Uncover the story behind the City 17 Underground Railroad

Source SDK                                    Hammer Editor


This first video is just over ten minutes long and features a full playthrough of the game that is quick and plays as an average player would approach the game. This covers the second level of the mod.

This second video is another playthrough, but this one contains a lot of commentary discussing the different choices made in the level design. the video is nearly half an hour long and full on information.


One of the first problems I had was that the player would feel forced to travel down hallways. It never felt organic, and it would leave the level feeling really boring or, in the worst case scenario, it would break immersion.


I had two solutions for this problem. The first was to add a few small branching paths. This included doors to dead-end hallways, vents to secret areas, and opening spaces up a little more. The second solution I had was to use lighting to naturally draw the player's eyes and attention. I found that the player was often drawn to the brightest or warmest light in a room, and so I often used this light to get the player to look at where they had to go next. This subconsciously made the player feel as though they originally decided to go there. 

Another problem that I often ran into was stale combat. Many of the interaction with enemies in the game felt as though the player walked into a room full of enemies that were waiting for the player, and then the player killed them and continued on.

This was an interesting problem to solve because of the number of solutions. Here are a few that I used in progression for less to more complex: moving enemies to places that are harder for players to see, bring more variety to enemies in a single fight, have enemies fight each other, and implement a story sequence into the fight.

The biggest problem I had was with pacing. Early iterations of the level felt dull and boring with nothing but a series of hallways to walk through. Then, as time went on the level became horrifically over-exciting with constant combat that would wear out the player pretty quickly.

This was by far the most complicated problem to solve, and it took dozens of iterations to do so. I started by removing all of the combat a puzzles to give myself a blank slate. I took on a sort of pattern with my rooms. The rooms would switch between combat, travel, and puzzle. I made sure that there were not two of a room type in a row. To keep travel spaces interesting, I would either add a small puzzle or combat element, such as a single easily defeated enemy. I didn't have an exact method for this, but after many tries the level began to come together and it neither bored the player or wore them out.

Canals is a mod for Half-Life 2: Episode 2 that I have been working on for quite a while now, though I've taken a break from it to focus on my education. Below are some images and videos from the mod that represent the work I did on it, focusing on level design.