Idea for revitalizing the level pack scene

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Would you be interested in this system?

No, I wouldn't use this system
1
7%
Yes, I'm interested as a player
7
50%
Yes, I'm interested as a level creator
4
29%
Yes, I can commit to helping test the system
1
7%
Yes, I can commit to making at least one level
1
7%
 
Total votes: 14

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Fleexy
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Idea for revitalizing the level pack scene

Post by Fleexy » Sat Aug 26, 2017 22:33

In case people don't check Keen Modding frequently, or don't have an account there to post, I thought I'd link this idea here too. TL;DR it would be an easy, streamlined, web-powered system for people to publish and play individual custom Keen levels. Since building it would be a decent amount of work, I'm trying to get a feel for how much use it would see. To avoid the problem of people being interested only once there's content there and content creators not being interested until there are players, I'd like to get some committers now so we could furnish it with some new creations prior to public launch. If this looks like something you would use in any capacity, please vote in this poll or, better yet, respond with ideas for refinements.

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Re: Idea for revitalizing the level pack scene

Post by Gridlock » Sun Aug 27, 2017 0:00

Sounds intriguing. I'm certainly interested in supporting ways to bring more life into this community, and this would be a nice way to do smaller levels on a whim. One potential concern for me involves graphics, though it may not be an issue for less experienced users. Even when working with the original episodes, I occasionally find a need to add miscellaneous tiles when they're missing from the tileset or are necessary to get something to look right (example: in The Alphamatic, I added a variation of the fire helix spinner for right walls, and I also had to make a few background tiles for spinners against left walls).

Ideally, the base versions of these tilesets could be enhanced somewhat from the originals to include these missing or helpful tiles (or maybe even some extra stuff like the conveyer belts in The Alphamatic). That won't fix every situation, though, and you may want to consider whether you'd want to create a request system for additional tiles to be added to the master branch. I wonder if it would help to integrate some tiles from existing mods. For example, what if for Keen 4 you were to start with the tileset from The Eight Accumulators since it has some of the missing K4 demo tiles restored?

Do you have any idea what episodes you initially want to support? It might be more of a long-term goal, but I'd love to see support for some mods like TUIT. It's unlikely, but I have to admit that I'd be really intrigued if anyone wanted to make their own Atroxian Realm levels as well.

I'd like to contribute, but I can't promise levels early in development since I'm in my final year of college doing capstone projects and looking for work. Still, I'd like to be able to contribute something at some point.
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Armageddon Begins Again. The Alphamatic has arrived.

Atroxian Realm: viewtopic.php?f=4&t=3536
The Alphamatic: viewtopic.php?f=4&t=4086

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Re: Idea for revitalizing the level pack scene

Post by Ceilick » Sun Aug 27, 2017 3:36

This is a neat idea. My first 'fantasy project' with such a tool is a chain-story style level where different people can add various sections to a single level and eventually complete it. Such things have been attempted in the past, but a program like this would ostensibly streamline the process immensely.

Its hard to guess how much a tool like this would be used. As much as I love the idea of it and would like to use it, I don't know if I actually would or not.

Gridlock's suggestion to make 'complete' tile sets is a good one, both for users new to leveling, and to me as a veteran; knowing I can use the tiles how I like without having to make changes to the tilesets or to my envisioned level is a big deal. I made a lot of these improvements in Netkeen if we need a resource to get that process started (I'm sure those aren't complete though).

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Re: Idea for revitalizing the level pack scene

Post by Nisaba » Sun Aug 27, 2017 22:58

sounds like a good plan to me!
unfortunately way to many ideas get buried in oblivion and never see daylight, caused by a habit of not releasing a mod until everything is finished. of course the stakes is high. plus we are a community of way too many lone warriors. so I think your proposal is a welcome fresh breeze.

like Ceilick said, it's hard to guess how much a tool like this would be used.
but this tool could make constraints to show off ones modding progress needless. especially beginners would profit from it, I assume.

Gridlocks idea of spicing up the tilesets don't seem to be necessary to me. it might be a neat feature to have but I see this tool more like a sandbox for ideas which can later be used for WIP mods. modders then can add variations or miscellaneous tiles and might even convert the given level designs into totally different tilesets.

I'm also interested in designing levels in a kind of co-op mode. someone loads up a ruff structure, a skeleton so to speak. another guy takes care of enemy and candy placement. then there is someone taking care of some details. and maybe finally someone will add a secret area here, an obstacle there. and so on...

