I've had another solid weekend of mapping. Progress has been made on Residential Evil. Check this out:

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That constitutes the main foyer area and two side-rooms that connect the front and rear sections of the balcony. I spent a lot of time experimenting with lighting and sectoring to get the framerate optimized. I have this area running at the same FPS as the retail maps do on my machine, so I think I should be good to go.

I downloaded the demo for SWAT4 earlier this morning, after hearing some positive word of mouth about it on the Games forum and remembering that I'd always meant to give it a look. I've been trying to get myself to actually play it all day, but I keep adding to the map and tweaking this or that instead. I've also only left my apartment for like an hour this whole weekend, and my computer for only a few more than that. I guess obsession is a good sign!




There's been good news recently. "Sequels" to FEAR have been announced! There are a few reasons this is good. The first is the obvious one: I liked FEAR as a game itself and I'm glad we'll get to play more of it. FEAR wasn't one of those games that just seemed to be so done when I finished it that I felt like it shouldn't have a sequel, and it also wasn't one of those games that devoted its entire ending to setting up the inevitable sequel. So this news is a pleasant surprise.

I'm kind of more glad to hear this news for a different reason, though. The FEAR community never really took off, as far as I could tell. I don't think very many people play it online at this point, and the mapping/modding community doesn't seem to be too expansive. Of course, the volume of quality user content actually released for even a game like Half-Life 2 is sometimes surprisingly slight. In any case, FEAR seemingly assumed the attitude of a ~pick it up, play it, put it down, forget it~ kind of experience, which of course makes anyone interested in mapping or modding scared, since the less user interest there is, the less reason the dev team has to support the tools and community instead of moving on to their next commercial project full-time. That Monolith is sticking with FEAR for now is a good thing

Considering that the FEAR sequel(s) have been announced less than six months after the initial release of the game, I'm going to draw a couple of assumptions:

1) FEAR's followup is already in development, and will be released relatively quickly. Depending on the project, a new game can be announced anywhere from 9 months to 5 years before it's released. But when the sequel to a successful FPS built on a time-tested engine is announced five months after the original game hits stores, I somehow get the feeling we won't be waiting half a decade for this one. I wouldn't be surprised (and would be very happy) if FEAR's followup dropped before the end of 2K6.

2) It will be created using the same toolset and engine as the first game in the series. This goes hand-in-hand with assumption 1 above. It's just too soon, and the existing engine is just so viable, that I can't imagine Monolith using anything but a slightly modified/refined version of the same tools to create the FEAR followup. This is what all the 'good news' stuff above is about.

3) Here's where I start reaching, but it'd be cool if I were right. The news story linked above points out that FEAR won't be published by Vivendi anymore (hence the name change.) Further,both the newswriter and Monolith representative refer repeatedly to "sequels" to FEAR. The original game introduced us to a paramilitary team that investigated paranormal activity, and showed us one of their missions. I am hoping that the lack of tradtional publisher, allusion to "sequels" in the plural, and a perfect TV-series-like scenario setup will all culminate in the followups to FEAR being released as short-form, downloadable, episodic content. I'm picturing a somewhat X-Files-like deal, where each FEAR episode introduces the player to a new paranormal threat, and shows the FEAR team tackle it, followed by a tidy conclusion, and a preview for the next episode. I would love this because I think FEAR is great, I'm in love with the idea of direct-download episodic content for PC games, and it would serve to extend the relevance and appeal of FEAR to its fanbase even further, making mapping and modding for the game a more fruitful exercise.

Fingers crossed!




I thought I'd paste up a couple pages of planning sketches I've made in relation to the map I'm working on.

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I dunno, I always find preparatory sketches interesting. These are really rough and just meant as notes to myself, to work out the space and keep it straight while I put it together. I have about a third of a newsprint pad with level design notes and sketches right now. It'll probably be filled before too long.

Oh, also, I've decided to interrupt work on the Mapes map (official title: Bunker Buster) to create a multiplayer map for entry into the recently-announced FEAR fan content contest . As I was saying that I hoped to have something ready for GDC (which Bunker Buster clearly won't be,) and the deadline for this contest is March 20, the same as the first day of GDC, I think the stars have aligned themselves in a challenge. I must create a small-but-breathtaking FEAR map by the 20th, enter it into the contest, and bring copies of it along with me to GDC as a sample of my work.

