Design Notes


I'm not sure what functional purpose this page will serve in the long-run, but I wanted to have some space in which to talk about my ideas and how certain things came to pass. It's purely informative, and I hope people enjoy it.

Below is a description of each missions design process, roughly in the order they were created. I won't go into great detail, but merely talk about some of the more interesting or more painful tasks involved in each.

The vast majority of my maps are server-side, simply because I want to reach the largest possible audience and make the maps as easy to use as possible. While a lot more can be done with client-maps, I think it's still amazing how much you can do with the limitations of server-side.. I think you'll agree after playing with some of my maps. :)

HighSpires HighSpires - This was my first attempt at a map. I'd have started much sooner had I realized that the editor is built into the game. :) Unfortunately (or fortunately), I tend to like things big, and can bite off more than I can chew. Luckily, this map worked out OK, and didn't have some of the problems I faced later on, as you'll see.

For this map, I started with the Scarabrae terrain. I decided to make large well-defended bases perched on the mountain ridges, and put more than one objective in the field. Because of the large viewing range, low-haze, and wide open valley, everything seems smaller than it is.. but that neutral spire really does stand about 250m tall. Check it with a laser sometime. Climbing to the top and looking down was the first time I ever got a fear of heights in Tribes. :)

ADP_Base ADP_Base - Some of my tribe's members and I were discussing the idea of making a headquarters. While this is not likely to stand as our final design (especially since we have grand ideas of custom prefabs with each member having a "home" complete with posters etc) it turned out very nicely.

Originally the base was going to have a landing pad with a dropship on it (and I think I included the code for it with the download), but doing so can drag the game down to about 3 fps. I learned several important lessons in making this map:

  • Too many objects/buildings is a bad thing. Past a certain number, things stop showing up on the map, and turrets start ignoring vehicles, and other wierdness ocurrs.

  • Too many buildings, past a certain threshold, makes a large and sudden drop in frame-rate at certain viewing angles.

  • Some dropships cause a corrupted map-view on the command screen.

Due to all of these things, I ended up removing about half of what I originally had in the base. But even so, it's well fortified!

NightFlight NightFlight - It's funny how things work out. I set up the ships, and then discovered vehicles have a rather restricted altitude range, and thus I couldn't have vehicle pads on the ships, so instead I lowered the gravity to make it possible to fly to the other base. Originally, you were supposed to only be able to mortar the nose of the other ship, but lower gravity brought everything in range. Then, I wrote a perl script to lower the altitude of everything in the mission file, including the terrain, and voila! I could set up vehicle pads again! So now there's low gravity AND vehicles. I'm itching to play this one on a public server, but I know it'll probably end up in one team slughtering the other. It should be great fun though!

DropshipDepot DropshipDepot - I had been wanting to make a spaceport since before I learned to make maps. The unfortunate thing is that in order to keep the frame-rate up (same problem as with the ADP_Base), I had to spread the ships out some distance and also put lots of fog (short viewing distance). If the game engine only has to draw one ship/pad at a time, the frame rate stays high. I think it's possible to have lots of ships together, but only if there's no complex landing pad or catwalk setup. Each pad is 7 large objects alone.

Originally I was going to make this a 3-team CTF mission, but the game engine didn't seem happy with it so I changed it. One of the interesting side-effects of that is the fact that there are 6 objectives (including your own ships).. the two teams are on the same side of the map, so it'll be a tough choice as to whether to deal with the immediate enemy or head for the other objectives.

ColdMist ColdMist - I wanted to make a really foggy ice mission, and here's the result. It uses the iceridge terrain, but is a little more like scarabrae in that it uses the scarabrae bases behind mountain ridges. It's interesting to note that the missile turret can lock onto incoming enemies before it becomes visible, so approaching by air can be a challenge without the proper ground support. My hope was to increase the need for teamwork.

