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  • Thrik
    Levels Nova Exchange
    By Erik-Silver Toomere (ESToomere)
    “After taking a wrong turn on the way to Lighthouse Point… Gordon stumbles on a Combine secret”. Takes place between the chapters Sandtraps and Entanglement, replacing Nova Prospekt.
    Delayed
    By Justin Carlto (SneakySpeckMan)
    The strider at the end of Half Life 2 Episode 1 destroys the escape train, leaving Gordon and Alyx stuck in City 17 as the Citadel goes critical.
    Blast Pit
    By Dan Jordan (The_Rabbit42)
    A re-imagining of the classic scene from Half-Life.

    Mod Details Title: RaiseTheBarVille
    File Name: hl2-ep2-sp-mc-raisethebarville.7z
    Size: 47.10MB
    Author(s): Erik-Silver Toomere aka ESToomere, Justin Carlton aka SneakySpeckMan & Dan Jordan aka The_Rabbit42
    Date Released: 09 May 2015
    MapTap Users Download directly into MapTap [47.10MB]
    You must have MapTap installed before using this link.
    Direct Download Download to your HDD [47.10MB]
    You can still use it with MapTap once you have downloaded it.
    Manual Installation Instructions 1. Copy the RaiseTheBarVille folder into your …SteamSteamAppscommonsourcemods folder.2. Restart or start Steam.
    3. RaiseTheBarVille should now be listed in your Library tab.
    4. If you require more help, please visit RunThinkShootLive's Technical Help page.
    Judges There were 3 judges for this challenge: Phillip (RunThinkShootLive), Ryan 'Thrik' Williams (MapCore), and Don aka Unq (who very kindly supplied the RaiseTheBarVille first Prize).
    Winners Winner: Blast Pit
    All judges felt this was the perfect combination of using the theme in a clever way and making a map that was fun to play.
    Almost-Winner: Nova Exchange
    This was a very detailed and thoughtful entry that all the judges enjoyed playing but felt it lacked player guidance too often.
    Third Place: Delayed
    While short and light on compelling gameplay, it delivers exciting set-pieces and great visuals.
    The judges' more detailed reviews can be found in the comments of this article and/or RunThinkShootLive's equivalent article. Feel free to leave your own — in fact, please do!
    Prizes For the winner
    A lightly used hardback copy of Valve's rare Half-Life 2 development book, Raising the Bar, kindly donated by Don aka Unq. This book is a must-read for any fan of the game, and particularly those interested in its development process. In addition to being a collectable in its own right, this particular edition is signed by Valve staff, arranged by a friend of Phillip's who works there.
    For the almost-winner
    Don't feel bad, you nearly made it. Have a plush companion cube plus a MapCore mug or t-shirt, and know that we love you.
    ...and for everyone else
    All entries, except the winner and almost-winner, will be entered into a random draw to win Sniper Elite 3. As this was one person in the end, this has now become the third-place prize.
    Screenshots A selection of 3840x2160 screenshots is available on Dropbox. They haven't been included directly in this article because they potentially spoil set-pieces within the levels.
    Video The playthrough/walkthrough below is provided by PlanetPhillip. See more of his playthroughs at VP: PlanetPhillip.
    Steam Grid View Images Three grid view icons are included in this file. To use the included grid view icon, select “Gridview” in Steam (top right corner). Right click on “RaiseTheBarVille” and select “Set Custom Image”. Then browse to the SourceMods folder and then to RaiseTheBarVille/steam-gridview-icons folder and select the image you prefer. Then click “Set Image” and that’s it. Of course, you can create your own custom image if you prefer.
    Other Bits and Pieces There are a few additional things that you might want to check out over in the RunThinkLiveShoot equivalent of this article, such as a poll that lets you vote for your favourite, additional screenshots, and download statistics.

  • On the other hand, UE4 has also been somewhat stripped of “default” content in order to emphasize the user-generated content located on Epic’s new marketplace. This tutorial series is designed to bring you up to speed on UE4 level-design by showing you how blueprints work and how you can create your very own blueprint building-blocks.

    Understanding Blueprints The Blueprint system is a visual scripting language central to all game interaction in UE4.
    Blueprints come in two flavors: Level blueprints and Class blueprints. Level blueprints are attached to your level, whereas Class blueprints are self-contained templates for a single type of object in your level (a “class”) only. Anything you do in a Level blueprint can also be done in a Class blueprint, but Level blueprints additionally enable you to set up communication between multiple Class blueprints.
    Let’s take a look at what actually goes on inside these blueprints.

    Inside Blueprints Let’s start with the two basic blueprint nodes: Functions and Variables. Variables can be explained as containers of object data, while functions essentially perform game logic upon variables.
    The next section will cover these nodes in more detail.
     
    A Player variable with a Jump function. As illustrated, executing the function (f) causes the player to jump

    Object Data (Actors and Variables)
    Although they are very versatile, variables are most commonly used to control actors, objects that exist inside the game world. Characters, weapons, doors, switches are all examples of actors. Additionally, every actor’s variables can potentially be manipulated by functions, for example the health of a character stored as an integer value.
     
    A actor variable (player) with health and position stored as an integer variable (green) and a 3D-vector variable (yellow), respectively

    Actors can also contain components: other actors incorporated inside the main actor. This enables static meshes to have component collision boxes, or to be paired with component particle effects, among other things.
     
    The components of this door object are two meshes (a door and a doorframe) and a collision box that helps control the door’s physics behavior

    Functions
    Functions are nodes of logic which can be executed (called) to perform a certain task. If something needs to take place in-game, such as a player picking up a weapon, functions can enable as well as add additional consequences to that action.
     
    A function execution string (the white line)

    Functions present and modify variable information. For example, a function which acts upon information gathered by a variable could teleport players to specific game-world coordinates. A ‘getter’ or ‘pure’ function, on the other hand, merely relays information for use elsewhere, such as reporting a player’s current coordinates in the game world.
     
    A ‘pure’ function (green). Notice that ‘pure’ functions do not have independent execution, only when linked with a regular function (blue) does this particular function have effect

    So, we’ve covered Variables and Functions. But how does the Blueprint system know how and when to react to incidents inside the game world?

    Events
    Events allow different actors to communicate with each other. For instance, an event controls when an actor collides with another actor, or what an actor should do if a collision actually occurs. More examples of an event are a door opening as a character nears it, a switch being thrown, or a barrel exploding after it has taken sufficient damage. An example of an event could even be as fundamental as a player using controls to move their character model. Customized events can be called much in the same way a function would be.
     
    Event (red) called if an actor is hit. The event triggers a function linked to taking damage. This example is intended for learning purposes, not for practical use

    Quick aside: In general, as a good practice, variables, functions and events should be named for their exact purpose. This helps both you and others read what’s going on in your blueprints. An actor named “player”, or an integer named “health” is easier to understand than one named “asdhjkashdj”!
    For more information on variables, functions and events, please refer to Epic Games’ own documentation, which provides encyclopedic knowledge about the topic.

    Case study Now that we understand the building blocks of UE4’s Blueprint system, let’s look at a practical example: the Class blueprint of a sliding door (If you want to create your own sliding door, I recommend taking a close look at Epic’s in-depth guide.
    Our door:
     

    When a player gets close to it, the door opens. When a player leaves the door’s vicinity, it closes. Let’s examine the door’s blueprinting:
     
    You can see that the door actor is composed of several components: a frame object, a door object and a triggering box



    In this image, we can clearly see the nodes used to trigger the door’s opening and closing. For example, the event OnComponentBeginOverlap triggers once a player steps into the Box component actor listed. That triggered event starts executing anything along the execution logic path, such as the Timeline function and the Set Relative Location function.
    The Timeline function changes an integer with decimals - the Driver float variable – between 0.0 and 1.0 over time, and sends execution updates every time the float changes. The float variable is called Driver in this case, because it drives the door to either open or close. The Lerp function’s Alpha parameter then uses this float value to determine the exact position of the door between being open (float value of 1.0) and closed (float value of 0.0). The Vector variables Door Closed Position and Door Open Position are end points for Alpha to blend between. This is to ensure that the door opens and closes smoothly over time rather than instantly.
    Set Relative Location then executes the data received from the Lerp at intervals put forward by the Timeline’s update execution for the door that we use. The result is a door which slides opens when players are nearby.
    Lastly, our OnEndComponentOverlap event triggers the closing of the door by reversing its operation when players leave the triggering box.
    Here you can see our moving door in action:
     

    To be fair, this case study is a bit over-simplified in order to provide an example that can be easily understood. The real version of this door (which will be shown in the next part of this series) is a bit more advanced, but its core principles are exactly the same.

    Wrap-Up
    So far, we’ve covered the structure of variables, functions, events, as well as a common gameplay element like a sliding door. In the part two of this tutorial series, we’ll learn some more advanced blueprint features, such as class recognition, level blueprints and blueprint communication.
    Thanks for reading!

  • Your objective We'd like you to re-imagine a scene of your choosing from any of the Half-Life games. To be clear, we're not looking for remakes of scenes — we want you to completely reinterpret a scene, approaching it from a fresh perspective. You can, however, use assets from Black Mesa.
    Here are some examples of ideas you could develop:
    The Tram ride at the beginning of Half-Life. What if somebody else pushed the cart? Gordon was late, so they got somebody else and the resonance cascade happens when Gordon is still on the tram. It crashed to the ground but leads him to a previously unseen section of Black Mesa. Black Mesa. What if Half-Life's infamous research facility were hidden underneath a city or town rather than out in the desert? Surface Tension. This particular event occurs on the side of a Citadel. Yes, it doesn't fit the story, but that's not important. This is about high cliffs and long falls. Opposing Force. What if Black Mesa were devastated by this game's nuclear bomb quite early on during the story, leaving Adrian Shepherd to navigate a version of the research facility resembling a post-apocalyptic nightmare? Point Insertion. Instead of arriving at a city train station, Gordon finds himself in a deserted and derelict village station, perhaps near enough to Ravenholm, to feel the threat. Being seen by Civil Protection may be the least of his worries. City 17. What if the Combine had chosen the United States, France, or London to be their primary city? The only limitation is your imagination, which we want to see run wild — create the most wonderful interpretation of Half-Life's universe that you can conceive. Whether your project is big or small, you should strive to create something that will delight Half-Life fans.
    How to share your progress Because this is a joint challenge, there are two places for this:

    Where you may discuss the challenge and share progress of your work, which we hope that you will! RunThinkShootLive challenge article
    Where you can do the same. Both will be compiled together for judging and articles after the challenge ends, so you don't need to post in both places (although it's not a problem if you do).
     

