Post feature RSS The Making of Grendels' Blade

How a small doodle map inspired by DM4 turned into a vanilla only texture project spiraling around a gigantic sword!

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Grendels' Blade

Grendels' Blade

Far above the ground and beyond the wispy clouds roaming the skies is the home of the giants, characters born from legends and portrayed in the twinkling of the stars. Their lives mapped out for all to see and sing about, as their followers rejoice in their benevolence.

It was a cold winter night and a storm was brewing over the coastline. The clouds were swirling and churning into a large dark mass while the occasional lightning strike was torching the driftwood on the beaches. As the winds grew stronger and the howling peaked, the sound of crashing metal and roaring giants could be heard in the distance.

As the storm picked up speed and moved inland, the lightning grew with vigor and intensity as a trail of destruction was being left in its wake. People were running scared from their homes as the lightning flashed with such strength that the night sky momentarily became day.

The swirling storm clouds bulged and burst in the middle, revealing a tunnel up to the stars above. With one gigantic flash of lightning, an enormous blade of metal with glowing hot mystical runes tore through the eye of the storm. The blade pierced the ground and ruptured the molten lava below as burning boulders were thrown far and wide.

The zealots believing this was a sign from the stars, commanded that the blade was a holy site worthy of a temple to be built for the giants. People came from far and wide to appease the star giant Grendel with this architectural folly and try to gain his favour.

At the base of the temple was a lake of bubbling lava, burning the tip of the blade causing the runes to glow brightly. Small fragments of the blade had fallen into the lava and for some reason would not melt. When anyone got close to the metal shards, they would glow with a faint blue light and were consumed with madness and rage.

The great craftsman and ancient map maker Matthias Quad found a way to shape the blade fragments into weapons that could be used to unleash the power of the blade. The surrounding six cites of the temple decided that these weapons could not be kept together or controlled by one city and it was decided to split up the weapons to secure peace.

Over the years the cities bickered and fought for control of the weapons and each assumed they were the true followers of the giant. The temple priests had other plans and turned the site into an impregnable fortress instead. They declared they were waiting for the rightful one to return with all the fragments and unite the blade, revealing its true purpose!

The Bringer of Quads

Six Quads to find them all,
Six Quads to break them,
Six Quads to blind them all,
and with blue light take them!

Deconstructing Match Four

DM4 - The Bad Place

The Quake Single Player (SP) community often has 'jam' events where different visual themes and game play ideas are explored within a limited time frame. The community organized a jam based on the theme of DM4 (The Bad Place) and that indeed made me curious, because I love making blue maps for Quake!

The Bad Place

Originally created by American McGee the map features a very distinct blue runic metal theme, a crazy amount of teleporters and a large amount of (highly contrasting) red hot lava consuming the bottom of the level.

Constantly played on Quake Multiplayer (MP) servers (even till this day), DM4 is a very fast paced map where a lack of understanding for the teleporter interconnectivity, can result in being highly familiar with the player respawn locations instead!

DM4 is not your typical MP experience and has several features that are not often found in modern day layouts. The large central atrium has multiple floor/ledges with restricted connectivity (lack of stairs or lifts) and instead relies on teleporters or rocket jumping to move upward.

DM4 Deadend

My favourite DM4 'feature' is the location of the Mega Health (MH) tucked away in a dead end on the lower floor of the central atrium. The entrance is guarded by a very narrow sharp angled corridor and the middle of the room is denied by a large lake of lava.

What makes this area special is the 'cat and mouse' style combat that can occur with 1v1 player duels. If you see someone go for the MH do you wait for them to come back out? Or do you chase them and hope they get the timing of the MH wrong!

With so much of the map shaped by sharp corners, precarious walkways and lethal environmental hazards, the weapon of choice for most players is the rocket launcher (RL). Between spamming rockets at unsuspecting players turning tight corners and knocking players off walkways into pools of certain death, its no wonder this map is a firm favourite of rocketeers.

