Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Operation Eisenfaust: Origins Level 2

Ron contacted me recently and was very impressed with Thomas' recent mapping anthology so he came up with the idea, seeing we both write for the blog, that we could do an in depth, level by level, review of Operation: Eisenfaust Origins. Sure, this sounds like a great idea, although I felt that even thought the mod does have a a rather chequered history, I feel it could only be truly discussed properly if its full history is mentioned. So let's get it out of the way; Operation Eisenfaust: Origins is SonderKommando Revolt repackaged. It's been widely known for a long time and anyone that has ever seen the trailer (which we won't post), a single screenshot or was involved in it in anyway knows it. While Sonder has officially been cancelled and will NEVER be released (So don't ask for it!), we all felt it was a shame to waste many years of hard work so the mod was redesigned and released under the title you see today.

I thought I'd start with a bit of a run down of how I got involved in the project first and my recollections of the working process followed by level breakdowns and discussions. Although I do need to advise that a lot of what I'll add in these reviews is from my memory at the time as I just don't have time to spend hours and days trawling back through forum posts to find specific dates, plus a lot of it is at an old forum that we don't even use anymore.

I'm not sure if this has been released before but this is, to my knowledge, the first title screen made for the project;

Now we do have a lot, and I mean a LOT of files, screenshots and other work that was involved in the process of making the game but I will endeavour to find some of those and post them here for everyone to see. I probably won't post the trailer as that was the impetus that brought the mod widespread attention that caused it's cancellation in the first place. And while we are discussing the trailer, I thought it was brilliantly done, in fact too good for a Wolf mod and the guy that made it did an unbelievable job. I'm told it is still on the web, if you know where to look. 

I originally joined the project late sometime in 2007. At that stage Ron was on board as a mapper, WLHack was doing the coding and DoomJedi the Artwork. There were many reasons I joined the project such as;
- The chance to work with 3 extremely talented modders.
- The chance to work with a mod that had coding that I knew I could never code or get a chance to be involved with in any other way
- I'd seen some screenshots from Ron's early levels and they just blew me away.
- I loved the artistic look of DoomJedi/WLHack's Femstein mod (No, not the T&A, the rest of the sprites and artwork). 

DoomJedi had put out an open call asking for mappers to assist. I believe that WLHack had done some preliminary mapping (which I'm not sure if were originally intended to be actual levels or were just test maps) so we had some in game areas to look at. The guys asked me to make a map as a test to show them what I could do. I originally kept my participation secret as I didn't want the guys making a big announcement relating to my participation if I wasn't going to be able to produce the quality of work they were looking for or if my style just didn't match what they needed for the mod. A made a level (which later became level 18) that took a looong time, I estimate around 20+ hours, to make, which the guys were happy with, as was I, so we just continued to work together from there. The ability to work with the most advanced features were a massive appeal and I endeavoured from there, with my mapping, to see how far I could push things and create things. I have no doubt that these periods of mapping with these advanced features flamed my desire for Wolf modding and are a big part of why I'm still around today.

The mapping process was very disjointed and took ridiculous amounts of time. I estimate each level I made took in excess of 24+ hours for each all up. Some of this was related to the complexity of the levels with floor/ceiling tiles used to tell an ongoing story but a great deal of it was the constant development and introduction of ideas that led to constant updating of levels. I seriously must have remapped various parts of each level at least 50 times over the production period, updating, changing, adding new features and adjusting things. How it usually went was that someone would get an idea, it would be discussed, artwork made, coded in, then we'd have to go back to each level, add in the new feature, change anything that related to it as we had constant glitches and issues and then I'd have to update things each time to a functional stage. This became very frustrating over time and caused some anger and rejection of ideas by both Ron and I as went just got sick of remapping and reworking the levels constantly. To be honest, I can't recommend anyone produce a mod in this manner, it just doesn't work and is a massive time waster.
There were many times that I, for one, lost interest in the project and for me, this is the main reason why I only ended up producing as few levels as I did. I have other levels I've started and there's other work of mine included in other maps and things but when you make a mod that takes 5+ years you are going to have a lot of times where personal life issues and real World events are going to affect what time you can devote to your hobby, especially one when for a long time the project seems to be going nowhere along with no certainty that it'll ever get released!