    Prizes Prizes are being donated by both MapCore and RunThinkShootLive, in addition to your work being immortalised in our archives for others to enjoy.
    For the winner
    A lightly used hardback copy of Valve's rare Half-Life 2 development book, Raising the Bar, kindly donated by Don aka Unq. This book is a must-read for any fan of the game, and particularly those interested in its development process. In addition to being a collectable in its own right, this particular edition is signed by Valve staff, arranged by a friend of Phillip's who works there.
    For the almost-winner
    Don't feel bad, you nearly made it. Have a plush companion cube plus a MapCore mug or t-shirt, and know that we love you.
    ...and for everyone else
    All entries, except the winner and almost-winner, will be entered into a random draw to win Sniper Elite 3.
    Challenge dates Begins: Thursday, 19th March, 2015 at 11am GMT
    Ends: Tuesday, 28th April, 2015 at 11am GMT
    Rules You can't have a challenge without rules, right? Here are the requirements:
    Maximum one map per mapper per entry. The map must have at least one enemy and one weapon; i.e. playable. The map must be original and not have been released publicly before. The map must run in a system with only Half-Life 2: Episode 2 installed By entering the competition you grant RunThinkShootLive.Com and MapCore.org the right to release the map as part of the RaiseTheBarVille Mod. Maps must not appear for download before the release and for one month after the release of the mod. No assets from retail games other than Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode 1 or Half-Life 2: Episode 2 are allowed. Other assets are allowed with written permission from their original authors, which must be included in the entry. The organizers' decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into about it. The map must have a proper name. The map must have a proper filename: MapName_rtbv.bsp Each entry should be accompanied by a correctly formatted (vtf) background and chapter image. The name is not important, as it will have to be changed. All entries must be sent to: [email protected] no later than the deadline. Frequently Asked Questions There have been a few questions asked about this challenge, so hopefully this will help you. However, if your question is not here and you have doubts, please don’t hesitate to ask, no matter how small your query.
    Can I use assets from Black Mesa Source?
    Yes, by all means, but you must pack them into your BSP. Yes, we know that may mean redundancy, but the map MUST run in a system that ONLY has Episode Two installed. We don’t want to force players to download BM.
    Can an entry be a joint entry?
    Yes, but there I still only one prize. You’ll have to fight to the death to decide who gets it.
    Which games can I re-imagine?
    Half-Life, Opposing Force, Blue Shift, Half-Life 2, Lost Coast, Episode One, or Episode Two.
    Can I use assets from Lost Coast?
    Yes, pack them into your BSP.
    What about recreating a scene that was say… cut from one of the main games? Technically a re-imagining of a re-imagining.
    No, but you could use the cut area as inspiration for something that was released in one of the games. What we don’t want people to do is remake a cut section from a game.
    Can simply change a location?
    Well, yes, but again, there should be some element of “What if…?” in the map. Simply changing a town for a city is only part of what we are looking for. You map should really be the result f some change, however minor, in the story.
    How do you define a scene?
    In the context of this challenge a “Scene” is a part of the game that has some effect on the following game. So, changing one location for another is not really enough. What we are looking for is something that takes the game in a different direction.
    Can we submit mini-mods instead of a map?
    Sorry, no. Your entry must be a self contained map.
    Can I submit something artsy?
    Sure, but it must have at least one enemy, one weapon and a player spawn.
    Can we decompile or remake specific locations from Valve maps?
    We think it’s best if we disallow this. Mainly to avoid any potential problems. Please start your map from something new. However, we will allow a very small section if this is just used to “fit into the story”. For example, in Episode One, at the beginning when Alyx and Gordon are thrown into the Citadel. If you map started at the bottom but then things went very differnt from the game, that would be okay.
    How should I start my map?
    We suggest a little text at the beginning to set the scene. Something like…”What if Gordon were late and somebody else push the cart? Let’s find out“. It’s not compulsory but it might help.
    What’s the limit of changes we can make?
    Wow, that’s a tough question. Your changes MUST NOT affect maps that may be after yours in the final mod.
    My question is not here, what should I do?
    Ask in the RTSL post or MapCore thread. Somebody will respond quickly.
    Closing words We really hope that you have fun with this. MapCore has a very long history of facilitating development of levels for Half-Life and its mods, in fact we were founded around that very concept. As such, we're hopeful that the community still has that passion for one of gaming's finest classics, and is keen to apply modern-day skills and technologies to bringing Half-Life's universe to life — because Valve sure isn't doing it any time soon!

  • Overview of 2014's articles We published a ton of high-quality, original content in 2014. Take a look — you might spot something you missed!
     

    By KNJ
     
    Interview with Mateusz 'seir' Piaskiewicz, Techland Senior Level Artist
    4,100+ reads
    Interview with Rosin 'kikette' Geoffrey, Arkane Studios Environment Artist
    6,700+ reads
    Deus Ex: Human Revolution scene interview with KNJ
    6,800+ reads
    Virtual Reality: The Final Platform
    5,300+ reads
    Interview with Francois 'Furyo' Roughol, BioShock Infinite Level Designer
    6,200+ reads
    Interview with Thibault 'dkm' Courbet, Wolfenstein: The New Order Level Designer
    6,600+ reads
    Interview with Lenz 'penE' Monath, Environment and Lighting/VFX Artist
    3,900+ reads
    Interview with Thiago 'Minos' Klafke, Blizzard Environment Artist
    7,600+ reads
    Interview with Paul 'PaulH' Haynes, Homefront: The Revolution Senior Level Designer
    5,000+ reads
    Korath: The Witcher Saga scene interview? with Krzysztof 'Tepcio' Teper
    3,700+ reads
    Level Design in The Last of Us: Part One, Part Two, Part Three
    13,500+ reads (all parts)
      Contests and challenges Even better, MapCore continues to thrive as a close-knit community. We collaborated, playtested one another's work, and inspired eachother. Thanks to RZL for his great work organizing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive playtests. SpronyvanJohnson also did a great job organizing MapCore contests, where users pushed themselves to improve their skill set.
    We had a fantastic contest and two thrilling challenges, all of which received unprecedented levels of support and engagement. You can relive the action here:
    Quake 3 15th Anniversary Contest
    CS:GO Sticks Mini Texturing Challenge
    By Min0s
    New logo and branding For the first time since the forums were established in 2003, 2014 saw the introduction of professional-grade branding, which was brought to life by our very own Arthur de Padua (AKA Thurnip), including a wonderful new logo! We also set up a small store for those wishing to spread the wonder of MapCore throughout the world, complete with Arthur's beautiful new designs, and we'll be updating the store with even more new products based on your feedback very soon!
     
    New logo and branding by Thurnip
     
    Babies! MapCore kids were also born in 2014! ...God help us all. A huge congratulations to Skjalg and SpronyvanJohnson for their ultimate creative projects: bringing new life into the world. If we missed anyone, let us know in the comments so we can add you!
     
    By 2-D Chris
     
    Employment As a community, MapCore has always been a mixture of veteran game developers, aspiring amateurs, and plain ol' gamers. One of the best parts about that mixture of experience-levels is when one of our members gets an awesome new job within the industry. In 2014, we got a LOT of great news on that front.
     
    Martin "Sentura" Colith - Level Designer at IO Interactive (Copenhagen, Denmark)
    Al "Intelect0" Anselmo - QA Tester at Top Free Games (Sao Paulo, Brazil)
    Lenz "penE" Monath - Environment Artist at Yager (Berlin, Germany)
    Oskmos - FX Artist at DICE (Stockholm, Sweden)
    Morten "Mazy"Hedegren - Game Designer at Brain+ (Copenhagen, Denmark)
    Skjalg "Skjalg" Sturlasson Maehre - Programmer at Megapop Games (Drammen, Norway)
    mr.P - Senior World Designer at Avalanche Studios (NYC, NY, USA)
    Pete_H - Game Designer at Gameloft (Barcelona, Spain)
    Jobye-Kyle "deceiver" Karmaker - Level Artist at Ubisoft Toronto (Canada)
    Alex "AlexM" McGilvray - Build/Tools Engineer at United Front Games (Vancouver, Canada)
    Alexander "Taylor" Taylor - Game Designer at Space Ape (London, England)
    Kacper "knj" Niepokólczycki - Environment Artist at CD Projekt Red (Krakow, Poland)
    John "Ginger Lord" Crewe - Senior Technical Designer at Cloud Imperium Games (Manchester, England)
    Paul "PaulH" Haynes - Senior Level Designer at Deep Silver Dambuster Studios (Nottingham, England)
    Toni "SotaPoika" Seppänen - Junior Level designer at Next Games (Helsinki, Finland)
    Austin "Setin" House - Designer at Escalation Studios (Dallas, Tx, USA)
    Richard "KoKo5oVaR" Malinar - Environment Artist at Krysalide (Lyon, France)
    Mateusz "seir" Piaskiewicz - Designer at Treyarch (Santa Monica, California, USA)
    Jason "General Vivi" Mojica - Senior Level Designer at Overkill Software (Stockholm, Sweden)
    Will "Vilham" Josephy - Senior Level Designer at Cloud Imperium Games/Foundry 42 (Manchester, England)
    Chris "2d-chris" Kay - Senior Level Designer at Epic Games (Cary, NC, USA)
    Liam "PogoP" Tart - Environment Artist at The Creative Assembly (Horsham, England)
    Matthew "bawwwcas" Barcas - Level Designer at Pure F.P.S. (Los Angeles, California, USA)
    Francois "Furyo" Roughol - Senior Mission Designer at Sucker Punch Productions (Bellevue, Wa, USA
    Friedrich "FrieChamp" Bode - Level Designer at Goodgame Studios (Hamburg, Germany)
     
    Our members' success rate at having their content (gun skins, maps) added into Counter-Strike: Global Offensive also continued to be astronomical.
     
    By Furyo
     
    Wrap-up At the end of the day though, MapCore has always been about one thing: sharing work in progress, receiving feedback, and learning from one another. In 2014, MapCore's WIP threads buzzed with life and activity, and our 2D and 3D forums were a goldmine of beautiful work, interesting ideas and fun experimentation.
    Our community is working better than ever, and 2015 should mark even further progress in the growth of this awesome forum.
     
    By Kikette
     
    SpronyvanJohnson's map given feedback in the form of an overpaint by Seir
     
    By penE

  • This is the third article in a three-part series. Part One / Part Two / Part Three
    Combat tutorial The entire space for this first combat against humans is built to be an action tutorial. With no elevation changes in the space, and the single red tone of textures, this is the simplest arena one could design, which foreshadows a quick and easy fight. Notice the number of crates and cover objects on the ground, and their geometrical position. Clear “camps” are established on either side. Both NPCs are scripted only to move left and right, never to flank Joel, which leaves players with plenty of time to assess the situation. This space is built to encourage players to flank these NPCS to the left (Tess crouches to the right of the player). Another visual cue used to great effect here are the electricity lines, that circle over the space. They make the space feel tighter, and add a loop that mirrors the path down below.
    One also finds all three distinctive signs of a fight being over in action games: Tess stands and starts walking again (her AI state changes from InCombat to Normal), she starts a conversation with Joel and the combat music ends. In terms of scripting, these three signs are tested against the state of all spawned enemies (in this case, whether they’re alive).
      At the end of the passage under the arch, another instance of the “boost and pull” move, once again the only gate short of an actual door that can be used in this game. Right after this, a typical example of an “S” shaped corridor. Historically found everywhere in FPS games a decade ago, they’re still used in today’s non open-world games as occluders and loading corridors between two heavy areas. And what occludes one way works in multiplayer too, you’ll find them in many MP FPS levels (Counter-Strike, Team Fortress 2, Left 4 Dead, etc.) to break lines of sight and separate large areas to obtain the highest frames per second.
    As a side note, and something you may have noticed all along these levels, the environment artist broke up the monotony of this flat wall by making an entrance to a courtyard, to the left of this corridor. You could for instance find this same addition of depth inside the transition building in part 2 where players first learn how to heal themselves.
    As a side note, one of very few bugs in The Last of Us can be seen here, as the shader for the gameplay helpers is rendered through walls (normal behavior) but also over Joel's head.
          After dropping through the hole in the fence – another typical Naughty Dog gating mechanism - a new cinematic starts as players enter the combat arena. Enemies are now scripted much more freely, with their back to the player to enforce a stealth approach. The shape of the combat space itself is built to allow NPCs to move in long straight ways. The left hand side’s purpose is actually solely for this NPC to go there and allow for more movement in stealth (added difficulty) over the initial takedown against the infected in part 2. Tess continues to help kill two of the four enemies, as long as players play by the rules of this tutorial. Both signs above the doors to the building are once again not placed here by chance; the green one indicating the ideal path inside, and the red one a sure way to get spotted. And with both signs having these warm colors, the rest of the building wears a very cold blue to make the signs much more noticeable.
      This second combat also introduces dialogues between characters. Beyond their initial role as threat identification and background information, these conversations also serve as cues that NPCs are likely to change their patrol path once done. It’s therefore important to design these dialogues so they are not ambiguous when they stop.
       As with the gate to the previous occluding corridor, this space also features a strong light to indicate the exit. We’ll see the same light used in all four of these combat tutorials each time to direct the player to the exit of the arena. While this doesn’t seem too necessary in these instances, players’ orientation is often confused when leaving nonlinear spaces in which they were dedicating their attention to the action rather than the environment. These help players getting their bearings again. And now that doors are used in combat spaces - wide open not to collide with players or NPCs fighting - , they’re also textured in strong warm colors to be seen better. Doors in exploration spaces in this game never bear these colors.
      For this third and final tutorial combat (once again, magical game design number 3 shows up), Tess stops helping in any way other than shooting if the combat gets to that but a new mechanic is presented that offsets Tess. Joel can now pick up objects to create a diversion, essentially what Tess was doing before although she can’t be seen by NPCs. That’s a great way to progressively increase difficulty while not changing enemy type (all humans). The distance between the safe area players start in and the first threat is made longer to increase difficulty too and the same background info is given by NPCs to locate them with the help of the conveniently placed window. The orientation of the starting piece of cover also indicates the sense of direction of the upcoming fight, and where the exit will be located.
    A sign of a space specifically designed for a fight is to open up multiple entry points to each zone. Here this staircase lost its railings to allow players to go over to the second floor. A simpler exploration area would most likely not have this, and in some cases would have been worse for it if it did as player exposition requires certain camera shots. Here the game moves away from being purely about exploration and makes players evolve on a two-floor loop, gated to a coop move with Tess. Many fights in this game are optional, but this isn’t one of them and the space reflects it.
    As a final reward to completing all combat tutorials, Joel is rewarded with finding his very first shiv, while still inside the combat space. The shiv, much like the first aid kit tutorial (see part 2) is forced to the player as its effect is as straightforward as its game mechanics are complex (upgrades, use). Here the elevation, on top of increasing the difficulty of the fight, also serves to create side exploration spaces. Notice the color of the handrails that add a lot of depth to this scene and help players focus on one of the purposes of this tutorial: elevation.
          The final combat is the fourth human encounter, second unassisted combat, and first active choice on the part of the player between “stealth” and “action”. This choice is actually shown on screen and justified by Tess’s dialogue. This fight is simply a summary, taken to the next scale, of every theme explored in combat tutorials seen this far: navigation, object interaction, enemies visibility cone, player noise and elevation (or lack thereof in this case). The choice of color palette reinforces these options, with the cold colors used on the left for a stealthier approach, and the warm yellow tones used with the sun on the right hand side to show danger and action. The right hand side approach also contains more immediate rewards (weapons) for having been bolder.
          Robert being another human, there was no reason to turn him into a boss. But as Naughty Dog also needed to carry the scenario forward, it made sense to turn this fight into a chase sequence. For the same reason as Joel and Sarah move away from Joel’s office in the prologue, here the chase sequence allows to introduce Marlene much more dynamically and not have her simply appear in the middle of the previous combat space. That latter solution can usually be seen with less important characters, usually from the same faction, as waves of reinforcement.
    The calm before the storm This marks the end of the tutorial section of the intro levels. A few more mechanics will be introduced all along the game (enemies, weapons, upgrades) but the vast majority of the systems has already been presented by now. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the spoils: right after the cinematic ends, Joel is presented with both bandings and blades – the resources needed to create shivs - in two distinct locations separated by the first vista in the game, itself to be considered a narrative reward for having completed the first chapter, as well as an introduction of the destination ahead.
        As Joel progresses through to Ellie, and the tutorials are now all gone, combat spaces become larger, with much longer lines of sight, introducing the many challenges ahead and giving the game its true scale. The next "co-op" take down between Joel and Marlene pushes this type of gameplay another step further by hiding one of the two enemies to kill inside the building, which shows that the gameplay itself will also take place over longer distances, not just the locations.
        Another sign of the hands free design for the rest of the game, the first puzzle players encounter shows no hints at all. After another dialogue corridor designed to present Joel and Ellie’s early relationship, Tess joins them again and the adventure starts. Have fun with the rest of the game!
          Thank you for reading this detailed level design analysis of the intro section of The Last of Us. For any additional question, or to discuss this further, feel free to contact me through LinkedIn.
    This is the third article in a three-part series. Part One / Part Two / Part Three

