GtkRadiant & content development for Conan: Hyborian Adventures

GTK Radiant's other life; Hyborian Adventures. I managed to have a chat with Chris 'MrLycon' Jensen over the weekend about Funcom's use of GTK Radiant in the production of content for their upcoming MMO; Conan: Hyborian Adventures. It's unusual for a development team to use Radiant outside of the id software engine/tool chain, Conan uses a propitiatory engine, so I though it would be interesting to ask him about that, luckily he had a few spare minutes;

KatsBits: I was surprised to learn that Funcom was using GTK radiant for the upcoming Conan; is there any specific reason for that?

MrLycon: Well, we didn't really have any good tools for making dungeons, and it would be a total waste of time to make a new tool to do the exact same thing as radiant does when radiant has been around for years and is very perfected and is a fast tool to use and learn. We where talking about doing the dungeons in 3D Studio Max but it would take too long to build and texture.

KatsBits: Radiant was being used in the same way as you would do to build level and areas for Quake 3?

MrLycon: More or less. I mean, we make the basic structure in radiant and then we take it into 3D Studio Max to do the details and lighting, so we only use it for the basic build process, adding objects and stuff are done in our in-house tool 'Genesis'.

In editor screenshot of GTK Radiant in use for building levels for Conan

BLACK outlines show 'normal' brushwork, BLUE outlines show grouped brushwork. Also shown are a number of shader materials applied to various elements

Gamma adjusted shot of the above camera view

Gamma adjusted stairwell shot in GTK Radiant

KatsBits: So it's being used in the same way as a modeling application like 3D Studio Max in that case, yes?

MrLycon: Yea I would say yes.

KatsBits: How well did the rest of the team take to it? Many regard the Radiant level editor as an odd way to work.

MrLycon: Most of the world designers at Funcom don't know 3D Studio Max too well, so they thought it was a nice tool to learn and use for dungeons. Some other team members were afraid it would give the dungeons a too 'hard edge' square look, and that's why we try to chamfer-edges and detailing in 3D Studio Max once we have the level completed and textured.

KatsBits: 'Hard Edged', a symptom of using brushes that's relatively easy to fix once converted to models though, right? It's just an issue with 'smoothing'; or were they worried about the lower poly count?.

MrLycon: I guess both, as you would get a more smooth look and not so square-ish if you did it in Max. But then it's very fast to just go over the edges and parts of the map you want more smooth, or just drag some verts to make it more non-square in Max. The only issue of course is that their map must be more or less done as you can't do major changes once you have imported to Max.

KatsBits: Which does touch in things like 'VIS' and 'BSP', which you would normally be using when building a level using GTK Radiant. Is that part of the build process? In other words, are you building with the same considerations as you would with Quake 3 for instance?.

MrLycon: Well, we are not really using the BSP, we are converting it [the map] to our own format, and for VIS we are using our own portal technology so in a way yes, we are adding portals in GTK which are used for visibility culling; something like HINTS in Quake 3.

KatsBits: You can place those arbitrarily? i.e. they not used in the same 'black magic' way they're used in Quake 3?.

MrLycon: It's much improved from Quake 3, more like Quake 4 'portals'.

KatsBits: More precision.

MrLycon: Exactly.

KatsBits: With the team using GTK Radiant the way they are, it doesn't necessarily mean the game is mod-able does it?

MrLycon: As far as I know the game will not be mod-able, as it's an MMO and you would need a server running the mod etc.

KatsBits: So even if it were mod-able it's something that you wouldn't want to undertake 'lightly'? Not like Quake 3 modding for instance?

MrLycon: Yeah, it would require a bit more skills with max and scripting than a regular Quake 3 level.

In editor screenshot of GTK Radiant in use for building levels for Conan

As above, BLACK outlines show 'normal' brushwork, BLUE outlines show grouped brushwork. Also shown in ORANGE are 'reference objects'.

gamma adjusted shot of the above camera view

'Reference Objects' are items placed in GTK Radiant as the level build progresses that act as 'visual aids' or 'reference markers' to the artist as they work on the level; their use makes sure that the relative size of the world as it's built in GTK Radiant is consistent with the 'Genesis' tool/engine when it's ported for final use in Conan : Hyborian Adventures

KatsBits: Did GTK Radiant's open source status (GPL) make any difference to whether Funcom used it?

MrLycon: Well, we haven't really changed anything code wise yet; though there are some things we are planning to change, but as we licensed the tool from id software I guess we would get the source code even if it wasn't open source.

KatsBits: Oh so Radiant was acquired *before* it went open source?

MrLycon: We licensed it some time ago.

KatsBits: It makes sense for a game developer to fully licence it though because you have the freedom to then do what you want/need.

MrLycon: Yea

KatsBits: Related to the question above about how well the team took to using the app, I'm guessing you were the one that showed them how to use it, especially given your previous experience with it?

MrLycon: Yeah, I have been working professionally with Radiant for 3 years, and I was the one convincing the leads to license GTK Radiant so we could use it for dungeons. And with that I worked close with our dungeon technology programmer to make our own technology from it, and so I wrote a big document covering everything from the basic radiant stuff to more advanced Conan editing stuff we use. Finally I held a few teaching sessions.

KatsBits: That's something in itself isn't it, trying to show other people how to use an application like GTK Radiant. Did you have any particular or common problems cropping up?

MrLycon: Not really.

KatsBits: Well I know you guys are pretty busy right now, crunch time isn't it? So I'll say "thanks" to you for giving me a few minutes of your time.

MrLycon: Yeah, in the middle of Beta crunch. Well no problem, take care.