My journey through the land of Quake started late one night with some crazy looking brushwork doodles and eventually finished with my favourite map to date, The Horde of Zendar. I have always thought of Quake as a treasured favourite from my past and I remember when it first came out, I was blown away by the game having true 3D levels that I could walk around. Even thou that sounds crazy by today's game standards, at the time it was ground breaking!
Quake is an unique experience, there really is not much else like it, the game is dripping in blood soaked pixels, full of nightmarish monsters and has very aggressive game play mechanics. The environmental styles range from typical tech style base designs to surreal elder world castles soaked in black shadows. Unfortunately the monsters were as dumb as bricks and they would often run straight at you, guns a blazing, swords a swinging and claws a tearing.
The game had its own kind of intensity, there were no rooms full of enemies like in Doom, but instead the monsters were setup in ambushes. They could be high up on ledges raining down grenades or silently drifting in the darkness waiting to surprise you with a hiss and acid spit and if you are not careful leaping at you with teeth and claws at the ready. The game was driven by terror and surprise, panic and dread and the fear of what lies around the next corner.
Midnight Stalker was inspired by vivid dreams of blue elder worlds and warped brushwork, a twisted metal underground lair of monsters and contraptions waiting for some unwelcome fool to wander into.
The environment was designed to slide apart like giant pieces of a puzzle, to change as the player progresses and the monsters were placed in positions of strength. This is a map full of environmental hazards, unusual monster ambushes and traps for both the player and monster to be caught out by.
Backsteingotik was a towering monolith of bricks stretching upwards into darkness. There are no fancy archways, fine details, or environmental set pieces, just a mountain of bricks. The map is based on a central hub system where the player unlocks various parts of the map over time while returning to one point for multiple encounters.
The game play is a mixture of ambushes and special arenas where the player can operate crushers to inflict upon unsuspecting monsters. Many of the areas are revisited several times from different heights and there are plenty of secret areas to unlock and explore.
The Ivory Tower is based on a story, a world full of details stacked up over time, a place where each corner is designed with a purpose. The player will experience brightly lit chapels, large underground caves stitched together by elevator shafts and will be unconsciously led by rusty tracks laden with carts full of gold.
The game play is different, there are plenty of empty encounter spaces, opportunities to look around and explore. There are many locations presented from multiple directions to give the player the sense of space and show where they are going to be next.
The Horde of Zendar is designed to be played forward or backwards and still make sense. The map is about player choices, multiple routes and plenty of secret areas waiting to be unlocked via multiple silver keys. The objective is simple, escape the city, but there are so many secret places to explore as well.
The game play is classic ambushes tailored to each area of the map with plenty of vertical situations to keep the player looking up. The central hub is visited on many occasions and the climax to the story is when the final battle is over the floor is littered with the fallen bodies of the Horde of Zendar while the player escapes to tell the tale.
For many years the trail through the Grendal Gorge was a dangerous place, the path was plagued by thieves trying to help travellers part with their gold. At the request of the Merchants Guild the King built several small keeps along the trail and one of them was called Zendar.
As traders used the stone keep for refuge from the packs of thieves roaming the paths below, the tiny keep of Zendar grew into a hodge podge of housing bursting at the seams of a once simple stone keep. The cramped living conditions were unbearable and the citizens of the city were at each others throats.
With the accidental death of the captain of the guards, the remaining silver knights tore the city apart looking for culprits to blame for their leaders untimely demise. No prisoners were taken, Zendar did not have any jails, anyone foolish enough to be caught was buried alive in the city walls as the place descended into madness.
The map started out with such grand plans! A large hub with a giant royal palace perched on the top, two large city areas on either side for the gold and silver keys, a large vertical gothic style church and a huge city facade overlooking a deep canyon with an iron bridge! Crazy plans!?!
I started with the central hub and palace section as I knew this would require the greatest amount of planning to get the routes right. Each side of the map was going to have an unique theme (gold = city streets, silver = cemetery) with the player being led along a lower path and returning to the hub on an upper path with said key.
Typically maps are linear with a few extra routes to spice things up, but generally the player goes from point A to point B in one direction. I wanted this map to be different, I wanted the player to be able to go backwards through each side of the map and I needed to find a good way to do this without it being totally obvious.
