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.)

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

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

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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.

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