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Dirge Ravine is a tight 1v1 melee map for Starcraft II set in a desert valley, the site of a ruined Terran colony. It contains an open battlefield flanked by mountainous passes where players can hole up while they build, with vantage points overlooking the center from each side and a hidden and obstructed back door that must be guarded to prevent ambushes.

You must own Starcraft II to play this map. Find the file over in my Portfolio.

With the tight viewport that is permitted in-game, Starcraft II does not lend itself well to screenshot-taking, but here are a few nonetheless.

I never claimed to be any good at video editing, but the more I work on level design the more I’m struck by how badly screenshots fail to convey what it actually looks like walking around in a level I’ve made. Videos are still a far cry from the feel of walking around in there for real, but offer a much better look at the “feel” of the work than screenshots can. I’ve paired this short clip with some music I’d like to publish maybe later this year.

Oh yeah, I’ve finally gotten around to putting my résumé up here where it belongs. Available in the poorly formatted beauty of my WordPress page or as .doc or .pdf.

Here are a few last screenshots from the city level I’ve been working on, as well as a new Portfolio section complete with the .bsp and .nav files to play this map, which is still in progress from an aesthetic perspective but finished from a functional perspective.

Above is an aerial view of the broken pavement with exposed sewer pipes below the street. It is not possible to look at it like this in-game without cheat codes, but one screenshot cannot capture the look of this section faithfully either, so I did this.

A quiet little park between buildings, with a pool and water lilies. The perfect spot to be devoured by reanimated corpses.

A pile-up of buses and trucks, complete with smashed telephone pole action.

Here’s a few screenshots of newly finished things in the city level, mostly aesthetic, as the level is now fully functional, barring a few adjustments to the navigation mesh for the AI.

And I’ve also made a lot of adjustments to areas that I have already shown screenshots from. In some cases, simply lowering the ceiling was enough to make a remarkable difference in the realness of a shot. Here are three examples of that (before shot on left and after on right). Inside the corner store where we begin:

Inside the first apartment:

Inside the destroyed parking lot:

Here are comparison shots from the porch of the apartment building, to show how the skyline is slowly evolving:

The City Level is now fully functioning, with a Safe Room both at the beginning and the end, and with all paths between those two spaces properly connected. It is fully playable, in other words. There is even a working Panic Event about 3/4 of the way through too.

There are numerous finishing touches I’d like to add before I’d include the whole level as part of any finished product, but the only things that remain to be done are cosmetic.

I’m including a few screenshots of the interior of the apartment complex near the beginning, as this is the area that I have worked the most diligently on since we’ve spoken.

There is an impromptu zombie-shelter built into an apartment. It was well conceived and should have worked, but the zombies eventually broke through the ceiling and killed everybody that was hiding there.

I intend to make more regular updates to this blog from now on as well.

A little image I created over at ObamiconMe.

When and if I do land a job as a real level designer, one of the obstacles I’ll need overcome is my lack of planning ahead. It’s worse for me because I’ve been producing digital media (music) for many years without ever planning ahead, and now I am used to that. A new employer though is going to expect me to be able to describe what I plan to do in minute detail. This means I need to learn how to plan what I’m going to do, and stop creating things on the fly. For now, creating things on the fly is natural because I’m still learning how design and assets interact. For instance, I could not create a map taking place in Korea unless I planned to create a pile of my own assets that would properly represent that setting. That said, my goal is to continue moving in the direction of pre-planning, and of personally creating whatever assets are lacking for my plans.

For now though I am sticking with what already exists and trying to use it in the most creative way possible.

A new map idea I’ve been working on is called “The Warrens.” It is essentially an impromptu “zombie-shelter” created by linking existing buidlings and passages into one enclosed base of operations. The idea is that, perhaps 10 years after the original zombie outbreak, the survivors have created their own bases by comandeering strong buildings and connecting them to each other via passages. In all cases using existing passageways as much as possible.

The end result is an unpredictable warrens of stores, wine cellars, sewers, and isolated patches of nature connecting them all. Semi-urban areas have been taken over by trees and grasses by this point, resulting in a patchwork contingenecy of tunnels, mine shafts, sewer access passages and broken cellars that extend from the city centers to the suburbs.

There are so many new gameplay possibilites inherent in such a scenario: separated survivors who must find each other, escape runs, supply runs punctuated by scenes of consolidating the security of existing passages, etc.

