Dan Rudolph was unable to do Face the Facts for this issue, so we are showing the first 4 over again.

Face the Facts #1
A weekly Marathon Newsletter by Face (Dan Rudolph) <rudolph.family@mcleod.net>
This week's topic: Plots, part 1 of 2

Due to Steve Israelson, the Bungie crew, Claude Errera and Steve Campbell there are many third-party solo maps for all the incarnations of Marathon available on the net. Many of these use Bungie elements. I'm not talking about just the engine and shapes, or even term pics here; I'm talking about the Bungie plot line. Innumerable maps use either Durandal or Tycho in their terms. This is not necessarily a bad thing. There are many examples of this done well. It can also be bad. It seems that many mapmakers don't want to go to the trouble of thinking up their own plot or characters, so they merely use poor imitations of Bungie ones.

The following is a list of all the Marathon maps I could come up with that tied into Bungie's storyline. I'm not going to be ridiculous and add every map with a UESC ship. I'm only using ones with definite ties to Bungie characters or events.

Athens Outpost: You are cleaning up the mess on the Marathon when a message comes in from the colony. They've lost contact with Athens, located in a nearby asteroid belt. Well done characterization.

Baraka: You explore an ancient S'pht cathedral. Big points for featuring Leela. I like this one a lot.

Be Happy or Not: Robert Blake sends off to fight Admiral T'Fear to regain control of MDI headquarters. Well done.

Bloody Dreams level 1: You return to Tau Ceti where the Pfhor have killed everyone. I loved this plot, but I had to use DTB to see it. The map is sorely lacking, but that's not this week's topic.

The BOB Factory: You are sent to stop the Pfhor from developing a new type of simulcrum. Only mild ties to Bungie's story.

BOBlienation Trilogy: The head of a Pfhor mining colony calls on you to help him save the other Pfhor from explodaBOBs. A somewhat amusing storyline, but unfortunately no save terms.

Carna: The S'pht capture a Pfhor base on Lh'owon. The Pfhor send in a third of their forces to take it back. The plot really has nothing to do with the map. This is a practice level.

The Chai'etra Saga: Far from Earth, you retrieve an ancient Pfhor scout ship. No Bungie AIs are used, but it mentions Lh'owon.

Dad, Get Me Out of This: The UESC and S'pht'Kr are just finishing off the Pfhor. A small power station is detected and you are sent in to investigate. Only mild ties to the Bungie storyline.

The Director's Cut: Takes place in M1 on the Pfhor ship before the S'pht revolt.

Escape!: The Pfhor kidnap you from Durandal and you must escape. Durandal is portrayed rather flatly. Oh, and it sort of has Robert Blake. Not bad, but not that great either.

Foreign Legion: Durandal sends you to kill some Pfhor. I'm curious as to why a different Durandal logo was used.

The Garden: The story centers on a struggle for a water supply. Durandal stays in character throughout. I won't give away the ending. This is probably the best use of Bungie characters I have seen.

Gyrus-O-Tycho: This is a well-designed level where the object is to destroy Tycho's Memory Bank. There are mentions of Durandal. The author refrains from having the Bungie AIs talk to you. This was probably a good thing.

Hulk Farm: You hunt Hulks, seeking revenge for the murder of your family aboard the Marathon. Only mild ties to the Marathon story.

Hunter Chase: Durandal sends you to destroy a dangerous new prototype hunter. Doesn't tie in with Bungie's storyline much.

The Junkyard: This is a parody of Bungie's storyline and at times can be mildly funny. Features Durandal, Tycho, Leela and Robert Blake. This map didn't live up to its potential. The level design sucked too.

The Ka'Fein Clash: You are sent by Durandal to reactivate power on a distant planet. It never really says it's Durandal, but it uses his logo complete with name.

Marathon Revisited: You go back to the Marathon, which has been converted to haul toxic waste by the Pfhor. Pretty decent.

Never Forever

Olaf Fub: Robert Blake uses you for his own purposes. Borzz gets points for using Robert Blake instead of one of the AIs. Sequel to "Be Happy or Not."

Pfhactory: This is a net map, but it has a plot. This is the space station around Lh'owon where the BOBs and compilers worked to make your weapons in M2.

Return of the Cyborg: Sequel to "Foreign Legion."

Rescue Bob!: You're part of the UESC and S'pht'Kr's final assault on the Pfhor. They have captured some BOBs and you must rescue them. Only mild ties to Bungie continuity.

Take This!: A Pfhor attack. Durandal sends you to stop it. That pretty much sums up the plot. The AI had some personality, but didn't sound at all like Durandal. Durandal also has much better grammar.

