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Axis Base Axis Base Allies Valley Frozen River
The map Fueldump was originally designed as a prototype / concept map for testing new game features of ET (Enemy Territory). During the life cycle of the project the map would often break entity / script restrictions and be a constant heart ache for the coding team. With so many new features being added every month, the map soon developed the most complex script of all.

At the start of the project a working map was needed for gameplay testing and had to be built very quickly. Luckly ET started out as an expansion pack for RTCW (Return To Castle Wolfenstein) which meant all previous source maps were available for use. ET was about creating large outdoor environments and the best map candidate was SP_Forest as it involved several wide open valleys and plenty of trees.

The original SP_Forest map was designed for SP (Single Player) which meant the layout had to be simplified to suit team based MP (Multi-Player) needs. The initial starting path and all the extra dead end sections of the map were removed leaving only the final two valleys and all the connecting tunnels.

Over the course of the project the map gained minor new routes and various cosmetic changes, but essentially the map layout never changed. The map always suffered from bad FPS (Frames Per Second) issues due to the basic layout being two large rooms connected via a straight corridor.

Every six to eight weeks all the maps were rotated round to different level designers. The project was drawing to a close and this was going to be the final map rotation before the shipment of the game. I knew that Fueldump would be a tricky map to fix, but I had a plan and a gut feeling it might just work.

The suggestion was to cut the map into two halves and create a brand new section in the middle so that the FPS issues could be resolved. This was not going to be an easy task as all maps were in beta stage, which means that no radical changes to layout or brushwork was allowed. Luckily after a lot of discussion and planning the agreement was given for a new section to be created.

Central Cave Central Cave Central Cave Central Cave
The physical size of the new middle section had to take into account alot of factors and could not be rushed without some form of planning. The connecting tunnel between the two valley's was important because it was a choke point (Type of game play) and would be very well travelled by players. The tunnel could not be too small and unplayable, but also at the same time could not be too big and long for players to travel through.

One of the primary objectives for the Allies team was to escort a tank from one side of the map to the other. This meant that the tunnel had to be wide enough to take a tank model and at least one player escorting the tank at all times. The size and turning circle of the tank dictated the overall width of the tunnel but the game's portal system determined the overall length that would be required.

Once the cave structural brushes were tested with the game's portal system the rock walls were moulded to fit the remaining space. In order to help the engine create a unique portal for the tunnel system the floor of the cave was set at a different height to the entrances. This also made the journey through the middle section seem more varied and interesting.

For some time I had been experimenting with organic rock styles and studying the construction of the RTCW map The Dig. After many different test maps I eventually found an easy system which could look organic but also be low poly at the same time. This system became the basis for the creation of the caves and once started the whole middle section was created in a week.

In order to reduce player confusion while travelling through the new middle section several changes had to be made. The main route was given a unique road surface so that player could always find a way out and follow it. The light sources on the main route were made brighter so that the player would be drawn towards the main route instead of wandering off towards the darker side tunnels.

Axis Base Axis Base Axis Base Ventilation
Once both sides of the map had been separated from view, each valley could now have more detail and character added. The visuals for the map had been converted to a snow theme a long time ago when the map was shown at E3 the previous year. The Axis fuel dump in the second valley was partly the previous Sp_Forest brushwork and some new additional stone brushwork design.

The stonework converted Axis base never really had a unique style of its own and because of FPS issues really needed to be replaced. The tank repair bay was moved out of the base and put on the other side of the valley. All the original wooden huts were removed and a new snow covered bunker design was put in its place.

The middle building was converted into a two-storey structure to offer more cover from the snipers which often use to dominate the original map design. In order to give the base more of a realistic feel the new concrete buildings were designed with a small inside floor footprint. With fewer less complex buildings in the base the FPS issues were brought down to a more reasonable level.

The original design of the base had the Axis spawn literally on top of the final objective and this caused no end of game play issues. By moving the Axis spawn location further away from the fuel dump and into the mountain side the base layout could be more detailed and easier on FPS. Once again this allowed for more organic rock designs and gave the base more character at the same time.

The final job was to thin out the total number of trees used in the valley and change at least half of them to lower poly versions. The road and tree root decals did not come too much later in the design of the map. At this point the road was still highlighted in the terrain with blending of dirt textures and snow.

Allies Start Allies Valley Constructible Bridge Axis forward spawn
With the new cave section and Axis base almost complete it was time to finish off the first valley and resolve more FPS issues. The starting valley was a wide-open space with too many tree's and rough looking huts. The terrain lacked any kind of detail and the whole area was being drawn regardless of where you stood.

The terrain triangle sections were really too big and often caused problems when trying to create natural detail and shape. The hillsides needed to be smoother and the terrain triangles had to be flipped manually until eventually an editor tool was written.

The road was still being represented in the terrain as triangle blends and due to the texture resolution of the terrain shaders did not look convincing at all. In previous map designs the road was raised up and out from the terrain with patches, but this map could not spare the triangles required for such a task.

The next best thing would be a decal patch, which would sit on top of the terrain but still look good because of a high-resolution texture. By using a patch the road could curve and sweep from side to side and look more natural at the same time. The decal needed to be perfectly flat against the terrain and this required a lot of extra work massaging the terrain triangles to fit.

After a lot of triangle flipping, tweaking and terrain blending, finally the floor detail was added. From a previous map project that was not used anymore a collection of tree logs, stumps and boulders were scattered around both valleys and giving the map a much needed natural look.

The final pass on the map was creating the frozen river using a combination of shaders for the water. The frozen boulders trapped in the ice were dotted around to give the player something to catch on to as the river surface was slippery. The previous road decal idea was used for the riverbanks to give the impression of different materials that could not be realised in the terrain alpha map.

When it was announced that the map would be used in the first public beta of ET everyone took sections of the map and applied final detail passes. This map is a true example of teamwork and how a map can be turned around into something better by having a little faith in individuals determination to create something better.

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