Survival of the Fittest


In my last post, I shared the long-overdue release of my old source files from ns_eclipse and ns_veil. My biggest regret was not being able to provide more of a play-by-play commentary of how and why the map changed over the months of development. Unfortunately, even with a good memory, it’s very difficult to browse through dozens of 10+ year old hacked up .rmf files and remember exact intent or even in some cases what the specific changes were.

Last Saturday, I spent some time chatting with my old friend and fellow Half-Life modder Robert Yang (more on this conversation to come!) during which we discussed the making of Eclipse and Veil. I shared the story of Eclipse’s texture swap from the grungy wall_black set to the clean wall_lab textures that became the signature “Eclipse” style. The following morning, with Natural Selection still strongly on my mind, I decided to dig through my old files in search of some before-and-after screenshots. I found them – along with a pile of in-progress shots not seen since the old WIP threads on the NS1 forums.

I still can’t necessarily recall exact technical details of every change or my guiding philosophy at the time, but for the Natural Selection fans out there, here’s the illustrated evolution of Eclipse.

EDIT August 3rd 2013: All screenshots have been brightened to emulate in-game gamma adjustment.

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In late 2001, after a summer spree of cranking out HLDM level after HLDM level, I was getting restless and looking for some other projects to work on. A Counter-Strike map was tempting, as was the call of the more advanced Quake III community, until I spotted a new level + texture back by Kevin “Relic25” Roberts. He was building the Alien-inspired level for a new Half-Life mod – something called “Natural Selection.”

If you’re familiar with my past work, the rest is history. I went on to make ns_eclipse for NS v1.0, and ns_veil for NS v2.0. They became the most popular NS levels over time, often ranking #1 and #2 in active player count, and helped establish my career as a professional game developer. Lessons I learned in developing these levels still pay off today. Some people’s eyes still perk up when I mention them, and over a decade later community members have seen to it that these levels will live on in Natural Selection 2, as seen in Shawn Snelling’s re-make of Veil.

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No School Like The Old School

Last night (and again tonight), I played Counter-Strike for the first time in a decade. I’m not one of the players that can tell you the ins and outs of how this balance change or that gun or whatever else over the years has ruined the game forever, so all I can say is – it felt really good.

The most striking part of the experience for me is looking at the top-down layouts on each loading screen. They’re so simple – simple as they ever were, but glaringly so when held up against the modern standard of super dense clutter-based shooters or the sprawl of massive multi-modal maps (including my own work on Starhawk’s multiplayer levels). There’s an elegance and intimacy in this era of level design that still has a place today amid higher-resolution graphics and higher detail meshes – maybe more of a place than ever as we get ready to move into a new console hardware generation and the inevitable “ooh, shiny!” effect.

Much like I was able to use lun3dm5 to finally check off the “make a damn Quake III map” bucket list item, I’m hoping to use CS:GO to mark off “make a damn Counter-Strike map.” I’ve had a fun idea for a setting floating around since the Counter-Strike: Source days that I think is due for some blockout ideas…