UESC Syracuse: Takes place on a ship stationed near Lh'owon.

Wrath of Tycho: According to Claude "Tycho's back and he's pissed!" I have a vague memory of throwing this map away.

Yellow Seas of Blood: The terms read almost like the Junkyard. They work okay as parody, but it would be better longer. Not one of my favorites.

If you plan on using a Bungie character in a map, ask yourself the following questions.
1. Do I need them for the plot or is this a way to get around making my own characters?
2. Am I really writing stuff that [character] would say, or am I just writing whatever comes to mind and calling it [character]?
3. Does this really make sense in the Bungie plot line? If not, it could be an alternate universe, but then you have to ask #1 again.

If the answer to any of these is no, think seriously about whether or not you really need to use them. Not that you can't make a decent plot if they aren't all yes, of course. The Garden would be a no to #3, but it's great. Same for Baraka and #1. If you want to use Durandal, and your character sounds like Durandal, go ahead. You have my blessing. In fact, I'm making a request right now for more scenarios with Leela.

The most important question on the list is #2. (Don't ask why it's #2.) If the answer is no, then you need to rewrite your terminals. Either create a new AI (or human, humans aren't used nearly enough), or change them to sound like your favorite Marathon character.

Come back next week for the rest of my series on plots. I'll address what to do and what not to do to make your plot interesting and functional. I'll also tell what to do if you can't come up with an interesting plot.


Face the Facts: Issue 2
copyright 1997 Dan Rudolph
Plot parts 2 of 2

Hey, welcome back. We've got a couple contests this week. First off is the mediocre-map extravaganza.

--The Mediocre-Map Extravaganza--
I have made a map. It's not very good, but it's not very bad either. It's sort of mediocre. Your challenge is to turn this mediocre into a very good to great map. Here are the guidelines.

1. If you want to participate, mail me and I'll send you the map.
2. The map must have the original name in it. For instance, if the map's name were "zig-zag," you could name your modification "Eternal zig-zag of pain" but not "eternal pain."
3. Mail your modification to me at rudolph.family@mcleod.net before 3/14/97. If you mail it to me on that date, it may or may-not make it in. I'll string all the maps together and post them at the HAMW that evening.
4. Your map can be a solo or net map.
5. You will almost surely want to make it bigger. It's only -- polys.
6. Go ahead, rework everything. Change the lighting (it needs it), change the item placement, replace the term picts, change the plot, change the texture set... as long as I can recognize it, it's okay.

--The main piece--
Many maps out there have terminals that tell you nothing except where to go. There's a word for these terminals: boring (or jejune, if you prefer). If you go to the trouble to make a solo map, you should have a decent story to go along with it. "But I can't write," you say. That's what this issue is about: how to write a plot.

First, you need an idea. This is most likely the hardest part. Think of all the movies and television shows you've seen recently. Chances are there's some element you can use to come up with a basic thread without blatantly stealing. As an example here, I'll use Bungie. Bungie had a great plot in their maps IMHO. If you've ever read the Marathon story page you know that Bungie got ideas from many different sources. Yet the Bungie plot is not an obvious copy of any of these sources. You take something of someone-else's and do original things with it. Sort of like the Mediocre-Map Extravaganza.

If you already have maps, you can build a plot around them. Let's say you used the Lh'owon Day background. That means your on a planet. So you go to a planet, or maybe you're already there. What are trying to do? Why?

Once you have an idea, you need to develop it. You can either decide where you want it to end, and figure out how to get it there, or start with a set of characters and let them lead you. Or, you could do some combination of the two.

If you decide on the first route, you need to plan out a series of events that lead to the conclusion. DO THIS BEFORE YOU WRITE YOUR TERMINALS. Otherwise, you'll just write yourself into a hole. It is possible that you will do this anyway. If you do, backup and try a different route instead of slogging onward with something that isn't working.

If you start with a set of characters and see where they lead you, you also need to watch out. Make sure level is at least mostly plotted before you start building a map. This saves you from having a map that doesn't fit the plot. I won't lie here, if you use this technique you WILL get stuck. You will find yourself backing up and starting over many times. It's worth it though.

"But I still can't do it," some of you are saying. For those people, there is one more option: collaberation. Contact someone who has written a well-plotted level and ask them to co-author it. I would make a good choice. I realize I haven't released anything yet, but that will change soon. I can help you whether you have an idea or not.

That's all for now. Come back next week for death traps: Why you shouldn't have them.


