Digital Artist & Game Designer
September 4, 2012Posted by on
Developer Journal for Out Of Hell (UT2K4 Mod)
There was never any sort of Post-Mortem for Out Of Hell (UT2K4 Mod) which I realize I should have made a long time ago. I hope that there are still some people out there who would find it interesting to read about some of my design decisions, the process and progression of art.
It will contain some PLOT SPOILERS and you better have a sandwich on hand because it’s going to be a long read!
1: FRESH OUT OF COLLEGE
In the late 90’s I graduated from a College that specialized in Digital Art and CG Animation. Back then, there was no such thing as a Game Design course or anything like that (not there anyway) I guess it didn’t matter because at the time, everyone wanted to land a job doing CG Effects & Animation for Film and TV like Toy Story or Reboot.
My time there was pleasant enough and I met some really nice people but in hindsight, it was a complete waste of my time and money. I won’t go into what was wrong with the curriculum but you could just tell that the instructor was always two tutorials ahead of the class.
After about 2 years I graduated with a nice $20,000+ Certificate, which I would find out later was worth jack-fucking-shit.
2: YOU ARE READY TO GO OUT INTO THE WORLD, YOUNG GRASSHOPPER!
Through a friend, I was introduced to a potential job at a small company (it was only starting to branch out into videogames) They had a game project in the works and a few hopefuls showed up that day; two of which were friends that I had just graduated with.
I had a demo reel of environments and stills to show and they seemed genuinely interested. I was given an art test of sorts to take home and do. My task was to design a top-down layout of a play area on paper. A couple of days later, I brought back several layouts with perspective drawings to boot (hey, I’m an overachiever, so what)
I remember my interviewer (the Lead Artist) saying ‘I like what you’ve done with these layouts, Long. It makes sense, it shows a very clear method of thinking.’
I was brought onboard and I was ecstatic.
3: TIME TO PERFORM
My very first assignment was to model and texture the environment I had drawn in 3DS Max.
‘Shit, what did he say?! 3DS MAX? But I only know how to use 3DS R4!’
There was no mention of 3DS Max on my resume, so perhaps they just assumed I knew? I sat down at my terminal, not sure what to really do at first.
‘I’ll wing it, how different can it be from R4?’ I thought.
The GUI was completely different from what I was used to and I had no idea where to start. I had to do something though, they hired me expecting that I’d be able to handle this. So I fiddled around with it for the rest of the work day. Before I left, I was asked ‘So how did it go? Getting comfortable?’
I nodded, smiled and went home.
The next afternoon the Lead Artist came over to my desk.
‘So, Long….hey, SO LONG! Hahaha, get it?’ (I had already heard every possible variation of a ‘Long’ joke because of highschool, so yes, I understood his joke) ‘Okay, let’s see what you got.’
I showed him what I did; a few cube primitives and some planes arranged to resemble part of the layout. He was pretty quiet.
‘Keep going.’ he said.
Earlier that day, another potential candidate was interviewed and given a tour of the place. When they passed by my desk, the Boss introduced me by saying ‘This is Long. He’ll make everything look good.’
Holy shit, if he only knew.
I kept at it and I tried hard, I really did. For the rest of the week I fumbled through the program, trying to get a handle on it as fast as I could. When I tried to texture something that wasn’t a basic primitive, I hit a brick wall because all I knew how to do was assign a texture or colour to a primitive.
‘UVW Unwrapping? What in the hell is that?!’
Now that I think about it, my entire demo reel was mostly just primitives and really basic models arranged in such a way that made the scenes look nice but lacked any sort of technique in modeling or sculpting.
I think it was a problem with most of my friends too. Our demo reels weren’t made to show off any specific set of skills. They were all animation shorts (1-5 minute movies) of cartoonish characters which we spent our last semester completing just to get a passing grade.
5: SO LONG, LONG. HAHAHAH, GET IT?
I was eventually taken off level design and put to work on the GUI. Again, my lack of knowledge was apparent. When a co-worker asked me for a bitmap of an object on 255 Blue, my eyes glossed over because I had no idea what the fuck he was talking about. In school, I mainly used Photoshop to make Text, Lens Flares and other cheesy backgrounds using Filters (occasionally pasting a beard or two on pictures of friends)
I was basically learning as I went along now; on company time.
