Development Blog: Level Design – Evolution of a Parking Garage

Above is a picture of the old version of map 03, the garage, from 2009. While that version of the map played alright, there was still a lot of room for improvement and it was too similar to the Episode 1 garage. In mid 2010 we decided to start a new version of the garage from scratch. Below is a picture of the first version of the new garage.

Instead of being a series of strung together small to medium semi-destroyed garages like the old version and like Episode 1’s garage, this version takes place nearly entirely in one large collapsed underground garage. The main floor area includes the expanded Antlion Guard fight while the rest of the garage is an upward explorable zombie adventure to the surface.
While this new garage was an improvement, the layout was still very rough and the art still left a lot of room for improvement. Nearly all of the debris and broken concrete slabs in the version pictured above were made from displacements or brushes and the entire garage used mostly stock Half-Life 2 content, which included the debris piles mentioned in a previous blog post. Over the next few weeks we set out to replace or edit most of the stock content used in the map and replace the brush/displacement placeholders with proper models.
We tried to keep all of the models very modular and tried to use the same textures as the remaining brushes in the garage to save on texture memory and keep a continuous look. On certain models separate damaged materials or modified normals were used to give the models a more damaged look compared to the remaining sections of the garage still somewhat intact. Along with the new models we refined the layout, lighting, and post process effects. The latest version of the garage uses nearly all custom content or modified stock content and came out much more unique and exciting than the previous garage. Below are a few shots of some of the modular models used in the environment and a screenshot of the near-finished garage.

We modified the stock Valve concrete wall textures in these models, desaturating them to fit the color theme and oldness of the garage a bit more. We wanted to make sure the Garage felt like it had been abandoned for quite some time, and antlions utilized it as their home. Later on during the art pass process we started talking about adding in foliage. This next shot is from an earlier version of the Garage, we’ve taken the vines out to convert them into fully animated models using a new shader we’re putting together we’ll talk about in a future blog post.

Why did we change it?

It was Ugly. Art wise we’ve been spending a lot of time transitioning from stock Hl2 content to fully custom generated content. This ranged from models, sprites, and even soundscapes. This was the first map were we fully went into the “entirely custom content” test, and went wild with it.

It was Dark. The previous map was super dark. Monotonously lit throughout. Early on we knew the entire lighting mood and theme had to change, so we went with the inverted of what Episode featured: Warm lighting, and mostly fire lit sections with occasional lights that still had power. This overall change added a lot of color variation throughout making the garage feel slightly more vibrant than previous. The next biggest change was the central light source. We put a big sink hole in the ceiling of the garage and redirected the sun to cast right down into the garage. For light bouncing we rigged up a couple of fake light entities with a fairly large constant. The Guard battle takes place on the lowest floor, where the majority of the sun light is hitting. This was an art choice we were very happy with, as the light not only acts as a vista or center piece for the environment, but also functions to light up enough of the gameplay areas, a problem we had with our previous garage.

Gameplay was boring. The guard battle was pretty disappointing in the older version of the garage. You killed him, the progressed through a  fairly empty layout gameplay wise. In a later version of the garage we created an entire side section to the main complex, where the guard battle would take place. This made the area funner than before, but was still not as great as it could have been. In the latest revision of the garage we spawn in antlions randomly throughout base floor. Also, because the ground is mostly debris and dirt, the Guard can now bark to summon antlions to aid in the fight. The battle instantly went up in scale.


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