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15/06/2024 - "Hellcastle" by Lord Waffnuffly "War Bonnet" Letz

Each week a single map is discussed here in detail.

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Subject: 15/06/2024 - "Hellcastle" by Lord Waffnuffly "War Bonnet" Letz

Post Posted: 15 Jun 2024, 23:08

Map Title: Hellcastle
Author: Lord Waffnuffly "War Bonnet" Letz
From: EXU2: Batshit Insane
Filename: EXU2-BI00-Menu.unr




Video Playthroughs:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ea_pvKYyxeE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MCJnENjitA

Synopsis: Holy shit.

Discuss!
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Waffnuffly wrote:It's tarydium-doped smoothies. Drunk by the player, I mean. The player is tripping balls. The whole game actually takes place in a large city and the player thinks he's on an alien world.

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Subject: Re: 15/06/2024 - "Hellcastle" by Lord Waffnuffly "War Bonnet" Letz

Post Posted: 16 Jun 2024, 09:14

One of the more unique and striking maps in the community's history, I think. In retrospect, I find EXU2 a very strange beast, trapped between the grandeur of an elaborate setting and wackadoodle memes. Hellcastle was a showcase of the grandeur. The castle is more elaborate than some of the most intricate Unreal custom maps, with a sprawling layout featuring so many rooms, great halls, winding stairs, where most of what you see as a tall tower or high roof in the distance can be explored... and it's basically "just" a tutorial/difficulty selector. A testament to Waff's ability to execute on compelling architecture on a grand level that is unique among peers.
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Subject: Re: 15/06/2024 - "Hellcastle" by Lord Waffnuffly "War Bonnet" Letz

Post Posted: 16 Jun 2024, 23:53

An impressive starting map. There's cool visuals everywhere including things like the unique skybox and all the custom pictures on the walls. I do think the very start could have a bit more of a note about the nature of the level because it can be a bit intimating to just be thrown in it with no directions, even if you'll likely find the navigation buttons relatively easily, and it's not as confusing as it seems once you realise it's essentially an elaborate difficulty select (although there's probably some easter eggs I've missed). Finding each portal in order actually creates a nice progression in itself too, as it takes you to most of the outside extremes of the map, and the path to Unreal difficulty ends on a giant tower that lets you look over the whole level. I thought there was a tutorial/experiment area where you could try most of the weapons and equipment but I guess that was an earlier version or is elsewhere? TBH I'm not sure I've properly played this newest version before this with how many older versions there are.

While I understand why given tons of work went into this even with no standard (for EXU) gameplay, but it is something that makes me wish the default EXU campaign had more original content, even if a lot of work is put into revamping the reused maps.
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Subject: Re: 15/06/2024 - "Hellcastle" by Lord Waffnuffly "War Bonnet" Letz

Post Posted: 19 Jun 2024, 13:59

This map is the goat !!!, when you play it for the first time the thing that will impress you the most are the visuals, EXU2 does a fantastic job creating great visuals with a combination of texture, lighting and custom actors. However when you play the map for the first time you most likely won't explore the whole map which means you most likely won't find Unreal difficulty.

This map is basically an expanded difficulty selection map with no gameplay except for walking around, I wish the map had more interactive things in it to encourage people to explore the whole place, also the map is way too big for it's own good considering the speed of your movement, type "slomo 10" to make the exploration less painful. The music is fantastic, is interesting that Cybernetika and Xenofish's music is soo connected to EXU2, even G59 continued that tradition.

I wouldn't mind a modification of this map where you fight monsters like a typical EXU2 map, strangely enough the map is fully pathnoded, almost like the map was originally going to be a normal EXU2 map instead of a difficulty selection level. If the EXU2 campaign was completed this map would work as the final map.

The skybox is one of the most impressive pieces of work I have ever seen not because of its appearance but because of how it works, it uses two skyboxes at the same time, the mountains are part of a skybox and the ZoneInfo gives the illusion that the mountains are moving, in reality the mountains are much smaller than they look. Only issue with the skybox is that I wish the textures on the sky were animated, that would really seal the deal, fortunately G59 learn from that mistake.