The hub was setup to be a simple loop with four large pillars to support the weight of the palace above. I already had a large church built in a scrap map and it was quick and easy process to connect it to the far end of the hub area.
I wanted the backward routes to be indirect and not obvious to the player because they should be something for game++ sessions. I thought it would be better if they started in the church and then crossed over the hub to the upper exits from each key side of the map.
At this point there was no clear direction on the city architectural style and the hub seemed like the perfect place to prototype elements that could influence the rest of the map. Each corner of the hub needed some city detail and at this stage it was ideal to work out how best to use the textures with specific brushwork shapes.
The city style was based on a layout from a European city, with a large stone wall backbone and all of the housing being squashed into the remaining space. The houses are stacked vertically with various floors spilling out over into the street space creating the impression that the daylight is at a premium, a luxury that is owned by the upper floors.
The house stacking system has many benefit and it is perfect for creating ledges and walkways for the player to climb over and discover places. It is also very easy to shift the layers up and down by small amounts to break the overall horizontal line and create construction variety.
The initial hub design was symmetrical from left to right and that needed to be broken by reversing various elements. The far corners next to the church had bridges for the backward routes and it was a perfect opportunity to break the lines. One bridge was reversed and the lower area was nicely blocked off to create a cool secret area.
With the basic structure of the hub routes in place it was time to add the icing to the cake, the palace section. The original palace layout was a thin mirrored area across the top ending in a large Gold Key door. Once through the Gold door it was up another lift to the final arena fight and through the exit portal.
At this point the final arena was just a simple square block so that the floor space boundaries could be worked out. I often find it is better to leave some parts of the map to last, because the best brushwork/texture shapes often come once the map style has been established.
With the hub taking shape and most of the routes connected it was time to plan the gold key side. With this area being a close quarter street layout with a second return layer across the top it was easy to take brushwork ideas from the hub corners.
After weeks of just working in the editor and the map still growing in scope it was becoming obvious that this map was not going to compile quickly. All routes were sealed up and the first full compile was started.
The compiler was started on a Friday night and was still going on Sunday! This was going to be a problem. I knew this map was going to be difficult but I did not expect days/weeks for compile times, something had to change.
Luckily a new compiler by Tyrann had just started using detail brushes to reduce portal/compile times and I knew this was going to be best solution. The map was cut up into small pieces and the core brushwork was simplified while the detail was converted to detail brushes.
Eventually after several days the whole map compiled in less than 20mins, including a full light pass. It was looking like the map would work but there was more problems to come. The BSP format has limits and this map was quickly approaching them and half of the map was still not built!
Something had to be cut and the easiest solution was to remove the Silver Key side because it had not been built yet. This had the added benefit of changing the way the keys worked. No longer did the player have to find both keys, the silver key could be used differently, for secondary objectives instead.
Even with the Silver key side gone there was still the final arena, the facade to the city and a skill selection area to be build. Something else had to go and then a cool idea happened, why not use the hub as the final arena? It is circular, a large space and fully detailed, it would be perfect!
The palace section was re-arranged to have more floor space and link nicely back down to the hub for the final battle. The roof space at the top of the map was slowly building up with more detail and looking so tempting to play in. I knew when everyone would see the rooftop section that they would want to go there and play.
With the roof space becoming an active gameplay area, the detail boundaries had to be extended so that when the player is on the roof there is more to see. The original rooftop vista needed its own vista!
With most of the map built the last section remaining was the facade to the city and I knew it had to be epic. It needed to set the tone for the map and show how big the place was. The player needed to start low and climb up to the city under the bridge and then across it. The flow through this start area needed to feel like a journey, a slow build up to all the combat to come later.
As always the time consuming part was the rocks, getting the vertical templates setup and merging them together in interesting ways. The floor of the start area originally had a small stream with various waterfalls, but the default Quake water is never nice and is usually full bright which makes it look really odd in night time maps.
In my previous map I experimented with fake texture blending and I thought it would be awesome if the river was dry and the edges were blended instead. With various texture trickery the blends worked out really well and with gl texture mode nearest set they looked awesome!
With most of the map built, the only section left was the skill selection and the final exit and then I thought, why not make them the same, but with subtle changes instead. It would help with the BSP limits and give the map a beautiful symmetry of starting and ending in the same place.