It was a Friday when I had stayed late to work. There was a deadline to meet on Monday and I had to finish up some concepts. I stayed until the last employee packed up for the night; around 9 or 10 pm. Unfortunately, I still wasn’t done but I thought ‘I’ll just finish it up on Monday when I come in.’
That was a terrible mistake.
Everyone was quiet when I came in on Monday. I sat down at my desk without saying a word and started to work on the concepts. The Lead Artist and my Boss came over and asked ‘So, where are the concepts? We looked in your folder but only found one.’ to which I replied ‘Oh, sorry, I couldn’t get it all done on Friday but I’ll finish them up right now.’
They both looked at each other, went into the office and shut the door. There was a shitstorm looming on the horizon.
I kept my head down and nervously, continued to work when I heard shouting from the office. This went on for a few minutes and I heard ‘NO, YOU FUCKIN’ TELL HIM!’
I instantly knew it was about me and I was shaking. I heard more shouting and then a huge crash against the wall. I was terrified like you wouldn’t believe. I didn’t know what was going on.
The Lead Artist came out with a sombre look on his face, closed the door and came over.
‘What happened?’ I asked.
‘He threw a mug full of pens and pencils at the wall behind me.’
He went over to his desk, sat down and picked up the phone and called someone. He sounded pretty sad.
It took a while for the butterflies in my stomach to calm down. I decided to go into the office and apologize. The Boss was sitting at his desk, arms crossed and looking at the floor.
‘I’m sorry, I know I let the team down. I didn’t realize how important the deadline was.’ (It was the only thing I could think of to say and I believe I stuttered the entire sentence)
He looked up at me, nodded and said ‘Okay.’
That afternoon the Lead Artist and I talked about the situation. He was a really nice guy and very understanding. He knew what was happening but wanted to help me out. I think it was because of him that I was even there for as long as I was.
I was cut a small cheque that evening, wished ‘Good Luck.’ and let go. I never saw any of them ever again.
6: TRAUMATIZED MUCH?
I felt like a defeated fraud. I was so hopeful when I first graduated but after what had just happened, I lost ALL confidence. What did I really know? I knew that if I had applied at another company that this would just happen again. I didn’t want to go through that experience a second time.
Fast forward the next few years and I was humping a series of non CG-related Day or Night jobs. The money wasn’t good and I did everything from stocking grocery store shelves to warehouse work. I hated all of it but it was safe, you know? I was willing to put up with it if it meant not going through that experience again.
I spent some time ‘working on my portfolio’ but I knew deep down that it was just an excuse to fuel the illusion that I was still fighting the good fight. Deep down I had no real intention of going back to Digital Art. My creative spark had been stamped out.
7: UNREAL TOURNAMENT, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?
I was introduced to Unreal Tournament by a friend at a LAN party. It was the first game in the Unreal franchise that I had ever played and it was FUCKING GREAT. I was hooked…and I was hooked bad. I played it all day, every day and only ever left the room to empty my urine dish.
One day I discovered that there were custom maps and other modifications for the game.
‘WHAT?! They actually let people MAKE stuff for their game?!’
I started downloading everything I saw; good Maps, shitty Maps, Skins that made your boots pink, smutty Skins (you know what I’m talking about **wink wink**) It really didn’t matter to me at that point; I was on a Mod collecting spree. I would spend hours looking for them every day and I really didn’t have any system of quality control. If it was new, I downloaded it and played it.
Some of my favourite mods for UT were Infiltration, Night’s Edge, Agent X and Unreal4Ever. I can remember thinking to myself that I would never be able to make a mod. I just assumed that it was too hard, too complex.
But I had an urge that became stronger the more I played these Mods and Total Conversions.
I was always a creative individual and used to draw comics, write stories and even make boardgames in my spare time. This urge was my creative spark coming back! I had lost it so long ago.
I tried to resist it for some time and came up with excuses to justify why I shouldn’t try making any sort of Mod. The main excuse was ‘You’re a big fucking fraudy fraud and that’s why you can’t do it!’
