Blog 520: The Return

Some of you may remember the dilemma I had about two years ago, when I was gearing up to do “one last Warcraft III map” (scoff). I had to choose between daftly-titled Brownscape: Torment and feat of strength Project Y4.

But now Y4 is done and it’s down to the bonus missions and the DLC-type extras, I need to take a break. I hope you understand — two solid years on a single project would drive any man to distraction. So one day, for wont of anything better to do, I was strolling around some mothballed projects…

Brownscape: Torment

It lost out two years ago because Y4 seemed like a better investment, but with some recent developments on the plot that was going nowhere at the time, I think I’ve got what it takes to bring Brownscape to some kind of finish (and hopefully find a better name for it along the way; a suitably poetic and pretentious song lyric, natch).

It was one of those walking-along-the-street-thinking kind of moments, when that notepad in my rucksack (and/or back pocket) suddenly becomes the most precious thing in the world. Ideas must be transcribed before they slip away into the aether, and now I make a point of carrying that notepad to every possible outing. Sure, I don’t end up writing in it most of the time, but when that one moment where everything clicks finally arrives, any such inconveniences are rendered irrelevant and those few sheets of cheap paper and the shitty ballpoint become the most precious artefacts in the universe.

The best thing is that the nitty-gritty of system assemblage — item stacking, camera lock, and so on — has all been completed by my younger self. Indeed, said younger self has left me with a brilliantly clean and organised legacy, which is a far cry from the shambolic monstrosity my more modern self ended up creating out of Y4‘s codebase (one must suffer for one’s art).

This is the story of an insular society spiraling towards stagnation and extinction.

The great thing about Brownscape is that it is, in the tradition of This Wreckage before it, a very content-driven map. Y4 is, on the other hand, very systems-driven — it has all the modular bits of equipment, funny boss behaviours, computer screens and procedurally generated mini-games: in short, it was a bloody nightmare to script and that really ate up the development time for not a lot of raw gameplay.

But Brownscape? A few choice systems are in place, of course; basics like cinematic on/off, enter/exit building, the heat mechanic for the desert; but nothing brain-melting like a whole maze generation algorithm or fifty-odd letter and symbol models. And, well, there’s that whole thing where it isn’t a total conversion so I don’t have to flex for a day every time I need another enemy unit (recolour everything brown!).

I couldn’t call him the “Rock King” because that would have entirely the wrong connotations.

So it fits like a fine glove, even after so long away. Sure, I had to make a few updates — like using an integer for game state rather than a boolean to indicate being in a cinematic, meaning I can easily avoid conflicts with conversations that occur too close together (and swap between multi-part-skippable longer cinematics without undue pain) — but by and large it’s already well on its way to being the real deal.

And that’s, well, heartening. My biggest problem has always been getting started. Give me a kernel, and like the grain of sand at the heart of the mollusc, I shall slather it in mucus until it grows into a grandiose and overly-pretentious behemoth. The initial grain might bear little resemblance to the finished product, but it is still the most critical part — without it, there can be no pearl.

Remember kids — always wear sunscreen.

Even so, Brownscape isn’t completely the same-old same-old. As with all my projects, there’s a continued element of experimentation with variations on the basic formula. Ideally, one day I’ll converge on the ultimate refinement, but methinks there’s a wee way to go before that point.

There seems to be a lot less combat and a lot more adventure this time around. Lash is not an unstoppable powerhouse, nor does he have access to a swathe of devastating direct-damage abilities. Rather, his planed abilities are low-key defensive actions (though throwable rock items are still present) that should allow him to merely survive battles or avoid them entirely. We’ll have to see how this pans out in the long run, of course, because I don’t exactly have a pedigree of engaging combat scenarios, let alone engaging non-combat scenarios.

Lash may be an outcast, but he still has his own house full of pre-gathered goodies.

And Brownscape is actually quite momentous, in the sense that it’s the first real project where I’ve depended upon another person for artwork. I speak of the Shul’kra character models, which are based on Olof Moleman’s rendition of the Star Wars prequel series Geonosians and have been edited with express permission from the man himself.

Even so, it’s not really dependence, because the Geonosian model existed long before Brownscape was a twinkle in my short-sighted eyes — I didn’t storm onto the Requests forum demanding somebody manufacture fifty system-critical models before I had anything to show. I didn’t even begin work on Brownscape until I had secured that permission to work with the Geonosian, so any pleasure you might eventually get from Brownscape you owe to Olof. He is both w00t, rad and awesome.

It takes Lash until his first foray across the burning sands before he even gets a weapon.

When I made This Wreckage, I intended to make something big. I wanted four hours of completist gameplay, all in — I ended up with between 6 and 14, depending on how badly you want a high score/get lost in the swamp. I don’t really want to go so large for this outing, so I’m going to aim for a more modest 1 to 1.5 hours, and hopefully actually stick to that target this time.

Because nobody wants to wait another year… do they?

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