Another great detail is the clock tower, pay close attention to the time.....

The only technical problems I have found is that there's a teleporter that's unfinished and some actors are hidden in the editor, I don't get why people do that, it's annoying.
Last edited by Aspide on 19 Jun 2024, 22:29, edited 1 time in total.
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Subject: Re: 15/06/2024 - "Hellcastle" by Lord Waffnuffly "War Bonnet" Letz

Post Posted: 19 Jun 2024, 14:56

Semfry wrote:I thought there was a tutorial/experiment area where you could try most of the weapons and equipment but I guess that was an earlier version or is elsewhere? TBH I'm not sure I've properly played this newest version before this with how many older versions there are.


I was also thinking about this when I made my post. I guess it must have been in an older version. I do believe it was still called "Hellcastle", but it wasnt on the scale that this current one is.
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Subject: Re: 15/06/2024 - "Hellcastle" by Lord Waffnuffly "War Bonnet" Letz

Post Posted: 19 Jun 2024, 19:42

EXU2 is a strange beast. A sequel to a gametype level remix, chips all in this time. Doom atmosphere mixed with Serious Sam gameplay within an Unreal matrix makes for a strange campaign made by very competent people. It's like if Steven King wrote Weekend at Bernies. It's a weird experiment.

This is an elaborate map. Visually striking even now, I remember being just confounded by my first attempt at playing EXU2 in the way back. I do not believe I could have articulated my feelings about this intro level at the time. But if you asked me today, summer 2024, I think I can say that I want this level in a different pack. In fact, there are various points in EXU2 where I can say I feel that. I dunno if it's just that the level design in this one is that damn good or if I've never been keen on the arcade approach (somehow this worked in the single level Xeops for me). But I just feel like I should love it more! Waffnuffly is low key one of the best level designers SP has seen. I find him a bit untamable, though, like some feral savant. If you need evidence, look at his single level contributions to Deja Vu and Seven Bullets; these individual levels are layered spectacles that could exist very comfortably outside of the campaigns they appear in.

Anyway, Hellcastle. As others said, it can be confusing and you can get lost. You might get lost. You probably will miss things. It's a unconventional way to start a mappack. And yet so very fitting.

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Subject: Re: 15/06/2024 - "Hellcastle" by Lord Waffnuffly "War Bonnet" Letz

Post Posted: 21 Jun 2024, 20:35

I like Aspide's enthusiasm :)
And thanks to ivi for teaching me a new word - wackadoodle :) perfect descriptor for one side of EXU2 - and yes, in this particular case, grandeur & awe are the order of the day.
Very nice tour of the place you gave us, Semfry! :tup: I really don't think you missed anything - certainly nothing important.

And that's a very interesting post, Proph! The full on "excessive" style of EXU2 means it's not going to appeal to everyone (I remember salsaSkaarj saying much the same years ago, "too much napalm" - and this from someone who always enjoyed tough FPS challenges). I am very eclectic myself, and enjoy puzzle-adventure games as well as Batshit Insane's style of FPS.

But yeah, this map is more than simply great - definitely one of the best from the Batshit Insane campaign.
I wasn't there from the very start of EXU2's development, but I do remember the penultimate version of the map still didn't have the clock working - it's such a neat little touch, I'm glad Waff finally implemented it in this final version 8)

Kinda repeating what y'all have said but the castle is so awesome that even without any fighting it's a joy to explore, and seeing as it's not all straightforward (put simply: it's nonlinear) I think the act of exploring here is a proper gameplay experience. The level design is extraordinary and the skybox is LEET! And the music definitely foreshadows what's to come with its distinct intense style (I will always associate Cybernetika with EXU2) but also the place in general and the difficulty portals in particular succeed in exuding something evil... ah! I shudder to think of what lies beyond the Unreal "Maximum Difficulty" portal :)
Nali: Magic or Telekinesis
Waffnuffly wrote:It's tarydium-doped smoothies. Drunk by the player, I mean. The player is tripping balls. The whole game actually takes place in a large city and the player thinks he's on an alien world.

