XBMC and SM Arcade

XBMC is an all-in-one 2D media center that organizes your media collection into a detailed library.  It automatically scrapes the internet for screenshots and marquee images for a variety of media types such as movies, music, and games.  Browsing your media collection with XBMC allows you to view box art, watch trailers, and access detailed information about each item in your library with ease.  It is also very light weight, runs on multiple operating systems, and has official Android and iPad apps to complement its functionality.  You can click here to browse the official XBMC site.

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I have personally been using XBMC as a 2D interface to my media collection since even before Source Media Arcade BETA 1 was released.  But I find that its 2D interface and advanced internet scraping features work brilliantly in cooperation with the 3D interface that SM Arcade provides.  While XBMC is not required to use Source Media Arcade, the next version of SM Arcade does go the extra mile in an attempt to take full advantage of the features that this great 2D media interface provides.

First of all, the hashing algorithm written for SM Arcade produces the same file hashes that the XBMC algorithm does when organizing your media library.  This allows SM Arcade to find and use box art and screenshots directly from their location in your XBMC library.  In addition to the images, SM Arcade can parse NFO files created by XBMC to extract ALL of the details required to properly display a media item in both a singleplayer or multiplayer arcade server.

You can also set SM Arcade to playback movies via XBMC’s HTTP protocol.  This means that it is possible to start playing a different movie on every PC in your house all from the 3D interface of a single Source Media Arcade server. When SM Arcade is used in conjunction with XBMC, your computer is changed into a complete, engulfing, and open-ended media experience.

In the future, the relationship between XBMC and SM Arcade could become stronger with the use of more advanced protocols.  It may even be possible to utilize XBMC’s internet scraping features directly through these advanced protocols.

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More Than You Need To Know

If you would like a closer look at what an XBMC NFO file looks like compared to an SM Arcade ITM file, check out the links below.  Both files can be opened with Notepad.

View XBMC NFO file for the Hollywood movie Alien (1979)

View SM Arcade ITM file for the Hollywood movie Alien (1979)

As you can see, the XBMC NFO file contains more than enough information for the media item to be used in SM Arcade.  However, there are some fields that SM Arcade can utilize which XBMC does not, such as a Download or Purchase URL to obtain the media item itself.  You can use the HTML-powered menus of Source Media Arcade to set such fields, as illustrated in the screenshots below.

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Valve announces new Counter-Strike game

Check out the news from the mouth of Valve itself. http://store.steampowered.com/app/1800/

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS: GO) will expand upon the team-based action gameplay that it pioneered when it was launched 12 years ago.

CS: GO features new maps, characters, and weapons and delivers updated versions of the classic CS content (de_dust, etc.). In addition, CS: GO will introduce new gameplay modes, matchmaking, leader boards, and more.

“Counter-Strike took the gaming industry by surprise when the unlikely MOD became the most played online PC action game in the world almost immediately after its release in August 1999,” said Doug Lombardi at Valve. “For the past 12 years, it has continued to be one of the most-played games in the world, headline competitive gaming tournaments and selling over 25 million units worldwide across the franchise. CS: GO promises to expand on CS’ award-winning gameplay and deliver it to gamers on the PC as well as the next gen consoles and the Mac.”

CS: GO is being developed by Valve in cooperation with Seattle-based Hidden Path Entertainment. The title is targeted for release in early 2012 and will be playable at this year’s PAX Prime and Eurogamer Expo.

State of the Blog

Quick status update on the blog.  I have about 90% of my released maps added to the Jedi Knight and Counter-Strike: Source pages.  After I have them all added, I will create pages for my active projects.

Other improvements around the blog include the ability to sign in through Facebook or Twitter to post comments (it even uses your avatar) and the addition of the Links and Search widgets in the sidebar.

I have also been doing a lot of work behind the scenes plugging the blog into search indexers and social networks. SM Sith Lord.com now has an official Twitter and Facebook, so be sure to like me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter!

The blog should be at 100% soon and then I can get back to game design and actually creating content.

