Wall Worm Needs You
2014 is already half over, so it's time to talk a little about the state of affairs with Wall Worm, 3ds Max, Source and games.
First off, I posted my first blog on Gamasutra: Game Play and the Balance Cult. I was happy that the editors featured it. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts. I think I might start a monthly post over there to reach some new circles.
Earlier this year I started writing a new book called Hammered to the Max: A Hammer User's Guide to 3ds Max. This book is a work-in-progress that details the concepts necessary to transition away from using Hammer when building levels for Source. I'm looking for sample art to put into the book from any Wall Worm user. Please email me screen shot and cutlines if you have something you'd like to share that used Wall Worm and for which you have legal permission to share.
I know this is a huge controversy in the Source community; but being able to use 3ds Max entirely as a level editor has been a long-time dream of mine.
For a while I utilized Convexity, but it had many limitations that became apparent to me over the years. And because the Source community didn't extend much support, the developer of Convexity really had no incentive to fill in the gaps (displacement support, for example). Were I not so obsessed with using these tools myself, I'd probably have followed the same pattern that Maple 3D took with Convexity, and disappeared.
My personal passion for the Source Engine and 3ds Max are really why Wall Worm reached the point now where you can do far more with Source more easily than before. Certainly, using 3ds Max and Wall Worm gives you far more tools and shortcuts for assets and levels than was ever possible with Hammer and legacy Source tools.
Getting the community to understand the benefits of 3ds Max over Hammer has often been the most challenging aspect of developing Wall Worm. The development of Wall Worm, and growing its user base, has become a major part of my own life... so promoting and expanding it have consumed large percentages of my time and energies.
The amount of users and positive feedback has positively influenced and inspired me for years. At the same time, it has come with a cost that is hard to quantify and explain. Part of that has been the expectation of this project leading to financial rewards, both for myself and my family. I'm not talking about getting rich. I'm simply talking about making a living off of this long-term passion and effort.
Only recently, I started feeling optimistic about opportunities. That optimism partly spurred the energy behind the new book. But that feeling was short lived. My expectations that Valve will ever reach out to me for this project have now all but vanished. There have only been a few occasions where artists have hired me to help build tools. And sales for the commercial Wall Worm plugins are weak at best.
I am at a cross roads. As the price of living keeps going up, it's becoming all too clear to me that I have to find a new path. I really hope I can continue expending my efforts building tools for creative people. But I cannot promise that it will always be that way.
I have no expectations from any of you. But if you want to help keep me actively involved in providing new tools, please consider buying one of the commercial Wall Worm plugins like CorVex. If every person who uses Wall Worm were to do that it would be a life changer for my family. I would rather never write a paragraph like this... but the world doesn't always cater to what we want.
3ds Max 2015: the Good, the Bad and the Normal
It's long been known that you don't jump into a new version of 3ds Max the day it's released. I generally follow that rule because each release has some critical flaw that isn't cleared up until a service pack or two.
I'm going to start with a notice: I do think that 3ds Max 2015 is very promising, especially for us game developers. But I'm going to start with the bad things in 2015.
I cannot safely use the correct phrase and send this blog to minors. So I'm making up my own new term: fustercludging. The definition of fustercludging is this: make a bunch of scattered, redundant buttons and shortcuts to do the same exact thing.
Autodesk did this with 2015 with the very first feature listed in the official documentation of what's new. I'm not joking about this, but the very first new feature listed is “Undo and Redo on the Main Toolbar”. Yes, this really is the very first feature listed in 3ds Max 2015. This is despite the fact that all users already know (and use) shortcuts like CTRL+Z; this is in spite of the fact that there is a menu for Edit > Undo/Redo. This is on top of the fact that the 3ds Max window already had/has little undo/redo buttons at the very top of the window. Now we also get two prominently large extra undo/redo buttons in the main toolbar—that you cannot remove (you cannot right-click and remove them like in your own custom toolbars). This also leaves less room in your toolbar section for other toolbars... but I guess Autodesk really felt that it was important to let you hit Undo in as many ways as possible.
Honestly, this single thing is so annoying to me that I'd have heads rolling if I were in charge. I admit that I have also practiced some fustercludging in Wall Worm at times... but as made abundantly clear earlier, I have the excuse of not getting paid.
Other problems with 2015 are more serious, however. Those problems I notice most also happen to be the most promising new features in 2015, in my opinion.
