For my next Unvanquished map, I’m doing something different, something more challenging than yet another space station that starts with the letter “S”. (No, making two of them wasn’t intentional…it just happened.) This map is a dystopian, futuristic urban center, something that hasn’t been covered yet in Unvanquished and wasn’t very common in its spiritual predecessor, Tremulous.
I call it “Freeway”. Because something something originality something.
The map is inspired by the Detroit city hub in Deus Ex: Human Revolutions, which is one of my favorite games because it allows you to be sneaky and non-lethal. (Except in the parts that it doesn’t–the boss battles! Argh!) I’ve always liked skyscraper architecture and my love-hate relationship with real life cities is swinging more and more often towards “love”, so a city was the natural choice for a new Unvanquished map.
The theme isn’t the only new thing here. I’m also doing something different development-wise. Most early Tremulous maps (including mine) were developed in heavy secrecy, which was great for authors that were worried that their ideas would be stolen but bad for actually making a releasable map. It was very common for a new mapper to show up on the forums, post some enticing screenshots, and then disappear before a build was ever uploaded. In addition, many authors (cough not me I swear cough) went months between updates. That’s a long time to go without gameplay feedback from the community; often the feedback was provided by a few select beta testers–a very small number of eyes.
Worse, most mappers only packaged the compiled map and not the original, editable .map file, which meant that updating the map to fix bugs or to take advantage of new engine capabilities became next to impossible over time, as the mappers lost access to the original files. We lost access to a lot of good Tremulous maps that way. There are very fun maps out there that have no source available, which means we can’t update them to work with the new game engine.
Unvanquished mappers have gotten pretty good about packaging the source along with the compiled map (the source file compresses well, being plain text, so there’s no technical reason not to), but I’d like to tackle the first problem too. Unvanquished is an open-source game and I’m one of its developers; it should follow that my maps should be developed openly as well. I plan to garner feedback from the Unvanquished developers and community in an iterative, prototypical fashion. I also plan to keep old versions of the map so people can go back and see the progress it’s made from its inception to its current form.
Us programmers have a tool that’s great for this sort of thing: Git! The parts of a map that change most often are plain text (the shaders and the map source itself); the binary assets (textures, sounds) usually don’t change once they are added to the project, making Git an ideal choice for managing different versions of an Unvanquished map.
I’ve set up a repository on my GitHub account here. You can browse the Wiki for development updates and screenshots, which are contained in a separate branch. Viewing the screenshots from the earliest ones onward provides an inside look at my map development process, starting with the broad-stroked “sketch” of the main arena to where it is currently. There’s even an alpha to download, although it’s primitive at the moment. (Only the outdoor arena has any semblance of completion.)
I hope to see more Unvanquished mapper using an open development model like this.