Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Lady Lomat's Flute: My Thief 2 Fan Mission Sketchbook

Greetings Thief fans & level design enthusiasts!  

Welcome to my remembrances... a casual flick through my old notebooks, within which I was designing a challenge for the sneaky, curious Garrett in all of us.

I have scanned a swathe of pages from my old sketchbooks circa 2001.  

I had been in the game industry for around a year, working at Bluetongue Software since 2000.

I'd made Ancient Art of War maps as a kid around 1987 with it's built in editor, and later made Quake & Quake 2 maps around 1996.

When Thief came out, I loved how it focussed on a deeper simulation of sight and sound, light and dark, and the AI guards having more resolution in their alertness systems.

"The Master of the house, Lord Lomat, has obtained evidence to put away the friend of your current employer."  I ended up changing all of this, but it was a starting point, and the name "Lord Lomat" stuck.  The name is supposed to evoke the word Diplomat.  The final story ended up being about Lady Lomat's Flute.

Later when Thief 2 came out, I decide to dive into the Level Editor that shipped with the game called DromEd, to build my own mission.  And this time, unlike with my earlier Quake levels, I wanted this mission to have a coherent experience, within the Thief universe, that made sense as a whole, and had some narrative and drama imbued into the environment.  

I initially built the level during 2001, and these sketches all come from that period.  Later, I came back to the level in 2013 and finished it off with the updated NewDark version of the editor.

You can see that final version of the mission here (it's a non-complete playthru of the mission, so contains some spoilers, but not everything)...

Follow on to see the thinking behind the making of the level!

I started with the concept of a house surrounded by a sort of moat, with a bridge to it, so there was a choke point to getting to the house, where you could see the pretty view of the front of the mansion, several patrolling guards in view, to set the scene.  

I listed various rooms and furniture objects I thought would work in the scene, just to get a good idea of what it would be made up of.

The basic layout of the house didn't change that much.  It got simpler, and I removed many rooms.  But the basic concept kind of staid the same from the start, with ground floor, first floor, and an attic.

I got started off just doing a test some tests with guards, patrol paths, lights, and mission objectives.  

There is mission early on of using windows, and I think I used windows quite well in the final level.  I liked that AI could see through, and even shoot arrows at you through windows, thus breaking the windows, which feels quite intentional and action packed, almost light a scene from Die Hard.  :)

I list a lot of things here that I wanted in the mission... feelings, moments, dynamics.  

I mention rope arrows here, too, and I think I included rope arrow potential quite well, with the overhanging gargoyle beams providing opportunities to access the 2nd story up directly on numerous sides.

A real emphasis for me was to provide a small space with a rich possibility space, giving the player lots of ways in and out, but each with it's own tension.  There's a believable organic feel to the mission space, with guards spaced around and behaving logically, and carrying appropriate keys based on the scenario and narrative, etc.

The player can get in the front door, the back door, rope arrow up to the second floor through windows, or sneak in the side kitchen door.

If discovered and chased, the player can always get back out of the house fairly easily - and often dramatically, especially if leaping from the second floor down into the moat below - thus defusing the situation, but then having to work again to get back inside!

This set of floor sketches ended up being basically exactly how the level was made, and is today in the final version.  I look on these with great fondness, as it really was the middle step between imagination and reality!  :D

I searched out and printed a bunch of old mansion floor plans and images while at work.  :)

The layout of the gardens took more shape here.

Planning out the ground floor layout, and the ambient sounds around the external areas.

Planning the patrol routes for the ground floor guards. 

Planning out objectives, goal states, techy level stuff and some ambient sounds.

Choosing some of my favorite looking doors.

Changing ideas for the story.

A sketch of the main entrance bridge over the moat.

Thinking about how the various locked doors should feel in the level, where to build tension, where the drama and suspense should be.

The overall shape of the level, including the external vistas that you can't reach, and being tinkered out here.

Musings on how a successful Thief story should weave around concepts of locks, keys, guards, light and shadow, as these are the core tenets of the game.

