Engine: Gears of War
Map Type: Single-player mission
Development Time: ~190 hours
Quick Summary: The COG has sent Marcus Fenix to the derelict labs of Redding Aerospace, an ocean platform facility to retrieve a piece of lost technology – an experimental gyroscope that could empower Jacks to fight alongside human soldiers, giving humanity a much needed boost on the battlefield. Marcus volunteered to go because, having visited the company before as a child, the security scanners are likely to remember him.
This level mixes intense firefights against the Locust with cinematic encounters with a Berserker. This is achieved through both intense Kismet scripting (using over 1200 Kismet nodes) and key frame animation blending of skeletal meshes via Unreal Matinee. Because the player is unable to use the Hammer of Dawn on this level, being both indoors and under cloud cover, he or she must lure the Berserker into an industrial wind tunnel and hit the switch!
Hunter/Hunted Duality: Good Neighbors shifts the player between two styles of gameplay – classic Gears cover-based firefights where players feel superior to standard Locust Drones and Wretches, and horror-inspired moments where the player must run from the bulletproof Berserker. Before the level is over, the player finally kills the Berserker, allowing them to feel triumphant over both kinds of enemies.
A Unique Environment: This level introduces a highly technological, oil-rig-meets-Wayne-Manor environment unlike anything Gears players have seen before. The start of the level allows players a view of the massive scale of the structure they are about to infiltrate. On the horizon, miles of deserted islands and open ocean reaffirm that they are completely alone in this endeavor.
Environment as Weapon: Most Gears players clearly remember killing the berserker with the Hammer of Dawn.However, because the level takes place mostly indoors and the exterior is under cloud cover, players must lead the Berserker through a research laboratory into an operational wind tunnel and hit the switch. The end result – seeing the Berserker lifted off its feet to fly into a massive, spinning blade, is quite satisfying.
Force players to fight against their instincts: It’s against human instinct to stand still while an 8-foot-tall Berserker runs towards you, but this is what the level asks players to do. Before opening certain doors, security scanners require players to stand on them for several seconds as they read Marcus’ signature. Players need to find pockets of time between Berserker charges to complete the scans.
Cinematic Events: To ensure an immersive and believable game world, I paid extra attention to the way the Berserker breaks through walls and the particle effects that fire when she does. I also added matinee sequences for two helicopter fly-by’s (during one of which the helicopter fires at a Locust in Marcus’s path), and another matinee sequence where the Berserker attempts to rip apart a door that has just closed behind the player.
Maps and Brief Walkthrough
(1.) The player begins outside of the structure at the blue star, on top of a helipad.
(2.) They then enter the building and familiarize themselves with the security scanner mechanic.
(3.) With the security sequence complete, doors to the lobby open and a firefight with two Locust Drones begins. When one of the Drones dies, two Wretches crash in through a ground floor window.
(4.) The player ascends the staircase and encounters a Berserker breaks through a door, killing a Drone that had been standing in front of it.
(5.) The player enters another Security Scan room, and the Berserker follows by breaking through a wall. The player must complete two security scans while the Berserker is trying to kill them, then escape to the next room.
(6.) Doors closes automatically after the player passes through, leaving the Berserker behind. The player has now entered the Lab, where they both encounter three Locust Drones and retrieve the mission objective item (a gyroscope).
(7.) The player enters a hallway rigged with moving security beams. If the player manages to move through the hallway without touching any of the moving beams, the Berserker does not spawn at this time. Otherwise, an alarm sounds and the doors close ahead of and behind the player close, trapping them inside the hallway. The commotion brings the Berserker, who crashes through a nearby wall. The player must make use of the path the Berserker took to get there, through a broken maintenance corridor.
(8.) The player arrives at a wind tunnel. If they had not previously activated the alarm, the Berserker spawns at this time and crashes through a wall. The player must lure the Berserker into the wind tunnel, then quickly activate a switch in a side Control Room. This starts the fan, which pulls the Berserker into itself, killing her. Marcus then receives a radio message from a helicopter pilot instructing him to hurry to the roof .
(9.) Marcus must climb to the roof of the facility while battling three Locust Drones. A Raven helicopter flies closely by as players approach the first Drone, then returns to fire upon the second Drone, killing it if players have not already done so. Once Marcus has killed the third Drone and climbed to the roof, the helicopter is in the process of landing and the mission is complete.
Example 1: Making the Berserker Fly
Initial research during the pre-whitebox phase presented several technical challenges to the end goal of having a Berserker ragdoll reliably through the air. Because pawn object variables are lost on death, I attach a physics thruster actor to the final Berserker pawn on spawn, while she is still alive. This bond persists after pawn death, so when the player hits the wind tunnel switch, I was able to simply toggle the thruster on before killing the Berserker.
The other challenge was getting the trigger volume at the end of the wind tunnel to register when the dead Berserker entered it, so I could trigger the blood and other particle effects, hide the body, etc. Although I altered the trigger volume’s kismet properties to watch for dead pawns, the event did not fire. As a workaround, I changed the volume to watch for interp actors, instead, and hard attatched an invisible interp actor – a tracking mesh -to the Berserker on spawn. As with the thruster, this bond persists after death. As a result, once the Berserker enters the trigger volume near the fan blade, so does the interp actor inside of it, calling the event.
After this, it’s all sound and fury. Various blood and spark particle effects play at the fan’s location. Previously hidden blood overlays become unhidden, including on the observation window players have been watching th event through to simulate a splashing effect. Invisible K Actor (physics actors) intestinal static meshes are wakened with a spherical force actor and scattered around the area of the fan. Finally, it would look strange if the blades were clean after chewing through a monster, and because I originally modeled the fan in 3DS Max, I was also able to create a bloody material for it which swaps in for the clean one at time of impact.
