18 September 2014

SotX Chapter 5 terrain

After another break for my studies I've returned to work on Chapter 5. As I wrote it relies heavily on stealth and plays a bit like the old Commandos/Desperados games where you have to avoid the gaze of enemies, by getting past them or knocking them out. There will be no killing in this mission.

Gameplay is almost finished so I've started working on the terrain. Here you can see an area from different perspectives (yeah I know: editor screenshots suck and should be avoided, especially WIP).

I hope to be finished in 7-10 days. Chapters 6 and 7 are going to be really simple (and hopefully not take as long) because they'll mostly be based on existing gameplay ideas.

12 August 2014

SotX mission names and Battle.net icons

I thought I would share the names of the missions and the design for the Battle.net icons. Old version used to have violet text, a different font. and the word "Chapter" on each icon. I have also remade the loading screen but want to work on it a bit more.

05 August 2014

Update on Shadow of the Xel'Naga

Good news! I finished Chapter 4 about 7 weeks ago. Terrain and cinematics are finished, gameplay is tweaked. Like all the previous chapters this map is still being held back until Chapters 5-7 are finished. In the end I'll still have to make some improvements to all old maps, and sadly I haven't had time to test co-op properly or do enough testing with other people on some maps. This is  something I'll do once all maps have been completed.

But it's not just Chapter 4, Chapter 5 is also nearly finished! I've spent a lot of time working on a stealth system that works similar to the old Commandos/Desperados games. Enemies have a range of sight and players can sneak up behind them to stun them.

I've spent a lot of time working on the AI system, but once I had that nailed down the rest of the map was made pretty quickly.

Current features of Chapter 5:
- Slow and tactical approach that rewards stealth. No combat
- Finished gameplay and objectives
- Realistic range of sight. Enemies will only react to player units in front of them
- Different alert levels to determine how enemies will react to player units. Green: Normal behavior. Yellow: Investigating. Red: In pursuit
- Different types enemies with that differ in range of sight, patrol the area, or rotate to search for enemies
- Switching between Running or Walking. Running is faster, but creates noise which alerts nearby enemies
- Many abilities that can stun or distract enemies for some time

To-do-List for Chapter 5:
- Terrain
- Cinematics
- Balancing of the four difficulty levels
- Testing of co-op gameplay
- Further tweaking

Because of studies I need to take another long break. I think once I pick up mapping again, this map will be completed in less than two weeks. In the meantime here's a random picdump:
A Marine was stunned by a player which is spotted by the Missile Turret. It will alert the Marine to the north in a few seconds.

A Ghost just spotted a player unit come unit of the bushes. Turrets rotate to search for player units.

The Turret was disabled permanently. A stunned Marine was spotted.

12 May 2014

First pictures of Chapter 4

I don't like posting screenshots from the editor, especially not work-in-progress-stuff, but with the recent surge of campaign presentations on sc2mapster.com, I thought "what the heck". So here are some random pics of Chapter 4. I'll not go into details about the gameplay (it's a Tower Defense map), but instead i want to discuss some screenshots I attached. Keep in mind, the terrain you see is work-in-progress, so you will certainly see some areas which can be improved (a lot). That being said, I am open to any sort of criticism (except those that hurt my feelings :P).
In contrast to some other fellow mappers I choose the design approach of making the gameplay first, and applying any terrain beautifications later. This makes for a less organic terrain, but allows me to iterate the gameplay to the fullest extend. And then, even the terrain is supposed to support the gameplay more than the art. For example, most of my maps are divided into sections. Each section should have its own style and visual appearance. I might use textures or doodads unique to that section. Dividing the terrain visually in sections helps the player maintain a clear view of the battlefield, even on larger maps.

Well, that's all for now. Didn't want this to become a tutorial or something like that.

Chapter 4 is completely playable now. All difficulty levels have been implemented and a lot of finetuning has been done along with about 50% of the terrain art. What remains now is to finish the cinematics, the terrain and tweak the gameplay as I go. But I am on a break until at least mid-July. Once I have picked up mapping again, the map should not take more than 2 weeks to be completed.

I've also tested some features for Chapter 5 (of 7). It's going to be a stealth map.

02 May 2014

I lied...

