BLOCKTOBER: Hard Duty - From Nothing To Something
Hello everyone! Thanks to the 250+ members tracking the mod. I also thank ModDB for featuring the mod on the front page :)
First things first
Before starting this blocktober article, a couple of things I wanted to address first. See below.
Because I am in college, most of my time spent developing Hard Duty is done on my laptop for convenience purposes. The reason I am saying that is because some people have been telling me that the screenshots are not that high resolution. In addition, when I made the CSS style for the mod, I also maid it while being on the laptop. I just recently got a few days off and have been able to work on Hard Duty on my main computer and have noticed that the mod's page looks completely off on 1920 x 1080 and over. I own two 4K monitors, but I assumed most of you use 1080p monitors and have noticed that the custom ModDB logo I made goes over the mod's title on the background picture. If you own a 4K monitor, the container (the entire stuff you see in the middle of your screen containing articles, comments and stuff) covers a part of the background picture. I showed the preview to some of my friends before having the changes go live and none of them said anything about it. Let me know if you are seeing improperly placed stuff on your screen. Provide screenshots. I am working on a fix based on what I am seeing needing fixing and hoping that feillyne will not get angry over it (not that he will, but I really spent a lot of time on the original CSS sheet to make sure I wouldn't have to contact anyone more than once). I aplogize in advance for those who see a messed up page for now, as I said, let me know what you see with a screenshot. The fixes won't go live immediately as I'm not on my main computer for a whole lot of time, and it isn't a top priority but except a fix in November or December at the very least.
Small update for Hard Duty:
Secondly, I made some minor changes to the mod. Those changes include:
The HUD color has been changed from orange to blue.
The 'caution' health value (red HUD when @ 25 HP and below) has been changed to 39 HP and below. I never felt like 25 HP was a right amount, especially if you play on hard difficulty since some NPC damage can deal 30 HP in one hit, perhaps more (like the vortigaunt zap attack being 30 HP on hard difficulty).
HEV Suit Color:
Thanks to the Internet, I was able to add view bob back. If you don't remember what view bob is or simply don't remember; your view tilts when strafing left or right. If you don't like it, CVARs are in place for you to adjust or completely disable.
I felt like the removal of such feature was sad because I got attached to it.
I have little to no knowledge in other fields other than level design, so this is why I need help. As of right now, the area I need most help with is programming. I don't need anything fancy, or have big stuff done just yet. I'm mainly looking for adjustments in already existing code and fixes. I'm sorry if this sounds vague to you, and if you wish to contact me for more information, you can use the PM system on ModDB or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
I aim for having custom content in the mod, and I really don't want to use existing material on the Internet. I don't like the idea of releasing a basic Half-Life mod with nothing in it, and I just won't. A jobs page will be up as soon as I can get around to doing it, most likely in the upcoming days.
Where is the promised Media update?
Thirdly, I have decided to push back the media update. This decision has nothing to do with lack of content, but rather that my twenty-first birthday is on October, 30th and had planned the update for that date, but I recently had news of a birthday event (something that I always wanted to do when I was young) that may last a few days. The update isn't getting pushed too far back, I still am confident that it will come in 2018.
There's something else...
I'll be extremely blunt on this one. I can't help thinking that ever since I resumed development, people aren't convinced that it truly has resumed and may think I will just disappear again. I noticed it when I wrote the 2018 alive update where I put a little sentence asking people to write "Hard Duty for the win" if they got far enough, but either people didn't bother reading, didn't want to comment or simply didn't care; I feel like posting anywhere but on ModDB results in me being ignored. I know some users posted comments often for feedback, just like 23-down, and still haven't seen him around again (does he know it's alive or is he waiting for some new content?). Maybe I'm just wrong and speculating, maybe you're just waiting for the media update for concrete proof of development or maybe it's something else. I'm not saying you just comment on everything I'm doing or doing, I was happy enough to see some people being happy that development started again without bashing me for being gone for two years. So, could somebody answer this: Twhl.info and if you just need more information or simply needs me to be more precise, just ask me, but don't leave me without an answer. I know if you don't know you won't answer, but I've seen mods with this bug fixed, so there's no excuse for not being answered.
With all that said, let's move on to what this article is all about.
Hard Duty - From Nothing To Something
In today's blocktober article, you're going to see the development process of a small Xen section. None of what you'll see here is final but this will give you more of an insight of my development process. This will be more detailed than the previous blocktober article, so grab yourself a drink and have a good read.
As usual, the first stage is to get to some drawing first. I had a solid idea of the layout, and drew a first concept art very quickly.
The idea is have the player jump from platform to platform (three of them in the beginning) until they reach some form of Xenian tunnels to a teleport back to Black Mesa. I am still not too sure whether I keep this portion at the beginning or later. Here's what I know already, though: No weapons, low gravity, no hostility, enemies can be seen afar, but no direct contact with the player or danger. The environment will have a purple sky, a calm ambience and small floating islands. Each platform the player will have to jump on to will be at different heights, going from high to low. This isn't just by design just to make jumping easier, but there is a subtle message that things (purposefully saying 'things' not to spoil anything) aren't going well, eventually leading to the questions: What is this place? Where am I going now? It was also the idea to hide some loot as an extra reward to exploring.