Adaptive Viewport Navigation
I really like the concept of the new adaptive viewport navigation feature, but it has a major set of flaws. The new adaptive viewport navigation is intended to solve the age-old problem of needing to set the navigation scale with Z all the time—you know, when you scroll in and suddenly the zoom/pan appears to stop working because it is going so slowly, when you zoom out and suddenly your model is 50 miles away!
The adaptive navigation samples the zoom scale based on the object under the mouse when you start a zoom/pan. It largely works well. But there are some problems—for example, if you hover over a high density mesh with Edit Normals... it will constantly seem random as one second it samples the model and the next it samples the normal sub-objects.
You can read more about this from other users and share your opinion on the state of adaptive viewport navigation.
Otherwise, it is working really well. The viewport is simply amazing. Even with 8x anti-aliasing, viewport speeds are great.
Layer Manager Merged into Scene Explorer
The new layer manager (merged with the scene explorer) is also really nice because it finally allows nested layers and dragging objects from layer to layer. But despite it's promise, it might be slower than the previous layer manager because some functions are buried in a couple more clicks than necessary (adding selected scene node to layer requires quad menu actions when it should have a button like old manager for one click action). So although I'm not exactly happy with the current state of the new manager, it certainly adds many functions most of us have wanted for years.
My Real Feeling on Max 2015
I like 3ds Max 2015. I think that it may not have had as many new features as I would have liked to see, but it did add several that will help you work more efficiently. The Object Placement will beenfit placing WW Proxies in your levels. Shader FX was integrated, which is really exciting. I expect to learn more about HLSL more quickly, enabling me to accommodate arbitrary shaders into the Material Exporters in the future. If the layer manager and adaptive viewport navigation are fixed soon, I will think 3ds Max 2015 is a success—despite the retarded new Undo/Redo buttons.
World of Source
I'm not always in the cutting edge of gossip and gaming news. But there are a few things to share with those of you who do not know.
Insurgency Mapping Competition
Game Banana is currently hosting an exciting level design competition for Insurgency. First place gets the level placed into the actual game and wins $1,000 along with gaming gear from Razer. That contest ends on October 1, 2014. That should give any Wall Worm user plenty of time!
I'm actually considering tackling a level for the game. I've enjoyed hosting a server on occasion with friends, and I do like Insurgency quite a bit.
Some of the last Game Banana contestants were Wall Worm users. Among them were Joris Coeon who shared many WIP images of his de_cathedral for CS:GO on the Wall Worm forums. Joris, who has won a previous Game Banana contest, did not win the CS:GO contest. But he did write this of his experience of tackling it entirely inside 3ds Max: “Not only is it amazing because you circumvent every external step that was earlier necessary, but everything is right on the boat, if something is wrong or missing, I'll just create it right into my level and when it's done it'll be there and on the end I'll just have to hit export a few time to get everything into a .bsp and get the map running.”
Briscoe Moves to Valve
Rob Briscoe, the single biggest financial supporter of Wall Worm to-date, was recently hired at Valve. I don't really have any intelligence on what he's currently up to, but I wanted to say congratulations to him for the move. Hopefully he's finding America acceptable. I expect he's busy making some really amazing environments for some lucky new game.
Aperture Tag Released
Joris (above) is among the team for a new game called Aperture Tag: The Paint Gun Testing Initiative. I haven't had the opprtunity to play the game yet, but I've learned that Wall Worm is mentioned in the credits.
I didn't really list any of the new features in Wall Worm since the last blog. There are many. I am not going to list them. Suffice it to say that many of the features are not documented because of time. One new feature that is in Wall Worm is support for Itoo's Forest Pack plugin. I've documented it's briefly, but I haven't had time to demonstrate it. Forest is one of my favorite plugins.
Below is a custom level I've been building while testing the forest tools. I think many of you would be happy to see how to do something like this in just a couple days—from scratch. I only spent around twelve hours from start to where it was in the screen shot for testing—including building assets from scratch (except the skeleton which I made a few years back). Needless to say, that wasn't possible in pre-Wall Worm settings. But I stopped the process and spent just as much time to build the tools for Forest support.
Which is what I'm trying to impress on Wall Worm users. Wall Worm Needs You. I've spent a lot of time on saving time! Which is why I hope you return the favor and get CorVex—another massive time-saving tool.