Things I would like to see in mods in 2010 – Part 1

14th December 2009

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

At this time of year I normally write some sort of wish list for the following year (2007, 2009 (not sure what happened to 2008!)), but this year I decided to be much more specific. This year I am going to talk about what I would like to see in mods.

I have decided to split it into two articles, so that we can discuss each point in greater detail. So, without further ado, here are the first six.

Number One: An indoor driving sequence

In Destiny, I remember driving inside a warehouse for about 1 minute and think that this could be fun if the author extended it. Now, I know that there are a few drivings section in underground sewer section but I am thinking about areas that wouldn’t normally see driving; large warehouses, certain Combine buildings.

In fact, how about a mod that resurrect the Combine Factories? Driving through huge industrial areas, with presses that need to be passed at just the right time etc. In fact, I would like to see a multiple-route area that offers various elements; the lower offers faster driving but fewer obstacles and a much longer route, the higher route, lots of twists and turns but plenty of jump-out-and-open-doors etc action, with the middle a combination of both.

I’d also love to smash through some windows and fly across the gap and into the building next door! Multiple routes through various buildings could keep me happy for ages.

Come on modders, what you waiting for? Get mapping!

Number Two: A 6-month mod team

I want a group of modders to get together and say “Okay, here’s the deal. We are going to make one mod every 6 months, come rain or shine. Finished or not, it gets released!”

Sometimes forcing a deadline is a bad thing but only if it’s done after the project started or the project’s goals were too ambitious.

Each 6-month mod would be stand alone, not an episode. A simple story with only a few levels and sequences. Nothing too ambitious, just a good mod using standard textures and models etc.

The skill is managing the team’s time and making everybody work to a schedule. That in itself would be great to have on a CV! Of course, the team would rotate because people always drop out, but that’s part of life – get used to it.

The mods, wouldn’t be ground-breaking or spectacular just solid and great fun to play.

Number Three: A really great “boss-style” strider and hunter battle

Offshore had a very large area with Striders and Hunters and I am sure a lot of players really enjoyed it. I would love to see some derelict buildings and a stream of Striders coming through and your job is to stop as many as possible.

Unfortunately, you need to go between different building to use the ammo that has been placed for you and the other rebels. Of course, there are hunters running around, along with some Combine soldiers, making your life really hard.

The final moment is when 3 striders surround you building and then life really gets hard – of course that’s when it gets fun too.

Anybody else wanna play something like this?

Number Four: Mostly beach and Forest mod.

I don’t remember many mods that used the beach setting. I am sure there are some and don’t let my running this site fool you into believe I remember every mod I’ve every played. I quite like the antlions coming out of the sand and those thumpers. In fact when you think about it, those views were one of the defining images from the game. Things have certainly improved since then yet scenes like that rarely get recreated. Is it really thathard? Maybe, I don’t know but given the talent among our mapping community, I am sure it’s possible.

Now imagine starting the mod in the high hills of a forest, where you goal is to reach the shore and drive along the coast road to some forgotten outpost and you have a perfect excuse for two types of setting. The join between the two would be a challenge but isn’t that half the fun for mappers?

Number Five: A really detailed bridge section

When was the last time you saw a great bridge sequence in a mod? I think it was Riot Act but that fizzled out to a few minutes. The author apparently spent quite a lot of time on the bridge, it’s a shame it wasn’t used more.

I have little doubt that there are some technicalities with lighting and models etc, but I am sure they could be solved.

Random Quest had a short bridge section where the wind blew you to one side, but that was open and I am hoping for something with 3D gameplay. Up the girders or down to a lower level, that sort of thing.

Why not have GF, leading a large group of rebels across a bridge, only to find that the Combine are trying to destroy it. You must reach the other side in less than 15 minutes or the bridge will collapse. Maybe it should be “about” 15 minutes and have some sort of random timer going on, to add replay value.

If you fail, watch the bridge fall into the mist below and hear the almighty crash as it hits the river.

Number Six: Better build ups to the finale

This is an area that i feel many modders need to focus n. They can create great individual levels but it takes a Game Designer to make sure the form part of an ever increasing mod, with a finale that feels right.

