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The Past, Present and Future of Worldcraft
By Aurora
Ben Morris, programmer for Valve and author of the successful level editor Worldcraft, has been involved in games (as a programmer and a player) for several years. Almost six years ago, Ben began writing cheats and savegame editors for the popular games of the day. A hobby which he enjoyed because it took a lot of investigation and trial-and-error to figure out how file formats worked. In 1994, Ben started his first big game-related project - DCK, the Doom Construction Kit - and kept it up for almost two years. " I think DCK was the most fun I've ever had programming," says Ben "probably because I enjoyed creating every single part of it including the User Interface! Worldcraft has been great, too, but dealing with Windows' weird inconsistencies and structurally restrictive environment becomes a programming chore that almost outweighs the benefits of developing for a standardized OS. I could go on for ages about this one!"

Worldcraft is the popular map editor which is widely used for creating Quake maps. Future versions of Worldcraft will support level editing for other games, including Raven's HEXEN 2 project and of course, QUAKE 2. The editor is currently at version 1.5b, and since Worldcraft was first released, Ben has added many new features such as vertex manipulation, textured 3D previews and clipping planes to name just a few. Throughout the success of Worldcraft, Ben also has achieved personal success in his career in the computer gaming industry. In May of this year, Ben joined the team at Valve software, and has been working on Worldcraft to support all the new features of Valve's new game, Half-Life. Aside from the Worldcraft project, Ben is also working on the network front-end for Half-Life Internet gaming, which is going to be amazingly easy to use.

One of Ben's first big gaming projects was DCK -The DOOM Construction Kit. In early 1994, Ben's good friend James, started creating DOOM maps with the only tool available at the time. He made some really fun maps with it, but in the course of his tribulations James swore and cussed so much that Ben felt compelled to do something to ease his pain! It really wasn't that dramatic mind you, but the end result is that Ben decided to have a whack at creating his own editor. Two months later, the first version of DCK was released and received with a fair amount of praise on the Internet. Later versions became better, slower, and more apt to run out of memory. By November it it was a project ready to be tossed, but Ben's conscience (or was that James?) nagged at him to make a bigger and better version. In May of 1996 Ben stopped working on the DOOM Construction Kit at version 3.62.

DOOM Construction Kit only had an indirect effect on Worldcraft's beginnings. Ben had a lot of help in the form of persuasion by friends in Victoria who had used DCK. The Worldcraft project was initially going to be a collaboration between Ben and Mike Joya (the deadly mikeJ of deathmatch fame), but Mike, at the time was too busy with school. Ben started the planning and initial coding of the editor, and in early development stages Colin Caird, a good friend, gave Ben tons of suggestions and support. Colin also tested and commented on all the first versions, and was the first person to make a level with Worldcraft! The development process brought several obstacles and problems to light. The way Quake maps are stored and the pickiness of the tools that turn MAP files into BSP files makes it important to keep precision from start to finish." says Ben, "The first versions of Worldcraft had real problems with "leaking maps" because some operations made tiny cracks in the connections between map objects." About six weeks after the Worldcraft project started, Ben stopped working on it. Being his first windows project, there were too many new programming issues to integrate. So what was it that made Ben decide to continue working on Worldcraft? His reply: " It's funny, but the thing that kept me going was the thought of 'that other editor'; taking over - the program whose website made daily claims of ultimate superiority over the other unreleased ediors. People who were around back then know what I'm talkin' about." =D

Unlike DCK, Worldcraft was started with the intention of being a successful shareware program. Ben approached some inexpensive-software vendors about marketing Worldcraft about a month before it was released, but none of them were interested. At this time, noone forsaw how big Quake level editing was going to be. Ben had distributed his own projects before, but he wanted to do something a little different this time. Joe Zysman, a friend in Victoria, BC, had offered to put up his time and money to market the program when Mike and Ben had just started thinking about writing it. When the editor was finished, four months later, Joe lent the financial resources for the first run of CDs. The goal was to see how much interest there was in the program before starting a more elaborate distribution setup. With big thanks to Joe it was ready to be cut and distributed.

The first stages of the Worldcraft CD's were still in progress when Valve called Ben for an interview in Seattle. The two hours before he got on the ferry to head to Seattle were spent rushing madly around downtown Victoria with his sister, getting the materials ready to send to the CD factory in Vancouver. " I was already late for the Christmas orders. I've never had more fun in my life. I hope my sister agrees!! Fun as it was, though, Worldcraft's distribution is much, much better than now than it ever could have been under my supervision." Earlier this year, Ben was fortunate enough to be in contact with Doug Vandekerkhove at ACD Systems (a software company in Victoria and people responsible for ACDSee). Doug along with Brian Smedley (the support guy!) and everyone else at ACD are turning Worldcraft into a great success through excellent distribution. "I love them all." says Ben. =)

In the initial planning phase, Worldcraft was intended to be just a level editor. A tool for building and lighting spaces and then placing entities over which a level developer had a relatively limited amount of control. Due to the success of Worldcraft and the popularity of level designing, Future versions are going to contain everything a designer needs for creating a Brand New World in Valve's games. The engine technology in Valve's games is continuously going to get better, and Worldcraft will continue to be developed to take advantage of the engine features.

What can we expect to see in the very near future, as far as additional editing features go, in upcoming versions of Worldcraft?

" We have plans to implement a very deep level of control that will allow designers to tailor every aspect of their maps - from moving objects to monster intelligence to fancy lighting effects - with a simple script language and a Visual BASIC-style environment. And the finer controls the language provides will give designers the ability to perfectly synchronize several different events, a task which currently requires far too much guesswork. Worldcraft will be updated to make this new feature as easy to use as it is powerful.

We are really advancing our games and our tools hand-in-hand. There is functionality in Half-Life, the first Valve game to ship bundled with our next version of Worldcraft, that grew out of ideas I had for improving Worldcraft, and there is obviously a ton of functionality in Worldcraft 2.0 that exposes the new functionality of the engine. Given what I know about the other engines and toolkits, the combination of Half-Life and Worldcraft 2.0 will be the most powerful game development environment available. For example, the AI system in Half-Life allows someone using Worldcraft to easily define the behaviors of monsters in a pretty rich way - you could have a scientist in another room hear you fire your weapon, run over to an elevator, push a button to summon the elevator, wait for it, get into the elevator, go to another floor, and open a valve that closes a door - without writing any code at all.

We also believe that there are ways to expose a state machine and a timeline to third party developers that make for really cool gameplay way beyond the standard "beasts in boxes" and still do it without making the developer write a bunch of C code.

A lot of what is great about Doom, Duke, and Quake grew out of what people could do with the tools, and we're really focussed on Half-Life being the best platform for other people to build cool games. Until that changes, and I can't really see that trend reversing itself, I'd say Worldcraft and its descendants will be a critical part of Valve's plans."

Worldcraft, although it will be the editor for Half-Life (and be shipped with the game as well), will also be updated to support the popular games being released that use the Quake engine. The games in the immediate future aren't much different from Quake, so developing the editor to accomodate the those games is a task Ben feels confident about. Worldcraft support for the new games that have a lot of new features will be decided on individually.

Is Worldcraft more successful than Ben Morris ever thought it would be when he was developing the first release? "Far more successful. But I'd still like to live on a farm by the mountains. "

Thanks Ben!

Aurora is in charge of one of PlanetQuake's newest sites, GameGirlz. "GameGirlz is something I have wanted to do for a very long time. Not to push females and say we're better (that certainly isn't the case), but to show people there are many female gamers in the world and to give those girlz a place on the net where they can get information, reviews and resources." This is definitely an excellent addition to the PQ community.

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