RavenholmVille Podcast

18th May 2014

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

In this podcast I talk to Darren Weekes, Jim Partridge, Dan Jordan and Abraham Lee about their entries to the RavenholmVille mod, their approach to building a map in such a short time and other mapping topics.

If you have any specific questions , please post them as comments and I or the guest will respond.

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  1. I know that Darren is already working on an improved version of his Ravenholmville map (and there was a to be continued message at the end so this might be a full series of maps) Do any of the other mappers have future plans for these maps or is the general consensus to move on to other projects?

    1. I thought about it, but I figured it would be minor tweaks and not huge changes. It would be fun to do the entity work, but considering the last time I redid a competition map, there wouldn’t be much of an audience for it.

    2. Dan Jordan

      I have no future plans for my map. It was fun, and an exciting proof-of-concept for a lot of neat ideas. But I tend to view these as frantically-conceived, one-and-done kind of things; a demonstration of my ability to work fast and loose; an illustration of what can be done under duress. Further development would be either be a vast amount of refactoring work to set things right, or meager attempts to patch an admittedly unstable foundation. It’s a good first draft, but once you print and bind a first draft, it’s too late. And nobody wants to buy the book. A significant time and energy investment for essentially no gain.

  2. Personally I’m done with mine. I included the VMF in the mod though so feel free to expand at will…

  3. With Phillip bringing up the Super Gravity Gun, I realize there are only 6 maps on this site that are listed as containing it. Should we be expecting SuperGravityGunville? Would people be interested in that or is it just too unbalanced to implement well in a single map?

    Also what do the mappers feel that they learnt from this mapping competition? If anything.

    Also if you had a Philips Industries decal that you had to add to your maps where would you have placed it?

    1. I think it depends on the map as to where the decal would be located.

      Of course I would actually have to finish a map for one of the competitions first…

    2. I’ve tried building maps with the super grav gun but it really only works well with the combine and energy balls. Using it with normal props etc… is rather silly as the player is so overpowered…

      you can pick up shipping containers with it though which might have some puzzle elements that could be used.

      What I learnt from this competition is that I have a far better time, and a far better result if I’m mapping for a stand alone map rather than a map that’s part of a campaign.
      Campaigns really lock you in as to what you can do. You need to consider things like:
      What weapons does the player have at that point?
      Why would the gravity gun be in that spot? (given there is only one in the world)

      It gets very annoying after a while… I really enjoyed the freedom of just being able to produce one map with no strings attached…

  4. Ade

    I just wanna say I love you all, everyone that’s still playing and the apparently not so few that are still creating levels for us to play.

    1. Aww you so nice…

      I love making the maps and won’t stop… I promise!

      1. Ade

        Was it you that mentioned a playthrough by GeneralVivi? Was that posted on his channel or was it private as in during a betatest?

    2. Even though I have not released any maps, I can say Nawwww, Love you too.

      But one day I will release my very first map…one day. *Looks to the horizon*

      1. DaZ

        Less talk, more map! 😀

  5. JG

    Great podcast, guys. Phillip, you sounded pretty hyped up and enthusiastic at the start.

    I also support the decal idea, but frankly if your goal is to deter theft, having a custom texture isn’t going to do it. In fact, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.

    I do wish these competitions happened more often, though. I think you schedule these under the assumption that level designers will enter every single one you announce, but in reality, most will pick and choose. If the theme appeals to them, they’ll go for it. If it doesn’t, or if extenuating circumstances happen, months pass before the next competition.

    I don’t think anyone used my buzzsaw prop, and that’s okay. 🙂

    1. Ade

      ” interesting new mechanic with the saw blade, too bad it kind of misses sometimes”
      I did!

      1. JG

        That wasn’t mine! 😀

        Mine was basically a “handheld” buzzsaw with sawblades on it and fixtures for the gas tanks you’d need to collect to assemble it. You’d hold it with the Gravity Gun and it would chop and slice Zombies that wandered into it. It was kind of entertaining to use, but I just didn’t feel inspired to build the rest of the level to put it in. I started on it, but I didn’t like the flow and it was getting to the point where I didn’t have the confidence to rejigger it to an acceptable level of quality in the remaining days.

