Creating an Environment: Pt 1. Goals & Geography

My first major entry: a series of articles that follow a custom map I’m working on for Valve’s Team Fortress 2 using their Source SDK developer tool. Pt. 1 will focus on my prescribed Goals, and Geography. Images will tag the words.


To put the project in perspective, my current map is the result of a semester long assignment. Honestly though, considering the composition of the class, we all had roughly nine weeks to do the bulk of a production schedule. That included everything from building the landscape, the architecture, dynamic props, inserting game entities (invisible items that control dynamic parts of the environment and game rules), testing, and revision. I was pretty fortunate with my revision process, but that’ll be addressed down the road.

Our assignment was to make any kind of project as long as it revolved around narrative. The department I am in also chose to prohibit collaborative projects that semester in light of unsatisfactory “group-efforts” the previous term. Creating a game is not something impossible to do alone – it just takes a staggering amount of time, and 3/4ths of a semester is not that, let alone integrating some sort of story that informs every single asset populating the project. Tall order’s are becoming more common for me and my colleagues, sure, but we found the right solutions to cooperate with our professor and reach the same page – that page being modding.

Arena Arc Mountain (In Progress)

Arena Arc Mountain (In Progress)

Mods are my friend and I like to put my trust in them, as long as I can trust my computer to not crash before saving! Mods have so many pros for any person willing to educate themselves on them.

Pros Most modding engines are free, and very powerful at that. (Team Fortress and Counter-Strike were both made by modding engines!)

There are diverse and helpful communities all around the internet for advice, tutorials, and feedback on the work you or I might make.

It is an engine, not an unfinished experiment. These things are built to work and be messed around with. Developers made it available so the least we can do is surround ourselves with information. Luck favors the prepared mind.

(I’d like to note that Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet provides modding in an insanely accessible way – although the con being much stricter restrictions on what you can make. Still impressive nonetheless.)

Fortunately, CIA recently began allowing us to use mods as viable projects for academic work, so put two and two together there. I won’t be giving a tutorial, that’s not the point. But conceptually the first thing anyone familiar or unfamiliar with a tool will desire is something to use it with. For myself, given how blank a 3D canvas is, a landscape is preferable. I enjoy approaching it like sculpture – I need something to chisel at figuratively and literally to get anywhere. The quicker the whole picture arrives, the quicker I can make critical changes. Then comes having to ask myself a lot of questions, some trick-ones too, to find something I’ll want to commit to. Nothing is worse than being half-deep in production and thinking, “I really have a fundamental issue with all of this”. One can only imagine how grave a position that is for a professional studio. At any rate, some of those questions include: Climate? Color scheme? Foliage? Size of the landmass? Elevation shifts? Location geographically?

By now I’d come up with some sketches to actually get moving (Forgive the abstractness in detail):

General divisions of the map, the proportions have been heavily reworked though.

General divisions of the map, the proportions have been heavily reworked though.


A bit of the palette (below) added.


Note that the final layout takes some liberties from the one in these sketches.

Continuing on with Geography, in the coming days.


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