portfolio

Every virtual space I've created (or at least, the ones worth noting). Download links have been provided where applicable.


dm_perthowned
2020

Perthowned was a parting love letter to Half-Life deathmatch, and an exercise in... incredibly irresponsible brushwork. The layout was inspired by the classic map 'Crossfire' and was intended to evoke a similar flow at a more sustainable, relaxed pace. I used no custom textures in its construction, and built it to the engine's hardcoded constraints. You could theoretically play it on a computer from 1998—if you didn't mind a framerate in the single digits.

A large multi-tiered central space with multiple entry points—presented as a testing chamber for prototype rocket engines—invites players with generous healing items, and right beneath the rocket's nozzle, the powerful versatile gluon gun. In observation of tradition, however, the chamber is a trap; a player in the overlooking control room can press a large red button to seal the doors on the lower level and fire the thruster, superheating the chamber in an echo of Blast Pit's famous sequence, and directing a cloud of flames out of the exhaust trench.

I had a couple of thoughts in mind when I implemented this. While a number of routes lead into the central chamber, I wanted to keep players rotating in and out in quick succession, so I left a Sword of Damocles quite literally dangling overhead, pushing players towards the ground floor exits with a lingering unease. Furthermore, I wanted another nod to Crossfire, specifically a large event that occasionally radically alters the flow of play. Crossfire's impending air strike draws everyone away from the main arena towards an isolated, cramped bunker—the only spot that's safe when the hellfire hits. Traffic through the map becomes nearly unidirectional, and spaces that are otherwise neglected become suddenly hotly contested.

I love that recontextualisation of space. Perthowned's map event isn't quite as dramatic, but is designed to direct flow in a similar manner. By sealing the ground-level exits, and promising imminent toasty death, players inside the chamber are prompted to make a desperate scramble for the exhaust trench's exit, forcing them onto the otherwise-quiet cliffside. These cliffs also feature the feared tau cannon: a high-mobility, high-damage weapon that enables a successful escapee to quickly get back into the fray—and just maybe, seek revenge.


dm_lister
2017

A remake/rebuild/re-whatever of Cloister, a Half-Life deathmatch map created by the series' own writer, Marc Laidlaw. The name is a reference to an old episode of the sci-fi series Red Dwarf, where Dave Lister finds himself exasperatedly trying to correct his pet cat's distant descendant on the details of a religious order founded on offhand remarks he made over three million years ago. After being repeatedly erroneously referred to as 'Cloister the Stupid'—an ignoble but seemingly Christ-like figure—Lister breaks down and exclaims "No. No, it's not Cloister. It's me, it's Lister! It's Lister the Stupid!"

Cloister was never officially released but was retrieved (partially) from the 'WC map pack', a miscellaneous collection of internal assets that were leaked alongside the Half-Life 2 beta in 2003. As a self-acknowledged maker of monumentally poor decisions, I set about reconstructing the map and bringing it up to a higher standard of aesthetic quality, while preserving its play space to as reasonable an extent as possible. Marc seems understandably bemused as to why I'd pour my time into this, but as far as I can tell, the project had his approval—or at least, his world-weary tolerance.

This was an unusual project. Marc's layout had a number of eccentricities and design decisions that I would otherwise frown on, but in the interests of preserving the spirit of the map, I tried to rework delicately and sparingly. Similarly, the brushwork had hints of an intended architectural style here and there—tall narrow halls, crumbling courtyards, looming overhangs and a secluded pool—that needed to be reinterpreted, reimagined, or occasionally just... thrown out. I tried to steer clear of explicit architectural inspiration on this project in favour of imagining my own motifs, but as you can probably see, a few classical influences may have snuck in there. Lots of expensive columns.

Owing to the limitations of the engine, and my own relative inexperience with it, a number of sacrifices had to be made to squeeze the map into Half-Life's modest constraints. I'd initially put a greater focus on detailing inaccessible spaces, creating alcoves with recurring motifs reminiscent of some fabricated religious order. I'd underestimated how quickly curved geometry, like arches, tends to chew up clipnodes—the engine's equivalent of a compiled collision mesh—and a lot of 'unnecessary' detailing had to go out the window.


Skint
2017

A sadly canned UE4 stealth game that I was working on with the delightful Joe Wintergreen at Impromptu Games. Operating on a casual contract, I spent most of my time in this position working on the hub level—a slice of a pseudo-medieval, pseudo-Industrial-Revolution city that sprawled vertically as much as horizontally. The game was influenced by the classic immersive sim experience laid down by the Thief series, albeit with more acrobatic tools and (for at least a while) some very ambitious worldbuilding.

I had to create a space that was inherently enjoyable to traverse either when exploring aimlessly or moving from A to B; full of opportunities for the players to encounter pockets of narrative—or create their own. Building layouts had to feel realistic, conducive to AI navigation, and provide alternating zones of safety and risk. On top of that, it had to be at least partially presentable: we needed a vertical slice to secure more stable funding.

