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  • Postmortem: What Lies Beneath

    - Jose Abalos
  • One of my favorite genres is the survival horror. Its mix of dense atmosphere, stellar audio work and stressful resource management is an explosive mix to me. So, when the chance came of making a level for Half-Life 2: Episode 2, I immediately jumped at the chance of making a survival horror level. After all, this is the game (well, the original Half-Life 2) that gave us that awesome level called Ravenholm. Inspired by Resident Evil 4's cabin siege and the movie The Cabin in the Woods, I attempted to make a survival horror level with a slow first half and a frenetic climax. This was a challenging and fun project, and here are my thoughts on the final result.

    What Went Right

    Atmosphere: One of the core goals when making this level was creating a level with a creepy atmosphere and in a setting not present in Half-Life 2: Episode 2. I believe I managed to accomplish this by the use of props and decals, crows that fly away from the player, lighting shifts and especially the music. Using sources as different as Mogwai, Akira Yamaoka and Goblin's soundtrack for Suspiriamade for a hard-to-forget experience.

    Scope: Burned out by the daunting task that was my previous level, Reggie (which you can read about here), I decided that this time I would make a smaller level, that still had a good amount of gameplay. In terms of scripting and playspace, I believe I succeeded, since I had the entire scripting and a good amount of detail done by the Whitebox milestone, which meant that I could spend more time refining the gameplay and adding more visual detail to the cabin.

    Fun New Mechanic: Another goal of this project was creating a new mechanic that changed the dynamic of regular Half-Life gameplay, but one that wasn't such a drastic departure as the inventory system in Reggie. Inspired by the Suicider enemies in Dead Island, the Explosive Zombie presented a risk-reward scenario, since players had to decide whether to eliminate the enemy straight away or let it come closer so it can take more enemies out when shot. This presented the unexpected surprise that when many Explosive Zombies were clustered together, one good shot could provoke a chain reaction and kill many enemies. This gave a sense of exhilaration to the players, and one that I decided to keep for the final level.

    Easy Adaptation to New Tools: This was my very first level working on the Hammer Editor. Thankfully, given the practice working in other editors such as the Creation Kit and especially the Unreal Engine, the learning curve was pretty low, so I could just start building playspaces pretty quickly. The scripting was a bit trickier, since I did not have much experience with entity scripting, but I grasped the concept after a couple of quick prototypes.

    Use of Lighting for Player Guidance: Another concept I wanted to explore with this level was the use of lighting not just as an aesthetic item, but also as a gameplay mechanism, by guiding the player from warm lighting areas to cool lighting areas (and vice versa). In this regard, the setting was a good choice, since a cabin in the woods, at nighttime, lends itself naturally to this kind of lighting. Although I think the lighting can be better in the level, at least I'm satisfied with the way it guided players throughout the level.


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