After getting everything down on paper, I start designing the second draft.
This second draft really gives me the idea of what I want the entire beginning section to look like. I was really happy with the drawing, despite not being the best drawer in the world. I don't usually draw, but I have what I need to draw sometimes.
As you can see on this drawing, we have our three floating islands the player will jump onto, with one bigger one with extra loot should the player get to it, and smaller floating islands just for the environment.
I'll now boot Jackhammer and Crafty. Crafty will be used to load two maps. The first is c4a1 (first Xen map in Half-Life) and the only Xen map in Opposing Force, of3a2 (if my memory serves me right, haven't checked again). Those maps will be used to make sure I respect the Xen "art". Reason I put quotes around the word art is because Valve ended up being disappointed with Xen, but that doesn't mean we can't do something cool.
Let's start blocking out our level, shall we?
As you can see in this first screenshot, everything is really simple. Three floating cubes, and the very blocky tunnel. It's also very purple, but I didn't like it as much as I thought I would. Right now, I was making sure the distance between the blocks was right and that they weren't too big. I went ahead and edited the map more by changing the lighting and limiting the playable areas you can explore once near the tunnels. Originally, inside the tunnel, the water bit had a bullsquid, but it wasn't hostile, just the same way as he appeared during the resonance cascade; it didn't turn out good on the long run, so I removed it.
Afterwards, I started to apply the textures I was going to use, which you have already seen a number of times already. I also worked on a basic art pass for the floor, by having irregular shapes. At this stage, I also started working on the main gameplay elements -- teleport, reloading the level if you fall, some I/O stuff.
After playing the level by making a list of what needs to be re-worked and what sounds good, I started a first art pass. In the last Blocktober article, I was suggested to use Trench Broom by 8chaos for the terrain, so I downloaded it and used it to build my terrain.
Still have the blocky floating cubes, but their design really only come towards the end. The terrain work for the tunnel was really satisfying, oddly enough. There were some minor editing here and there after this shot, but nothing too substantial, as you can see here.
Oh, and here's the inside of the tunnel.
I kept the same lighting style as Valve with the original Half-Life, using a warm, yellowing-orangish color. This color really works fine with Xen levels, not using too cold (you don't have to stick around...) or too hot (...but you don't have to rush either). After running through the level making sure the gameplay was locked and ready to go, I focused on art. As I said, the floating cubes' art only came at a very late stage, which is now. For their design, I went with what Opposing Force had, a very long spike going down. This was a first design to make sure the dsitance between the block was still respected. After playtesting, there were some minor adjustements to make sure everybody, new or old players alike, can jump from platform to platform without any difficulty.
As you can see, there have been some changes between the concept art and the current level. There are now four floating islands instead of three, excluding the big one on the left used to reward the player for exploring; their design, as I said, has a spike rather than being floating rock like in c4a1. They still respect the height difference, going from highest to lowest.
Moving forward, more art is being put into the level.
Not much added here, except for the spike, the rock and the crystals. Again, they aren't placed randomly. If you played enough games, your eye should catch that something is glowing and lighting an small area, meaning there could be something lurking around the corner, or simply reward the player for exploration. My logic in this is that if you get the player to explore an area off the main track, it should be a risk vs reward scenario or simply a reward. I have seen so many mods just have the player go off course for nothing other than a battle with no reward at the end or a dead end. Sucks to see this.
Right, so after that, I want to make sure the player knows where he is going. To do that, I had multiple ideas, but the best one was the use of texture lighting with the crystals. So what I did here was set up some cubes with the crystal texture around to get a general idea of their placement.
I know it is way too bright, but they aren't shaped yet. They only got shaped after a few placement revisions. Eventually, it ended up looking like this.
At this point, the level was starting to go towards a first polished version. There was still some work, and I playtested the level a huge number of times to get lighting adjusted, bugs fixed, blocks placed properly so that they wouldn't overlap, etc...
Once I got to here, it was time to push the level to something of quality, something worth a screenshot. One thing that Source level designing taught me, is that the more I focused on art, the more I became an artist in level design, and not a mere level designer anymore. Example:
So I wanted to give all of my levels the same treatment so that when people get to play my mod, all my efforts won't be in vain. In Jackhammer, it looks like this.
Scripted sequences, floating islands that you won't reach, rocks moving around, those big spikes with the ring beam (used this to also guide the player to where he is supposed to go), and sounds.
There is still some minor tweaks I need to do, like texture alignment, but the heavy work is done for this level.
And there you have it. This wraps up Blocktober. I hope you have learned something from it or that it was interesting to read.
Those blocktober articles hopefully made you understand that a bigger update is on its way (media, media, more media asdasd). Until then...
See you around...