Stolen Pixels #120: Her Scandalous Past

By Shamus Posted Friday Aug 28, 2009

Filed under: Column 37 comments

As promised, Breen has Zoey on the show and interviews her. The result is here.

I apologize for the overkill light-bloom. It is really, really, hard to get new textures into the game and to figure out what they will look like when they show up. I simply didn’t have time to tweak it and tone down the background. I do plan on fixing that when I can.

I pretty much went crazy with Hammer, the level editor used to make stuff for Valve games. It turns out that Hammer is a hole into which you can dump an unlimited amount of time. I started out just experimenting with the thing, and wound up with a full-blown project on my hands. Here is what Studio 17 looks like now:

Live, from Studio 17!
An hour. That’s how long it took me to figure out how to get a masked texture (the show logo you see on the right) into the editor, paste it on the wall, and also make it show up in-game.

You’ve got a host’s area, the center stage, and a space off to the right for the band. If I had access to stuff that looked anything like musical instruments, I’d have set up a few combine there. I figure a metrocop, combine soldier, combine elite, and a stalker would make a pretty decent band. (EDIT: OOOhhhh, perfect! Like I said, this thing is a time-hole.)

Here is what the stage would look like from the stands:

A shot from the stands.
A shot from the stands.

Yes, I made stands. Yes, I realize there was no reason in the world to do so and that it was a complete and total waste of time. At some point I realized I was making the studio because I wanted to, not because it would necessarily be useful. I sort of imagine that Studio 17 is somewhere in the Citadel, and the audience is made up of the pod-prisoners you see in the game. The various revolutionaries and political dissidents that have been imprisoned are brought here five times a week for a show.

Live, from Studio 17!
Shamus! You made all those chairs?!?! Actually, no. Those are the seats from the train car at the very beginning of Half-Life 2. I just copy & pasted them until I had an auditorium. Runs fine on my PC, but I’ll bet this room would murder a machine that was mid-range for Half-Life 2.

I was set to do a series here, but last night I sat down to make some comics and disaster struck: Garry’s Mod was updated, and the update broke the saving system. Any attempt to save the game causes an instant crash. Boo. While it might be theoretically possible to make comics without the ability to save, it would be so tedious and so much extra work (and so terrifying) that it couldn’t possibly be worth it. Grrr.

A couple of people have asked if they could try the level. I’m actually fine with that, but I have no idea how to pack the thing up for distribution yet. I seem to need to put textures in one place for them to show up in Hammer, and another place for them to show up in the game. I’ve got texture files strewn all over the place from trying to sort that out, and I can’t even tell which ones are needed. It’s… messy.


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37 thoughts on “Stolen Pixels #120: Her Scandalous Past

  1. Daki says:

    “Why does he always make me go up the ladder first.” That’s classic.

    Yeah sometimes it’s good to just do something because you want to do it rather than you need to do it. If a want happens to be a need(or start as one) as well so be it.

    Also the stage looks great. Really great.

  2. You know, my first thought was “there is no such thing as to much light-bloom”, but having seen the comic I must admit that my first thought was wrong.

    Otherwise, nice comic. I really like the closeup of Zoey in panel 7.

  3. Mari says:

    Yes, the ladder line was classic. Actually the whole comic was funny as all get-out and the commentary just made it more so. Excellent work, Shamus.

  4. eri says:

    I enjoyed this one. Good job, Shamus.

    As an aside, I have to say that it boggles my mind how archaic some of the tools that developers use are. As I’ve been trying to build a portfolio to show off my level design skills (I want to get into the industry etc.), I started out easy with the Far Cry 2 editor, then went into Crysis’ Sandbox 2, which is extremely powerful, relatively user-friendly once you figure out what everything does, and has a complex scripting system built in. However, when I tried out other editors, like Epic’s UnrealEd, Bethesda’s Construction Set and G.E.C.K., and Valve’s Hammer, I found out just how easy Sandbox really was in comparison.

