Single Status Update
Sitting here, I just realized that we're coming up on the 7th year mark since the release of the mod. Err...Hub1. I almost can't believe it's been that long. Almost. So much has happened since then. Most notably, I finished my education and have been working ever since. That's mainly what put a damper on RTC development. (Yes yes, the Phobos project has its share of the blame as well I guess)
[Long ramble ahead. I hope it could be interesting/useful for some]
The start of the project
I remember how I started the project back in 1999 or so under the name of TRTCC. It started out as yet another entry in the line of project concepts. I invited over a few friends to help out on the concept side of things. It was rather loose and just had a few pointers in regards of theme. Bricks, sand, wood. Brown! The first level was based around the concept of the start hub in Quake. You'd come back here 4 times and enter a new teleporter each time, travelling to a new setting. I didn't put enough effort into the levels, to put it mildly. The main features were a few lame weapon modifications and music from ROTT. I released this as a beta back then and it wasn't very well received. And rightly so. I believe we only released a 6 or 7 level beta, but there were at one point 9 or 10 levels. The 8th and 9th were much much better than the released maps, but they were still nothing to brag about.
Restarting the project
I don't remember if I took the critique personal or not, but I did take it into account - scrapping the whole mod and starting over. This would lead to the very short 1 level demo called TRTCC Demo. Highly inspired by projects like DOOM3057 and The Darkening E2 (which I had, for some not-so-obvious reason, berated for being dull.... It's not), I set out to create a less ugly and more ZDoom oriented version. Building the level took a lot more time than the earlier versions did, but it was a lot....less ugly. The thing is, I didn't have a master-plan. I wrote down a few awful dialogue scenes in school and implemented them in the wad when I got home. Something about an agent coming in to clean up a base - one that then proceeds to blow up for some reason. The level was incredibly short and featured awful mechanics like having to kill all monsters to access new areas and lots of extremely boring dialogue. I released the map as TRTCCDemo.
Surprisingly, it wasn't unsuccessful. A handful of people even liked it and looked forward to the full 'game'. To this day, the level represents everything I hate about modern games. I would argue that the beta was better, or at least more entertaining, than the demo. Still blows, though :)
I worked on Map02 for a LONG time before scapping it completely. It never really took off and was a weird mixture of styles. Probably because of differing sources of inspiration. Hell Factory was one. After months on this, I restarted the map. This time I put a lot of effort into shadows and lighting. Lots of time was spent on small details. The setting was some sort of hotel or enemy base - for some reason. Again, I had no real masterplan at this point. There were lots of generic ZDoom features like fog and swimmable water. The level was entirely linear, but still a lot less constrained than the first. I had learned something from the first map. I actually did finish this map, but I don't recall ever starting Map03. [I probably did]
Merging two projects
No, I was being inspired by Quake 3 Team Arena and the early videos of Doom3 and I wanted to try to up the ante on visuals. At the same time, I was having a few chats with the DOOM3057 team. We began to share more and more time and even members. In the end, we merged and became RTC-3057. This basically meant restarting the project and scrapping all work done on both projects. In the startup of the mod, I worked on a lot of random conceptual work. Some of it even made it into the final release (The blue cargo room with all the curves and william hung on deck5). It took a while before I settled on a style and a setting. Most of my time went into working on the details, taking inspiration from games like BioForge and, of course, Doom 3 which was supposed to be the next big thing. [It wasn't.]
We decided to make a hub and the first map was going to be Map04 - for some reason. You were left on a demon infested spaceship owned by the ones who created you. You were a cyborg, part of a research project and only a stepstone in the project. Getting off the ship would be your own responsibility, your own task. From here on, not much changed in the project. The level did change a bit, but nothing drastic. Dsm was pulled in for storywriting and we expanded the plans to include 6 hubs. During the design of the first level, I experimented a lot with scenes that told their own story. The best example of this is the prison cell area where you see blood on the floor. Some poor soul was dragged across the floor.
The result of all of this was a very zdoom-feature-heavy short map that we released as RTC-3057 Demo. One of the features I was most proud of was the moving fan, complete with shadows and sounds. I remember the reception as being almost overwhelmingly positive. People liked the design and were looking forward to the next release. In reality, the map was probably a bit too short and not that heavy on action OR story, but it was a nice taste of the project.
Falling into place
This served as a huge morale boost and work on the full hub progressed speedily. It was still difficult to get good help for the mod, though. Most prolific was getting Cyb and NiGHTMARE on the team. That was a victory for us. Cyb did great work for Hub5 and Nick did some good work on a few levels and ended up creating all the item/monster/health placement. Through the following 1½ year, I received more and more help from my neighbour. There are a few years between us, but he had been a friend for a long time. He and I worked hard on creating interesting locales with odd, but interesting, shapes. His contributions are most apparent in areas like the Hangar (Map03) and the Bridge (Map01). Meanwhile, the story was starting to take shape and we had quite a few interesting twists and turns in store throughout the hubs. Working on the mod, it felt like we were breaking new ground (for Doom) in terms of story, visuals and especially ZDoom features.
We had set up a few new features like the log & dialogue systems. It took a while to make the damn things work without too many bugs, but it was worth it. We had added another dimension on to the game and now it was just a matter of filling in the content. After a bit of controversy on the team, we decided to lower the player run speed to 50%. The controversy didn't stop there. After having announced it to the community a wave of people cried out, unhappy with the developments. I recall playing around with providing the option for the player to set 50%, 75%, 100% speed. It was an incredibly bad idea, of course, but it led to the final setting of 75% which really was the sweet spot.