I am currently watching my favourite TV show (It’s quite old, but new for me and I’m, not telling you the name in case you add a spoiler!) and this series is building up to a fantastic end. If you look at each episode then it’s hard to see the build up but because I watch them all in a couple of weeks, that build up is clearer.

How you do it in a mod, I don’t know because it’s not just about making each level harder than the previous one, or having more enemies. There is something much more subtle than that. It’s the foreshadowing, the hints and the little things that give the clues to the viewer.

This is an area that needs more investigation by the modding community.

Part 2, tomorrow.

Well, that’s part 1 finished and I haven’t even asked for anything crazy, have I? Part 2, tomorrow, will finish with another 6 things.


  1. Count de Monet

    I concur on all these, plus a real story and Alyx and others to interact with.

    Flying a helicopter to battle the combine insectoid barges would be great too.

    1. I certainly considered flying helicopters, riding Striders, controlling hunters, via remote control but felt there were more interesting things to see/play. Alyx appears tomorrow.

    2. Robspace1

      I’d just like a mod to be as real as possible. Let Gordon travel to another planet using a time machine/portal device. I love time travel games. Add alot more brain teasing puzzles that make me really work hard to figure out. Maybe a 3 part mod that get’s harder and harder and to make it to the end the player really has to stay up late and do alot of brainstorming to figure out. I like games with a challenge and HL has many areas to add this type of thought provocing gamesmanship. Make it big,at least 500mb and use alot of color and make it so every move counts.

      Hey-this is sounding alot like Minerva!

  2. TB Biggs

    Number Five: A really detailed bridge section. Does the bridge from the Summit map of Strider Mountain count?

    There are some nice ideas in this post.

    1. Maybe, but I didn’t get that far. It looks great, but I was thinking of something bigger, although, it really depends on how much gamerplay is packed in.

  3. Joe

    I can see the attraction of all of these. But a 6 month mod team! whoa!. then again 6 months is a long time. Providing all other real life activities are utterly obliterated.
    The mod I am currently working on has quite a few of the things you would like to see.
    Strider and hunter battles are pretty awesome. But its difficult to make interesting variations. Most of the time it turns out to be.
    -> Run run run run run.
    -> Got rocket launcher!
    -> Shoot the crap out of strider!
    I would like to see an interesting use of the magnison devices.
    Maybe a magnison cannon or something, making your main objective to take down the hunters.
    I know how you feel about finales. Sometimes I finish a mod and think, “that’s it? if that’s the case why didn’t the mod finish after the epic battle half way though?”

    1. 6 months is a long time if you have 5 or 6 team members and only build 4 maps into the mod.

      If you plan carefully and stick to it, I believe it’s possible. The problems come with feature creep, where you think adding one little extra thing won’t matter and so on.

      We discussed the Magnusson Device back in June for a Poll Question, because I would like to see more of that too.

      With regard to the finale, it’s not just having a great one, it’s building up to it too.

  4. 1.) This is something I would love to see as well, but I also recognize just how hard it is to implement. Driving sequences seem really easy, but even without any modding experience I can tell that it is extremely difficult to design an indoor area for driving. When people drive, they want to be able to experience the SPEED, and pretty much just pass everything by and not have to stop and get out to check if you missed a special item drop or have to get out (or at LEAST stop the car) so you can shoot at something, otherwise it gets to the point where the player feels that skipping the vehicle is less of a hassle.
    Trying to balance the obstacles so they are interesting, yet not utterly frustrating, and balancing the enemy occurrences to keep some pressure on the player, but not have them constantly stopping and starting are both nowhere near as simple as it seems.

    2.) I can live with this or without, but that’s probably just me. Having just gotten Orange Box and Half Life a year ago, I’ve essentially had 11 years of incredible mods all crammed into the past year, so haven’t yet hit the point where I’m wishing someone would start coming out with just semi decent mods on a regular basis.

    3.) Hunter battles are only fun if you have the gravity gun and something to chuck at them. Strider battles are pretty fun period, but once you find a rpg cache, it becomes pretty rote. What I would kinda like to see is an endless ammo cache that holds smg grenades and then a few rpgs laying around. not being able to rpgs makes strider battles much more tense.

