Monday, April 9, 2012

Making the Aftermath Mod - Part 1: "The Power of Detail"

  As we get close to the mod's release here, I thought it would be a cool idea to show a bit of "Behind-the-Scenes" on what I've been doing with it, and how I actually made the mod.  For one thing, it gives me a chance to finally show you all of the things I've been up to with it and why I've been...well..."off the grid", if you will...and also shows you what kind of work goes into making a mod.  

Like a psycho amount of work.  Like a SERIOUSLY psycho amount.  Like, I forgot what the sun looks like. (What month is it, by the way?  And now that you mention it, I don't recognize my neighbors, either.)

So as we get closer to our ever-glorious moment I release the mod to you, I'm going to take you behind-the-scenes of what I did to make the mod and some cool stories on how it all came to be.
For the first part of my "Behind the Mod" series, I thought I'd take you for a look at the kind of detail I've added to the mod.  When I first sat down to design the mod, I had some pretty specific ideas of what I wanted to have in it and it quickly became clear that most of the ideas were going to require a boat-load of custom artwork and textures.  Sure, anyone could just taken the easy way out and simply limit themselves to using only the stock-resources that Fallout: New Vegas already had and just redo them into some new area and call that a mod.  
I could have said "See??  It's a vault with all the same enemies, sure, but this time the hallway goes LEFT!"
But I have a belief that if I'm going to do this, I want to do it right.  And I'm a sucker for details. I'm apparently also a sucker for pain as well, since it's taken a crazy amount of time to do it all.  But I did it anyway.  And I have high-hopes that you'll agree that my choice was the right one.  See, you aren't just getting a plain-jane looking mod.  You're getting a full-fledged world I've added its own life to.  It's got it's own story to tell, its own background.  You'll get a glimpse of what some of these new areas were like before the nuclear war took place.  Heck, it's even got details down to the custom store-front signs...I kid you not!

I know, right?  It's crazy! 

You know I've always been a fan of both the 1950's-era and the whole Cold-War-era (hence why I love the Fallout-series) so I wanted to make sure I added my own creativity reflecting that, into the world I built.  I have a good time with this stuff!  So, I'll show you a glimpse of how I did it.  You'll also get a sneak-peek at the backstory in the mod, which is cool.  I hope you enjoy this look at what I've done. 

Now I need to give you a bit of the mod's background story, so you can understand what you're looking at.  I'll give you a quick, "Reader's Digest" version of the mod's background.  Some of this backstory you may have already already heard, so forgive me if this is a recap in certain parts.  I'm going to only touch briefly on the story since the story probably almost deserves its own "Behind the Mod" entry.
As you know, the primary goal of the mod is unravel the mystery of who is trying to shut down Aftermath Radio, trying to kill Shawn and I, and also help us rebuild the radio station so it can be listened to while you are out in the wasteland.  Along the way, you'll visit quite a few new locations.  

You've probably heard me mention this before, but one of the main locations you'll visit is what's left of the city of Barstow, California.  In real-life, Barstow is not only a main hub between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, it's also houses the Marine Corps Logistics Base and is the closest city to the Fort Irwin Military Reservation.  In the Fallout-world (I wanted to this mesh perfectly with the Fallout canon) this would have been a major tactical target for all those reasons. The Chinese would definitely have seen this as a way to take out 2 major military bases and also cut off the travel route to Los Angeles (which was one of their biggest targets, as you see firsthand in Fallout 1 and 2).

 In Barstow, the people would have been well-aware of just how big of a target they were, much like the people who lived in the town of Hopeville in FO:NV's "Lonesome Road" DLC.  In "Lonesome Road", the developers did a great job of portraying this, by what you saw there.  Hopeville is where the U.S. military houses one of its largest nuclear stockpiles and its people went about their lives well-aware they were likely a major target to the Chinese.  Just by seeing the posters and billboards, you get a sense of what their lifestyle was like.  

Barstow follows this very same mentality.  In our mod-story, the people of Barstow went about their normal lives with the constant threat of nuclear war shadowing everything they did.  They were a prime candidate for attack and they were all-too-aware of this fact.  If the escalating war against the Chinese ever came, they weren't going to live to see the day after.  And sadly enough, as the Fallout-canon describes, that's exactly what happened on October 23, 2077 for most of the world.

Since the Fallout world is an "alternate universe" based on what the people in the 1950's pictured their future would be like, the Civil Defense program is still very much alive in Barstow.  In fact, because the people know they are going to likely be a main target, Civil Defense is commonplace.  There are public shelters in case the attack finally comes, and posters on the walls of the city's buildings reminding the people of Barstow to be prepared and "Be Vigilant!" if the attack ever does take place
  Of course when you play this mod, you're looking at it from the point-of-view of knowing all of this happened just as they feared.  You're seeing this 200 years after the bombs fell.  I wanted you to really feel that.  I wanted you to be able to stop and really get a glimpse of what the world was like in Barstow, and really SEE this city for more than just a radioactive ruin.  To get a sense of what these people thought and did, and especially what went through their minds when that dark hour finally came.
Sure, it's an extra layer of realism beyond the normal layer of the game (and yeah, most of the time you're in the city, you have a bigger problem looming anyway) but it gives you a connection to that world that makes it THAT much more believable.  
It's like that part in Fallout 3 when, despite the dark-humor of the world you've been in, you find that diary of a Red Cross nurse that just saw the bombs fall and is now witnessing, first-hand, what the horrors of nuclear war are like. You're reading the account of a woman who was dying of radiation sickness 200 years ago, and are now looking out at the very same ruins that used to be her city. It gave you that connection!  It was impossible to not feel a sense of overwhelming sadness as you read that Red Cross nurse's diary.  But that's the brilliance of the way the Fallout game are done.  And I made sure my mod followed those same rules.  The trick is to be able to tell you the story of a world-that-was as you play the game, both in the things you see, read, and witness.  

