plucked from Rockstar's prior titles and repurposed here, which all work to the game's advantage.

All in all, the level design in The Warriors is probably my favorite aspect of the game. The general philosophy here was to give the player a linear series of discrete levels, each of which wis an objective-oriented nonlinear space for the player to explore and complete.The plot of the game was linear, and each level would always have the same ending, but the levels themselves were pleasing freeform without losing their focus. Often the goals would involve meeting a quota of damage done, property stolen, enemies defeated, or simply to escape the area alive, at which point the player is simply dropped into the playspace, left to decipher the layout and make connections himself, then go about completing the objectives as he sees fit. In my case, this led to some focused emergent gameplay that was so much more satisfying than a would have been possible with a completely linear level structure. Here's my example:

The level is a trainyard. I'm charged with spraypainting "THE WARRIORS" murals on a number of cars. As I explore the trainyard, both a rival gang and police are patrolling the grounds. I've put up a couple of burners when I come across the next spot I want to hit, but wouldn't you know it, a group of rival gang thugs are hanging out right where I want to be. Not long ago I had passed a cop patrol in an alley, so I picked my battle right then and there: I provoked the enemy gang into chasing me, then led them straight back to the cops. During the ensuing brawl I crept away and put up my burner undisturbed.

After finishing the piece it was time to exit the level. The gangs and cops were all riled up and out for my ass, so I got on top of a line of train cars and started booking it towards the exit point. In a dead sprint, the camera was tight over my shoulder, focused straight ahead. Suddenly, as I pass the roof of a warehouse, a cop jumps the gap and lands directly in my path not five feet ahead. I'm holding a glass bottle in my hand and, not breaking stride, jam on the square button and smash the bottle against the cop's head, sending him tumbling off the car as I leap to the next train and continue bolting towards safety. It must have been unscripted, an event that emerged from the combination of the level layout, the enemies present, their aggression levels and pathfinding routines. It all came together to make a moment that really stuck with me, largely because I know it didn't happen for everyone. Structured-emergent level design. I'm into it.

I guess I've said enough about The Warriors to fill a whole Top 10 list, so I'll just mention a couple other titles that snagged me during 2K5:
God of War, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, F.E.A.R., Psychonauts, Battlefield 2, Shadow of the Colossus, Killer7. I wish I could think of more, but titles are starting to run together from 2003 to 2004 to 2005. I'll tell you what, though: I'm definitely looking forward to what's coming in 2006. Metal Gear Solid 4, Bad Day LA, Spore if it hits this year, Condemned and Call of Cthulu on the PC, and who knows what else... There's always so much ground to cover. I hope I'll have time for it all.

Media update for Mapes' Bunker next time.



My current work in progress

This'll be the first entry in my progress diary. My current project is a standalone single-player level for F.E.A.R., using the SDK that Monolith released not too long ago. I guess a little bit of background regarding my mapping experience might be good here.

I've been mapping and making game-related content for a long time. This could go really far back if you include making tracks in Excitebike, but I'll say I mostly started by programming simple text adventures in BASIC and using the BUILD engine to make an elaborate Duke Nuke'em 3D level during middle school. Since then I've used everything from the map editor for Command and Conquer, to creating some pretty sweet campaigns for Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games, to mapping for Quake, Half-Life, Half-Life 2, making approximately 50% of a game with Adventure Game Studio, some simple puzzles with Flash, maps for Dawn of War, some Splinter Cell mapping with UnrealEd, and probably one or two projects I've forgotten about. All this experimenting has been enriching and given me a solid groundwork for using level creation software, but I haven't come away with any substantial, finished products. That's where I stand.

With the map I'm working on, I'm trying to play to the strengths of FEAR. The big draw of the play in the game is fighting with FEAR's excellent AI soldiers and navigating claustrophobic corridors and forboding industrial facilities. So I've set the level in an alternate tangent from the FEAR storyline. The player is tasked with entering a repurposed nuclear bunker and destroying some sensitive information, then eliminating one of the key characters from the game. It'll be a lot of creeping tunnel fights through subterranean concrete passageways, with a number of setpieces to break up the pacing, and I hope it'll end up being fun and engaging and strong enough to stand on its own.

