NightFall – 5 years on

The Last Line
We’ve only been here a short time. Even though we have no comfortable beds, no clean water and very little food, it feels strangely like home. To all of us. But they think we should move – a factory is too much of an obvious hiding place. The Combine have sought us out time and time again, even when we went Underground. But we’re tired. Battle-weary. And we have some injured. We just can’t leave them here at the mercy of those animals. God only knows what they would do to them – I could never bear to experience something like that. So I keep us here a little longer. But each day we survive is one day closer to the day we die.
And today might be that day.
-John Dalton

Its been nearly 5 years since we officially ceased development of NightFall. Our trials and tribulations are well-documented, and our demise came as a combination of internal team issues and over-ambition.

I’ve talked a bit on this blog and in other places about management and ensuring that your creative processes are rock solid in order to have a chance of success. Its fairly obvious that our processes for NightFall were less than stellar, to say the least. So I’ve taken a bit of time to put together some statistics of how much work was actually put into NightFall over a few years before we ended development. This is based on the assets that I currently have, and I’m sure many others have been lost over time.

  • A full blown stats system (similar to the Episode 2 stats page) was implemented using a Flash charting library, complete with artwork, as part of our website
  • Hundreds of pages of writing and planning for our maps, story and script
  • Hundreds of lines of dialogue
  • An original story piece which included plans for an RPG-esque dialog system that determined the direction of key story points later in the game
  • Several revise and refined story pieces
  • A storyboard and some renders for a trailer we never released
  • About 4 different websites through our years
  • A design and prototype for a full-blown “player insanity effects” system
  • Around 800 sound effects
  • Over 400 lines of recorded dialog
  • Several posters
  • Half a dozen wallpapers & NightFall themed avatars
  • Dozens of concept images
  • Written “diaries” that would be used for promotional purposes and loading screens
  • Approx 1700 VTFs (textures including normal maps, screen overlays, decals, particle sprites etc) imported into the game
  • Approximately 1300 materials in the game
  • 422 meshes in the game, including 7 character models (AS-189 Male/Female child workers, Combine Elite, Daltons Mother, Inert, Sangster), 4 enemy meshes (spineleech, suicide scanner, bullsquid, prototype strider), 1 vehicle (Mustang), 9 Rebel weapons, 11 normal weapons, 4 Combine weapons. This doesn’t include meshes created but not imported into the game, or meshes that were created for earlier versions of maps and thrown out.
  • Various enemy reskins, gibs etc
  • Concepts for 5 other enemies that were not included in Episode 1
  • Buggy concept and mesh unused for Episode 1
  • Alexei character model unused for Episode 1
  • At least 5 weapon models unused for Episode 1 (including rocket launcher, dispersion cannon)
  • A Rebel surival guide, detailing enemies found in the world and survival strategies (some pages of this were released during media releases)
  • A full manual design
  • Many thousands of lines of code.
  • Dozens of custom entities

I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering who I am. See this? *points to nametag*. My name is David Sangster. I’m an ex-commando from the US Rangers. I led the best damn squad in the entire country John. They were good men, and I betrayed them…
I guess I should give you the whole story. I was involved in the 7-hour war… a war against the Combine many years ago. You probably wouldn’t remember it… in fact, judging from what I’ve heard about you, you wouldn’t remember a shred of information about it. I was assigned a high profile mission. Dangerous, hard, and it put every one of us to the test. They massacred us. My best friend… *Sangsters voice should start to break up a little here*. his name was Lieutenant Miller. He was shot in front of me, John. Right in front of my eyes *sniffs*. They all were. And I ran John. I fucking ran like a coward. Ran from everything I believed in, from my friends, from my comrades, from my country. And from my honor. Its why I still wear this uniform. It reminds me every day that I betrayed my loyalty and honor, and was disgraced in the eyes of my country, my friends, and myself.
*pauses and regains his composure*

Have you heard of The Corporation, John? They are why I am still here. The Corporation helped me keep my sanity in knowing that one day, just one day… I can get back at them for what they did to my friends. We are… we are an agency that secretly deals the Rebels inside information to help bring down the Combine. Attack information, weapons, experiments. Everything.
I’m here on orders from them. You’re our last hope John. The secret weapon of the Rebels. We all know it, but you don’t. You and you alone can save us from all of this. As far as our intel indicates, YOU are the main priority of the Combine right now. If we want to have any chance at all, we need you alive.