Webkit-Powered UI in Source Media Arcade

One of the major improvements to the design of Source Media Arcade that you will see in the new version is the use of HTML menus in the user interface. Using an arcade cabinet will now bring up a dynamically generated HTML-formatted info page that will present you with important details about the game in the cabinet. These details include descriptions, marquee and screenshot images, game type, and the name of the program that the game will open with.
HTML-powered dynamic menus
From this info page the user can click the LAUNCH button to execute the game, or click the COPY COMMAND link to copy the entire command that would be executed had they actually clicked LAUNCH. Browsing an online arcade is similar to browsing any website: only download from sources that you trust. If you don’t completely trust the server you are browsing, using the COPY COMMAND link is a great way to check if a server is trying anything malicious. After you do launch the game, the menu is closed and SM Arcade is paused; idle in the background while you play your game.

These pages are generated using fully customizable HTML templates with special tags to include dynamic information such as Descriptions, Screenshots, Marquees, File Location, and much more.

Info pages are not the only use of the Source engine’s Webkit functionality. The new version of Source Media Arcade also allows you to browse for files using the familiar Windows browse dialogue; giving you quick access to all of your favorites and folder bookmarks.
Windows Browse Dialogues

The powerful Source menus, such as the “Edit Hotlink” menu, seamlessly interact with these Webkit-powered menus and dialogues. After selecting the Koala image using the Wekbit-powered menu, the Source menu detects the item type and updates automatically.
Source/Webkit communication

All you have to do is click OK to apply your changes.
Koala

With the integration of Webkit, browsing and creating multiplayer arcades with your friends will be easier and more attractive than ever.

The Making of de_survivor_css

It was a hard decision to break ground on Survivor because, just like de_vegas, it was never a very popular map for the original Counter-Strike.  However, also like Vegas, it was somewhat of a cult classic and had a following among the hardcore Counter-Strike players who have stuck with the franchise over the years.  I personally have lots of experience playing on the original de_survivor for Counter-Strike.  I can remember on one occasion playing it literally all night, from dusk ’till dawn, 1v1 against a clan-mate.  Obviously I am a fan of the original map, so when I was asked by the High Times servers’ community to bring it into the Source engine, the idea was immediately attractive.

However, there were apparent obstacles that would need to be overcome in order for the new map to succeed.  The first of which was the sheer amount of terrain that would be required to create this map.  The design of Survivor is 90% wilderness with very specific terrain that requires extensive detail to adhere to.  The most important part of recreating a classic map is maintaining the angles of encounter points between players, and offering them the same floor space as the original map.  So my task would be to recreate the angles and floor space from the playable area of the original map, transforming boxy, brush-based terrain into high-detail Source terrain on the way.  This requires many, many patches of terrain; framerate immediately becomes a concern.

The only way I was going to be able to pull this off is if the layout offered sufficient vis-blocking to section off each area of the map.  I was confident that the original layout would offer sufficent vis-blocking and decided to green-light the project.

The first thing I did was take measurements of the original de_survivor so I could make a near-exact replica with dev-textured brush work.  This task was accomplished very quickly and we had a fully-functional dev-version of the map within a matter of days.


This image shows the reference geometry (white) overlayed with the world geometry of the DEV version.






This version of the map was immediately put into rotation on the High Times server and extensive testing began.  We were making sure that the scale of the map felt right in the Source engine and that the design was capable of offering competitive gameplay.  When we were satisfied that the map layout was solid, the real work began.  I had to replace all of the brush-based wilderness areas with Source terrain patches.  This meant I had to start from scratch and sculpt the terrain for each area by hand to be as close as possible to the original terrain while still giving that high-quality Source engine feel.  The first step was to replace all of the dev-version’s brushes with Source terrain-safe brushes that could be sculpted and sown together.


This image shows the dev-textured replica brushes (orange/grey) overlayed with the snow-textured terrain-ready brushes (snow/cliffs).  Note that in this screenshot the terrain brushes have not been sculpted yet.

