With traffic from digg slowly residing (8 gigs of traffic in about 48 hours!) I think it’s just about safe to emerge from behind the Christmas/New Year rock and post some stuff. Given the popularity of the ‘Making of’ articles due to Digg, I thought it might be worth giving a brief overview of how Casbah came to be. Creating it was one of the most valuable experiences in my career.

I was originally hired by Valve after Dust took the #1 spot to create a brand new TFC map for the upcoming 1.5 release of the game. This was big news, since it was my first proper level design job, and I was only 17. The spec was simple enough: create a TFC map in a similar vein to Dust. Given my love of TF/TFC, this seemed like it would be easy. I’d always wanted to make a TF/TFC map, but had never got round to it.

Development was to follow a ‘milestone’ pattern. There were three milestones, something like (1) rough geometry, (2) working gameplay, (3) finished map. Myself and David Sawyer at Valve (who was my coach/mentor mapping contact for the project) would decide when I had reached a milestone and I would recieve a third of my total fee for each one I met. With me living in England and Valve being in America, all contact was done via e-mail. It was a very exciting time and had come totally out of the blue.

From the outset Casbah shared features with Dust. It had a golden tinge and an open, deserted, Arabian feel. This time however I wanted to attack some of the criticisms that had been directed at Dust: the lack of ‘detail’.

As we all know, ‘detail’ is a something I moan on about a lot. Casbah taught me what it meant.

I started out by creating a few rough areas using the Dust textures (I was later hooked up with a texture artist for this project), but these went nowhere. The key was not to create another Dust, but to create something that gave a similar experience within TFC - something simple, fast and most importantly, fun. I kept on experimenting though, until the first batch of rough textures came in.

The first thing I created was what later turned into a spawn area, featuring a tank with a mounted sentry gun on top (to keep out the enemy team). This sprawled out into a small hut with a couple of resupply rooms - getting those resupply backpacks in was of major importance to me. Furthermore, there were two main ‘paths’ the player could take that would lead them to the bulk of the map (which had yet to be made).

This is where it started going horribly wrong - I was still on a high from getting the project, and still pretty new to design.

The problem was, I hadn’t planned ahead, so of course the two routes turned into two longer routes, with a couple of non-descript courtyards, more theme development, and slight changes in height and vantage points. I added some tunnels and played with lighting. I grew the map a bit more. There was little variety in the colours and locations. It was impossible to tell where you were meant to go, unless you could remember where you had come from. There was no sense of progression and the map was only about a third of the size I had planned for it.

In essence, the first couple of weeks I spent with the texture set were me creating a theme, where I worked out how to use the textures and maintain a consistent appearance. The stuff I created should have been expendible, but it to me it wasn’t. I thought it was great, because I, CREATOR OF #1 MAP DUST, had made it. I could do no wrong!

Alas… what a fool I was.

To be continued…