Liar, liar, pants on fire :D

In my previous post I wrote that I wouldn't continue with "Shadow of the Xel'Naga: Chapter 4" until at least mid-July. Well, I actually did make some time for the map over the past week. The map is completely playable now. All difficulty levels have been implemented and a lot of finetuning has been done along with about 50% of the terrain art. What remains now is to finish the cinematics, the terrain and tweak the gameplay as I go. Once I have picked up work again, it should not take more than 2 weeks to be complete.

I've also tested some features for Chapter 5. It's going to be a stealth map.

This will definitely be the last update on my StarCraft 2 campaign until at least mid-July.

19 April 2014

Status of SotX04

Just wanted to say that I paused work on Chapter 4 about 5 weeks ago, and the break will most likely continue until at least mid-July.

Chapter 4 has gameplay elements of Tower Defense maps. The map had previously consisted of multiple areas. Each area is unique in terms of layout, enemy unit types, and towers that should be built. Previously I had planned 5 areas with 6 waves per area. Due to the repetitive gameplay, I reduced the number of areas from 5 to 4 and the waves from 6 to 5. This also allows me to make each area more unique. For example, area 1 has melee enemies, like Zerglings and Broodlings while area 2 has only air units like the Mutalisk and the Guardian from StarCraft 1. Players have to adjust their tactics accordingly.

3 of 4 areas are almost finished, and only some balancing remains for these areas. Once I have finished area 4, I will work on the various difficulty levels, terrain art, cinematics, and finetuning. If I can really continue work by mid-July and keep going for some time, the map should be finished within the summer.

09 March 2014

The Last Guardian 1.03

Models, skins and icons - 16
- Khadgar: new hair, staff, heroglow, dissipate animation and removed eye glow of portrait model
- Garona: new face tatoo, hair, heroglow and changed angle of portrait model
- Medivh: added classic staff, modified texture, new icon
- Llane: changed hair color to dark red and added new hero icon
- Knight: new model based on WarCraft 1
- Riderless Horse: new model based on WarCraft 1
- Farm: new model based on WarCraft 1
- Blacksmith: new model based on WarCraft 1, new icon
- Barracks: new model based on WarCraft 1
- Grunt: new model based on WarCraft 1
- Warlock: new model based on WarCraft 1
- Watch Tower: new model based on WarCraft 2
- Lothar: new hero icon
- Banner Doodad0.blp: Changed texture to show Stormwind lion
- Fixed shading/fogging on ElveswoodDP tree models
- Removed redundant/unused imports

Miscellaneous art - 2
- New victory screen image
- New victory screen and hero icons for Khadgar, Lothar, Medivh, Garona and Llane

Sound - 2
- Added empty sounds in hero soundsets for Khadgar and Garona
- Removed some interface sounds (Allied Under Attack, Allied Base Under Attack, and more)

Multiple maps - 14
- Added cheat "-camera" to turn fixed camera settings on or off
- Heroes will move directly to allied units and no longer stop short of triggering a dialogue
- Removed titles (e.g. "Prologue") from cinematics Loading Screens
- Removed several NPC hero units at map end so they don't appear at the scorescreen
- Reorganized chest triggers so players can no longer cheat by jerking the arrow keys
- Chests will no longer spawn unnecessary duplicated items
- Message "that was wrong" will be skipped when all attempts at lockpicking are wrong
- Fixed a sound problem with a Chest
- Grammar/spelling/typo fixes
- Fixed hero abilities level skip
- Fixed a bug that created Alchemy Learn items in the center of the map
- Wraiths no longer have the Curse ability
- Most items will no longer cancel speed buffs
- Removed cooldown of all trigger items

Chapter 1 - 8
- Removed one set of runes at the Waygate riddle
- Game is no longer paused for the Chest hint. Instead Khadgar is ordered to stop
- Spirit item can be aquired without meeting the Dead Woman
- Khadgar's life nad mana will be replenished when the Ritual starts
- Renamed "Wizard of OS4" to "Wizard of iOS"
- Exclamation mark will now properly appear on Renegade Wizard
- The triggers to activate the Gargoyles are now initially turned off until all pages are returned to the Wizard
- Gargoyles can no longer be activated/healed multiple times