DM4 Layout

There are two rocket launchers (RL) on either side (for balance) of the map and the rest of the weapons are scattered throughout the central atrium, with the Super Shotgun next to a large stack of ammo and health.

The item respawn timers coupled with item locations really lets this map down. With FOUR armour pickups in close proximity on 20s timers (rest of items 30s) and the Mega Health on a slow 120s timer, the dead end area is a dubious risk/reward compared to the fast spawning rate of the Red Armour on the other side of the map!

The primary texture used across most of DM4 is a corrugated blue 'mmetal1_3' metal which is horizontally seamless and has a defined top/bottom edge for easy geometry alignment. This texture is highly flexible with good coloured alternatives (metal2_3, metal4_6) and can easily be wrapped around corners or edges without the need for special trims.

DM4 Textures

Most of the floor space in DM4 is covered with a seamless texture 'cop1_3' which is really best suited on generic metal surfaces and unfortunately lacks any kind of pattern or shadows suitable for a floor surfaces.

Some of the side atrium ceilings are covered in chunky metal 'metal1_3' cross beams highlighted with a strong light source above that creates beautifully striking shadows. The remaining upper canopy spaces are covered in a brightly detailed blue marble 'metal1_6' texture which is unusually named!

The majority of the textured light sources 'metal5_8' are wall indented and have a really awkward pixel dimension for alignment. Due to the colour and style of this texture it can easily be confused with Gold Key Symbols and probably not a good idea for Single Player maps. The teleporters are covered in a crucifixion 'light3_7' texture on all sides, including the inside edges which makes the alignment and shadows look really odd.

Most of the corrugated blue wall corners are highlighted with runic style pillars 'metal6_1' and 'metal6_2' that cleverly make good door frames without custom setups. The generic brown 'metal1_3', blueish 'metal1_4' and grate 'cop1_7' trims accent various details throughout. The remaining DM4 textures are mostly used on animated surfaces.

The Different Place

The jam briefing was 'To create a single player (SP) level using the DM4 visual or spacial theme' and I spent a long time flying around the original map looking at the layout, its various visual structures and overall style. While I can appreciate DM4 as a MP map, I am not really a big fan of the narrow right angle layout and some of the DM4 textures just make me cringe.

Eventually I decided I was not getting the DM4 jam vibe and should probably do something else instead. I have been wondering for quiet some time, what it would be like to use only vanilla Quake textures and to see how far I could push them into different directions. Maybe it was time for a vanilla texture jam, where everything is just tiny tiles of pixel goodness and no trims!

Texture Palette

I often like to start my projects by picking the textures, working out compatible colours and matching them together like blobs of paint. I find it useful for collecting together compatible themes that have a good cohesive vision.

I started with DM4 textures and then expanded into the metal runic sets, which I think shares plenty of common colours and are a good style for large vertical spaces. I also collected up all the various bluish textures from the later Quake episodes and finished off with some rock work stuff for contrast.

I wanted a landmark that could emphasized the vertical space, something that would encourage the player to look upwards and be excited about where they were going to travel next. I went through the usual suspects of towers, obelisks and various ideas featuring chains suspending chunks of rocks, but eventually I settled on the idea of the sword in the rock, Caliburnus.

First Doodle

I opened up my editor and jumped straight in. I had my texture palette on one side and a stack of brushes showing different player heights on the other side and right in the middle, was a giant chunky metal blade!

I know there are plenty of people who love to plan levels with 2D drawings, but I think its easier to plan 3D maps with 3D tools. Even if you are just mashing together generic shapes, I think it will give a much better idea of available space and help to prevent level or player scaling issues.

I started with the floor (probably the most important part of a level) and began to spiral up around the blade. I used mirrored structures at each compass direction to save time with blocking out and setup the corners with rows of Greek style curved pillars for hopefully cool silhouettes.

Lava Lake

Once the blade was in place I added a large platform with cracks flowing outward for the player to see the lava below. Then I made some quick and dirty rockwork around the walls to catch the light of the lava glow.