The building of this map has been a journey of its own, with plenty of map limits broken and crazy compiler issues I am surprised it has seen the light of day. Hopefully everyone will love the map as much I have loved creating it.
Deep within the Grendal Gorge is a small monastery and chapel built by the Silver Knights of Tresden. The central tower of the chapel was constructed from the legendary white rocks of Vineford and soon gained the nickname of 'The Ivory Tower'.
The monastery was surrounded by many dark caves and eventually the knights discovered that the foundations of the Ivory Tower were riddled with large amounts of gold. The knights soon abandoned their pray and meditation for the axe and cart as they ventured deep underground in pursuit of their new god, gold.
The Ivory Tower was replaced with gleaming spires of gold as the Knights found comfort in their new found wealth. After many years of greed and decadence the Knights turned to dark rituals for spiritual satisfaction and so began the journey into madness.
Sometimes it is fun to sit down for a short while and create brushwork experiments. Quick scenes designed to explore a theme and not have to be hampered by gameplay (AI movement) restrictions.
This map is made from several brushwork experiments mashed together to form a story of events. The construction is designed to show the player location history by revealing layers of details stacked on top of each other.
Many of the locations are designed to be revisited from different heights and angles and there are several key points where the view is setup to show where the player is going to be next.
The map flow is not linear and there are several routes which can bypass large parts of the map. This means that the map can be replayed several times and new routes can be discovered. The downside to this strategy is that the player can get easily lost or turned around, but the map is small enough that the feeling of being lost should be minimal.
The map contains ten secrets which range from button finding to player movement (jumping) skills. No secret requires rocket/grenade jumping to be reached and the mechanism to operate the secret is often within close proximity. All skill levels were tested without the use of any secret stash.
The start area (skill selection) is the Ivory Tower before the gold rush, I thought it might be fun to play with what happened to the canyon area instead of a generic skill selection area.
The final room contains three floor/ceiling crushers which are button operated. They are designed with a dual purpose (crush or cover) and give the player a choice. They can either make the fight easier by crushing enemies or creating cover to hide behind from long range enemy attacks.
One of my favourite maps of Quake is E3M5 "the Wind Tunnels", a very dark metallic pipe infested underground area flooded with water. The map is famous for having a very unique game play mechanic, the use of wind to transport the player around the map.
Unfortunately the original map did not have any kind of unique architectural style and is largely flat metal walls and pipes. With no shapes to play with I decided to take the idea of E3M5 and push it in a new direction. Gone are the cold wet metal walls sunken in pits of water and in its place are towering monolithic brick structures soaked in hot yellow lighting!
I have always been a great fan of brick architecture and especially German Gothic brick designs like this gorgeous example in Budapest. When designing the map Backsteingotik I wanted it to feel tall, to have brick walls stretching upwards into darkness and the structures to feel like they could support the world. This is monolithic Gothic, there are no curved archways, no round windows, just simple timeless shapes and mountains of bricks!
I have always been fascinated by symmetrical design and how it is used in medieval buildings to inspire balance and tranquility with beautifully mirrored lines. Symmetry is often avoided in games because of its predictable patterns, but players often repeat tasks in games and using symmetry is a good way to show players how to discover new locations based on previous experience.
The central area of the map is symmetrical, but the sides are unique. There are design elements in the middle of the map that are in mirrored locations, but they lead to different places. The idea is if the player finds one symmetrical design element they will be able to use that knowledge to find the opposite and discover more places to explore.
Often maps use teleporters to solve logistical design problems because no player wants to travel back through large empty spaces. During the early design phase of this map there was a lot of teleporters moving the player back to the center. Eventually I realized, this map theme is about wind, not instant transportation. By removing all the teleporters the player no longer feels disjointed when travelling around and is given a more consistent theme and continuous experience.
One of the most rewarding traits of Quake maps (especially ID) is that the player is given choices where they can go and how they tackle each encounter. This map is taking a much more open approach to level flow and the player can rocket/grenade jump to both silver and gold keys, the silver side of the map on hard skill can be completely skipped and the gold side has plenty of alternative routes with special areas for flanking the enemies.