I think we should go for it! what exactly can we contribute to get things started?!
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Re: Idea for revitalizing the level pack scene

Post by Commander Spleen » Tue Aug 29, 2017 1:58

Following up from le Discord duscussion()

My first suggestion is to create standardised versions of the episodes that are suitable for straight level packs without having to worry about other aspects of modding. It would also be cool to devise a standardised info file like what Build offered for Duke3D leveling, containing things like the author's name, contact info, description, etc.

- Take out aspects that are irrelevant to the level experience such as the finale, story, etc
- Infinite lives, reset ammo between levels (option to disable if levels are designed in a progression)
- Basic world map with all levels immediately accessible (editable if the designer prefers)
- 16 blank levels (128x128 or something, maybe a utility to randomly generate new blank slates, maybe even an option to add some basic structure to build from) so we don't end up with more modified versions of the default levels
- Common patches such as bridges in Keen 1

For loose single levels, some more patching would be ideal:
- Remove the whole front end altogether (Or at least simplify the menu as much as possible)
> no story (or replace it with content from info file)
> no high scores (since it makes no sense to keep that record between levels)
> help can stay
- No world map, restart level on death
- Quit to DOS when level complete? Or just keep restarting the level until the player quits?

A launcher for Vorticons should be pretty simple. Bring up a list of the level files in the local directory and then copy the selected level to whatever the patched game is set to load on startup (probably level01.ck?). It could be adapted for level packs, selecting multiple levels and copying them into a set of files, modifying the world map to have only that many available level entry points.

Both of these can be embedded into a website, with the latest levels continually added to the archive ready to load. At some point it may have to split into multiple archives to minimise bandwidth and loading time.

Galaxy gets more complicated due to requiring the maps to be compiled into one file, but presumably the map file can be recompiled each launch to contain any number of levels.

Once all of that is organised, then a web portal would be much more practical and really neat.

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Re: Idea for revitalizing the level pack scene

Post by The Shifted One » Tue Aug 29, 2017 6:54

I like the idea!
However instead of focussing on worldmaps and such why not go for a more "Mario Maker" application?
This would open up creating and playing to a larger community by simply making it easier.

Looking at how succesfull spin offs such as Mega Maker are (a fan made Megaman level maker) I see no reason why this could not be.
Many people hold fond memories of the Commander Keen series so there's a good target audience.
Both the modding and installing mods and such just requires more time and research than just starting an app and browing the level lists.
Sure, you'll lose the worldmap and other features but for those that long for those features they can still find mods.

I'm not sure how much work something like this would be as I've not checked the new available source code and I don't know how much of the engine was rewritten.

Regardless of how you choose to create and distribute this I'd be interested as a level creator.
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Re: Idea for revitalizing the level pack scene

Post by Commander Spleen » Tue Aug 29, 2017 8:28

The Shifted One wrote:However instead of focussing on worldmaps and such why not go for a more "Mario Maker" application?
That would be the goal of the second single-level mode in my post. Perhaps it wasn't clear that that was meant as a separate application.

The multi-level version with world map would just be a way of organising a level pack created by one designer. It would also more easily transition from a level pack into a full mod if desired. There may also be the option to run all the levels in sequence like classic Mario and leave the world map out altogether.
The Shifted One wrote:Both the modding and installing mods and such just requires more time and research than just starting an app and browing the level lists.
The Shifted One wrote:I'm not sure how much work something like this would be as I've not checked the new available source code and I don't know how much of the engine was rewritten.
It wouldn't be necessary to write a clone. The initial implementation would use the original DOS engines available in either browser form via emscripten or raw zip. Maybe even a GOG-style package with inbuilt DOSBox as a newbie-friendly option. Or it could easily be adapted to Chocolate Keen or Commander Genius to provide easier support for modern systems.

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Re: Idea for revitalizing the level pack scene

Post by The Shifted One » Tue Aug 29, 2017 12:49

That would be the goal of the second single-level mode in my post. Perhaps it wasn't clear that that was meant as a separate application.
After reading the original post on Keen:Modding it is clear.
My apologies.

I'm also willing to test if it is required.

That DOS engine in browser is rather nifty, I completely missed out on that.
I've truly missed out on a lot in recent years...
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Re: Idea for revitalizing the level pack scene

Post by Fleexy » Wed Aug 30, 2017 2:26

Thanks everyone for the great discussion! It looks like there's a lot of interest in the collaborative features. I can't say I expected that, but I can certainly see that it would be great to get some more teamwork going on. I'd definitely make sure to flesh out the cooperative features.

I think the web DOSBox is the way to go for players, though of course it would be possible to download the level files. Would there still be interest in a desktop client that finagles the game assets and selected levels into the right arrangements, or should I save the effort and focus on the web player?