8: STEPPING INTO THE SHALLOW END
After some time, I decided to try anyway and when I began to entertain the possibility of doing something, I actually felt happy. As shitty as my background in Digital Art was, this wouldn’t be a completely foreign concept I had to grasp. I knew I had to start at the beginning but at least it wasn’t the very beginning.
I opened up the UT Editor and fiddled around with it. My first thought was ‘How can people make shit with this?!’
I remember that it was the same thing I thought when I had my first introduction to a 3D Modeling Package. I thought ‘How do people make all those complex computer animations and movies with this? It’s just a bunch of text buttons and a grid!’
I started reading tutorials on how to get started with the UT Editor and began building some really basic rooms with lights in them. It was all very daunting but I began to see how it was done and my excitement grew. I had gotten my first ever UT Editor Boner.
9: IT’S GONNA BE THE BEST MOD EVAR!1!!!11
So I was ready to start making a Mod (I totally wasn’t though) and began to come up with some ideas. What I wanted to do was create a Weapon Pack just like the others but instead of being imaginative or unique like they were, I would do something with shotguns! Like, 50 different kinds of shotguns!
(Shotguns or shotgun-like weapons are always my first choice in any game I play. I don’t know why I like them so much but I think it may have started with DOOM & DOOM 2)
Eventually my plan of having 50 shotguns dwindled down to about 1 after I tried my hand at modeling them. My insecurities came back and that nagging voice in the back of my head kept saying ‘Better to quit now, why are you even trying?! Go back to downloading Mods!’
But this time the creative spark didn’t fizzle out. It died down from time to time as I struggled to understand certain techniques and I also became depressed because of how difficult it all seemed. The spark never went out like before though, so I kept working at it.
Eventually I modeled a shotgun and textured it (poorly, I might add) I couldn’t wait to get it into the game to see what it looked like so that became my next goal.
10: MY BEAUTIFUL LASER SHOTGUN
To get a weapon working inside the game required some work..and a little bit of coding.
‘B-buh-WHAT? Coding? I don’t know no code!’
Coding was foreign to me and I didn’t really understand it (I still don’t to this day) but the tutorials were thorough and after a while, my shotgun was inside the game! OH MY GOD! I mean, sure it didn’t move and sure it fired the default blue lasers but I didn’t care. It was AWESOME.
I was on a buzz for a good while. My little creative spark was beginning to grow into a fire.
11: NOTHING IS AS EASY AS IT LOOKS
I didn’t even bother animating my shotgun because the idea of creating something and bringing it into the game took over. I made my next priority something that I could shoot at with my shotgun. My favourite genre of gaming is horror so the choice came naturally; to model a zombie.
I started following more modeling tutorials and as I went along, I learned how to texture, unwrap and rig my model. This took a long time but I kept practicing whenever I had the chance. I would model a humanoid to about 80 percent completion, scrap it and start again. I did this over and over again for months. My skills were still poor but I was improving and it was now just a matter of practice and repetition.
It wasn’t just the creative spark that kept me going however; fear played a factor as well. I was still haunted by that job experience and I wasn’t going to put myself in the same position of ‘not knowing enough’ again.
12: INTO HELL
The first iteration of Out Of Hell was very different from the end product. It was originally about a Priest who uncovered some sort of evil lurking in the catacombs beneath his secluded Church. He would eventually discover portals that would take him into and out of Hell (hence the name) Each setting had an alternate ‘Hell’ version, similar to Foggy Silent Hill and Dark Silent Hill (for those who know that series)
This idea eventually got discarded and I decided to loosely base it on a short story I wrote about a zombie apocalypse years prior.
Eventually I moved Out Of Hell from the Unreal Tournament engine to the Unreal 2 engine, then went on to Unreal Tournament 2003 before settling on the Unreal Tournament 2004 engine because of the larger player-base.
So the new setting was a fictional town called Grinwood and the player would take on the role of several characters including a man who lived on a boat, a Security Guard, a Policeman and a Police Sergeant. I had all of the gameplay ideas written down, the different kinds of monsters that would be in it, the backstory and personality traits for each of the characters.
I was having such a blast and found it more fulfilling than writing a story or drawing a comic book. To me, this was a good way to get people to interact with your story and art.
