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Posted by Akrid

Once again, an update on my TF2 map. 
 

Last time you heard from me, I was finishing up the conceptualization of my map. I felt I had a pretty strong idea of where I wanted to take it, both visually and gameplay-wise. So this past while, I've been taking everything I've done thus far and remaking it in Hammer, Source engine's editor. That certainly sounds like a stupid task, to redo literally everything I've done again simply for the fact that the data is non-transferable, And to be honest, it is, but I soon learned it was fairly simple one. Free from the requirement of having to think about how to style and construct my map, the task turned in to simple labor, and I finished it quick-smart.
 
When building a map in Hammer, the main tool is a simple device called a "brush", primitive geometry that - using a couple of complimentary tools - are easy to mold into whatever shape is required. The interesting conceit here that makes it quite a bit different than working with regular polygons: There is no option to make a simple plane. That is to say, there is no way to make an object with a hole. 
 
Typical brush room (left) Vs. typical polygonal room (right). On the brush room, the (not pictured) inside faces are the ones that actually are important. 
See, when working with polygons, the plane is your best friend. When making a wall, that wall does not have to consist of anything more then one face. But when working with brushes, everything has to be a solid shape - no holes. That means the most basic shape you can make is a rectangular prism. This alters the approach slightly between the two methods. For instance, it's bad to have two brush faces overlap, and the solution to this is to have only the one edge of each brush touching. Failure to do so can apparently lead to a performance hit.  
  
 It also changes the simple act of ctrl+click and tap F once (the polygonal way), to making six rectangle and carefully aligning them to make an inner cube, making sure there are no gaps. Sounds kind of ridiculous, no? In truth, there's something appealing to me about this decidedly methodical way of doing things. It really makes you think of exactly what you're doing at all times. The downtime gives me more time to consider what I'm doing, whereas with polygons I start and don't stop for nothin'. There's also the added bonus of not having to worry at all about 5 sided polygons or any of that malarkey. There are few such impeding devices when working with brushes. Or, at least, I haven't encountered many.
 
The room now with "nodraw" on all outside faces. We finally achieve the shape that takes about 3 seconds to make polygonally. 
Now, obviously it's an awful waste of resources to have all these polygons (as that is what the brushes are as soon as you're in game) serving no purpose on the "negative" side of the map, the side where with any luck no player will see. That's why it's vital to make sure that the computer doesn't even consider those faces. In source engine, this is done through the "Nodraw" tool, a simple way to tell the computer to ignore the existence of any chosen face of a brush. This once again gives you the ability to have a simple plane. Which, in my opinion, makes this whole system seem a bit crazy. 
  
If you want anything more complicated then a block, then use of the clipping tool would be in order. The clipping tool allows you to cut a brush in to two brushes, at any chosen angle. This allows you to quickly make complicated shapes, though at a certain point it becomes more efficient resource-wise to import a polygonal model in lieu of having 20 brushes defining a complicated shape. 
 
all this plus a simple vertex tool combines into an extremely intuitive modelling system that literally anyone can pick up. I'd even say that this method is far more straightforward then the regular polygonal method, though of course it can't compete when creating objects any more complicated then a hallway. The nature of brushes also lend themselves to extreme accuracy well, which is essential when you're making something that needs to be absolutely seamless. When working in straight 3d, I know that people are only going to see what I am willing to show, so I can be really as sloppy as I can personally stand. Not so here.
 
 Holy image compression Giant Bomb!
So, applying these tools, I created my map, not straying too far from the original design. There's really nothing more I can say about that. It was extremely straightforward.  
  
 Overall I had a good time working in Hammer: It was quick, intuitive, and easy. Had I been working from scratch, I think the brush method really lends itself well to quick creation of levels. If anything, working fairly strictly from a reference actually impeded my progress a bit. If I ever do another one of these, I probably won't bother with the preliminary conceptualization and instead jump straight in to Hammer.   
 
Having all the vital geometry laid out, I compiled the map and messed around on it with a few friends. I now have my doubts that this map will prove to be interesting and fun in it's current form. I think I have a long way to go to make this map what I want it to be.
 
