I'm NoX. I'm mapper on on Eternal Silence. If you want to join the project, send me a PM here or contact me through www.eternal-silence.net. Looking forward to hearing from you!

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Finishing the tutorials

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In this blog post I will explain the process that's gone into making the tutorials that you can currently play in-game in the official build.

The story begins with the sad departure of Dan Menard as the project leader. Juzz, Verox and yours truly took over the project, and we started by reflecting on past events. Why had the player base diminished so rapidly after the steam release? What makes players give up on Eternal Silence?
We all knew ES was great, awesome fun, and had a lot more undeveloped potential to give, so it was a bit puzzling to us initially. After thinking about it for a while, and observing official servers, we found that the steep skill curve was probably to blame. We estimated that most newbies downloaded the game, joined a server and then got their asses handed to them by more experienced players because the newbies didn't know how to fly, how to do evasive maneuvers, or how to play the hardcore gamemode. Furthermore, a lot of frustration was seen amongst experienced players, when newbies took up bombers, or even worse, gunships(as they were named back then), and didn't know what to do with them.

Thus, we started to put down a plan about what to do about this. We discussed multiple approach methods(video tutorials, guides, and more) but decided that in-game, playable tutorials was the way to go, although it would require more work than the other approaches.

Thus began the long process of developing the tutorials.

First off came the planning phase. How should the tutorials be structured? What topics should be covered? And, one of the most challenging questions, how do we teach the elements of flight and space combat best?

After discussing and planning for a while, we finally had an outline, and could start writing scripts for the tutorials, as they definitely required instructional voice acting. That took a while, too, as we needed to make the script, concise, precise and as easy to understand as possible. The scripts underwent lots of changes to make it to this stage, which in my opinion is pretty good.

Then came the actual development. At this point, I, myself, was a newbie-mapper, having only worked on 1 map before. Additionally, Juzz and Verox weren't yet as experienced with the source engine, and to top it off, we didn't have any kind of sound department to work with. I tried my best to fill in the mapping and sound positions, but of course it didn't work, as I had no kind of sound tech experience.
First I tried recording the lines myself. Let's just skip over that part of the story.
Then I got my girlfriend at the time, Treeweird, to record a few of them. I found that her melodious, crystal clear voice(she's a singer) served the purposes of instructional voice-overs perfectly! However, due to my improvised equipment, it took a further couple of months before we managed to get all recordings in a decent quality. Once they were in the house, editing started. As previously stated, I'm not a sound tech, so here, too, development was slow, and with an unsatisfactory result. Luckily, it didn't take long before Spindoctor came along and offered to help. As Spin is awesome with everything regarding sound(he plays a billion instruments really well), he quickly got results with the recordings. He even invested in a high-quality microphone, so he could now record voice-overs at home! So, now we were getting somewhere!

On the mapping front, I'd taken a slight detour with the map es_derelict. This was done for two purposes: 1) I needed to take a break from working on the tutorials(see below for why), and 2) I needed to learn more about mapping.
Once derelict was nearing completion, I returned to the tutorials, having gained a lot of experience with sounds, scripts and mapping.
However, now a new problem cropped up: The volume of the voice-overs. For some reason, they were incredibly low in-game, and other sounds(such as engines or guns) easily drowned out the instructions. Spin and I struggled for what seems like a very long time(a couple of months, I think) on fixing this problem. We tried a lot of stuff - tweaking soundscripts, boosting the raw volume of the sound files to the point where they started to lose quality, soundscapes, and more, but nothing worked. By playing Smashball, I can see they seem to have had the same problem, and didn't find a solution. Finally, I came up with the slightly backwards idea of decreasing the volume of all other sounds.

That problem out of the way, the tutorial was progressing steadily. The original script and outline of the map was built upon and improved with the feedback of the beta lead and his team of 1337 d00ds, and the tutorials was finally getting somewhere. However, now coding became a problem. In order to make the tutorials optimal, we needed a few custom mapping entities for both tutorials. These required items was a long time in the making, because adding entities in Source is a bitch. Furthermore, Source acted unreliable a lot. What had worked yesterday, might not work today, and sometimes the Source engine defied all logic in it's insistence to not work. The coding work took many months to be completed, and became a major hold-back in the development. Finally, our two awesome main coders, Omnicoder and Sghirate, got the entities working, and added additional console commands for hudhints, auto-spawning and fixing a bug with the HUD, that had also been an indescribable pain for months. Terminator, our resident veteran mapper, took over development of the first part of the tutorials from me, as studying medicine was taking it's toll on my free time(see earlier blog posts). By a tremendous effort, he managed to create his own version of the first part and managed to get it ready in time for patch 3.6. Awesome work!

