Happy Change

Happy whatever-you-call it. The time of darkness ends, and light returns. The end of the world got canceled for now.

I added a Downloads page where I’ll slowly collect various stuff that I made. For now, there is an RMQ demo 2 download (2 years since its release) and some assorted trivia regarding that. The page will be updated now and then without announcement.

For me, this was a year of change on many levels. I decided to leave the RMQ team, which was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. It was a long time comin’. I posted on the internal forum at the end of last year or so, saying I was unhappy and so forth. This was when I started (successfully) experimenting with porting my levels to the Warsow engine (or rather to the FBSP map format), which – objectively – was orders of magnitude better than the Quake one, but I knew it would never happen in RMQ because no one was ready to switch map editors and implement *another* new BSP format after we had just agreed on BSP2. The third demo (which I was only peripherally involved with) generated a lot of heated debate in the community including improvised, unauthorized mods to the mod in order to somehow “correct” it for some people, and the absolutely horrible “RMQ tedious beef thread”. I found a lot of those reactions really low. The negativity and vitriol on display there is still unbelievable to me. Frustration mounted. The team melted away and in the end, me and ijed tried to save the project by scaling down and redesigning, but the rest of the team was largely absent and we just weren’t wanting the same thing anymore. In the end, it was easy; I found myself writing a design document and on a whim, I came up with the name “Scout’s Journey”. Scout had been the name of Episode 1’s player character (we had wanted to do a different protagonist for each of RMQ’s four episodes, actually). I even created a first attempt at a logo, the one with the tilted Quake Q. And then I thought, “I have a design doc, a protagonist, and now I’ve even got a logo. Can I really go on like this? Who am I kidding?” It was simple from there.

There were a few things in RMQ that I was never OK with, such as the use of Quake 2 textures and the conservative mentality of other level designers which in my opinion resulted in foul compromises instead of doing what was objectively best. My main gripe, though, was that we never established a strong artistic direction for the entirety of the project; instead every mapper got what they wanted, down to special weapons and special protagonists for their maps/episode. I might be seen as also being guilty of this; however in my case, all I wanted was to add a female Quakeguy version really, and when I started to have my own weapons (the axe instead of the chainsaw, and my own double shotgun after the one from Demo 2 had been nerfed in my absence) it was in reaction to stuff I saw as not in line with the overall artistic direction of a Quake remake, or as a blurring of the mod’s identity.

Oh well, let bygones be bygones. Doubtlessly everyone will have their own version of the story. On the plus side, I think it’s fair to say that I got my wings as a game designer in the late phase of RMQ (it was 5 years, can you believe that?), and I’m thankful for that. I learned so much. And despite my gripes, it was at times awesome to be in that team, and I miss you all terribly.

The upshot was Scout’s Journey, which I like to say is my favourite game because I can make it exactly as I want to. In the second half of the year, I was incredibly productive and reached several definite milestones (many thanks to Spike and gnounc and the #rmq channel). I believe the story and mechanics of SJ are really solid, and I’m overall happy with the emerging art style and tech level.

There was a setback in mid-September when I shot my back and spent a couple weeks with pain on a previously unknown scale. Something like that can really push you back to zero. Suffice to say I got the message; as a computer nerd, which game designers broadly are, you really have to watch your health. I also stopped smoking around the same time (which I really only started every time I got really depressed, and I haven’t been really depressed for a while now, knock on wood). On top of that, there were some ugly family related issues that crushed various hopes and taught me a few life lessons.

However while I came back from that, I did some of my best work yet on the first level of SJ and all the related stuff.

The decision to do a Doom 3 map was a bit crazy – it came about when I hit a snag with SJ’s medieval maps. One doesn’t simply make Doom 3 speedmaps. Oh well, I’m sure I can finish it though and it will eventually be good, and I’m glad to have an idtech4 map to my credit. I solved the SJ related problem by fundamentally redesigning the problematic map – that means I’ll have to build a new thematic setpiece next year, which I actually look forward to.

Next on the list is a prototype of some central gameplay mechanics, some weapon and character models, more mapping, and coding some features. I also want to somehow make all the gamecode GPL-compatible so I’m in the clear license wise. That might require some rewriting and liberal application of the axe.

It is also decided that SJ will go standalone as an independent game project.

Finally, I guess I’m now less concerned of what others think and expect of me. Yeah, I’m weird, I’ve never been like the other kids, and no, I’m not like my dad. I think I can now finally say “I’m an artist”, instead of “I sometimes scribble and play with editors”. Yeah. Fuck you. I’m an artist.

Thank the gods. Happy Yule everybody.