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Subject: Re: 15/06/2024 - "Hellcastle" by Lord Waffnuffly "War Bonnet" Letz

Post Posted: 22 Jun 2024, 04:19

Man, how has it been like 3 years since my last post already? Time really does fly. Glad to see so many of you still around, though!

Ah, this map. I had a LOT of fun making it, even if I didn't really have a strong concept of its internal structure, so not much about it makes too much sense in practical terms. Pretty much Rule of Cool throughout with just enough inaccessible implied space for your brain to fill in the blanks. I also hit engine limits repeatedly and had to aggressively optimize every square inch of the damn thing, paring down the details in areas where I wanted more. Mostly because I couldn't let go of those spiral staircases, lol. Expensive as hell in terms of node count! And yet when I look at the map in the editor today, I can still see areas where I could make further cuts without compromising detail.

All that said, this map is probably my finest work, at least as far as complete maps go. Even if it has no combat! Also, this playlist has four different timelapse videos of parts of the construction if you wanted to see what that was like: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLAIt ... 71NnRZJCY3

There was also a lot more planned for the map, which is why it's fully pathed. I had planned on having a secret combat mode where you could trigger tons of shit to spawn in and have the whole map to run around and fight, climbing over the structure with jump boots and the translocator and everything. I had also considered reusing the map in the campaign as an actual combat setpiece with some structural modifications. But like most things EXU-related, while ambition may have been sky-high, the execution just couldn't really keep up. And after a while, real life with its ever-shifting priorities made it hard to devote time to the mod at all, let alone secret optional stuff in a menu map. I also had plans to implement special easteregg events on certain dates / times using the clock dispatcher I made for the clock tower, but never got around to it. The code for that works great, though!

Speaking of the clock tower itself, that might have been the hardest thing to make I've ever attempted. Mostly because it was 5-sided because of course it was, everything demonic has to have an odd number of sides, apparently. But I refused to go with a normal square clock tower shape because that would have been boring. Honestly though, I'm glad I stuck to my guns on it, because it turned out excellent. Aligning those clock hands on the angled faces required a lot of bizarre techniques, like making everything on the flat side, then intersecting them to get a central vertex aligned with the XY center point of the tower, then rotating them manually (in the actor properties) at exact increments of 65535/5... it was crazy, but it all worked out somehow. And the hands are functional! It syncs to your system time, complete with hourly chimes (ripped from Big Ben, lol).

I also dunno how many people noticed the numbering theme for each difficulty selector room, but I put some subtle touches on those. For Easy, which I called "Difficulty 1" (even though it's technically Difficulty 0) for legibility purposes, I had a lot of singular objects lying around near the portal, so it's not so noticeable. But Difficulty 2 has pairs of things, right down to the two sides in the chapel. Difficulty 3 has all the triangle shapes, and Difficulty 4 has lots of stuff showing up in sets of four - shapes, decos, etc. I also put the locations in extremes: the easiest difficulty is pretty much a straight shot, while Medium requires going a little out of your way. Hard is a longer trek, way down, while Unreal is, of course, the high point of the map since it's the highest difficulty. I always thought that whole design turned out really well.


Aside from this map, EXU2 in general fills me with mixed emotions these days. I'm really proud of a lot of the stuff I built for it, especially a lot of the custom code (particularly editor tools)... but thinking about it makes me feel a bit sad as well, particularly for all the unfinished stuff I wanted to make. There was a lot of unrealized potential. And I feel some embarrassment too, let's be real :lol:

EXU2 definitely has a sort of identity crisis going on. I definitely get why it doesn't work for a lot of folks. It's got this irreverent and stupid presentation much of the time, but then it tries to be serious. It never really gives you a clear answer on what its core message is meant to be (though some might consider that a plus). I think a more skilled creator could have blended the two extremes perfectly, in just the right amounts (see Doom 2016). But in this case, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that EXU2 is something I started as a teenager, and kept working on well into my 30s. To me, at this point, it's more of a window into my own personal development and a record of a big part of my life than it is a mod. But even outwardly, it's the result of a very long development cycle. The mod itself matured as I did, more or less. And as I tried to make things a bit less overtly ridiculous, I had painted myself into a corner a little bit with the whole theme of the mod, but it also enabled me to do stuff I wouldn't have been able to pull off in any other setting.

