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A gaming and technology blog by TWHL admins Penguinboy and Ant. A music blog by TWHL users Ant and Hugh.

From The Frame Up

By Andy Wynne

Before we begin, may I recommend you have a gander at Dave Johnston's Half-Life Editing Tips, particularly tips #15 and #37 as this article explains how they can be put into effect. May I also I recommend you read my article Getting it Right the First Time? Or Not as this also expands on what I talked about. If you don't read them, I'll tell you that Dave and I were explaining how boring and conservative designs can be enhanced with some basic and yet extremely effective additions to maps. This article will take us through an example of how to do this.

And so, without further ado, I?ll begin. Take a look at the screenshot below:


This is a corridor in a high-tech lab environment. The room at the end will act as a guard booth. We'll call this the basic frame. It's simple and effective in its purpose, yet it only uses a fraction of the number of polygons that Half-Life can safely render (~800). We?ve got room for improvement, so let's improve by making a much more visually impressive environment by utilizing the polygons we have to spare. As I said in my previous article - doing something again can work wonders.

Walls

The first thing to consider should be the walls. There?s nothing necessarily wrong with plain, flat architecture, but it can be made so much more stylish by making it into a structure befitting its purpose. In this instance, I shall turn the walls into a concave, cylinder-like structure. Behold:


A good start, but there is more that can be done. Although mapping is not necessarily about making real-world environments with real-life things (like all the high tech mechanical thing-a-majigs in Half-Life's Lambda Complex), thinking about realism can have its benefits. In this instance, we'll think like an engineer and add what buildings need to stay standing - supports.


Already we have the corridor looking much more like a lab environment. But stop a moment and think; are we sacrificing design for detail here? As good as adding stylish features can be, we must remember that the player can potentially skip past all of this without a second thought. He/she will notice, however, if it's bad or gets in the way of the flow of play. The issue here is that the pillars could impede progress, providing the unnecessary challenge of avoiding them. A clip brush placed where the flat surface of the wall used to be sorts that out.


Lighting

I personally think that high-tech places need high-tech lighting. It?s not strictly necessary, but I prefer it. And it's my article. :p As sufficient as the ceiling lights may be, it would be much cooler if they could be integrated into the architecture. By an amazing coincidence, the supports we added will quite happily house the light fittings.


The architectural detail is coming together nicely and our corridor has progressed nicely from a second-hand rust bucket to a family saloon (I'm making a metaphorical analogy about cars if you're a bit slow). Let's make it a finely-tuned sports car by changing that dull ceiling.

Ceiling

For a bit of consistency, we'll make it part of the cylindrical theme of the wall, and raise the centre to provide some variation.


Good stuff, now it's a sports car.

Finer Details

Our Ferrari (I'm still with cars, yes?) is in good shape, but there's nothing more beneficial than a modification or two. So lets add some - perhaps a pipe (or two) in that alcove.


Yes, a pipe will do just nicely. There is no need to add further to the design of the corridor. Now it may be best to concentrate on the little things that real-world environments would have. Look at the door and window at the end. Doors and windows usually have frames, so let's give them one.


All that needs to be done now is add the nicer details that add to the ambience of the map. That guard booth looks rather empty, so let's add a sign (with lighting) and maybe a computer for the Barney within.


And that, ladies and gentlemen, is it. The final screenshot looks much better than the first and looks much more like the high-tech laboratory it is supposed to be. You may notice that I ?upgraded? the environment in this order - walls, lighting, ceiling, finer details. It worked fine here, but in most maps I would recommend that the ceiling be dealt with before the lighting as sometimes the light fittings may rest on the ceiling.

And now for my final thought...

Such techniques may not be appropriate for certain environments (for instance, Half-Life had flat walls in many places which worked just fine). I have used the lab as an example of how some mappers don?t always get it right the first time and usually improve greatly with another attempt. When I did that map, most of the added detail was done at once; here, I have broken it down step by step to provide an idea of the best way to go about making your maps better than your first attempt.

The guide to adding detail is this: Think of how things can be changed. Think how you can alter the shape of walls and ceilings by clipping brushes and manipulating them. Think what an environment would have in real life. Think about the little things that you can incorporate into your map which, though not significant, can make things more visually appealing. It is also worth noting that detail can be added through careful texturing. But the most important thing to remember is this - don't get carried away. Detail affects polygons, and polygons affect performance.

While there might be many who disagree with my methods, I feel that this is some valuable advice for new mappers on improving their creations. I myself am not a pro, however neither am I a newbie. I?m a middle-man who knows his stuff but can?t quite push his expertise as far as others. But technique is only gained through experience. I hope the user comments that follow will enlighten myself and many others to other methods of improvement.

For further reading, may I recommend Dave Johnston's Detail Vs. Design, part 1 and part 2 to make sure your quest for detail does not hinder the gameplay of your creations.