Well, now that I look at it, the date of entry for maps has changed to April 10. I could have sworn that yesterday the entry date was March 20. Either I'm illiterate (as the date to enter movie clips is 3/20) or they decided that the original deadline was too tight for quality maps to be created, tested, and submitted.

Well, okay. Same plan. I'm going to aim for 3/20 so I have something for GDC, then continue polishing the map for the next couple weeks and enter it into the contest shortly before the 4/10 deadline. It should be doable. I've spent at least half the time on the Mapes map so far dealing with AI and event/object scripting. There's almost none of that in a multiplayer map, meaning the process should be significantly shorter.

So, here's the idea for the MP contest map. I'm calling it Residential Evil, and it's going to be based generally on the mansion from (wait for it) Resident Evil. This idea came about in relation to the materials and prefabs included with FEAR. There are segments of the game set in a high-tech lab, and some set in crumbling apartment buildings and houses. I put it together and thought it would be cool to make a mid-sized MP map which was half run-down mansion, and half high-tech secret lab. The top floor will be the main foyer of the mansion, with an indoor balcony running around the edge at second-story height, and a curved double-staircase connecting the two levels. There will be a few side-rooms and hallways, and a master bedroom. There will be three semi-concealed doorways leading down into the lab level, beneath the mansion. The lab will feature a couple of examination/experimentation rooms, and a large mechanical stress containment chamber. In this central lab chamber will be the Plasma Weapon, as if it were an experimental weapon being researched in the lab. The rest of the weapons on the map will be small ordnance (pistol, shotgun, SMG, frag grenades, prox grenades, remote grenades.) The space will generally be close-quarters, so I want to stay away from the Big Weapons. The Plasma Weapon will be the only high-tech/heavy weapon in the level, and it should be balanced by its slow fire rate and a lack of sniping locations in the map (the only wide-open space being the balconied entry hall, which is on the opposite side of the map from the Plasma Weapon spawn.)

So, my goals are to A) keep the size down, as to make this project completeable by the deadline, and B) create a level with a free-flowing but claustrophobic atmosphere which lends itself to sudden, fast-paced exchanges of fire between the low-calibre arms provided to the players. And of course to make it look and run great. But that goes without saying.

I think I can pull this off. I feel like it'll happen. Hopefully I'll even place in the contest. Residential Evil is still in the early sketch stages, but look for updates here in the coming week.

NOTE: this map will not be based directly on the layout of any part of the mansion from RE. I actually kind of hate it when I see someone post on a message board that they are "remaking Facility from Golden Eye for Source (or Unreal or FEAR or whatever.)" Remaking someone else's level just seems so outright boring. What I'm trying to do is base the general tone and dynamic of the level on the major elements of Resident Evil, as a sort of homage. I won't be doing any research into RE in preparation for making this map. I want it based exclusively on how I remember Resident Evil being, without lifting anything directly from the game.




We're one step into the next generation of game consoles. Microsoft has coined the term "HD Generation," attempting to sell high definition televisions, surround sound, and the 360 as a package experience. The PS3 is supposed to be the center of a home media center, a true digital entertainment hub (and also a video game console.) The central aim seems to be making the games we're used to playing look like the pre-rendered cutscenes we're used to watching.

It's not really that interesting to me. I think it comes down to a question of familiarity, and scale.

Every 360 game I've seen has been a nicer-looking version of a game I've already played. 360 basketball is hi-res PS2 basketball. Call of Duty 2 just looks like Call of Duty: Source. There's dynamic sweat, everything's normal mapped, and so forth, but there is essentially nothing 'new' on the Xbox360, nor have I heard anything interesting about the PS3 launch lineup (aside from Metal Gear Solid 4, which is exciting for reasons other than the graphics.) The visual limitations of current-gen systems have never bothered me. The limitations of scale have.

