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Back to the Future with BSP

Posted Feb 20, 2016
Last Updated Apr 7, 2016

There's a new series of contests at Wall Worm called the Old School Level Design Contest. This contest offers a large collection of prizes, including commercial software from Exlevel, Ephere and EnRichPro. At this time, Exlevel has said they will likely continue to put their hallmark plugin GrowFX into the prize pool for future contests as well. All told, there is currently almost $1,000 in software prizes for first place, and over that in the contest totally. So it's high-time to start learning how to make some levels in Max to take advantage of these prizes.

The first contest in this series is about getting down to basics. Because so few people know how to use the Level Design tools in Wall Worm, this contest is entirely about learning to get a compiled level into Source--and not about advanced detailing. In fact, you are not allowed to use models or displacements in this first contest. Contest #1 is all about brush geometry and gameplay. You are allowed to create custom skies with Sky Writer to add flavor and mood--but the level must only have brush geometry made in Max. Yes, it's 2016 and we are forcing you to make a map out of good old-fashioned BSP!

The original deadline is being pushed back. The new date is pending a poll from forum users. So if you want to participate, please go cast your vote on the new deadline.

Wall Worm News

There have been some updates in Wall Worm's plugins and tools. Wall Worm itself was updated this week to address a new bug in CS:GO's model compiler. At this time, the model compiler in CS:GO will fail with QC files that use floats for activity wight values. That's a bug in CS:GO but affects Wall Worm users. The latest version of Wall Worm addresses this for static props by using an integer weight of -1. For animated models, you may need to manually edit your QC files or ask Valve to fix this bug. My guess is the bug will go away soon.

In terms of new functions in Wall Worm, the coolest is the new hook for Allegorithmic's Bitmap2Material substance. You can now convert entire folders of images into material libraries with Wall Worm's Bitmaps To Materials function.

There have also been several added features and bug fixes in CorVex, ProPal and Normal Tools. The latest version of ProPal Projection Plugin includes a new workflow for creating sprite sheets from scene objects in seconds. See the video that converts some GrowFX plants into a prite sheet and then creates dummy foliage objects in no time.

And finally, there is an entirely new modifier plugin called Brushify. This new plugin only works in 3ds Max 2016 SP2+. So if you want it, make sure you have a valid version of Max.

Brushify will clean up a large percentage of geometry problems related to world geometry. It supercedes the SnapVertsToGrid Modifier because this new modifier includes vertex grid snapping along with many other functions.

Random Thoughts on Source

Over the last decade since Half-Life 2 came out, the general feeling about some of the technology behind the Source Engine went from sky-high initially to lately a lot of frustration. People who are tied to Source at this point are often in a deeply troubled relationship of love-hate. Where you fall on the Source Engine love-hate scale is probably summed up with this chart (with values, admittedly, pulled straight out of my hinter regions).

Source Engine Love-Hate Chart

I'd guess that Source has remained so prevalent for so long because so many of the games built on it are simply fun. A lot of people around the world love a wide array of Source games from Counter-Strike Global Offensive to Team Fortress 2 and more. I'd guess that it's the high player satisfaction with Source games that entices so many people into the design aspect of Source--which certainly happened with me and many I know.

However, the irony is that for the people who make games, Source is pretty much the worst possible mainstream engine out-of-the-box for designers and developers. The designer tools have always been very much unfriendly to artists and have never moved forward with the times. The entire Wall Worm project was spawned from how frustratingly complicated it is to get your ideas into Source Engine games. Based on my history of talks with hundreds of people over the years, I feel good about how much Wall Worm has improved the ease of asset creation for Source. Making the Source Engine asset pipeline faster and more enjoyable has always been a goal in all of the Wall Worm tools. I feel that right now, if you know how to utilize 3ds Max and Wall Worm, Source Engine workflows can be more fun than without, and not all too different than the workflows of modern engines like UE4 and Unity 5.

That doesn't really save Source from the real problem: it's backend is built upon layers of logic and technology, it seems, that absolutely kills the inspiration of programmers. Artists are accustomed to building new shaders on-the-fly inside of applications like 3ds Max, Substance Designer and other tools. But if you need a new shader effect in Source, you need to con a programmer into doing it. It seems that you can only con a programmer into doing this once or twice; after that, the programmer shoots you or shoots himself. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Wall Worm has no bearing on the player or the programmer. For players the value of a game is based on the quality of the game and levels; the player simply doesn't care (or even know about) what tools are behind the making of a game. For programmers, Wall Worm will never be part of changing the framework of Source for ease of programming--that's all far beyond my own skill or mission. So most of my own focus has been on the designer and the pipeline.

The irony remains. Programmers seem to hate Source; players love it's games. My guess is that as long as the players are loving the games, designers will still find their way into Source. And because of that, tools like Wall Worm will continue to help save the day. While Wall Worm may not kill all the hate for Source development, it can lessen the hate while helping increase the love.

Source Engine Love-Hate Chart with Wall Worm

For the designers out there, I hope that you can continue to get greater satisfaction in your creative adventures with Wall Worm. I've been involved with the Autodesk Beta program this last year; I've been testing the beta of 3ds Max 2017 and am very excited about what the next version of Max brings to the table. I can't share what those things are... but I made sure to renew my subscription just this week because I'm eager to own the next version. This is all good news for Wall Worm and to the Source Engine users who are using it.

Black Mesa

I've been working with Black Mesa for several months now. It's been fun and motivating. Several new features in Wall Worm are directly related to my work with the team. While it's still in early access, you can get Black Mesa here and revisit a re-envisioned version of the original Half-Life.


Aritcles and content posted in 2016.

  1. Wall Worm Sends Greetings in 2016
  2. Back to the Future with BSP

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