Now you see why the details matter.

Now I get to show you what I mean.  And to show you the scope of the details I've added to this mod, I'm going to show you 3 specific examples.
The first example is one of a few of the newspapers you may come across in some of the locations you visit.  Sure, you might just pass by it in a hurry, but if you're looking close, you'll find there's alot of information to be gained by stopping to look.  I wanted newspapers to be a main source of backstory because it does such a good job of showing exactly what these people were reading the day the bombs fell.  By watching these, you can really get a sense of what was happening in the world at the time.   
Here's a picture of the newspaper:

It took a crazy amount of time, but I actually put this together by hand.  I used elements based on real newspapers, and used Microsoft Expression and some stock pictures to create the "Barstow News", their local newspaper.  You can even read the fine print if you look close (click for the big screenshot).  There's even some humorous "Easter Eggs" all over the place in this mod if you look close.  I do so love that stuff. :)

To portray the "Civil Defense" mentality that the people of Barstow all share, I went for the real-world examples.  I'm an avid fan of the cold war-era posters and the media they had back then.  I scoured the Internet for good examples that would fit the setting and set to work remaking them our own Fallout-world.  In some of the posters or papers, I just re-worded or restructured parts and added new other instances, I did all of the design from scratch.
Here's a small example.   This is an actual Civil Defense poster from 1959:

Here's my own "re-done" version of it.  

Again using Microsoft Expression (I LOVE that program for this kind of thing), I redid the poster with a new picture and new font-work.  In this case, the poster is very close to the original, but in other cases -- like the one I'm about to show you -- it's all new.

In this particular case, I created a poster for the fictional "Junior Civil Defense Cadet Corps", which -- in my mod's world -- would have been the equivalent of the Civil Air Patrol.  In my mod's backstory, the people of Barstow would definitely be aiming recruitment at the younger generations, so this would be the group that a 15-year-old boy would join to help his local Civil Defense chapter...almost like a Civil Defense-themed "Boy Scouts".  It's even entirely possible that the people in our version of Barstow would possibly have foregone the Boy Scouts altogether in lieu of Civil Defense, since they likely knew how close to nuclear war they were at the time.

Now I just needed someone to be our "poster boy" for the Corps.  Tammy -- a friend of mine at work -- has a son named Tyler who is currently in the Air Force ROTC program at his school.  One day, I noticed one of the pictures she had on her desk was one she'd taken of him standing proudly in his uniform.  He looked like he was right out of a 1950's recruitment poster.  With their permission, I redid the picture and a few hours later had Tyler on a recruitment poster adorning the walls of Barstow's city buildings, proudly telling all of the young people in 2077 Barstow that they could still "Do Their Part!" for their city.  Pretty cool, eh?

  While these are just 3 simple examples, you can see that each of them has their own purpose and way of showing Barstow's backstory.  All of them make the world much more tangible and real to the player. I've always believed in that kind of immersion is an extremely important piece of the player's experience and one that many triple-A titles still screw up.  Sure it takes alot of time to add detail like that, but I think the pay-off far exceeds the time it takes.   Even for a one-man team like me.

They say the devil is in the details, but I think they have it backwards.
- Detail succeeded when you first laughed after noticing the "TPS Reports" on the desk in the office-map in "Counterstrike".  
- Detail succeeded when you shivered when a face-hugger started running along the ceiling at you in "Aliens vs Predator", when you never saw a game try that before.
- On the flip-side, detail did NOT succeed when someone thought it would be amusing to have your life-meter be a tattoo on the cleavage of your female character in "Jurassic Park: Trespass".  
Well...then again, maybe it DID succeed there, depending where you're coming from on that one.  
Yeah, crap...maybe that last one wasn't a good example...
So at the end of all this, I hope you've gotten a taste of what this mod has in store.  Not so much to build "hype", but more to give you a bit more insight into the world I've tried to create.  If you're the type of player that blows through a game fairly quickly just to get to the end, you'll still enjoy this mod.  The story is a hoot and you'll still get a kick out of all of it.  
But if you're the kind of player who can appreciate the details you see -- the posters on the wall...the newspaper on the table -- then you'll get a much bigger sense of the world that Barstow once was. And maybe you'll see why this project took so long, but that taking that long was definitely a necessary thing.
If not, I think I'm probably going to hurl.
I'm looking forward to showing you even more "Making the Aftermath Mod" features very soon.  

Stay tuned, my friends. And Stay Alive Out There!