Hands up if you have played Lost Coast? Firstly, if not, why not? It’s free for Half-Life 2 owners and it’s actually a very fun level. Okay, hands down now.
If you haven’t played it go away and play it now and come back when you have fully explored and finished it.
Did you notice that I italicized fully explored? Why would I do that you ask? Because this is the basis of my new gameplay idea….trying to reach areas that have been purposefully made very difficult to reach.
Let’s go back to Lost Coast for a moment. After I had played and completed it I decide to go exploring. I wondered whether it was possible to reach the town on the other side of the water WITHOUT cheating. That’s very important because using two consoles commands you can go anywhere on the level and the challenge is gone.
It turns out that it is possible and actually very easy. Now, what if you extended this idea to a complete mod. Kreedz Climbing I hear you scream but no, not like that, something more subtle. Something where the player has to plan and use the environment to their advantage.
Allow me to explain. Stacking boxes to reach walls is quite easy but what if you had to fight your way to a vantage point and then use a crossbow to explode a barrel that destroyed part of a wall to let you through? Phew, a lot of work just to get past a wall. Now what if that barrel wasn’t visible from your vantage point unless you did something else a little earlier in the level? Perhaps destroy a water tower with the one and only rocket?
Of course I see all this in my mind’s eye and it’s clear and obvious but for you who have to read my basic descriptions it’s lacking detail. (This is where I need a GMod expert to build something that would show you exactly what I mean).
What I am trying to explain is that it’s not just a case of finding a crate and climbing over a wall to reach the areas but much more involved and thoughtful. Half-Life 2 has the perfect physics environment for allowing clever level designers plenty of possibilities for creating these types of levels.
Perhaps each Reach Me! point provides some required element for reaching the next point, or perhaps just a better view of the situation.
I have perhaps given the impression that the Reach Me! points have to be high but they could take the form of lower levels, intricate rooms within rooms etc. The only the limit is your imagination.
Another aspect that can be interwoven is the timing of actions. Perhaps you have to race to certain points because elements you need are only available for short periods of time, or perhaps the opposite is true. Patience is required to wait for the exact moment to act, miss you chance and you have to wait again.
I believe there’s a deep psychological process at work here. Reaching areas that are hard to get to are the basis for Portal. The game designer has set you a clear challenge. They are asking “Are you smart enough and skillful enough to reach this point?” You not only need to be able to workout HOW to reach somewhere but also have the ABILITY to actually do it. In the case of Portal, shooting, jumping and timing are all paramount.
Another point about Portal is the gradual increase in difficulty in each level. Of course there are other aspects that make it such a brilliant game but similar elements could be used by the makers of this mod. Make each level short and self-contained. Give the player simple and clear objectives. Mix fighting and puzzle solving. By keeping the sections short you allow the player to try and fail many times without giving them the feeling that they are not progressing. Mixing the difficulty of some levels is also a good idea as it will allow short breaks.
The best thing about this idea is that the basic implementation should be quite easy. If doesn’t require a story, voice acting, cut scenes etc, just clever level design and extensive beta testing. Levels wouldn’t need to be detailed in the same way as other single player levels because the atmosphere is created via the objectives not via the environment. (Of course, a well designed level is going to include a certain amount of detail but I don’t see that it is as important.) Just look at Portal again and you will see that the environments weren’t particularly detailed like Half-Life 2 was.
In fact if you created the mod for Episode Two I’m pretty sure it would be possible to use Portal textures. I’m not suggesting that the mod should be as graphically sterile as Portal or set in similar locations just that by adding some textures you could subliminally get players into the right frame of mind.
So, to summarize. Exploring is an integral part of most FPS games and mods. I’m suggesting taking that simply gameplay mechanic and expanding it into the central theme of a mod.
The level designer would created levels that test a player’s ability to think longer-term and less about run and gun. Fighting and shooting would still be required but only as a means to an end, not as the end itself.
Jumping and other character controlled movements would be used but not too much or to the extent that it’s frustrating for the player. The key is finding ways to reach the areas through manipulation of the environment and strategic use of limited weapons and ammunition.
The question is: Are there any mappers out there willing to accept my challenge of building a proof of concept level?
In fact let me raise the stakes a little a suggest a competition. I have a used, legal and boxed copy of Crysis (Kindly supplied by a long term PP reader called AI (Thanks!)) and a brand new copy of Prey to send to the entry I feel deserves it (I may not give out the prizes if the entries are not very good – sorry!).
If enough people show an interest via the comments system of this post I will create a new post announcing the competition and send out a few press releases to the major mapping sites and forums.
Here are some screenshots I took just now for those doubters amongst you.