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Author Topic: Descent II Maximum Strike: An Idea Pitch  (Read 633 times)

Offline Scyphi

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Descent II Maximum Strike: An Idea Pitch
« on: October 24, 2019, 03:17:01 PM »
DISCLAIMER: This is in no way an active project that is currently in progress or about to become one anytime soon, IF AT ALL. This is currently just an idea.

But since it's been poking and prodding the back of my brain for a bit now and I can't seem to leave it alone, I might as well see what y'all think of it, see if it's even something that'd be of interest.

Now, I enjoy all three of the major official Descent campaigns, but admittedly, of the three, Counterstrike is the one I end up replaying the least. There's a couple of reasons for that, but it's mostly a level design matter--while I like that D2 worked to break away from the boxier and linear D1 levels with a more angular and non-linear design, after the first few levels, most of the levels end up just devolving into chaotic messes that often have little rhyme or reason to them, to the point that I'd say they're too non-linear, and the levels just end up being the same chaotic messes again and again that the blur together, with only the textures and a few stand-out moments breaking them apart. Not enough to totally dismiss them entirely, of course, but not enough to maintain my interest to get through the whole campaign either. Usually, I'm a little more bored or even frustrated by the nearly un-navigatable levels than entertained.

It's also occurred to me that the Counterstrike campaign, unlike First Strike before it, allows the player to obtain most of the available weapons fairly early on in the campaign, especially if you go for the secret levels, leaving only the Omega and the Earthshakers as the two weapons that aren't really readily available until much later. In other words, you get so many of the "good" weapons that it takes away that limited, make-do-with-what-you-have, sense you got in First Strike, where not only were the weapons a little more limited, they were better scattered out so that you couldn't start picking them up until you reached certain points later in the campaign.

Then you had the Maximum campaign, the Playstation equivalent of Counterstrike, presenting a different set of levels that still bore the same D2 look, and many of the same level design traits, but in a decidedly more linear feel that felt much more like the sort of levels D1 favored, with levels that were more distinct from each other and stand out more in my mind when playing through them. I also noticed in my most recent playthrough, that the weapons are better distributed through the campaign, and are not all clumped together at one end. For example, I didn't reach laser level 6 until the Quartzon levels, and didn't get the Gauss cannon until the Brimspark levels. Instead, I had to make do with other weapons I wasn't as accustomed to having to use, and found this added a challenge that Counterstrike largely lacked that I rather liked. But the Maximum levels are much smaller and shorter due to data space limitations (hence the different levels at all), didn't always exploit the solar system "themes" like Counterstrike did, and some of the level designs were great visually, but not that effective for the gameplay expected to be done in them (for example, I prefer pretty much every boss room Counterstrike uses over those that Maximum uses). The Vertigo Series recycled and expanded upon a couple of them, but only a couple--there are plenty of others that could use that.

And both still felt like they occasionally didn't do all they could've done with D2's capabilities, to be as creative as they could've been.

So one day I thought...what if we combined the two? Took the best elements of the level designs of both and sort of pieced them together, into an entirely new set of levels?

That is, at its core, what the proposed "Maximum Strike" would be, a mod hybriding the levels of both Counterstrike and Maximum together. Basically, take the level design elements that work the best from the respective level of each sets, and fit them together in a way that makes since, and see what we get.

But since I realized that meant I couldn't rely on D2's traditional cutscenes and would instead have to make do with text briefings, I thought, "might as well take it a step further" and spin the whole thing as a sort of AU to D2 to try out other ideas, such as...

-The original D2 demo had a very different intro briefing that implied the mines you were visiting were not of actual PTMC construction but rather of purely alien origin, and there are lingering elements of this idea that still made it into the final game, so why not revamp the story to explore that in more detail, as a sort of what-if?

-Running along with that, I thought maybe the PTMC had already sent teams of scientists to examine these alien mines in advance, building little attached "outposts" to each mine, but all later fell to robot infection, leaving the usual hostages to rescue (giving an in-universe explanation for why they're there at all).

-I thought it might make for a fun challenge to make D1-era weapons scarce, and instead force the player to have to rely more on just the new weapons D2 introduced instead. Maybe the "outposts" described above could have brought the occasion D1 weapon with them (say a pack of homing missiles), but they'd be far more rare by comparison.

-Put more emphasis on the texture and robot "themes" each system bore, to the point there is much more visual difference between each set of levels to each system, to the point that some textures are found ONLY in certain star systems, maybe even some robots as well.

-Because they occasionally featured unique scripting that I can't be sure how well a mod can replicate if at all, probably wouldn't use the Counterstrike secret levels at all, and Maximum's secret levels were mostly underwhelming, so might build whole new secret levels instead, or at least follow the same design principles of the standard levels of hybridization, and simply build new puzzles...

-And then explore a few other miscellaneous idea, like allusions to things D3 of the Vertigo series presented hinted in dialogue, more experimentation with switches and triggers breaking the typical level formula a bit more (akin to what Counterstrike's lvl 4 did), thrown in the occasional D1 bot for old time's sake but with maybe modded behavior, add in Split Pod to serve as an optional bonus target that drops rare goodies when you blow it up, make it so the thief bot appears only in SOME levels, maybe even omit the Guide-bot from time to time so to challenge the player in later levels, possibly make use of a couple custom textures if feeling especially ambitious, etc.

Again, I need to stress this is just an idea that's been bouncing around my head lately, I'm not in a good position to actually try and make it happen right now. But I think it's still a neat idea, and so I'm curious to see what others think of it.