Development of the hub entered the final stages and this is where the mistakes we had made throughout the process appeared. Puzzles and gameflow were afterthoughts. We hadn't spent a lot of time on planning the obstacles and challenges of the maps. Instead of having a clear idea of how things should work, it became a matter of trying to come up with problems for the player and it became a matter of prolonging the game. It shows. The last couple of months were spent desperately trying to improve on this aspect of the game as well as fixing bugs. We had fun though.
As the work on the story and the plans for the other 5 hubs progressed, we became very aware that the first hub would be the least interesting on all accounts. The story and the action wouldn't really take off until the second and third hub.
During the summer of 2004, we were nearing completion of the first hub and it became apparent that Doom3 had gone gold and was nearing release. We didn't want to compete with that, so we promised ourselves to release it BEFORE August the 3rd where Doom3 would come out. We managed to do this, even though we only beat it by a few days.
This time the reception was overwhelming. I don't think I've ever experienced as heart-warming a thing as when the positive comments rolled in. The praise was amazing and my thanks go to all you people who took the time to play the game and post your comments. I was incredibly proud and happy with it all.
A few days after the release of hub1, Doom3 came out and stole some time. We started work on Hub2. This time there was a much better defined plan and we were opening up for more Classic Doom goodness. The player had crashed on Mars in his escape pod and blacked out from a local EMP blast (he WAS a cyborg after all). The player would wake up in a cell, but this time you would have to break out. Pirates had captured you. I guess we got to somewhere between 40 and 50% with the hub before work started slowing down.
Unfortunately for RTC, I was getting more and more distraught with working on the Doom engine. Finishing my education and getting a job confiscated most of my time and after a while I only had time for 1 project. Doom 3: Phobos won this battle and we've been working really hard on this ever since, however that's a different story - but not completely unlike that of RTC :P
I played through hub1 a couple of months ago. I think it's the (or one of the) first times since we released it. I really do think we nailed a few things. The atmosphere, the music (thanks Julian!) the story integration, a lot of stuff on the visual and audio side of things. If I had to go back and create a remake of it, there are quite a few things I would work on though.
1. Much more interesting flow and puzzles
In hub1 you're this errand boy, walking through a seemingly endless cascade of switch-flicking. It's not that cascading puzzles can't be good, but the implementation here is way too mundane and borders (sometimes crosses it) on annoying. I would shape the areas so the puzzles would be physical (as in natural and visual as opposed to "GO SOMEWHERE ELSE BECAUSE SOME PRESSURE STUFF DOESN'T WORK OR SOMETHING". The hangar doors (without the "go to deck5" stuff) and the airlock there were probably the best interactions in the hub. It made sense and the player could immediately see why he had to do what he did.
2. A tighter focus on the design side of things
Playing through the mod, I noticed how it bled through that quite a lot of the areas were conceptual rooms that were later integrated. I would work on trying to make the areas seem more natural and to the point. A little less random stuff and generally less copy/paste work (See mess hall & living quarters)
3. The flow and layout of the maps
One thing that never really took off in RTC (any version) was the flow and interconnectivity of the levels. I would have liked to do more classic Doom style layout with more verticality and multi-directional "set-pieces". This would also help a great deal on the action side of things. This could perhaps spare us from the horrible caco-vent on deck5 ;)
4. Make the ship actually look like a ship
5. The pistol bug :P
The book hasn't been closed completely on RTC and I really do want to go back and give it a proper finish. The main problems are lack of time and not a whole lot of enthusiastm for working with the Doom engine. Some day I would really love to continue what we started.
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Thanks for all the nice comments :)
WildWeasel: Yes! BioForge is one of my favourite games ever. The team had a playthrough at one point using dosbox :D I believe I also mentioned BioForge somewhere in the huge wall of text. BioForge was the main source of inspiration for the whole log system and the nature of the player. In that game, the guy stuck in your "neighboring cell" went insane from the experiments. That gave us the idea for the insanity branch of the story. The security room in map02 is a reference to BioForge, yes :D
There are also others. In the security room there is a console that will let you fix mundane errors like a broken door or light. BioForge had something just like this in its security room. The cell-like rooms you start in are also inspired by that, obviously. In hub2, the deja-vu experience you'd have in the beginning would be in a cell area that looked almost exactly like the one in BioForge. The sound you get when a new log is written comes from BioForge.
Another thing would be the Cryo area in map07(deck2). We even had a chamber that would "defrost" if you checked it out :P Never got around to giving it a consequence though. I believe we even stuck the same room soundscape in there.
There are other references and sources of inspiration. One of the more obvious would be the whole "red curtain" theme going on in some of the sequences. That was highly inspired by Twin Peaks. The ticking sound is actually a record skipping, recorded from one of the episodes. Doom3 inspired the bathroom in the beginning of the first map and the pipe infested area just after the security room on map02. The bloody trails in map04 were of course also Doom3 inspired. Then there's the control area in deck5. The short hallway came from the 2002 E3 Doom3 trailer. Another area nearby was inspired by the reception area in the start of the game (As seen in trailers). The shadow-heavy areas were obviously of that nature as well.
The bridge on map01 was heavily inspired by the Star Destroyer bridge seen in the Star Wars movies. We even had a mock Beverly Hills 90210 reference in there. The bar resembles that night club thingie behind the peach pit. Then there's the dancing banana and William Hung. I think we also had a reference to the doomworld fish.
There are plenty of references in there. Probably forgot half of them :)