Example 1: The Result in Action
Example 2: Security Scanners
For the security scanners, I measure the length of time the player stands inside of each of two trigger volumes. If Marcus stands inside one of the volumes for 2.25 seconds or more, Kismet bypasses the float counter node and considers that scanner to be “activated”, turning on its associated light. At this time, the system checks to see if the other scanner has also been activated. If so, it opens the doors. Otherwise, the scanner resets to an inactive state five seconds later, turning off its associated light.
Example 2: The Result in Action
Part 1: The Beginning
Marcus begins the level outside of the Redding Aerospace oceanic structure, on top of a helipad. Anya radios instructions that she is unlocking the door for him, and he should proceed inside to look for the mission objective: an experimental gyroscope. This is an opportunity for players to take in the massive scale of the structure.
Part 2: Learning to Use Security Scanners
Here, players undergo a short tutorial on how to use the security scanners. Anya provides instructions via radio. Marcus must stand on one of the scanners for about two seconds, until its corresponding light turns green. Because the system was originally designed for two Redding Aerospace employees to use simultaneously, players must then quickly do the same for the second scanner – standing on it until the light turns green – before the light on the first scanner turns off. Otherwise, they must begin the process over again. Information on the scripting that went into this mechanic can be found in the Scripting section below. Once complete, the double doors to the lobby open up.
Part 3: Firefight in the Lobby
As soon as players enter the lobby, a firefight with two Locust Drones begins. One drone approaches from the front, near the Redding Aerospace lobby desk, and one approaches from the left, coming out of the lounge area under the stairs. Upon the death of one of the Drones, two Wretches break through a lobby window and attack the player.
Part 4: First Encounter with the Berserker
At the top of the stairs, a single Locust drone emerges from a side door and begins shooting at the player. However, the sound of its gunfire attracts a Berserker that has been lurking on the premises. The Berserker breaks through the door behind the Drone, killing it instantly. The monster then sets it sights on the player. Doors with green lights over them signal the way forward for players to escape.
Part 5: Completing Security Scan, Under Pressure
In the next room, players must complete another security scan. However, the Berserker follows, breaking through a wall, making the process considerably more difficult. Beceause the Berserker has some issues with pathfinding through narrow doorways intended for players, I despawn the first Berserker once the player enters the room and she is out of view. I then Matinee a Berserker skeletal mesh breaking through the wall, and spawn a new one in its place when the animation is complete.
After players complete the security scan and proceed to the next room, the doors close behind the player and the Berserker pawn despawns. To keep tension high and to suggest to the player that the Berserker is still hunting for them, I created a short matinee of the Berserker skeletal mesh attempting to rip apart the doors that just closed behind the player. She manages to unhinge them, showing her face to the player, and screams in frustration as she runs off to look for another route.
Part 6: Entering Lab, Fighting Locust Drones, Retrieving Mission Objective
A small cooldown room allows players a moment to collect themselves after the Berserker encounter, refill on ammo and grenades. They then enter the Laboratory, where Redding Aerospace did much of its research and the experimental gyroscope is waiting for Marcus to pick it up. Players must first defeat three Locust Drones, using lab tables for cover.
Once Marcus retrieves the device, he radios Anya for an update and to ask if there’s any chance they could use the Hammer of Dawn against the Berserker. Anya informs him that present cloud cover makes that impossible, and he’ll have to find another way to get rid of it. For now, because Marcus can’t go back the way he came, she reroutes power to the hallway ahead, which leads to Redding’s testing facilities.
Part 7: Security Beam Hallway
Unfortunately, Anya’s rerouting of power also activated the area’s security system. Non-damaging laser beams move up and down and side to side. Players must try to avoid tripping any of the beams, or else the alarm sounds. If players successfully avoid the beams, they may proceed straight through to the next area : a hovertank hangar next to a wind tunnel.
Otherwise, the security system closes the doors ahead of and behind Marcus, trapping him inside. A distant roar signals that the Berserker has taken notice of the sound. A few seconds later, she breaks through the side of the hallway. Players must then make use of the path she created to get there, moving quickly through the tank hangar and into the wind tunnel.
Part 8: The Wind Tunnel and the Flying Berserker
As the player closes in on the wind tunnel area, Anya radios that they should attempt to lure the Berserker inside and turn it on. Regardless of whether or not the Berserker previously spawned during Part 7, it breaks through the wall near Marcus as he rounds the final corner to enter the Wind Tunnel. The lights turn on in sequence from front to back, finally illuminating the massive fan engine and the player’s redemption.
A brightly lit side-room suggests players move inside it. Here, they may hit the switch that activates the wind tunnel. The fan blade builds speed quickly, spinning at a blur. The Berserker is lifted off its feet with a scream and flies head-first into the fan blades. They erupt in a fountain of blood and gore, which also “splashes” on the observation window players are looking through via toggled blood overlays.
Once the Berserker is dead, Marcus recieves a radio call from the Raven pilot who is preparing to pick him up for extraction. They advise that Locusts all over the structure are closing in on his position, and he needs to hurry to the roof quickly. A side door to the exterior opens for players to proceed.
Part 9: Fight to the Rooftop
Flow through this section is mostly vertical as the player scrambles up ladders, fighting through Locust Drones to get to the rooftop. The Raven flies by as Marcus engages the first drone, then turns around behind a distant island. As Marcus ascends the second ladder, the Raven loops back around, firing on one of the Drones as it disappears over the rooftop. Once the player kills the final Drone, they climb a third ladder to the roof, where the Raven is in the process of landing. This is the end of the mission.
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