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"Another great sequence is a train level that, at first, seems much like similar sequences in a number of other shooters. You can stay on the train and use turrets to gun down the opposition, as expected--but you can also jump off and engage the opposition at any time, giving even this near-cliche sequence plenty of replay value." - GameSpot, Sep 17, 2008

I really loved the concept of this map; take an old school game play idea like a rail shooter, and then allow the player freedom to move around anywhere they want. A subtle change that can easily be missed, but something I thought fit the sandbox game play well.

Originally the map was looked after by someone else, but towards the end of the project the workload for the cinematics team was becoming too much. Various people and levels were moved around to help out, and the train map was split up between myself and another designer.

The main feature of the map was the moving train and the initial layout was like an assault course. When the player jumped forward while on the train they would often miss the jump and end up fighting the train movement instead of the AI. The train jump bug could not be fixed easily, so I redesigned the train layout to be gradual height changes instead.

The original train flowgraph was developed over a long period of time and had accumulated a lot of prototype game logic which was no longer necessary. I recreated the train flowgraph to use only the latest game logic and at the same time all of the various train states were setup with game tokens. This allowed all other flowgraphs to work with one single source instead of wasting time with duplicate checks.

When the player was off the train fighting AI, it was often possible to lose sight of the train which was not a good situation. It was crucial that the player could find the train easily again and more importantly get back on without any hassle. The train flowgraph was changed to a system that followed closely the speed of the player, instead of the other way round.

The art style for the map was made up from many unique objects and this was causing a lot of problems with the memory footprint. Most of the large art assets had to be replaced with prefabs and after copious amount of rotation, object re-arrangement and decals the prefabs eventually looked more unique and much easier on memory.

Camp Destroyed Boom! BOOM! Approaching Train
I spent a long time creating different types of game play, on foot, in a vehicle and staying on the train. The level was setup with 3 different types of encounter triggers and depending on which one the player activated, different types of enemy encounters would be spawned.

The on train combat was setup to trigger various armoured vehicles that would approach from either side and attack the player. Unfortunately the fire power of the mounted guns were so good that nothing lasted very long, but at least they blew up in visually pleasing ways.

The vehicle game play was designed to trigger high speed targets that were able to catch the player. Various traps like falling trees , rockslides and hidden MG nests were setup to slow the player down and damage their vehicle. Since the player could move faster than the train in a vehicle, special distance checks were setup to increased the speed of the train.

The final on foot route was triggered via area shapes centred around most of the buildings. The AI consisted of foot soldiers and light vehicles which allowed the player to have fun with suit abilities and play cat and mouse. The train was switched down to a very slow speed so that the player could run around and not have to worry about finding it again afterwards.

Players will often take the path of least resistance in games and a lot of people just hid on the train to avoid combat during testing. The train layout was changed several times to create less places to hide but there was always some way to avoid combat. Eventually helicopters were added to attack the player if they stayed on the train and on higher skill levels forced the player to seek cover off the train instead.

In an effort to tempt the player off the train, all additional weapons and ammo were placed in the buildings dotted across the landscape. Originally these items were located inside on tables and shelves, but most players did not realise this and some weapons were moved outside.

Combat on the mounted guns was extremely difficult to balance because the AI had terrible problems tracking the player and hitting them. Certain AI types could not be used due to slow firing rates and the combat never felt satisfactory unless the map was played at a high skill level.

The game play experience was designed to be a roller coaster of encounters that built up over time in layers of difficulty. With limitations on how many AI could be used, the placement became the defining factor to getting the best game play out of each situation. By putting the AI infront of or travelling towards the train, this reduced the amount of time they spent trying to track the player and give the AI a greater chance to hit.

Station Approach Station Attack Control Tower Crashed VTOL
I redesigned the flowgraph for the station VTOL to cope with the player arriving via different methods (vehicle or train) and a much simpler system for the station combat. New flying animations were requested for the VTOL and luckily due to the power of trackview, the final sequences were setup with minimal support from other teams.

When moving the VTOL in the station area the game engine would always turn the nose of the vehicle towards where it needed to go. Combined with slow turning and movement speeds the VTOL looked cumbersome and needed to be facing the enemy AI at all times. The VTOL was changed to follow AI paths and use action scripts (repeatable chunks of flowgraph) which allowed the vehicle to strafe from side to side, while maintaining a forward angle.

The VTOL was setup to give air rocket support during the attack on the station area. The target locations were selected based on where the AI was or the chance of blowing something up! Due to movement issues the VTOL would often not be facing the right way and the rockets would hit the side of the vehicle instead. To reduce the self rocket abuse the VTOL flowgraph was changed to do a vector trace to see if the target location could be reached.

Due to the VTOL flowgraph being changed so much and so close to the end of the project a few memorable bugs were found. When the VTOL was attacking selected targets at the station and the player was too close to any of these locations they would enjoy a WTF death moment. This was eventually stopped by adding player proximity checks to the flowgraph.

One really funny bug that was very hard to reproduce during the last few days of testing was when the VTOL pilot and gunner would die and crash while fighting AI targets on the ground inside of an invulnerable vehicle! To make this moment even more memorable the player could then get into the vehicle and fly around the whole map, but luckily this was an extremely rare situation.

The final pass to the map was performance related which involved most of the unique arts assets in the station being replaced with more common versions and the AI being triggered in smaller groups. The section after the station also had too many AI being used and needed to be reduced down to tougher enemies, which was the perfect opportunity to give any players using vehicles a bit of a surprise with some rocket wielding troops instead!

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