IceCavern IceCavern - A friend (a member of my tribe actually) told me he had seen a map that had terrain both above and below, to make caves. I found it hard to believe, but then one evening I logged into a server that had a map running that did precisely that. The mission ended 30 seconds later, and I never did find a copy of the map on the net. It got me thinking though, and in about an hour of playing around with things I managed to get the same kind of thing working on my own. It actually isn't too hard, just a little on the tedious side (lining it up to make the kind of cavern you want is a pain). It turns out that the game engine is more flexible than I ever imagined- the terrain surfaces are just objects that can be positioned, rotated, and duplicated just like any other object.

DarkCave DarkCave - I figured it would be a nice change to have another cavern map that seems more like a dark and dirty cave, with more graceful contours to the surfaces. I succeeded better than I had expected to, in that the entire battle is limited to 3 chambers that are all roughly the same size, and roughly layed out in a line. There's only one way to get anywhere, and plenty of darkness to hide in, so ambushes and good defense are really encouraged. :)

LightIce LightIce - After playing with gravity a little in NightFlight, I thought about making a moonbase mission with moon-like gravity. Then I realized that 1/6 gravity just wouldn't work well... Heck, this mission has 1/2 gravity, and it takes forever to fall. :) Because lights that overthrust just kidna keep going up, I figured I should make something with a cieling, and since I was doing that anyway, why not put the flag up there and make a real reason for that low gravity? Well, now we have something in which lights can stay up for a LONG time, and heavies can actually fly to the enemy base, or from the ground up to the flag room. It's quite a sight to behold, but the graceful flight leaves you vulnerable to lasers and chainguns and such. I can't help but imagine the "blue danube" music from 2001:A Space Odyssey playing when I see people flying around in this mission.

Arecibo Arecibo - As I said before, I like to think big. I've always wanted to visit Arecibo, and on top of that it's one of the largest radio-telescopes there is... I saw some pictures of it, and for some reason thought "that would make an interesting tribes map", and hence the idea was born. At first I thought I'd have to write a program to calculate the position of the slabs to make a dish, but it turns out that making it by hand was incredibly easy.

All I had to do was center one slab at 0,0 on the map. Then I positioned 4 around it, slanted to the angle I wanted. Now I could select the 4 together, copy, paste, and then simply rotate the new 4. They would all rotate around the center point simply because I had all 4 selected, and thus they'd rotate around their common center. I just had to repeat this a few times for each of the inner and outer rings, and voila! Five minutes and I had a 300m dish.

Of course, in the end it's not exactly like the real Arecibo. The real one has 3 towers and thin catwalks, as well as a dome reflector instead of the rectangular "waveguide" I put on mine. Additionally, the real one is about 305m, whereas mine is a little closer to 295m.

While making this map, I also downloaded one somewhere that had spawn overrides in it, so you can control what equipment loadout the players spawn with, so I put that in too.

RelayStation RelayStation - After making Arecibo, I decided to use the same dish structure to do one of the other things I wanted to do- make a majestic dish/observatory standing high above the battle area. Something impressive to look at, something that is considered an objective, but otherwise is just scenery.

I took the arecibo dish, and lifted it up off the ground and tilted it 45 degrees. Originally I was going to have a very large support structure (using about 8 times as much material as it does now), but I found that what I have here is really the maximum I can have and keep a good frame rate. Even now it still crawls a little if you step out of the DS base and look left from the door (right towards the dish). The support structure is 3 of the bridges you'll recognize from Raindance. Together they look like a nice complex gantry or something.

On the gallery page, you can see a picture of the command-screen map in which I did a "relight" on the map. The shadow of the dish extends out 400m and completely encompasses the DS ship.

I made a demo (Click here to download) that gives a little tour of the map, and shows how to get to the enemy flag. [unzip it into the recordings directory and then run tribes]

DustStorm DustStorm - Something I tried to do in ColdMist was to make a very foggy mission to force people to work together, and to allow sneaking around on your own. I wanted to do this again, but make the terrain a little more flat, and the visible distance much smaller. I had already done fog in both snow and lush terrains, so a sandstorm was the next logical choice.

