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Development Spotlight - EZ2_C1_1

Hey folks! Time for something new to keep you going whilst we try to churn out Entropy : Zero 2. I'm planning to do one of these for each map - so look out for them!

This could get lengthy - so grab a coffee and enjoy!


EZ2 has gone through some pretty major story changes since the start of its development. And just like with the first mod, the story has been deliberately malleable from the start. This gives me freedom to change things as I go and helps the mod's narrative develop naturally.

Check this out:

A humble start!

Those are the very first scribbles of EZ2. The game is marginally different now. This entire section was scrapped because I didn't like how it played out. I only have one hammer grab of this initial area.

Not a fetish thing I swear! There's a reason for the Alyx's

In the older drafts, the player would wake up whilst being operated on by a stalker. The idea was that the stalkers would prepare soldiers and 'activate' them. For the operating sequence, I bound a camera to the eyes of the Alyx model and had it animate (ironically) the operating sequence from EP2. This provided the player with a decent view of being worked on whilst paralysed / immobile.

"I'm back!"

Ultimately, this single scene has made the cut and will appear in the form of a dream sequence in EZ2.

The whole area was redesigned twice. Some of the secondary changes have remained and I'm sure will be familiar to some of you.

Bad Cop Elite had his first photo shoot here, you may recall.

Fun fact, Griggs and Sheckley (HL2 EP2) made an appearance here in the first draft (just past that monitor down the hall), and were seen escaping Nova Prospekt as Bad Cop passed them. This had to be cut as the timeline for EZ2 changed.

These areas were supposed to be lower levels of Nova Proskpet that we never got to see as Freeman. They were meant to be completely infested after the events of Half-Life 2.

Bonus tidbit: You can see a working concept of an objective system in the lower right corner.

Webbing was prominent on the walls and ceilings of this older build. It was hard to implement in way that complimented it's surroundings, and took forever to place.

Something that has been consistent from the start is the Pulse Pistol. It made sense to me that the Combine would have also experimented with the pistol after refining the AR2. I was proud at myself for being able to hack together some basic code changes to get it working at a prototype level.

The Pulse Pistol plays an important role. You wouldn't see a Combine Elite wielding a stunstick. I had to figure out a way to give the player a means to attack regardless of ammo - without a melee alternative. The Pulse Pistol does just that because it never runs out of ammo. It simply recharges.

The whole focus on this earlier build was to reach the surface to evacuate. Bad Cop was waking up moments after Episode 2 after that time, and he was being woken to take vengeance on the resistance for closing the super portal.

The story was vastly different, with Bad Cop being tasked to return to the ruins of City 17, enter a fragment of the Citadel and recover some sort of bio key from Breen in order to interface with another Citadel fragment, to ultimately try and re-open the super portal.

Sadly, this concept didn't make it very far in practice.

But there were some huge problems I ran into with this story, and I had some personal qualms about the direction I was heading in. This lead me to run with a dramatic branch-off / overhaul of the entire intro section. For a little while the story changed dramatically, and I moved Bad Cop to a random Combine facility in the mountains.

LambdaGen actually featured a clip of this.

But again I became uninterested in this approach. It felt too disconnected to the Half-Life story. At least in City 10 we had some relationships to the original canon. With this new re-write we were being placed in a totally random location, only to be moved immediately after the first chapter.

After three weeks of not working on EZ2, I knew I had a massive problem. I wasn't motivated in the slightest to pursue this new narrative. I had to sit down and re-think the whole thing.

And I'm so glad that I chose to do that because Nova Prospekt has never looked so interesting (In my opinion).

Ez2_c1_1 (Present day)

My spin on the Antlion infestation of NP.

Everyone in the public facing Source community has had a crack at bringing back Nova Prospekt. My original writing was to have the player below the ground - how could I skip out on the opportunity to actually bring players back in my own re-imagining of the place? And how cool would it have been if I could actually manipulate existing Valve maps to see how they look in the days after the events of Half-Life 2?

Luckily, Valve have let me do just that. I got permission because I wanted to be 100% clear on what I was doing.

I jumped right in and redesigned the first part of the mod. This time, we're only underground for a few minutes. Then we're back up to the surface. The first map gave me an opportunity to explore my own interpretation of an area we never got to see as Freeman.

Here are some devshots:

And this really, is a great example of unplanned map progression. None of this was drawn, it just came to life on it's own as I put it together in the editor. In the images above you can see how I was using things like the handrails, to define the dimensions of specific areas. This is mapping by-prop, essentially. That way I can map unplanned, produce results and have it all looking nice and aligned. It's the 'John Romero' approach, apparently.

Screaming goat - we meet again.

Re-visiting this area was a must. A total mandatory design anchor, it had to happen. It was such an iconic scene from the first mod, I had to include it in the mod. It's easy to casually stroll past this if you're distracted by other things. In older builds, approaching the coffin would produce a very faint screaming sound, as Bad Cop's mind rattles off the memory of having his face melted.

We get to experience that area in a different light and absorb all of the mysteries it bought at the end of EZ1.

And speaking of a different light, one of the major things I did to improve this area was introduce some new colours along with colour correction. I've really pushed hard with the colour blending in EZ2.

This one is actually from ez2_c1_3 but, you get the idea.

The strong oranges with the subtle blues blend really well. But you should know that these colour choices aren't random. In fact, pretty much nothing is random with EZ2. When you're seeing things like colour blends and such in EZ2, there's a process of thought that's going on behind them.

The colours in this chapter are meant to represent the Rebel vs Combine aspect of Half-Life 2. The blues are an established colour in the Nova Prospekt environment, but the strong oranges are prominent and stand out. It's meant to resemble the underlying reason we're here; the fight between the Rebels and the Combine. The Combine are overrun on Earth, more so now that the Citadel has been compromised. The orange nests resemble the rebel presence, encroaching the Combine domain.

Subtle background choices like these are rife in EZ1 and 2 - but may not necessarily be easily interpreted or understood by the player. And that's just fine with me because all of that design theory aside, it looks real good and serves to light the world as well as enhance it.

I spiced things up big time. I made the initial Pulse Pistol acquisition fancier. I implemented squad control right at the start of the mod to show players you could use soldiers. I bought in Trivvy to voice Bad Cop, and CW3D to give me some new, interesting sounds.

From that point on EZ2 practically started writing and building itself. As did the rest of ez2_c1_1 - which is one of my favourite maps in hindsight. It struggled to exist, but I found a way.

Rain tattles through broken ceiling windows. The occasional rumble of thunder grabs your attention. In the distance, Antlions buzz and hiss.

You could cut through the atmosphere with a knife.


Thanks for reading!

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