MINERVA: Episodic, Single-Player Half-Life 2

Yeah, so you've looked behind the curtain, only to discover the whole world is a carefully manufactured lie. But to what ends?

Well, I'm Adam Foster, and these are my experiments in Half-Life 2 mapping!

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Development Log

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Reflex Action -

I've spent the last week away from home, so I've been trying to keep up with email without spending too much on dialup. If you've sent something and expect a reply, hang on a while and I might still get back to you!

The response to my little map? Overwhelming. Even proper games journalists seem to have noticed it, and the vast majority of random forum and email comments have been most definitely positive. And with only one real question: when's the next chapter out? Well, let's see...

I'm hoping to get some sort of media out every Friday - in this case it's a couple of mysterious, tangential backstory fragments as recycled from Parallax. I wrote them something like four years ago, but they're still immensely important to the plot. Continue with the speculation, of course, it's something I particularly enjoy reading... ;-)

So far a couple of bugs have turned up in Metastasis 1. The most serious is that for many players, the text messages simply don't appear. Since these players also don't seem to get chapter titles in Half-Life 2 itself (it's the same subsystem I've co-opted) and that there seems no correlation between hardware or software, I suspect the bug isn't of my making. If I find a fix, I'll let people know - in the meantime, completely reinstalling Steam and all Valve games apparently works. The word 'overkill' springs to mind, of course!

Other bugs include a dropship occasionally getting stuck in a watch-tower, soldiers wandering out to sea, music overlapping with other music (solution: slow down!) and messages showing at inopportune moments (again, slow down!) - I hope to fix all these in the version to be distributed with Metastasis 2.

As for the mod's popularity? As I type, Das FileGoatMatic(R) reports a hefty 25328 downloads through my site, and that doesn't include Bittorrent or anyone else's mirrors. In case you're wondering what the hell FileGoatMatic is, it's a glorious load-balancing distributed download system I wrote in an afternoon. It's currently serving all the images on the MINERVA site as well - the public end is around 20 lines of very ugly PHP, but it's been working gloriously. And why the very, very silly name? I'll leave that as a final mystery for you all!

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Metastasis 1 released! -

Yes, the first map has been released. In a move which will probably infuriate many, I'm taking the idea of 'episodic content' quite far. In a particularly evil, cliffhanger kind of a way...

It's just a few hours in to the release, but I'd already definitely recommend this manner of producing single-player content. Limiting yourself to a single map at a time means there's no excuse for padding, and gives plenty of scope for endlessly polishing and improving what you do have.

Since it's late here, and I need to prepare for a business trip abroad, I'll keep this short. So, without further ceremony, a list of people who helped me on Metastasis, by way of thanks:

Additional Music:

Playtesting and ideas:

  • Tom Edwards
  • John Gilbertson
  • Graham Smith
  • Andrew Weldon
  • Jason Williams
  • Robert Yang

Resources:

Extra Thanks:

  • Chris Bokitch
  • Greg Coomer
  • Jeff Lane
  • Robin Walker
  • ... and everyone else at Valve!

And Finally...

Thanks to my many, varied and sometimes plain random download mirrors. With friends like these, I don't need junk like Fileplanet... ;-)

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Beginnings -

My first map, Metastasis, has been under production for the last four months or so (in other words, since I got a PC capable of running the Source SDK without continually locking up). While I've done plenty of single-player mapping for the original Half-Life, of which one map actually got released, Half-Life 2 is a new venture for me, so this first map has very much been a learning process for me.

Basically, I've had to learn Half-Life 2 mapping, and in many ways it's remarkably different from the original Half-Life. For the geometry, there's the new displacements to be used for terrain, the new func_detail for simplifying VIS, and endless prop_static entities for the level of detail we've come to appreciate in a modern computer game. Next, the section I'm being particularly careful with is the AI. For example, with a fairly open map one has to learn how to stop all the enemies from immediately navigating right across the whole terrain and all engaging the enemy at once. There are a lot of features in Half-Life 2 to counteract this, and also to make encounters much more dynamic and interesting - unfortunately, until recently this has been very badly documented, but the new Valve Developer Wiki has put an end to that in a pretty spectacular manner.

And last, but by no means least, there's the plot. I feel that one of the most important things in a map is direction. If the player doesn't feel like they are doing things for a reason, all hope is lost - if you give hints of what will happen, and a driving cause for the whole experience, then this will change dramatically. Condensing an ongoing theme into a number of short, cryptic messages is great fun, but I'm sure people won't understand (or notice) half the references and allusions I'll be making...

I'll be updating this section of the site with news of my progress and of more technical, less story-driven aspects of these maps - so stay tuned!

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