Chapter 2 - 1
- Dialogue during Medivh's interviews skippable

Chapter 3 - 5
- Chapter 4 now enabled in Chapter 3, instead of Interlude
- Khadgar now faces Lothar when being questioned by him
- Changed color of Dead Warriors to Blue (Footmen), Teal (Knights), Purple (Warlocks) and Red (Grunts)
- Dialogue during Lothar's interviews skippable
- Fixed a bug which caused Khadgar to lose his Haste ability when it was level 3 and he put on the Grunt disguise

Chapter 4 - 2
- Removed the minimap ping for the Resurrection spot
- Added a minimap ping to Lothar's location

Interlude - 1
- Changed title from "Interludium" to "Interlude" in campaign menu

Chapter 4 - 2
- Blacksmith slightly rotated
- Added Wander ability to some citizens

Chapter 5 - 3
- Fixed camera at map start
- Dialogue in Garona Interview can now be skipped
- Set mana of Garona and Khadgar to 100% after the Library fight

Chapter 6 - 4
- Picking up an Imbued Vial or Ethereal Oil with Garona will result in moving the item

instantly to Khadgar
- Fixed a bug that set Flame Strike to level 1
- Fixed a bug the caused the Troll dialogue to be triggered by NPCs
- Properly destroyed floating text

Chapter 7 - 4
- Removed a Tome of Greater Experience
- Added item descriptions to Cactus Flower and Spirit Drink to refer to one another
- Changed the Spanner model to a chest
- Khadgar will stop when using the Chapel Guide

Epilogue - 1
- Added loktar to credits

12 February 2014

Continuing work on SotX Chapter 4

I finished my exams for this semester a week ago, and I am making some time to get Chapter 4 as far as possible, before I need to pause it again in mid-March.

The map consists of 5 small areas that have to be defended with towers from enemy waves. Each area is unique in terms of layout, enemy unit types and towers that should be built. Players will have some time before each wave to train workers that gather resources, research new types of towers, set them up or scout the surrounding area for more resources.

So far I have finished the first of the 5 areas, with the second nearly finished as well. The good thing is that most triggers are reused for each area, so I only have to adjust them for the enemy unit types and towers that are built.

Still, a lot of time will go into finetuning an area. Each area should offer unique challenges, and both heroes should built as different towers from one another as possible, while remaining useful at anytime.

I still haven't figured out how (or if) to implement any optional objectives. I would like them to be completely between the visits of each area but I have a hard time figuring out how to make the towers useable offensively.

I hope to finish with the core gameplay of each area by mid-March. After that I'll only have to create cinematics, terrain, additional difficulty levels and finetuning.

Screenshots will most likely be posted when terrain is finished.

30 January 2014

Games I Played 2013

The %-ratings I've written are nothing more than a method of comparision to see how far games are apart in terms of fun to me. Please don't post here telling me to go to hell because game XY deserve a 95% or a 50%. It's all just to get your attention :P

Unranked - StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
I can't really rank this game because of it's powerful editor and the long hours I'm going to spend making campaign maps. So on the one hand I know I am going to spend much more time on it than any other game I played in 2013, on the other hand it's more of a tool to create my own fun. That being said I thought the campaign was an improvement over the campaign in Wings of Liberty. The story was told better, more personal, with fewer filler missions. Controlling Kerrigan was a lot of fun and evolving the Zerg was also nice. the missions themselves had a lot of variations, ranging from classic-base building to Diablo-like Action RPG. I do wish they had included more missions and made some of the others longer. There were too many timed missions. For Legacy of the Void I hope Blizzard focuses even more on the story and gives us an awesome conclusion to the StarCraft 2 games. Oh, and please add co-op campaign support to Battle.net.

22 - Medal of Honor - 70%
It wasn't particularly bad, but after so many years of playing Modern Warfare clones, gameplay like this is getting old. The only part I remember is where you drive your snowmobile and clear out the villages silently.

21 - Amnesia - A Machine for Pigs - 72%
I was afraid developer The Chinese Room, who developed the non-gameplay game Dear Esther, would ruin the franchise for me, and to some extend they succeeded. They removed way too many gameplay elements and made the game too short (on the other hand, not a bad thing). At least the setting was nice.