    4.) I too notice a distinct lack of beach scenes. I think Forest scenes are less common because of how much work it takes to make a the forest not feel barren, but also not end up with cookie cutter trees, and for the path you follow to feel natural. I think the beach scenes tend to get dropped because of how sparse the area is supposed to be it’s hard to come up with non-contrived obstacles that can work to act as a PATH.
    It would be pretty freaking awesome if it were possible to create a beach section with an actual moving tide, so that you have to wait for paths to be revealed by low tide, but get across them before high tide comes back and brings the swarm of leeches

    5.) I agree that more detailed bridges would be great. Specifically bridges that you specifically had to cross different portions of it. Like using the supports to cross one point, but then crossing teh actual bridge on the other. Maybe even have trains constantly crossing the bridge as you make your way across it, creating a semi-frogger style gameplay moment.

    6.) Buildups are difficult. It’s very hard to see the overall picture of what a mod is going to feel like when you’re constantly working with pieces that need to be put together at the end. It’s not just making beginning levels easier and later levels harder.
    To a certain extent, being able to create proper buildup requires a very CLEAR idea of what the player’s ultimate objective is and also making sure it is clear what the ENEMY’s objective is as well. By knowing these 2 things, you can better think of how to show that the player is getting closer to completing their objective, but also show that the enemy is putting more effort into stopping you from accomplishing that objective.

    1. Extra thoughts on a proper finale strider battle:

      Make it so that the player is limited to JUST the gravity gun at the end of the game. They are tasked with protecting a major rebel stronghold from a strider/hunter attack. The rebels only have standard firearms, and they can’t reach you, nor you them in order for you to get a weapon from them.
      All you have available to you is whatever rocks, barrels, tree stumps and miscellaneous objects happen to be lying around, and a single magnuson device transporter. In order to save the rebel base you must dispatch the hunters guarding the striders, and then attach a magnusun device to each strider so that the rebels are capable of shooting them to set them off. Or two, maybe making it so 1 magnusun device gives the rebels a 50%-75% chance of shooting it before the strider shoots them, but 2 gives a 100% chance.

      1. Kyouryuu

        Or option #3: Find a way to use the environment to kill the Strider.

        As an example, one idea I’ve perennially considered was using a radio tower to kill a Strider or Gunship. The idea would be that you’d use grenades to destroy the concrete pylons securing the radio tower and once you destroyed them all, the thing would keel over and land on the enemy, which would have to be scripted to walk/fly to a particular spot.

        Something like that, so long as you have a method of explaining it, is far more interesting than the tired “find the lone RPG cache which is inexplicably on the other side of the arena” cliche.

        1. While a good idea, it’s hard to teach the player to do that, or that it’s even possible.

          1. We teach the player to do many things whilst playing mods, I don’t see that it would be too hard. A little voice acting and getting the rebels to do the same thing wouldn’t be too hard.

          2. Kyouryuu

            Hence why you’d have an NPC who hints that this is what you’re supposed to do. In addition to making the pylons themselves standout in some way. Maybe they have a glowing light on them, maybe they look old and fragile. Or maybe you have the Strider/Gunship “accidentally” shoot one.

            It can be challenging in HL2 to explain things since there aren’t any explicit objectives. But that’s also its beauty. You really need to be able to visually explain what you need to do and/or get an NPC to help if the player is very stuck.

            1. Okay, the issue I was seeing as a problem would be that structures that are tall enough to crush striders with aren’t all that commonplace, so actually being able to have enough to both teach you that it’s possible AND have one left over to use yourself would be problematic.

              It would be interesting to have a scene early on where a rebel attacks a strider from the doorway of a building, then when teh strider shoots him (and kills him) it also sets off explosive barrels inside the building, causing it to topple onto the strider and kill it.
              Then during the scene I described, you have the magnussun transporter get destroyed by a hunter just as the second to last strider gets blown up. The last strider will then track you instead of only focusing on attacking the rebel base, which will let you lead it to another tall rundown structure that you can use to crush the strider in a similar fashion, except with you (hopefully) making a break for a window or other opening in the back of the building so you can narrowly avoid the ensuing explosion.