And finally, they were released! The day before yesterday, they went live on Steam, available to all newbies to ever try ES in the future! Sometime today or tomorrow, they will be patched to fix the last bugs, and they'll be done! The relief of them finally being done is incredible!

Concerning mapping tutorials:
Eternal Silence is a multiplayer game. It has never supported any kind of singleplayer, at least not while I've been working on it. Adding a tutorial meant hacking the multiplayer game together to get a functional "mock singleplayer". This has taken a lot of time, and has contained a lot of frustration. As stated before, the Source engine acted very weird. Sometimes, cameras just wouldn't disable despite the right input/output settings, and despite having worked fine yesterday. Termi even had a problem in which a logic_timer entity just wouldn't fire it's outputs! Again, despite all logic, the engine chose to defy us! Working around it took some time, but we did manage to get the tutorials fully functional.
The amount of frustration and hard work it took to develop the tutorials has been terrible. As stated by Termi: "I never want to see this map again!" I can't do anything but agree whole-heartedly, but we may, of course, have to tweak the maps in the future, as new content is added.

I hope this blog post(if you've managed to read through the wall of text) has given you some insight into why the tutorials took so long to develop(by my estimate, around 1½ years). We've had to learn a lot of new stuff and skills, had to deal with a lot of die-hard, illogical bugs, and have had to do everything from scratch multiple times. In my honest opinion, we're heroes for getting this done! :P

Stepping Down

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So, yesterday I stepped down as the Project Lead of Eternal Silence, and Spindoctor and Kage Musha volunteered to fill the spot. This is due to a number of reasons, which I will go in depth with in this blog post, for whom it may interest.

As some knows, when I'm not working on ES, I'm studying to become a doctor here in Denmark. Where I study, Med. School starts out fairly slow, then picks up the pace 1½ semester into the bachelor degree. This was, for me, around autumn. During the winter period, the amount of time I had available to work on Eternal Silence decreased rapidly, and from speaking to older students, I can see that this isn't going to change. With the exception of a few modules, I'll be knee-deep in books for the next 5 years, leaving little time for development, and definitely not enough time to function optimally as the project lead.

Apart from that, recent cutbacks in the health sector in Denmark has made it a bit tougher for us future doctors. It's time to "sharpen your elbows" if you want to get the good positions. I know a lot of people who use mod and indie game development as a stepping stone to a job in the game industry, and while I've learned a lot about project management while working on Eternal Silence, I doubt this experience will help me a lot when I'm trying to land a good residency in the future. So, I'll need to re-focus some of my efforts into a medically relevant job or volunteer project.

I'm still gonna be around on the mapping team, but without managerial duties. I still love producing new content, and I love working on the project with the rest of the team, so there's no way I'm leaving completely!

I'm confident that Kage and Spin will do a much better job than I did, and that development will start running even smoother from now on. I'm psyched to be a part of it! :)

Recruiting and Mapping

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As with many other volunteer-work projects, people come and go all the time. There is usually a fairly high replacement rate on mod teams(or at least, that's my understanding). The difficult part is maintaining the influx of new team members to continue development.

Right now, that's mostly administrative positions. As you may or may not know, the management of Eternal Silence is split into departments, namely mapping, art, coding, sound, testing and PR. Each department has a so-called "Team Lead" assigned, who takes care of the daily runnings of that department. Often, the team lead has experience and expertise within the field, but that's not necessarily a requirement. Dedication and organization goes for a lot more in such a position.

I've just sent in job ads to Moddb.com for two of these positions, namely Art team leader and Mapping team leader. As these are positions that can really only hold 1 guy at a time, I've set a deadline - the 27th of February. I will then go through the applications and select the one that seems most apt for the job.

I hope many will apply for this position, because it's really important, and it's a great way for someone interested in project management to get some experience. What's really required is being able to recruit and coordinate a team of workers to make sure the department is doing what it's supposed to, and on time. Not so hard :)

The tutorials are still progressing, but not as fast as I'd like. The coding work still needs some tweaking before it's completely functional, which kinda holds me back as a mapper. Hopefully it'll be resolved soon, and I can finish it up! I can't wait to return to mapping ordinary maps instead of being buried in the I/O system all the time.