Fast forward a little while and Out Of Hell had gained some recognition throughout the Unreal community and elsewhere. The fan base was growing by the day and people were discussing Out Of Hell on the message boards. Creating a tiny little universe like this and having people interested felt great. The community continued to grow…almost too fast for me to handle.
Out Of Hell, as big as it had gotten, was still just a hobby project of mine and could not take priority over my other ‘real life’ responsibilities. There were often times when I could not work on it for weeks and there would be long periods where I wouldn’t make any updates. People were starting to assume that it was vaporware.
I had to do something! Progress was far along and I had enough material to create a trailer for the game so I made one and released it. People gobbled it up and were satisfied; the hunger had been sated…for the time being.
I continued to make updates and release new images for the next while but the pressures of juggling work, life and the Mod were taking their toll. I found it harder and harder to stay focused and motivated. I often stepped back to assess the amount of work that still needed to be done and I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was like I was climbing a mountain and I had climbed quite high. I could not see the peak when I looked up and could not see the base when I looked down because I had come so far. I was frustrated and this sent me into a downward spiral of depression.
14: I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE THINKING
You should have recruited some help instead of doing it alone!
There were many talented people who stepped forward to offer their help (some of whom I still stay in contact with to this day) but I couldn’t bring anyone onboard. There were 2 reasons for this:
1: I was still partially motivated by fear. I needed to know everything that I could about the game development process so that I wouldn’t screw myself over if I ever worked at another Game Company.
2: Paranoia. I had befriended many of the Project Leads from other Mod Teams and would talk with them regularly over Instant Messenger. A common thing that I had noticed was that they all had problems with internal team struggles. It was almost always about power, position, personality clashes or ego-tripping and the Project Leads had to deal with it on a regular basis.
15: TEAM TROUBLES
Go ahead and take a look at any Mod that’s currently in development. You may notice that some of them have large teams and yet have trouble finishing their projects. Ask yourself why they are constantly recruiting and changing their roster. In most cases, it is because of the above problems I mentioned. Forget the bullshit they feed you on their forums or in their updates because most of it is trouble with team management.
When you’re an amateur hobbyist and you’re working with other amateur hobbyists, you can have difficulty adhering to a single vision over time. Everyone likes to have their say in the direction the Project should go. It doesn’t matter if you’re the Project Lead, the fact of the matter is that these people don’t owe you anything. They are putting in their time and effort to achieve your vision because they like what they are doing. Without any monetary compensation, you cannot make demands and the progress of your Mod relies on their motivation and continued interest.
I was once told by the Creator of a very popular Zombie Mod that he envied me for being able to do it alone.
Project security was also a thing that they had to constantly worry about. When a team member left because of drama, they sometimes took their work with them or even worse, leaked the entire project. It has happened often in the Mod community and I have seen some projects come close to destruction because of it.
16: DONT MAKE PROMISES YOU CAN’T KEEP
The community was becoming ravenous. I had been tempting everyone with images of Out Of Hell for too long and they wanted a taste. I made many promises and though I had every intention of keeping them I always got sidetracked.
An example: I would think ‘I’ll have 2 days this weekend to wrap this feature up and update Monday.’ but right before the weekend came, I would have to cover for some asshole because he had apparently sprained his wrist and couldn’t come in to work (I shit you not, that was his excuse) It was not easy to keep my deadlines when I had to work the graveyard shift for 12 days straight. I covered for others all the time.
I was screwed, I had made promises to a very patient community and I kept breaking them. There were rumors circulating that the project was abandoned and I had to do something to counter those rumors. I sure was tempted to use the line that I read so often in the Mod community:
‘The Mod is NOT dead guys! We are still going strong! The next update blah blah blah…’
17: THE DEMO FROM HELL
No amount of reassurance would convince the community so I decided to make a demo to prove that Out Of Hell was in fact, not dead. I created the demo in less than a few days and released it, hoping it would convince the community to stay. This both helped and harmed me.
– It allowed me to gauge interest and gather feedback
– It was proof that Out Of Hell was being worked on
– The demo played like utter shit (the Final does too right? **BADUMDUM TSS!**)
– There were all sorts of AI pathing problems (the problem being, there was no pathing, so the zombies just stood around)
– Several features weren’t implemented and the ones that were, were done poorly
– Community interest was lost and negative word of mouth spread
There were some good comments and some people saw the potential but most were not so kind. Negative comments were posted across different message boards and I read everything from ‘It fucking SUCKS BALLS.’ to ‘It obviously ripped off sound effects from other Mods.’