Another thing I wanted to do in this mission was to create a multi-step process for getting to the flag. In this case, the flag's forcefield has to be knocked out by taking out a generator on the opposite side of the base... But of course the base consists of nothing but several little pyramid ruins, all of which are spaced outside of each other's viewing distance. Having a two-pronged attack will work best. The idea is that since you can't see far, and there are multiple primary objectives as such, hopefully people will work together. Also, since you can't see where you're going in vehicles, it'll force you to set waypoints, something a lot of people neglect to do.

This is also my first map to have bots in it. It turns out that adding adding bots is very easy... Easier than doors or forcefields. Unfortunately I haven't figured out how to equip them with anything other than their default loadouts.

The viewing distance, by the way, drops off less than 100m away. Scouts often don't have time to turn if they're headed for something.

DustStorm Two-Towers - As I've said before, I like making things BIG. The only problem is that I tend to run into frame-rate problems and other limitations in the game engine. But nevertheless, my idea for having two really tall towers worked!

In this mission, each team has their own 450m tower. That's right, they're almost exactly 450m tall! There are multiple attack objectives in that the forcefields protecting the flags have their own difficult-to-reach generators, plus there are seperate generators for stations and turrets which are located in seperate segments of the tower. Our test runs were very successful, with only one drawback which is now fixed through the adding of elevators in the center of the map (basically, only lights could get back up from a fall).

Originally I wasn't going to even have the platforms out in space, or the ones on the back corners of the towers... but I realized that only the most skilled at jetting in light armour could get anywhere, and there are more tactics and strategies available with lots of "resting points" and "jump points" all over the place.

I decided not to keep the antennas that you see in the screenshot, since I have to keep the object count down to a reasonable number. It made for a great screenshot though! This picture was featured as a pic of the day on planetstarsiege, with the caption "Arrr! Walk the plank!"

Interesting factoid... I visited the Empire State building in NY. It turns out that the building is 1472 feet tall, which translates to 448.7 meters. The towers in my Two-Towers map are 450m from the bottom of the base piece to the top (not including the antenna at the top). With that in mind, Two-Towers is just like fighting from two Empire State Buildings.. Nifty, eh? :)

DustStorm Witch-Hunt - In the news update I suggested trying to guess how this mission got its name.. But I'll tell you. The whole idea for this map hit me after I saw a screenshot of Tribes 2 in which it shows a misty wooded area, and under the text HUD, the objective said something like "Kill witch at waypoint", and in the text area you could see one of the players saying something like "Josh? Josh, is that you Josh?" :)

Anyway, this map takes place over a small area, and to make the trees actually mean something, the gravity has been increased to limit flying ability. Unfortunately the game has a bug with trees- the leaves don't fade over distance. Only the trunks do. This is unfortunate, but it was either deal with it or scrap the map altogether.

DustStorm DeepSpace - This map was a lot of fun to put together, but I really got worried about graphics lag. After I made the first ship, it was starting to lag already. But I managed to get it under control by deleting a few unnecessary components on the ship. Additionally, once I got rid of the terrain, it cleared things up a bit, but the ships still had to be out of view of each other. If you could see even a fragment of one while looking at the other, it would lag up. In the long-run, this worked out well, because it doesn't turn things into a sniper trench-war. You actually have to fly out into the darkness and aim yourself well. But once on the enemy ship, there are ways to sneak around if they didn't see you come down... and heck, if you circle around with a vehicle, they may not notice you. Personally, I think it's a cool map.

Interestingly enough, I came up with the idea for the shuttlecraft first, though I wasn't sure how to do the engines on them. A little trial and error, and I had a solution.

Originally I wasn't going to do a starship map, since it had already been done.. EEPROM of Mapper's Extreme made one called IronClad.. but he encouraged me to try it anyway. I'm glad I did. :)

[All content Copyright 2000, Ed T Toton III, All Rights Reserved]