My Perfect Mod

18th October 2006

Introduction

I have recently been considering learning how to map and it has caused me to think about exactly what type of maps and levels I want to create. Questions like “why exactly do I want to map? Who will the map be for, me or other players?”

With the release of Leon’s Coastline to Atmosphere it became to me clear a certain style of mapping might not suit all players. Some players like a certain approach others prefer something different. I’m not talking about making maps that go completely outside the accepted norm, maps like Experimental Fuel or Saw Life, but maps where the goal is to shoot, stay alive and complete an objective.

Cut Scenes

Generally I dislike cut scene unless they are very, very well produced. If they are below standard in any way then I believe they should be avoided. If the mapper wants to make a movie then create some Machinima! It’s easy to make comparisons between games and movies and how cut scenes merge the line between the two but until I have perfect cut scenes I don’t want them!

Telling the story or background

I believe that everything should be done in-game. Yes, put it in the read me but also in the game. This could be simply text on the screen or even a narrator, some which I am planning to do in my first map release. It should be clear and concise. Too many mappers think a complicated, detailed story is the same as an interesting story. You see mods publishing pages and pages of timeline-history about their mod thinking that it’s great! Well, I’m here to tell you it’s not.

Make sure my objectives are clear and precise. Too often mappers think obtuse instructions equate to clever thinking.

Starting Scene

As the screen fades from black I should be impressed. It’s my first view of the creation and it’s important. Please don’t make me spend ten minutes looking around for a HEV suit and crowbar, just give them to me. If you are building a game or mod that has hours of play-time, then fine but anything less than an hour of solid gameplay, the items should be handed to me.

Weapons

AS above, unless I have plenty of time to collect and utilize ever-improving weapons, just give me a decent weapon to start with. Just because the game has 15 weapons available doesn’t mean you have to include them all. For me the best way of collecting weapons, beside being given the first one, is to kill an enemy and take it from them!

Architecture

As with all the points presented here, everybody prefers something different but I know what I like and it’s not beach scenes! I want military or industrial settings. Places I will never be able to go. As I have mentioned before in a previous piece called Location, Location, Location, it’s all about where I am. I loved Half-Life because I really want to visit places like Black Mesa.

Scale is also important and I appreciate differences in room sizes. I want that “WOW” factor when I visit the power plant or the sewage works. Huge areas mixed with tighter spaces is also good, just make the proportions correct. Contrast is also important for me. Mixing the bland with the spectacular is a skill that few have. But when done properly can really highlight the well-built areas.

Using the same textures can be repetitive but that depends. I recently was having a discussion about a Half-Life 2 mod called Das Roboss, which I believe is one of the best, if not the best mod I have played. The person I was discussing it with said he didn’t enjoy it because it was too grey and the textures were repetitive.

I think the highest compliment I can pay a designer/mapper is that I forgot about the architecture, textures, layout etc. When this happens it means I am fully immersed in the game. Normally I am constantly noticing what I consider errors. Finding things I would do differently etc.

Those little details!

Silly errors can suddenly bring me back to reality. For example fire drums placed in the most inappropriate places, crates in rooms where the only entrance is a door that is smaller than the crates, zig zagging corridors (Doom 3) that seem to have no connection with how real corridors are. I could continue but hopefully you get the point. Whilst these errors don’t seriously affect the mod I believe they highlight the mappers approach to design and may be indicative of more serious design flaws.

Gameplay

Just the same as you can’t have awe-inspiring architecture for every room, neither can you have action ALL the time. The key is balancing the getting to the action and having it. Just like real life, I suppose. The anticipation of knowing something is coming is vital to creating the right Mood.

I enjoy exploring, especially if I believe there will be some reward, although that not always required. I dislike running around in a complicated maze-like layout just to find a power source, then having to go back to my starting place to turn a switch and then go somewhere else to use the thing that required the power switched on in the first place!

I like linear, there I said it. Everybody seems to be complaining that linear is bad but I disagree. I think it’s more to do with how you implement the layout. Of course a completely straight tunnel is not particularly exciting, but with a few rooms and other techniques can be made interesting.

As an aside, I think it would make a great mapping competition to start with a completely straight tunnel and see how mappers can make it interesting.

For me, the best levels are the ones I have to replay many times before I can pass them. Not strictly because they are so difficult but because it’s how I play them. This normally means there are a few places to take cover and replenish health and ammo. For example a large warehouse with a main open area and two or three levels of walkways, lots of crates of varying heights. These types of levels get my juices flowing and I know I’m in for a battle.