After 100% of the dev-textured replica brushes were replaced with terrain-safe brushes, I was ready to begin sculpting.  After a hell of a lot of elbow grease, and lots and lots of subdivisions later, I finally had the entire layout created with sculpted Source terrain patches.

When sculpting the non-playable area, my objective was to give the appearance of additional routes, while keeping them un-reachable.  This would avoid the claustrophobic feeling that many other maps present.  In a further effort to avoid that feeling, I made sure to visually incorporate obvious alternative exits from areas of the map, blocked by smaller obstacles to prevent the player from actually using them.


One area of the map that is distinctively different from the original is the Village area.  In the original version, this area was populated with that seemed to be a miniature city.  You could climb the sky-scraper type buildings or hide between them for cover.  However, the city’s odd scale made the map feel very awkward in the original.  For this reason, my objective for the Source version was to recreate the exact floor space with a very different and more realistic visual theme.  Instead of tall city buildings, this area has small cabins and mountain village architecture.



This image is the dev-version overlayed onto the final version. You can see that I replaced the odd-looking tower on the left with a natural formation that provides nearly the same amount of cover.

As soon as the terrain was finished, I started adding in details.  I would have a notepad next to me when I would run through test compiles, and by the time I was done I would have 2 pages of notes on things to change/add/fix for every version that I tested.  I was systematically going through each area of the map and “finalizing” them with the appropriate details.  I added countless cave supports, light sources, signs, decals, and props.  At this point, the only objects that were still dev-textured were the place holders for custom props; the truck and the crashed plane.

I spent an entire day modeling the truck and finalizing the truck bombsite, and an additional 2 days to do the same for the plane crash bomb site.  When designing the plane, I first modeled what the plane would look like in perfect condition, and then inflicted the damage and distortion to make it appear as if it had just crashed.


After final performance optimizations, the map was officially complete and ready to go.  I threw in a 3D skybox and created a map overview, then went and had a victory smoke.  My next day was filled with uploading screenshots, writing descriptions, and spamming forums across the Internet with the news of my newly released map.

Over all, the release was a success.  The map received very positive, yet not perfect, criticism.  It is always an uphill battle to try and get Counter-Strike players to try something new and one aspect of de_survivor_css in particular that hindered its acceptance by the community was the map’s intense weather effects.  Fog is something the average dust2 player has no experience with, so when a player is confronted with it, the natural reaction is to RTV the server back to de_dust2.

It was my hopes that players would become accustomed to the intense weather conditions, but on stats-centered servers the map gets RTV’ed too quickly to learn.  For this reason, I will be releasing a modified version called de_survivor_pro with the fog completely removed for crystal clear visibility.  This will create many new advantages for snipers, so let’s hope that the Counter-Strike: Source community was careful what they wished for.

de_survivor_css RELEASED!

I have finally completed de_survivor_css and it is ready for download at GameBanana.com.

DOWNLOAD DE_SURVIVOR_CSS NOW

I will make a complete blog page about it later on, but for now here is the official readme description:

This is a standard DE map with 2 bombsites and 64 spawn points. Each bombsite has at least 3 points of entry. This map was meticulously rebuilt from the ground-up to be very close to the original de_survivor by 3D Mike. Thorough beta testing shows that framerates are well within the acceptable range for serious play, but you can expect this map to be as taxing as de_nuke or de_inferno. This map was created for and is in rotation at the [DoP] High Times servers.

Note that while this map does come with a .NAV file, it is not optimized. Bots are over-rated.

A high priority informant has been shot down by enemy forces in a remote mountainous area. A local private security force has been contracted by the US to be America’s first response in bringing the plane crash survivor into custody for interogation. The survivor has locked himself in the cockpit of the plane wreckage.

Counter-Terrorist objective is to secure the immobilized target until the 2nd American team arrives.

Terrorist objective is to execute the target or otherwise prevent his extraction by US forces.

Gamer, Designer, Programmer