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Author Topic: Descent XL: The Cat's-Paw ... mission release thread  (Read 1931 times)

Offline Kaiaatzl

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Descent XL: The Cat's-Paw ... mission release thread
« on: July 29, 2021, 04:16:00 PM »
Yup!  A month after two weeks after I said it would be a few days, here it really, actually is!
The final resting place for five of my ten(ish)-year-old levels.
(as it turns out, making briefings was a somewhat larger task than I remembered)

While Parabolicus and Hunter work out some newly-discovered teething troubles on the DXMA site, Hunter was kind enough to let me put the mission up on DescentFiles.  The downside is that instead of taking you to a page with a screenshot and a nice blurb, this link has to be a direct download.

The Cat's-Paw

IMPORTANT
THIS MISSION SET IS ONLY COMPATIBLE WITH THE FINAL RELEASE OF D2X-XL
ANYONE WHO ASKS HOW TO MAKE IT WORK WITH ANY OTHER VERSION OF DESCENT WILL BE MET WITH LETHAL SARCASM


So, in the meantime, here are some screenshots and a nice blurb:

The best of my old D2X-XL solo maps compiled.  The txt file says the oldest of these might be about 10 years old but it's quite possible it goes back much further than that.  I really don't remember well enough to say.

Includes:
five levels, most of them massive
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some custom robot enemies you may have met before
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a few new hi-res textures (both from D3 and from Irontower's packs)
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hi-res weapon graphics from Pumo's "D3-style" pack
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seven music tracks which are a whole lot newer than any of the levels
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a story which takes place concurrently with some other events in the Descent lore
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and of course a whole load of D2X-XL specific visual and gameplay features that few other mission packs have made full use of

Compatible with solo play only because the trigger "scripting" for many of these levels was done at least a decade ago, and I have no idea if there's anything there that could break a co-op game.  It's not like anybody plays co-op with XL anyhow.

See the included catspaw.txt for more specific details.







....nothing mysterious about this media
« Last Edit: July 29, 2021, 04:20:24 PM by Kaiaatzl »

Offline Scyphi

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Re: Descent XL: The Cat's-Paw ... mission release thread
« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2021, 05:30:58 PM »
At some time in the hopefully near future, I am going to find the time to download and try this out and then get back to you with my thoughts on it, I promise.  :P
"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 Scyphi

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Re: Descent XL: The Cat's-Paw ... mission release thread
« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2021, 01:49:01 PM »
So I finally--FINALLY--sat down and played the first three levels of this. And then wasn't able to get back here and say anything about it until about two days later, so...par for the course there:P

More seriously though, I am actually fairly impressed by what I've seen thus far, Kai. I admit, I went into it not really sure what to expect going off of what you described, but these levels have been pretty nicely designed thus far. So much so, I'd even go as far as say it's among the better D2X-XL specific levels I've played, because the thing about D2X-XL is that it introduces all of these neat new features, and I've noticed most builders treat it as if new toys to play with and end up implementing them fairly...arbitrarily. It leaves such features feeling random, overdone, or just out of place, like something's that just sort of...tacked on...to an otherwise traditional level as if after the fact. They are, if anything, just a fun gimmick that's not super necessary, or just a unneeded nuisance or extra step.

But I don't get that here. You've thus far managed to use those features creatively and effectively, in ways that make sense, and it only adds to the overall enjoyment of the levels.  :)

The custom robots also work pretty well, with easy to identify designs and iconic patterns of behavior/attack that stick with a player, and overall feel decently balanced in terms of difficulty and when and where they are used, while also not really reinventing the wheel, as there isn't enough need to. One thing I noted you did that I particularly liked was with your standard lifter bot, it doesn't fire the homing green plasma attacks, but the cloaked ones do, which I thought was a clever idea that I'm sort of wishing the official D2 campaign had thought to use (though of course, I always thought D2 had over-utilized that particular mechanic, but beside the point).

The ambient sounds are well utilized as well--I remember you emphasizing them once in a comment and I can see why, because they are very effective and used in the right spots at the right times when and where it makes most sense to use them. Very atmospheric and immersive. :)

The custom music didn't play when I played...but I think that's just because they're redbook tracks and I have D2X-XL set to favor the midis instead, and it just defaulted to the standard music there. In any case, not much to say there as a result.

I think the overall level I liked most thus far was the second one, as I liked the organized and procedural lab half of the level and how it contrasts with the more unorganized and uneven cavern half of the level, and it's just immediately eye-grabbing in all the right ways. It's the sort of level that visually sticks with you and will immediately come back to mind the next time you play it because it's that iconic. All of the three levels I've played thus far have been like that to some degree, and I fully expect the fourth one will be the same (even though all I've seen of it thus far is that it opens with a big pit that drops down into what looks like a black nothing).

Speaking of--you use the big rooms effectively too, enough that whenever I see I'm about to enter another one of these big rooms, I get a little nervous, wondering what you have lurking in there just out of sight, a sense of anxiety I loved about classic D1, so additional props for successfully recapturing that--it's not an easy thing to do, it turns out!

The briefings and overall story are fairly standard for Descent, but effective and get the job done, and that's what's important there.