Good news, everyone!

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So, as our schedule ran just a little too tight around mid-December, we decided to split the coming content in two patches. The first one is almost due!

If all goes according to plan, it'll be out in a weeks time on steam. It features a new game mode, a new map and lots of tweaks. And it renames the gunship to dropship - hopefully this'll make the gunship experience more pleasant. If not, well the tutorial will come along soon :)

Like I said, our schedule ran a little too tight, and I daresay we wont be setting ourselves a deadline so close to an exam period again. With our various studies stealing our time, development slowed considerably during these past few months. It's all good, though. Things are wrapping up nicely, one thing at a time, and I personally estimate a release of the second part of the patch by early February. It's gonna be awesome!

Most of development now-a-days is bug hunting and making small tweaks and balance changes. I think we're all very ready to begin a new round of development, on some fresh ES features!

So, based on what content we're getting lined up, it looks like the patch after this one will be flying related. Lately a modeller cooked up viewpoint cockpits for our kick-ass little ships. I'm pretty psyched to see how they'll work in-game. We might also be looking at (re)-introducing a new ship type into the game, but I don't want to reveal too much in case it fails in testing. Personally, my next map is going to be a re-make of my old(and first) map, ctf_olympus. This map has 1 design goal: To be a challenging flying experience for the ace pilots out there.
My first beta edition of the map proved popular at testing, and I, for one, am in love with the ideas I've gotten since then. Stay tuned for more :)

Small update

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So, I just noticed I'd actually hit 400 views on this thing. To me, that's pretty good. And quite surprising. But thanks to everyone for reading this blog :)

Anyways, I know we've been pretty quiet on the Eternal Silence front lately, but rest assured: Behind the scenes, we're working hard to make the patch ready! When is it ready? Soon, real soon! We've still got a lot to do, however, so we're keeping out heads down and powering through!

Mod recruiting and an insider-look on the ES project

Nocis Blog

Been a while since I've done one of these, and it's due to two reasons: First off, I haven't had anything interesting to write, so I refrained, and secondly: I've been busy with real life stuff - med. school and moving for my girlfriend, mostly.

Anyways, med. school is settling down again, and my girlfriend is well settled in.

I wanted to write something about the recruitment process for a mod project, because I think this is something people often underestimate. At the moment, Eternal Silence is looking for artists in most fields of game art. More specifically, we're looking for concept, 2d and 3d artists. You can check out our job ad here. Before that, we were looking for programmers(which we got, thankfully). For both recruitment processes, there's been a lot of wasted time and energy on "ghost applicants". By ghost applicants, I mean a certain type of people, that will apply to a job ad with apparent sincerity, only to go incommunicado immediately after. It happens like this:

Prospective staff member sends his CV and an application to yours truly. I go through it, evaluate his works, and then starts processing him as a trial staff member, by which I mean assigning him a trial task to complete, and write a long e-mail about how our team works and about how to get him started. Then - nothing. The prospective staff member never replies to the e-mail, never contacts anyone through steam, or registers on our forums.

Right now, you might just be going "Ahhh, I'm not buying that", but it is the simple truth, and it happens a lot more than you'd expect. You get a lot more ghost applicants than proper applicants with this sort of volunteer work.

Which is, of course, also the root of the problem. My estimation is, that these people are only half-interested in actually joining a team. They think it'd be cool to be a part of game development, but don't really consider the time and effort it takes to actually go anywhere with it. Realizing that(perhaps from my awe-inspiring wall o' text e-mail of doom), they get cold feet and back out. And it's much easier to just not reply to e-mails, than it is to write back that you're giving up before you've even started, right?

Which means a lot of time wasted on my part.


So, the promised insider-look on our little ES project - the carrot that may have gotten you through another blogging attempt of mine:

Development is ongoing at a steady rate, but fairly slow at the moment. The reason for this is, of course, obvious - start of the school year. Many of our staff members are in college/uni, and the beginning of a semester is always a bit hectic. You have to dust off your studying skillz and get a proper rhythm flowing in your daily life again. If you're starting at a new school, on a new education, it takes even more time.
However, we've decided on a feature lock, and a deadline, for the next patch. We're putting as much work into finishing the new additions to the game and ironing out some of the hiccups in the current build of the game as our education/social life/spouses allow us to. We'll get there - don't worry.