For now my main goal is just to finish a few levels before moving on to such increasingly complex ideas.

More to come.

I’m doing an analysis of the map I’m currently working on and have been showing pictures from. It has a few significant failures that are becoming more apparent to me as I continue, and I’ll be discussing some of them in depth here.

A big general problem is that I had originally conceived of this map as representing a snapshot of a major city immediately after the zombie outbreak occurred, and that is not really supported by the resources and materials that come with the package. I had envisioned a pristine environment that was about to be destroyed, but the resources available are for already-destroyed, apocalyptic scenes. As one simple example, there are only two models for curtains, and one are hospital curtains. Most normal pre-zombie-apocalypse houses have intact curtains, but that is not really supported by the package, and it is beyond the scope of what I’m doing at the moment to go model curtains and import them. So I’d have been better off trying to create a scenario that is more in line with the assets that are available.

I am reworking a lot of the environments to be more wrecked, as I can’t support my vision of them being pristine with the assets I have.

In terms of just plain bad design though, there is a messy critical path situation right at the very beginning of the map that could have been done better. I have the survivors emerge from a Depanneur (convenience store), and they are immediately presented with a choice between an apartment building and a park, both of which lead to a back alley. I included the park because I thought it would look very nice, but the actual upshot of it being that players can easily skip past the whole apartment building by going through the park. Why is this a problem? Because the apartment buidling required about 40 times the work as the park, and in my finished product they are both equally viable paths. In game, many players are likely to skip the apartment buidling every time and run through the park, essentially nullifying all the work I’ve put into it.

Furthermore, as the apartment building is made of four apartments, this creates a total of five possible paths to the back alley, the next segment of the critical path. In some situations I would say this is a good thing, for instance in my sewers segment there are two paths, and I think it works better in that scenario. In the spot in question though, as the amount of work required for each path differs dramatically, this is not so good.

At the bottom of my heart, I’m a diehard proponent of open-world games. This is not an open-world game though, and without severe modifications, it could never be. The typical L4D player wants a pretty linear experience.

For this reason, I’ve decided to delete the park altogether and force the player to go through the apartment building. Also, there will only be one path through, perhaps two at most, and it will be based on blocked paths and alternate paths created by holes in the wall and the floor. Rather than four equally accessible apartments, there will be one or two paths through that require a cross-over into other apartments. This will make the critical path more interesting and less confusing at the same time, and will add more value to the same amount of physical space (more effficient).

I feel like the long “straightaway” portions of the public roads are too long and become boring. This is likely to be completely rectified though by the deletion of the park alone.

More commentary to follow. In the meantime, I’m messing around with a completely different level design concept, which I’ll discuss shortly.

Here is a rash of new images from the Left 4 Dead level I’m working on. I’ve been doing a pretty poor job of documenting this process regularly and I’m going to start making much more regular updates.

The texturing is nearly complete across all portions of the entire map and a good deal of props and details are being put in all over. I’d say the entire thing is about 25% done.

Many of the areas still look somewhat antiseptic. Too much is at right angles and the spaces do not look “lived-in”. Over the following weeks I’ll be fitting in more props, decals, overlays, and doing adjustments to the placement of all of those things. This is intended as a snapshot of the current state of things.

The first image above is the updated apartment building to be compared to the single screenshot I have from the previous post.

Here are a few more shots of the same general area, looking in different directions.

A shot from inside one of the apartments. This is still at an early stage and is mostly included to be compared against future versions.

Behind the apartment building. As you can see, there’s some weird error causing the eaves to be lit unnaturally. It is affecting a single portion of the eaves on the front of the house too and I can’t figure out what it is at the moment.

A typical rush hour scene at your local parking garage, in the pitch dark, because zombies are killing everybody and that somehow made all the power go out.

Inside an upscale clothing boutique, somehow unscathed by the zombie apocalypse. This will be the scene of a panic event when our intrepid heroes set off the as yet untripped alarm on the front door.

Two shots from inside the dépanneur (corner store) where our heroes begin.

Comments appreciated.

A week or so ago I completed all of the major blocking in for an urban Left 4 Dead 2 map, based loosely on some neighborhoods around here in Montréal. I’ve started outdoor texturing and unfortunately I have not documented this stage too well (I’m writing this retro-actively).

Here is the one screenshot that I have from the very beginning of the texturing phase.