During the block out phase of the map, there was a large pile of rockwork underneath the blade in the lava. The idea was to have a platform puzzle to access a teleporter close to the lava, but unfortunately it was too inviting for exploring players and I changed it to something more secretive instead.

Top Down Center

As the central area started to take shape, each corner of the map was locking into place with the various side buildings and the symmetry was starting to show. A quick solution to fix this problem was to rotate one of the corners around 180 degree's.

The extra space created by the rotation was perfect for observing secret areas and bringing the player closer to the blade in the middle. It also featured one of my favourite moving part sequences in the whole map, the cascading metal shutters!

Building 1

With so much circular symmetry existing in close proximity to the blade, I knew that each surrounding building was going to have to be as unique as possible.

The first building featured a hodgepodge of 19th century European roof designs, a pair of octagonal towers and some cool use of runic panel lights as narrow window slits instead. The structure felt very heavy and had a good Gothic vibe as it loomed over the player from many angles. There was even space for a roof top secret via the Ivory Key.

Building 2

The second building was designed to compliment the blade when viewed from a certain angle. The deep shadow lines on either side are suppose to represent the distinct look of an Egyptian headdress as it crowns the hilt of the blade from below.

I really liked the small cliff side buildings on either side as contrasting shapes to the rockwork flowing into the distance. I always thought metal5_4' floor texture looked better on vertical surfaces, the light and texture shadows are perfect for roof tiles.

Building 3

The third and fourth buildings are rotated duplicates designed to work with the ascending curved arches on either side and smoothly lock into the front pillar details.

The large runic doors at the back originally opened, but due to performance reasons and a better route with side doors, the runic blocks were bolted shut. I really liked how the front pillars turned out, with the ascending thickness, runic details and the strong blue trims drawing the eye upward.

Rock Stripes

The challenge was vanilla textures only and I knew this was going to have an impact somewhere. I wanted the map surrounded by rockwork on all sides and a very large and detailed texture was the perfect fit.

With no chance of a custom textures, the next idea was to use contrasting materials like sedimentary rocks. This will allow the detail to come from the brushwork edges instead of the texture. Luckily the dirt settings for this map were strong and this created extra depth for the inside edges, preventing the rockwork from become one blob.

With the map dripping in blue tiles and trims, I knew that some areas would need contrasting colour schemes, especially for the players who don't recognize architectural details as landmarks. Each floor height was setup with alternating tile colour so that the different vertical spaces can be recognized quicker. All the visual language items (buttons, lifts, doors) are consistent in their design and should be easier to identify from their surroundings. Any doors that are wall details, are shown to be locked with bars to cut down on interactive confusion.

I have been a big fan of coloured lighting in maps for a long time and have been trying for years to convince everyone of its merits with subtle colour setups, but this time I wanted to try something different. Instead of using colours for every light source, I wanted all the textured light fittings to be white and colourless, so that the surrounding textures retain their original colour instead. Obviously the lava and sky surfaces emit coloured lighting, but the rest is just white and it does create an eerie coldness to indoor areas that goes really well with the runic texture set.

Tricky Beams

The first area is flat like a pancake, got plenty of pillars for cover and has a high vaulted ceiling to reduce the feeling of claustrophobia. I especially liked how the bulbous blue wall trims worked and the assault course of ceiling cross beams linking shortcuts.

The gameplay setup is the classic two button progression trick with the second floor access being revealed by a Shalrath planted firmly on the connecting lift down. Did you play hide and seek or run around the pillars trailing voreballs into unsuspecting knights?

Runic Pipes

What started out as just a simple shortcut lift connecting the starting area to the Silver Key, eventually turned into a tight multi-floored area with a quad powered Widowmaker and a ceiling full of Celtic knot like runic piping!

While riding the lift between the floors, I hope most players will look up at the ceiling and shout 'What the hell is that!?!' Initially it was roof detail around the final exit teleporter to prevent the player from escaping the map, but I loved the style so much, I went a bit bonkers with the Copy and Paste Wand instead!