Now, that last comment infuriated me. I mean, I was hurt by the others but being accused of ripping off another project made me angry. They did not understand what I had gone through to even get to this point. I was pouring my heart and soul, my time and my money into this project. Those sound effects that I was accused of stealing? I either recorded them on a mic or I bought them with my own money from various sound libraries. And it wasn’t cheap either.
18: LOSING MOMENTUM
I was confused, frustrated and deflated again. All the effort and time that I put into the Mod was picked apart and undone in a matter of hours. It was rare finding someone who played more than 10 minutes of the demo before discarding it. The worst part was that I was losing the community. Even the regular posters seemed to stop coming by and only a handful remained to back me.
I lost motivation and didn’t do much for the next while. I think I made periodic updates but in all honesty, I just didn’t care anymore. I spent some time away from Out Of Hell and caught up on other things in life.
But as I said, I was deflated not defeated.
Over time the creative spark returned and I decided to get back on the horse. By now, the bad taste that the demo had left for many people seemed to be forgotten and the community was filling up with fresh blood and new faces.
19: BACK ON TRACK
The time away had done me good and I was re-energized; ready to jump back into the fray. I took into consideration all of the constructive feedback from the demo and began expanding the game. Things were looking up again and I had no trouble staying motivated.
I began to make several changes to the game and overhauled the story and artwork. Some of the features I planned were removed including the choice of using multiple characters (each with their own skill set), branching storyline and multiple endings. I decided it was best to focus the game on a single character and so I chose ‘Donovan Ling’ who in the demo, was a minor character that died early on. In the demo you play as ‘Sergeant Kevin Slater’ and are tasked with saving Donovan. This was changed and ultimately it was Kevin Slater that took on the minor role. He makes an appearance in the ending of Out Of Hell.
20: BRING ME ALONG, OR ELSE…
I was making good progress and all of my friends knew about the Mod. My friends were excited for me and were looking forward to my success…some much more than others.
At the time, Epic was running a competition called the ‘Make Something Unreal Contest’ with prizes that included cash and even a full engine license. The Unreal community went apeshit over it and everyone wanted to enter.
One of these ‘friends’ knew about the contest and basically threatened me into giving up money if I had entered the contest and done well. This put me into a state of fear again and I never entered the Make Something Unreal contest. It surprised me how fast loyalty and friendship went out the window when money, or the prospect of it became involved. This was the first but not the last time something like this would happen, which I’ll get into later.
21: RELEASE ON THE HORIZON
Out Of Hell was on the way. It had expanded considerably and was fully playable by this time. The game was set up in a way to be (somewhat) open-ended. Imagine a spiderweb, the center being the main hub with various other points on the web being maps that interconnected (alright, that’s a lousy explanation)
The main hub was the Police Station Map where the player would be able to rest, talk to other characters or read through notes and files. The player would be able to travel to other maps in order to complete goals and could always return to the Police Station if needed.
Most of these maps were interconnected and if the Mappers out there took a look at the structure of the Out Of Hell Maps in the Editor, they would see that some streets in certain Maps line up and connect perfectly with streets in other Maps.
There was also a gun store called ‘Goldman’s Guns’ which is still in the Final version but sadly, only a shell of what it was supposed to be. I had planned to have a deranged Shop Owner named ‘Gus Goldman’ who would sell you ammo, supplies and firearms in exchange for Zombie Heads.
The idea behind this gameplay mechanic was to have the zombies resilient to firearm damage and the only way to dispatch them quickly would be to shoot off their heads. In doing so however, the player would get no currency and would have to balance between farming for Zombie Heads or destroying them to keep them from killing you. People would have to use a melee weapon to take them down and for those who remember back that far, was why I heavily promoted melee weaponry in Out Of Hell.
So things were really coming together and I had a release date. I was going to keep it for sure this time.
22: MUSIC, WE NEED MUSIC!