  • This is the second article in a three-part series. Part One / Part Two / Part Three
    First Level The intro cinematic here serves two purposes: Introducing Tess and her relationship with Joel, and giving players a goal for the upcoming level. With that done, it’s not necessary to give players other intermediate goals along the way.
    Follow Mission Following an NPC is an excellent, tried and true means to expose players to a completely new world to discover. Tess plays the role of a learning tool, and it’s precisely once players have learned enough about survival in the game that she dies and leaves room for the new relationship between Ellie and Joel to grow. This is an absolute classic process - death aside - used in a great many third person games from Uncharted to Prince of Persia, Enslaved and many others. FPS games also use this technique, but to a lesser degree as following an NPC in first person is often a much more arduous task. Half-Life 2 famously used Alix Vance that way, mostly in non-combat spaces. More recently, BioShock Infinite also followed the same model but made the entire game about that NPC.
    Once outside, players are immediately presented with a good combination of narrative and level design. Tess mentions the curfew that will hit in a few hours, while in the same frame, players can see once again in yellow, the sign that mentions the curfew hours. Attention to small details like that is what will make an entire world more believable. The use of red and white bricks for these buildings adds contrast and depth to this scene, and with Tess going around the corner, helps imagining the path forward.
      Messages painted across walls is as fundamental a narrative design technique as any, but great games will make use of them sparingly, and at the very least won’t reuse the same message more than once per section, so as not to destroy the immersion they’re designed to create. It’s the same thing for talking NPCs, designed for very specific situations, so their speech doesn’t get repeated.
      During this entire level Tess keeps waiting for the player by staying idle on a few of the nodes on her scripted path. This is of course so she can keep being the player’s guide. Notice here however that the implementation of that system is just the bare minimum expected in today’s games. In reality, follow missions are few and far between in this game, as NPCs usually trail behind the player in non-scripted ways. In a game where the NPC is as essential as BioShock Infinite, Elizabeth would have stopped her scripted movement, retraced back her steps to the player (or been teleported behind him) only to resume her script from there. This is a good example of the limitations borne from early creative decisions that dictate the systems developed for the game. It’s entirely normal, but something to be conscious of when creating levels.
    Following on to the main street, where a scripted camera takes over and introduces the new playable zone. This sort of introduction is a dead giveaway of a Naughty Dog game, and is most useful in locking the player in place while the army vehicle passes left, preventing the player from reaching the far end gate and exiting the playable area. With the camera locked in this way, the vehicle may very well simply disappear once passed.
    Arriving in a large area is often a good occasion to introduce more exposition scenes, and in this case two well-constructed ones. Right in front of the player as he arrives, the first scene presents survivors waiting for their weekly ration in a line, behind fences. The fences here work great with the theme of a post-apocalyptic world, but the wall they form is absolutely necessary in scenes like this to limit player interaction and bugs. We find the exact same use of containment barriers in the scene that follows, with the extra touch of the military personnel pushing then killing Joel if players venture too far. Inside closed spaces, most games generally use windows, which we’ll see in The Last of Us later.
        The arrival at the checkpoint is a textbook example of how to center player attention with a dynamic element. On this crossroad, the first semi open area in the game, players may very well be tempted to go either way, but the arrival of the armored vehicle against the player’s direction, the closure of the gates, Tess's placement near the checkpoint and the yellow sign above all point the player effortlessly to the left instead. Naughty Dog manages to seemingly open the game much wider, while remaining in a narrow exposition corridor.
    Another textbook example, and a difficult one to achieve, the quick return tutorial. The narrative scene that introduces it is meaningful as it introduces the Fireflies for the first time in the game, but it also pits the player right against a fence in a position of danger. Just like in the combat tutorial, the necessity to move away from this fight makes it ok to block player controls and require a specific command. Players rarely question this.
    As a side note, some of you will have noticed that the main street had not been gated yet in the game, and Naughty Dog made sure it was by adding this little scene of police blocking the street.
        When addressing player accessibility and teaching, it's important to make the distinction between the two learning models players can be separated in. The first type, Explorative Exposition, describes players who learn by doing; while the second type Experimentation Exposition describes players who by fear of failing expect to have a maximum amount of information given to them before they try. Designing tutorials for these two types of players is very hard, since their learning methods are diametrically opposed.
    Naughty Dog chose here to address both types by designing tutorials for either type and alternate between them. The more complex tutorials, those that either require a huge amount of information given, like weapons for instance (see The Shiv in part 3) or would demand a very expensive and convoluted setting (like this health kit) are designed for the second type of players, stopping the game and giving them everything they need to know before experimenting. The intention of showing the time it takes to heal is well convened here. And to make sure the player actually sees this most important item, Tess gives it away instead of having it placed on a nearby table. Perfect introduction of the mechanic and it reinforces their relationship as no one else would ever have given this for free to Joel.
    As much as accessibility is often separated in three stages (exposition as seen above, validation and challenge), players often find these cobbled together. The second stage for instance is largely unnecessary when designing for a core audience that is already very used to these game mechanics and gamepad controls.
    Follow a few textbook examples of light placement inside this exposition corridor, with inviting diffused lighting that propel Joel forward. At the end of this sequence, we find the first of many trademark moves by Naughty Dog when Joel jumps down a hole. This kind of transition keeps showing up in Naughty Dog almost invariably to transition into a cinematic mid jump (we’ll see that later in the second combat) or to be used as a loading screen to the next level. It also helps segmenting big levels into smaller pieces where NPCs won’t travel large distances back and forth, limiting bugs.
        On the other end of that tunnel comes the first introduction of the “vault over” move, which will be reintroduced at a later point as well. All move tutorials in Naughty Dog games are introduced a number of times in slightly different combinations so players learn by doing more than once. It’s rare enough in games to notice how good they got at it; in reality this entire level is a mixed sequence of tutorials.
        Immediately after this “vault over” move, Joel is presented with his first “safe zone” to pick up his weapons. In the rest of the game, this workbench will allow him to upgrade his weapons. The more interesting part is the left hand side “boost and pull” move, which uses very strong warm colors. Once again the use of the yellow signifies interactivity/where to go. All third person games like Tomb Raider, Uncharted, Prince of Persia, etc. use specific colors on their palette to orient the player, particularly at the start of a platforming sequence. The move itself is gated to players having picked Joel’s backpack on the workbench, and the combination of both tutorials in the same room is not by chance, it’s the only move in Joel’s arsenal that can be disabled given it uses a prop and an NPC.
    We’ve already seen “jumping in a black hole” as a gate, and lifting this door here is just another example of subtle gating mechanisms used to unload the previous part of a level and load the rest dynamically, so as not to require loading screens, or the strict minimum. It’s now so standard that we’ll soon forget it’s a rather recent addition to the arsenal of level designers, created when dynamic loading became possible with PCs and consoles becoming more powerful.
    This leads us into the first puzzle space in the game. Notice the multiple ways to leave this interior space, including the first crouch position to the right. We’ll see the move introduced on the critical path afterwards, but it’s not unusual for Naughty Dog to include such moves before their tutorials are introduced. A few hints give us the direction the player should head in. First the busted up ground is a good tool to shape the ground in the general direction of the gameplay, and make the space visually more interesting (less flat) and more interactive with the player needing to repeat the “vault over” move to get out. Another tool is the direction the crows fly in when leaving the hood of the car. Finally, the red bricks and vines uniformly applied everywhere is a giveaway that the exit is not necessarily straight forward.
    Notice the rug over the destroyed wall, accenting the solution to this first puzzle. This tutorial is a great example of puzzle design, where the problem needs to be presented front and center, so that the discovery of the solution leads to a minimal amount of attempts once found. Portal is the most recent game to have perfectly followed that credo. Of course, this is here simplified to its core essence, but the same principle follows in the rest of the "ladder-based" puzzles. A sign that you have a great game mechanic on your hands is the ability to design variants of the same puzzle throughout the entire game. It means it's a deep enough mechanic, and not a gimmick.
    After picking up the ladder, Joel enters the very first exploration space where he will be able to pick up game resources. Seen as this type of loot is what the entire game economy is based on, it makes sense to present them exactly in the opposite way to the narrative elements of the rest of the intro. Meaning shrouded in darkness when important narrative beats were placed in brightly lit areas. The lighting in this area is worked so the cabinets are mysterious, so that adventurous players learn this classic challenge-reward combination.
    After reaching there and turning around, players can then notice glimmering the very first Firefly Pendant located in the room beyond, with a nice Firefly symbol placed on the wall as a final hint. The placement of that desk in this room is studied to allow that to happen. You can safely assume that this is the easiest of all Firefly Pendants. Having presented the first resources and the first collectible separately is a good move to make sure players understand their different role.
        Jumping down (once again, a gate), Joel enters the first spore-infected area in the game. Tess is once again used as justification, by stopping Joel and putting her mask on. Players immediately understand the nature of the threat and that they won’t ever have to put the mask on themselves. The change in lighting and visibility also preface the incoming danger, immediately shown in a safe situation moments after hitting the spores. The relationship between the spores and dead body are made perfectly clear, and this example of narrative design through environment art is perfectly paced.
        Just like the doors to Joel’s office in the prologue, here is a great example of using interactive objects to place the character in a specific situation and justify the camera transition to a cinematic. The plank, with its forced interaction, is only here to make players notice you can go through the door by squeezing through. In fact, even the dialogue is designed with that n mind. Once in this position, the camera is entirely scripted. One should always expect a narrative element on the other side of that type of sequence, particularly when entering a brand new space. Using this type of contrived cinematic moves has become a main fixture in Sony titles, noticeably in God of War and Uncharted, and in competing titles such as Tomb Raider. BioShock actually was one of the early titles that always tried to justify camera placements. These sequences also sometimes serve to limit the speed of movement of the player, particularly to help loading times in and out of expensive areas. But there are sometimes ways to include these delays in gameplay itself. For instance some of Elizabeth’s lockpick animations were gated to the loading of the area beyond the gate she had to open. In these cases, conversations between her and Booker would also be timed to the necessary delay.
      Once clearing this filing cabinet, a perfect camera takeover to introduce the shooting tutorial. A conveniently placed hurt human (still target) offers the chance for a quick headshot if camera is left untouched. Nearby the ammunition pickup ends this gameplay loop and makes most players come out on top ammo wise. It also offers the game’s first active choice, as are all combats in this game (choice of resources and sometimes tactics). Notice right after this encounter the use of dialogue to justify the next camera takeover and introduce the first combat against infected. The piece of wood falls down just as Tess speaks up, while Joel indicates the need to remain silent. It’s as dynamic an introduction as one can make it and flows superbly.
      Please notice the placement of these infected. Them being tutorials, it’s only logical that they are as scripted as they are. The first one plays to the stealth nature of the combat, reinforced by the action and placement of the two other infected. As you can see above on the first floor, they actually are a landmark for players to orient themselves. Most landmarks are used as large objects in the background of a scene, for instance Half-Life 2’s citadel in City 17’s skyline, and in the case of The Last of Us, the hospital Joel and Ellie reach towards the end of the game plays exactly that role, but in tight corridors and encounters, level designers can reverse engineer an NPC as the landmark, and plan their geometry around. In this case carving up the floor just so the infected can be seen below. Near this location, on the bottom floor and the top floor, two exploration spaces that make good use of this gameplay loop (challenge-reward) offering loot just after clearing the combat.
    Once again outside, this seemingly uninteresting transition area between the combat tutorial and the upcoming puzzle is made interesting by the basketball hoop that provides a clear sense of direction to the immediate space, and the busted up concrete perpendicular to the court adds a layer of depth to an otherwise flat surface. Notice once again the color yellow used in Mel’s Home Hardware store sign, and its placement over the exit.
    Next up is the second "ladder-based" puzzle space that follows the basic rules of great puzzle design. First the exit is presented to the player in the same frame as the problem, and the solution once found (“aha! moment”) only takes one try to complete. Notice how the blue tarp provides a good visual clue in this tutorial as to where the solution is, just like the rug in the first case.
    Leaving the puzzle area that shows that the best game mechanics can be used in multiple variations, the same yellow color is brought by lighting through the window. Around the corner, a little reminder about exploration, with a health pickup dropped on the far end of the ladder.
      Down yet another gate and Joel now follows Tess through a back alley. This otherwise uneventful place sees the addition of yet another reminder of the “vault over” tutorial, as another way to require a button press from the player and keep him/her engaged. This however no longer requires the UI indication on screen.
    Just around the corner lies the second Firefly Pendant. “Hidden in plain sight” is a good way to introduce a second collectible, after having given the first one essentially for free. This one perched in the trees, and the puzzle before it tease the elevation changes of gameplay taught in the subsequent combats. You’ll notice the LD work that went in creating the blockage under which Joel must crawl, which reveals through its branches the glimmering Firefly Pendant.
    Forcing the player to continue through a building serves multiple purposes. The first, and smallest is it helps justify the placement of gun ammo on the table, as opposed to having it just lying there on the streets. The second, the door that Joel closes behind him, is yet another gate for the upcoming NPC – heavy survivors camp, which can even be loaded during the third and final purpose, introducing a small child in a narrative sequence with Tess. These windows here give just the right amount of light in and allow the heavy contrast between the two areas to have the animation read a lot better. This room could have been there simply for optimization purposes, but Naughty Dog managed to turn it into a whole lot more.
       The survivors’ camp is another gameplay loop closing in on itself. After the initial exploration and learning came the tension of the spores and the challenges of the first fight and puzzle, the camp is a narrative reward for having made it this far, and a chance to pick up another two collectibles. However as it’s not the end goal of the level, tension should still be a constant theme, hence the more and more violent scenes one after the other, that also introduce the upcoming fight with humans. Notice the little girl playing with her stuffed bear in the far corner. She and the little boy earlier are nice ways to feature children in action games where rules dictate that no human child should ever be killed on screen. Emphasis on human; children that do get hurt are often already dead, possessed or otherwise sick (School bus in Prey, Little Sisters in BioShock, etc.)
            This is the second article in a three-part series. Part One / Part Two / Part Three