We had some major issues with coding and this, as a mapper, was the most frustrating of all issues and indecisiveness experienced throughout the project time. I think there was 5 coders all up, each time we would have issues with the coding one would leave after a period of inactivity and/or frustration, another would join, would then take a period of time to get up to date with what we were working on what needed doing, would make some updates and some changes and then eventually the whole process would repeat itself. I personally got to the stage where I would refuse to update my maps (or create new ones) until glitches and bugs were fixed and newer updates were added as I knew that as soon as I'd updated another glitch or changed something, another problem would be found and needed fixing, meaning I'd just have to re-update again, and again, and again. Now, while I'm not going to waste hours writing down all the little issues involved with coding, I hope I've at least done a bit to explain how a project can take so long and cause so much frustration and delay.

The best parts of working on the mod for me where that the main guys that stayed on the project, Ron, DoomJedi and myself worked well together and respected each other. For me the main part of why I feel the mod works is that Ron and I have a very similar vision on what a mod should look like, what works and what doesn't work and what the right and wrong ways to go about things are. We've gone on to work with each other a lot, including releasing mods containing just our mapping as well as other Team Raycast projects. I will discuss other aspects of the creative process with each release but for now onto the first level of mine you play through in the mod.

Level 2 (as it is now placed) is the first level in the mod when playing through that is a level mapped by me and was the 2nd level I mapped for the project overall. In it's original design the level was made as a crematorium level and is still fairly similar to it's original design. Above is an early screenshot (you can tell from the status bar that several features are still in development and aren't as they appear in the final version). There have been quite a few aesthetic changes made to the level over time as things were coded in, ideas become reality along with DoomJedi constantly creating new and better versions of sprites as we went along. Some were general team ideas, some from DoomJedi and some specific requests from the mappers.

There was some additional areas added into the level also as we went along, all of which I think make the level better and a lot more challenging to play. You can see the 4 red highlighted areas below that are the areas that were added from the original map.


The level was originally designed as a crematorium level with sections containing gas ovens (that were later changed to the mutant incubation areas). The central design revolves around a firing range (seen above) with a queue of prisoners lining up to be executed adjacent to a door that led straight to the ovens for body disposal. Sounds kind of sinister I'm aware, and looking back I can see why there was some objections raised to the mod in it's original version. The shot below was taken literally as I was initially mapping the level to show the guys the type of look I was going for, hence the absence of any sprites and lighting etc.

A big part of what I enjoyed about this level was the mixture between the indoor and outdoor areas, the way they function together and the sense of actually going from one to another and this is something that took a lot of time to get right. The easiest way to do it was to just put yourself in the players eyes and think about what you want to show the player each time they see out a window or into a different section. You obviously want to show them some part of a sneak peek of either a secret area or where the player needs to venture to continue the level onwards. These were used effectively to help alert the guards also that the player (or escapee) was coming. The stark contrast to the walls was a major part of how this works so effectively in the mod. Max made beautiful lush outside areas with dark, monotone walls that left no mistake as to where the player was.

Secret areas were used liberally and were probably one of the main things that separated the mod from the real story with most containing large caches of ammo and health as it required to progress through the mod. The map actually contains a large number of the 'special' elements coded into the mod, including exploding barrels, guard turrets, land mines and much more.
The other major change to the map was done much later on and that was the decision to make the maps all join up rather than have an ending elevator in each level. This has met with some consternation from some players as they sometimes end the level before intended but I think it works much better in this mod as elevators would have just seemed ridiculous inside a concentration camp.
The map wasn't intended to cover as large an area of the map as it did but I think it works extremely well and is one of the maps I'm most happy with in the mod. There's a good mixture or environments, most weapons, nearly all enemy types and really starts to show some of the environments involved in the mod that the player is going to become familiar with.

I estimate this level was originally made somewhere around the middle of 2008, and took about 4 years to be played by anyone outside of the project. It becomes hard sometimes because you have these levels that you are really proud of and have put a lot of work into that for several years no one gets to see or play. At the time no one involved foresaw the project taking as long as it did, I recall us all believing we'd have it released by the end of 2008 at one stage!

Here's some other trivia you might find interesting (I'll try to include some each time);
- All of the Level names were done by DoomJedi and Ron. Some were changed from their in-game outline name and some were kept the same.
- There's a Batman reference hidden in the mod (no surprise Team Raycast released a Batman mod now is there!?)
- The Bonus levels and unlocking items weren't added in until very late in the process, after nearly all the levels had been finished. Most of the Bonus levels consisted of extra levels that had been made for the project during the mapping stage but for one reason or another weren't included. 43 Secrets however, was made specifically as a Bonus Level.
- I beta tested all the levels numerous times and still missed some things! There's 1 treasure item that the player can't reach.
- Most of the outdoor sprites started as the ones from Femstein that were then heavily edited by DoomJedi.

You can download Operation Eisenfaust: Origins HERE.

You can watch Balames87 play through of Level 2 below;

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