Construction site work in progress
I had the idea to place a spawn point in an under construction skyscraper to be used in my city scape level “Styx” for Off Limits. I created this during the time they were constructing “One World Trade Center”. So I roughly used it’s base as a reference. This video mainly shows how I switch between the HAMMER level editor and 3DSmax as I flesh out the space.
We picked up our internal playtests again sometime at the beginning of 2009 as Off Limits drew close to an end. I recorded a few videos back then that show off our gameplay and how exciting it was to play.
The first video explains our gameplay in action.
The second video explains our Juggernaut gameplay.
The third video shows me playing as the Juggernaut and how I use it’s gameplay features and teamplay aspects to turn the match in our favor. This video also features our voice commands recorded by none other than Mr. Duke Nukem himself, Jon St. John. Through a friend of mine I was able to get in touch with him, and to my surprise he was willing to record our voice commands for Off Limits.
The forth shows me being cornered as the Juggernaut and how I use my vantage point to defend myself and how I barely got away. A very close call indeed!
The fifth video is an artsy slow motion video I created just for fun.
Many games cut off the wasted space from their minimaps and it creates a void outside the borders. For the Off Limits minimaps I wanted to create the illusion that you were playing in a believable space that extended beyond the playable space. For this I created top down screenshots of the playable space in high resolution and I filled in the world outside, creating a Google Maps like image. In-game the minimap orientates in the direction the player is facing. No more empty gaps or voids are visible as you can see in the screenshot below, only building rooftops and skylights.
Below you can see how I created these in color first. This by creating quick blockouts in the level editor first and then do a lot of copy/pasting in Photoshop. I opted to make the non-playable regions in black and white, this to clearly show to the player where the borders lie. In the end, you can see in-game what is past a wall or gate and get a sense of being in that area.
Off Limits level videos
With all three Off Limits levels completed, I decided to make a fly through video presentation of the final versions. The first video shows both “Russia” and “Styx”, while the second one shows “Undersiege”. Both “Styx” and “Undersiege” are levels that I created from scratch and went through a great deal of iterations. The “Russia” level was originally created for another Half-Life² modification but it’s creator, Robert Briscoe, donated it to me, to be used in Off Limits. I completely redesigned it to make it fit our modifications universe. For this I had to create and update a lot of it’s assets.
When Off Limits switched from the alien gameplay to our new juggernaut gameplay, also came the need for a separate character model that was the teams heavy soldier. Luckily I knew a very talented character artist who goes by the name of Tim Appleby. He agreed to hand me one of his older character models, free to use in Off Limits in any way I saw fit. This gave me the freedom to alter the materials on his original character and modify the model for our other teams Vanguard juggernaut, whom I gave the teams helmet as an additional visual mark to the player. I first began by making a black version and highlighted the areas I thought could work as a team color in yellow. Once I was happy with the look and pattern I made those red and blue, as those were our team colors. After these were completed I modeled and textured two miniguns that go with these bad boys.
Off Limits editor progress to final
As my work on Off Limits is finally over, I thought it would be cool to show some old images taken during my development on it. These were a few of the only editor shots I found scattered across my development folder. Looking back at those now I’m quite pleased with how each area turned out.
Container ship interior work in progress
The video below shows how I’m working in 3DSmax and the HAMMER level editor creating the more detailed geometry to be used for the ship gates. Using the HAMMER editor BSP as the initial blockout, I then import it in 3DSmax where I create the mesh for the gate. After UV mapping and texturing I then place it back into the scene and finish it off in HAMMER. This was a very common way of working all throughout my Off Limits project.
Early on, as I was learning how to do modeling, UV mapping and texturing, I kept myself busy with expanding the arsenal for Off Limits. As the game had two sides, one called the “Rogues”, a post apocalyptic band of rebels versus the “Vanguard”, a squad of elite government soldiers, it was important to visually separate both weapon classes accordingly. To give each team a unique look we opted to bring as much diversity to the weapons as possible. This to clearly identify which team you were on. I ended up modeling about 70% of all weapon models, UV-mapped most myself and textured about 50% of the list below. In the end, I did tweak all textures to create a uniform look throughout the game for the sake of consistency.
I think it must have been somewhere around 2005 when we released our first footage of our full conversion modification called Off Limits. This teaser trailer was meant to be short and fast paced, showing some of our core action gameplay features and our diversity in level design. At the time it was a real success and people loved it. Especially the ability to drive vehicles and do full blown drive-by shootings and car chases was something that caught people’s attention.
To give each Off Limits level a unique feel I had to create a lot of custom assets. Below you can see some of the models I created from scratch to final. From concept to modeling, UV unwrapping, texturing as well as importing into the game engine and creating custom animations where needed. Since I was the main driving force behind the levels I created most of these assets within a very short time frame, this to have as much custom content as possible. It was quite a challenge to find a balance between quality and quantity.
Container ship cabin work in progress
After finishing the main blockout for the container ship in the HAMMER level editor, I needed a more detailed cabin model. For this I was going to create it in 3DSmax. I knew the measurements of what it needed to be and what it would look like. With a clear picture of where I was going I decided to record this from initial blockout to final placement in-game. This was created for my “Undersiege” level to be used in Off Limits.
Off Limits was originally meant to revolve around an alien that the player needed to locate and take out using a railgun. This was the most important weapon in the game and needed to be something special. I designed and created this weapon from scratch. We had it fully functional in-game, but due to the constraints of the Source Engine back then, and mainly resource and time issues, we dropped the alien gameplay all together and opted for the Juggernaut gameplay instead. Luckily, this turned out to be the right decision as it ended being a lot more fun to play, which is a huge bonus when creating a game. Below you can see the railgun design I created for this, as well as some additional media that I found scattered on my hard drive. These illustrate the working mechanism of the attached touchscreen and how it works in-sync with the hand animations.
