My Blog

stormseeker’s post on his QE chapter development process for Black Mesa.

Posted by on Jun 28, 2012 in Black Mesa | 1 Comment

Original post can be found here:

There are no real rules on how to redesign a map, it really is entirely up to the individual level designer. That doesn’t mean all decisions stay the way they are implemented after testing. In most cases we took on whole chapters in order to keep the style consistent, or multiple chapters and took on either design and building or just the design part. Eventually though, most of the surviving level designers have worked on most of the maps in the game at some level. In general we started everything from scratch, but based it on the original, keeping iconic parts of each chapter in place, but changing layouts where needed for gameplay reasons, adding extensions where it improved the immersion of the level, and in some cases adding new areas that enhanced the area either for story telling purposes or to create specific arenas for combat.

We’ve never used brushwork from the original game in any of our levels, every map started as a blank grid in hammer, those maps are far too small and restrictive for the purposes of the mod.

Only speaking from my experience, the key to detaching from the original enough to add in your own creativity, is to not be afraid to change something that doesn’t make sense. Half Life is a great game, but the designs sometimes had flow issues, or were restrictive for good reasons, usually engine limits. This often led to areas in the original game that made no sense in reality.

When I joined the team back in 2006, I chose to do Questionable Ethics, mainly because the chapter had no work started on it other than a few small concepts and rough ideas. I spent around 4 months researching the chapter and its canon, making copious amounts of notes on all the main features, and made sure to note each area in importance of anything iconic. For example, when researching the logo in the lobby, the Latin of it was hard to decipher, it had a rough meaning, but wasn’t actual Latin. The original texture artist had created the logo and motto of the labs based on a rough interpretation from a friend she knew. I could have translated the correct version of this, and had a new motto placed by the logo. However, I consider this logo to be one of the more iconic and memorable parts of the chapter, and even changing the wording would detract from it.

Alot of the design decisions I made were along the lines of “how would I design this in reality”, should I have been assigned as the architect of the facility. This to me meant, you don’t have a situation in the design where you have a level 4 biohazard lab to pass through to reach your own lab. It also made sense to me that something as dangerous as a new alien species would require a certain level of security beyond that of most of the other labs, including decontamination chambers. I decided to make a tie-in to HL2’s decontamination room at Black Mesa East, ascertaining that they would have based their makeshift one, on existing chambers at Black Mesa. I created a sign system, mainly for aesthetics but also to create a “hospital” style theme to the bio labs, but also as a functional design feature that helps guide the player.

One of the things that struck me about the original Questionable Ethics labs, was the lack of storyline expansion in the area, it was a high tech lab that had rooms with teslas and not much else going on. Odd rooms with tanks in the ground for alien grunts to rise out of etc. Yet this was the place Gordon was supposed to realise that humans had been visiting Xen secretly for some time. Other expansions to Half Life explored this theme a bit more, and whilst ambiguous in his responses, Mark Laidlaw seems happy to consider those expansions canon for the time being. As such, in order to expand upon the theme of the lab, I added only light references to places like the Biodome and the transit system, as well as the links between Lambda Core and the ABRF. I also wanted to expand upon the idea that scientists were being eliminated by the HECU in order to cover the accident up, and the ABRF was a main focus, so this will be seen in greater detail, enhancing the overall storyline and goal of the chapter (rescuing the scientist from the surgery room, as instructed by the guard at the start of the chapter).

As far as sticking to the original layout, I had issues with room placement that didn’t seem to make sense from a construction perspective. As such, I took the decision to make a list of all the rooms that were in the original, remove any rooms that were forgettable or didn’t play a role, redesign those rooms that didn’t make much sense, expand upon those that did.

The room you come to after the lobby in the original map with the twin side rooms for example, is now found before the lobby, the headcrab pen room which didn’t have much function as a design was replaced with something interactive, but along the same lines. The alien grunt in the tank, I considered iconic enough to leave the design pretty much the same. However the gameplay never made much sense to me, if you broke the glass or the button, the door would open… So at that point in the design planning stage, I decided to take the action component out of this section, and replace with interaction, exploration and storyline expansion. Which is why the Agrunt can be seen on fire in the recent media shot, as it is part of a simple experiment you can choose to take part in, depending on whether your curiosity is stronger than your sense of ethics. That first map of the chapter is largely about exploring the concept of the chapter, exploring the idea of unethical research and giving the player the opportunity to take part or opt out. I deliberately designed that section of the chapter so that you can either kill everything, or harm nothing at all should you want. Realising that curiosity often overrides ethical boundaries when there are no drawbacks or bad outcomes to doing so. Often you will be rewarded for conducting such unethical research in reality in those sorts of situations.

There will be some people that consider changing this part of the map from a combat pacing, to an explorative pacing as wrong. I considered that before making the change, and decided that in the context of the gameplay I wanted to create, and the flow of the gameplay across the chapter, that it fitted better to have the storyline and chapter concept enhanced than adding more combat. The storyline in this first area is told via self discovery and exploration of the overall theme, rather than direct choreography or scene development, hopefully allowing for better immersion and letting the player interpret their own experience and fill in the gaps.

Original post can be found here:


Posted by on Jun 12, 2012 in Black Mesa | 11 Comments

Working on website please standby…

Posted by on Apr 12, 2012 in Black Mesa | 2 Comments
Working on website please standby…

Working on website please standby…