20 - Dead Space 3 - 73%
The first hal an hour was bad, really bad. Simple third-person shooting with no horror and bad graphics. But once you get into space the game truly feels like a Dead Space game. And then you land on the planet... In Dead Space 1 enemies would appear rarely and each one would send a chill down my spine. Dead Space 2 had more but it still managed to creep me out sometimes. Dead Space 3 is just dreadful. You get into a room and you know instantly that monters are going to appear out of every corner, and if that wasn't enough they don't just stop after the first wave. They come and come and come. The hero moves way too slow for this sort of gameplay. Really frustrating. All in all the most dissapointing game of the year.

19 - Crysis 3 - 73%
The game has the best graphics, and the nano-suit makes it stand out from other first person shooters. Unfortunately it lacks in all other aspects. The presentation doesn't seem to be as breathtaking as in Crysis 2, mostly because I miss that great main menu theme by Hans Zimmer. The level design was too linear for a feature like the nano suit. Very often I was just running through the level, so the game was about 4 hours long for me. I often run in Crysis 2 but even that game had much more playtime. I don't remember much about the storyline, so I guess that wasn't very good either. It's a tech demo, nothing more.

18 - Battlefield 3 - 74%
For some it's just a Call of Duty clone, and for me to a large extend that is true. The scripted events of BF 3 are not as impressive as in CoD, and the storyline is pretty boring. In my opinion it does everything CoD does, but with better graphics and more variation in gameplay thanks all the types of vehicles you can control. Its also nice that you can switch your types of weapon at every ammo cache you find.

17 - Battlefield 4 - 76%
Not much I can add here. It's like Battlefield 3 but it has improved every aspect a little bit. Even the story seems to be a little better.

16 - Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts & Tales of Valor 77%
I played the original Company of Heroes back in 2006, but never had gotten around to play the add-ons. CoH had impressive visuals that looked like a first-person-shooter in the cinematic sequences. The gameplay was fast-paced, action-orientedbut also very tactical because you only controlled a few squads and positioning was a very important aspect of the game. I wanted to get into the vibe before the CoH2 release so I played the add-ons for CoH1. It lacked much of the drama of the original game and the missions were often way too strict, limiting you to only sepcific types of units. I was a bit underwhelmed. The more I progressed in the campaigns the more restricted I felt.

15 - A New Beginning - 80%
It's a point and click adventure about global warming. It was really weird at first. The game was released in 2010 but it looks more like a 2000 game because the resolution size is only 1024x768, so you get black edges on your screen. The animations are really stiff and the voice acting seemed robotic at first. But the setting and the story was, what kept me going. It's about a group of time travellers, who, in order to prevent a climate catastrophe that affects them in their time, travel to our present time. The game is played from two perspectives and has really lovavable characters. The story progresses really well and the hand-painted environments look really good once you got used to the oldschool feeling. Also the puzzles were fun and the controls good. It took me about 10 hours to finish.

14 - Outlast - 81%
The new Amnesia. The first night I played it it was only to try it out for a couple of minutes. I got to the first jump scare that scared the hell out of me and I immediately took a break. I had nightmares about the game that night. It's not as scary as the first Amnesia, because the jumps scares become less and less effective and the tension just isn't there anymore towards the end. Also the gameplay doesn't flow well. Whether I was running or hiding, it is all very calculated. I could only run into a specific direction or hide inside/underneath certain objects. If I hid the enemy AI would randomly check the hiding places, if they found me I would run to the next spot and hide, if they didn't and went away I was clear to continue to the next area. It didn't feel natural. The exception was when I was just walking around with the camera, recording stuff, searching rooms and so on. the graphics were not outstanding but really, really good. The textures are sharp, the lightning is excellent (best night-vision ever) and the enviromental details are astounding. The game is full of creepy, memorable characters. I don't want to spoil the story, but I think it could have been presented better; towards the end it feels a little unreal.

13 - Hitman Absolution - 81%
I loved the Hitman games because it was a playfield for creativity. Even more so than one of my all-time favourites Thief. Hitman games always had large levels with open environments and they let you choose how to approach a situation. Gun-blazing or stealthy. It was your choice. Hitman Absolution still offered a lot of variety but a lot of it was sacrifized because the level design was much more linear than in the old games. It seems as if technical limitations forced the developers to split each level into smaller sections, forcing a linear progression. You take out a target in one area, and no matter how you did it, stealth or otherwise, when you move to the next area, people forgot about you. At least the controls and the presentation were the best any Hitman game has had so far. And the gameplay is still very good. It's fun to explore your options, even if they seem more limited than in the old games.

