Descend the tower and quell the uprising
Deadly Descent was a Half Life 2 mod I made in my free time over the course of 3 and a half months. It reverses the normal roles within Half Life 2 and has the main character on the side of the Combine. Throughout this mod the Combine are fighting off rioters who have infiltrated one of their military bases. This military base is stationed entirely in an old hotel so the art is mix of combine technology, office paraphernalia, and old fashioned upholstery.
-In the base game it felt like many of the gunfights, especially towards the middle of the game were rather lackluster. You're either fighting the combine or zombies and there is never much meaning or intrigue behind these fights. I wanted there to be a variety of encounters that weren't just meant to push the player forward or decrease their ammo count but which made their heart pound, gave them opportunities to use the environment to their advantage, and incentivized them to explore.
To accomplish this I set up areas like the elevators where you have to destroy the wires to drop the elevator. Here you can choose to drop one on an enemies head, hit it from the side to create and extra area for cover, or jump in as it falls. I also created other unique sections such as where the player has to fight off rioters while a combine soldier helps take them out from behind, and vent sections where head crabs will jump out at the player.
-Within the base game I also felt like the architecture in each area was too standardized. There wasn't enough of a change when it came to things like supports or ceilings. Almost every ceiling in the base game is square or slanted, which was something I wanted to change. As such despite only doing a three story building I wanted to set up enough of a background to warrant a different atmosphere, architecture, and set of textures for each floor.
Within my original level design document I wanted to keep in line with the intent I described above. As such I had the player to start off in an office setting while on patrol with another combine soldier. I decided that the riot would start out there as it would create a hectic scene with the player fighting off rioters as they are shooting at them and the other office employees. Then the player would work their way through the area and down to the second floor which consisted of a medical bay and set of locker rooms. I thought it would be neat to have a scenario where the player could choose to save one of the doctors or kill them and have the combat encounter change based on that.
From there they get the crossbar which can be used to break glass and boards which they must do to progress. Then they enter the vents section where they are forced into a crawl and have a couple head crabs jump at them. This is to have a slight change of pace and slow the player down before continuing. It also acts as a push so once they exit out the vent they can't back track. At this point they can go into the lockers rooms where they will face a small horde of zombies. This is optional however it rewards them with the gravity gun and mini grenades for the smg secondary fire. They could also just choose to progress and they'll come to a 'T' intersection where there are two rioters. If they have the gravity gun they can pick up the debris and make the fight easier, otherwise they'll lose some ammo and health. From here they'll notice two elevators suspended in air. They should note that the wires look similar to the other breakable items and can be shot at or have debris thrown at them. This will cause the elevators to crash. One of which will crush an enemy below.
The player can then jump through the hatch in the crashed elevator and will immediately see a few spots of cover and some enemies moving towards them. If they have the grenades from prior this becomes an easy fight, otherwise they'll most likely end up picking off a few rioters while noticing other gunfire that's also directed at the rioters. From the room behind them a combine soldier with a shotgun shows up (originally meant to be a hostage situation but there was no functionality to handle this) to help you out. From here on this floor is more oriented around exploration. On the right portion of the map there are zombie infested rooms that contain supplies, on the left is an amphitheater with ammo and plenty of physics objects for the gravity gun to use. Around the corner and up the middle is one of the bigger fights in the level where zombies will attack you and the rioters as you fight each other.
Once the player is ready to progress they can make their way to the armory where they'll find a rocket launcher and a few enemies waiting. This leads to the hangar where there'll be an all out fight between the rioters and combine. During this the player must destroy the rioters ships using the rocket launcher. From there a new wave of rioters will enter and the player must run to the last ship before it gets destroyed. Thus signifying the end of the level.
While the office portion of the map was in a way my homage to the popular show "The Office" it was also a way to drop the player into a frantic situation and have them try to make the best of it. I wanted them to run for ammo, and take cover like they would in an actual riot. I also wanted a slight haze to fill the area as though the building was on fire and thus give the player a slight sense of urgency. The difficulty here was that the office needed to feel populated enough to be realistic while also being open enough for the player to move around. This meant carefully placing desks and supports so as to allow the player to easily maneuver along straight pathways.
The medical bay got changed around a lot. It was originally meant to be heavily sci-fi and militaristic in nature but I had to alter this as I there were no assets that fit this theming. As such I made it into more of a library and altered my overall theming to be more of a hotel turned military base so as to keep some believability. I also decided on vaulted ceilings and marble supports to better sell this ideal as well as to better suit my intent.
The locker room was something I heavily debated making into more of a supply warehouse but I didn't want to make it too closed off or narrow either. As such I left it as was but made sure to add in some fun elements such as placing the gravity gun on the toilet next to a dead body. To orient players to this I also made sure that this stall was the only one with a door that was open and that there was light coming from it so it stood out.
The elevator segment was the biggest push for the player as it represented the point of no return. It was very clear that the player couldn't go back at this point. Based on the feedback I got it was also one of the more enjoyable parts of the level. Players enjoyed squishing the rioter and jumping in the elevator as it fell. Where the player had already been taught about breakable objects it was fairly simple for them to grasp what to do. This was interesting, however, as I originally thought the player wouldn't have enough time to practice it. As such I figured it would be unclear and anticipated having to redesign the area for that.
The final part of the map was difficult to design for. I wanted to add a lot more in terms of exploration but also didn't want to force it on the player as that could be frustrating for some. To balance this I made the exploration segments loop into the golden path so as to make exploration easier while also not taking away much time from the player. I then made combat encounters start to be more based around enemies fighting each other as well as the player to make them a bit more interesting and to add a bit of build up. The same thing went with the introduction of the rocket launcher where it was meant to build up to the final battle and shooting down the ships. Unfortunately, due to time constraints the hangar isn't finished yet, but if you download the map you can play up to that point.
-When modding always make sure to design around the assets you have available to you (I struggled with certain areas as I didn't realize the art limitations I had)
-Understand what the engine is capable of before designing specialized encounters or features that would require altering source code
-When it comes to designing unique encounters make sure there enough cues for the player to fully understand what's happening
-Don't be afraid to redesign entire areas if they don't fit the theme nor type of game play you're trying to create