  • This is the first article in a three-part series. Part One / Part Two / Part Three
    Intro Level 1st scene In typical movie fashion, the game starts with an exposition scene which establishes the bond between Joel and his daughter Sarah. Here the watch plays a type of backward MacGuffin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MacGuffin), which movie fans will be familiar with. A term made popular by Alfred Hitchcock, this initial narrative element will keep showing up in multiple scenes in the game to move the scenario forward and link back to the initial bond Joel had with his daughter. Many other items in this game, which we’ll see exposed in Sarah’s room play the same role. It’s important to note that this game doesn’t use forward MacGuffins, instead relying on the early experience players have with Joel in the intro levels to help them relate to Joel in the later parts of the game, when he faces adversity from the other main characters in the game. This type of catalyst is sometimes linked to gameplay in some games, but not here. For instance, in a quest, looking to get somewhere or obtain something but never managing to. In BioShock Infinite, Elizabeth keeps trying to go to Paris, but never quite goes there in the main game.
    Gameplay Sarah goes to bed, only to be woken up by her Uncle Tommy’s phone call. The initial frame of Sarah getting up is a textbook example of player exposition. Using the mirror on the wall, Naughty Dog adds depth to the room, and presents Sarah as a playable character from both front and back. The color of the lamp shade also leaves nothing to chance. Using a warm color near her beloved items reinforces the comfort of her nest (bed) and contrasts heavily with the cold blue of the night in the mirror. These items on the wall, much like the watch earlier, play a narrative role in the rest of the game as tools to drive the scenario forward between Ellie and Joel.
    Sound wise, Naughty Dog made a classic choice not to add any music and simply build tension with environment sounds in the background. It plays great and helps focus the attention on the initial reveals. In the room, the placement of the birthday card ties the opening scene with this scene the following morning and introduces the “triangle” button as the “hand interaction” one in the game (pick up item, open door, etc).
    At this point in the game, the player still does not quite know what to do, despite having played for a few minutes already. This guidance is given very clearly in a single word, right outside Sarah’s bedroom, as she yells “Dad?”. Perfect example of narrative design coupled with level design, that tells the player his/her immediate goal, and invites him/her to check out every single door, increasing the chances for maximum exposition of every theme in this intro level.
    With the goal now firmly established, the placement of the door straight ahead, too obvious, makes that room a natural space for continued exploration of the game’s themes, as opposed to a significant room. It comes as no surprise to find inside that room just one piece of content. The placement of the only light source in this room, obvious as it is, reminds us that lighting is one of the most straightforward tools to guide players.
    Joel’s bedroom After leaving this bathroom, players are naturally directed towards Joel’s bedroom thanks to the window, extra light placed in front of it, and the barely open bedroom door. The sound of the TV is an ideal guidance tool, suggested instead of shown. This bedroom also offers the chance to see the gameplay loop closed for the first time. The Last of Us’ gameplay loop is always a variant on four themes: Exploration, Tension, Challenge, Reward, Return to Exploration. With the initial exploration started in Sarah’s room and the tension of having to find her dad, this room introduces the simplest of challenges – opening the door and following the gameplay instructions (L3) – which ends with an immediate reward of seeing the explosion in the distance. Finally, Sarah’s “Daaad?” closes the loop and makes players return to their exploration phase. Gameplay loops can express themselves over varying lengths. Second to second, minute to minute, hour to hour.
      Returning to the hallway, a few classic LD rules can be seen in the same frame. The placement of the door allows players to face the staircase in the right direction, and the placement of the lamp at the bottom automatically invites players to go down. Notice its actual placement. While most times placing a light source away from a player’s immediate field of view increases its attraction, this one is placed to the right in plain sight of the player.
    Once at the bottom of the stairs, the window introduces a new narrative element, in the form of police cars. Notice that the cars are driving in the same direction as the player needs to move. This is yet another good tool to guide players subconsciously. If the lamp at the bottom of the stairs had been placed to the left, and away from the player, he/she would have likely turned the camera towards it and away from the windows, negating the introduction of the police cars. That’s why this light source was better left in the player’s field of view.
    Players naturally progress and now face this door to the garden, this time with a light source hidden beyond the playable space which naturally increases the mystery and tension in the scene. Just like upstairs in Joel’s bedroom with the TV, the dog barking here increases tension and attracts players forward.
    Once players reach the window, Naughty Dog doesn’t fall for the cliché of having an infected appear in the garden, and plays with players expectations instead interrupting the sequence with Joel’s phone. Doing so, “L3” is introduced again this time on the player’s critical path to make sure this mechanic is understood by all players.
    The placement of the phone to the right of the door is also no accident. It makes players move further away and to the other side of the living room from the office, where players are now supposed to go. This forces players to go by the garden window a second time and the use of the phone has forced the player’s immediate attention of the window to be erased. This perfect set up was necessary to create an element of surprise for the second traversal of the living room.
    Narrative scene and transition A sign of truly great narrative games is the justification of every single camera takeover by placing the played character in a situation that allows for a smooth transition. Here, that’s the only reason this half open door is placed here. Since it’s already half open, like Joel’s bedroom door, there is no “triangle” interaction required. The goal of this door is to justify the exact position of Sarah in her animated entrance into the room, therefore the position of the camera, to allow for a smooth take over for the rest of the cinematic and the entrance and reveal of Joel, the very first in the game.
    While the entire scene could have played out inside Joel’s office, Naughty Dog chose to have Sarah and Joel leave the office half way through, so as to cut back the length of the walk to the exit door and outside to the car. This allowed them to shave off a few seconds of otherwise boring content and make the action denser. Uncle Tommy’s introduction is pretty hectic with the rapid movements and a lot of information handed to the player, so to reinforce his presentation, Naughty Dog chose to have him turn towards the player once inside the car.
    The Last of Us, as many narrative games, presents choices to the player. They come in two types, active and inactive. Active choices are generally self-explanatory and are not even presented as such in games. For instance, play style (stealth or action) influences the outcome of fights, but they can also come in the form of a single button press, which usually destroys immersion in a world, and breaks the fourth wall. Inactive choices on the other hand play with morals and psychology between players and the characters they play. Here we see the first glimpse of the troublesome relationship to come between Joel and Ellie, in the eyes of her daughter Sarah who wishes that the car had stopped to help the stranded survivors. This makes players ask themselves where they would stand, and take sides with the future protagonists.
    The accident serves here as a transition and justifies leaving the car behind. The timing of that sequence is probably not purely by chance. First Naughty Dog had illustrated all the themes they could from inside the car, and second the attention span of test players was probably waning beyond that point. Notice however the subtle and progressive introduction of infected in the world. The first one, inside Joel’s office comes in when they may yet be taken for humans, and as an element of a cinematic, it offers no challenge to the player. The second, in this car sequence, attacked other survivors and when posing an immediate threat to Sarah, was stopped by Tommy driving away. The third, much closer view comes in as a direct consequence of the car crash. These three progressive introductions of the game’s main antagonist are a textbook example of exposition that allows players to fully grasp the concept of the infected before having to deal with them. Many games fail to present enemies that way, instead relying on one-shot cinematics with poorly explained antics and backstory. The fact these enemies can’t talk and explain themselves pushed Naughty Dog to work them this way into the game, to great effect.
    Combat Tutorial First introduction of the « Square » button for combat. As a rule, tutorials are better introduced when players attention span can be solely directed at the mechanic in question. Here, the tension resulting from the car accident and the sight of the infected nearby focuses the player’s attention on the tutorial for maximum effectiveness. Instead of breaking the immersion of the scene, this tutorial actually flows inside it, and players never question it. Naughty Dog’s choice for minimal UI invasion on the screen really pays off here.
    Chase sequence Introducing Joel for the first time as a playable character (and the main protagonist) in the middle of a stressful situation could have been a risky proposal, which Naughty Dog managed to make work by taking away all combat (automatic death if caught by infected and gun given away to Tommy). Sarah, who would have trailed behind and become a center of attention for players is reunited with her dad after getting hurt in the accident. All of these moves act as perfect justification to have players only ever care about their own character. The only action required of the player is to dodge pedestrians, which is exactly the best activity to learn to control a brand new character. The use of a car that crashes into the gas station is a bit of a cliché by now, but remains a very strong justification for sending the player to the right, and have a couple invisible walls across the other streets. It remains better than a simple static object across the street and infinitely better than nothing at all.
    The firemen truck across the street serves both as justification for the fire raging in the building next door, and as a way to direct the player to the car crash about to block the street off. This second instance however occurs much closer to the player, increasing tension further, and culminating with stopping in front of the theater beyond. This “three strikes” approach to game design is rampant through most games these days, and certainly The Last of Us, for instance during the combat tutorial (three square button presses to leave the car) and is a sort of golden number first generalized by Nintendo.
    The use of audio after the third street blockage is mandatory given the exit is not readily apparent within a 45 degree field of view on either side of the theater. In third person games, presenting exits within this 90 degree angle is generally considered a safe choice to have players flow, on consoles at least where the FOV is usually limited more than on PC games. For instance, this was the rule we followed when designing Prince of Persia in 2008.
    In the alley and through to the other side, great use if not subtle of lighting to direct players to the left, and first use of the yellow color on all directional and interactive hints, which we’ll see later in the first level. We’ll find the same use for the ambulance down below, which strong red lights contrast easily with the night, and even the wind indicating the sense of direction. The headlights serve as guidance too of course, much like the hurt survivor on the ground.
        This is the first article in a three-part series. Part One / Part Two / Part Three

  • DM-Helium by Chris '2d-chris' Kay

    Congratulations! While no prizes were planned, Chris will receive a special winner's T-shirt for his efforts. It's truly a gorgeous map, although it's in good company as all entries were of a high standard. The community has some great maps to play on right here, and I've no doubt that we'll be seeing more of them in playtests and on servers.