What if a next-gen game were to maintain essentially the same graphical fidelity of a PS2 game, but scale up the experience in ways that the memory and storage limitations of a PS2 would never allow? They already managed to create a GTA: San Andreas with no load times; what if cars and pedestrians never spawned or disappeared when you stopped looking at them? What if all the bodies and burned-out cars never disappeared, until the clean-up crews came and whisked them away? What if all the buildings could be entered, and offices were filled with dozens of workers, and the streets of downtown Portland in Liberty City were packed at midday with pedestrians shoulder-to-shoulder? And you could stand at the top of a skyscraper and look down and see every single one of them, ant-sized, spreading out in all directions, going about their business? What if a zombie game didn't pit you against 5 enemies at a time, but 200, each of which could be dismembered and all their bodies and pieces didn't fade away after 20 seconds? Terrain and buildings that were less visually detailed, but all dynamically deformable? True clockwork cities where each inhabitant was persistent and constantly tracked? Enough clothing and appearance variables that you never saw the exact same NPC twice, across an entire city or world? Infinite draw distances?*

I imagine that games with visuals that looked like 2001, but were created for hardware from 2006, could pull off incredibly convincing scenarios that the current focus on graphics over situational believability precludes. I understand that the art departments of major game studios are expanding exponentially, simply due to the manhours required to create the intensely detailed textures and models and effects and environments required by the HD Generation. If those same manhours were put into expanding the volume of content, as opposed to its visual fidelity, I think I could find a lot more to be interested in with this coming generation of games.

*What about persistent volumetric clouds that dynamically changed shape and color based on realistically-modeled ingame weather patterns, based off of actual meteorological principles? That may be outside the scope of this rant.




In the area I'm currently working on in my map, I've found that some limitations of the movement paths of the CAI will make my original idea for the space impossible. I was going to have a simple setup wherein the player gets onto a large lift and as it rises there is an endurance fight wherein a number of flying drones attack the player and he must fend them off until the lift reaches the top of its path. Unfortunately, it seems like the drones are unable to interact properly with the lift. They tend to clip through the lift when they get near it, and since they can't fire downward at the player, forcing them to stay high above the lift isn't an option. They only really work on level ground.

So now my plan is to have an access stairwell that runs parallel to the lift, from which enemies can follow the player and attack him as the lift rises, maintaining the endurance fight but in a different form. Once the lift reaches the top, the stairs are accessible to the player, and he must backtrack down them, discover a small space that had been hidden beneath the lift platform, engage the manual override to open the doors at the top of the lift, and then proceed out of the space.

I think this development is good, as it will make navigating the space much more interesting, but it also means I have to build in two new sub-areas: the stairwell and the hidden space beneath the platform. This has happened in one other location as well, where I decided that adding an alternate secondary route through part of the map would be more interesting to the player, meaning I needed to build a small tunnel system that wasn't in the original design. This is a form of Feature Creep, a phenomenon that often crops up in game development cycles.

In my case, this isn't frivolous feature creep. These are solutions to problems I've come across in designing the map, which happen to entail building more areas than had originally been intended. But it becomes easy to see how this kind of thing could snowball and lead into entire new mission objectives, setpieces, and so forth. This isn't going to happen for my map, since I've already got a big job ahead of me, and I'm intent on keeping it from getting any bigger than it has to. I'm worried about how much longer I'm going to be working on this thing, not because I don't like working on it, but just because I'd like to have something to show for my work sooner than later. Also there doesn't seem to be much of a "FEAR community," even among those who are mapping and modding for it (the numbers of which seem small.) Every day FEAR becomes more of an outdated game as far as the fanbase is concerned. Even though this map is being made largely as a portfolio sample, I'd also like for actual gamers to get to play it and give me feedback on it and soforth. I feel like I've spent my whole life making things that only a handful of people ever see and I'm starting to get tired of it. I'd like to make something that a lot of people can enjoy. Maybe someday.

On the other hand, my map can't really be finished until Monolith releases the prefab objects for use with the SDK, so until I have all the resources at hand, I can't really complain about how long the work is taking. If I get everything else finished, and prefabs still aren't released, then I guess I'll have something to complain about.




