So, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring as far as the “let’s remake Decay” rush stands, and spend some time developing a map of my own. I don’t intend to fully remake Decay or anything of the sort, but rather to offer a sort of live look into how I would go about doing that as a demonstration- hence the ‘prototype’ in the title. I’m not going to choose Dual Access, because quite frankly it’s been done to death and I wanted to do a post-disaster map for once and additionally it almost entirely uses the Questionable Ethics aesthetic and I have a fair bit of experience with that.
I am already starting to think of ideas about what I want to do with this map, but since it’s been a good long while since I actually played the thing so reacquainting myself (and the audience) with the map would probably be a good idea. I don’t have Half-Life Source and the Decay for PC mod handy at the moment, so I’ll be using this let’s play:
I couldn’t find a good top-down screenshot of the level so the first thing I did was just draw out roughly what it looked like on pen and paper- not to scale or anything like that, just a rough sketch with enemy placement and important features noted. I’ve attached a cleaned-up computer-drawn version to the tail end of this post since the originals are rather cryptic do to their small scale, but if I was not making this public I would have had no problem just working off of the paper drawings.
It becomes clear that there are some serious problems with this level from a game-design standpoint. There’s a few things here that always bothered me, personally, as a player and facility designer- a stairway going down followed by as stairway going up with nothing to speak of in between, areas that require some sort of security access or decontamination to get into from one direction but don’t from another, general-access areas that you have to go through an area requiring protective clothing in order to get to, that sort of thing.
But the big issue is how vacuous the vast majority of the level is. Maybe Black Mesa with its ample prop budget and func_details has spoiled me to how hard level designers had it in the 90s, but there’s entire sections of the map that are just empty corridors with nothing of any real interest in them, and even things like the alien labs themselves have only one or two objects in them (1:00:00 and 1:00:30 have pretty major examples of this). All of the things I remember from the first time I played this map (the bullsquid vacuum, the vort gauntlets you need to turn off, the laser puzzle) are in fact stuck together at nearly the very end, and there is an almost complete lack of health and ammo pickups, NPCs or story elements, or for that matter enemies doing much of anything other than teleporting in to ambush you in wide open spaces. This lack of meaningful interaction with the world and the very linear structure of the majority of the level’s organization really drives home the on-rails, repetitive nature of it: advance a room, shoot three enemies, rinse, repeat. There are many Half-Life and Black Mesa chapters which have no objective other than to get through them, like Office Complex and Surface Tension, but those levels have much richer environmental storytelling that informs the player something is happening during the time they are traveling.
Then there is the laser puzzle itself, which is the centerpiece of the level even though it occurs at the very end. I remember it being much, much bigger and more complicated than it actually is, and I think this is because it’s not at all intuitive what you are supposed to do to solve it. There are three source lasers in the control room- red, blue, and yellow- which can be combined in pairs to form a green, magenta, or orange beam or all three for white (why they didn’t make the primaries red, green and blue and then the secondaries cyan, magenta, and yellow I have no idea). These must be diverted using mirrors into ‘sinks’ of the corresponding secondary color, to ‘energize’ three colored crystals which the white beam must then pass through. I think it’s possible for the crystals to switch off if the wrong beams are shone through them, but the let’s play does not demonstrate this and I really don’t remember. It’s not a bad puzzle, but there are multiple problems with it.
- Probably the big one is that what you need to do is actually kind of abstract and I remember spending most of my time trying to figure out what anything was or what the rules were as opposed to actually solving the problem of how to get the right beams into the right sinks. I think I actually ‘solved’ it while I was still experimenting with what did what and accidentally fumbled it into the right configuration, which wasn’t especially satisfying. In particular, I was under the impression that these lasers (like the similar ones in Questionable Ethics, and for that matter most every video game everywhere ever) were damaging and being surprised when the LPer walked through them without damage.
- For being the defining feature of the level, this puzzle is pretty much confined to a single area and the vast majority of playtime is spent not interacting with it or even being able to see it- contrast this with the lases in Questionable Ethics, which while not really a puzzle had visible signs of their presence all throughout the level and the player was constantly finding them as they explored various rooms in a nonlinear map.
- It is not at all clear to me just what this giant collection of lasers and crystals is actually doing in Black Mesa, especially since the area it is in is otherwise devoted to biological research on Xenians and there doesn’t actually seem to be any equipment around the lasers that would allow them to be reconfigured or studied. Even when the system is turned on I am not entirely clear what happened- I guess it supplied power to the big satellite array in the Gamma Labs, but even that’s two or three steps removed from any sort of actually relevant goal as basically half of the Decay maps have the same premise of ‘stop the portal using this that or the other giant machine, and then it doesn’t work’- and whyever is the power system for the Gamma Labs located in a different, unrelated part of the facility?
I already have some ideas about how I will actually be restructuring the majority of the level and have duly written them down, but a lot of the decisions I am making about the overall shape of the level will depend on how the laser puzzle at the end is set up so I am going to need to address that beforehand.