Beta’ Late Than Never

25 May

L4D_Tools_installLast week sometime, the beta for Valve’s answer to an official L4D SDK (Software Development Kit) was released as the Left4Dead Authoring Tools. With each announcement Valve made about the release, we grew confident that we’d not see the SDK before the Spring 09′ semester had already ended. Turns out we were correct, but at the least it’s finally here and some much needed clarity is brought to the standards of developing for this game. There’s more or less significance in the distinction between this and Source SDK itself as well (which is used for every other Valve title), because it’s left us pondering, “Why not just add a new engine version/category within the plain-old Source?”. The simpler answer is in being a beta, but I feel going into some of the bullet points helpful towards what we need to do from here.


At the heart, it’s mostly the same SDK.

This isn’t much of a surprise. When we back-ended the SDK it worked to a degree and felt familiar enough to assume this is what we’d see when the official SDK came out. What was/is the same? The process and disciplines required to make a working efficient map load up in-game: building geometry, sculpting organic landscape, painting textures onto surfaces, decorating props/lighting, and doing some light numbers work in entities and scripted events name the bulk of what to expect when working in Source/Hammer.  This didn’t and doesn’t seem to have changed much, considering Hammer is what loads your level-building interface still.

The Spooky Zones: SketchUp integration, and Tools Mode.

Some additions are a bit alien to us: using SketchUp to make geometry + props, and the Tools mode which looks like a nicer interface for particle + material editing. I’d make more of a comment on it but I’ve yet to try it out myself and see how helpful this will be. I’d imagine SketchUp is a nice alternative for rapid prototyping level-layout, so perhaps will give it a go if playtesting provides the window for that.

Newer paint, familiar brushes.

When TF2 updates and provides new maps, you get all the assets it took to make them. Whether that be props, entities, textures, you get new toys to play with. L4D seems to follow suite fundamentally, save for how things actually work. What entities to use, conventions for names, and standards Valve specifically employs is what is different.

Much welcomed help.

We’re no strangers to self-teaching methods, but tracking down the right resources could certainly be in better condition. This is where the elegance of a little leg-up is really appreciated: Valve included very simple and directly organized suite of guides/templates/and how-to’s with the pack. Now this isn’t anything mind blowing, it’s just a good idea. What makes this significant is in coming straight from Valve: digestible examples of how they’d build a basic room, a crescendo, a switch, detail with lights and so forth. Having these designs in practice, in a sort of “exploded-view” to reference is invaluable to say the least. We found a lot of back and forth tension with how others were getting their maps to work, and between the 4 of us, it wasn’t a very realistic process to rely on. This game provides decent room for error in generating the nav, so any objective ground to stand is more than welcomed.

In the coming weeks we plan to meet again and figure out what best step to take next towards playtesting publicly being a reality. We’re sure to give an update after that happens.

For more of a textual/library of info, Valve provides a link to the development wiki: http://developer.valvesoftware.com/wiki/Authoring_Tools/SDK_(Left_4_Dead)

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