For those keeping track, I am well past my deadline of August 21st. I meant to post this blog on that day, but my schedule was absolutely packed and I didn't have the time. From then till now, I have been busy moving house (twice) in preparation for college. I'm finally settled in, just in time for classes starting on Wednesday. Regretfully, my schooling probably won't leave me much time to work on this map, and so I'm going to have to put this project on indefinite hold. I'm sorry that I wasn't able to meet the amount of support Giant Bomb showed towards me for this project. But I'll come back to this map some day in the future, and undoubtedly be better equipped to handle it. 
 
In the mean time, you may or may not see some drawings of some kind from me, depending on how satisfied I am with what I accomplish in the next two years. Having never put much effort in to traditional art before, I'm a little fearful of how this will turn out, but excited by the challenge at the same time.  
 
I actually remembered to take pictures this time! So there's a lot of them. I'd recommend going to the slick gallery viewer instead of clicking them individually here, but whatever floats your boat.     
Posted by rmanthorp

I am LOVING following this. Congrats all the way dude.

We have to get it on the Bombing run when you are done.

Moderator
Posted by Akrid
@manthorp: Thanks! Sorry that I didn't finish it in an ideal timeframe. But I'll keep pecking at it in my free time, if I end up having any.
Edited by Afroman269

Take your time man, the map looks really cool. Looking forward to playing on it.

Posted by RenegadeSaint

I think multiplayer map design is fascinating in its scope and complexity and I commend you for doing as much as you did. It is an overwhelming task to create a balanced map.

Posted by Vodun

Mightily impressive. I have at various points tried my hand at map making but it's a difficult art. Anyone can throw together a landscape, but it takes a level lord to make it fun to play on.

Posted by Akrid
@Afroman269 said:

Take your time man, the map looks really cool. Looking forward to playing on it.

Thanks for the support, I appreciate it. 
 
@RenegadeSaint said:

I think multiplayer map design is fascinating in its scope and complexity and I commend you for doing as much as you did. It is an overwhelming task to create a balanced map.

It ain't over yet! Still hoping to finish this one day.  

 @Vodun said:
Mightily impressive. I have at various points tried my hand at map making but it's a difficult art. Anyone can throw together a landscape, but it takes a level lord to make it fun to play on.  
Yeah, pretty much. It'll need a lot more work before it actually becomes fun methinks. Failing that goal, at the very least I'll try and make it pretty.
Posted by valrog

Very informative blog. Also, is there any specific reason why you chose Modo as your primary 3D package? Oh, and I'm glad you had a good time working in Hammer. I heard it's a... required taste and not everybody.

Posted by misterhaan

i'm impressed by the design itself and the amount of work you must have put into it already!  i first heard of it on this thread today so may have missed earlier updates so maybe you already answered this, but what game type(s) are you planning for it?  i'm definitely interested in playing on it however it works out.

Posted by Akrid
@valrog said:
Very informative blog. Also, is there any specific reason why you chose Modo as your primary 3D package? Oh, and I'm glad you had a good time working in Hammer. I heard it's a... required taste and not everybody.
Thanks, I do my best. 
 
The reasons I use modo are many, but the gist of it would be every other program feels stone-age in comparison. The giants - Maya and 3dsMax - have been around too long and have gotten old and bloated because they try too hard to stay on the bleeding edge of every front of technology, often times forgetting that their most basic toolset is still complete shit. They're all-rounders, and as with all things this makes them jacks of all trades and masters of none. With modo, there's a focus on a handful of areas that are executed very well. 
 
As for Hammer, I didn't know it had that sort of rep. The only thing that really pissed me off was the import/export procedure. There are some gnarly bugs, but the barrier to entry was so pleasingly low that I can forgive them. For now at least. 
 
@misterhaan said:
i'm impressed by the design itself and the amount of work you must have put into it already!  i first heard of it on this thread today so may have missed earlier updates so maybe you already answered this, but what game type(s) are you planning for it?  i'm definitely interested in playing on it however it works out.
Thanks man! It's been a long road, getting from there to here... But I've got faith of the heart, y'know? 
 
It's just gonna be a CTF map. Hopefully I'll figure something out and we can all play!
Posted by valrog
@Akrid: Now that you mentioned it, I think Maya still hasn't fixed its Bevel problems. Anyway, looking forward to your next blog.
Posted by Sweep
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