At this point, I'm blocking out all the integral geometry of the level and making sure all the spaces flow together well. I'm done with the layout phase at this point, and will next be moving on to filling out the final versions of the containing geometry and applying textures. Here are some wide shots of the overall level that I have so far (click for full size.)

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

One of the setpieces is the large nuke silo that you see here:

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Here are a few shots of interiors blocked out with portholes, doorways, columns, and so forth.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Basically what I've done so far is make sure the entire level is navigable and flows properly. I hope that means the most essential aspect of the level is pretty much solid at this point. The rest of the process will be at turns technical and simply aesthetic, as I begin scripting in features like doors, switches, and enemies, and design my own architectural flourishes and place textures, sounds, lighting, and so forth. I hope that the official prefab objects from the game will be released soon, as one final part of the design will be placing objects around the level like computers, machinery, equipment, signage, and so on, which I'd like to take directly from the game's archives, since this level is set squarely in the FEAR universe.

I'm approaching this pretty methodically, as I have all the projects I've done. When I made comics I would write out the entire script first, then do all the layouts, then draw it all, ink it all, letter it all, and finally publish it. I did improvise a lot when I was laying out this level, but that was all within the layout process. I think with a project like this it's best to do everything in order, so if something needs to be changed down the line, you don't have to go and redo a bunch of textures and artistic details that no longer apply to your new ideas. I guess the best step to take next would be laying out all the enemy encounters and the essential doors and triggers, to make sure the whole endeavour plays right. Then it's on to sprucing the place up. Here goes.



Welcome to Fullbright.

Hi there.

Why don't we talk about why I'm making this blog? There are about two reasons.

The first is that I want somewhere to put out my thoughts on video games. I've been looking for a place like that for a while.

My first shot at it: starting in September 2004, I published three issues of the quarterly print zine The Journal of the Compugraphical Video Entertainment Medium (dig the joke title.) I wanted to write out a bunch of high-minded thoughts I'd had about narrative and game design and the role of the player and the player character and politics and gender and motivation in video games. So I did. But I wanted to take the air out of it a little, so I hamstrung it with that overlong pretentious title, Kinko'sed the entire thing, and started selling and giving away copies. I managed some good material in there, like interviews with Greg Kasavin of GameSpot, Jacob Andersen of Io Interactive, and Craig Hubbard of Monolith. I made a couple bucks off of it, got the title known around town a bit, and started writing about games for a local paper, which lasted about six months or so.

But after three issues, the zine had run its course, and I moved out of town so I stopped writing for the paper. I was looking for a new place to continue writing about games, so I hooked up with Idle Thumbs, a transatlantic website about video games and the industry. I was really into it at first and put up a lot of material, posted news, reviews, opinion pieces, helped with the site artwork, and so forth. That lasted almost six months. By now I've realized that the editorial process at Thumb is completely broken, and I'm not interested in the site much anymore. Again a homeless writer.

So, here I blog.

Second thing: I'm not much satisfied just writing about the game industry at this point. I'm much more interested in the hands-on design and development side of games. Flat out, I've got to be all up in the games industry, helping it happen. I'm working on becoming a level and scenario designer, and I want to use this space to talk about the nuts-and-bolts stuff which that entails. I want to talk about design philosophy as well as the ins and outs of making successful playspaces for specific systems. And I want a place to paste up material from the levels I'm working on for my portfolio and to hash out the processes I'm going through there. I'm looking at a progress diary. A video game blog.

-What will you find here?-

+ Media and commentary on pieces I'm constructing for my level and scenario design portfolio
+ Thoughts and commentary on game design issues and the games industry
+ Thoughts and commentary on specific games I've been playing

I don't know if I'm just doing this for myself or for an audience, but I hope that if you are reading this, you're interested in the same things I am, and that you'll get something out of this blog. Not that there's anything here yet. But soon.