Of course I can only be talking about one thing — it’s time to continue exploring the Master Chief Collection and dive into Halo 2. Which is very much more of the same.
I’ve menitoned Age of Empires II obliquely many times throughout this blog but never actually written about it directly. Which is actually a massive oversight, because it has the dubious honour of being the first PC game I ever bought, so it’s a foundational influence in how I started to dream of making my own worlds — it did, after all, also include my very first level editor.
So twenty-odd years later, with lockdown madness causing a spiral ever deeper into nostalgia, isn’t it high time we took a proper look at a true classic?
I’m big into software preservation. I think it’s important to maintain access to things as they were, not as you remember them or as you wish they were — accept them as they were, warts and all, or judge them to overall be wanting and discard them on that basis. This is most relevant in the area of games, where lots of classics are now unplayable and only remasters of various stripes can be had. Whether it’s new graphics or gameplay tweaks, most re-releases don’t fix only the compatibility issues to get things running again — they make changes too. I’m not here to argue whether those changes are better or worse, simply that they make these games different.
Luckily, I still have my original CDs for a selection of classics. While I can’t run some of these original versions on Windows 7 or 10, I still have the media — given a system that could run them, their ancient truths could be unlocked once more.
So I have found a system that can run them. I have built… a new old computer.
Halo is a franchise that utterly passed me by. I’ve never owned a console and I guess I never knew that its first entry was also out on PC. I’ve always been curious, though; it’s had a lot pop-culture influence through the ages, and hell, I like sci-fi shooters anyway.
So when I heard they were finally (re)porting the full series to PC, I must admit I was a little bit excited to finally see what all the fuss was about. Fast-forward long enough that the porting is complete and has had plenty of time to stabilise and… here we are.
So let’s begin, in release order, with Halo: Combat Evolved.
So I have a level editor for Exon. It’s still a bit sketchy around the edges, but it does the job: I can place decorations and modify terrain and live happily ever after.
But in a singleplayer RPG, decorations and terrain are only half the battle. These things have no life but the life I build into them, and that means I need a level scripting system.
Can you see where this is going? Oh yes.
The wonderful world of Unity editor tools is one of the most complex and irritating worlds I’ve ever had the pleasure to explore. Alas, it is one that I have to explore because I want to make it very easy to build levels for Exon. I want it to be as easy as farting out Warcraft III maps was, back in the day. Once I’ve built the engine and all the relevant bits, I want to shut Visual Studio down and never write another line of code for the rest of my life.
To get even close to that ideal, I have to go through a whole WORLD of pain — and the realisation that maybe, just maybe, one bloke in his bedroom can’t hold a candle to one of the greatest engineering marvels of the videogame world. Whatever happens here, nobody will be building the next DotA inside Exon.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that Exon‘s core loop is based on Westwood’s classic and criminally-underrated action-RPG Nox. This manifests itself most clearly in the movement system: hold the right mouse button to cause your hero to walk towards the cursor, leading them around the world like a little mouse following the cheese.
Similarly, I took the melee attack system, where each click causes a single sword slash, damaging whatever has the poor fortune of standing in your blade’s path.
Except then I realised that, actually, I didn’t. Nox has a more complex and interesting “stamina” system controlling its attacks than my naive cooldown attempt, and it contributes immensely to all the feelings I had been struggling to recapture.
I might spend most of my time gushing over story-driven role-playing games and shooters, but I’m still partial to a real-time strategy every so often. I like building up a base and training all the little people and sending them off to conquer in my name.
The thing I don’t like about RTSes is that they’re all designed to be played against other people in fair and balanced short-form matches, whereas I like sinking into stories and experiencing them at my own pace. I want an RTS without that multiplayer pressure, one that has the time and space to ride all the way into the sunset.
I’m too busy building Exon to even consider a different project, let alone one of such magnitude, but it’s fun to think about these things now and again. So let’s talk about the RTS that I’ll never make…