Pocket tens!! I can’t believe he only had pocket tens!
We are on one of the tables at the Venetian, in Las Vegas. James, Andy, a few rabbits and I have been playing poker for a few hours now and I’ve been losing – mostly, but that’s all part of my plan!
It’s coming up to 2:45am and Andy seems to be coming into his zone, I’ll have to be careful. I need to get them off balance.
“So, what you guys been working on?”, I say as casually as possible.
“A mod”, they say, almost in unison.
The turn was a rag, but I was thinking long term anyway.
“Is this the one based in Black Mesa?”
“Yeah.” says Andy. I see my chance.
“Not another one! Don’t they just blur into one?”
“Not this one. Players will be amazed by the depths of the Black Mesa research facility, crafted with passion and attention to detail by a talented and dedicated team.” James and I both look up.
“That’s sounds a bit rehearsed.” I say.
“Yeah, it’s gonna be an action-packed, humorous adventure showing a side of Black Mesa so fleshed out and faithful that you wonít have seen anything like it since Gearboxís official spin-offs.” adds Andy.
I was wrong – they were prepared. I needed to take a different angle.
“Must be fun working with the GoldSource engine. Hardly any problems compared to Source.”
A snort of derision from both of them.
One of the rabbits decides he has had enough and leaves the table. Less money for me to win, but oh well.
“Itís been a constant pain in the neck as our plans are cut short because of engine limitations.”
“I just wish I could swallow my pride and start building it with the Source engine instead.” adds Andy.
I’d hit a sore spot. I’d better remember that for another time.
“I suppose you’ve been working on it too long for that?”
“Yeah, about 4 years, but it’s been through some serious changes, including the name and general design. Although it might be worth noting that the first key you come across during the mod hasnít changed since I first started working on it 4 years ago.”, says Andy. “Just under two years, personally. I had moved exclusively to Source around 2007 and it was simply because Urby was so passionate about the idea, but so terrible at motivating himself to finish it (or even work on it at all as it turned out) that I offered to help him. At the time I assumed itíd be two or three maps I would make. Little did I know that it was so early in development after a year of Urby working on it alone that Iím now responsible for three whole chapters (out of 5).”
“Must be hard working together. I mean, what if you disagree?”
“What, on a development point? It never happens ó we both play the same games and weíre both cynical Brits who recognise when something is rubbish.”
“and most of the time we help each other out by testing the hell out of one anotherís maps.”
“Girl!” mumbles James
Obviously an “In” joke. I decide to left it go.
“You been doing this stuff long”, I ask Andy.
“I was playing on an Acorn computer before I started school and I have had a passion for videogames ever since. I never really got into mapping for Half-Life until I saw an article in PCGamer about it a year later. “
“What about you, James”, I ask, needing to keep them both talking.
” Iíve been mapping since I was about 12.” You only look fifteen now, I think to myself, which causes a wry smile, just as I am looking at my cards – perfect timing.
“So, progress must be going well” I poked, hoping to open another wound.
“Well at first is was really slow” laments Andy “ploddingly” interjects James, “Fortunately, things have really started to pick up recently and I am now certain that this mod will be seeing the light of day.”.
“mostly itís been from the response weíve been getting on ModDB. Never in my life have I experienced such a variety of criticism and complements that are spurring us on to a crazy extent.” Adds James.
“Well, sometimes these things have to take their natural course. If you just build because of a schedule, the end result will be poor.” I say, hoping to make them feel better.
I follow up with “Tell me more about the response from ModDB”.
“The community response has been very positive and as such it has inspired both myself and Archie to work harder than we ever have to ensure that people are not disappointed. The amount of constructive criticism is what has truly blown me away. There are a lot of features in the mod that are only there because of a suggestion someone else has made in response to our media releases.” infuses Andy. It’s great to see somebody so excited by a project. ” if it wasnít for the community we wouldnít be doing this. Itís got to the stage where if we gave up weíd genuinely be letting a whole load of people down I think, and not only is that an alien experience to me, but also itís an incomparable motivation tool.” James says, just adding to the feeling that these guys are really enjoying what they are doing.
“Working as a team means you must compliment each other. What are you both good at?” I hoped that assessing themselves would throw them off their game – few people like praising themselves.
“I’m usually good at storylines, but in the case of The Core, I would say mapping overall.” says Andy. We wait for James to blow his horn….
“Texturing and lighting. Texturing because Iíve been using photoshop since I was ten (literally) and lighting because I use the same techniques I learned in film school ó itís still about creating atmospheric scenes.”
“Yes, but what about things you suck at?” Notice how I didn’t use “weakness”? I wanted to really rub it in. I collect my winnings after another successful hand. I wink at the pretty dealer – Note to self: leave a nice tip for her.
“Programming and Modelling. Iíve taught myself the basics of modelling for Goldsource and produced a couple of things from scratch which appear in the mod. Programming however is something I will never get my head around. Fortunately, we have had assistance from a couple of talented coders along the way.” “Why is Andy always the first to answer?”, I ask myself. I’ll direct my questions at James from now on to piss him off.
Right on cue, James says “Modelling. Canít do it at all. Iíve tried so many times to just sit down and learn it, but I always end up pulling my hair out and giving up.”
“So, James, who does what?”
“I map, texture, light, add gameplay and do a lot of voice acting. Urby occasionally does a thing.” Ooo, divide and conquer screams the little devil on my shoulder!