12 - FarCry 3: Blood Dragon - 83%
FarCry 3 was nice. The most fun I had was liberating camps, hiding in the tall grass, using my crossbow to out enemies silently. But Blood Dragon was really frusstrating to the point I was about to uninstall it. The enemies were always noticing me, and I was wondering why. Then it dawned on me: In FC3 the camps didn't have any walls and I had gotten used to shooting people from far away. In Blood Dragon that just couldn't work because every camp had walls. I used my sniper but I guess it was too loud so everybody started shooting at me. Only after some time I figured out how to sneak into a camp and take out enemies from within it. Then the game started becoming really awesome. The gameplay was fun but the best thing about it were all the 80s action-flick references, cheesy one-liners and situation. I laughed so hard at the final mission.

11 - StarCraft I Remake: Mass Recall - 84%
I don't usually put Mods in this list, but Mass Recall remade one of my favourite games, and it did really well. It's basically what you would expect: A faithful recreation of the original StarCraft and Broodwar in the StarCraft 2 engine, with improved controls and graphics. They added all the sound files, music and recreated all the models and spells from SC1/BW that weren't present in SC2. Even the briefing rooms. But it's not a 100% replica. They took the liberty to add some of the favourite BW units to the SC1 campaign, like the Medic. They took advanted of the 3D engine to expand the ingame cinematics, so you no longer just have people standing around and reading text. The only thing missing were the prerendered cutscenes, but they did unclude snapshots of those and added the dialogue. I wonder if there were technical limitations or they just didn't get around to doing it. Some of the maps still need more polishing in terms of bugfixing, AI behaviour or terrain art, but other than that I am satisfied, and whenever I plan onreplaying the SC1/BW campaigns, I prefer to do it with this remake.

10 - Bioshock Infinite - 85%
This is one of those games where I just couldn't figure out why people like it so much. I liked System Shock 2, Bioshock 1 and Bioshock 2 a lot. I liked the dark, tragic atmosphere and the gameplay felt solid with al the different types of weapons and magic skills. When I first started Bioshock Infinite I was really motivated to get into the world. I stood in front of every wallpaper and statue, marvelled at the art design and fell in love with the clouds and the idea that I am way up above the ground. But somewhere along the stupid combat and the unclear story the game lost me. Every fight felt like a chore and I was happy when I didn't have to fight. Those twins that appear from time to time, and the different dimensions I found myself it made the story very hard to follow. Especially if you took a break for a couple of weeks like I did. And then came the ending. This is (not probably, but definitely) the best ending I have ever witnessed in a video game. I can't spoil anything here, but the things I saw, the things the game was trying to tell me. It was all so much. So complex. So good. It made me want to replay it and pay much more attention to all the things that are being said and done.

9 - The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings - 86%
Witcher 1 was good because it had a dark and gritty atmosphere. the setting was dark fantasy and felt very european, cold, full of grim people who like to swear a lot. What I didn't like so much was the pacing in the quest design and the combat system. Quests felt slow because you always had a number of them but you never knew exactly which one to approach and how to complete it exactly. Witcher 2 improved on that a bit with clearer objectives and more help with a minimap and so on. The combat system improved a lot. It is much faster and at the same time more strategical because there are more options. It's also nice to look at, stunning at times. I'm really looking forward to the conclusion of the series with Witcher 3. Hopefully this year.

8 - Assassin's Creed 3 - 87%
I don't understand some people who are against the annual releases of the Assassin's Creed series. The games always come up with a new setting, often completely different characters, a lot of play time, and a lot of things to do. I like the continuation of Desmond's story and how everything is connected. I like how they mix history and fiction, although sometimes it gets hard to follow. I like the gameplay with combat and assassinations, even though the main mission are often way too linear. So the question is not if AC3 is a good game, the question is how it is compared the the previous games. AC3 excels at its setting and (hi)storytelling. The environments were detailed and the game takes you through the most important events of the American Revolutionary War. Playing a native American was also nice. The combat system was improved, but sadly most mission depended too much on it. The stealth aspect felt a bit neglected.