The original 2001 release of the game (entitled "Lord Lomat's Flute") didn't actually include an intro cutscene at all.  But when I revisited the level in 2013, I was delighted to work with my good friend Brendan Barnett on an intro movie for Lady Lomat's Flute. Brendan provided the illustrations and great voice over!

A core list of "things to do"!

I was obviously excited about the announcement of Thief 3!  And I was indeed pleased with the game when it came out.  Maybe one day we'll get another great Thief game.  :D

Good thoughts, Muz.  Good thoughts.  :)

Ideas for another level concept, where tall towers are interconnected with overhead bridges.  Something I'd still like to make one day.

Thinking about other architectural details and mission ideas.

Massive tower!  :D

The idea of a mission / scenario where you put in a bunch of AI and have them "fight each other".  "Kill all the haunts.  Protect the civilians from the zombies."

Kinda like "Left for Dead"!  :)

Another list of all the features and ideas to leverage in the level.

Coaxing guards from the bar to go fight the zombies!  
(An idea for another mission I never made!)

Well!  Our little trip down memory lane has come to an end.

If you're a Thief fan, please do check out my level, and give it a play using DarkLoader for Thief 2!  :D  

You can download the mission here!

There's a thread about Lady Lomat's Flute here on Through The Looking Glass:

Keep on taffin'.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Werewolf in the Wild: Birds, Humans & Mood

I enjoyed doing another weekend's work on "Werewolf in the Wild", adding better Bird AI, and modeling, animating and bringing to life a simple human.  These humans scour the terrain with crossbows.

You can download the latest build here (version 2016-11-20th-2200 as of this post)!

Here's a video of the Birds coming to life...


Currently, there's still no interactions between the elements, I'm still working on mood and basic navigational AI.  Because I'm generating the terrains and level objects randomly each time, I can't use NavMesh, so I'm using a roll-your-own approach with Raycasts to avoid obstacles, and Sin waves to have the players move more organically and scan their environment more like real creatures.

Here's a video of the Humans coming to life...


I'm enjoying learning more C#, it's making me feel like I'm really starting to grasp the underlying language of games.  :)

It also features more ambient sounds, especially around the towers.  I'm very interested in exploring ways of imbuing the world with narrative, without it actually being specifically scripted.

And here's a video of the overall mood of the world, shot from the perspective of the creatures themselves, at the end of the 2nd weekend working on it.  :D

More updates to come!  

I'd love to hear your feedback and thoughts, so drop a comment below for me.  :D

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Werewolf in the Wild: My ProcJam game for 2016

I made a ProcJam game entry!

You can download Werewolf in the Wild here:

It was super fun, and I did several things for the first time, including...

  • Using Raycasts to do some simple AI steering, so that the birds follow the contours of the land, and fly over obstacles.  I want to expand on this so they fly around things, and feel more organic.
  • Procedural terrain generation, allowing the player to generate a new terrain at any time by pressing "T" at any time while playing!  This adjusts the height field of the terrain, sometimes making spiky tall terrains, sometimes making smooth low terrains, etc.
  • I went crazy on Image Effects to get a unique look that reminds me of David Lynch's Lost Highway or some surreal dreamscape.  This look inspired the werewolf theme, and it all took shape very organically.
  • I built all the props myself in Maya, which was great, as I now feel I can comfortably use that pipeline in future projects.  The look of the game allowed me to model things simply, and still have them characterful.
  • Added some sweet werewolf sounds to really bring the unique player character to life!
  • Added some kooky arthouse experimental ambient sounds to set the mood.

I want to continue with this game, doing things like...
  • Giving the wolf arms, so they can slash and claw at things.
  • Adding some more AIs into the game, such as foxes, deer, and townsfolk.
  • A goal of some sort, whether it is just to survive being hunted by townsfolk, needing to feed, needing to find your cave before daybreak, or some more narrative driven goal.
  • Townsfolk could track you down using sight and sound, and you can hide in wait, leaping from the shadows, or just go on a massacre and see how long you can survive.
  • Model more varied items for the environment.
  • Have different items that appear at different heights in the world, and things that can be placed on slopes, such as small rocks, or shrubs growing on an angle.
  • Implement more variety into the terrain system.
  • Perhaps a mechanic revolving around the moon.
  • Possible a day/night cycle, which affects whether you're a werewolf or a human, and adding a whole mechanic around that.
  • Perhaps a climbing, bounding, leaping system that lets you climb up towers, mantle up through small trees into larger trees, etc.  
  • An asymmetrical multiplayer mode could be very cool, with hunters on one team, and the lone wolf on the other team.
  • Howl at the moon!