It was a lot of balls to keep in the air, and I'll be the first to admit that I dropped a few. In the earlier stages of the project I was too eager to impress, creating detailed structures without greyboxing or planning routes. Oh, sure, I left opportunities open—a window here, a landing here, roof access there—but it was ultimately a strategy of creating blindly and hoping that things just fell into place later. Later on I was more responsible, creating rough outlines that could be easily tweaked or swept away, but feel I weighed myself down with decision paralysis. Immersive sims aim to create a dynamic, plausible, seamless world that you can lose yourself in—and being in charge of shaping that world is a lot to ask.

Ultimately, we weren't able to secure funding, but I came out the other end pleased with some of my creations. Many structures ended up highly porous in a manner similar to Dishonored, littered with entrances and exits to facilitate casual exploration, and with our tools pipeline (importing Hammer brush geometry into UE4) I was able to create some genuinely attractive vistas. The architecture ended up a mishmash of time periods and improbable fantasy, but that was probably for the best—nobody wants samey, after all.


de_nocredit
2016

A remake of ahl_nocredit, a classic map for Action Half-Life by the notorious Hondo. This was a self-indulgent project, born largely of a design idea I had: could you take the layout of a free-for-all deathmatch-oriented map and successfully adapt it to CS:GO's defusal mode? I'll admit I had other motives—I hero-worshipped Hondo for his dedication to atmosphere and his extensive, unnerving secret areas—but after numerous greybox experiments, I had grown tired of conventional Counter-Strike layouts, and de_nocredit gave me the excuse I needed to fly in the face of them.

Placement quickly became something of a challenge. ahl_nocredit was full of arenas and corridors that suited a multitude of engagement ranges and play styles, but it was designed for players to circulate aimlessly through, while the flow of Counter-Strike maps is (at least initially) much more focused on controlling ground, with both teams contesting fairly predictable positions. I had to ensure that the bomb sites would be fun to fight over, with a handful of entrance points that granted different strategic boons, and I had to ensure that the Counter-Terrorists would be at least mostly there before the Terrorists arrived. If possible, I also had to ensure the existence of one or more central spaces that would open up further options for the Terrorists, if they managed to secure them.

The semi-abstract nature of Hondo's brushwork also gave me some welcome environment design wiggle-room. I was dedicated to preserving and enhancing the mood of the original map—a decrepit pseudo-American inner-city labyrinth—but when faced with a blank wall or featureless corridor, I was able to nudge the presentation here and there, painting in hints of something deeper, something beyond those walls.

The end layout turned out as something of a Dust-like, with site A almost directly on top of the CT spawn and site B tucked away to the side. To alleviate the wide-openness of the petrol station forecourt, I scattered a number of vehicles and cargo pallets—a sin, perhaps, but the product of desperation—and I opened up a shortcut to make a circuitous route from the original layout slightly more practical for fast-paced engagement. Ultimately the map was still a strange beast that garnered little to no recognition outside of its very niche intersection of interests— but what's the point of art if you can't create for your own sake?


de_coredump
2016

My earliest work of level design to see the light of day. Coredump was a product of many of my conflicting desires; the desire to create an acclaimed competitive defusal map, the desire to create a distinctive aesthetic that escaped the usual Counter-Strike locales, the desire to play with greater verticality in bombsite layouts. Unsurprisingly, it was a lot to take on, and despite being well-received on the Workshop, I don't believe it really holds up.

The overarching layout is a fairly conventional affair, with two bombsites reasonably close to the Counter-Terrorist spawn, a handful of lateral routes for rotating between them, and a 'mid' area that grants the Terrorists more options for assault if they're able to secure it. Mid draws influences from Mirage, with several parallel paths on different tiers and a semi-protected room for defending snipers. Notably, whichever team controls it can rotate through to a rooftop overlooking site A.

This is, I think, the maps biggest weakness, and doubtless a source of frustration for many: a player on the rooftop can be enormously effective at defending the site, but (critically) there is no way to reach their position from the site's ground-level, besides taking a lengthy detour through mid. This can leave players on the site feeling helpless, especially when it comes down to time-pressured scenarios like planting or defusing; even if they know someone is on the roof, they can't do anything about it besides hoping to bait them out. It was a bold design concept, but in hindsight, a little too one-sided.

However, I am pleased with a number of features; I think I did well to create a night-time map that was still visually readable in CS:GO, a game that has done everything it can to discourage such a theme. The architectural design could be politely described as 'nebulous'—I was hesitant to commit to a regional style, despite using the term 'cyberpunk' rather too much—but I think it does well by the game's visual standards, lack of custom assets notwithstanding.