It was about this time that I became friends with a fellow artist named Justin Lassen. I met him online through a series of pretty fortuitous events which you can read about in the archives. He was a composer and was eager to make a soundtrack for Out Of Hell and offered his services without so much as demanding a cent. He worked purely from inspiration and out of his love for creating art. I had finally met someone who I could relate to on that level and I took him up on his offer.
So the game was almost ready for release. Justin would create the soundtrack for it, I would work it into the game and I would ship it. This was around 2006/2007 and everything was going according to plan.
23: THEY SHOW THEIR TRUE NATURE
I was hanging out with a friend one night and out of the clear blue sky, this guy says ‘You know that hub city idea you have? I came up with that.’
‘What?’ I said, shocked.
He said something along the lines of: ‘Yeah, remember back in ‘__year I can’t remember__’ when we were hanging out one night I came up with the idea to do an open zombie game with a hub city. You said it couldn’t be done and brushed it aside, but that idea you’re using, I came up with it.’
I was floored when I heard this. I had no idea what this guy was talking about. First, the idea for an open-ended zombie game was not an original one. Second, it was a completely vague claim to make and he had absolutely no direct influence on my decisions or Out Of Hell. He had no inside knowledge of any of the features I was implementing or planning. Third, I didn’t recall talking with this guy about it, EVER.
Other friends mentioned that I should have told him to go fuck himself. I couldn’t do it. I was betrayed and the more I kept thinking about it, the more it ate away at me.
I replayed the incident over and over in my head but all I kept hearing was ‘That idea is MINE and you STOLE it. Out Of Hell exists because of ME.’
24: AN ARTIST THROUGH AND THROUGH
I am an artist. I paint, I draw, I build because I love to create. I pour my guts into my work and I am certain that I am not the only artist out there who would rather burn their own paintings or destroy their own masterpieces than let anyone else snake or take credit for something that they had no part of. It was a matter of FUCKING INTEGRITY! I couldn’t let it stand.
When you have something of value whether it’s money, the possibility of money or fame and recognition (however little of it there may be) some people come out of the woodwork and latch on in any way they can. Dealing with this was one of the toughest things I had to do during the development of Out Of Hell.
It was around then that I got incredibly ill and my health (physical and mental) was suffering. I had gained a lot of weight, was not sleeping properly and my mental state was often volatile. I fell into another deep depression and at one point, contemplated suicide.
There were issues that I was going through (some but not all relating to the project) and it was a dark time in my life. I was very prone to anxiety and panic attacks now and it became a chore just to get up everyday. I was a broken man.
I had support from family and friends and though it helped a little, I couldn’t pull out of the downward spiral. It was a while before I worked on Out Of Hell again. But this time, it was going to be different. I took the whole thing apart. ALL of it.
Hub city? Gone. Money system? Gone. Open ended? Gone.
I wasn’t about to let anyone lay claim to what I had struggled so fucking hard over the years to build. I made up some bullshit story about missing the deadline, fed it to the community and dismantled Out Of Hell in secret. The light at the end of the tunnel vanished. I had fallen back into the well and I would have to climb out again.
Naturally, I caught a lot of flak for missing the deadline. I was attacked on the forums and got into some heated arguments but I was willing to take it. Afterall, they didn’t know the true reason behind the delays; they just knew that it was another delay. Only a handful of people ever knew about this but they kept it under wraps at my request.
I was restructuring the entire game so that the ‘friend’ wouldn’t be able to lay claim to any of it. I rewrote huge portions of the story to reflect the changes in gameplay, I took out characters and changed their roles in the game. I went back and altered all of the Maps to work in a linear format. Scripted events, level geometry, even the time of day had to be reworked in order to accomodate the new format (ever wonder why Barricade 24 takes place during a thunderstorm at night with a dark color scheme, instead of a pending storm with a blue color scheme like in the demo? This is the reason)
I took this chance to do another visual overhaul of the game. With the knowledge that I had learned over the years, I was able to do things much quicker and so the Out Of Hell that was eventually released to the public in 2009 actually took around 2 years to build, not 7.
26: EVERY MODDER’S DREAM
I had gained some notoriety near the end of development and was known as ‘That crazy chicken combo fucker that did everything by himself’. I was offered to port Out Of Hell to another engine at one point, approached to merge Out Of Hell with another Mod and even asked by another team interested in getting involved with Out Of Hell. I was eventually given an opportunity to make Out Of Hell commercial and decided to go with that route.