The original design for the map was 100% red brick in all directions. This was the reason for the name, Gothic red brick, but this turned the map into an endless sea of red with no landmarks for navigation. Something had to be done and the easiest thing to do was paint each side (SK/GK) with a different brick colour. The SK side became blue/grey and the GK side is gold/green. This is not exactly the vision I wanted but it does fix the flow and that is more important.
The textures are based on existing Quake assets and have been mixed up and re-arranged to suit the tall Gothic brick style. The visual language uses red buttons to represent shootable objects, demon faces to hint at secrets and large Quake symbol for touch functions. Any item or floor area which triggers a subsequent event is clearly marked with flickering yellow runes. Any items with green runes painted on the floor underneath can respawn again.
The lighting was designed to be soft and warm with strong yellow lights mixed with low blue lights for high upper areas. The map has a wispy fog setting on the worldspawn and the lighting is designed to work with this low fog (wispy white) value. It is highly recommended to use an engine that understands the fog settings on the worldspawn.
The map contains ten secrets which range from button finding to player movement (jumping) skills. No secret requires rocket/grenade jumping to be reached and the mechanism to operate the secret is always within close proximity to the entrance. The secret stash is mostly about giving the player weapons early, but all of these can be found by natural progression as well. All skill levels were tested without the use of any secret stash.
When I cannot sleep I often spend the small hours of the night creating brushwork concepts. These are not about game play, layout or design but about mashing, twisting and warping shapes together and seeing what cool things happen.
Brushwork concepts are like sketching or doodling on paper but instead of creating something from one view point it is a 3D object that can look and feel different from many sides. It is about trying to find harmony in shapes and creating new style directions.
One of my favourite maps of Quake is E3M6 "Chambers of Torment". A map at the end of Episode 3 "The Netherworld" featuring a strong blue palette and a lovely mixture of harsh metal angles and interesting shapes.
The original map has many core architectural components and most are linked to a certain textures and patterns. The walls were split by tall blue panels of merging faces, rooms were divided by harsh metal trellis patterns and pools of lava were bubbling below Mayan metal snakes weaving across the floors.
The initial idea was to take the core components and deconstruct them to see what their basic shapes look like. Once the right shape is found then to extend the design using iteration's to find more variants of the same style and finally glue it all together again.
Using only the existing textures (added two, changed one and left out six) the map is about the essence of E3M6 but warped into a new direction. Luckily the textures are not designed for specific shapes and are perfect for wrapping around any brush shape and still look good.
The map was originally just a concept but the initial layout was a lot of fun with plenty of "up and over" routes that it developed into a proper map. The layout is about the monsters being in positions of strength and the player having to adapt to each new situation.
The lighting was designed to be strong upward beams with the source hidden from direct sight. Instead of the usual bright at feet and dark ceiling I wanted the blue ceilings to glow and shimmer making the map feel different from the traditional green/brown. Each room was setup to have one central light focus (strong light) and small highlights with various pulsate/flicker styles to focus the players attention.
There are ten secrets in the map and they vary between button finding and player movement (jumping) skills. Most of the weapons can be found early in secret locations and all skill levels were completed successfully without the use of any secret stash.
The front of the map features a skill selection system like the start map with three hallways for easy, normal, hard skill and a nightmare skill entrance for players who want a challenge. Once the skill has been selected the map will restart and everything should be setup correctly.
Each skill level has different monsters types, in different positions and can be played progressively for a different experience of the map. All weapons, ammo and health are the same on all skill levels. It is assumed the player will be more frugal with ammo/health consumption on higher difficulty settings.
When a developer creates something that they feel proud of, it usually involves a large amount of time, energy and emotional investment. It is not uncommon for people to pour their heart and soul into something creative and then feel overly sensitive afterwards when confronted with a stranger's opinion. Understanding what type of feedback is being offered can help you get past defensive feelings and realize that feedback is about helping to improve something, not hinder it.
"Yeah your game is awesome!" Receiving compliments about something that you have worked on for a long period of time is great. Apart from the feel good factor, Candy feedback can also lead to other people being curious enough to want to try the game as well. The best Candy is when it is specific about something and that is usually a good indication that the game is going in the right direction.