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5 responses to “Happy Change

  • RawShark

    Looking forward to seeing what you spit out in 2013. Hopefully something playable! Happy Christmas from Quake.ie

  • Spiney

    Hey how’s it going? I read this post last month but never replied.
    I think it’s really amazing what you’re doing by the way, I look at your maps and screenshots and find it hard to believe you’re doing this all by yourself. So +1 for “keep going!”. I really think the lighting and colors on the base map look amazing, you’re certainly “getting” the visual part of level design I think. When I look at the base levels in Schism I find myself thinking “this looks pretty nice, but I would just tone down the brown metal walls everywhere and have some less busy and lighter floor textures…” and then I realize I’m basically describing what you’re doing right now.
    Of course, it’s hard to do that on something that carries the Quake 1 legacy. Makes me wonder how Id’s gonna do it, hehe.

    Things are progressing for Schism, the new enemies are a bit of a growing pain, but we’re getting there. We’re also getting more focussed and are mainly just pushing for getting this mammoth out of the door. I’m a bit occupied with other stuff atm, I wish I could spend all my time on it, but life has that tendency of getting in the way. Louis has been refactoring a lot of the game code and fine tuning. He really wants to finish this also, it’s been a long time coming and of course with the rumors coming out of Id this gives us a good incentive. The constant forum downtimes are a bit of a setback, unfortunately Ryan says he doesn’t have a clue why they keep happening. I’ve installed SMF on my server and now I’m just trying to get the database of the Icculus forums migrated, there’s a bunch of technical hurdles though and I have no experience with it. Hopefully we’ll get that sorted soon. Doing things through email is annoying.

    I was playing around a little with Radiant a while ago. I really like working with the brushes. I was surprised by how much the lighting workflow is a pain in the ass though, I’m pretty dis-motivated by it. Not being able to see lighting in the editor really sucks. I remember playing around with the first Unreal Editor and it actually had near instant compiles on the lighting right in the editing viewport. Just makes seeing your results even more impressive really.

    Anyway, hope to see more stuff! Most of all, I hope you’re feeling happy and motivated, that’s really the most important 🙂

    • kneedeepinthedoomed

      Hi spiney, nice to hear from you. I’m doing a little behind the scenes work atm with the design doc, some new gameplay ideas, and stuff like modular level design. There is now a quick travel system planned for SJ, which might use some FTEQW functionality. After all SJ is now basically one giant hub.

      Factions have been amended and lost their Quake relation, with one faction (critters / creatures) being designed from the ground up. The complete script exists from A to Z. Levels are losing their Quake look and feel and I’m utilizing new texture themes and new construction principles. The map formerly known as e1m2rq will get a completely new outdoor setpiece.

      I’m also recently addicted to “Drakensang”, which is an RPG in the vein of Baldur’s Gate. I keep meaning to not play random new games in order to spend more time on SJ, but I think this one I was meant to play. 🙂

      Lighting in Radiant: Yes, while it can display Doom 3 lighting in-editor (F3), this doesn’t work with games that use lightmaps. The closest thing is having it start the engine after compiling. Unfortunately compiling Quake 1 maps is a bitch, and q3bsp can also take very long especially if you use high resolution lightmaps / radiosity / whatever eyecandy and a lot of mapmodels. I also think brushwork in radiant is very comfortable, though.

      Yeah, I also wonder how Id is going to do it – they will have to brighten up the textures a lot in comparison to the original, in order to get good looking lighting. I predict it will be like Rage with a Quake theme… possibly even outdoors, or stuff like a lot of cracked ceilings to let light in. They seem to be big on playability (which means lots of light) recently.

      If they do it like a corridor shooter, I fear it will fail to compete – most players aren’t used to that anymore.

      Stock Quake is ridiculously dark, it’s mostly in the textures. They are quite simply closer to black than to white… and the texture colour is then used to calculate the lightmap. Presto, dark game!

      You’re pushing to get Schism out soon? Wow, I would have thought it needed 2+ years of development still even if you cut it down to like 12-15 maps. But then, I have no idea what the plan is for Schism right now, since you guys are being very stealthy 🙂 I’d be really surprised to see it this year, anyway. But I’ll let you surprise me.

      SMF database: You should be able to either point the forum to an existing database while installing it, or import a database. It should be in the SMF installation instructions. But tbh, do you even need a forum? Why not use IRC and have a design document in plain text format in the top level of your SVN repo? That’s what I do anyway, even though there is no official SJ team, there is the IRC channel for me to interface with eg Spike and gnounc.

      Visual element: I hope so, and the hardest part right now is to get the medieval maps up to that standard. To which end I have applied the axe to e1m2rq. 🙂 I will keep a lot of the existing parts, though.

      New monsters: I can imagine them being a PITA. This is something I’ll be doing this year as well, creature models for SJ, but I guess I’m lucky that I can start from scratch and not have to live up to any idea of “it must be Quake”. I will be learning Blender’s sculpting tools this year…

      Doing it all on my own: well, without Spike’s work, I’d probably despair by now or I’d use UDK. Spike and gnounc have done some pioneering work in the area of CSQC GUIs, loot drops, engine extensions and features such as csaddon’s terrain editor, addon progs, GLSL in shaders, hub system… so much stuff. I have IRC logs where the way SJ subsystems have to work technically is pretty closely laid out, largely thanks to Spike. I’m just putting polies together and writing stuff. Don’t forget all the RMQ gamecode and features.