I think the only real criticism I have was the underwater reactor area of the third level, and that's less a complaint on you than it is a complaint on that D2X-XL feature altogether, as the "underwater cubes" as we'll call them were a neat idea on paper, but I think ultimately proved to be more just...frustrating...for the player to navigate (much less try to battle in) than it is entertaining--it's definitely a feature best used tastefully and probably sparingly, but there it is anyway. But at least it's not game-breaking--just annoying but not annoying enough to not go ahead and persevere and get past it anyway.

I noticed you tweaked the weapon loadouts, so that, for example, even when you have an ammo rack, the max amount of homing missiles you can carry is 15 instead of the traditional 20 for D2--I assume this was an attempt to mirror Pyro-GL weapon loadouts? Not complaining, it just surprised me, really. It otherwise hasn't affected my gameplay in any real meaningful way that I've noticed.

...can't really think of anything else to say beyond that (though I feel like I'm forgetting something), but yeah, there's my thoughts thus far. Apologies for taking so very long to get around to it, I really hadn't wanted to delay this long for it, but...that's life for you, I guess.
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Offline Kaiaatzl

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Re: Descent XL: The Cat's-Paw ... mission release thread
« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2021, 07:03:09 PM »
Oh, don't worry about time, I'm well aware that I was releasing this mission to a very limited audience who all have plenty of life going on in their lives. ;)

I'm glad you liked the enemy populations and balancing, that was probably the one thing I changed the most from the way these levels originally were, and I used a lot of the experience I got from my Overload maps (probably the first time I really tried to get gameplay design right instead of just an afterthought to geometry) and to always be asking myself about each section "but what about this part makes it fun?"  A big focus in levels 3-5 was giving players spaces to actually use their earthshakers instead of saving them for a boss.
Watching the game director livestreams for Doom Eternal was a big help with the way Hugo Martin would talk about the all the thought processes involved in that game's design.
The underwater reactor fight was the one part I didn't change much, because I thought the fog effect was too cool to get rid of.  I just made sure there would be plenty of cloaks and invulns to keep it from getting too frustrating, and that it would only happen once.
That all being said, you're just getting into the maps where Kalki and Warlord pop up, so we'll see how you feel after that. :D

The thinking behind cloaked melee bots getting an energy pulse was to make them a little easier to see, in levels that can get pretty dark.

The ammo rack tweak wasn't my doing, it's a D2X-XL thing and I'm still not completely sure why Karx decided to rework that, of all things.


As far as the briefings go, I wanted to explore some aspects of D3's late-game story that I always felt needed more explaining -- particularly how the CED-PTMC alliance formed so quickly and yet fell apart so easily.  The Overload pack I'm working on might implicitly tie into that a little bit as well, since it has some things to say about whose fault the virus really was...  And there hasn't really been anything else set around the "late-D3" point in the timeline so a different perspective on it seemed to me like the most interesting story I could tell in Descent's universe.  The whole aspect of having a whole story take place on one planet isn't something that Descent missions really do, so I thought a more self-contained setting that could be fleshed out without making any one briefing too long could be a lot of fun to write.  I tried to keep a lot of elements to implication so that the briefings would stay brief, like the way the planet's second continent is so desolate PTMC didn't even bother to set up their own communication system there.
...and the player's character is named after one of the animals at the zoo around here :D

The music probably isn't to your taste anyway, I did try to have songs that would add atmosphere to the levels but in your case I'd imagine you're better off with the midis... only disadvantage I see is that the final level with it's massive multi-boss arena would be set to a midi track that I personally find underwhelming-- but that's my taste and not necessarily yours.

As for the use of D2X-XL features, I can't actually speak much to that because their integration is about as old as the levels themselves.  The most I remember is that my thought process was about how the gameplay and level interactions could built up around them, instead of just being about showing them off.  I've always loved the sort of level design that encourages player choice in service of a clear objective -- it's one of the reasons I prefer D2's campaign over D1's.
And honestly when I come to think of it I think you're right, the only other mission pack I can think of that uses D2X-XL specific stuff in this way is Pumo Mines.  And, well, we all knew that would happen already. ;)
« Last Edit: December 24, 2021, 09:16:49 PM by Kaiaatzl »

Offline Scyphi

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Re: Descent XL: The Cat's-Paw ... mission release thread
« Reply #4 on: December 25, 2021, 07:29:10 AM »
Goes to show how often I do not play D2X-XL anymore these days then, as I hadn't previously noticed Karx had tweaked the weapon loadouts...that does seem like an odd thing to decide to go and change, but I know Karx just well enough to know he wouldn't have done it without a reason (even if the reason makes more sense to him than others, but beside the point). In any case, I don't have an issue with it, as I said before, so that's probably the important thing to take from this, but it did surprise me nonetheless.

I haven't actually played anything of the Pumo Mines, to be honest, not because there wasn't interest but because I'd previously encountered troubles getting it to run well enough to be worth trying to play (D2X-XL levels can have the downside of being resource hogs sometimes, depending on how they're built). It's been awhile since I last tried though and I know Pumo's since released an update, so I should probably try again, but...well, you already know how long it took me to get around to playing this level set, so...  :P Still, on the agenda.

I think that's part of the reason why I liked the energy pulse mechanic attached to the cloaked bots, it helps make them a little more visible. But to me it also just makes sense that a cloaked robot, presumably operating on stealth, would resort to such a function as a means of attack. In any case, to me it just makes more sense for a cloaked lifter than a regular one.
"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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