    To think that people could make a game with tools where even basic camera manipulation is difficult (extremely so in Bethesda’s case) really makes me appreciate the final product in a lot of games even more. Simply put, we need way more designer-driven tools where doing even simple things isn’t a major pain in the ass. I’m surprised that in the era of “HD” graphics and a mainstream games industry, we still have yet to see many SDKs where usability is a priority.

  5. Rosseloh says:

    If you ever figure out how to package it, Shamus, I’m interested in messing around with it in gmod. I tried to make something like this myself, but couldn’t decide where to start and ran out of time.
    That and my Hammer skills are rather….limited.

  6. Daki says:

    It’s not that difficult once you get used to it Eri. It’s practically second nature for me to move in Bethesda Editors now. But I’ve been modding their games since Morrowind(That’s almost 8 year’s god damn.). My problems were that they changed the control scheme and moved to hexadecimal form-ids with Oblivion.

  7. chabuhi says:

    I think back to the BSP editor I used when I made my first levels for Marathon 15 years ago, and sometimes I long for those days. But, then when you consider all that’s possible with Beth’s tools, Hammer, heck even NWN’s tools … everything’s a sandbox now!

  8. Rutskarn says:

    Unintended meanings, huh?

    Pills here.

    Grabbin’ pills.

    Better grab everything I can.

    There’s a pipe bomb over here.

    Uggh, he slimed me!

    Secure that weapon!

    Don’t point that thing at me!

    …no, I’m not seeing any double entendres anywhere.

  9. Yar Kramer says:

    Oh, I know exactly what it’s like to dump centuries into Hammer. I’ve got (let’s see) a TF2 CTF-map (I think I’ve been discovering the allure of playing a Scout with a small number of players), a Portal mod with my own (read: Microsoft Mary’s) voice-work, and a L4D campaign which has stalled because the L4D version of Hammer apparently has higher minimum-requirements than L4D itself and therefore crashes when any map gets large enough to make a good part of a campaign (I’m thinking of screwing around such that I’d use the Orange Box version of Hammer), and also because I haven’t fully worked out how to “end campaign with safe-house” like the demo did, for when I’ve only got e.g. the first map or two done.

  10. Benjamin Orchard says:

    I refuse to admit how many hours of time I have dumped into the Warcraft editor, the Starcraft editor, UnrealEd, modding DiabloII (which doesn’t even HAVE an editor), and otherwise playing with these types of things. It is, in a word, obscene. Of course, the main reason I’m not going to admit it is because I don’t track my time that closely and I really have no clue how much time I’ve used on such pursuits. Let’s just leave it at ‘lots’.

  11. Ravens Cry says:

    Sorry to heer about the problems with G’s Mod, Shamus. Any possibility you can simply restore an earlier version?

  12. Pickly says:

    I think I've been discovering the allure of playing a Scout with a small number of players

    As someone who often is one of the small number of players (who doesn’t play scout much), I have definitely seen the allure numerous times. :)

    Also, in terms of modding, I’ll probably be spending a lot of time when the new stardock game comes out. (Elemental), assuming they do release the editing tools, and a good chunk of the summer was spent doing some Alpha Centauri factions. (I do come up with a lot of computer game ideas, though, so it is nice to actually know enough to put them into actual games.)

  13. bbot says:

    I was prepared to rush in here and whine rant at you for backlighting a subject, and you go and apologize for it in the third sentence. Geez, thanks a lot!

    As for distributing maps, you just replicate a snippet of the target game’s directory tree, put the map in maps/, the materials in materials/, etc, zip it up, and tell the end user to extract it at a certain point with the “preserve file paths” option, and it should Just Work, as long as the object file paths in the BSP point at the right places, rather than wherever you had the textures during development.

    If my absolutely masterful description is somehow opaque to comprehension, you can just download a mod, say, R&D and dissect its zip file.

    Speaking of Hammer, I did some interesting work on a L4D campaign which I really need to blog about.

  14. Neil Polenske says:

    In a comment not in ANYWAY related to the actual Shamus post (kinda), I have a question: Does anyone know if it’s possible to open or in some way extract the information from .vtx file (like say…those KICK ASS instrument models) to a 3D animation program (like say…Maya)?