I made the announcement to the community and brought a talented coder onboard to make Out Of Hell a standalone game.
27: LESSON LEARNED
I think it is very important to have something in writing, whether it’s a contract or a mutual understanding, have it all on paper and signed. It doesn’t matter if it’s your childhood friend or an old buddy of yours who pulled you out of a burning hootch in ‘Nam; GET IT ALL IN INK. Don’t do anything based on good faith alone.
When money, royalties, shares, percentages, responsibilities and expectations are involved, you will need something on paper to go back to in case of a dispute or misunderstanding. You need to be able to say ‘Look, it says right here that you were supposed to do such and such’ or ‘See, it says right here you were to get 3 goats and a chicken for your services’ etcetera etcetera.
There was a bit of miscommunication with some of those involved in making it commercial so I decided that it would be best to pull out and release the Mod for free as I originally intended. Afterall, I wasn’t in this to make money; it was never my intention to begin with. Sometimes though, I wonder if I actually dodged a bullet or if I missed out on a really good opportunity. Things could have played out very differently but for better or worse, I don’t know.
28: YOU WOULDN’T KNOW BY LOOKING AT IT
There were a lot of underlying themes in Out Of Hell. The story evolved so much over time and much of it was inspired by what was going on in my life. Now this isn’t just bullshit I made up for this post, it’s all evident if you keep an eye out for it.
Many will think that when Donovan is abandoned by the Helicopter Pilot on the roof of the Police Station that it is a nod to the intro of Resident Evil, where the Pilot leaves everyone behind after getting spooked. It is not. This symbolized the abandonment of the people in my life who I assumed were there for the long haul and yet were not for one reason or another.
I was devastated by what I felt were betrayals by some of the people I knew and that shaped a lot of the dialogue in Out Of Hell.
If you notice in the beginning, Smiley and his gang planned to betray Donovan after using him in a raid the following day. We’re warned by Paul that Smiley needed Donovan’s help but was going to backstab him as soon as he was no longer needed.
Paul, Mathias and Alvarez eventually betray Smiley and his gang by helping Donovan escape.
Paul is seen hung for this betrayal in the ending. It isn’t shown what happens to Alvarez or Mathias, who were all conspiring to screw over the gang.
Donovan spends much of his time alone attempting to escape the city. There are times when he has inner dialogue and reflects on the situation. Though he has some help along the way, he still has to walk the path himself.
Both Renzo and Charlie are in the same station (not far from one another) but each die in solitude.
Jonah is the lone survivor of the evacuation attempt out to Barricade 24 and makes his way back to the Police Station on his own, only to discover it abandoned.
Morgan Kazell dies alone while attempting to complete his mission. He is impaled by a demon-controlled root and kept from serving his purpose.
Julian Vistalo is an observer during these events and travels alone.
All throughout the game, Donovan is reminded by the spirit of Morgan Kazell not to forget his purpose. Donovan is largely unaware of his role until the very end when he reaches an understanding after seeing ‘The Spear‘ hurtling towards the city.
There are 4 important roles in the game that were assigned to various characters:
1: The Scribe – Donovan, who is brought to the city to observe and record what is happening through his experiences.
2: The Sacrificial Lamb – Morgan Kazell, a psychic who sacrifices himself to bring an end to the evil presence in Grinwood.
3: The Traveller – Julian Vistalo, a friend and mentor of sorts to Morgan who helps him come to terms with his role. Julian does not take part directly in the events of Grinwood.
4: The Scout – Dwight Snow, as much as we are made to dislike Dwight for leaving us behind, he played an important role in the larger picture because of his abandonment. A clue is given about his role in the ending, though I think it was missed by many.
Three other corpses are found in the Meatplant, two of which had intentions of burning the place down. These three were intended to be The Knight, The Soldier and The Archer, though I did not include these roles in the Final version.
The Archer makes it almost as far as The Pit but is pulled into the wall by Hellions and killed. He dies holding out his firearm for the next person; Donovan.