Lava Cave

The lava cave is the big colour change for the map, the contrast that knocks everyone out of their blue comfort zone.

Carved out from a mountain of rock and supported by a lattice of enormous metal beams, the cave is patrolled by a horde of enemies waiting for a quad addicted player to show up and see how far they can get before the power runs out! I especially like the interlocking octagonal upper walkways, they are 100% ogre approved for grenade to the face meet and greet introductions!

Vertical Ledges

The last indoor area is a mixture of small blue bricks and corrugated metal walkways, spiraling around the inside of a large vertical chamber. Perched at the top is the final map objective, the Gold Key.

The primary theme for this area is brickwork and there is plenty of emphasis on vertical combat with ogres and knights attacking from all sides. I think the highlight of this area is the ornate ceiling design, a giant runic piping doodle to hopefully draw the player to look up!

Routes and Roundabouts

This map layout is a departure from my usual (non-linear) style and probably a bit more focused on routes that guide the player, while they are running around on quad juice. Unfortunately the central area is really small and the player is really fast and that is never a good combination for map progression. The solution (though not ideal) was to force the player to drop down for gated doors and then re-use the central area several times.

One of the advantages of spiraling around the blade for progression, is that the player can see the next section off in the distance and know where they are going. This also has a positive affect for indoor sections of the map, because when the player comes back to the central area, they often are familiar with the location already.

Top of the Blade

When building the blade I knew the hilt would make such a good path for progression. With grand views of the surrounding architecture and a memorable route, its the perfect reward for climbing up so high.

The spikes on the hilt were added to create a pause in player progression and are removed via two floor buttons. The whole setup can be completely avoided if the player gets the Ivory key first and then climbs across the hidden roof space to the other side.

Map Quarters

The map layout is a typical linear progression (area 2 is optional) from one area to the next and should not be too difficult to navigate because of the central landmark.

Each area has a couple of self contained shortcuts that can be unlocked by the player. They are mostly direct routes to help prevent back tracking and repeating empty spaces. I think the value of shortcuts is often overlooked, especially if the player knows how they connect and is involved in the activation.

Ledge 2

I never expected something in plain sight to be so well hidden. Absolutely no tester of this map found this location on their first play through and there was plenty of staring in the general vicinity for long periods of time!

I setup large curved ledges on either side, the platform is brightly lit and there is even a special message for trick jumpers if they can slope jump off the rocks below! I just got the impression that everyone assumed it was wall detail and there was nothing to investigate.

MegaHealth Shortcut

I was not expecting this area to play out the way it did. The location was designed as a shortcut, a way to get a powerful item and the chance to bypass the first quad run. It was a reward for knowing my secret style, of hiding things with demon faces.

The exit to this shortcut was overlooking the first area and giving the player the chance to do a series of tricky jumps. I never thought anyone would try this in reverse and yet plenty of testers did and succeeded and even ended up with a better visual treat!

Over the years I have done plenty of different types of combat setups in Quake maps and some are certainly more popular than others. One type I rarely do is quad runs, because they really only work best with linear layouts that the player can run through easily and find enemies quickly. This is why hidden quads can be frustrating, because they are often found after all the combat is over!

I have always wondered, what would it be like to fill up a map with as many quad runs as possible? (considering floor space) Would players go with the flow and just keep running? Would they waste the quads being cautious and getting distracted with exploring for secrets? Would they try to save the quads for later? These crazy questions need answers!

Quad Run

I did not want to waste any time and less than a minute into the map, a quad run! Right there in the open next to a button, in the right place and very much the right time to be used!

I think that is what makes the first quad run so satisfying, is the game turns the simple starting weapon into a one shot gib making machine. With the clock ticking, can the player run faster? can they get as many enemies as possible? everything is just a mindless blur of urgency and gratuitous satisfaction as map goals fade away.

Over the years my use of powerups has mostly been for secret hunters and very rarely do I leave them out in the open, or plan for them as part of combat. Often they are just like a skill modifier to make an encounter easier. Maybe the real magic of powerups is to find them easily and actually enjoy them while they last, instead of missing them in secrets and having nothing left to fight!