  6. Another great podcast! I really like hearing from everybody, it’s always enlightening.

    Regarding my map, I know half an hour is a long time to sit through a Youtube video, but if anyone missed it I did go over some of these things: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAymCoQMHFo

    To respond to the podcast’s specifics:

    -My goal here was to make a map “inspired by Ravenholm”, as the task was laid out for us, not one “set in Ravenholm” or even just “imitative of Ravenholm” that just used the same textures, soundscapes, lighting, skybox, puzzles, and traps. Playing through Ravenholm again, twice, before starting I found that without the momentum of the story to carry me through, I was struck by some of the boxiest, Goldsource-era architecture and disappointing gameplay in the entire game that, especially in light of the implicit promises of the E3 2003 preview, take tremendous strides toward validating critiques of “Half-Life 2 is conservative and utilitarian compared to Half-Life.” Ravenholm is my least favorite HL2 environment, so if my map ended up just being considered “weird” I guess I should think of it as a success. The next time I see a competition whose theme I find unpleasant I’ll nonetheless skip it.

    -Entering the slaughterhouse by window is a wonderful idea, I never considered that. It makes sense to lock player in once they’re inside, so at least you can be sure what you need is in there.

    -The opening apartment was meant to be something like the hatch from LOST, as if the player character had set up an artificial bunker of sorts to make themselves feel at home amid the hopelessly zombie infested town. Didn’t end up with time to do any real storytelling to get this across at all, of course, so it’s just confusing.

    -My architectural goals were to make something off grid and cockeyed, as well as to have structures leaning out over the road to envelop the player. A Lovecraft style environment, namely the ones I pictured when reading “He” or “The Music of Erich Zann”. Taking inspiration from Ravenholm’s narrow streets, but still inching (footing, miling) away from its aesthetic as much as I felt I could.

    -I can’t help but take offense at the suggestion that arena was tacked on, as it was part of my “exploration, puzzle solving, combat” three section plan from the start. Most portions of Half-Life 2 and its episodes that I’m familiar with and really enjoy follow a similar pattern, so I thought I’d try condensing it into one map. Story wise, even though there really isn’t one, the thought is you’re maybe part of this group holed up in this town, and though you typically stick to your little living space, you now get called to save someone and end up on a mini adventure to help your friends. You happen to arrive at the square at the same time another attack (like the ones you’d presume turned everyone else into zombies) hits, leaving you to clean up. I thought it fit quite well, but with the lack of appropriate narrative beats I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that people don’t like it.

    As for the space being too big: with fast zombies and fast headcrabs chasing you around, I’d find it annoying to be in a space cramped enough to make the normal zombies an actual threat. Having them as mere background decoration was the idea, so that upon reaching the end of the map you’re rewarded with a battle you can easily dominate. If I’d been able to come up with Over-Run style figure eights, maybe I’d have designed things differently, but in one big open space I find genuine challenge to be a chore. As much as I love Serious Sam and Painkiller, this isn’t that type of game, and in this context I don’t want that combat style. Of course only after the mod’s release did I realize I’d been testing on Hard, so what I’d balanced to be comfortable was only so on the highest difficulty level, meaning you’re perhaps a bit too dominant otherwise.

    In any event, I appreciate it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the end section (and in fact most of the map) was something I did intentionally and that I enjoy, not simply the haphazard slurry of incompetent design.

    1. JG

      No one was suggesting the design was “incompetent.” But I tend to agree with Phillip that the general flow could have been improved. The main culprit, I feel, was that your level was oversized. This was a weakness in two ways. First, the Zombie class rarely works well in large, open spaces. Fast Zombies are the only ones who can close distance on the player quickly, but everyone else will be shuffling around mindlessly. Second, it becomes an issue when adding decoration and detail – meaning that the final arena came across as very empty and plain compared to the rest of the level.

    2. As I said in the podcast…
      These mapping competitions are a chance to experiment and to push the mapping into area’s you wouldn’t normally feel comfortable straying into.

      Some things work and some things don’t.

      What’s interesting is that we’re coming at these maps as both players and mappers. To me there is no right or wrong way to build something. Only what works…

      How do you know if your map works?

      There’s two simple criteria for this in my opinion:

      -The player understands what they need to do
      -The player enjoys themselves doing it

      If you get these two things right, the rest is gravy!

      First rule of mapping… Player feedback is NEVER wrong. 😀

      1. It is interesting to note a couple of people said they liked the puzzle I put together, with respect to both understanding what they needed to do and enjoying the process of actually doing it. Other players didn’t like either part. With feedback never being wrong, figuring out what lesson to take away from all this is quite a conundrum indeed. 🙂 If someone didn’t like what I did, is it because I objectively failed, or because I accomplished what I set out to but it’s simply not their style? I can’t please all people all the time, and sacrificing the things I enjoy to try and make everybody else happy is the road to madness.

        Nonetheless, by no means am I suggesting anyone’s feedback was incorrect. I disagree that the town felt disjointed, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t feel that way to all of you. Unless a player does something like turn on godmode and complain that the enemies pose no threat, or enables noclip and flies out into the void for ten minutes only to find the map boring, I take all criticism seriously, and find I usually agree with it.