    The challenge was fascinating to watch, with the filled with shots of the in-development maps and — perhaps more importantly — members helping one another to create some sweet Unreal Engine 4 levels. In fact, this part of the challenge was so interesting to follow as a non-participant that we're going to try and make the in-development phase of future challenges more prominent by following the progress with articles taking a look at how things are going.

    The official Unreal Tournament site picked up on our challenge by talking about it for a few minutes at the beginning of the challenge, and while they briefly acknowledged the end of the challenge in a more recent stream they're apparently still checking out all the maps and will be featuring them more shortly — so stay tuned for that!

    I'd like to thank everyone for their involvement, and I sincerely hope that everyone had a good time experimenting with an engine iteration that's still new to most people. Be sure to head over to the to check out and download all of the levels!

    We don't mess around at MapCore and want to get one more event in before the year ends, so we're going to be kicking off a Quake 3 contest very soon — this time with substantial prizes, just to spice things up a bit! Hang tight for details about that.

  • Oilá! You recently released your very impressive “Sampa” scene for UE4. What gave you this idea? Hello! I already had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to work on as a new personal project: a near-future city with architectural influences from the cities of Sao Paulo and Tokyo (among other sources).
    I didn't settle for a specific city or country in order to have total creative freedom though.
     
        You made everything from scratch. It would be very interesting to go through your entire process for creating “Sampa”. Could you walk us through it? Of course! But before we start, I want to add that this is by no means a how to guide on how to make environments but more of a general breakdown of my process and the many lessons I learned during this production.
    Blockout
    The very first thing I did was to blockout the entire space in 3ds max. I didn't want to spend too much time on this, so I avoided thinking too much about how I would build this and instead just focused on making cool shapes. By importing everything as one single file into the engine, I could quickly check out how the map looked ingame.
     

     
    As game artists, we tend to get too technical so modeling blockouts is a great exercise to let creative juices flow freely and focus on art and gameplay. This blockout also enabled me to get the correct scale from the start which is very important when working on urban environments. I always work with a scale model from the ingame character inside my modeling program, this way I can quickly check how high a door handle or a handrail should be for example. The blockout level took me about 3 days to complete and even though the final scene looks nothing like it several ideas did make it into the final level, including geometry pieces.
     

     
    Production
    The initial production phase for this environment was in fact the hardest part that I went through. I started to seriously question if I would be able to realize the full blockout in a timely manner. Learning how to work with PBR materials also took a bit longer than I had anticipated.
    I initially explored making every building uniquely on top of my blockout, but after working for days on a single building I decided to go for a mix of unique geometry and modular "lego pieces". I made sure all my unique pieces fit the same grid as my modular pieces so I could mix and match different pieces to get more variation easily.
     

     
    Mood
    One of the things that was very clear in my mind when I started this environment was that I wanted it to take place early in the evening and leverage indirect lighting and ambient occlusion more than harsh shadows. With this in mind, the basic mood was one of the first things I set up in Unreal. Some people like to do this at the end of a project and while it might be more time consuming to do it as you go (since you will probably be noodling quite a lot more!), this enabled me to learn Unreal's post processing system much better and in the end I managed to get the exact mood I was looking for.
     
    Some of the lighting iterations
    At this point I was pretty much certain on what style to go for and how to build this level so I spent the next weeks building modular pieces and small test scenes.
     
    Materials & Textures
    This scene makes heavy use of tiling textures, one big generic trim sheet and a few unique textures. I struggled a bit with PBR materials at the beginning (as was expected) but eventually got the hang of it, and while my materials were not looking stellar they did the job for a while…
     

    Some material examples
     
    Normal maps were created for each asset as I saw fit. Some of them were baked from high poly models from 3ds max, some were sculpted in Zbrush and some were made entirely with nDo. Normal maps are even more important these days than they used to be, since PBR relies heavily on good normal mapping for lighting. Gone are the days where details had to be faked in the diffuse and specular maps.
     

    Sidewalk sculpt
     
    At one point I finally decided that my materials were lacking definition and fine detail and started experimenting with the new Quixel Suite tools. I fell in love with dDo immediately because it gave me exactly what I wanted: Great material bases. I could just add my flavor on top of them.
    My process with dDo usually goes like this: I create an ID map to define all the different materials in the texture. I then apply a few basic presets (which give you perfectly calibrated Roughness/Metalness/Albedo values) and once I'm happy with the base I add my own hand-painted details. This proved to be a win-win situation, as it made my materials look much more believable and I was also able to reuse 100% of all the hand-painted layers I had done on the old textures.
     

     
    A comparison of the original sidewalk texture (made by hand) vs the dDo version
    Tip: You can get much sharper looking textures in Unreal by changing the “Mip Gen Settings” to Sharpen under the textures’ Level Of Detail settings (double-click a texture map to access this).
    Working with PBR can be pretty daunting, especially when it comes to metals, so I definitely recommend exploring dDo or some other automatization tool for texture production, even if you have to tweak them heavily to match your style.
     
    Material Instances
    One of the best features of the Unreal Engine is that you can create Material Instances very easily from regular materials. These instances are much easier to work with and save you a lot of time setting up new materials since you don’t have to build a node network everytime you need a new material. One extra benefit of using Instances, is that you can also fine tune your materials much faster because changing instanced parameters don't force a shader reload, whereas saving a regular material does.
     

    A simple material with Albedo, Roughness/Metallic/AO and Normal map support. Original material on the left vs material instance on the right.
     
    I didn't want to create one big material to fit all my needs (not very performance friendly), so every time I created a new material type I also made sure that it could be used for instances.
     
    Some of the material bases I created
    Architecture_Parallax_3Layers: A material with parallax mapping support, mostly used for windows.

     
    The actual Parallax node network is pretty simple:

     
    Asphalt: This special material uses World Space mapping with a "stain" texture multiplied on top for large scale details. This material was later reused on a "Wet" version (described below) for the roads.

     
    Architecture_Wet_Dirty: This material uses vertex colors to blend the base material with two other materials: A "dirty" version of the albedo map and a flat 100% reflective material (to simulate water puddles). Explaining what each individual node does is beyond the scope of this article so I'll just leave the shader network here:

     
    The wet material in action:

     
    Creating Variation With Symmetry
    You can create lots of variations quickly using symmetry. The AC kit consists of two base pieces and several variations created with the Symmetry modifier in 3ds Max:

     
    I also used this trick to make more variations out of this Storefront:

     
    Lighting & Post-Processing
    To light this map I used standard lightmaps. While making fully dynamically lit environments in Unreal 4 is a possibility I found that the performance loss is not worth the time saved by not baking lightmaps.
    I kept the lighting simple, contrasting small "gold" light sources with the ambient blue color. Instead of lighting the level as a whole, I created several "small" scenes. This makes the level look less "art directed" and more like a real city would. I also placed some strategic light sources to highlight the wet look in some areas. While I imagine this kind of "wet" look will be abused until everyone hates it in the near future I kept it very simple and restricted to where it made sense and would look good.
     

    Carefully placed water puddles close to strong light sources
     
    When it comes to Post-Processing, I like to keep image adjustments outside the engine to a minimum. I really took the time to tweak the exposure values to get a good range of details in shadows and also to avoiding bright areas being way too bright. This can be accomplished by a combination of tweaking exposure and Tint/Contrast settings under a Global Post Process volume.
    One of the last steps to finalizing this scene was to bring a few screenshots into Photoshop, tweak the levels and saturation values until they were exactly what I wanted, and then create a lookup table for the color correction. However, for some reason I was getting horrible banding with the color correction enabled, so in the end I just placed my screenshots from Photoshop next to the viewport and tweaked the post-process values until both of them looked exactly the same.
     
    Wrapping Up
    This is the 10% part of the process that makes everything look 200% better. During this phase, I created small interest areas and dressed them with props, particles and decals. I also scavenged several pieces from unfinished scenes and from my initial blockout. One of the examples is the News Stand which I just polished the geometry from the blockout and applied final materials on it:
     

    Again, never discard any ideas/assets, you never know when they might come in handy!
     

    The light glows are simple particle emitters consisting of two emitters: A regular "round" glow and a horizontally scaled one to simulate anamorphic flares.
     
    Example of decal usage:

     
    Some of the pieces used in the level:

     
    Now that was a very detailed break down. I’m sure people will really benefit from the information you just shared. Thank you for that! In the beginning of this interview you said that you learned a lot of lessons during the production of this scene. Could you share those as well? Yes, I learned quite a few lessons with this project. Namely:
    Modeling a blockout level without thinking too much about clean geometry or precise dimensions enabled me to focus purely on art and architecture instead of processes and tools. Never underestimate how much time consuming it is to make current gen art. My initial blockout turned out to be way too ambitious for the amount of time and resources I had for this piece. Never discard any ideas! Several pieces I made for the blockout level were actually polished later on to be used in the final level. Don't try to find a one rule that fits all when it comes to asset production. As long as you work with reasonable dimensions that adhere to the grid you can mix unique and modular pieces easily. The same applies for using Unique or Tiling textures, find a balance to use either where it makes sense. Don't think twice about pausing work on something when you feel you are noodling too much or if it isn't going anywhere. It's usually better to trust your instincts than trying to make up for the "wasted" time by forcing yourself to finish it. Don't be a dinosaur and embrace progress! My initial reason for not using dDo at first was because I thought that all my textures would look the same but this is not the case if you use it wisely. A texture artist needs to be versed in several different tools to get good materials. Don't stick to just one, explore all options to find the one that’s best suited for each specific situation. There's no such thing as wasted time or wasted work. Even if imperceptible at first, every time you work on something you are making progress towards being a better, more experienced artist. Most of the time this means working on "failed" projects. But if you really think about it they are not failures at all as we learn both from mistakes and from the things we get right. Several ideas that I spent hours and hours on didn't make it to the final level but that's fine. In the end, they gave me a broader perspective at environment creation which enabled me to make the right choices towards the end of the project. Fun fact: I've been trying to make this environment for over a year now, exploring several ideas before. I'd say this is the third iteration of this idea and the good thing is that in the end, with a bit of polish, I managed to use most of the stuff I made for the previous iterations. This is a bit cliché but very important: Don't be afraid of making stuff. Work on a lot of crap and only show what's worthy showing (usually a small percentage of what you make). That's the only way to find your own style and gain confidence in your abilities.  
    Very motivational and inspiring Minos. I’m sure it will be appreciated. Before we wrap this up I have to ask about something terrible that happened. Something unforgivable (even though the above makes up for it but just a bit). There’s an Polycount logo in scene but Hurg is missing. What blasphemy is this? Haha! Yeah my mistake… While polishing the assets for the final version I removed the Mapcore sign from the building I was using it on (so that not every instance in the map had the sign) and completely forgot to add it back while rushing to finish the scene. I only noticed that when I was publishing the video.
     
    It’s really a shame because that logo looked awesome in the level!
    Just kidding Minos. I think everybody will agree that the time you took to write this down will be appreciated by and helpful to all (aspiring) designers. So in short, thank you again. Thanks for the opportunity Sprony and I hope you guys learned a thing or two with this!
    Fly-through of the scene on YouTube Minos' portfolio  




  • Designed by professional designer Arthur de Padua (AKA Thurnip), the new logo was developed over a period of many months and incorporates some of the successful themes that came up during the logo design contest we had some time ago. Unlike the existing logo which only existed as a low-resolution render, this one is perfectly crisp and comes in numerous formats suitable for print — allowing us to finally offer high-quality merchandise.

    So, head over to the MapCore store if you want to show your MapCorian allegiance in public! All items come as a 'Regular Edition' (no profit for MapCore) and 'Donation Edition' (£5 profit that goes towards MapCore hosting/development costs).

