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Iván Stummer was secretly working at an interesting project in his lab; still, I managed to get some precious insider info about it.
Q: What is MapBuilder? What does it do?
A: MB is basically a real-time level editor application created for 3D Gamestudio users, programmed in Lite-C. The original idea was to create a simple map builder tool for my RTS game development, due to my own needs. But meanwhile, I found it useful to make a more general tool, as it is a good practice for me to really learn the usage of Gamestudio. It handles at the moment outdoor levels consisting of simply a ground and a water terrain, and enables easy and fast placement of various entities by a user-friendly interface.
Entities are categorized, and each category has its own menu and settings. Everything can be saved and reloaded by open source scripts that are going to be provided soon, when I finalize file formats. Shortly, the designed level visible on your screen in MB will be the same in your game too, even if you are a Free or Extra user of 3D Gamestudio.
Q: What are MBís advantages over Gamestudioís own Wed and Ged?
A: The best example is my two and a half year old daughter, who can place entities by MB nicely, but cannot do anything by any other editors.... :). But more seriously, Wed and Ged has really different design approach, I mean MB is rather an extension of Gamestudio. It is faster and easier to make nice outdoor levels in MB, especially for beginners who are not really familiar with 3D design softwares - if you have a good collection of graphic resources, mainly models. This is why ready to use freeware resources are included already in the Demo, and will be added regularly to the resources section of the project's homepage (http://mapbuilder.zxq.net)
So MB is planned to be an additional design package over the default editors. And because it runs in the same way as your game does, you can immediately check the performance. Moreover, I'm planning to implement wmb support too (with some restrictions), since a lot of good features of Gamestudio editors are missing from MB...
Q: What is the maximum size of a terrain level that can be created using MB?
A: The hmp terrain size has no distinct maximum limit. Until now the maximum I tested was 28672 x 28672 quants consisting of 225 x 225 vertices. Height is limited between -500 and 3000. The main restriction of MB now is the tile-based game area, defined to be 200 x 200, 300 x 300, 400 x 400, or 500 x 500 tiles at the moment (default tile size is 32 x 32 quants), which are just arbitrary numbers what could be changed. An out-of-game-area border is needed too, since the original concept is similar to the battle scenes of the Total War series, and not the Age of Empires games. Of course, entities can be placed out of this area too, and snap to tiles can be disabled by a simple checkbox in the next version (I make updates weekly). But to avoid headache, all of these strange settings are done automatically when you first construct a map of your own terrains, it can be saved, and afterwards modified by a text editor easily. So the limitations originating from my base concept are planned to be removed or at least decreased continuously - until I find it useful, because I also want to use MB for making games.
Q: What features do you plan to add to MB in the near future?
A: Beyond the ones mentioned before, I'm planning to add multi-terrain support to expand possibilities, since my key-word in connection with MB is flexibility. I definitely will add new entity categories to help better handling of forests, complex buildings, units with weapons, unit groups, game triggers... I cannot exclude a menu for sun, sky, weather, camera settings, and an integrated editor is needed too, which can access data stored in text files at the moment. Player management is also an important aim.
Q: How easy it is to integrate the generated outdoor maps into our own projects?
A: Open source Lite-C scripts will be provided, and these can be modified due to any special requirements freely, so I think it is going to be a piece of cake. In the simplest case, just copy the graphic files you used, include scripts, call 1..4 loading functions, and done. Maybe an export option of used assets would be also needed...
I know some support is needed to choose MB, so beside providing downloadable resources, step by step written and maybe video tutorials are also on my to-do list. I hope the complete MB package could help for hesitating potential users to choose Gamestudio, instead of other game engines.
Q: What will be the main differences between the free and pro versions of MB?
A: The Free version is for general game design, having a primary stress on easy usage and flexibility, and supports mainly simple graphical representation. The Pro version is planned to satisfy the higher requirements of making an RTS game: handling lots of static and moving destroyable objects, resources, defensible buildings, and intelligent enemy unit groups acting together. Supporting the game AI will be the new key element I think. To be honest, I prefer good gameplay rather than shiny graphics, so this AI engine is the origin of my motivation.
Q: When do you plan to release MB pro? Have you thought at a price for it yet?
A: Hopefully, in the first quarter of 2012, depending on how much time I can spend on this project, and how fast I can solve the problem of the dynamic hierarchical pathfinding... If I work slowly, maybe an intermediate edition is needed too, with a node based pathfinder, since real time node creation seems to be easier now, but I don't know yet exactly...
The price is a tough question, but will be definitely under 20 USD. I want to keep it a really achievable tool, and don't want to be too rich... :)
Q: Please give us a few tips for the beginners out there.
A: I think I'm not too experienced, but okay, I can try it:
- Play a lot, try out new game demos, especially open source 3DGS applications, to know what you want to do and what is possible to be achieved. Don't forget about your girlfriend's birthday.
- Game modding is a good way to start with 3D graphics (e.g. Age of Mythology and especially Total War games have good community). Have a really patient girlfriend.
- Think before start, and make plans of game structure, features and aims. And make tiny trial programs testing your ideas in more versions, make your own code snippets. Never get married.
- Please keep games enjoyable even on my old PC! :) Appearance is not everything, focus on gameplay - I think in case of low budget projects it is much more important. My girlfriend's (not wife!) favorite games are still Cossacks1 and Heroes3.
- And finally a commonplace: as Lenin said: learn, learn, and learn...
Thank you a lot, Iván.