BLACK AND SUNNY: IN DEPTH INTRODUCTION
It seems as if this campaign contest have been pretty quiet so far... I know people are just extra busy with normal lives but this lack of activities still makes things quite uninteresting... as least for me. I'm going to change that. Production run of Black and Sunny is in it's final stages, with the biggest hindrance by far are custom contents and my own laziness. As so, I though this is the best time to show people what I have been doing under the curtain for so long, and how things have changed over the course of this year.
Ok, so exactly what's Black and Sunny really feel like? How does it plays out? What sort of mechanics differentiates it from the other custom campaigns? I'm going to answer those questions today. Starting with....
Black and sunny is set in one of my original universe, the Immortals 3000 universe. The Immortals 3000 universe is the result of merging 3 to 4 different universes together, creating one whole, massive universe. In a way, it is similar to MFTG, totally inane, unrealistic, and aiming at exploiting every single cliches known to man. The Immortal 3000 universe told the story of humanity 1000 years into the future, when people understood and meaning of reality and reached the era of immortality. Earth soon became a utopian society, and the worshipment of boots and other leathery footwear bring an end to humanity's conflicts. But... in the year 2560, Stalin II challenged Robo-Hitler 7.0 to a laser sword fight, leading to the death of several politically important royal cattle and a antique candle. This was later known as the "Oh snap!" incident, the "Oh Snap!" incident kick started World War 3000, a inter-dimensional war that would last till the entropy of time. The story takes place here, in the year 3042, when Iskatumesk was sent back from the future year of 6942 to warn the citizens of Immortal 3000 of an impending end of all Hentai anime, the Pansy-narok...
...Behemoth that is the Deimos Dreadnaught, powered by
100 million gigatons of pie, it scour the galaxies for sources
of these holy relics...
As implied by above, in Immortals 3000, there are several world power: The H.E.N.T.A.I. Collective, a Japanese power house centered around using Hentai as a psionic super weapon. Neo Nazi Germany, the reincarnation of the Nazi regiment, and the follower of the Pansy-narok, dedicating themselves on eradicating Hentai and Hentai artists from the face of existance. And finnaly. The Boot Union, a post Russian government whose population is fanatically involved in worshiping the will of leather boots and castrate those who oppose it.
The humans in Immortals 3000 are capable of inter-dimensional travel. Some, like the H.E.N.T.A.I. Collective, are capable of exploiting magical energies, as well as psionics. They have a ridiculous level of technological advancement. Even a small anti-gravity fighter can absorb shots from the Death Star, and said anti-gravity fighter can blow it up without having to chuck dynamites into it's ventilation shaft...
Why I use this insane universe for the campaign is because it was put to form the same time this campaign contest was announced. At that time I was totally captivated by Black Sun, and I just really wanted to make a joke campaign about it. Because Black Sun was my target, it have to be epic, hilarious, and out right silly. Immortal 3000, still fresh from the womb was the only thing I could find that fits the criteria. And so it is.
Unfortunately, since it was so young, the campaign universe and the canon universe soon grown detached from each other, several elements that were scrapped canon wise was so deeply implemented in the campaign that it became impossible to change,.. and crucial things that were later added in canon have no place in the campaign (such as the Pansy-narok). Soon, it is impossible to find resemblance between Black and Sunny and Immortal 3000, as if they were created separately from each other. It was very agonizing to implement Immortal 3000 into Black and Sunny with oddities concerning their lore, the good thing was I didn't explained alot about the universe in the campaign, as I didn't care about it as first, focusing on the very basic and streamlined story at hand.
I will continue to enhance the campaign in terms of it's settings. But, as far as I'm concerned, it does not really required that you understand the back story nor the many mechanics of Immortal 3000, as any information needed are automatically feed as the story progresses, or implied in dialogs. So getting confused is, in my opinion, quite hard with this campaign
Different from actual lore, the campaign starts with Iskatumesk, awoken from his nearly eternal wet dream, was deeply surprised to be in the year 3042. After finding the whereabouts of HKS, now a tentacle monster, he learned the only way to get back to his time line was to finish Black Sun the total convention, every of it. Of course he was reluctant to do so, and resorted to DARK MAGIC for help. It created Black Sun, but instead of a mod, it was transcribed into reality. The Undead soon approaches the home-world of the Immortal 3000s, and blast every single being they saw to ashes. Mesk, being all "OH SNAP!", joined forces with the Anahn on a grand adventure to save the world, and finally to defeat Goala in an epic penis sword fight.
...And you shalt feed....
The story is, as designed, was to be as simplistic as possible. I streamlined it as much as possible and added as little obstructions as I can, I wanted more flexibility for other elements, such as map design, lore, and atmosphere. The story is simplistic, but the way it is told is not, it uses alot of implied story telling, contradicting information, and hidden secrets. A quick run of the campaign will indeed allow you to understand the story, but what more intricate details and questions lies underneath it requires alot more playing hour to uncover. The players are not here to be told stories, the players are here to explore it.