(Also, is there any way I can try and extract the D2 demo briefings if I can, for closer analysis? For that matter, are there any Descent briefing editors out there that'll even run on modern systems like Windows 10? 'Cuz all the standard ones I've used in the past won't).
"I thought I had a great idea, but it never really took off. In fact, it didn't even get on the runway. I guess you could say it exploded in the hanger." -Calvin and Hobbes
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Offline LightWolf

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Re: Descent II Maximum Strike: An Idea Pitch
« Reply #1 on: December 26, 2019, 10:22:40 PM »
 The idea is kind of interesting. Although this would definitely be a big undertaking - 24+6 levels is a lot.

I figure I may as well throw in some of my own thoughts in:
 - D2 scripting is limited to a number of universally-available triggers - anything done in a secret level could be done anywhere else.
 - You had the idea of making D1 weapons rare - what if the majority were instead replaced by custom weapons?
 - Realistically, why do these mines need a dedicated tour guide robot? We could probably remove the guide bot in most levels.
 - What if some levels were to break away from the traditional blue-yellow-red-reactor structure? (Stuff that some of the mines in i.e. Obsidian did)

Offline Scyphi

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Re: Descent II Maximum Strike: An Idea Pitch
« Reply #2 on: December 27, 2019, 05:06:33 PM »
Mm, yes, even though most of it would likely taking already existing geometry and just...rearranging it, it would still be quite an undertaking, and that's largely the reason why I haven't already taken steps to make this idea a full-on reality.

That, and some of the tools I'd need are no longer compatible or functional on my modern machine, not unless some of them have been given modern overhauls I don't know about. I mean, I still have DLE-XL obviously which will cover most of it, but still...  :-\

Most likely, it'd be a project best realized if it were a group project, but I don't know if the Descent community at large would be interested enough. Hence why I posted this pitch at all--I was "testing the waters," as it were.

Some thoughts on your thoughts:

-Some D2 secret levels had unique scripting that appeared only in that one level that cannot be replicated with standard editing tools. For example, the Puuma Sphere secret level with the many reactors, or the secret level that automatically spawns a new thief bot as soon as you destroy one. It is my understanding that these particular effects were done with special additional macros (or some such) built right into the level's code that is not easily retrievable or replicable--I know of no one who's done it (and I've tried recreating the multiple reactor one myself once sometime back, can't be done, at least not with the tools available to me).

Besides, a part of me would rather make all-new secret levels from scratch anyway, if only to give the player something totally new to experience. Or just make do with what can be reproduced. All assuming this idea ever goes into production, of course.

-I admit, I've never been too terribly satisfied with custom weapons in D2, with most of the attempts I've seen succeeding in either just jazzing up whats really just the normal weapons reskinned or just totally throwing off the weapons balance altogether. Besides, the idea isn't to reinvent the wheel here--just put a new spin on it.  ;) And I think it'd be cool to challenge the player to rely more on just D2 weapons rather than D1 as well. Think how you'd have to play if you had no homing missiles and just guided missiles, for example.

-The thing is that the guide-bot still serves a key gameplay role as an aid to the player, especially beginner places. There's a reason GB came back in D3 and Overload had an guide-bot equivalent too. For some players, the auto-map only goes so far, so like him or not, he still has his uses, and I'd hesitate to omit him too frequently. And one thing I've learned about game editing is to never assume beginner players won't be playing--that's just bad game design.

But the later levels (say around Puma Sphere), after the player has had plenty of time to get a feel for how things work, it might be fun to either omit him so to add to the challenge of those later levels, making them "tougher," so to speak. But it's the kind of thing I'd want more feedback from others on first.

There exists in the game files an "evil" guide-bot that kamikazes the player though, and I'd kind of like to throw that into the mix by having it replace the usual guide-bot. I think that'd be cool, and it's not something I've seen other level builders do properly much.  8)

-I very much would like to play around with the blue-yellow-red door order, or the overall gameplay pattern of the levels if possible. Counterstrike's level 4 gave hints of the potential there, but unfortunately the rest of the game didn't follow up on that much, so I'd want to play around with that more, break the pattern a little more, keep things interesting.
"I thought I had a great idea, but it never really took off. In fact, it didn't even get on the runway. I guess you could say it exploded in the hanger." -Calvin and Hobbes
See me also at deviantART.

Offline LightWolf

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Re: Descent II Maximum Strike: An Idea Pitch
« Reply #3 on: December 28, 2019, 06:33:34 PM »
Multiple reactor support is quite simple actually. All you need to do is hike up the level's countdown timer (optional) and add the "mini-reactor" robot wherever you want additional reactors. As for the thief thing - I'm pretty sure that's hard-coded into every secret level (either that or it's a property of every 3rd secret level). I know that the Descent 2: Enemy Vignettes mission has the respawning thief in one of its secret levels.

As far as tools go... There's some currently in-development tools to replace outdated HAM and briefing editors, and you mentioned DLE already - you don't really need more tools than that ;)

Also about the demo briefings - the DXX-Rebirth website contains a D2 demo download (which can be run using Rebirth, allowing you to watch the briefings), and you can use DLE's on-board HOG utility to extract them.

Offline Scyphi

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Re: Descent II Maximum Strike: An Idea Pitch
« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2019, 09:08:42 AM »
Really. It's that simple on the multiple reactors? Forgive my skepticism, but I swear I've tried that before and it didn't work...hmm, maybe I'll have to do some experimenting next time I have a chance...

As for the D2 demo briefings, thanks for directing me to that download. I'd found a copy of the demo already, but it came with an installer that my computer was absolutely refusing to open so it was basically useless to me. I instead found screenshots of the briefings elsewhere, so I already have the text, but not the raw images, so this sorts that out nicely. I will now share those images I raided from the hog for the fun of it:

"I thought I had a great idea, but it never really took off. In fact, it didn't even get on the runway. I guess you could say it exploded in the hanger." -Calvin and Hobbes
See me also at deviantART.

 

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