7 - The Swapper - 88%
The Swapper is and independent game where you control an astronaut in a 2D environment and solve puzzles. You can create up to four clones of your cahracter on any point of the map, as the line of sight isn't broken by the terrain, objets or special types of lights. You can take control of any clone if you have a line of sight. These clones move exactly as you move. When you go left, they go left. When you jump, they jump. So th trick is to use the environment to manipulate their movement to activate floor switches or levers. Sometimes you have to switch bodies quick enough and sacrifice one or more. It's mind-boggling but as long as don't give up you will always find a solution and feel satisfied when solving a problem. The game uses 2.5D for to create depth perception. The environments are beatifully crafted. I heard a lot of them were made with clay which was then digitalized into the game. They look amazing and fit perfectly into the alien atmosphere and feeling of claustrophobia.

6 - Tomb Raider - 88%
I played the very first Tomb Raider in 1996 but never finished it because it was too hard for me. I don't think I ever managed to get past the second level or so. Same with Tomb Raider 2. Afterwards I hadn't played a Tomb Raider game until the reboot Tomb Raider: Legend ten years later. So I guess I missed all the bullshit sequels. It was great to see they the series had maintained it sense of exploration and acrobatics and pairing these with much smoother controls. When the 2011-reboot was announced I was worried that it would contain too many gun fights and be way too linear. To some extent I was right. Tomb Raider 2011 can get a bit frustrating when killing dozens of enemies in just a few minutes. The controls don't feel like they were made for this much action.The climbing passages were also too simple for my taste. In the previous games you had to think about your next move, because one wrong move could mean your demise. It was exciting. In TR2011 it's a lot like Assassin's Creed where you can see exactly where you need to go next, so it's more of a chore than an accomplishment. Despite the faults TR2011 is still an excellent game. The many cutscenes, the strange island and Lara created an enthralling experience. I could really feel the terror of Lara, trying to get out of this mess, and the awe at all the wonders the mysterious island and its inhabitants had to offer. Tomb Raider did a lot more right than it did wrong.

5 - Rayman Legends - 90%
the first time I played Rayman Origins I immediately fell in love with the game. The visuals look like a cartoon and the gameplay is absolutely flawless oldschool Jump and Run. Rayman Legends adds on that with even more variation in terms of level design and and abilities. The music levels and food levels were really cool. It also gets rid of the worst aspect of Rayman Origins: The relatively bad savepoint system. Rayman Legends saves the game a lot more often, so you don't have do redo as many area when you die. It also makes the game feel a bit shorter, but I'll take that over having to redo so many areas.

4 - Asassin's Creed 4: Black Flag - 90%
In AC3 a new combat system was introduced and the missions relied heavily on that. In AC4 they added on to the navy features introduced in AC3. It was OK in AC3 but I was happy that I didn't have to do it all the time, and prior to playing AC4 I was afraid of having to do too many naval missions. Well, it did have a lot of naval stuff and I was happy about it. Naval gameplay is the best thing that happend to the AC series since AC2. The combat has a much better flow with more types of weapons to fire. The best thing about the game is when you attack other ships and board them or attack forts and then go to them to assassinate the commander. It is action-packed, cinematic and the gameplay feels good. It looks and sounds as if you were in a Pirates of the Carribean movie. The game also introduced an open-world water area that connects all islands. I spent dozens of hours looking for treasures and boarding ships, and there was never a dull moment. The main objectives relied more on stealth, although now there were too many missions when you were just tailing people. The next game should have more types of stealth missions.

3 - Metro: Last Light - 91%
Metro: Last Light is a near perfect first person shooter. It's engine is nearly as good as the engine of Crysis 3, but the game makes up for it with environments that are so detailed, they look like a painting. The atmosphere is rich and captivating and the story interesting enough to make you want to understand it. Something that Bioshock: Infinite, in my opinion, only managed to do in the last hour of playtime. The level design is a step up from Metro: 2033. Stealth is easier, and a bit oversimplified, but it beats the trial and error that flawed the first game. Also the melee enemies no longer seem to jump inside you to attack you, so you no longer lose your focus on them.