Meanwhile, YOU can help us out: If you know a good artist within the aforementioned fields, and think he might be interested in working on developing a HL2 mod, tell him to contact me at nox@eternal-silence.net.

Oh, and also, please leave a comment if you've actually read this blog post. It'd be interesting to see how many actually goes through this thing.

On My Eee

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”I can’t, I’m on my eee.”

This is a phrase I get to say more often than I’d like. As my family is spread across the entire country, I’m often traveling around, carrying only my eee with me. While this is fine for answering e-mails, checking up on stuff, writing job ads and news posts and much more, you’ll not get a whole lot of graphics power out of an eee. That means I can’t work on my maps or test scripts or whatever.

Before, this was not really a hindrance, as there was a lot of managerial tasks to do. This time, however, I can honestly say I’ve nothing better to do than write this blog entry. Eternal Silence development is pushing ahead smoothly, at a steady pace. The entire team has their tasks set out for them and are working on them. Our two new coders, still on trial, are trying their hands with the tasks that have been assigned to them. Meanwhile, our resident genius Konstantin is tracking down a memory bug and working on an AI for Eternal Silence. Kage Musha is updating and upgrading the website forums with some neat new features. Spindoctor, our sound technician, is hard at work on the sounds for part 2 of the tutorial. Gman just launched a news update and Khaoz is taking on the tasks of finishing an old model of Pauls. The betas are hard at work, testing changes to the gunship that should make it a bit more useful in a tight spot, and the mappers are working hard on creating new maps and finishing up old, abandoned ones. All in all, development is running smoother than ever, thanks to our new organizational structure.

I can see that interest in this blog has been minute (to be precise, interest in this blog has been limited to the other guys from the ES Development Team :) but I find I actually enjoy writing it, so it makes no nevermind to me. Should anyone else be looking, however, I’d like to give a pointer towards Dan Menards new project, Party of Sin. The game is a co-op platformer developed for Xbox and PC, and it looks awesome, so far! Take a look, track it, and kick their asses in StarCraft 2 on the release day.

It's Not Easy, Being a Greasy Emo Vampire

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Few people stop to think of how hard life is for vampires, nowadays. We're not feared in the local villages, like we used to be. Instead, incredibly irritating emo girls hang around us all the time, going "Bite me, omg, i love you sooooo much, I want to be with you forever" and blah blah blah.

It's like - where's the fear?? Where's the awe?? Ok, we've stopped drinking human blood, but seriously - all those chemicals you expose yourselves to, what do you figure??

Anyways, this girly-thing. I started hanging out with her because I like the smell of fish, but soon she thought I loved her and stuff. I mean, wtf!? And inside my mind I'm going: "Wtf, lady, do you think I want you around me for all eternity!? Sod off!". Of course, I can't say that to her. Knowing this one, she'd probably go get herself bitten by some level 1 vampire familiar and come back to haunt me - for eternity. I think I may have solved the problem by telling her it's because I love her so damn much, I don't want her to suffer - like me - as a vampire.......

AND SHE BOUGHT IT!! Ahahahaha! As IF my life is full of suffering! Well, apart from her, I mean.
I mean - I'm immortal, forever young and strong as hell! I have mah crew of hardcore vampire guys and I can use my charm to get me any girl I damn well please! Life as a vampire is... Wait for it... L-E-G-E-N-D-A-R-Y!!!

So, now I just gotta see if I can pawn her off to that werewolf guy. Hehe, she's going to get a surprise once she finds out exactly how feral he is. House-trained is going to take on a whole new meaning!
Enjoy, BITCH!


For those of you going: "What the..." right now, this blog post is a response to the news post that Gman/Indiejunkie wrote on the website (Eternal Silence). I sure as hell hope I didn't offend any non-twilight fans out there. If I offended any twilight-fans, well... I can live with that :)

Under New Management, pt. 2

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Not many people know this, but Eternal Silence is old. Very old. It's been in development for 10 years, undergoing an engine switch in the process.
When we took over development of ES, we not only received a fully functional multiplayer game, we also received 10 years worth of development history. Design discussions, game evolution, gameplay tweaks etc. Before we could start any new development on the mod, we needed to pick up the threads where they had been dropped, and sort them all out.

