Blog 617: Post Mortem: Project Y4

Considering I’m now making a real game for real, maybe now is a good time to go back to my roots and examine what went right… and what went wrong… with my previous development efforts: my Warcraft III maps.

Today: my swansong, RDZ Industries: Project Y4

Wow, I managed to do this one without spoilers, too. Check me out.

Project Y4

Much like This Wreckage, Project Y4 was originally an arena. Unlike This Wreckage, I was a fully armed and operational blogger and diarised pretty much the entire development process. It took two years to make, because I did everything myself. Everything.

Why?

Because I wanted to. To prove that I could.

From the basic tug-of-war AoS gameplay of the Islands in the Sky to the long and tangled quests of This Wreckage, each of my maps was always bigger in some way than the one before it. With Project Y4, I took the biggest leap of all to combine more engine fighting than ever with 100% brand new artwork. The culmination of ten years of modding, literally and figuratively.

(Okay, I got plenty of JASS help from Anitarf and the WC3C IRC crew, plus a wee script from Ammorth’s LineSegments.)

The Captain's constant moaning does not improve during the operation.

The Captain’s constant moaning does not improve during the operation.

Project Y4 the one map I really did design, in the true sense of intending to create gameplay of a particular shape. I didn’t just throw fairly basic WC3 numbers together, I started from scratch with every single unit: I considered how many hits it would take to kill particular enemies, and how bosses could subvert certain capabilities and tactics…

Did I succeed? It’s hard to say. There is clearly an optimum way to cheese the map, but it may not be the most fun and engaging play style. I heard the Ammo Scavenger artillery mod is actually pretty broken, but it’s also really boring compared to the gas cloud or the spiderbomb.

On the other hand, you really can’t just attack-move to win — every engagement, even against basic enemies once you’ve improved your equipment, requires your full attention, and that was the main goal. I wanted a map you couldn’t safely tune out of for long periods of time.

You're right, in Deus Ex it's only tear gas, but that doesn't work very well on robots.

You’re right, in Deus Ex it’s only tear gas, but that doesn’t work very well on robots.

Luckily the problems This Wreckage had with damage reduction are neatly sidestepped by the change in shield mechanics. Exchanging the weird points/percentage mash-up for a flat reduction not only gives a clear and immediate understanding of the actual value of a particular pair of shields, it also makes them a neat and consistent mirror of the flat damage boost from swords.

The biggest mechanical shift, though is that in space, there are no experience points.

That puts progression completely in the hands of the equipment you can scavenge. On the one hand, you avoid the spiralling sack-o’-hit-points bosses that go beyond all believeability (ahem, Five), but on the other, abilities can rarely improve to match the increasingly numerous and more capable enemies.

The open-world nature of the map really didn’t help with this — items had to be balanced for the earliest point they could be acquired, hamstringing the more overblown abilities that made This Wreckage such a riot. The Tarobium blades, for example, should have been better but you can get them as soon the central administrative compound is open.

Unfortunately, all of the foreshadowing is buried in optional computer readouts so the plot doesn't really work.

Unfortunately, all of the foreshadowing is buried in optional computer readouts so the plot doesn’t really work.

In my eyes, though, Project Y4‘s biggest flaw is that it’s thoroughly miserable.

I built the entire thing during a turbulent period of my life, working through two miserable jobs where I didn’t really fit in, and it shows. It shows in the rampant cynicism of the player character. It shows in the grey and brown landscape under muted lighting. It shows in the downer ending. Real life is brown, just like my heart.

My excuse is that the Captain had to be cynical so that he could make choices between killing and saving, between handing over criminals to the boss or taking their bribes. He had to be morally questionable so either outcome would make sense.

In reality, I was miserable and of course that bitterness shone through in every single piece of dialogue, not even just the Captain’s. Game would have been just fine without those choice elements anyway.

I'm not sure if I'm advocating becoming self-employed or just running off to a desert island.

I’m not sure if I’m advocating becoming self-employed or just running off to a desert island.

The plot, the setting, the premise, too, though — it’s all so very dull.

I’ve always said that sci-fi and fantasy are two sides of the same coin, but in the face of how easily and naturally I spun off fantastical items and side quests for This Wreckage versus the painful birth of the few elements Project Y4 ended up with I don’t think I can hold on to that opinion anymore.

I tried to make the lore tight and consistent, and all that served to do was hamstring the variety of items and abilities I could add, both visually and mechanically. Originally, there weren’t even going to be force fields, it was that bad. Just take a moment to imagine the grey rocks and brown concrete without even the glowing orange of the force fields to spice it up. Exactly.

The funniest thing is that I’ve spent most of my life lambasting gritty, grimdark realism franchise reboots and everything those entail. “He who fights with monsters” and all that — I ended up creating the thing I hate most.

Okay, maybe I managed to unload some ridiculous abilities, but the best kit is rather obtuse to acquire.

Okay, maybe I managed to unload some ridiculous abilities, but the best kit is rather obtuse to acquire.

And yet, that original brief that excluded force fields had a different kind of charisma planned: the villain was going to taunt you throughout the game, like Icarus does during the later stages of Deus Ex. Details like Countermeasure being called, well, Countermeasure, would have been signalled with cryptic lines like “I have analysed your capabilities and developed a countermeasure.

Alas, the nebulous intention to voice act the map closed off all the extra dialogue that could have filled the emptiness, and took those incidental bells and whistles with it. As I said earlier, I wanted to create a map that demanded your full attention — and while I might have managed that mechanically, I failed to offer all the other distractions with which The Arena rewarded you for giving it that attention (and hobbled the story while I was at it).