  5. Indoor driving sequence:
    Something like this could be very good fun so long as there are only a few stops to power up doors, flick switches etc. The rest should be drive and crunch and, perhaps leaps from one building to another through windows.

    A 6-month mod team:
    From a gamers perspective this would be great, especially if there were several teams.
    A developer’s perspective?

    A really great “boss-style” strider and hunter battle.
    Absolutely up my street!
    That map from Offshore is my favourite map of all time and I’ve played many times in many ways. It didn’t just have Striders and Hunters but Combine too.
    ‘Anybody else wanna play something like this?” Yes.

    Mostly beach and Forest mod.
    Offshore had a very good beach map with a couple of Striders and Combine.
    It would have been a magnificent map had a couple of Gunships turned up after killing the last Strider. I hate antlions, unless I’ve got that sqeezy thing.
    High hills with some trees, great. Forest, not so keen if the Combine can see and shoot you through the leaves.

    A really detailed bridge section
    When was the last time you saw a great bridge sequence in a mod?
    The Strider Mountain “bridge” is, perhaps, better described as a viaduct carrying pipes. Still a bridge in the dictionary meaning of the term though. It’s a very good “bridge” and with lots more detail than the bridge on Highway 17. What happened on the SM bridge was much more interesting. Hard combat – you bet your bottom dollar – phew.
    The Highway 17 bridge was scarier. Very high, easy to fall off, train giving it the shakes and the sound of the wind. Brilliant and then you have to high tail it back to the RPG ammo with a Gunship having a go.
    I like bridges. Something like a combination of these 2 bridges would be great.

    Better build ups to the finale:
    I think all the good mods build well to the finale.
    It’s the end of the finale that often disappoints. Unexpected Conclusion is an example. The end of Calamity was silly and Coastline to Atmosphere, after you had won, was particularly dire and boring. Otherwise both were excellent mods indeed.
    The only good finale endings I can remember were Offshore, Minerva Metastasis. and Strider Mountain. You finished knowing that you had won the war and achieved the objective(s).

  6. Gradius

    Just for you I’ve started a design for a long-ass driving section in my current project that goes through a forest enviroment, into an abanoned mine, through an antlion tunnel and then into the the citadel (so one and a half maps worth of driving with a few stops in between).

    1. I like the sound of the citadel part. Please just make sure you can really “drive” fast. I hate mods that use the vehicles and then force the player around strange turns. Why bother?

  7. Kyouryuu

    #1: Driving through an interior can be fun if done right. The thing is, you need to provide a compelling reason why driving is preferable to walking. Halo 3 had an example where you’re trying to escape the base as it detonates around you. Here, time and a fiery end creates the rationale for driving.

    Keep in mind that traditionally, Half-Life doesn’t rely on timers. No matter how much the NPCs pressure you into moving forward, there’s rarely an actual reason why you must. To me, adding a timer will typically create tension, but it’s also in many ways a cop-out for better design.

    #2: While it’s not a bad idea, the simple fact is that “Finished or not, it gets released!” is a horrible, horrible mantra to live by. As Miyamoto once said, a delayed game is eventually good. A bad game is bad forever. True, there are some games and mods that are not salvageable, but that’s a different case.

    #6: I don’t think there’s much to investigate – it’s really all about planning things before you do them. Too many modders figure they can whimsically tunnel into the void, plop enemies down and instantly have a level. The truth is, you can’t “wing it” anymore. You have to construct things with either a walkthrough or a moment-to-moment breakdown of what the player should be experiencing. You have to constantly ask yourself, what does this encounter bring to the table that the previous one didn’t? Have I stacked two massive encounters back-to-back? Does the player need a breather here?

    Another way to think about this is the “beat chart.” It’s basically a graph you can draw of the player’s intended emotion as they progress through your mod. Here’s a really basic example:

    Ideally, you want peaks and valleys in order to create an emotional roller coaster. If you’re constantly in “go time,” operating at the highest emotional level, players are going to get exhausted of your mod and you’re eventually going to run out of methods of upping the ante. Likewise, if you stay in the valleys for too long, you’re going to create feelings of boredom.