This simplistic design was also used because I wanted to finish this project, if I go for one of those intricate storyline, it will no doubt back fires when I lost direction, and let it plummets into a big, awful mess. This is the main reason why, for years, never have I finished a project I strive to achieve. I learned from my mistakes, this campaign was suppose to be created as fast as possible, hastily created if you will. I want at least a base to be set up, I want at least something roughly playable at the end of the day. More can be added, but for now we can settle for this one.
Was that a good decision? I think it was... i only have to do 2, maybe 3 more maps before I call it finished, totaling at about 13-14 maps. They are very timely though, sometimes I spent 3+ hours playing a build-destroy maps, for RPG maps maybe 7-9 hours of playtime. I was delighted by the results, but more must be done until this could compete in the contest.
One of the crucial element of the campaign is it's atmosphere, supposedly it was comedic, but underneath that mask is actually a darker world, requiring alot of uncovering to understand, it is also epic, with big battles. The atmosphere need to be tuned to meet those criteria, gameplay elements, story telling elements, sounds, music, terraining, they all need the capacity to reflect this. I wanted maps to have a distinct yet realistic style, so minimizing the use of blended terrain, exploding units, walling by power-ups, triggered unit elements, gimmicks, etc... was needed to enhance the immersion. Several map designing elements were also put into consideration, there are a high usage of fog of war blocks, cliffs, less obvious mapping layout that resembles real life terrain, etc.... Gameplay is designed to be exclusively massive, with a high emphasis on skill and actual strategy, for instant, all BnD missions are multy based, with as much computer opponent as Starcraft can handle before they starts soft locking. Musics are mostly ambient, to set a moody feel to the campaign, at the same time not becoming too obstructive for the various in-jokes and inanity.
Now, why does it feels like I'm summarizing other elements of the campaign? Well... that's because I believe that atmosphere should be treated in the same league as gameplay, story, and graphics/sounds. It's just as important as everything else, and it should be implemented deep into everything, acting as one, fully articulated piece of work...
"Survive ambushes as you flee through dark caves."
- More like survive though waves of infinitely respawning
Hydras and gratuitous number of Lurkers...
The core gameplay element is flexibility, emergence, and challenge. I believe when the player have enough variety and choices, and the difficulty is high enough, the player will be forced to think, be actually challenged in a intellectual level. The biggest problem in most custom Starcraft campaigns are the lack of actual challenge, let take for example Flame Knifes and Aeons of the Hawk, the biggest contribution to difficulty these two campaigns are actually terrible dick moves (constantly respawning enemies, unit pathing exploits) and frustrating gimmick (boss battles), they do not make the campaign more challenging, they only make things feels more weighted and frustrating. My way of making the campaign difficult is to exploit the very basic fundamentals of the human mind, the inability to react, the inability to multitask, the inability to manage multiple variables, and the inability to predict. Instead of giving the players as little units as possible, I give them AS MUCH as possible. instead of reducing player's resources/ expos in hands of enemies, I gave them 3+ expansions right in their base and and 6+ easily defendable expansions around it. I gave them alot, not as a privilege, but as a liability. The more I give you the more my expectation will be. You might be given 600 supplies worth of units in an installation map, but the enemy are not static, they have an insane AI backing them up, you might have 9 expos up and running, But you need every last bit of those resources to equally fights 5 custom insane AIs. This is a real challenge, it doesn't specifically challenges your micro or macro, it challenges your everything, good APM is needed to control 100 units at a time, great macro is required when you got 6+ expansions, even your planning are put to the test when expanding/attacking, means you're at risk of stretching your force over a wide area.
Giving you alot of options at the start is also a very good thing. As an example, some build-destroy maps gave you a large quantity of units at the start, you can risk it and use them to kill one of the AI, or you can use them to defend your underdeveloped main if you plan to play more safe. Heck, you can even split your forces to harass the enemy and defend at the same time. More options = more freedom. More freedom = more fun and replayability, this is one of the main design theory concerning modding in general, not just campaigns.
Emergence is the final, important piece to add to the harmony, I want AI to randomize build orders, I want them to attack you in different directions, I want them to expand, I want the placement of expansions to affect the flow of the battle. In commando missions, there are no linear routes, scripted sequences, or static enemies. The map is completely open, objectives are flexible and allowing more than one way of achieving, enemies are dynamic, they choose random patrol paths through out the map and are able to construct units and buildings, in contrast to most commando missions. Even the rare boss battles are quite random, exploiting the use of "Send Units On Random Suicide Missions", I was able to make bosses and his minions hit and run different bases, forcing you to either chase the boss or retreating. Sometimes, bosses exclusively avoid combat, leaving the minions to rip apart your bases. This lead to alot of interesting mechanics that varies from time to time, requiring you to adapt and react to that challenge.
The emergence factor often concerns AI. For once, I abused the living shit out of the AI for this campaign, everything, from scripted cinematics, pedestrians in RPG maps, units in installation missions, all in some way or another, are manned and exploited by an AI script. In some missions, I deliberately place minerals everywhere to force the AI to "creep" the map in Hatcheries and Nexi, other maps, I spam the hell out of Send Units on Random Suicide Missions to make units "dance" between bases, there are even cases when I place minerals and CCs in far away distances for SCVs to travel, making the impression of pedestrians running around... Yes, I know they "might" break the map at some point, but for such high level of randomness, it's a small price to pay.