The animated gif below demonstrates, in slow motion, how the boot sequence and the reload button pushes of this weapon would look like.
An animator then used the images from the boot and reload sequence to sync them with the arm movements. The video below shows the boot up, idle, draw, shoot, reload and arming sequence.
After a few months of self teaching myself how to model and unwrapping those models, I started something a bit more challenging. As many things, Off Limits needed unique character models per team. We were using the Counter-Strike models I believe. I downloaded a free male model to use as the base. The proportions and shape of that model helped me to start creating my very first character model. Below you can see a video of the very early stages and work in progress renders. Most of the texturing on these models was done by a texture artist at the time. I later went back and gave them some touch ups to make sure that these were balanced with the other character models in the game.
Once I was done with the Vanguard model I started the Rogues team model. These were the rebels, they did not have the tactical team appearance as the Vanguard did. We wanted to clearly distinguish both teams. For this the inspiration came from a number of areas such as my brothers working boots, Christian Bale’s character in the movie Reign Of Fire, a Russian gas mask and some own creativity. The idea for the game was that the air was polluted, hence the gas masks on all of our characters in the game.
We wanted a unique feel for our original alien gameplay. We wanted to render all in-game characters out using a skeleton model that would be a different color depending on which team you are on. The inspiration for this came from the movies Eraser and Underworld. Where you could see this sort of X-Rays vision, revealing their inner organs and skeleton. This X-Ray vision is something we kept using as our Juggernaut vision when we switched our gameplay to the Juggernaut one. Below you can see the initial model and textures together with a final in-game screenshot of how it looks now. In the end it read better in-game when we removed the outer skin and muscles, and it also helped to reduce the number of polygons that were drawn on screen, thus improving the performance.
As a little extra I decided to put some of the alien content in this post as well. Even though it was cut from the game, we did get pretty far in terms of the programming, modeling and animations. But when you feel the game isn’t fun because of a certain element, no matter how much work went into it, it’s better to get rid of it. I wanted the alien to have a unique look, which wasn’t easy to accomplish given the wide range of alien designs already out there. I couldn’t think of a tall headed alien design that I’ve seen in other movies or media, so I went for that. The idea was that it could use it’s head as sort of a ramming device. The alien was meant to be playable and was roughly working in-game at the time we cut it. You could navigate on walls and ceilings and the X-Ray vision was a lot of fun. Below you can see my alien designs as well as a test animation video created by our animator at the time. A good friend of mine, David Shearer, created the concept art to be used as our in-game menu background.
Styx before and after
I had finished “Styx” a while ago. But I felt the old version was lacking it’s own personality and had a Half-Life² feel to it. This was mainly due to the use of it’s materials and content. I decided to completely rebuild it from the ground up. While doing this I also used our previous playtest data to update some of the flow and design to improve certain areas. The shots below show the before and after versions as it is now used in Off Limits.
Russia work in progress
The video below shows me working in the HAMMER level editor, blocking out a new connection between two main areas used in Robert Briscoe’s “Russia” level. He donated his level to me and I was allowed to redesign it as I saw fit, this to make sure it worked well with the Off Limits gameplay. The video was shot in roughly 45min and I compressed to an 8min piece, showing my workflow in HAMMER. Usually after this step I export what I need into 3DSmax and model the extra details in, such as the staircase railings seen in the final playthrough at the end of this video.
Creative with materials
Sometimes you may reach a certain limitation of the engine you are working with, which can cause unwanted stress when adding more unique content and details to your space. For all my Off Limits levels on the Source engine I hit a limitation at one point or another. Texture memory, T-junctions, draw calls, etc. For the texture memory I learned to re-use a lot of instances from materials that were already in the scene without loosing much detail. A technique I later used on Mirror’s Edge as well when levels ran out of memory on either the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3. It also saves time which can be very important in this industry. Here is a quick example of a material I re-used a lot in “Styx”. Originally, this material was used for my elevator model. I later used it on the subway entrance doors, the subway station overhead platform covers, the entire lobby interior, the Carter hotel lobby, etc. I gave me the liberty to quickly iterate and create custom content without gaining any texture memory.
Lobby design from scratch to final
Below you can see the lobby design of a spawn point area that I created for Off Limits. From blockout, texturing, creating unique assets, prop placement, lighting and optimization. This was created with a funnel design in mind. Making it more difficult for the offensive team to penetrate and take over the spawn point, and give the defensive team options to defend this spawn point and in time advance to the next.
Continuous ship unloader
These images shows the progress I made during modeling and texturing this asset from scratch to final. This walkway bridge and continuous ship unloader are used a number of times in the level “Undersiege” for Off Limits.
As someone who grew up with an inventive and creative background myself, I always enjoy seeing more people like minded. When I first saw the R.I.O.T. wheel created by Jake Lyall, I immediately had to think of one of my all time favorite Manga movies called Venus Wars. A mono wheel bike had been a dream ever since. I decided to model the R.I.O.T. wheel as close to the original as possible, as it’s post-apocalyptic feel was fitting for my mod Off Limits. We were planning to make it one of the drivable vehicles in the game, but was scrapped in the end. Perhaps one day it can still become a racing game?
Below is a 2007 Showreel I created. At the time most of my work went into Off Limits, which is what this reel revolves around. A lot has changed on these levels since then and on this project. It’s a nostalgic video that shows the evolution of a project.
Copyright © 2017 Wesley Tack - All Rights Reserved