I don't like Nostalgia Gamers. At Idle Thumbs and elsewhere, I was exposed to a lot of them. They're the type that obsess over the games that came out when they were 13 years old (with this generation, that's ususally SNES games and adventure games from LucasArts) to the exclusion of contemporary titles. They play emulators and name-drop 12-year-old games on message boards. The only modern games they have any love for are:

1) Psychonauts
2) Rez
3) Katamari Damacy
4) ICO/Shadow of the Colossus
5) Beyond Good & Evil

Almost anything else is "boring." "Games aren't good anymore, like they used to be." "Why can I play Day of the Tentacle for hours and hours at a time, but quit out of FEAR after 10 minutes?"

These people bother me. Incredible games come out basically a few times a month across all the different platforms. The amount of worthwhile games that have been released since Grim Fandango is just astounding. But these guys will come onto message boards and ask "oh why aren't games good anymore?!" They are; in fact they're better than ever, having a few decades of gameplay refinement to build from. But game nostalgists are extremely myopic, and can only appreciate the outdated games that they love, and compare any new game to that standard. But since hardly any games coming out today relate to games from 1993, gameplay-wise, game nostalgists don't have much to draw from. When they try to play a current game that's gotten hype, like FEAR, their reaction is that it's not like the old games they're used to, and they can't get into it. Monkey Island was better. It's like someone who only listens to the music that came out when they were in high school. Music just isn't as good as it used to be anymore.

It's fine, I guess, to only like games you play on emulators. But you're not into games. You're into nostalgia. And my dad still listens to Jefferson Aeroplane.




I thought this was a nice angle on the space I 've been working with most recently

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I guess it's a little silly to be proud of a curved tunnel and a box with some columns, but I think the space is working really well at this point. I laid it out and set three heavy guards in it as opposition, but it was pretty boring. So I added a remote turret into the room for the player to use, and a couple of the smaller stock enemies to break up the pacing of the fight-- a couple of quicker, more mobile bees buzzing around the three big bears staring you down with their heavy weapons. Between the tunnel allowing two points of entry and retreat, varied platform elevation in the main chamber, a couple different kinds of cover, and that turret feature, I think this encounter went from pretty poor to one of the better ones in the map.

So there's another room all greened out. About three more to go.
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I've been playing a lot of Jagged Alliance 2 lately. It's the Gold Pack edition with the 1.13 fan-made patch installed, which improves a lot of elements of the game. I had played it when it originally came out in 2000 or so, but I didn't enjoy it at the time. Either this patch really improved the game or I just approached it differently this time, but right now, winning back Arulco for the people is really goddamn enjoyable.

The game's been taking up a lot of my free time over the last week or two--all the free time that isn't taken up with Life Stuff or working on my level. I feel conflicted about this. When I'm playing the game, I feel guilty for using my time in an unproductive manner. I don't know if I should feel that way.

I think it's something that informs my play habits in general. When I pick up a game, I generally play it intensely for a few days and finish it as quickly (though thoroughly) as possible, so that I 'waste' the least possible number of hours/days on it. Similarly, I'll often stay up late into the night playing a game and then get up at my normal time in the morning, essentially playing the game instead of sleeping. It's a way of unconsciously compensating for time 'lost' or 'wasted' playing games.

I guess all good things in moderation is what it comes down to. I don't think I should feel guilty about playing games for leisure, but considering that I'm trying to have this level ready in a fairly short timeframe, should I be more disciplined in the time I spend actually playing games? It seems like putting aside time to play games is an admirable trait in someone who is invested in making them as well...

I think I'll clear out a SAM site before I go to sleep.

UPDATE: Actually, I just lost a bunch of progress due to a crash bug in one of the patch features that ruined my current savegame, so maybe I'll just never play JA2 again! Problem solved!




Progress continues on the level.

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Here, the green highlight represents the areas where I have finished the AI scripting. The red areas are not finished. From the looks of it, you'd think the AI scripting was about 50% complete, but I'd say it's nearer to 60 or 70%, considering what I know of the volume and complexity of the encounters in the following rooms. It's a good feeling. I'm including doors and triggers in the AI scripting of each room, so that's out of the way, too. I'll still need to script in the voice samples (as well as write and record them, heh) and some environmental stuff, but I'd say the majority of the work after this main scripting push will be placing items, testing, and balancing, followed by detailing, texturing, and lighting the environment, followed by placing the (hopefully soon to be released?) prefab objects, and finally putting in that voice stuff, music cues and sound effects, and maybe a little intro sequence. Writing up a readme file. Archiving the whole thing. Putting it up here to download!