2 - Splinter Cell: Blacklist - 92%
I have been a huge stealth fan sind the first Thief game, and I'm currently replaying all of the Thief games in preparation for the next Thief. The Splinter Cell games were a nice addition to the stealth genre. More linear, but also more focused on style and real world problems. A little bit like a spin-off of the series 24, but with more focus on infiltration. The first three games were great, always building on top of what the last game achieved, with better graphics and more options. And then came Double Agent. It wasn't a particularly bad game, but it felt so super slow and boring. Conviction on the other hand was way too fast, focusing too much on taking out enemies in a violent fashion instead of doing it silently or avoiding them alltogether. Blacklist feels like the culmination of all these different playstyles. Yes, it's still much faster than the old games, but the level design is much more open and the tools add a lot more variation. It's really a lot of fun to switch between aggressive and passive stealth gameplay. I wasn't even bothered by the first-person trips. They were very short and promoted stealthy killing as well. The only downside was the initial difficulty. Without a radar  it was really hard to avoid confrontations in the first couple of missions. Also it felt like the character was overreacting to my input. One time I was hanging from a ledge while an enemy guard was looking through the window. I pressed only a single button, and Sam Fisher, jumped through the window, took the guard out turned off the lights and closed the door. It took me some time until I had figured out the proper way to control Fisher.

1 - Darksiders - 93%
Darksiders wasn't even closed on my radar until It was very cheap in a Steam Sale. In the beginning you only have your sword and hack through enemies. Then you get to upgrade it, get secondy weapons, get to upgrade those, an inventory for potions, a horse to ride, the ability to fly, create and use teleports like in Portal and so many other things. The boss fights are diverse and fun. The levels are relatively linear and have some backtracking to do, they are big there are plenty of secondary rooms to explore. I have never played any of the Zelda games but I have heard Darksiders is a lot like these games, because it has so many mechanics, and allows the player to set his own pace. The game looks almost exaclty like World of WarCraft, with all its ups and downs. The textures could have used more detail bu the art is well-crafted and every set piece looks cool. I am looking forward to play Darksiders 2 as soon as I can. Hopefully its controls will be a little less overwhelming.

07 January 2014

Will Shadow of the Xel'Naga be better than Lord of the Clans?

A forum member of SC2Mapster.com asked me a very interesting question and I took the time to go into detail about my feelings about my campaigns, getting a job as a level designer and map making in general. You can follow the discussion here and read my answer here or below.

(When I write level design I mean gameplay. (Level) art is terraining/texturing).

LotC was my first project and it was mainly built out of the desire to make something playable out of a book I read. It lacked direction. Not only the maps were made up as I went but even smaller objectives were made up on the spot as I was working in the editor. DotD had the same design "philosophy", only on a much bigger scale and with more experience with the editor. TLG was a bit different because of the focus on puzzles, so it was more about trying to explore the possibility of a different genre in an RTS game. On the one hand it helped that half of TLG was finished while working on Settlers 7, on the other hand it was quite stressful to work on two pojects at the same time.

I think if you look closely at the campaigns you will notice that the terraining has gotten better from campaign to campaign (TLG again, is a bit of a different kind because it relies so much on imports).

I actually agree with the average quality of LotC and DotD from a smaller point of view. But if you put all the aspects together: the amount of maps, the objectives, the triggers, the time spent. That is what they want to see. If I recall correctly half of the dudes workign at Blizzard as level designers were WC3 mappers, and they only made a few Tower Defense maps or maybe a campaign (something I read a while back).

In the job interview (fyi: TLG wasn't finished at that point, but I submitted the 3 maps anyway) we never went into the details of any map. they asked me to tell them something about my projects and I told them about my love for WC lore and how I wanted to create something playable out of the books. I told them I am not a good storyteller so I chose an existing source. I told them  about the difficulty of trying to create varied gameplay when you mostly control only a single hero. They generally seemed more impressed with my enthusiasm for mapmaking and my will to actually complete large scale projects. (I had to hold myself not to talk too much although I am a very introvert person.) Later I found out they had only played about 1,5 of LotC and didn't like the stealth/fight pace of Map 2 that much. Sometimes it's not so much about quality, but the ability to finish something. Many people get frustrated when their hobby turns into a job and all of a sudden they have to do something daily, without the creative freedom they were used to.