    Cause there’s a project I’ve been working on for a while now and getting ahold of those models would go a big way towards completing it.

  15. Volatar says:


    That is how it used to be done. Now you can package all that together into one folder under addons. I don’t know how to do it, but its the preferred way.

  16. Rutskarn says:

    Oh yeah, forgot to mention: it might have worked a little better if you duped the last panel and put the “crickets chirping” bit there. Give it a bit more timing.

    Still quite funny, though.

  17. Vendrin says:

    For some reason the comic is not showing to me over at the escapist.

  18. DanK says:

    having issues with comic also – its showing tiny and all cut up. in ie and ff. bizarre.

  19. Veloxyll says:

    I have the same problem. Way to keep us in suspense Shamus!

    Edit: It’s almost like the images have been replaced with thumbnails

  20. Submarine Bells says:

    Can’t see the comic. All I get is an unreadable thumbnail. :-(((

  21. mac says:

    Also not seeing the comic, just a thumbnail, and when I hit ‘view image’ in FF I get a 1×1 image.

  22. SteveDJ says:

    I was going to leave a post saying that the comic is appearing very small, too small even, to be able to read – but looks like you already have a few comments like that. (So, can I say “Me too…”? :) )

  23. ZzzzSleep says:

    Both Stolen Pixels #119 and #120 are stuck in tinyland…

  24. LintMan says:

    Yep, it isn’t viewable for me, either.

  25. Bryan says:

    Hmm, 119 worked fine yesterday. 119 and 120 are both broken for me as well (same problem as everyone else).

    I’m guessing a general brokenness affecting the entire site, myself… :-P

    (Don’t ever, ever, EVER push ANYTHING new on a Friday afternoon! EVER! Even if you’re sure it can’t break: it will. Sheesh. :-) )

  26. Josh says:

    It’s broken to me too. Now I’m curious! :)

  27. Catbunny says:

    I can’t read it either (Firefox 3.5.2).

  28. Cory says:

    Here’s the address we get for the picture:×1.png?
    (sorry about breaking the page)
    Edit: Hey, it looks like it’s playing nice with the long links on my machine.

    Only today’s and yesterday’s are affected. Everything else (=the few random ones I tried) are fine.

  29. Badger says:

    Glad to hear it’s not just me, even though I tried with three different browsers on both Mac and PC. Why is it, of all the webcomics I read, that only The Escapist has such craptastic coding? It’s really too bad, because I see a lot of other comics on there that I know I’d enjoy, but it’s just not worth the headaches of loading their site up. Of course, that just means that Shamus’s work is good enough for me to go through the hassle…

  30. Kell says:

    You’ve doomed yourself now, Shamus.

    You’re a mapper.

  31. Can’t see the image either. Only thumbnail. :(

  32. Cody says:

    See above.

  33. Jabor says:

    If you look at the rest of SP, you’ll notice that only the After Curfew episodes are experiencing “technical difficulties”.

    Clearly, this is an attempt by the Citadel producers to censor Breen’s show from being viewed in areas that they don’t screen it.

    …I mean, anime producers do this to fansubs all the time, right?

  34. SteveDJ says:


    Given that the comic is still broken, even after “notifying the higher ups” as you said in the Escapist forum — how’s about just editing your post at the top, and include the full image there (at least until Escapist fixes their problem). There are lots of us that would like to join in the conversation… :)

  35. Badger says:


  36. Helm says:

    It’s fix00red or whatever the kids are saying these days

  37. Taellosse says:

    I find it interesting that while both the comment thread here and at the Escapist have a bunch of people complaining about the broken comic, here most of them took the time to see that they were not the only ones posting such a comment, and thus said something to the effect of “me too” while over at the Escapist the ratio is inverted, and it’s as if each new commenter thinks he is the first to encounter this problem.

    Not sure if that signifies anything (except, perhaps, that the viewing audience of Stolen Pixels is larger than that of Twenty Sided, and thus has a statistically higher percentage of lazy and/or foolish individuals), but I find it interesting.

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