29: LOOKING BACK
After Out Of Hell was released I was able to step back and look at it in its entirety; not just the project but the journey. Out Of Hell was not perfect by any means but it was a huge triumph for me and I proved to myself that I could do it. In hindsight, here are some things that I think I did right and some things that I did wrong.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
1: I did it myself
By taking it on solo, I learned how to model, texture, map, rig, animate and implement some code. It forced me to improve on my skills and as a result I grew as an artist. Now I am able to fill in many different roles in the game development process.
I now have a better workflow, a better idea of what I need to accomplish a project, who I need to bring onboard and when.
2: Neat features
I’m especially proud of these only because most of it involved coding and I was able to make it work, despite not really knowing what the hell I was doing:
– Creating sound triggers for foliage so that when you walk through tall grass or a bush, you could hear the sound of it rustling at your feet.
– BRAIN MAGGOTS. Take a closer look at the white things that fly out of a zombie’s head when you shoot it. It’s not brain matter on the ground but look closely and you’ll see that they are squirming maggots!
– Zombie Skins that got bloody after you shot them. I should have also done something similar for the weapons as well, for instance having the axe blade getting bloodier the more it was used.
– Headless zombies don’t groan or make any sound effects if they got decapitated.
– Regenerating player health.
– Player movement speed, the sound of heavy panting or heartbeat all changed depending on the player’s state of health.
– The method of damage I devised for melee weaponry. I came up with a slightly hacky method of having the weapon do damage multiple times throughout it’s swing arc with custom impact sounds based on the weapon.
3: No power struggles, no team drama
I was able to bypass some of the drama involved in working with and managing a large team. With the time I saved, I was able to concentrate more on descending deeper into my depression. (**BADUM TSS!**)
The art direction remained focused and similar throughout. This helped to maintain the mood and overall atmosphere of the game.
5: It got done
After 7 years of struggle, I was still able to see it through and release it to the public. It went on to become nominated for ‘Best Single-Player Mod‘ and ended up winning ‘Best Original Art Direction’ at Mod Database in 2009. YAY!
WHAT WENT WRONG
1: I did it myself
One man can only do so much at any given time. When I was working on animation, I could not do anything else. Duties could have been delegated to others and there’s no telling how much time could have been saved.
I was also limited by my own skill level. If I had included others; people who knew more and had more experience, Out Of Hell could have looked, played and run better than it currently does.
2: Poor PR
Public relations were handled poorly in some cases and I could have been more active in promoting Out Of Hell.
3: No ongoing support
Out Of Hell only received one patch since release and there are many things that could still be fixed and improved upon. I could have done much more to assist people who were frustrated that the game wasn’t running or working properly.
4: Not enough testing
There should have been more play-testing by more people so that I could improve upon bugs, issues and funfactor. It should have been tested to ensure that it ran properly on a broader range of systems as well.
There was simply too much shit going on and I kept adding more and more each day instead of culling it. There should have been better usage of polys in geometry, better placement of props, less particles and alphas, better implementation of collision.
6: Confusing Level design
People often had trouble figuring out where they needed to go next. There should have been more obvious markers or a map screen to show them where they were and where they needed to go. Some of the markers I used were ineffective and playtesting it with more people would have pointed that out.
7: Tunnel vision
When you work on something alone for too long, you become accustomed to seeing it from only one perspective. What I needed throughout development was an objective pair of eyes to point out the flaws and shortcomings in the progress.
8: I became too attached to the work
I couldn’t let go and kept changing it; compounding the delays. I could have released it much sooner instead of clutching it to my chest the entire time.
9: I did not backup regularly at first
During development I’ve had 2 hard drives fail and a 3rd which got fried after a power surge. I always put off backing up my work and I paid for it by losing months of progress. I lost a Map, some other game assets and an untold amount of good porn because of this! I quite literally thought ‘It’s 3 am, I’ll just backup my folder in the morning.’ and when I turned on my PC the next day, the Hard Drive fried because of a power surge.
30: OUT OF HELL
I struggled for a long time to climb out and get to where I am now. I am still constantly learning and trying to improve as an Artist and Game Designer. My message to those that want to get into this sort of thing and are wondering if they can do it: it CAN be achieved. It IS ATTAINABLE.
You will have to work hard but you can do it, just like I did.
Thank you for reading, I hope you found this post interesting! Now I will leave you with some homages that can be found in Out Of Hell!