Perhaps the part of NightFall that I was most proud of was some of our writing and design notes. Of particular note are:

  • A text file containing Latin quotes and meanings that we would use throughout our marketing campaign to foreshadow the story
  • Character Diaries to be shown during loading sequences with voiceovers.
  • Demon and Christian symbology as related to our characters
  • Dozens of commentary nodes to include through Source’s commentary system

The one document that stands out is the design document for Map1_RebelCompounds (the second map you play in the game, after the Asylum dream sequence introduction) While a majority of this was written by Tom Edwards, its a 10 page document for one single map and details narrative goals, the setting, past and present plot outlines, all character interactions with dialog, scripted sequences etc. At the stage we ceased development, we had only fleshed out a few other levels (Asylum, 3 pages; Map1a, 5 pages; Map2, 5 pages; Map3, 3 pages) but its not an insignificant amount of writing.

As you can see, we had heaps of assets and marketing material created for the mod. We had grand plans, story ideas, and things were coming together really well. Unfortunately, this was all too late in the grand scheme of things. Our original plan was a 50 map epic – an insane goal, especially when you consider a mod of similar scope (Black Mesa) still isn’t released after 8 years. As I said earlier, some stronger planning may have mitigated this issue and gotten us to a point where we could have very easily released a few episodes of the mod. And the reason for this is the fact that over our lifetime, we produced AT LEAST 30 levels. Of the 30 that we produced, only about six were “final release” – that is, we considered them good enough to include in Episode 1 of the mod. However, we must consider the fact that we re-designed, detailed and lit some of our levels up to 3 or 4 times – most notably the Rebel Compounds maps, which were 3 of the first 5 maps in the game. Its important to note that every iteration of the Rebel Compounds we did was also fully scripted and most were partially voiced and included all the relevant story bits. Had the effort gone into creation of 9 unique, better thought out levels, I have no doubt Episode 1, at the very least, would have been released.

What I Call Home
I can’t believe I’m still alive down here. Its been hard going for the past week, but The Corporation have kept me with a good supply of food and water.
We have some new intel for Dalton and his crew. It appears that the Combine are planning something. We don’t know what it is, but with the intel we’ve gained lately, its looking to be huge. Bigger than any of us could ever imagine. Theres not much we can give Dalton without the Combine knowing, but we can definitely give him the basic lo-down on the Combines agenda before the shit hits the fan.
Theres one thing thats disturbing me though. For some reason, The Boss wants Dalton brought back to HQ. Its a weird request, even for such a high-ranking Resistance member – we’ve always worked to make sure that our true intentions are never known by the Combine. Usually I would have debriefed him myself… Something smells fishy. I don’t know what it is yet, but its not right. Once I’ve dealt with Dalton, I’ll figure it out.
-David Sangster

Even now I look back through the NightFall content and find something that I forgot we even had. This time around I came across a video of a barnacle eating a rat, a Combine-ated Big Ben, a model for a Prototype Strider, a render of a Zombine well before they existed in a Half-Life game (our own idea and concept) and a diary piece I didn’t know we wrote.

I still get chills down my spine when I hear that opening John Dalton introduction speech. I actually finish writing this post somewhat sad and disappointed that such an amazing concept never came to fruition. That poor management rather than lack of talent was the primary reason for our failure. These are all lessons that we learned, albeit the hard way.
Despite the failure, its probably something I should stand proud of. At our peak, I was 17 and formally assigned to the roles Project Lead/Producer, Creative Lead and Lead Programmer. For a team that peaked at well over 20 people spread all over the world, this was no easy task. But sometimes failure can teach you far more success, and I still have to NightFall to thank where I am today – even if ths reflection does bring a small tear to my eye. I’m hoping that the future may hold some sort of release – or at least a showcase – of more of the work that we did.

All that is left for the victor is loneliness… But maybe in loneliness, a soul can finally find solitude.

Leave a Reply