"Why does it work that way?" Questions are always good feedback because it is someone trying to understand why it works. This is the perfect opportunity for you to learn how to express your ideas in a way that others can easily understand. When someone initially asks a question they usually have further feedback, but they don't know how to express it yet and need more information. Always remember there is no stupid question and answer politely because it will often lead to feedback that has been thought about over a long period of time.
"Your game sucks!" Nobody wants to hear negative comments and it can be really easy to take this the wrong way. Feedback posted in anger is about frustration and lack of understanding. You need to put on your detective cap and find out why, be polite and ask simple questions. Why? What? How? Keep your replies free of emotions and to the point, if this is someone who genuinely does not understand it will often lead to good feedback because their problem was so frustrating that it drove them to comment!
"Your game is good but ..." Usually starts with a good compliment to break the ice, quickly moves onto the feedback and then sometimes a solution to fix it! The perfect feedback is when someone has logically thought through a problem, been able to explain themselves and then given a possible solution. Often referred to as constructive criticism, the thinker wants to help, they want to improve the game.
There is nothing more frustrating than ‘no comment'; I would take a 100 angry people shouting feedback at me any day of the week than wondering why no one has made a comment. Besides access problems (lack of login id, restrictive websites and foreign language) the lack of comments often stems from social convention that if you got nothing positive to say, then say nothing. At least a negative comment can lead to change, ‘no comment' leads to nothing. If you are defensive and angry towards feedback eventually no one will comment and this is not where anyone wants to be. Try to engage people with questions, get people involved in the process of creation and most importantly accept all kinds of feedback without prejudice.
"I can't believe you have this feature, it is so stupid!" Fanatically feedback is ultimately positive because it can highlight really obvious problems that should be fixed. Passionate fans of games get a bad deal when compared to sports fans because they are so vocal. Having someone engaged and wanting to be heard is the perfect starting point for a conversation and once all the feedback has been broken down into facts it can often highlight the most obvious problems that are overlooked because most developers don't think like new players.
Feedback is something that should be embraced because it can take a game in new directions and add features that were obvious to new players. Looking past the emotion of Internet feedback will stop you from getting upset when someone is not being subtle with their thoughts. Posting stuff on the internet is about asking for feedback and expecting only good comments all of the time is naive. The best kind of feedback is pointing out things that are wrong because then your game will improve rather than just be ‘no comment'.
Any thoughts? Any feedback types missing?
At some point in game development test maps will be required and depending on what is being tested, it should influence what type to use. Test maps can be more than just full bright cubes and should be functional enough to highlight problems quickly and easily to coders.
The most basic test map is often called a ‘box map' and the title says it all. This is usually coder created, a full bright cube with just the bare amount of stuff to start the game and do the test. It's ugly and functional and is perfect for testing new features or checking for basic errors, but that is where it stops. These kinds of test maps show very little about how features are used in games and offer no insight into how players will use them.
The next map is an ‘obstacle course' which shows player movement features (jump distance, speed and special moves) and ideally be complex enough to be fun to play. This test map should go beyond the box shape and feature variable height differences and plenty of obstacles to climb/move across. The map should only feature lighting if it is gameplay related otherwise a basic sky should be fine.
Very few games are without means of attack and the next map is a ‘weapons range' which are used for testing firing rates, distance, damage, projectile spread, particles and effects. It will probably be used by coders, artists and designers and should be easy to understand. This type of map is extremely good as measuring how things can change during game development and offer a quick method of testing all weapons in one location. There is no point the artists making amazing assets if they cause problems when they are all in the same room!
Most games feature AI that can be used in SP campaigns or as opponents or team mates in MP and they do require a lot of testing. The AI test map should be complex and this is where design should be involved. The map will require variable routes, multiple floor heights, obstacles, places to jump, dodge and most of all, be fun to play around in. The AI test map should have floor clutter and final art assets because this is the stuff that will cause AI problems. Like can the AI move around properly without getting stuck, see through grates and transparent objects and be able to interact with world objects if required. The AI test map should be maintained and updated as the game is made because leaving the AI to last, is a recipe for disaster!
I remember when Quake first came out and I discovered there was this amazing scripting system called Quake C which allowed the creation of new functions and entities that could be added to your own map. At the time I thought it was awesome and I set about creating my first MOD featuring hell knights being resurrected with lightning bolts and the player fighting their way through large castle layouts. Sadly I had a hard disk crash and lost all my work but to be honest it probably was for the best!