I feel a bit inspired by Dusk, and thought it'd be fun to add some ghoulish fast paced crazy 90's FPS style gameplay, like slashing things to death, leaping about etc.

But I also feel inclined to maintain the arthouse surreal feel in some way, having a bit of a Tangiers vibe.  Like Tangiers, I'm very interested in stealth mechanics, loving the original Thief games.

I have had a few narrative ideas, around the werewolf being ferocious and driven by a sort of madness, but also still aware of their human form, with their thoughts in their head, regrets, pain, feelings that cause anguish and tension between the killing and violence they need to perform to survive, and their pain at being misunderstood and not being in control of their own behaviour or how others perceive them.  

I feel that such a story could help facilitate action gameplay, while maintaining some other interesting themes and ideas.

Stay tuned, and hopefully I'll have some updates to it soon, in between finishing off my other games!  :D  

Thanks for checking out Werewolf in the Wild!

Your pal Murray.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

PCPowerplay: Education Special 2016 - Featuring me! (and my old Letter of the Month, Oct 1999)

I was an avid reader and subscriber of PCPowerplay for many years as a teenager. 

I really enjoyed their great writing and editing of features, previews, reviews and opinions.  

It was in PCPowerplay that I saw the first advert to an Aussie games studio, Ratbag games, makers of the amazing Powerslide.  I contacted them for advice about how to educate myself, to get into games.  A lovely guy emailed back and said I should learn 3D Studio Max and Photoshop, which I did, and it certainly helped me to understand what games are made of.

So the magazine provided me with an avenue into game development.

And now, occasionally I get the chance to appear in the magazine, and it really pleases me to step back and acknowledge that I have now been in the Australian games industry for a long time.  And it feels good to be teaching games, as well as making games.

So thank you PCPowerplay for having me in the magazine, and acting as a powerful presence in the Australian game playing and making scene!

I wrote to PCPowerplay about 16 years ago, and got Letter of the Month, writing about my determination to get into the industry.  That was a good feeling.  And getting Letter of the Month was a nice show of support for a young person expressing their passion about games.  Rock on!

Here's the version of the letter I wrote in to them...


Beautiful magazine men!  It's superbly written with a perfect balance of humour, wit, and precise analysis: a joy to read and of supreme use.

I am writing in response to Rowan Fraser (PCPP #39) who suggested "games are for fun, not intensive study."  Fair enough.  There is barely a game on the shelf today that you could analyse in terms of artistic or social MEANING.  But god damn it, I'm looking forward to the day that we CAN play a game and get a lot more out of it for our MINDS, not just our senses.  Imagine the Unreal engine powering a game full of political and social intrigue!  It can be approached bazaarly or humorously; it needn't be too serious!  I look forward to a time when games are layered deep with meaning as well as being sensory delights.  This won't upset those who do not recognise or care about the deeper meaning because the gameplay should be crap-hot anyway!  But these games will offer a richer and more intellectually and culturally rewarding experience for any who can pick up the details.

I'm currently finishing my Arts degree at Melbourne uni (already guessed?!) and have concentrated on Cinema Studies. We analyse what is offered to the viewer by the author of a film, looking at characters, narrative, editing, lighting, music and sound, etc, as well as it's cultural and historical context.  And although we get into serious discussion, it is above all FUN while we learn and think.  These elements we study are largely the same as those found in computer games and the two are getting closer each day.  Perhaps this is why they are offering a new subject next year which is purely about computer games.  I was so excited about doing it that I had to go part time this semester because otherwise I'd finish my degree this year and be gone before the subject was introduced!  

One day, I hope to make and play games which can be studied as ART!  After all: the more artistic our chosen form of escapism is, the more credibility it has, right guys?!

October 1999