Custom Content

For me this is generally unimportant, I have yet to find any replacement weapons that I think are an improvement on the ones originally supplied in games. Of course it’s good to see new models for computer consoles etc but they are not that important. The same goes for vehicles and player models, good in theory but almost irrelevant in practice.
One thing I would like to see more of is custom enemies but it seems that they are quite rare and it’s easier said than done making a really good enemy, that is balanced against the weapons and fits the general setting of the game.

Conclusion

Clear and simple player objectives, thoughtful design and layout with exciting gameplay as the primary objective of the map. Of course you will probably disagree, in which case I’m interested to hear about your perfect mod.

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7 Comments

  1. PasserbywhoplaysHL

    Good points.

    What I like:

    A fascinating environment that you get to see from different perspectives as you progress in the game. The office levels in HL1 were very good in this sense – although I prefer more industrial/military/high tech environments. The environment should be logical and make sense in the context of the game, but it is no problem if it takes you some time to figure it out. Occasionally there should be a breath-taking vista or wonderful secret. The sense of exploration is the most important factor to me in any FPS. Environments that develop and change as the game progresses are particularly cool.

    Furthermore, every accessible location on the map should serve some purpose, particularly if they are rooms at the end of long corridors. It is fine if this purpose does not become apparent immediately. Real life is full of pointless places. When I open a door in an FPS I want a) a goody b) a baddy to shoot at (followed by a goody), c) a switch d) a clue.

    An environment and weapon placement that allows multiple ways to tackle combat. The HL2 gravity gun really revolutionised this aspect.

    NPCs:
    Characters I can care about. Alyx and even the original Barney were very good in this respect. It was never an easy decision to crowbar Barney for the free ammo (and yet you did you heartless swine!)

    Story: the original Doom 1 covers everything you need: Hell has opened its gates and it’s your job to close them. That being said, the HL series tells the story rather well. The only really credible alternative for an FPS is: “shoot the Nazis and then blow stuff up”.

    Weapons: crowbar, heavy pistol, shotgun, grenades, something sniperish with very little ammo, the environment.

    Enemies: The challenge should come from their placement and AI, not from the fact that they come in vast swarms. Skeet-shooting manhacks with your shotgun is only fun for a very limited period. Herding two bunches of enemies into one another’s fire by skillfully manipulating the environment is highly satisfying every time.

  2. Occasionally there should be a breath-taking vista or wonderful secret. The sense of exploration is the most important factor to me in any FPS.

    I Agree wholeheartedly with this.

    When I open a door in an FPS I want a) a goody b) a baddy to shoot at (followed by a goody), c) a switch d) a clue.

    Nicely put.

    It was never an easy decision to crowbar Barney for the free ammo (and yet you did you heartless swine!)

    OMG, I NEVER did this, not to Barney anyway. Think of the repercussions? He wouldn’t have been able to help you in HL2!

    The challenge should come from their placement and AI, not from the fact that they come in vast swarms.

    Couldn’t have put it better myself, in fact I wish I had said that.

  3. PasserbywhoplaysHL

    You are too good for this world PP 😉

  4. Cubedude89

    Wow, Mr. Phillip thinking about making a mod. SWEEET!
    You have great Ideas. I think you could pull it off.
    I havnt seen you on steam or gmail in a Long time. 🙁 But if you need help in anyway I would be glad to help.

    Soo when ya gonna start?

    PS: “As an aside, I think it would make a great mapping competition to start with a completely straight tunnel and see how mappers can make it interesting.”

    YES good idea.

  5. Ezequielhl

    I’m agree with PasserbywhoplaysHL in every single word. But other really nice things for me that appeard in Half Life 1 and not in Half Life 2 was the “not very lineal maps”. Remember? Blast Pit, Power Up, Questionable Ethics? You have to go back to find the real exit.

    Another thing that makes ambient in a map is events, sequences, or whatever you want to call them. The simple facts like “Soldiers in ropes appeared logicaly but in a surprising way” or the big ones that appears in every DavLevel mod (POV, Azure Sheep) or Sweet HL. This gives “more life” to the map XD.

    I hope I helped. My english isn’t the best.

  6. jigron

    what mod is it???

  7. what mod is it???

    It isn’t a real mod, it’s an article about what I would consider to be my perfect mod.

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