“Archie does all the stuff that gets us noticed, the awesome mapping, most of the textures, the media coordination, the news updates and trailers. I also work on the maps, textures, and basic model editing and skinning and sometimes coordinate Archie in terms of where the story is going in a particular section and what the players goals should be.” Damn, support from the boss.
“Yeah, but you must disagree sometimes?” “You are like a terrier sometimes, whispers the little devil.
“I always tend to take the viewpoint that this is still Urbyís mod and that Iím just helping him finish it, so I tend to leave major decisions up to him. The thing is, he tends to leave major decisions up to me as well and weirdly that actually works out really well. An example would be the chapter Cendark (working title). It was originally going to be all sewers and vents ó close quarters fighting with vorts and zombies. I took over development of it and just because I was getting sick of vents, I figured Iíd add a massive tram hub where the player gets chased down a tunnel by a crashing tram. I never even let Urby know that I was doing it, but now that itís finished itís proven to be the most successful area of the whole mod based on comments received on the various media releases showcasing it. We leave each other to our own devices in terms of what exists in each map, and really the only thing weíd actually properly discuss potential changes to would be major plot points.” MY GOD! Get James started and he’s like a train. Gotta be careful about that. Still, it was a well structured answer.
“Tell me about the new features, Andy.” I switch back to Andy. Oh! Two queens, no, not Andy and James, but my cards. Play it cool, Phillip.
“Most of the NPCís in the mod have been replaced with much higher poly models, originally by Ambient Impact and Romka, then edited by me. On top of that, we are in the process of adding some new weapons and we have a few new enemies making an appearance too.” “We have some new weapons, characters, locations and an entirely new texture set (currently consisting of 764 completely original textures, incidentally). Iíd like to stress once again that we donít have any silly engine mods to try to modernise Goldsource ó weíd just use Source if we wanted shaders and dynamic flashlights.” adds James. I whistle. Is it for the number of textures or my cards. Let them wonder.
“Must be fun to make. What’s your favourite part of the modding process?”. The Turn is another Queen. “Come on baby, come to daddy”, I say to myself as I look at the pot.
“Testing. I know it sounds weird but you see some of the funniest things when testing, or when someone else is testing your map or a new enemy. Tinkering with a new monsters health and damage output can be a lot of fun if you donít mention it before asking someone to test it. Archie and I often play through our maps together while talking over TeamSpeak so that we can hear the otherís reaction. You can guarantee that if something makes you squeal while playing The Core, Archie did too.” interrupts Andy.
“Playing my maps back and being surprised by something. One of the quirks of the engine is that itíll occasionally do very unexpected things, and more often than not Iíll laugh and leave them in. Thereís an area in Cenoff (working chapter title) where I accidentally forgot to prevent two squads of grunts from throwing grenades, and because of the structure of the map they end up just mortaring you for the duration of the map with this crazy limitless supply of grenades. It certainly keeps you on your feet, and can be very funny and unexpected. Youíll just be minding your own business when all of a sudden five grenades will just drop next to you and you have to dive down a staircase.”
Good! They are getting more verbose as the hands go on – that can only be good for me. I’ve won the last 4 from 10 hands. Almost worth my while flying out.
I glance at the croupier again. Yes, almost.
Now I have them talking, I’ll ask to more questions and then finish big.
“What advice would you give to new modders?”
“Donít rush into things! I know itís exciting to start a new project and you want nothing more than to get some media out there and start gaining followers. However, just look around at how many others are doing that. If you want to make something memorable, slow down, learn the limits of the engine youíre working with, and practice until you feel you are working to the best of your ability. Also, join a community who works with the same engine. They might know something you donít!”. Good advice from Andy, there.
“Make sure you have some technical expertise before you attempt a full mod. Start out with small maps for existing games/mods and work your way up. Iíve seen it so many times that someone who has just picked up Hammer a week before has plans for this incredible mod spanning the globe and creating new genres while simultaneously re-inventing existing ones and itís just not going to happen. Iíd say around 80% of mods that are started are never finished because people just donít realise how much work it is and how inexperienced they actually are. Iíve been mapping for, what, eight years and Iím only just getting somewhere approaching competence.”
I need to finish with a tough question, especially just before the River is dealt.
“What plans do you have for post-release? I mean will you be releasing the textures and models etc?”
“Weíve discussed it, and while you do end up feeling very protective of your content, if people really want it then theyíre going to get it regardless of whether you release it or not. For that reason I expect we will release all our source files ó itís just a shame that you can never guarantee being credited for your work when you make it public domain. RMFs and PSDs are still a point of question, but the .wads will definitely be available.” Nice to hear that James.
“At the risk of repeating James, we will be releasing the models and texture packs with the mod. As for source files such as RMFs and PSDs. Weíre undecided. I can confirm that the source files for the models and their skins will not be released as the majority of the work was by Ambient Impact and Romka.” Reiterates Andy. Just as I lay my queens down and do the classic “Two-handed” pull-in.
“Well, thanks guys for taking the time to play and chat with me. You guys sure know how to make a mod, but you suck at poker!”
I walk away from the table, flipping a Hundred back at the dealer, leaving them staring at each other in disbelief!.
Another fine morning on The Strip.
All the information related to the mod, Andy and James is factually correct. The rest? Well, believe what you want to believe!
Pocket: Two. So “pocket tens” means two tens.
Rabbits: Weak players
Rags: Useless cards
Turn: The fourth card turned over by the dealer.
River: The fifth and last card turned over by the dealer.
19th August 2012
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