I finally got around to playing this and on my god, the maps, they ARE BEAUTIFUL, holy SHIT. You are absolutely godlike when it comes to making convincing, well-textured, well-designed visuals for human installations, and even that Skaarj teleporter thing at the end looked pretty cool. MAJOR cudos for the visuals in this project, because they were top-notch.
Gameplay, though, I thought was the polar opposite, unfortunately. I played on Hard and didn't find the battles challenging so much as just frustrating and uninteresting. Enemy placement was predictable and rarely ever inventive, and I really hate the UT / ONP weapons, especially the pulse gun, since the beam can reflect off doors and hit you in the face and this happened to me repeatedly. I also got really tired of the run around, hit button, run around, hit another button, repeat forever and ever level design. Even the seemingly-non-linear maps were still ultimately linear since you had to do everything in a certain order.
After the third map I just summoned other weapons and went to town blowing shit up instead of using the provided guns, but there wasn't even a lot of combat, just exploration. And at the point where I found a Shock Rifle and Eightball, my spirits SOARED with joy! FINALLY SOME DECENT FUCKING WEAPONS! And then I find out they are broken. That just really pissed me off; don't do that! I don't want to spend more than a single map using nothing but the DP and Enforcer (which is a lot shittier than the Automag)! And I don't think a real Shock Rifle ever even showed up; that could have dramatically improved the gameplay. UT guns in SP just don't feel right to me, especially ONP's edits.
But while the gameplay was definitely the low point for me and while it made me decide I don't want to play the maps again, I really do want to reiterate how incredibly good you are at making convincing environments. PLEASE KEEP MAKING MAPS!!!
You can only improve your gameplay and level design skills! You already have the 3D art and texturing side down solid. Get people to playtest for you on all skill levels if you can, too.
Here are some tips that I hope might help you out in the future:
- Don't limit the player to shitty weapons for long stretches of time! Let them have access to at least a few guns, and if you're not going to provide the full arsenal, don't give them two crappy guns and one decent one, let alone three crappy ones (DP, Enforcer, and Pulse Gun was awful). Give them a DP, Shock Rifle, and Flak Cannon at least. Something that makes the player feel a lot more powerful.
- Don't limit health/armor/ammo so much. Even good players will make a lot of mistakes mid-combat and take hits. When you don't give the players much health, you're not really making the game more challenging - you're just artificially boosting the difficulty and forcing people to reload quicksaves constantly until they get their combat encounter down PERFECTLY. That's not good gameplay - that's basically only a step above "learn-by-dying" gameplay design. Instead, you want to give people plenty of health (and especially armor) to survive some fuckups so they don't have to reload saves so much. Punish the reckless, not the careful. Even when I was careful, I kept getting killed simply because I was always below 30 or so health and any two shots would do me in. Two shots isn't a very big margin of error. Keep this in mind; you can give players twice as much health and armor, and then throw in twice as many (weaker) enemies and, with the right arsenal + ammo amounts, the game can become much more challenging AND more fun without requiring insane amounts of quickloading.
- Make the player feel powerful even if he/she isn't. If the player is against a very strong, overwhelming force, you still want them to feel like they can handle it even if realistically they should be getting their ass kicked left and right. You can do this without making the game any easier by providing better guns and more enemies to kill, for one, and then adding extra ammo, health, and armor to increase the margin of error for any mistakes made in combat (and mistakes will increase dramatically the more enemies a player faces at once). Similarly, you can place enemies in tactically-advantageous positions which favor the enemy, but not too much. I noticed you did this once or twice with an ambush of three troopers, one of which was high above you and had an Eightball and could fire downwards to increase the chance of rocket splash hitting you. This was a good choice - but it was made more of a pain because you had two other troopers on more level ground with rapidfire weapons (i.e. pulse guns). Having three Eightball troopers all high up might provide a significant challenge without making the game too difficult to handle, because the player can focus in one direction. Otherwise, you could have troopers in all different areas, but give the highest troopers weapons WITHOUT splash so their advantages aren't overpowering.
- Script your enemies more so they seem like they are actually doing things. There were a lot of enemies that were just sitting around, and while a lot of them came from doorways, it was always right after some triggered event. You want a little bit more unpredictable randomness to make things feel more lifelike. Instead of having Skaarj come through a doorway when a player pushes a button, have a trigger NEAR the button set off a Dispatcher that waits for some amount of time before spawning the enemy. That way, the player may rush to the button and have the Skaarj appear later, or the player may loiter around a bit and have the Skaarj appear before the button. It greatly increases the variance of when the enemy appears and makes it feel less obviously scripted. You want to script your enemies in a way that makes them feel like they aren't scripted, if that makes sense.
Anyway, I think you definitely have the ability to make some utterly amazing stuff if you polish up the gameplay and put a little more thought into the level design instead of falling into the "push button to unlock door, push another button to unlock another door" trap. And work on your grammar and story construction, too; it felt a bit rough in Xenome.
Looking forward to the second pack!
[Edit] Also wanted to add that I'm giving this feedback based on my own personal concept of what makes a map the most fun. I'm not the sole authority, or any authority, on how to make fun maps. You are welcome to disagree with me and disregard this advice at your will if you feel like the gameplay in Xenome was carefully designed for specific reasons. I'd be interested in hearing your reasoning for the choices you made if that's the case.