More planning. With the backstory looking slightly more interesting let's look at the next thing on the list:
2. Sort out some character models.
The Liandri Angel models have three 'weights' (light, medium and heavy) and a few headswaps and skin changes available. Lets guess that we can reasonably handle probably about five major NPCs without completely drying up and pick some names at random:
Here's a pic of our new NPCs. 'Lucy' was quite a difficult choice because the model might border on the exploitative but maybe we can subvert that for our own nefarious ends.
So without lifting so much as a finger to create new character geometry we already have plenty to keep us occupied. I really like the work that's been done on these models and it strikes me as odd that I appear to be seeing them only for the first time, I remember the heavy trooper (because they were a pain to dispose of) but the others must've gone past in a blur. It can't be that they weren't in the original game with all the time and talent that has obviously been lavished on them, but the situations they were used in just didn't allow me to see them properly. Hopefully, in these circumstances, using them as NPCs will be nearly as good as having new models.
This is a tough decision. Our backstory clearly states that the Liandri Angels are an all female organisation and the default player 'persona' is definitely male. We sex-changed the leading role in Cassandra, but I confess the arcane elastic trickery that was involved passed me by. In order to have our player-persona become female we are also going to have to track down and replace the default sounds for things like jumping ('hunh!'). I'm also worried at the holistic-level because messing with such a fundamental part of the base game can only lead to presently unseen problems raising their heads later on.
The alternative is to think up some excuse for a male combatant being among the Angels. A couple of things spring to mind, but to be honest they all seem like second-rate cop outs at this stage of the proceedings. We'll take some advice from greater minds before we decide what to do on this point, I think.
Something else I'm going to defer. We have five NPCs out of the variants available with the game but if we want any more then we'll need new skins, for faces and hair and stuff. If we have a female player model then we're definitely going to need some new art, but also I know that as we work on the characters themselves, putting flesh on their bones, 'things' might suggest themselves that deserve a more visual representation.
I can muddle along a bit editing skins but if we want a proper job doing then we might have to look for someone to help us out.
For now, we can work with what we have, but we'll have to re-evaluate this portion of the plan after we've done some investigating and some work.
Now we're getting into the nitty gritty. Just the geometry of a level can be a massive time and energy hog, especially when the editor obviously hates you and wishes you would die. We've done our best in the backstory to keep the work as confined as we can but we have to admit that eventually we're going to need to make some kind of level for our NPCs to inhabit. Or do we?
There are lots of nice levels in the base game and we're already reusing some of the character models, why not a whole level as well? The level shown in the few pictures so far, 'Sulferon' is an ideal candidate. It was one of the 'defensive' levels from the game and already features a detailed fortification, plus I like the terrain very much, kind of a red desert feel but with a crisp blue sky, like Mars crossed with an sunny Autumn morning. It also features the massive and dramatic bones of some long dead titanic creatures and smoking volcanic craters make use of Unreal II's particle system.
On the down side, the defense of that fort makes you very familiar with it during the base game, we're unlikely to get away with a player not recognising it, it's not like it was just a brief run through. Also, it doesn't quite fit the picture I've started to draw up in my mind. I imagine a much more intimate space, our comrades bunched together somewhere more claustrophobic like the foxholes of World War II, but you know, updated for the science-fiction.
How about a compromise? We'll use the terrain of the Sulferon level but throw out the existing fort and create a new foxhole-cum-bunker using the spiffy new static mesh system. Well, new to me, anyway.
I'll probably try and explain what all that means in more detail at another time.
If events are to march along despite our player instead of because of him/her then we'd better figure out what they're going to be. The thing is I've no real idea how long this hour is going to feel to any particular player. People are such individual and fickle things. Bastards.
As a rule of thumb let's say around six recognisable events, breaking up the hour into ten minute sections (you can last ten minutes, can't you?). It's a rubbish method but it's better than nothing. A few ideas:
I want the player to hang around the bunker most of the time because that's where the NPCs will be and I want to get the dialogue flowing. To this end I'm going to open the sequence just as the Izanagi artillery (off map and 'imaginary') have got range on the Angel's position. It's going to be loud, 'splody and dangerous to venture outside the protection of the foxhole for a while.
A sandstorm would suit the red desert terrain enormously and I think I saw a snow effect that could be adpated with new colouration and more loud sound effects. We /might/ be able to dynamically 'fog' the level too which might be convincing.
There are an inordinate number of alien creatures in the Unreal II pawn list (the list of character actors). In the game these were mostly just 'colour' on any given map, rather than any real opposition. A passing procession of Sulferon native animals could be a good talking point for the Angels and dead easy to implement.
The artillery barrage will come to a sudden halt. This will be the subject of speculation amongst the Angels, but unbeknownst to them the reason will be to avoid shelling the full Ghost Warrior platoon that is entering the area.
Aerial recon (oo, another potential 'timed' event, I think I saw a suitable aircraft back in the class list) has noted the reinforced nature of the Angel's shelter so the Izanagi will approach cautiously. Firstly they will send in a few lightly armoured and fast-moving scouts armed with sniper rifles. This might be quite dangerous for the Angels as the snipers try and pick them off from a distance. On the other hand I'm sure our enterprising player will think of some way to neutralise the threat and his/her reward will be the only sniper rifles available on this level plus scant ammo.
The second wave will arrive later on and be a much sturdier force than the previous scouts. These mostly medium armour Ghost Warriors will employ a few tactics through scripting that will hopefully make them more interesting opposition than the duck shoots that come with the game. Off the top of my head I'm thinking a little flanking, laying down smoke grenades for cover and keeping a respectable distance from the Angel's foxhole.
The third wave will be an all out assault on the bunker, featuring Ghost Warrior heavies along with the combined arms of the mediums and lights. At some point during this final battle the Angel's dropship will turn up facilitating a desperate dash to escape the battle they obviously can't win.
And we'll have to find out how those dropships fly in and out so effectively in the game if we're going to steal the technique.
Phew. That's enough for now, I'll get to the end of the planning stage next time.Comments: on the _blackbored