    We're currently offering a small but carefully designed selection of products. Once we make sure everything's running OK and we don't need to change vendor for whatever reason, more products will be added. We'll also soon be adding a way for you to donate while receiving a small token of appreciation (e.g. a sticker that can be bought for £5, £10, or £20) for those who want to support us but don't necessarily need or want a T-shirt, etc.

    If you buy anything, be sure to post some photos for us to look at! I have some orders on the way, so will create a thread for such snaps if nobody else beats me to it. If you'd love to buy something but the item you want isn't available, don't hesitate to leave a comment or get in touch with me — I'm happy to build up the products based upon what people want.

  • The first map-pack for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) was launched by Valve in the Spring of 2013. It was called Operation: Payback, and consisted exclusively of community-created maps. I'm often asked about my experience as a map-maker whose work was featured in the promotion. And just recently the sequel to Operation: Payback was launched — Operation: Bravo.
    What's the objective of these "Operations"? I would describe them as Valve’s way of supporting custom mappers. If you've ever purchased a map-pack DLC for games like Call of Duty, you sort of know the drill... but the crucial difference between a typical commercial DLC and what Valve is doing, is monetary proceeds from each Operation go to community members. And community members are making some serious coin: well over $180,000 dollars was raised throughout Operation: Payback’s five-month season. That's a HUGE reward for mappers, which is having a real impact on our lives. Any fan of gaming and game development done the right way should not miss their chance to support Operation: Bravo.
     

     
    But what if you don’t play CS:GO?
    First, I would suggest you give the game a shot, since that’s the only way you’ll get a chance to check out my newest maps, which (full disclosure!) were included in Bravo. CS:GO is typical Counter-Strike: it's really addicting... in a good way! Secondly, Operation: Bravo means more than just eight brand-new maps for people to play. Historically, Valve has always tried to provide a financial incentive for artists and designers to make custom content for their games (we saw this in Team Fortress 2 for instance, where some folks were taking home as much as $100,000 yearly just from making hats). At this point, it’s clear that you can earn money by making stuff for Valve titles. What might not be obvious is how bold Operation: Bravo actually is, even compared to what we've seen before.
    Bravo is intimately connected to the case-drop system recently unveiled for CS:GO. What that means is that by buying a Bravo pass, you increase your likelihood of obtaining cases which can be opened to obtain rare items, or simply sold on the marketplace for a profit. At initial launch, Bravo cases were going for as much as thirty dollars. It sounds ridiculous, but it seems likely that for most players, Bravo will tend to pay for itself. Welcome to Steam-land!
     

     
    Valve's unprecedented support for custom content is a big reason why I wanted to get heavily involved with mapping for the new Counter-Strike, even before I knew much about the game. I was confident that big things were on the way. But Valve — and the community — delivered beyond my expectations. So, why should you join thousands of others in supporting Operation: Bravo? I think there are three key reasons:
     
    1) As graphics get exponentially better, custom content becomes that much more challenging to create. More knowledge, experience, and personal sacrifices are required of designers and artists.
     
    2) In the past, innovators have created some of your favorite maps and games.
     
    3) Valve is paying close attention. Send them the unambiguous signal that you will support their newest effort to reward content creators.
     
    As for myself, I'm in law school. At my school, students should budget for a debt load in the area of $60,000. So far, thanks to Valve and the community’s generosity, I have received almost $18,000, putting a serious dent in my debt. By the end of this year, thanks to Bravo, that figure is likely to grow substantially...
    From a designer's point of view, from the moment that my map was included in Operation: Payback back in April, it instantly attained a higher public profile than ever before and received more play than ever before (including substantial play from CS:GO's developers -- which is pretty special). It's difficult to describe the stress, fascination, and thrill you experience watching a crowd of gamers running around a level you created. Basically, it made me prouder than ever to do what I do.
    I was also incredibly grateful that Operation: Payback enabled me to reward the artists (3Dnj and penE) that I had collaborated with. Because of the well-known Counter-Strike brand name, as well as the money I earned, I was also able to include my friends and family in my creative endeavors more than ever before. All the kindness shown by Valve, the community, and folks sending me Steam messages of congratulations and enthusiasm (and yes, questions about how much I earned) was both touching and invigorating. Now I'm dreaming about levels more than even I'm accustomed to.
     

     
    So, that's my perspective... but keep in mind I'm just one of the people this promotion uplifted. I hope you agree that Operation: Bravo empowers the community and provides serious income (not to mention resume pedigree) for map-makers. In closing, please consider supporting Operation: Bravo!

  • Making a Map: CS_Museum

    By FMPONE, in Development,

    The creation of a map begins with an idea.
    In the case of my most recent project, CS_MUSEUM, I needed a basic look which would resonate with players immediately. The thought of making a Museum worked… it was a simple one, it had been done before (although this wouldn't be a re-make of the classic DE_MUSEUM by Theropod-X). Players would understand a Museum environment, and it fit in the Counter-Strike world.
    Forming a map’s final look is complicated, though, and requires thought about what kind of architecture, colors, and lighting you – an artist or level designer – will pursue.
    I’d been playing a lot of the classic map CS_OFFICE, which requires players to storm into close quarters for indoor combat. That kind of game-play is fast and unforgiving, I dig the kind of matches it creates. CS_ASSAULT, I shouldn't forget to mention, is another great map that defines the "siege a building and rescue the hostages" genre. Actually, most of my favorite CS_ maps including Militia also foster similarly dynamic games that challenge you to be sneaky but also use brute force to accomplish your objectives.
    So, I set out to make a hostage rescue map like Office and its kin. Studying prior maps is a good way to establish what works well, and avoid what doesn't.
    One other map that influenced my thinking: CS_CABARET by Alex Roycewicz.
    Cabaret is a great map — it got Alex a job at Infinity Ward long prior to that illustrious studio being kicked in the nuts super hard by mega-publisher-that-will-remain-unnamed.
    It was from Cabaret that I basically ripped off the front of Museum... with a few changes.
    In truth, though, I had some bones to pick with Cabaret.
    Unforgivably, there was no sense of vertical space on the outside of the strip club. Also, while the building exterior is convincingly rendered, the overall space is too geometric: everything seems to face the viewer on an imaginary grid, which is no coincidence, that’s how the Hammer editor encourages people to make maps.
    Cabaret on the grid:
    Museum screws the grid:
    If this analysis is starting to sound harsh, it’s worth noting that Cabaret was one of the best custom maps of its time, so this is more of a modern critique of older game art.
    As is often the case with older game art, most of the limitations or flaws obvious to modern eyes were not the creator’s fault: Hammer around the era of Counter-Strike: Source (for which Cabaret was made) did not have all the technology I made use of for Museum. One example is “instances” (the pale green elements in the overview above) which are brushwork more akin to models than typical brushwork, because they can be rotated “off the grid” and not cause compilation problems normally associated with brushwork which is off the grid. Thanks to instances, I was able to rotate buildings to achieve a more natural, organic look — such as this bridge:
    In order to actually create the specific buildings in the map, concept art and photographic references were key.
    Here's an explanation of the Museum front.
    End product:
    First iteration:
    Reference photograph:
    The most pertinent point to make here is the difficulty of knowing when a photographic reference is valuable, and what makes it valuable. To explain this in extreme detail might be delving into an area of “talent”... or it might be worth the subsequent explanation I’ll now provide. In any case, this should explain my process.
    The best photographic references share one crucial element: readability. Complex buildings such as the one above, if they are to be useful for our purposes, must be able to be broken down into clean, clear shapes. I was confident using the logic explored in the line-work above (I did this part in my head), that the building could be broken down and translated successfully.
    The building begins to take shape, with the red lines becoming props. When using Hammer, what becomes a prop and what remains brushwork largely comes down to the default assets you have to work with.
    Talented 3D modelers have their choice of creating new content, but their time is precious and each art asset is an investment, so even then it’s best to think about default materials and their role in your work.
    This lovely picture inspired the placement of the obelisks, and secondarily the pond on the right of the Museum.
    Using concept art and photos in conjunction with my imagination, I had derived a basic visual identity for the map:
    Obvious reference: the Brooklyn bridge; non-obvious reference, this lovely piece from Deviant Art:
    Making a map is about looking at the world around you and seeing something inspiring enough to create a desire within you to render it and mold it for your own purposes.
    By this point in time you may be shouting IT’S A MAP – TALK ABOUT THE GAME-PLAY, TALK ABOUT THE GREY-BOXING YOU FOOL! …and, while the playability of Museum ended up better than I could have imagined, there is no glory in my process for that particular aspect of the map. Uh oh, he’s gonna say he didn’t grey-box it, isn’t he…
    First, the excuses: previously, I'd recreated the Natural Selection 1 map NS_VEIL for NS2, based solely upon my own literal eyeballing of the geometry, without any scale-guide, in a different editor and a different unit system. To put all that gibberish into other words, I’d done nothing for two months other than study the rigid grey-boxery of another mapper, then spent another 10 months making that geometry fit into the context of a new game and engine. I’d worked with fastidiously organized layers, done everything by the book, guv, I swear.
    While important for a commercial product, that experience had temporarily tired me somewhat of the (smarter) formalistic approach. As a result, no substantial grey-boxing would take place for Museum. Manic energy took the place of “rules” and “common sense”:
      Basically, I was creating stuff I thought looked cool, not getting terribly fussed about what direction it would all head. This is the way newbie mappers work, or idiots, or both… but it can be done if you’re smart about it.
    Certain things can’t be bullshitted around, though: your map must be in proper proportion to the players, and it must maintain sensible sight-lines considering the game type. You need to know the game you’re making the map for, and know it well.
    So working free-form has its advantages, creating a whimsical sense of liberation in the budding mapper. It comes at big costs to him, though, in other aspects. This open doorway, and the entire route it signified, never made it into the final product. People have noticed its conspicuous absence, however, to the point that it may make it's return soon enough.
    Working toward a result, with certain restraints in mind, but willing to cut: my method for Museum.
    Mistakes were made. Certain areas violated basic good-practice principles, such as this one:
    I call this piece of modern art “Abstract Red Light Number 48.” So… this elevator shaft was painful for a few reasons: too noisy inside, not clear enough about what it was meant to be, and the idea of it having a purpose seemed impossible given the amount of crap stuffed into the scene.
    I believe I settled on a better, cleaner result:
    Which was based off of this reference:
    This shipping area was another idea that got cut (considering that it was over-dark, this was not too sad):
    Based on:
    Everything else seemed to go swimmingly, however:
          My biggest advantage when working with these references is my ability — and perhaps your ability as well — to discern from them what elements are most relevant and work best geometrically. These judgements influence what makes it into the map. While you may be able to follow a similar protocol by examining the pictures, you would be doing so in hindsight; it was quite necessary during this project for me to be able to sift through literally thousands of images in order to find those which, at first glance, provided the requisite inspiration.
    References must be clean, they must convey a certain tone, and the architecture they illustrate must be plausible among the rest of the map geometry. This process of looking through seemingly endless references is a task which must be begun anew with every new map.
    Back on topic: a month or two after starting out on the map, I recruited a talented 2D artist named penE who had a style congruent with mine. With his help, rooms like this began to form their own identity:
    The map began to develop a sense of humor. We based the name of the museum on HURG — Hero of MapCore! (Don't ask.)
    PenE brought his full enthusiasm to the project, getting almost all of his work done in a month or so, a rapid pace which would be a major motivator for me while I was working with (read: waging war against) the Hammer editor.
    Here is a sample of penE's work for the map:
      Nevertheless, the map did seem to require more art…
    I had envisioned a T-Rex in the above room, and had designed the room around that eventuality. I was concerned that such a 3D model might not fit well (it’s a relatively cramped room), or might not be appropriate looking, but I put out a call for a talented 3D artist.
    3Dnj answered that call with a stunning T-Rex model based on square-shaped geometric restraints. I basically stacked a bunch of cubes on top of one another and said, “OK now make me a T-Rex that fits inside the squares.” Seems hopeless, right? Thankfully, Valentin, as 3Dnj is known, e-mailed me this bad boy:
        Owns right? Imagine waking up and seeing that first image of the T-Rex with that brilliant sheen, I was ecstatic.
    At that point I realized I’d found a true collaborator and not just a “prop guy”. Valentin would go on to help me optimize the map, and reform a lot of my map geometry into more sensible models. Here’s how crazy things had gotten:
    Hammer is unlike a modeling program in that it is “brush-based”, and things that are not literally six-sided cubes give the editor trouble. Trying to create an interesting shape out of a single brush? Take a hike.
    So it’s obvious why a more extensive collaboration was needed: it was never going to be realistic to proceed in such a manner and expect an optimized result which would (ugh) compile. Hence, the logic of making a map which looks the way Cabaret does, unfortunately all the same limitations applied more or less in 2012, with just a few exceptions like instances.
    So there were technical challenges, but four months on, most of the major lessons of the map were learned and my vision for the map was realized almost exactly as it existed in my brain.
    My workflow can be best summarized as: find a fitting photographic reference, get a basic interpretation of the geometry into the game, and then polish with aesthetics and navigation in mind (lead players with lights and colors).
    Phase 1:
    Phase 2:
    Phase 3:
    Rather than attempt to convince you I pursued the traditional level-design approach of iterating a grey-box, I hope this document serves to explain the approach I actually took: a risky and improvisational one that I know I’m lucky was successful. It’s good to state how lucky: a layout that emerged without argument, finding two brilliant collaborators with a lot of faith in the project, etc. Hopefully anyone looking to duplicate my exact method will be given pause, but at the end of the day there will always be logic in working hard and having a well-formed mental image of your goal.
    As for Museum, I can promise you one thing: if you load up the map, and I hope you will, I think you will enjoy it. (If only for the giant, motherfucking Tyrannosaurus Rex.)
    Thanks for reading.