Quad Hole

I wanted the player to fall down into the lava cave area with an active Quad and go on a rampage, but I could not get anyone to do it!

I have always found that players will be cautious about dropping down into unknown areas, even if there is a good reward, they still hesitate. I tried tempting players with the quad over the hole, but no one was interested. Eventually a friend suggested I make it look like there was a way to escape by adding fake lift runners and funnily enough it worked!

Quad Platform

In the Gold Key area there is a hidden shortcut that allows the player to avoid the lower route and exit high up near the key instead.

This area has a Quad run which is setup to start once the player gets close to the Gold Key, but it does not work for the upper route. To get around this problem, the Quad starts up high and is dropped down when the lower platform is activated. This means the Quad is in the right place for both routes and the player is none the wiser!

Its tricky to find the right balance for the ending of a map. Is it over too abruptly? Has it got too many waves? Is the player movement too restrictive? somebody will always complain. Obviously there is no right way to end a map and its certainly impossible to make everyone happy, but nevertheless its still the last impression and should probably try to end on a good note, right?

Final Fight

I did not want to create a special area for the final fight because the blade and all its vertical space would then be wasted. I wanted something that was focused around the exit teleporter, with free player movement!

With so much of the map being open space (especially all the building towers) it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get the player involved in a good vertical fight. Due to the lack of floor space around the exit area, I knew my monsters of choice are going to need to fly and use projectile attacks.

I have already introduced the gaunt (AD version) gradually throughout the map and it seemed like a good choice for the end fight. Its not a giant bullet sponge, it has a strong projectile attack and in packs can be a challenge on higher skill levels. Using the gaunt in combination with scrags for different waves, it would be the perfect progression for intensity.

The final ingredient for the fight is something that can apply some pressure and nothing does that better than a monster which spawns other monsters! One of my favourite spawner is the brown skinned Minotaur, because it takes a fair amount of damage to take down, can spawn gargoyles really quickly and the real kicker is ... its got cell resistance! Oh yeah! :P

I did not want the final fight to go on for ages or be really complex. I decided on a simple three wave setup with multiple Minotaur's on different towers and a nice zombie knight surprise at the end for higher skill levels. The trigger for the waves are all present around the exit teleporter and if the fight gets overwhelming the player can just jump down and deal with it at slower pace.

Mid Level

I really hope that everyone who has got this far (Oh my god it really was too much) down the page has enjoyed the map waffle and if anyone has any further questions, constructive feedback or even some first time demo's, then please email me!

Time⌛Goblin - - 20 comments

Fantastic write up, really interesting to hear your process for making great levels!

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simonoc Author
simonoc - - 236 comments

Thanks, glad you appreciate it :)

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Guest - - 687,512 comments

Awesome write up, thanks thanks thanks <3 .

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tehnetium - - 28 comments

I wanted to say that this is my all time favorite Quake map.
I was disappointed about Quake Champions being an online only live service game and I saw some screenshots of Grendel's Blade on reddit somewhere and that's how I found out about Arcane Dimensions. I was blown away by Arcane Dimensions.

I love the aesthetics the atmosphere and the combat encounters in Grendel's Blade. There's so much attention to detail it's unbelievable.

Thank you so much for making this map and all the of the others that I've had the chance to play !

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simonoc Author
simonoc - - 236 comments

Thanks for the feedback, you made my day, thank you. :)

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AluminumHaste - - 108 comments

This is fantastic, but it seems familiar. Did a version of it appear on your old site?

Also, one of my favourite maps of yours.

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simonoc Author
simonoc - - 236 comments

This article was originally on my website and is now here with the rest of the AD content.

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TremendousTackle - - 3 comments

What an inspirational map! It's one of my all time favorites and I feel that you've breathed new life into Quake's vanilla quake texture set! You deserve all the very best feedback for your work and so that's why I'm here lol

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