‘Dev Texture’ experiments

Inspired by Valve’s development textures, I thought I’d try this method to suppress my chronic urge to stop and do details during the blocking out stage. By taking away the textures, you remove everything you could possibly get stuck on mentally while you want to lay down a basic layout.

Which is what really matters IMO. When you make a game, levels in this case, you want something that is a) solid and b) finished. It may not necessarily win any prizes. But it’ll *exist* in the first place and it’ll *work*. Players aren’t interested in super-detailed gorgeously-lit miniatures. They need something that they can play in. When ijed was hitting some sort of roadblock during the making of dm7rq, I remember looking at the original dm7 (a popular multiplayer level) and coming up with this verdict: “It’s just a box to kill people in.” Literally. Yet it is pretty popular. The ultimate purpose of a level is to contain gameplay, not to wow fellow level designers, much less yourself.

This notion (“box to kill other players in” instead of “unique snowflake level design masterpiece”) seemed to help him. Of course dm7rq turned out pretty nice in the end, but the underlying philosophy is still very simple.

I tend to have a problem while doing singleplayer levels where I block out an area, then instead of doing the next area, I stop and begin to refine what I built. And while this satisfies my inner detail monkey, it means the level isn’t growing organically. It is much better to block out large stretches of a map in order to bring it into existence in the first place, and get a working layout and gameplay going. Even if it’s just a succession of boxes – you can later improve and partially rebuild boxes and detail them all you want. But the level has to come into existence somehow to give you (or others, if you work in a team) something to work with. It’s about getting stuff done at all instead of always making plans while building a few beautiful pipes to keep yourself occupied.

Anyway, this experiment worked out very well. I had created one of the missing areas (consisting of three rooms, a moving train setup, a diving passage through lava and some airduct style crawling spaces) in no time and hence plugged a gap in the level’s layout. There is also very basic gameplay in place already, like a few strategically placed monsters and the idea of the train ride (the trains themselves are represented by boxes, not fully setup already; the planned ladders don’t exist at all yet, but there are niches for them to fit in). I’ll worry about texturing and detailing and lighting this stuff later. What matters is that it’s in place now instead of in my head, no matter how well lit and detailed the imagined version of it was. The actually existing version is more valuable, even though it’s boxy and the textures are missing.

What’s more, I will go directly ahead and lay out the next set of rooms this time, using the same non-texture, instead of detailing what I built.

I find this method very helpful, although it doesn’t seem to work for everybody. I can see why Valve are doing this. It removes mental blocks and encourages you to keep laying down brushes very much like using lego, in a stream of consciousness way, instead of always worrying about “how am I going to texture this, how will it look in the game” and so on.

Of course some experience with scale, texturing and putting stuff into the game will help, but the goal here is to put all those concerns aside and just get on with claiming space, ie increasing the space available in the level to put gameplay in.

Bam, large amount of space claimed for later polishing in no time at all. I estimate this’ll add about three to five minutes to the level’s play time. Laying it down took 2 – 3 hours.

As for monsters etc. in this area, there are only two (!) spots where I’ll definitely have a monster – one at the train exit point, and one ambush a bit later. The lava room will have an injured marine and some items. One small corner will be a secret. And that’ s it folks. It doesn’t need dozens of monsters to work.

FYI, the level in question has under 50 monsters on hard skill, but takes me about 15-18 minutes to play through. I assume others will get a lot more play time out of it on their first few runs at least. This is in contrast to a lot of recent Quake levels that house hundreds of monsters, but not much else.

There was a previous experiment with “development textures” in a Quake level done by Willem (Warren M) here. It didn’t work out for him as he lost interest in the level. Personally I think that was because he started putting in too many details and entities instead of just claiming as much space as possible by using giant brushes and sealing and compiling it ASAP.

Valve usually builds “orange maps” with bare gameplay essentials before actually working on level art and textures. Concentrate on the layout of your level, then apply textures and lighting afterwards. Create the basic map structure using dev textures (type “dev” in the filter box) and big, simple blocks. For a Counter-Strike map, place some spawn points, some buy zones and some bomb sites. No stairs, just ramps.

“Big, simple blocks” is the key phrase here.

How to develop a map that works

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4 responses to “‘Dev Texture’ experiments

  • WarrenM

    Nice article! I definitely think the key to making this work is intimate knowledge of the game you’re building for.

    For example, I tried doing this (and failed again) for a Left 4 Dead level but I spent so much time fussing over how high up a window should be and how thick a wall should be that it unraveled on me.

    I still like the idea a lot though, and it clearly works for Valve. Gotta keep plugging I guess!

  • kneedeepinthedoomed

    Yeah, it’s probably true that being intimate with the game you’re mapping for helps. Because you will just know what looks good, and you’ll hit the right scale for things and so forth.

    I think that when you want to try this method, you must absolutely focus on only the basic layout. You can’t let yourself be distracted by cosmetical things.

    For example, I already want to redo the slanted windows and turn the lava room into a cave with a lava fall and a lot of triangle rock. I’m forcing myself to ignore that – it’s for later. I still have one more area to block out.

    That’s not counting the boss arena that’s going to be plugged into this level when Supa & co. are finished with it. For that, I made a dedicated test map and even an overhead plan with the distances in it, so the boss can be made to fit into the architecture. Yay.

    All that comes later though, creating the remaining areas is priority #1 right now and the orange texture seems to help with that.

  • meTch

    So where to get dev quake textures 0r is there a catch?

  • kneedeepinthedoomed

    http://www.quaketastic.com/upload/files/texture_wads/gbdev.zip

    You use Wally to paint them 🙂 simply make a 64×64 texture, flood fill orange and use the pencil to create a white border… You can also make a few other sizes if you feel you need them, but for me 64×64 is enough. That’s the size of most wall textures in Quake. Use this texture while building on a 32 unit grid, and make sure your walls are placed so the texture tiles nicely on them (ie not cut off). Never align the texture on a wall. Rather move the wall itself until the texture fits.

    You can build 32×32 pillars or trim or whatever, the texture will simply be cut in half then but that’s OK. You should not build anything smaller than that while blocking out. No details at this stage. Keep building walls and floors and rooms and corridors, rather than doing details. The goal is to add more rooms to the level ASAP.

    Remember the player is almost 64 units tall, ie almost the height of the texture (one “tile”). This should give you an idea how big doorways etc should be. Crates are 64×64. Jump height is 32 units (half a tile).

    Make corridors at least two tiles wide and 3 or 4 tiles high. The sides of rooms can be 4-8 tiles in length. Try L, T and U shaped rooms. Vary the floor height (use ramps to connect) and try adding a second level to some rooms (two or three tiles above the ground).

    Build 3 or 4 rooms in this fashion, connect them and place a few monsters already. Then make sure the map has no leak and compiles fine (don’t forget info_player_start). You must get it sealed and compiling early. Then build some more rooms.

    Only when you have built a large amount of rooms, start putting textures on and making details, doors, lifts, stairs etc. Finally scatter lights and light sources around.

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