  • The following breakdown is based on my own guesses and how I understand the game from the textures and meshes I have watched. I can't tell you exactly if I'm right or wrong since I'm not a developer of the game. However, I believe I'm rational enough to think that most of what I say is close to what the developers have done. The purpose of this breakdown is educational and the work presented here belongs to its respective authors.
     
    Anvil engine The Anvil Engine is a proprietary game engine used by Ubisoft's game projects for a few years now (the first game using it came out in 2007). We can call the Anvil Engine a next-gen engine since games for the previous console generation (like the Playstation 2) were using the Jade Engine at Ubisoft. The first project using this engine was the first Assassin's Creed game. Its initial engine name was Scimitar (before the release of the first game). Today, eight games are using this engine.
    The engine has since been updated with Assassin's creed III under the name 'AnvilNext'. Mostly to support the new game challenges and configurations that we have today and probably to be ready with the future game consoles coming along.
     
    Atlas and batching As with every open world and/or huge city, you have to deal with a very high number of resources. Mostly to keep the player in a fresh world and avoid repetitions. Games over the years have used various techniques to get past this problem. One of them is to reuse any resources that you have created. Creating a texture for only one object in this type of environment can be a problem in term of memory footprint. So reusing a texture will allow you to keep you memory low in size. Pretty obvious, however it's a hard balance that you have to deal with: diversity versus quantity.
     

     
    The size of the memory is not the only problem that you will meet; the number of drawcalls is also very important. As a reminder, a drawcall is a call to the API (the functions of the GPU to draw a set of primitives). For each frame that you render, you have a certain number of drawcalls. Each time you call the API to draw something it takes a given time, regardless of what you want to draw. So you want to be sure to reduce these calls to avoid any loss of performance (taking too much time to draw a frame will reduce your number of frames per second).
    Each time you change a mesh for a new one you will create a new drawcall, because for the engine it's not the same geometry. This rule applies for the shaders too. If you change the shader, you don't render the same thing, so you have to change the way you render it. This means a new API call.
     

     
    A common solution to this is to batch your calls. 'Batching' means to group some meshes together before calling the API to draw them. This is why it takes less time to render a big mesh than multiple small meshes. How to batch these meshes if chosen by the engine, there is no best rule for this and it depends a lot of what you want to draw. In the case of the Anvil engine, you are focused on drawing large and open spaces. The best way to improve the performance in this case is probably to batch per shader. So each geometry using the same shader will be sent together to be rendered. This way, reusing textures will allow you to batch a lot of things and gain a lot of time.
     
      So using atlas textures (multiple textures merged as one) will be a great benefit: you will reduce your memory footprint and you will use only one shader for multiple objects showing different things. Assassin's Creed II uses this system a lot for the environment and the characters.   Since we evolve in cities, some houses are often similar, it is logical to find the same design multiple times. Which means that reusing a texture would not shock the player. It will even help for the visual consistency of the level. However, I believe that the engine was not perfect and due to some performance problems (maybe because of the dynamic lighting) they limited the number of textures. In Venice for example, you have an average of 1500/2000 textures in memory (including everything: sky, water, normal maps, shadows, characters and so on).
     
     
    Texture design
    What do the textures look like exactly? In this game, textures for the walls are often around 512 x 512 pixels. Details, ornaments, water use 256 x 256 pixels most of the time. For example, the roof texture is only 256 x 256, but the tilling is so well made that it doesn't gene at all.
    However, these textures being very tiny, the developers used vertex painting to blend details and break the repetition. Since there are almost no specular reflections in the game (probably to strengthen the feeling of the walls are made of bricks and dirt) the vertex painting masks are stored in the alpha channel of the diffuse texture. As you can see in the second screenshot below, the alpha mask uses very defined greyscales, probably because they separate each level of grey as a separate filter.
     

    The textures are very bright, and we feel that in-game: the overall lighting is itself very luminous.

     
    Levels of details Dealing with an open world means dealing with a very long view distance. Therefore, the farther you see, the more you need to draw. Unfortunately you are limited by the hardware (especially on consoles) and you will have to use some LODs (level of detail). The developers have chosen to let the LODs 'pop'; this means no blending transitions between them, which is visually ugly since you notice the change.
     
     
    The environment collisions are dissociated from the visuals mesh. Probably because you can more quickly hide/disable the collisions of the environment since they are not visually displayed on the screen. This explains why forcing the LODs of the environment allows you to... climb the void!
     
        On the PC version, you can increase the minimum distance for when the environment starts to blend (which is something like 40/50 meters if you blend at the furthest possible distance). It's also interesting to note that some props like barrels, crates and other little things are independent of the global LOD distance. It seems that some props are linked to the LOD of the building mostly because they are at the roof level, while props in the street have their own blend distance.
     


     
    Characters Pedestrians in Assassin's Creed are based on modular characters. The developers use a set of heads which are combined with hands and different clothes. While the hand and heads have their own details and colours, the clothes are just a totally grey shared texture (except for the letter) and coloured in the shader to add variety in the game. They also add a detail texture to break the linearity of the clothes and bring up some fine details. Characters have also their own LODs.
     
      During a presentation at GDC 2008 about the first Assassin's Creed, Francois Levesque (a technical director on the game) explained their pipeline to produce a lot of different characters without losing too much time. They used a base head which blends to fit to the high-res character. This way they automatically get the LOD mesh at the same time since the meshes always shared the same topology. The only update to do was for the position of the bones on the top of the vertex to keep their skin deformation.
    Since meshes and UVs are similar, it's easier to manage and create a crowd dynamically. So there are maybe 5–10 different clothes and then the game dynamically creates a character to add it in the game scene. In the first Assassin's Creed, characters had 2 LODs, which meant 3 meshes per character. In Assassin's Creed II it's the same thing. However it seems that the clothes and the head don't blend at the same time. Probably because they don't have the same space occupied on the screen. So the heads go to their first LOD mesh sooner.
    You can see some examples on zBrushCentral with the base mesh topology and also the topology of some bodies used by the game.
     
        Lighting The Anvil engine is an engine developed to mostly show open environments. With the development on this second opus, they wanted to add a day-and-night cycle. To achieve this they naturally chose the cascaded shadow maps technique (more exactly, Parallel-Split Shadow Maps as described in a GameDev.net forum thread) which even today is the best way to draw a unified shadow on such big environments.
     

     
    There is no Global illumination at all, it's mostly only a main directional light (the Sun) combined with an ambient colour which evolves during the day. Some interiors like the tombs present localised point lights; there are also some point lights which are enabled during the night.
     

      However, regarding the performance, they were obliged to use a very low resolution and a blend distance. This explains why you see a lot of blurred pixels on the ground/walls for the shadow. This is also why you so clearly see the blending of the shadow from one level to another.
     

     
    Some shaders use the Fresnel term to enhance the looking of the character clothes a bit, but most of the time they simply use direct lighting without complex shaders (again, because it was very expensive). There is no fake sub-surface scattering (SSS) for the characters, even during the cinematics. The SSS only comes in with Assassin's Creed: Revelations and will be improved for Assassin's Creed III.
     
          Conclusion Assassin's Creed II was a really good improvement compared to the first game, however it looks like the engine faced a lot of new constraints which were not totally well handled. The way the LODs appear and the nice but still limited quality of the lighting are good examples of that. Even on modern computers today the game gets some slow-down in certain places.
    The engine was improved for the next game iterations and increased the amount of details and the quality of its lighting to finally show beautiful cities as we can see in Assassin's Creed III today.

  • When a developer creates something that they feel proud of, it usually involves a large amount of time, energy and emotional investment. It is not uncommon for people to pour their heart and soul into something creative and then feel overly sensitive afterwards when confronted with a stranger's opinion.
    Understanding what type of feedback is being offered can help you get past defensive feelings and realize that feedback is about helping to improve something, not hinder it.
     
    "Yeah your game is awesome!" Receiving compliments about something that you have worked on for a long period of time is great. Apart from the feel good factor, Candy feedback can also lead to other people being curious enough to want to try the game as well.
    The best type of Candy feedback is when it is specific about something in the game and that is usually a good indication that the game is going in the right direction.
     
    "Why does it work that way?" Questions are always good feedback because it is someone trying to understand why it works. This is the perfect opportunity for you to learn how to express your ideas in a way that others can easily understand. When someone initially asks a question they usually have further feedback, but they don't know how to express it yet and need more information.
    Always remember there is no stupid question and answer politely because it will often lead to feedback that has been thought about over a long period of time.
     

     
    "Your game sucks!" Nobody wants to hear negative comments and it can be really easy to take this the wrong way. Feedback posted in anger is about frustration and lack of understanding. You need to put on your detective cap and find out why, be polite and ask simple questions. Why? What? How?
    Remember to keep your replies free of emotions and to the point, if this is someone who genuinely does not understand it will often lead to good feedback because their problem was so frustrating that it drove them to comment!
     
    "Your game is good, but..." Usually starts with a good compliment to break the ice, quickly moves onto the feedback and then sometimes a solution to fix it! The perfect feedback is when someone has logically thought through a problem, able to explain themselves and give a possible solution.
    Thinker feedback is often referred to as constructive criticism and is the easiest type of feedback to understand because the thinker is direct and to the point, they want to improve the game.
     

     
    "No comment" There is nothing more frustrating than ‘no comment'; I would take a hundred angry people shouting feedback at me any day of the week than wondering why no one has made a comment.
    Besides access problems (lack of login id, restrictive websites and foreign language) the lack of comments often stems from social convention that if you got nothing positive to say, then say nothing. At least a negative comment can lead to change, ‘no comment' leads to nothing.
    If you are defensive and angry towards feedback eventually no one will comment and this is not where anyone wants to be. Try to engage people with questions, get people involved in the process of creation and most importantly accept all kinds of feedback without prejudice.
     

     
    "This game feature is so stupid!" Fanatically feedback is ultimately positive because it can highlight really obvious problems that should be fixed. Passionate fans of games get a bad deal when compared to sports fans because they are so vocal.
    Having someone engaged and wanting to be heard is the perfect starting point for a conversation and once all the feedback has been broken down into facts it can often highlight the most obvious problems that are overlooked because most developers don't think like new players.
     
    Conclusion Feedback is something that should be embraced because it can take a game in new directions and add features that were obvious to new players. Looking past the emotion of Internet feedback will stop you from getting upset when someone is not being subtle with their thoughts. Posting stuff on the internet is about asking for feedback and expecting only good comments all of the time is naive. The best kind of feedback is pointing out things that are wrong because then your game will improve rather than just be ‘no comment'.

  • 109.123.124.138:27080 | MapCore - The Home of Hurg

    We'll be enjoying de_icebourne (Psy) and cs_siege_go (3Dnj and moroes) tonight at 7pm GMT. Simply download the maps and turn up!

    If you'd like to have your map tested on the server, get in touch with Psy or reply in the We'll also be introducing a special playtest forum soon, where people can arrange playtests for CS:GO and of course any other game.

    There's a lot of interest in CS:GO mapping on MapCore, not too surprising considering that Counter-Strike mapping provided the foundation for the community in the first place. Why not get involved and enjoy having your maps playtested and criticised by MapCore's mighty crew?

    Update: cs_siege_go will also be playtested tonight, download link above has been updated.

  • Tell us a little about yourself. Where do you live, and what's your day job? Oh man. I unfortunately live in Rochester NY (no its not driving distance from NYC) and am currently unemployed. I graduated college with a degree in Photography and a minor in Philosophy in 2011 and worked for my step father's company until july of this last summer. So I currently spend all my time working on levels and photography, I honestly cannot complain right now.
     
