August 26, 2008 · Print This Article
The weekend was filled with racing, so I didn’t do much level editing. So now might be a good time to discuss the criteria that I apply when making decisions about what goes into Beyond Belief 2008 and what doesn’t. And to muse about guiding principles in general.
When embarking on any artistic endeavor, it’s good to establish focus early on. On multi-faceted projects, these principles help the author determine which ideas should be included in the work and which ones should be left out. This is true for many creative undertakings: commercial games, books, screenplays, movie… It’s true for hobby levels, as well. So here’s the guiding principle I established for BBelief2008:
I want to evoke fond memories of the original Quake.
That’s a decidedly mundane ambition, especially if you consider that 12 years have passed in which the Quake community has moved on to much grander projects. Looks like my plan is to make a map that amounts to nothing more than a tribute level. But this guideline makes a lot of sense to me for various reasons:
Since 1996, Quake has amassed quite a legacy – and I believe the reason that the game has stayed alive for such a long time is diversification. Just the number of texture packs that are available for use (found when I had to download the original id textures the other day) is staggering. Then there’s lots the engine mods and total conversions. But for me, there’s a simple problem here: I don’t have a great overlook of the current Quake modding landscape. I haven’t even played any of the new single-player maps. Sure, I’ll try to catch on some of that stuff, but the truth is that I’m out of tune and that I haven’t kept up with the times. And my suspicion is that if I tried, I’d peer down a deep rabbit hole, and the realization of what’s out there quickly turns my little “Hey, let’s make another Quake map!” project into a huge project (which I don’t have time for).
So I’ll go with what I know and I use my guideline “I want to evoke fond memories of the original Quake”. That feeling is what got me back to Quake editing in the first place, as I was checking links for my old work, stumbled across EZQuake and then the Quake Expo etc. Maybe I can get a few more oldtimers interested with BBelief2008, the same way I got interested.
Now that I have my line, I can use it to test all decisions that I’m making during development, and to focus my energy. Believe it or not, this has answered a lot more questions that I initially anticipated.
- Let’s start with the obvious: Theme. Very early on I’d made the decision to make a level that feels very close to the original game (and the old Beyond Belief, of course). I’m only using textures, monsters and items that shipped with Quake. My early decision passes the “fond memories of the original Quake” test. This doesn’t mean that I can’t use new content, maybe make a few new textures if I feel like it (nothing planned at the moment). But my level will follow Quake’s original dungeon themes. I don’t want to use the Egyptian set from the 2nd mission pack, for example. Or textures from Quake II/III, Heretic or other games.
- The same goes for my gameplay ambitions: I don’t want to reinvent Quake’s old gameplay. I’ll try to use the elements in a few new ways that hadn’t occurred to me back in 1997, but everything I make should feel like a logical extension of the original Quake. No fancy QuakeC, AI improvements or whatever.
- I’m also faced with the decision as to how detailed to make the level areas. Back in the day, there was a pretty brutal limit of 400 triangles or so – a limit I really don’t have to worry about anymore these days. I could probably make areas that are 100x as detailed as in the original Beyond Belief, but should I? Once again, the guideline comes into play: making something that is that detailed wouldn’t really feel like Quake anymore. Quake’s low-poly environments had a certain aesthetic to them, and I would violate that feel by making things too detailed. With that said, my rooms have turned out a bit more more complex than back in the day. Modern computers allow me to create interconnections, windows etc. that weren’t possible back in the day. That’s totally fine with me – I’m just trying to make sure that the level still feels like Quake.
- What about new elements, then? I want to create a few new decorations that help with the visual storytelling in the environment (a topic that will be its own post if I get to it). As long as everything I add feels like “dammit, that should have been in the retail version of Quake 12 years ago!”, those new added elements also pass the test. I probably shouldn’t add broken spaceships and Strogg, though.
- Finally, I use my guideline when considering new developments, such as Quake engine ports and high-res texture packs. Do I want to design the lighting of my level to take advantage of DarkPlaces’ stencil shadows? What about high-res textures?
No to the first, and no to the second.
I’ve really come to like DarkPlaces, and use it to test my level. But the stencil shadows often look too harsh, and they can dramatically slow down the game. I just don’t feel like designing my level with that in mind, and those light effects aren’t important to recreate the old Quake atmosphere. I’m relying on regular lightmaps instead. If anybody wants to play with stencil shadows so be it – they’ll just have to accept that some areas will look a bit out of whack.
As for the high-res texture packs, I agree that they look nice. But they also make it much harder to design for a few of Quake’s old gameplay elements, and they make texture alignment a bitch. The other day I added a secret door to the level that is marked by a slightly different, vine-covered brick texture. The difference is subtle enough with the regular, blurry Quake textures – but with the high-res textures, the door stands out like a sore thumb and I find it very hard to adjust for that. So I’m designing with the old, blurry textures in mind. Once again, if anybody wants to use higher-res textures, they have my blessing. Many areas look much better, but some secrets are going to be way obvious. And the level won’t look exactly like I had in mind, because the texture packs do subtly change the look of the game.
So…those are the considerations that are flowing into making a simple level. The biggest and most important point to me is the fact that these days, I approach my projects with a guiding principle in mind. It’s an incredibly useful tool, especially when you start keeping larger projects in your head (like entire games…but none of my current work projects are public yet, so we won’t talk about them).
I have a clear vision for what I want BBelief2008 to be – the trick will be to make it look “classic” without it looking too dated. It needs to have a certain sexiness to it. That way, I might pull back in an audience of old Quake players – players who haven’t touched Quake for 10+ years, but are interested in reliving the glory days of old.
We’ll see if that works out. Until then, I leave you with an partial overview of the current level. It’s a world of brown bricks…if that doesn’t feel like Quake I don’t know what does! *g*