        I do feel, however, that I’m entitled to explain myself, especially when critics’ writing style or tone of voice suggest not “I didn’t care for this mapper’s designs” but instead “Jesus, this is weird. Clearly the result of someone who puts no thought into their work, or who just doesn’t know what they’re doing”, or perhaps “I’m trying to find something nice to say, but good God does this person’s mind baffle me.”

        As I mentioned earlier, I know a half hour Youtube video is stretching it, but I’d gotten the impression most of the contest participants had watched at least a portion of it. Listening to your comments on the podcast, I felt the same way I did back in AmbushVille after the responses to my almost eight thousand character post mortem of my work: that despite my best effort to make my motivations clear, acknowledge my failures, and demonstrate understanding of the issues, their causes, and potential solutions, I was being treated like a child who needed a lecture. The word “incompetence” may have been a bit strong, but it’s only hyperbole, you get my meaning.

        I’m not only terrifically insecure when it comes to my creative pursuits, I’m also a player like the rest of you. I believe that when I finally come up with something I honestly enjoy about my own work, I deserve a chance to stand up for it. I trust none of you meant your comments to be truly mean spirited, but it still felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously, and I couldn’t keep quiet forever.

        1. Passion for your art is the first key to being good at it in my opinion…

          Defend it to the hilt! 😀

        2. Personally I didn’t get the confusion about the meat grinder or the window. When I see a window I wanna jump through it (in video games only of course) and the crushers detaching were clear enough for me. Sure the layout could have been better but in a 10 day competition you don’t necessarily have time to get the layout right. I know I certainly didn’t (though I did get several things wrong in assassinateville)

          Also, maybe I’m just being pedantic here but feedback can certainly be wrong. It’s never useless but having knowledge of the workings of your map you likely have a better perspective of what’s going on and you’ve almost certainly played it more times than anyone else ever will. An example of this is in the feedback I got from complex471, people (that even realized there was an EMP) said that it did not work. It did so the feedback was wrong the trouble it indicated however is A: that people didn’t realize there was a 30 second recharge on the EMP B: there was an issue that the EMP would fire regardless of whether there was any target in range (not ideal but I had to settle for this) C: There wasn’t enough indication of the EMP’s range. This is all useful information but the feedback it was derived from was wrong.
          So just because someone says that the finale wasn’t needed doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be there it means you’re going to need to investigate how you can make it feel more connected

          But as I’ve said before I enjoyed your map it had its flaws but so did every map in the competition tis the curse of time constraints.

          1. Perhaps Right and Wrong are the wrong words…

            If the player doesn’t know what to do, or doesn’t have fun playing your map, then you need to do more work.

            I don’t know anyone who played Episode 2 and didn’t understand what they needed to do and didn’t have fun doing it.

            That’s the standard you should be aiming for in my opinion.

        3. JG

          I hadn’t seen the video, Rob.

          I think you are aware of the shortcomings in your own level because you say as much in the video. And there’s not much for me to add except to suggest that spending a little more time planning your lighting pass would be very beneficial in reducing player confusion. You already know where the hotspots are in your map, so find ways to highlight those with light and work backward from there. Whether that’s using a different light color on those spaces, aiming a spotlight at them, increasing the general radius of lights across the board, etc. Think of lighting in conjunction with gameplay and how it can create breadcrumbs for the player to follow.

        4. Ade

          To quote Phillip on the BTC page, contradictory feedback means “some things are subjective and you can’t please everybody all the time.”

          1. JG

            Right. The theorem of “The player is never wrong” is true, but there’s a corollary to that – “YOU are the designer.”

            Any level has a number of rejected ideas that went into making it. If someone gives you feedback that either contradicts other feedback or your own views as a designer, take the time to mull it over. Maybe don’t take it at face value, but see if it’s indicative of a different issue. It goes without saying that you don’t have to incorporate everything testers say. As long as you can defend your work and convince yourself that your way is the better way, you can do what you want.

  7. Anything I said was never meant to cause offence, just explain my thoughts. I was not questioning the concept of exploring, puzzle-solving and combat combination, but more the feeling I got from the area.

    That area design just didn’t feel blended with the rest. Perhaps the concept needs more work to make sure the three areas don’t seem like parts from different maps.

    For example, perhaps the exploring could have been set in one part of the warehouse and the combat could be set in a different part of the warehouse that was not accessible until the puzzle had been solved.

    I am just trying to say that each section seemed too different from each other to feel visually flowing.

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