Half-Life: NightWatch

Development Diary

10th January 2003 - by Ken "ken20banks" Banks

Furnace blaring, ceiling fan blowing. Itís too cold, now.
Get up, fan off.
Sit down.
Too hot.

I go through this ordeal of continuous adjusting and retuning every day, due to an atrociously balanced home heating system. Iíd give an arm and a leg to just be able to set the thermostat to a single, desired temperature, and leave it to the system to consistently maintain that setting. But, no, it doesnít work that way. Instead, I have to get the ceiling fan involved. In a battle of hot and cold, itís a bit like adding the lighting to a level, in a sense. Scratch that... Itís an awful lot like adding the lighting to a level.

Wake up to a chilling cold house; adjust a hyper-finicky furnace up a few degrees. Sit down at the computer, and load up a freshly compiled level: Itís too dark. Go back into the editor, and increase the brightness or intensity of a few random light_spots around the level. Recompile. By now, the house is too hot. Iím sweating, or at least getting there. Level finishes compiling... visual washout: The lighting is too bright.

Fan back on, kill a few lights, recompile. Itís too cold, and too dark. This is going nowhere. Add an uncomfortable baby crying in another room of the house, or in my case, an anxious team leader looking to you for some unique high-quality content the next day, and youíve got what I like to call a media rush.

I love them, and I hate them.

* * * * *

There have been several times in Nightwatch development that we have all had to scramble around a bit to come up with new content, usually screenshots, for various publicity projects. For some of us, itís a matter of finally being able to release some signs of our previous hard work to the public... let them see a glimpse of what weíve been cranking away at. For the rest of us (and I happen to fall into this group), itís your typical media rush. Mad-crazy fun and stress all bundled together in one package.

Itís what happens when we donít have that media ready. We donít have that screenshot or two for the site launch, or random interview ready. But we need it, and usually on the double. While we are all continuously working on new content for the game itself, sometimes that content isnít always presentable or up to our media standards yet. This tends to happen to me almost every time we prepare for a publicity project, usually because there arenít any rooms or areas under my belt that are adequately lit for public presentation yet (putting aside lighting for a later time in the development can help boost your ďproduction rateĒ in many instances). In other words, while I have been working on content for the game on a regular basis, this content wasnít created with the intention of public presentation, so itís usually not yet up to the visual quality that we want representing the mod. And I need to get it there. Fast.

* * * * *

Itís 11:00 PM. An hour left until Iím impaled over the spike of incompetence, according to a self-imposed deadline to supply Andrew with a single screenshot for an upcoming interview. The area Iím preparing is doing evil things to me. The lighting ďjust wonít workĒ, and the texturing is boring. In frustration, I click out of the editor for a breather, only to find an IRC screen in typical media rush condition. While itís all in good humor, itís hard to ignore the mounting pressure:

ďHave that screenshot yet?Ē
ďCan I kill you yet?Ē
ďItís almost midnight... :PĒ

Back in the editor, I strain to figure out what, exactly, Iím doing wrong. Iím satisfied with the architecture, and after a little tweaking, the texturing is acceptable. Itís definitely in the lighting. Iím aiming for a high-contrast environment, and by using spotlights as my main source of light, the scene can change dramatically with even a few minor adjustments. I find the technique extremely flexible, yet very finicky and hard to control at the same time.

Experimenting around for another half-hour, I manage to finally arrive at the desired contrast level. But the scene is still lacking something: color. Thereís a significant lack of any sort of colored lighting, and any attempt to apply it to the scene totally throws off any trace of contrast I once had. By now, Iíve decided that orange is the way to go, but Iím clueless as to how to implement it. I canít place it out in the open of the room, unless I want to completely alter the ambience of the area. Angling the light upwards towards the ceiling is a bit better, but it looks far too unrealistic.

And then, I have an idea: Iíll backlight the scene. Hidden behind pillars, facing away from the interior of the room, I can apply strong orange lights. This will set the back wall in a colorful glow, while leaving the major bulk of the roomís atmosphere untouched. I try it out, compile the map, make a few minor adjustments, recompile, and Iím ready. Granted, Iím a few minutes late, but I think thatís beside the point. :)

* * * * *

Media rushes have proven to be a very stressful, yet fulfilling experience. While I may not care for the additional level of stress the deadlines apply to an already frustrating process of fine-tuning, Iíve found that the added pressure can really stir up some nice ideas and get me motivated to create something thatís maybe just slightly more attractive or appealing than anything Iíve previously done. Also, throw in the fact that thereís new content spilling out of everyone else as well, and youíve got a very rewarding and motivating time for the team.

Previous diaries:
11th April 2003 by Andrew "KungFuSquirrel" Weldon
7th April 2003 by Andrew "KungFuSquirrel" Weldon
28th March 2003 by Andrew "KungFuSquirrel" Weldon
21st March 2003 by Mohammad "BadMofo" Alavi
14th March 2003 by Matt "Chalupamonk" Michelson
7th March 2003 by Ryan "Professional Victim" Desgroseilliers
21st February 2003 by Adam "WhoMe" Foster
14th February 2003 by Dan "coil" Johnson
7th February 2003 by Francis "DeathWish" Woodhouse
31st January 2003 by Andrew "KungFuSquirrel" Weldon
24th January 2003 by Mohammad "BadMofo" Alavi
17th January 2003 by Ryan "Professional Victim" Desgroseilliers
10th January 2003 by Ken "ken20banks" Banks
3rd January 2003 by Dan "coil" Johnson
27th December 2002 by Francis "DeathWish" Woodhouse
20th December 2002 by Andrew "KungFuSquirrel" Weldon