A Little Research on Standards

by | January 8th, 2010 | Articles | 8 Comments »

I’ve been doing some research to see what standards Valve stick to regarding playerclipped stairs and the usage of colored patches below pickups.
In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll give you an explanation.

In almost all TF2 maps, the pickups are located above colored paint patches. Here are a couple of ways you can place the patches:

However, the color of the patches vary heavily between the official TF2 maps. I will show you a table of the results of my research, right after I’ve explained what playerclipped stairs are!

Playerclipping stairs is something that most mappers do. It means that you create a flat brush, covering every step in stairways, all the way from the top to the bottom.
Here is a comparison between a stairway without clipping and a playerclipped stairway:

Stairs with and without playerclipping

Now that you know what I’m talking about, I’ll give you the table:

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Impromptu Interview: Iikka Keranen

by | January 5th, 2010 | Interviews | 7 Comments »

Recently we were able to get into contact with Valve with a few questions regarding the newest and prettiest TF2 map, CTF_Doublecross. Although level design is approached as a team effort at Valve, Valve mapper Iikka Keranen, as the original designer, was kind enough to answer them and provide us with some tips as well as insightful concept and development shots of the map.
1. NODRAW: How do you go about making such precise displacements as the tunnels below the bases? I know of a method to make a smooth cylinder but not at such an angle…

  • IIKKA: The cylinders trick is a good one. Basically, you start with cylinders that are built along one axis and then just rotate the brushes and vertex-edit to get back on the grid. The most laborious part is the joint between a straight and a 45-degree pipe; when you clip the brushes in an angle where they meet, the displacements won’t match. You need to first sew them and then tweak with one-unit steps until it looks good enough. The down-slope is done easily by lowering the bottom vertices; that portion of the pipe is just skewed rather than rotated. Texture alignment is key in making it look good.

2. NODRAW: You have these great one-way windows in the spawns; while this may not be the case here, is there any way to tell VVIS to calculate only out of a portal and not into it? So that while the spawn door is closed, players outside would not render in? I can’t think of any areaportal jiggery to do so…

  • IIKKA: Unfortunately area portals are always two-way. This would require new technology.

3. NODRAW: Is there anyway the clips can be taken off the middle two towers’ rooves? These always seem jumpable as the battlements are nearly the same height.

  • IIKKA: The towers have differing geometry that gave the BLU team an advantage before their tops were clipped. They were built rather late in the development to replace a different obstacle that you couldn’t jump on (a tall tree on the edge of the cliff) and the clip brush was deemed the best solution to the problem.

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Tweaking Hammer for Efficiency

by | January 4th, 2010 | Articles, Tutorials | 6 Comments »

Like any engine, after a bit of love and attention it can run much better, spend some time setting hammer up how you like it, get something that you like and get it to work for you, it’s your workflow.

Some things you might want to consider doing in that options menu you probably have ignored largely:

  • Turn off verticies – Your 2D view now only draws the verticies of the brush you have selected, the 2D views are a lot less cluttered this way, especially when zoomed out a lot.
  • Default to 15 degree rotations – Using alt to rotate in .5 degree rotations, you can quickly rotate something exactly or roughly depending on what you want.
  • Arrow keys nudge selected object/vertex – Very useful for moving stuff by a few increments, even duplication as shift+arrow key will duplicate the object and put the new one one gridline in that direction.
  • Increase the distances – The Back clipping plane and model render distances both stop you seeing a vista as it was intended in your 3D view. I have mine well over 8000 units away.
  • Uncheck ‘Animate models’ – particularly if you’re working with large animated models such as cinematic explosions the 3D and 2D views can become obstructed, not to mention its just another thing taking time to render.
  • Match the camera’s FoV with what you use in game – It goes without saying that a miss match will lead you to view the same area differently in game and in hammer, make sure they match!
  • Increase the camera speed – Mine is set to 6500. Holding space turns the left mouse into a freelook and using WASD keys to move around I can move around at great speed.