      5 years in a team with people like Louis and Emilia also pay off.

  • Spiney

    I’m not sure if Schism will get finished this year, maybe next, but I cannot imagine it taking much longer. Louis is certainly getting a little fed up with being tied to the project and I can’t blame him. Number or maps planned is 12, (4 of each theme. base, elder, metal) we’ll probably cut some of the lesser ones or recycle parts. Some of the uber-large ones might be trimmed a bit.

    The lighting and texture thing, I can bitch all day about 😛 . I’ve ran textures through a batch script that subtly lowers the contrast and raises the brightness a notch, It’s cool to see the lightmaps come through exponentially brighter with a linear raise in brightness, so the adjustments don’t need to be large. Ideally I’dd have a few of those scripts custom tailored for each group of textures. The remade textures are great, but imo a little on the busy looking side sometimes, limiting the spectrum and pushing things a bit more into midtone certainly makes the brushwork look better imo. The thing with the high res ones is also the crevices and highlights are more pronounced. I’m thinking if those were toned down to be more in line with the originals (in terms of midtones they match up exactly) that would help the overall look of the game. If I weren’t busy with my tasks of the monsters I’dd probably be working on that.

    Recent engine builds also have a lightscale variable. I’ve been playing around with it a bit, running through maps and brightening or darkening as I move through. I think it’s a great opportunity to refine the lighting with a lightscale of 2 (so 4* overbright), along with the slightly brighter textures that could help to give the maps much more immersive lighting and break out of the brown-upon-brown rut a bit. You can now blow out to near white if you really want to, which is really nice. There might be some discussion about how bright Quake is supposed to be, but I think it’s nice to have some variety in overall brightness in each map. Well, it’s all speculative on my part, haven’t suggested it to the others yet, though I don’t see any downsides personally besides having to retweak the brightness of the lights, which is likely to happen anyway.

  • kneedeepinthedoomed

    You’re spot on about the textures… one of the last experiments I did in RMQ was to do exactly that, ie slightly raise the brightness of the textures especially in outdoor areas (having indoor and outdoor variants of the same texture, tweaked for light level). The other thing I did was to take a basic wall texture (bricks I believe) and do gaussian blur on it until it was just a colour soup. Then I blended that over all the other textures to slightly equalize the colour scheme. I forget what blend mode I used for that, though.

    The lightscale thing I know about, I remember it made eg the platforming room in e1m3rq look a lot better. I have a blog post about it somewhere. I later found that the FBSP light looks even better though, so that made a format switch even more attractive. But of course that is pretty radical. 😉

    In SJ I’m lucky that I can just use completely new textures – I can now use a plain white texture for e.g. metal doors and it will look good. Dirtmapping certainly helps too…

    And yeah, the creases in Moondrunk’s textures are very black. If you can somehow reduce that effect, it would be for the good.

    I’m not sure how familiar you are with the textures from games like Crysis, anyway during my Crysis mapping stint I noticed that they are rather bright and low contrast. I believe they had good reasons for that – the shadows should be created by the lighting, ideally. As in my plain-white-door-texture example.

    Of course Quake textures need to have *some* shadows drawn on because there is neither normal mapping nor dirtmapping (there could theoretically be deluxemapping, though, if the engine supported it).

    I think you have the right ideas there – post some shots when you do it 🙂

    Also, I’m curious, who is maintaining the engine now? Did you get the grenade bug fixed? And another engine related thing, there is a QC commit by Spike from June or so that fixes ladders and func_water in FTE/DP, you might consider plugging that in your codebase if you haven’t.

    About lighting; this is an endless topic really, all I can say is that I use some recognizable light sources like the yellow spots or torches to mark the main route through the map. And then I use various fill lights, mostly white. In RMQ it was a pain to get my coloured torches bright enough to light the way in those large corridors. It helps to think about lighting as something functional, and as something hierarchic. The main lights are the top of the hierarchy. And it helps to have a lot of light sources if you need to get the overall impression of brightness up. I did that in e1m6rq.

    Local minlight can also help if you have a large cave or whatever that needs to be lit somehow, but you still want dark shadows elsewhere.

    And personally I love to use sunlight, because it’s a natural way to light stuff. Oftentimes you can have some sort of openings in your walls or ceiling that can act as an ambient light source especially in medieval levels (ruined ceilings, caves etc). I recommend studying the lighting in Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider games, for example Legend or Anniversary, they do this a lot to create dark, but well lit indoor places. Unfortunately you never see it in youtube playthroughs because people never look at the ceiling. Quake 2 MP1: The Reckoning also did this well in the cave levels.

    I think of sunlight as the default light in an environment, and then I just create openings in strategic places to let it in. It helps to realize that sunlight is actually pretty bright, and that it is both direct and ambient light. In Quake I always used -sunlight3 to simulate that radiosity effect.

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