In overall, my key of victory is the combination of actual challenge, freedom, and emergence behavior. I grew up from Eastern European gaming, and this is what I learned about them. Hopefully, it will create something very different and refreshing for people, especially those who are familiar with Western RTS.
Level design, in literal sense, is haft the campaign. As mentioned above, the terraining was supposed to be realistic. Rivers don't go straight, they curves and opened up to multiple canals that pierces the land, mountain ranges are not one big block of high cliffs, they have valleys in between, ridges, canyons etc..., even architecture is put into consideration. But, at the same time, things are pretty stylized, a city made from dirt, forests made of stones, electronic circuits running through the ground, minerals placed near cliffs, even a replica of Blood Stone Jordan... Functionality goes along with this realism, real life have a habit of balancing it self, and I found realistic assortment of cliffs makes defense both easier and harder at the same time...
Sometimes, you will be given commando missions, these are missions where unit placements are very important, some campaigns simply place an astounding number of units/ clearly unfair terrain advantages for the opponent. I found this unimaginative. As far as unit placement is a concern, I place them based on real life tactics, tanks are placed in in an interlocking system, should you melee one group of tank, the other can return fire from a tactically advantage location, other combat units are placed in trench-like locations, disallowing melee units to get to them unless going through ramps heavily fortified by towers/mines, this even have a benefit of preventing them from being abused. I placed units in ways that confuse the player, requiring heavy reconnaissance and tactical planning to break through. This goes in tandem with other dynamics and emergence factor, leading to a very interesting experience.
As far as terrain detail is a concern, I admit that's not my strong point, I'm creative, but not attentive by nature, I do not have a habit of placing doodads nor do I have a talent for blending tiles, my terraining might be unique, but it is only average in quality comparing with other campaign makers. My apology, this is the best of my capability, I strive to enhance what I have created, but sometimes, it's really the best you can have...
MUSIC AND SOUNDS
Choosing the right music for Black and Sunny was quite a long and enduring journey, it went through several iterations with at least 5-6 OSTs in considerations, I even created MPQs to have a better assessment... Choosing the correct tracks to convey the atmosphere of the campaign is indeed very difficult, it have to be somewhat moody to imply it's serious tone, yet still adhere to it's comedic approach. I even wanted it to blend well with Starcraft, as most of the contents in the campaign are Blizzard. These are my past considerations, as well as the current choices:
-1st option: Panzer Elite/Firestarter OST
Panzer Elite had some short briefing tracks that I could use, they were ambient, and I felt they blend in well with Starcraft's aesthetics. Unfortunately, these waw files were 8 bits, and they sounds bloody terrible even by Starcraft standards. The lack of music for the game is even more demoralizing, as I couldn't find enough tracks for even 1 map. Later, I had the idea of using Firestarter OST along with the tracks from Panzer Elite, it had some ambient and combat tracks I could consider. I finally gave up on this soundtrack due to quality issues and combat tracks being ill suited for an RTS.
Seriously, by the time the AI starts it's initial aggression, this track already gave me a heart attack...
-2nd option: Newtone - No Copyrights (Collapse OST)
Newtone is an obscure Russian break-beat band, their work with the game Collapse (GoW clone with guns basically), impressed me, I wanted to test their tracks for the campaign, seeing how I ran out of options. However, the inability to obtain the soundtrack, and it's inherit lack of ambient tracks, soon bring this option to an end...
Decent their break-beat might be, it's a very unsuitable choice for Starcraft.
-3rd option: Skafandr - Fatal Error
Yes... it appears they were on 69 types of hallucinogens when they made this album...
My desperation lead to many strange considerations. This is one of them, Fatal Error, a free to download psychedelic album made by my once favorite band Skafandr. I couldn't even recount all the reasons why I shouldn't use this.....
-4th option: Perimeter OST/ Vanger OST
This was my most definitive choice, Perimeter and Vanger are quite obscure gems, and their soundtracks are just superb. I found them quite fitting with Starcraft and, somehow, seems to fit perfectly with my criterias. This was my final choice, but further tests shown it did not convey feelings good enough. I wanted perfection, and I wanted to find an OST that could be better than this.
I just felt I love with this the first time I heard it...
-5th option: You Are Empty OST
Soon to be ambient track for Black and Sunny
Soon to be combat track for Black and Sunny
This is perfect harmony.... This is the type of musical scores I have been looking for so long. The soundtrack contains ambient and combat tracks, all of them seems to fit in amazingly well with my criteria, the ambient gave a hint of gloom, but still faint enough to pass through all the silly in-jokes, combat tracks are minimalistic, which I really liked since they don't fry your ear drums and ate haft of your brain after 30 minutes of intensive macro managements... The only problem I could see now is copyrights, it took me quite a while to obtain these music, and I am sure they don't like me "distributing" them. Well, it's only a precautionary tale though, even when something bad happens.... I'm still able to resort back to Perimeter...