Hammer, 3D Design, and the Virtues of Minimalism

Hammer, 3D Design, and the Virtues of Minimalism (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)

For the past month, as preparation for teaching a brief Hammer unit in my “New Media Projects” course, I got pretty good at Hammer basics — in part because I recorded a series of Flash tutorials, and doing so really solidified some basic design skills.

I hadn’t really realized just how comfortable I’m becoming with Hammer until yesterday, when I roughed out this interior while my daughter was napping. Today (during another nap) I added some special effects (including snow, not visible in this photo). I had already sketched out the floor plan on paper, so it was really quite easy to implement it.

SnowTest1.jpg SnowTest4.jpg

I’d have gotten a lot farther today, but for some reason when I loaded it up Hammer couldn’t find where I had placed the custom textures that I had downloaded. I recall being so frustrated with the numerous steps I had to do in order to get a new texture into Hammer that I never even tried to teach that to my students. But at least now I think I understand the complex file system that Steam creates. (I’m also starting to max out my laptop’s hard drive. Time to do some file-shuffling.)

I’m starting to feel more comfortable with lighting (I have four lights in the fireplace — three of them flickering in different colors and a fourth that’s a steady yellow-orange). I had made an automatic door a few months ago, and it only took me a few tries to refresh my memory.

When my students began programming text adventures in Inform 7, it took a while for them to learn that every concrete object they mention in the description of a room (“The professor’s bookshelf is cluttered with a bewildering array of papers, notebooks, reference books, and letters.”) means that the player is going to want to take, read, examine, smell, eat, and burn every one of them. To implement each and every object in a cluttered study would take forever, but mentioning an object by name and then refusing to let the player interact is sort of cruel to the player. Rather than come up with a long list of things that the player will want to interact with, it’s better to write a general description that reveals the character of the person who uses the study. A player who reads “Everything is a bit tweedy and fussily organized, but just a bit sloppy around the edges, not unlike Prof. Sneedlewood himself. An ivory-handled letter opener catches your eye.” will immediately take the letter opener, but will probably not bother trying to rifle through the professor’s things.

In a similar way, while creating an environment with pixels rather than words, I’ve learned that instead of open (bare) shelves I should probably instead have more closed cupboards, with just a few decorative items to personalize the space.

Hammer (the Half-Life 2 map editor) is good for constructing anything that you could build out of wood in real life. While the world allows for subtle and complex motion and beautifully interactive physics (hinges, ropes, gravity, friction, etc.), the resolution of the world-builder is chunky and blocky.

I’ve got a kind of creative vision, too, but I’ve been frustrated by how restricted I feel when there isn’t a good ready-made texture (the 3D colors that go on the flat surfaces) or model (the map of points and planes that make up an object, such as a chair). So I’ve spent too much time online surfing for ready-made models and materials.

I have taught myself Blender3D and am working with the XSI Mod tool, so I know I’ve got everything I need to design complex objects and import them into a Hammer map.