Building Worlds

Last week I returned from a trip which I swear I’ll get around to writing about soon.  After nine days of non-stop road living, I came home unsure of what to do with myself and all of my free time.  Then I had a thought, a dream, brought on by who knows what.  Once, a long time ago I had an idea, something I always wanted to do.  Until now, it had remained an abstraction, a thought that perhaps by now someone else would have had too.

E1M1_startI write, of course, about the concept of E1M1: Hangar, the first level of the classic shooter Doom, re-imagined as a capture-the-flag map in Unreal Tournament.  Okay, that wasn’t obvious at all.  Let’s rewind.  In 2000, I bought the now-classic deathmatch/multiplayer first-person-shooter Unreal Tournament.  It remains to this day one of my favorite games.  I even got into its sequels, Unreal Tournament 2003, Unreal Tournament 2004, and Unreal Tournament 3 as they were released.  Without a doubt I’ve spent the most time playing UT2K4, probably more than any other PC game I’ve had.  I was even in a clan and everything– a clan I helped run with friends; we peaked at like 12 members and it was a blast to be a part of, but I digress.

In the summer of 2006 I decided that one of my favorite maps from the original UT belonged in UT2K4: Phobos Moon.  I didn’t know what I was doing, but I booted up Unreal Editor (UnrealEd) and went to town subtracting geometry from the aether until it looked like a familiar space station.  I even skinned my creation with the original map’s textures in an attempt to transfer the magic to the next generation of Unreal.  It wasn’t a perfect transcription, but it got the job done.  Eventually I scrapped my painfully handmade creation for a directly-ported and scaled build when I learned how to do that.  It looks much better, ie perfect.

phobosShortly thereafter, I had an epiphany for another UT map: a capture-the-flag map laid out like the local laser tag establishment’s arena circa early 2000s.  It was simple; a box filled with pillars of varying sizes placed in a symmetric pattern.  I built it in less than a day.  About a year later I rebuilt it with custom meshes and scrapped the original (once again).  To this day I still play that map.  It’s called CTF-PandorasBox-v2 and it’s still around on UT map sites.  It’s a blast to play Instagib on and it’s got a few (read: one) hidden secret that will… blow your mind.

pandora1pandora2Around the time I built the redesigned Pandora’s Box, I had another idea for a map, the one I mentioned at the start of this post.  I’ve been playing Doom since I was, like, four years old.  It’s a part of who I am.  There are fewer things more iconic to my childhood than the first nine levels, titled “Knee-Deep in the Dead,” of the original Doom.  It’s not a unique situation, though, and that’s evident in the number of ports, remakes, and tributes to these levels in other games.  There are at least two separate deathmatch levels of E1M1: Hangar for UT2K4 out there already.  My idea was different though; a capture-the-flag version.  The level was constructed in such a way that CTF would work wonderfully in; it’s mostly linear, has a number of open, neutral spaces, and it also, most importantly, has areas that can clearly be set as team bases,  It wasn’t symmetric in the least, like most CTF maps are, but that was part of the appeal to me.  It never even dawned on me that the concept wouldn’t work; it was going to work.  As of right now, it seems like nobody else has executed a similar idea.  Hooray for actually being original?

Last week the thought of modeling E1M1: Hangar once again popped into my head for reasons unknown.  I hadn’t played much UT2K4 recently.  I hadn’t cracked open UnrealEd in years.  I simply had free time and little with which to fill it.  Perhaps I was Inception’d yet again?  I hunkered down, printed out a map, tweaked the layout a little bit, loaded up zDoom, and blew the cobwebs off of UnrealEd.

schematicI painstakingly dimensioned the level in zDoom (thanks to the IDMYPOS cheat) and documented my work on a print-out of the map schematic.  Look at that mess.  At least it makes sense to me.  Thankfully, most of the dimensions ended up being powers of two and multiples thereof so by the end of the geometry adding process I could guess dimensions just by eyeballing.  Unfortunately, the scale factor between Doom and Unreal Tournament 2004 is 7:11 (according to character heights) so that wasn’t going to work out nicely.  I ended up doubling the dimensions rather than multiplying by 1.57 and I believe it’s worked out much better that way.  If only I’d been this precise in my previous maps I could have avoided things like the scaling issues and BSP Holes that constantly plague them.  I’d never claimed to be a “good” mapper, but what skills I learned over seven years ago came back fast.  I even discovered some new things, things that would have been more than a little helpful all those years ago (like the Intersect/Deintersect Brushes. WHERE WERE YOU IN 2006!?)  Maybe I was just dumber back then.  That’s probably it.  (Aside: I was really stupid in high school.  I cringe thinking about it sometimes.)

Since it’s 2013, there are things that exist now that were nearly unimaginable in 2006.  Like the ubiquity of the Wiki.  There’s a Wiki for almost everything. (It’s actually a rule.)  When I got stuck or tripped up in UnrealEd this time around, every different Google query I sought out brought me to the Unreal Wiki.  The glorious, knowledge-abundant, Unreal Wiki. The fact that the game I was building for is nine years old helped too; every issue I encountered has been seen, documented, and has a step-by-step guide on how to fix it, such as those previously-mentioned dastardly BSP Holes.  It’s amazing how much easier mapping is for me now.  I can probably thank years of engineering school and work for that, as well as the invention of massive crowd-sourced information repositories.  (Never forget, we live in the future.)

I spent four days straight from just after waking up to late at night building this tiny 6-10 player world.  I planned, built, struggled, troubleshot, got creative, lit, skinned, meshed, pathed, sounded (?) zoned, and optimized this environment, and even then I’m still not quite done with it, but I’m pleased with how it’s turned out so far.  In a few days I’ll hopefully be done polishing it and then upload it to a map-hosting site.  I doubt anyone will even play it outside of my immediate gaming circle, but I’m glad it’s there in existence.  An idea I had years ago has suddenly become a reality, and all it took was a few days of hard work.

There’s a lesson to be learned somewhere in there.  For now, please enjoy these screenshots.  I’m really proud of this map and if you still play Unreal Tournament 2004, maybe check it out once I get around to finishing it? 😉

The first view seen in Doom.
The red flag.
The central area in the red base.
The courtyard. Avoid the pit, it’s full of lava.
The hangar.
Formerly the slime room.
The blue flag area.

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