First Person Creator

Written by on 26th September 2011 in Experiments, References, Thoughts with Leave a comment

We went to Crash Space for a class on making 3D games with Valve’s Source SDK. I didn’t realize the SDK was only available on the PC side so I spent a good part of the time downloading Half-Life 2 and the SDK for VMware while watching him go through how to get things done. By the end I was able to make a room and texture it and be able to walk around in it. It’s kind of fun but a little too much for what I want to do I think. But the part that I thought was super valuable was talking about other platforms for 3D game making, which I spent today researching/playing. Here’s an overview of the various engines I’ve messed with this weekend, from Lo-Fi to Hi-fi

Minecraft ($20)

8-bit style block based ‘sandbox’ game. You have different elements and things you can put together in various ways. Also some 8 bit monsters you have to avoid when it gets dark out. Apparently the game already has a huge following (3 million downloads) despite the fact that it’s still in Beta.  I sort of like it but of course it’s pretty limiting. Not sure if it would be useful for my purposes yet. I think I like the idea of it more than the actual game..

Second Life (free)

I have never really been interested in Second Life, but I figured I should at least give it a go to see why not. For some reason it’s just always been terribly uninteresting to me. Maybe because even though you CAN make stuff it seems like its main purpose is more about going to various worlds and hanging out with random people. Just a glorified 3D chat room. I also realized I just think it’s horribly ugly, like the old MySpace of 3D worlds, which I guess has some charm. But I dunno, not into it.

Valve Source SDK & Hammer Editor (as little as $8 for one Valve game)

What I was originally going to the class for. Super powerful stuff if you want to get into the nitty gritty of making your own maps and things. But it’s PC only and the editor is like working in CAD. And there’s a whole bunch of stuff to tweak parameter wise. In order to test it you have to “Run Map” which loads up in Half-Life 2.

Garry’s Mod ($10 + a Valve game)

Garry’s Mod is the most exciting ‘sandbox’ game to me. It’s built off of Valve’s Source SDK so it works with the other Valve game assets if you bought the original games (Half-Life 2, Portal, and Team Fortress came with my pack). But there’s not actually any goals or missions or anything in the game. You just make stuff (and of course destroy stuff if you want).

Unlike other editors there is no separate “editor” view. Everything just gets spawned into the game realtime, resulting in a very bottom-up vs. top-down view of things. So if you’re placing things you have to walk around and see where it’s going to go. It’s not exactly like building in real life (you’re using a big physics gun to position and rotate huge things after all) but it gives more of a user-centered kind of view.  The rendering engine is also super powerful so things look pretty nice, and objects have physics built in already. Although sometimes I don’t understand the wonky physics. I was just trying to put some cars on the road and I kept accidentally throwing them across the way, which is only funny the first few times. I spent about 3 hours off an on messing with this today. Mostly just trying to figure out how everything worked. I had couches hanging from ropes on water towers and cars piled up and random houses and just a bunch of stuff. Favorite thing is probably the BBC radio which is just a little radio prop that streams live music from BBC. (It’d be cool to get a KEXP radio up in there too). The above screenshot is my little sculpture/playground installation : ) I like the idea of using it as a tool to prototype big interactive architecture installations.

Another really interesting thing is that you can also script things for it using Lua, which looks pretty simple. Also exciting are things like this Kinect + Gmod video example.

Unity 3D (free–till you want a commercial licene for a game)


I’ve heard Unity 3D come up several times in conversations. It’s obviously SUPER powerful and capable of making a wide range of games from the looks of their demo reel. And one of the guys at the workshop says they use it at work all the time to make marketing games for various movies and things. Still has a somewhat typical 3D editor view but also has a tab for the game view so you can test it out while in the editor. The above game is a free demo that come with it. Super nice graphics. And runs natively on the Mac. I think if I wanted to get more serious about building 3D games I’d dive into it more, but for now it seems a little bit over kill for my needs.


Garry’s mod definitely wins for me.. at least for now. Unfortunately no matter what 3D first-person game I play I get physically queazy after I play them too long. There is something about the crazy control views and things that messes with my equilibrium where I seriously feel like throwing up after playing too much. Jeremy wonders if taking Dramamine would make it better. It seems like it’d be weird to take a drug to not feel sick while playing a game, though kind of interesting. But this is one of the many reasons I prefer side scrolling games. (Another downside is I think I may have inadvertently gotten Angelo hooked to Half-Life 2 now.)

The weird thing is I’m not actually even that much of a gamer, though having played when I was younger I certainly have an appreciation for them. I don’t want to make some machinima movies or anything either though. I think the most fascinating part is the weird mash up of 3rd party content in gmod, where people are just creating their own assets to share. For instance there are tons of Minecraft assets you can add. Or there was a map that was made to look like an old school NES Mario Kart track where you could race with the Half-Life 2 jeep.

I’m mainly interested in these engines as tools for creating interactive prototypes for other things, especially larger scale architectural things. 



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