On the whole, I'm very satisfied with EXU2, imperfect and incomplete as it is. I just wish I had given it a proper full release, even if the campaign was curtailed. I still toy with the idea of one day wrapping it up somehow, or at least building a new complete project using it as a framework, because seriously, a LOT of work went into the code, and there's a ton of potential there for more serious efforts.

For now, though, all I can really do is smile, glad that I made something enjoyable for myself and many others. Whether or not I end up doing more with it down the road, though, I definitely have other creative efforts building up in my head, so I'm not done making stuff by a long shot. Still lots of work to do before I kick the bucket and have to go deal with all the Fucker Brutes personally.

Thanks again to everyone who played EXU and anything else I made. Your support really helped me get through some tough times in life. Oddly enough, part of why I've gone off the radar so long is because life in general has really improved for me over the past five years, but I'll try to be less of a stranger :)
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Subject: Re: 15/06/2024 - "Hellcastle" by Lord Waffnuffly "War Bonnet" Letz

Post Posted: 22 Jun 2024, 06:21

A massive and very detailed map for what is essentially a difficulty selection, but sets the tone for EXU. The skybox especially was really cool I think. As with all of EXU, it's very impressive from a technical perspective. Did EXU2 always have this it's intro? I seem to remember another, but that was a long time ago. A legendary map from a legendary mapper.

as of writing the video is still processing on the youtube side
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MCJnENjitA

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Subject: Re: 15/06/2024 - "Hellcastle" by Lord Waffnuffly "War Bonnet" Letz

Post Posted: 22 Jun 2024, 12:41

Awesome mega post, Waffnuffly aka Buff Skeleton!!
Thank you for all the insights (and yeah that clock tower is dope, we'll soon run out of adjectives for describing how 1337 this map is), and good to know things are good on your end :)

Cheers ebd for your video as well! I think your question regarding whether there was another map for EXU2's intro long ago and your vague memory of it is more or less answered by ivi's recollection as well: seems there was an older, smaller Hellcastle prototype (which would have featured that experiment area alluded to by Semfry, where you could try most of the weapons) - I joined the party later and hence never saw this first version.
Nali: Magic or Telekinesis
Waffnuffly wrote:It's tarydium-doped smoothies. Drunk by the player, I mean. The player is tripping balls. The whole game actually takes place in a large city and the player thinks he's on an alien world.

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Subject: Re: 15/06/2024 - "Hellcastle" by Lord Waffnuffly "War Bonnet" Letz

Post Posted: 22 Jun 2024, 12:57

Turns out Buff posted some WIP recordings of his work on Hellcastle:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ap2y-mQd-UQ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHj__8ALazQ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=up_9JL3NvTk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LCyxOvJmjk

11 years ago! Good god. Time flies.
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Subject: Re: 15/06/2024 - "Hellcastle" by Lord Waffnuffly "War Bonnet" Letz

Post Posted: 22 Jun 2024, 18:23

Also yeah, the original Hellcastle was much much smaller from the Demo 4 and earlier days. It had its own charm, including a basic little tutorial sequence for using flares, and a firing range to test weapons. I had fully intended on replicating those areas in the new version of the map, but didn't have the node capacity to put them in the map itself, so there were going to be portals at certain doorways leading to submaps (signposted, as well).

Also found a couple of old shots of the previous menu map:

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Subject: Re: 15/06/2024 - "Hellcastle" by Lord Waffnuffly "War Bonnet" Letz

Post Posted: 22 Jun 2024, 19:46

Nice, thanks for sharing - first time I see something from the Demo 4 days! it would indeed fit as a sub-level to Hellcastle :)

Also pretty cool to have those development videos! :tup:
Nali: Magic or Telekinesis
Waffnuffly wrote:It's tarydium-doped smoothies. Drunk by the player, I mean. The player is tripping balls. The whole game actually takes place in a large city and the player thinks he's on an alien world.


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