Before you can start building, you need to clear away rubble and lay a foundation.
A lot of our time has been spent picking up the threads of the game. What was people working on, what was in the pipe, why did they abandon this or that or tweak that particular gameplay element. I've spent many hours, pouring over old forum threads to determine why they chose a particular course of action and whether or not it's something to bring up again. There's no reason to re-invent everything all over if it's already been tried and tested and put to rest. The scout was such an example. We want to bring back the scout, adding an additional support role to the space combat. First of all, we started out by reading old forum threads, discussing the ship, the balance and it's role. We concluded it was do-able, and set out to read more forum threads, to see what happened to the models, what gameplay mechanics had been tried, and more.

Then you need a blueprint and a team.
Next, we had to plan our next move - what are we going to do, how are we going to it, and who do we need to hire to make it happen? Gathering a team to work on a mod such as this is tough. I'm sure all mod developers out there agree with me, that it is very difficult indeed to find reliable, dedicated developers. Many have gone missing after joining the team, often without even leaving a notice. This lead to the few dedicated of us taking on too many responsibilities. However, in time, we found more reliable persons to share the responsibilities, and recently, we re-organised the staff structure. The new structure allows for faster, more efficient development.

Learning as we build, building while we learn.
Finally, it's taken us a while to learn the ropes. None of us were particularly experienced in the Source engine when we started. The script for the tutorial had to be recorded 3 times before we got a recording with the necessary quality. Then, after the first round of beta testing, new elements had to be added to the script to accomodate the feedback we'd received. New elements, that requires writing, recording, processing and mapping. It all takes time, but we're getting there. And it's going to be damn good! And when the tutorial is done? Well... Let's just say we've got more in the pipe.

Under New Management, pt. 1

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It was recently pointed out by a dedicated gamer on our cosy forums at www.eternal-silence.net that we have been very secretive on the dev team, and that there was really no reason for this.

As a result of this, I have decided to start a blog. I don't know if anyone will read it, but this way I'll be able to give any interested gamers a view into what we're doing that can't quite be placed in a news update.

Sometime last year, the last team members of the old ES development team dropped the project in favour of bigger and better things. After the release on steam, and a number of patches, they slowly lost interest. They were satisfied with the gameplay and the content. However, we had all seen the immense influx, and the following efflux of players with the steam release - we went from all servers being filled, to one server being full once a day.

Headprogrammingczar and I decided that it was a shame to drop this awesome game on the floor. We love the game ourselves, and the dedication of the ES community stands as a testament to it's awesomeness. So how come there aren't anymore playing it?

We had a very long discussion about this, and decided the steep learning curve of the game was the primary problem. Often new players would download and try out the game, only to quit and delete it after a few rounds, because they didn't stand a chance in space combat versus experienced players. While new players always have a problem taking on the veterans, the kind of complete domination ES Newbies experienced just isn't fun. We (the veteran players) have all been there, and we've all used different approaches on how to learn the game. One visit to the forums will yield tons of articles and tips and tricks on how to play the game, including youtube tutorial videos and keybind set-ups. The problem is that the large majority of new players don't want to read through tons of articles, just to be able to try out a new game.

We decided to remedy this by doing two things:

1) An in-game tutorial. The best way to learn how to do stuff, is to just go ahead and try to do them. This is of course difficult if your average life span in space is 5-10 seconds. A playable tutorial solves this problem. We decided upon the HL Hazard Course approach - a series of maneuvers that teach the basics of the game, instructed by a helpful, cute female voice. One simple click from the menu will take you to a 3-part tutorial, which will equip and prepare you for the hardcore action that is Eternal Silence. You will learn how to do evasive maneuvers, how a hardcore game works and when to use the gunship. At the moment, part 1 of the tutorial is in testing, and work on part 2 will commence in the coming week.

2) More focus on the FPS/infantry gameplay. All new players have experience from other first-person shooters that is easily translated into Eternal Silence. The Control Point(cp) maps are therefore an easy and obvious entry point for new players. We therefore decided to set about improving the FPS experience of ES by adding new weapons and abilities.

Apart from that, we're still building upon the game, with new maps, new audio and visual prettiness and much more. We know how awesome a game experience Eternal Silence, and we will continue to work on making it easily accessible for new players. And while I still wont spill all ze beans, I will make sure you guys have a better look into what's the haps at ES Dev.

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