Over the years I have mapped for plenty of different engines, but I always end up making Quake like brown stone castles, but for other games. A couple of years ago I made a map called The Edge of Forever for Quake III featuring high resolution medieval brown textures, a ton of crazy entity scripting and large puzzle machines, the only thing it was missing was the Quake monsters!
Recently a friend of mine made a Quake single player map within a one month timeframe and it rekindled my interest in trying to make something with quake again. I told myself that I would start with something small and simple and keep to the original assets. Well that plan did not go too well and several months later I have written a ton of code and created a huge variety of new art assets to decorate my maps with.
I have always been a big fan of the Thief series and I thought it would be a cool idea if I could sneak around in a Quake map killing monsters from the shadows. So after a lot of coding, biting of nails and plenty of test maps I finally found a way to create some stealth game play and I think it is a lot of fun. So I have setup a MOD page here with some screenshots and a video showing the basic stealth mechanics and hopefully I will find some other like minded people interested in my stealth project In the Shadows.
As always, feedback is welcome and any questions you may have please leave in the comments below.
Once the library scene was complete I moved on to my next project and discovered the delights of external light maps, which really made a big impact on the visuals. So I decided to return to the library scene and give it a new set of crispy shadows instead.
What started as a simple light map update turned into replacing all of the textures with higher resolutions versions and upgrading all of the model objects. I also discovered that external light maps don't do glow effects and had to mix and match light map types.
The white stone is from the banks of the river Danube taken over several days because of problems with the sunlight. The stones were from several sources and then glued together into a perfect grid cutting pattern.
The brown stone is from the back of the church in Pisa and luckily the sun was on the opposite side to me. When the church was being built they took stones from everywhere and it created an interesting patchwork of different types around the walls.
The regal blue wallpaper and door frame are from the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The wallpaper was covered in spot lights which caused all sorts of problem with tiling.
The door on the left was made from a frame belonging to a small church by the river in Pisa and the gold leaf inlay from a ceiling in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. A wood texture was blended over the top to make sure the door looked consistent.
The door on the right is from the back of the Baptistry next to the Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. The door is a good copy of the original image and I only removed the shadows from the top.
One of my favourite textures in the palace set is the blue floor tile from the Piccolomini Library inside of the Siena Cathedral. The library was a small room connected to the nave and the walls were covered in 10 large frescoes. In the center of the room was a collection of music tomes and they were designed for giant hands!
The floor was covered in a sea of diamonds with hand painted crescent moon symbol in the middle. The tiles were not the originals from the 15th century, but there was plenty of wear and tear detail and special half diamond versions connected to an outer border. Unfortunately I did not take enough pictures of the floor and I ended up with a very small tileable texture.
Usually I don't bother much with industrial stuff for personal projects because they often mimics life in scale and composition and where is the fun in that! After spending hours wandering around taking pictures of rusty metal and water stained concrete I ended up with a pile of new textures itching to be used for something.
While looking for inspiration and reference I came across some pictures of a Russian Aluminium Processing Plant and they looked amazing. It is crazy the amount of detail in every nook and cranny and I did enjoy the 'can you spot the worker' in every picture.
The thing I love about Russian industrial architecture is that it feels so epic and large, like it is working on a Communist Scale. Where large objects have strong solid shapes and could withstand the building falling down on them and still keep going!
I strongly believe that the secret to any good map is a well placed central object that can act as landmark or more importantly a good talking point. When people remember places they use landmarks and describe their visit by what they saw and what happened to them.
Recently I was watching a documentary about CERN and how they transported parts of the large hadron collider down a mine shaft and I thought that would be the perfect focal point, a bridge crane which I could apply Communist Scale too at the same time.
Now that my latest concept map The Bridge Crane is finished it is time to release my shiny new metal bricks for others to play with. The set consists of about 60+ unique textures with a couple of extra colours (blue / green / orange) to create a contrast.
I am also releasing the source file and it does make me wonder what will happen to it. Once something is released on to the Internet, it can end up in the most unlikely places. I can only hope that it helps out someone with their personal project.