My goal is to have the whole thing in a presentable state to show people at GDC, but I'm not sure how realistic that is. I've been working on this nights and weekend for a couple months now, and I have about a month and a half before GDC. There's a lot more work to do... too much for the timeframe? If it's playable from start to finish, but not polished to its completed state, is it worth showing? I'm not sure. Probably best to bring what I've got, then just play it by ear as far as showing people or not.

GDC should be great, though. I've wanted to go for years now, but never had a way to get there or get in. Luckily I'm getting a free pass through my association with Idle Thumbs, and I live not far from San Jose. I'm really looking forward to it. GameDev magazine sent me a GDC itinerary, and I marked down like 4/5 of the presentations in the game design and IGDA tracks. So much of it sounds completely intriguing. Really, I can't wait.

I'd like to work on the map more and finish up some drafts I have for this blog, but I have to play [unnamed naval PS2 game] for upwards of ten hours tomorrow before I'll get a chance to do that. It'll be awesome when my job is not easy but instead rewarding.

Oh, also, picked up Trauma Center for the DS, and have Phoenix Wright on the way in from eBay ($40 w/ free shipping whatta deal!) Do you want to be a doctor, or a lawyer? Why choose when you can be both!?





It seems like ideas are the game industry's least valuable commodity. Anyone who plays games has what they think is a great idea for a game of their own. Look on any gaming forum and you'll see plenty. GameSpot even has a yearly 'pitch your game idea' contest. Everybody has their dream game floating around in their head.

It makes it kind of... embarassing, then? to have game ideas of your own. Maybe you think an MMO set in the Looney Tunes universe would be awesome. Maybe you think the only thing missing from the field of gaming is a futuristic version of rugby where the players are cyborgs. Maybe you've written out elaborate notes on your ideas for a Civilization/Battlefield/Populace hybrid that lets you control every aspect of a culture, down to jumping into the driver's seat of a jeep on the frontlines of the great clash between the Scottish and the Portugese. Well, okay then, you're no different than anyone else who calls themself a 'gamer.'

Despite the whole practice being tainted with an air of juvenile wish fulfillment, I still keep a game design notebook. Ideas come to me, usually regarding how some player interface or system design thing might work, or maybe the overall mechanics of a potential game concept, or whatever, and I write it down. It could be anything from how a novel RPG skill would work, to a broad approach one might take to a genre game. So I've got these notebooks stacked up, all full of these ideas, and who knows for what reason? I'm not entering a GameSpot contest with them or anything.

Well, I do have reasons. One is that writing out ideas helps you work all the way through the thought, as you wouldn't if you just kept it in your head. Having ideas written down helps to develop them over time, as you can go back, read over an idea you've written down, and maybe rethink it after leaving it for a while. Another, I guess, is for personal posterity, sort of. I feel like someday it might come in handy to have this stockpile of ideas to draw from. That's the optimistic viewpoint.

I have a couple guidelines. I try to keep my notes concrete, directly addressing how specific systems would work. Some broader "design philosophy" items can be good to, just as a way of grounding your approach. And if I have a nice "wouldn't it be cool if..." idea, I won't bar myself from writing it down. But my main goal is to keep the content within the realm of game design, as opposed to Cool Game Ideas.

The practice came about when I noticed the majority of the notes in my general writing/concept idea journal turning into game-related ideas. It grew naturally out of my process of keeping a sketchbook and a writing notebook, and it's something I guess I do for personal satisfaction, but I started to wonder if real game designers did this, or if it was common in the industry, or what. Not long ago I read an interview with the creator of Diablo, and he mentioned that he keeps a game design notebook, and described it (briefly) as essentially the same as mine. That was heartening. I do still wonder just how many designers keep something like this. It would be really interesting to page through a prominent designer's game notebook. I enjoy seeing and collecting artists' sketchbooks and preparatory work, and I have a feeling a writer would find the notebooks of an accomplished novelist or poet to be fascinating. I bet filmmakers keep something like this. I've seen storyboards drawn by some prominent directors, and they're really interesting.

Well, now I'm just daydreaming. Keep a notebook, it's good for the soul.