    The way to achieve a proper build-up is to be able to consider the events of your level in relation with each other. How does each contribute to the greater whole? And are they, in fact, all supportive of the intended whole?

  8. Well, well.Some fantastic ides here on expanding many of my personally favorite aspects of HL2+ game play.

    #1) I love the Jalopy and the Air boat sequences, but like you, I would love to see some expansion into larger areas(like the original Halo did), and I support this concept 100%.An area sizable enough to support at least half a chapter with adequate challenges would be very nice indeed.

    #2)I’m all for giving mod teams incentives for the release of new material, but I believe voluntary team sign up, based on a rewards incentive of some type(Team featuring, etc., you know) if you wanted to get proven teams and higher quality mods to feature under a program such as this.It could work.

    #3)”Offshore” is on my top 5 list.Loved it! I love killing Striders almost as much as I detest Hunters.Mix and mingle…? Sure, why not? Two things I would love to see here…the sticky mines used used in Episode 2 (haven’t seen one use of them since!), and I want to see a true “Boss” in the HL2 world.A Strider or hunter on steroids; a real “ruin your day” custom upgrade from the norm. would be a wonderful new challenge.But I also enjoy playing against the odds and relying on more tactical combat, so yes, I’d play.

    #4)I love outdoor combat given a decent environment! I would very much like to see this happen!

    #5)I cannot honestly ever remember a decent bridge sequence since Episode 1,(I believe?, where you are traversing the high train suspension bridge on the underside).I enjoyed the facet of all the multiple route choices and would be happy to see a full chapter mod based on the same style.

    #6) Alfred Hitchcock said it best when he explained that you must give your audience a payoff at the end in return for all that they have invested in you.Without that payoff you’ve created nothing and the audience feels cheated somehow.If your a Hitchcock movie fan, you know what he meant and that it was exactly that philosophy which made him so very successful.You always got the payoff at the end and left happy.
    The same principle applies to mods and games as a whole.I just don’t believe that most developers have that subtle creative flair or perhaps just simply don’t know how.Learning it would certainly go a long way in better serving everyone’s interests.

    1. Jumping to your last point, I’ve written about Hitchcock on PP before. Modders could learn a lot from watching his films.

    2. Kyouryuu

      That bridge was in the original HL2 along Highway 17.

      I enjoyed that part of the game, although a lot of it had to do with when the bridge shook violently, I didn’t put two-and-two together that it was a train passing above. Instead, I was: “Whoa, what the heck was that?!” XD

      1. See what happens when you play so many mods.You get sketchy on the original. Thanks.

  9. Pax

    Don’t post often, but I had to comment on this. After playing the finale for The Parish in L4D2, I too, have had bridges on my mind. Not just little bridges, but big, possibly miles long bridges. Whole levels that are the span of the single bridge.
    Also, since I played the GTAIV episodes, I’ve also had the Brooklyn Bridge on my mind. It’s multiple spans and pedestrian levels might make an interesting level where you have to go back and forth between the lanes and walkway… or something similiar.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. A whole mod based on one bridge would be challenging for the modders and the player. It seems to offer so many possibilities but still appeals to my linear gameplay sense.

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  11. tymaxbeta

    “In fact, how about a mod that resurrect the Combine Factories? Driving through huge industrial areas, with presses that need to be passed at just the right time etc.” We are doing this in Half Life Parallel actually, keep your eyes out for the future episodes Philip ;D

    1. tymaxbeta

      I didn’t see this one yet, sorry:
      “Number Three: A really great “boss-style” strider and hunter battle”
      Um, Philip, that’s in HLP too, in episode 4. I think you should really keep an eye on our mod, I think you will rather like it…

  12. Hec

    Totally agree with the boss like strider hunter battle, I loved that in ofshore mod!! as phillip said, I would add some gunship or hellicopters to that battle.
    also as I said recently i’d like to see a mod where u can play as Dog alyx’s pet, or where u can fly a hellicopter and escape from some cmb hell, recently in HUMAN ERROR mod we can ride a Combine Armored Tank and it was just awsome I loved that part of the mod and the ride you do on that sweet killing machine with wheels!!

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