There was also more than expected interest in an expanded tileset. I am open to that - trying to make some Keen 5 levels has definitely alerted me to the absence of certain combining tiles. Would it be worthwhile to keep a pure vanilla section for purists, or just apply the filled-out set to all levels? I suppose the editor application could be responsible for showing only original tiles to purists and any new tiles could be placed in the unused tile slots.

If you're wondering how you can help, the best way would be to start making some levels (any episode you like). I'll reach out with more information when something is ready to test. Note that I would still like to wait a bit to hear more ideas and gather a couple more committers. As I've started college, my free time is markedly reduced, so I want to make sure the system would be used. In the meantime, please feel free to continue raising ideas and concerns!

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Re: Idea for revitalizing the level pack scene

Post by Commander Spleen » Wed Aug 30, 2017 3:47

Fleexy wrote:I think the web DOSBox is the way to go for players, though of course it would be possible to download the level files. Would there still be interest in a desktop client that finagles the game assets and selected levels into the right arrangements, or should I save the effort and focus on the web player?
As far as I can see, the browser and offline versions should be able to remain identical using a simple DOS-based (probably QuickBASIC) level launcher.

Make it easy to add custom levels (for testing or distribution through other means), but once they are submitted to the site they should automatically end up in the default archive for each episode anyway. Could even include a sync feature to update an existing downloaded copy with newly submitted levels.
Fleexy wrote:There was also more than expected interest in an expanded tileset. I am open to that - trying to make some Keen 5 levels has definitely alerted me to the absence of certain combining tiles. Would it be worthwhile to keep a pure vanilla section for purists, or just apply the filled-out set to all levels? I suppose the editor application could be responsible for showing only original tiles to purists and any new tiles could be placed in the unused tile slots.
Keep it simple to start with. Perhaps take suggestions for some additional features (e.g. in Keen1: bridges, glass, chutes, one-way walls, secret passage overlays, single ammo tiles, point/keycard items on black background), but then stick to that as the standard. The tileset can be expanded over time if there are requests from designers, but it should be kept backward compatible with older levels and not diverge too much from the original episode. Later, it would be easy enough to support mods and expanded/alternate editions of the originals in the same manner to allow much more freedom without breaking things.

Eventually per-level feature switches could be implemented (maybe preset sprite mods?), embedding the options in the included info file or a couple of bytes in the level header. But it should be treated as a separate episode/mod. Complicating the purist edition too much begins introducing more overhead that will likely deter casual level design, which is what we're trying overcome by doing this in the first place.

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Re: Idea for revitalizing the level pack scene

Post by Nisaba » Wed Aug 30, 2017 7:17

I was just wondering about the tilesets layouts.
wouldn't it be neat to have things organized in a way so that after a level has been designed it could simply be converted into another episode?! know what I mean? let me put it this way: say someone creates a Keen 4 level but decides later on that it should be a Keen 5 level instead. normally one has to design everything from start up. my idea is to have the tilesets of each episode organized as similar as possible to maybe even use one level design multiple times.
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Re: Idea for revitalizing the level pack scene

Post by Commander Spleen » Wed Aug 30, 2017 7:53

Sounds great. That can be part of the standardisation process. Say half the tileset matches properties between episodes. Any level that uses only that first set of tiles is guaranteed to work with any of the other episodes in the series.

A standard tileset template would also make reskins easy, simplifying another avenue of creativity and collaboration. The player can choose from multiple themes every time they play tileset-agnostic levels. Plus the level pack version of the base archive could just about double as a template for building an entire mod from scratch.

Most of the sprites would get lost in translation though, so I'm not sure how useful it would be for levels that use them. If they otherwise play exactly the same between episodes and you can choose from multiple tilesets anyway, there may not actually be much point in running it in a different episode. However, for modding purposes it would allow the designer to start building levels before deciding which episode to use.

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Re: Idea for revitalizing the level pack scene

Post by Fleexy » Sat Sep 02, 2017 3:07

At least as a start, I can see that being implemented as a barebones version of an episode that only has some generic-looking platforms and hazards and the exit. It would be playable though drab, but it could be converted to any episode of that series. There would be a mapping from the generic tiles to each episode's specific versions - I'd prefer to not rearrange the original games' tilesets, since doing that would break the ability to upload levels created outside the system. Keen 2's shadow effect causes some trouble, but as long as the stairs aren't used, the platforms would still look decent. In other words, if a level author wasn't certain what episode to mod, but wanted to make a level, they could start it in e.g. the Generic Vorticons pseudo-episode, then convert it to e.g. Keen 3 once they have some specific ideas. To implement this feature, some help would be appreciated with creating the generic tilesets (one for Vorticons and one for Galaxy) and mapping those tiles to specific episode's tiles.

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