I also believe each level designed is should focus on different strengths from genre to genre. If you have a  portfolio consisting of screenshots of 3D maps (UnrealEd etc.) of course the  screenshots you present should be as good-looking as possible (your best work  only). They should show that you understand texturing, lightning, meshes, object  placement etc. I don't think it's that important with 2D games (yes, WC3/SC2 are 2D  games from a gameplay perspective). Here it more important that your screenshots convey your gameplay ideas.

As the months went by while working on Settlers 7 my responsibilites shifted more and more from level art to level design. I spent more coming up with gameplay ideas for maps than just building the terrain (which is considered an upgrade. Anyone can make levels look nice with enough time and experience, because it is more craft than art).

This way I learned how important it was to plan ahead, make design documents and paint map layouts. I still suck at map layouting but my terraining has improved a lot. You can see the difference when you look at a Starcraft 2 map (http://outsiderxe.campaigncreations.org/sotx.php). I also understand that I should no longer make up ideas for a map while working on it. A map should consist of one clear idea and it should be followed (or changed if it doesn't work). My first SC2 map (SotX1; you can't download it yet) still suffers from that because it has too many elements (driving vehicles, hunting bosses, etc.). The map spends too much time trying to teach the player how it works. Later maps follow a clear genre (SotX2: Puzzles, SotX3: DotA, SotX4: Tower Defense...). I also learned that it is very important to separate gameplay and art. I commit 100%ly to gameplay and work only with very basic blocking elements until I am finished with the gameplay and all triggers work as intended. Only then I start working on the terrain.

Despite all that I still learn a lot about designing with each map I create. I often look back and tell myself I wish I could have done this or that differently. I could certainly overhaul all the old maps, but I prefer to use my experience on completely new things. The only thing I allow myself to do now is bugfixing. And back in 2002-2005 there were not many good maps anyway, especially not campaigns.

To answer your question if you should expect better design in SotX then in LotC: Terrain art (and possibly cinematics) will certainly be better. The gameplay (fun) is a more complicated matter which I would like to discuss. I already said that I like to try out new things. SotX is going to be a co-op campaign with each level featuring a different gameplay idea. I have no experience in making co-op experiences. I already have to change so many details about the story that I am not sure if it is that good of an idea anymore. The campaign will not feature anymore cinematic-only maps to keep the pace. One player shouldn't wait for another. Co-op gets more complicated because each map is vastly different from one another. I explore a lot of new genres and each time I have to teach the player(s) the gameplay mechanics. In my opinion all of my other campaigns had clear high points in terms of map making, which were usually around the middle of a campaign. The first few maps are more like test-maps, where I try out new mechanics. And the final maps usually show symptoms of being burned out. Often they are overloaded with stuff and not enough time was taken to test if it's actually fun. In SotX each map is like a test-map. I spent a lot more time on each map, often throwing out ideas that don't feel right. Once I have finished the last map I will go back to each of the old ones and apply what I have learned during the time. I don't plan on releasing any maps until I am satisfied. But again, that is no guarantee that you will like it more, it just means games/mods nowadays have become much more complicated to make, and the demand for a polished experience is a lot higher.

I've always been a story-driven mapmaker, so my maps will never be as flashy or feature-loaded  as StarCraft Universe, Night of the Living Dead or Hive Keeper. In this day and age story-driven custom maps seem very rare. Most people focus on a single multiplayer map and add as many features as possible. People want to create the next DotA, the next TD, a map that will get them a #1 spot on the Arcade. Maybe it will make them famous, work for Game Newell, or they'll become immortal... I see so many threads here where the first question people ask is "Do you you think people will play it?", and quit if they don't get the desired attention. I'm thankful that I never had to (and never will) ask that question, because I already know the answer.

I agree that my WC3 campaigns are average, but when you look for a job long-term commitment  and passion are more important.
My level design and level art skills have improved a lot over the years, especially during my time with Settlers 7.
The improved skills are no guarantee for a better campaign in SotX because I try out things I have no experience in.
I aim for Blizzard-style story maps, not for feature-loaded multiplayer maps.