    When and why did you decide you wanted to bring worlds to life in 3D? When I was 14 I had a passion — playing games. I loved it, it sparked something inside me and I had no idea what it was, but I liked it. My personality can be pretty analytical at times so naturally I tried to figure out how to make them. I love architecture, buildings and 3D space, so I just went for it. I spent hours and hours in every level editor I could find and I, admittedly, stuck with hammer because it was the easiest to pick up, had the largest support and the biggest community. I've been with it since. That's what, 9 years? 9 years of blue screens and move_rope causing crashes straight to the desktop — it's a love–hate relationship.
     

     
    How did you get involved with Black Mesa? This is funny considering the level of amateur crap I have made. I applied to Black Mesa back in 2004/2005 by sending a VMF to the founder of Black Mesa (Jon) of my recreation of the first Power Up level. It was a mess and ugly as sin. I had quite literally no idea what I was doing, but it was satisfying to create, so I kept with it. I clearly remember Jon's words: "It looks, eh, amateurish". So, I spent the next few weeks refining my work and I applied a few other times. I eventually got on the team and I started work from there. I remember a good friend of mine, Daniel Junek, was already on the team and when I loaded up the private developer forums and saw his orange map layout of the blast pit silo, immediately knew I was going to be on the team for a long ass time — I saw what COULD be Black Mesa and was instantly inspired.
    Funny story: I always considered Daniel's work (he did Blast Pit) to be godlike, it was just incredible, I had never seen anything of such quality and ridiculous planning and care. I have this habit of comparing anything I do to the current best work in the world so I know how to improve myself and I considered Daniel's work to be the best in the world. So, naturally, I compared my work to Daniel's and for years it never even compared, but I was slowly getting there. So, a few months ago I, slightly buzzed, messaged Daniel on steam and came to realize he did the same thing with my work this entire time.
    I joined the team and looked at what was available to work on and I, of course, had to pick Lambda Core. I had no idea what I was doing and some of the early parts of Lambda Core show that.
     

     
    What was it like getting to reimagine the world that kicked off many MapCore members' interest in level design? Oh wow I never thought of it this way. Want to hear something hilarious? Before getting on the Black Mesa team I had never played Half-Life before aside from one or two killbox matches on a friends computer. 
    But as for re-imagining a world that so many hold dear? Its a difficult process, at least for me. I wanted to strike people on an emotional level with my work, I wanted people to see certain things I made and say "Holy shit, this is amazing", and while I don't know if I have accomplished that or not, I do know that getting there was an intense process.
    I remember loading up a Lambda Core map and thinking to myself, "What makes this interesting? What makes this bad? What makes this fun? What makes this area instantly recognizable? How do I create something in the present that completely awed those in the past? It was honestly tough in certain parts and I can remember re-doing sooooo many parts of the game because I personally thought it didn't hold up to any creative scrutiny.
     
    Were you often tempted to take a whole new approach to parts of the game? How did you find the right balance of old and new? This is a good question and I bet some die hard Half-Life fans still think we screwed up parts of the game haha. For me it was mostly taking a look at the original and what it tried to accomplish and improving on that. Sometimes certain areas didn't even need improvement, it just needed refinement, an extra level of polish to really take home its intended goal. When there was a controversy over what should be done in the game, we would just look at the 'numbers'. Did a majority of Half-Life players like this certain area? If not just scrap it and try again but be sure to retain the original's emotional impact on the player.
     

     
    Did it ever feel like Black Mesa might never make it? Was your motivation affected? More than you can ever imagine. We worked on it for about 9 years remember! Honestly? It probably felt like we weren't going to make a release more than we were going to make a release. There were periods of inactivity on our developer forums for months at a time. We all have personal lives to attend to and sometimes it would be a perfect storm of events where no one would work on anything for extended periods of time. Then, out of nowhere, something would happen and everyone would get sparked and jump right back in and get loads of work done for months. Rinse and repeat.
    In the SUPER early stages of development there was a point where we didn't even have a coder for 2 years. You can only imagine how incentive was on the team at that point.
     
    There's still a significant portion of Black Mesa yet to be completed. Will it be purely new material when the remainder is released, or are you revisiting and/or expanding existing material? I will answer with a simple work-in-progress screenshot of something I am working on and nothing else:
     

     
    What do you think is a stand-out part of Black Mesa? I have actually never thought about this! But the FIRST thing that jumped into my head is when you first enter the turn-table room in Power Up. You witness an intense fight between a Gargantua and a few human grunts. It's incredible because of the collaborative effort that went into it without a single f**king hitch. It's like it was done by one person! Let me explain:
    You enter a beautifully themed section of the facility created by Daniel Junek You witness well crafted animation by Nate of the Garg getting blasted by a human grunt and consequently falling into and breaking the concrete wall near him. The Garg was made by Chris The surrounding textures are made by Mark The dead human grunt bodies turning into scorched corpses, the flame effects, and the Garg behavior was done by Paul and Mark All the sound was done by Joel Look at that! It's the personal work and vision of a team of people all together forming a unified and impressive quality of interactive work. It wouldn't even be possible to create something that well done by one person.
    Now you may say "Hey, thats how all games are made." But, its a little different when you are creating something of this size and scope and all you have to communicate with your co-workers is Skype and a forum. There were a lot of times when I would be making a gesture with my hand or something while trying to describe the way I want a prop or texture to look. That was frustrating.
     
    You do a lot of multiplayer level design in addition to your single-player work. Which do you prefer? Single player is telling a story and using the environment to make playing the story fun and visually interesting while guiding the player through a struggle. If you can hold a player's attention and feed them the facts then you are good to go. Multiplayer is about cohesive design and fun welding itself into one entity and that can be difficult at times. Honestly I probably prefer the multiplayer work because of repetition. You know players will be running around your environments thousands of times which will eventually lead to an appreciation for the map on tiers usually only seen by the actual level designer. That is a double edge sword though.
     

     
    Briefly, what's your general workflow for putting a level together? LAYOUT, LAYOUT, LAYOUT. I try to get simplistic layout for a map that is fun and cohesive before doing anything else. Why do you play a video game? Because it's fun, and as a level designer, that fun can be directly proportional to your quality of work. You are almost like a spokesperson of your entire team's work and I love it. I mean I could tell you about all my thought processes while I work but that isn't as fun. But, I usually tend to think of ideas in a 3D space, so I never really draw layouts, I usually just throw some brushes around to get my idea out of my head and see what can be made of it before I attempt any sort of real layout. A lot of my past ideas failed even before getting to the layout stage, so that is good (I think).
     
    Which bit of the process is your favourite? That part in a map's life right as you know everything is fun and you get to unleash your thematic ideas you had been planning in your head while working on the gameplay and layout.
     

     
    And your least favourite? Any sort of tedious mind numbing repetition is annoying. Or when you spend a long ass time solving a problem in your level only to have it come out like crap but its 5am and you have to go to sleep knowing what you just created is terrible. That's no fun for anyone.
     
    What's the hardest problem you've encountered while mapping? Writers block can apply to anything really. There were times where I would just stare blankly at a map for hours not knowing what to do. Recently though? I cant stop with my ideas, it's great. I'm trying to ride that wave for a little.
    Also, scrapping something you have put a massive amount of effort into can be disheartening but it has to happen sometimes. But what essentially is anything creative? It's the formation of an idea while hiding your influences. Sometimes these ideas need to go through an emotional struggle before work can continue.
     
    Which piece of level design are you most proud of? To date, my Black Mesa magnum opus is most definitely the final Lambda Core teleporter and its prior lower reactors. Fun fact I thought some designers might appreciate: the entire Lambda Core reactor and teleporter actually lines up like an actual facility if you copy all the maps into one file and place them correctly.
    More recently? It's my map cp_imbricatus for Team Fortress 2. I have a feeling that the map will fundamentally change the way a good three-control-point attack/defend map should play.
     

     
    In addition to level design, you're an accomplished photographer. How did that begin? Accomplished? Oh you. Thanks, you.
    Here is a story I have never really told anyone haha. I was an idiot in high school, I mean who wasn't? But when it came time to apply for colleges, I just straight up didn't make the cut. I applied to stupid high reach schools and nothing else, I think I even applied to the wrong program in a few schools. Needless to say, I didn't get in anywhere and I panicked. My mother had some connections at Rochester Institute of Technology and randomly one day called me while I was out and asked me a few questions:
    She said, "I got you into RIT and their photo program doesnt require a portfolio, which would you like to do? Fine art, photojournalism, advertising or biomedical photography?" I got lucky and I knew it. I wound up graduating with a bachelors of fine art in advertising photography. Crazy.
     
    A lot of your photos are taken in very challenging conditions, such as live music performances. What skills and equipment do you employ to get such great results? Simplicity is key. Both visually and philosophically.
    You must look at every situation like you are the one viewing the content with no prior context as to what is going on. Do you want to portray a story? Do you want to create something purely for its visual content? What's your end goal? I could honestly talk about this for hours.
    I currently only use a Canon 5D Mark 3 and the only lens you ever need — a prime 35mm f/1.4. A good photographer with a bad camera is going to make better pictures than a bad photographer with a good camera. I also adhere myself to a lot of personal restrictions (in level design as well). An example being I never crop any of my images, I always thought it was best to just leave it straight out of camera. I do Photoshop my images, but I don't crop them. (Note: if you are a client that hired me as a photographer, I will do anything you want to the images if you request it. These rules usually only apply to personal work.)
    Keep an eye out on my Tumblr for some new photography coming up soon.
     

     
    Do you find that your photography skills bleed into your level design? For example, when composing scenes? Absolutely! And it works both ways too, photography helps my level design and level design helps my photography. Lighting plays a more important role in both than most even think. I am just lucky to have experience in both.
    I don't want to toot my own horn here but look at the lighting in some of the reactor areas in Lambda Core. It got to the point where I set 50% and 100% falloff distances with a hard cut-off for the yellow lights surrounding the central cylinder so the centre reactor would ominously glow yellow without casting any mood changing light onto the surrounding geometry. Does that level of detail pay off in the end? I don't know but I hope so.
     
    What games would you say have inspired you the most? I have never thought about this before but here is a list of the first games I can think of to inspire me:
    Ocarina of Time: Video game perfection. Majora's Mask: I cannot even put into words the impact this had on me Wind Waker: How do they even make this stuff? It's like they converted crack cocaine into playable form. Half-Life: Was I obligated to say this? This game changed what a first person shooter could be with its incredibly inventive layouts and story telling. Painkiller: The basic first person shooter mechanics perfected and in gory glory too. Incredible environment art to boot as well. Banjo-Tooie: Incredible game design, just incredible. Battlefield 2: The amount of serotonin released in my brain by playing this game should be illegal. Super Mario 64: An amazing sandbox game before that term ruined a lot of modern day games. Far Cry: It materialised my emotions while playing a game by me actually muttering the word 'wow' while playing in certain spots. There are loads more but these are just what I could think of off the top of my head.
     

     
    If you could give a budding level designer a short piece of advice to help them succeed, what would it be? Your work is going to suck for a long time, get used to it. If someone is being a dick about your work, they probably have a good point. Listen to them without bias. This will push you beyond what you thought you were capable of. You made the level, no s**t its easy to understand by you — other people HAVE to play it before anything is considered good. Scale will make or break you. Do a lot of scaling tests in every game you want to develop for before attempting anything else.  
    MapCore would like to thank Jean-Paul for his time, and wish him the best of luck with his future projects. You can enjoy more of his work by visiting his portfolio and Tumblr. He's also looking for people to help out with testing his latest Team Fortress 2 map; simply download 'cp_imbricatus', take a peek at the
    and join in on the tf2maps.net server.

  • Almost exactly nine years after the MapCore forums opened on October 6th, 2003, they've been completely renovated for the first time. With new software and a focus on producing original content, an already wonderful community is going to become even better.

    The most striking thing you'll notice is that MapCore is now using completely different forum software. Not only does it come with lots of useful features including some ideas borrowed from social networking sites such as the ability to 'like' posts and an in-depth notification system, but it also makes it a lot easier for us staff to extend the features of the site and make it more than just a forum.
    With this in mind, a key focus going forward is going to be original content. With such a diverse and skilled range of members and staff, there's a huge amount of untapped potential for writing articles, interviews, reviews, and tutorials — and so all of those things can be expected over the coming months and beyond. There's not a lot to read right now, but work is currently underway to build a team of writers and also invite guests to contribute whatever they wish, and if it's suitable we'll be happy to feature it under your name.
    Over the coming days and weeks the forums will continue to be refined as inevitable bugs and oversights crop up. Also, some new features will be added such as the promised community feed (have your blog's RSS feed appear in the MapCore sidebar), more in the way of challenges and spotlighted work, and more. With such easy-to-extend software, features we've wanted to introduce for years can now be implemented.
    Be sure to leave a comment if you spot any bugs or quirks!

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