Still really proud of the giant explosion effect, though.

Still really proud of the giant explosion effect, though.

My final excuse is that it was supposed to be much smaller than it was. In early developer diaries I said that Project Y4 was only going to have one or two side quests per annex — this was supposed to let me finish the map in some kind of sane timeframe.

That plan failed on all counts — I took two years to squeeze out a short map that overstays its welcome and still barely managed one side quest per annex.

Like Daggerfall, I save the most dramatic level geometry for the finale while the rest of the world is fairly boring.

Like Daggerfall, I save the most dramatic level geometry for the finale while the rest of the world is fairly boring.

The Verdict

I guess Project Y4 is still an open wound for me.

It was supposed to be a grand, overblown finale, a huge crescendo with which to step off the Warcraft III modding stage and out the door into the world of stand-alone development. It was supposed to be proof that I could bloody well do this for real.

Instead, it fizzled out and I left with a whimper. I tried too hard for too long and I dropped the ball.

I honestly have no idea how that AP-AM wreck got there; the AP-AM can't even GET to the blank zone, let alone die in it.

I honestly have no idea how that AP-AM wreck got there; the AP-AM can’t even GET to the blank zone, let alone die in it.

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8 thoughts on “Blog 617: Post Mortem: Project Y4

  1. Well when you put it like that it sounds really depressing , just like every artwork I ever made .

    On another note I think you should use posters , lots and lots of color full posters as space is ruled by corporations which is sure to use some form of propaganda ( easier than plants ) .

    One of the main reasons , the atmosphere is so depression as you would put it , is because of the take and approach on si-fi theme / environment . There are two camps the first being a ones like Dawn of War 40K , their art design focused on metals , browns , the scale of the environment large statues and monuments which is what your game came out as . ( Machinery , large trains , mining , ect ) . The other school is the more optimistic one used in games like Star Citizen . Their art design focuses / uses a lot of light such as holograms , billboards , fashion ect . The number of people / characters to interact with also plays a role . In DoW there is hardly anyone around despite the massive cities or there is far too many people cramped together giving it a oppressive tone .

    So if you want your game to be more light hearted adding some plants won’t do the job , add people , neon lights , people going on their day to day tasks like nothing is wrong . Leave impressive structures and rather go for beautiful/ elegant , glass domes , bird or butterflies ( sounds will even do ) make the world busy and not centered around the character or this disaster he is confronting and add poster lots of posters.

    Just my opinion , and despite not being everything you wanted it to be I beat you learned a lot more about you self and in general for Y4 than any of the other maps you have made . So take the time now to change the lore and the universe of Y4/5 so that it is something that you can enjoy writing and creating . Start on how you would imagine it would be as a child and work from there outwards . Get your motivation right now , before you get too deep because if you find making this game has hard as Y4 it might be your last and I would not like that to happen .

    P.S. ( sorry for #essay just my opinion I hope it helps )

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    • I even tried to use posters — there are advert holograms on the walls, for favourite bands, favourite games, there’s even a Lego logo on rotation in there.

      I think you’re right about people, though: there’s nobody around, very little chatter, so it feels much worse for it. I don’t know; Unreal managed to do monolithic, epic architecture and environments for a lonely character without becoming properly depressing (it still managed to be oppressive where appropriate, but it wasn’t always that way).

      But yes, while I think this scenario has its place in the wider mythos, it won’t be the first in my stand-alone sequence. I am laying plans for scenarios that are much more vibrant, much more alive.

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      • A lot will depend on where you place the story. Y4 was placed in an industry environment where there was no regard for luxery for it’s inhabitants. An industry that didn’t feel like leaving behind a style. Glass domes and impressive structures are a way of displaying the style of an architect, it shows an ingame intent. If you mix styles, it will make the place livelyer, because it will look like multiple people left their mark. It’s why star wars often looks lively while star trek often looks uninhabitent relative to the number of people who are supposed to live in a place.

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      • I think even in terms of industrial architecture there’s more to be done. I tried my best to make the different annexes relatively distinct — the power station with its big crystal chunks and the mine with all its ever-spinning drills probably being the highlights with the rest being a bit dull. I guess it comes from the emphasis on shape rather than texture; obviously my monolithic geometry isn’t quite up to scratch enough to compensate for the one or two atlas textures. Hell, maybe if I had just made the pavements a different colour from the structures…

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  2. I think that the best feature of this map was it’s challange. For me, the game didn’t overstay it’s welcome. But I don’t feel like going back to it either. In your new game, perhaps you can add some more different non-brown/grey environments 🙂

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    • Don’t worry, I’m already playing with the particular shades of grey and brown in use. All I really need to do is work out how to model plants and it’ll be green everywhere again.

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      • And if you need various non-plant environments, you can still mix up asphalt with: rocks (grey, brown or red), sand (red or yellow!), mud, rivers, lakes, pavement in various colours (really, all colors, configured in images even). But yeah, plants really liven things up.

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      • I’ve also recently discovered procedural texture generation, which opens up a whole world of gravels and rocks and broken paving stones. I will also be a bit more flamboyant with the mech camouflages, the new mech chunk system means I can have different-coloured parts much more easily (e.g. different colours on legs than the torso).

        Still not really found a solution for liquids, though. The universe seems to have sidestepped Unreal Engine 1 splashy water textures and gone straight onto deforming meshes, which aren’t really suitable for my needs.

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