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Dynamic Materials with Proxies

by | January 3rd, 2010 | Tutorials | 9 Comments »

Material proxies are a neat little feature of the Source engine that let you alter various properties of a material dynamically.  This can produce some neat effects, as the texture position, scale, rotation, transparency and much more can be changed continuously, or even in response to game events.

Take Half-life 2, for example.  You know those combine force-fields, that ripple with energy, and fade out as you move away from it?  Or in Team Fortress 2, you’ll have seen the rotating radar screen in the 2fort basement.  Both those effects are done with material proxies.


Force fields and computer screens animated with material proxies

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Speed Mapping

by | December 29th, 2009 | Tutorials | 9 Comments »

There are a few things you can do to greatly improve the speed at which you map. I’ll be going through a few of these things, point by point, but you must use them in practice in order to get faster!

  1. Plan while not at hammer. Idle time spend at your keyboard adds up; know what you want to do before you sit down. All your time in hammer should be spent at maximum speed.
  2. Compile very infrequently. These take too much of your time that you could otherwise be spending working. Complete your daily task sheet and compile at the end of the day; take note of issues ingame and prepare to fix those tomorrow.
  3. Cordon compiles: Don’t lazily seal your map; do it methodically and strongly according to optimization practices. Until then, use the cordon method to test your compiles.
  4. Use your keyboard shortcuts wisely and swiftly! Proper hammer hand position is not on ASDF but on SHIFT Z X C V. Use your X finger to shift up to S. You should not be wasting time pressing buttons with the mouse, when you can do it in microseconds with shortcuts.

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Mapping for a Competitive Audience

by | December 26th, 2009 | Articles | 4 Comments »

Competitive players can seem fickle and picky and sometimes downright rude, but there are also lots of great communities playing the 6v6 format in tf2 and you’re sure to meet a lot of great guys while mapping for them. There are several things you need to do and several things to avoid when mapping for competitive players as opposed to casual players; I will run through them briefly and introduce you to the game type in short.

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Optimization in Source: A Practical Demonstration

by | December 13th, 2009 | Tutorials | 10 Comments »

Optimization is one of the least understood parts of mapping in source; there is a lot of hearsay on the matter and generally the topic can appear overwhelming to new mappers. Today we’re going to discuss how optimization in source works, not from a theoretical approach, but from an example-by-example method that will hopefully bring us around to understanding the underlying theory. When implemented correctly, good optimization can be more beautiful than the aesthetics of a map itself.

This tutorial assumes you have an intermediate understanding of using hammer and the terminology used for its processes.

Part I: Visibility in Source

For this exercise we will be considering the source game TF2, though these techniques will apply to source in general. Our players will consist of a brick wall, an engineer representing the player, and a sentry representing the high-polygon props that end up creating framerate loss on our players’ end. Our goal today will be to instruct the engine not to draw the sentry when it is indeed hidden by the brick wall.


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A Look at Lights

by | December 12th, 2009 | Articles | 4 Comments »

Whilst adding detail to a warehouse in my section of Paving the Way I came to a particular situation that I’d just normaly whack in a light-spot, turn up the values until it lit the area well enough and then move on. Today though I decided to experiment and see what I could actually do with my knowledge of lighting in source. Here are some of the scenarios, I started with just a single light entity.

Just a plain 'light' entity used, placed a few units infront of the glass of the model with 200 brightness and a slightly off-white colour.

Just a plain 'light' entity used, placed a few units infront of the glass of the model with 200 brightness and a slightly off-white colour.

A 'light_spot' entity placed in the same place, same brightness, outer angle: 70, inner angle: 40

A 'light_spot' entity placed in the same place, same brightness, outer angle: 70, inner angle: 40

A 'light' entity with a blockbullets brush just above it simulating the top part of the model that would block light going above it.

A 'light' entity with a blocklight brush just above it simulating the top part of the model that would block light going above it.

The light on its own didn’t produce that bad a result, certainly a lot better than the light_spot did. Even if I’d attempted turning up the light_spot’s brightness I still feel the area above the light model wouldn’t recieve enough light to look realistic. I found that the blocklight actually produced the best result with minimal effort, this whole excercise probably took me only 20 minutes including taking pictures.