Face the Facts: Issue 3
copyright 1997 Dan Rudolph
Suicide Traps

Sometimes, when I play a map, I'm walking around minding my own business, when BAM, I fall into a hole. I look around the side for a switch or door, but there is none. I hit my tab key lie a madman: maybe the door is hidden. Still, no success. If I'm lucky, I've saved recently and I have a rocket launcher or assault rifle. Often, I'm not lucky. I have to quit and then start over. This is the single most annoying thing you can do in a map.

Many of you know of the map Bloody Dreams. This project was headed up by the infamous Pirate, Master of wArEZ. It was extremely well written and had some great architectural ideas and art, but I couldn't go anywhere. I was constantly surrounded and immobilized by various monsters, including Bobs, fighters, hunters and troopers. Any number of times, I was beamed into unescapable areas. Doors would shut behind me, and not let me escape. I needed chips which were somewhere that I couldn't get. This is the biggest example of what traps can do to your level. If this were better designed, it would have been great.

Another example is Don't Fall In. This map wasn't very good any way, but the traps made it worse. It had the deep pits that you could fall into, then not get back out.

Just what is a suicide trap? A suicide trap can be defined as any area that you cannot get out of that does not kill you. If it kills you slowly (suffocation), it is still a suicide trap. How can you avoid these? First, try to trap yourself. If you can do it, fix it. Next, get a beta tester. Have them try to trap themselves. If they can do it, fix it. It helps to be careful when you are making switch-operated doors. In fact, watch yourself when you are making any kind of platform. You can get people stuck places.

That's all for this time. Come back real soon. Next time, It's "How to Make a Good Physics Model."


Face the Facts: Issue 4
copyright 1997 Dan Rudolph
Physics Models

As the curator of the Marathon Physics Model Archive, I've played a lot of physics models. The truth is, most of them suck. How can you avoid this? The following are instructions on how to make a good physics model.

In the monsters section, it is important to make many varied monsters. Some big ones, some small ones. Some fast, some slow. Some smart, some stupid. Some heavily armed, some with light weapons. Use multiple graphics collections. You should be able to beat any monster, but some should be harder than others.

Also, make sure you assign all sequences correctly. If you aren't sure, open up the shapes file in Anvil. It will have lists of sequences. An especially important thing to remember is the impact effect. Make sure it's the right color. Most people aren't too bad at monsters.

For effects, the important thing is to make effects match what they do. That's about it.

The next section is shots. Again, it is important to have many different kinds of shots. Fast ones, slow ones, big damage little damage. Lots of different damage types. The big thing to watch here is damage. Never give a shot too much. For instance, you don't want a monster to have a weapon that kill the player in one hit at 2x shields. If the player has an explosive that does too much damage, aliens will stick to walls when hit.* More about this in the weapons section.

*Ed's Note: The blast radius, not damage, determines how far and fast the aliens will fly when hit by explosive projectiles. The Marathon engine can only handle certain speeds. If you enter a blast radius that causes a Pfhor to fly faster than that limit, it will simply fall to the ground as if being guided by a vertical pole. Once at ground level it will sit there in mid-air and not move for a short time until its speed drops to maximum engine speed. Once their speed has dropped, they will begin to slide all over the walls for a short ot long period of time depending on how strong the blast was. After this they may disappear for a half-second, then finally splash onto the ground.

The physics section is rarely modified. I have one basic tip: don't make the player run too fast. How fast is too fast? If you can outrun projectiles, it's too fast.

The weapons slot is where most people run into trouble. Here, not only must the weapons be varied, they must be balanced. The things to consider when making balance are clip size, shot speed, shot damage, time between shots, and reload time. No one weapon should be significantly better than the others. For instance, I have played several models with full automatic shotguns. No sane person would ever use anything else when presented with this choice. Basically, a good design should make people use all the weapons.

If your weapon does too much damage, it will have strange effects on whatever you shoot (just trust me here). If you have two triggers, the more dangerous one should be the second. For instance, on Bungie's assualt rifle, the grenades are on the second trigger. This dramatically reduces accidental suicides. Never make a weapon that doesn't use ammo too cool.

In an overall sense, make sure your model doesn't make the game too easy. If average Joe Normal is playing DiaBD on TC and not ever dying, it's too easy. Exactly where the line is, I'll leave to authors.

That's the end of this issue. If you want physics models, visit the Marathon Physics Model Archive at
http://www.pullmyfinger.com/marathon/pmarchive/main.html. See you next time. If you have a suggestion for a topic, write me at rudolph.family@mcleod.net.

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