You can see in the first image that a little bit of the light is blocked above the lamp by the model but the real point of this post is to illustrate how simple the blocklight toolbrush can be to use, just a quick wedge and a more realistic amount of light is blocked without it being way too dark.

Seamless Textures

by | December 8th, 2009 | Articles | 6 Comments »

I’ve not been doing much recently due to the grind of real life and being distracted by borderlands (which is, by the way, an excellent game only let down by its lack of user created content) But I thought I’d finally find out just how the seamless texture stuff added for the antlion tunnels in episode 2 works.  It’s actually incredibly awesome and will have major applications in HL2 mods going forward provided people actually pay it some attention.

Not a single seam visible

Remember how they managed to have such complex displacements inside these intricate caves and yet not a single visible texture seam?

After a bit of tinkering I was able to make my own, I believe they’ll only work as displacements but I might be wrong. You can do the full range of normal texture options with them as well: specularity maps, normal maps, blend textures etc. are all very possible. I whipped up my own texture to show clearly how it worked, here is the texture side by side with the .vmt for it:

I chose a strong horizontal element to see how it blended directions

I chose a strong horizontal element to see how it blended directions

It really is as simple as adding the “$seamless_scale” value into your texture! Be warned though the scale is set per-material instead of in hammer and it doesn’t use the conventional hammer scale, in this case smaller numbers give larger textures. When I thought I’d want to initially try a scale of 1 I found that the entire 1024 pixel texture was tiling every ~5 hammer units. That is, far too often! Making myself as complex a test map as I could be bothered I resorted to subdivide to get smooth displacements, which didn’t let me down too badly.

Here is the geometry I made from inside hammer compared to the same geometry subdivided. Appologies for the orange-ness of it, but you can definitely see seams along the lines od the displacements.

Here is the geometry I made from inside hammer compared to the same geometry subdivided. Apologies for the orange-ness of it, but you can definitely see seams along the lines of the displacements.

When compiled and run in episode 2 here is what it looks like, you can see that it doesn’t make any attempt to keep the texture’s rotation which makes this example not so good. It lends itself well to noisy materials that don’t have a logical orientation (such as the antlion web) since you won’t notice they’re rotated on some walls. You can also see that the scale is different to that in hammer, since the scale you make it in hammer is irrelevant. Most importantly it blends all my seams together so into a nice smooth transition.

No more nasty seams for complex displacements! Huzzar!

No more nasty seams for complex displacements! Huzzar!

Now go see what you can do with this amazing feature!

YM’s introduction

by | November 5th, 2009 | Articles | 2 Comments »

I’m thrilled to be a part of Nodraw.net finally.  I look forward to exploring the potential of a site full of blogging mappers for source, certainly seems like a place to breed creativity!

Who am I? What have I done? What will I be doing?

I’m YM, I map for source games. To date I’ve made around 7 maps for Team fortress 2, attempted a massive project for portal that was sadly scrapped after many months work and more recently venturing back into singple player mods, this time based off Episode 2. You’re likely to see posts about my two currently active TF2 maps, ctf_slate and cp_stark as well as my section of Paving the way (the Ep2 mod I’m part of).

I’m finding mapping for single player is quite entertaining, it’s a good challenge after doing multiplayer where entity work is rather lacking. Areas such as controlling a player’s movement through the level can be much easier than multiplayer but it can also be a lot harder, which is where it gets fun. So far I’ve spent most of my time recreating two puzzles from episode 2 for my own usage. The first being the ‘cable puzzle’, introduced when Gordon and Alyx contact white forest a mere 5 minutes into the episode and used in its full nature again moments before Gordon’s first combat with the hunters. The other being the ‘gear+winch’ mechanism from the base of the elevator deep with in the antlion tunnels, just before the vortigaunt takes Gordon to the nectarium.

Here’s a preview of my section so far:

Hammer preview of Paving the way

Hammer preview of Paving the way