Monday, July 26, 2021

My Favorite GMod Map

It took me a while to find it again. I certainly didn't remember the name after all these years, but eventually I did find it.

The map is called Castlehill_b3. I don't know if it was still b3 when I first downloaded it, or if it was an earlier version(?) but the map seems so old and unpolished I feel like it probably is. Apparently, it's a medieval RP map, but I'm pretty sure I never played medieval RP. However I did find this map a long time ago while playing Gmod, so I must have popped into a random multiplayer server with it to download it.

Looking at it from here, it's very small and primitive. Indicative of early and amateur source mapping. Very little skybox work, so it appears like a flat plane floating in space. When you're actually on the ground floor of the map though, it doesn't seem so bad. Maybe it's like a tiny patch of land in a landlocked kingdom; a tiny fort that's a days ride from another town. The perfect low level starting adventure location.

It has a bunch of landmarks. First is a town with a lake and farm, a large castle with a moat in the center, a holy church/abby/tomb up in the "mountains", and an abandoned shack or building in a "forest" area, which you can barely see in the far corner of the second image.

The lake contains a little something- a treasure chest secreted in a bunch of rocks. I always imagined this like a secret cache for rebels or smugglers, but it could just as easily be some pirate treasure. Interestingly the lid of this treasure chest makes a door opening/unlocking sound when you use the Use key on it- but it doesn't open. I've tried from every direction of the chest, inside the chest looking up with noclip, or even pushing the treasure chest out of the lake but nothing will open it normally. You can use the physics gun to forcibly remove the lid from the chest, but as far as naturally opening the chest I don't think it ever worked. I've known what is in this chest for years, but never knew if it could be opened.

Next up, we have the town itself. I love this town. It's really small but can appear bigger just be being down in it. I love the little signs above the shops; generic painted symbols to represent businesses. It's an almost slap in the face of our modern corporate culture- an abstracted consumer-focused view of what you can get here, instead of what this place offers you. Though in a sense, we're almost regressing to it with the "minimalism" trend. The town also has a windmill that constantly spins (even if you physgun it out of the tower it is in) and a waterwheel that constantly spins AND makes a lot of noise (thankfully you can turn it off by switching the lever). The inside of the buildings is also, in my mind, a bit more "realistic" if due to the tiny rooms and chambers just above or below each business- small dark living spaces for the people who work there. It's minimal, but appreciated.

The inside of the tavern is something I want to touch on for a second. The chandelier. It is connected with the ceiling with a rope tool, colored as a black wire. Strangely, it seems default set to be touching the ground with how long it is, there is too much slack. It spawns into the map that way, I didn't touch anything to make it fall. I assume this is because of the maps age; one of any source and gmod updates could have broken it over a decade ago. I actually don't remember if it was always like this; because the last time I loaded up this map it was already super old so I can't say for certain.

The streets lead to the back where there is an armory and a church- I also love that the church has an absurdly small graveyard and a ladder to reach the roof. There's no way inside the belltower without noclip, and even if you did- no bell. There is also a large tower in this town; which doesn't have any official or implied usage. The inside is filled with storage containers- so I guess it's some kind of storage unit? There is a large window in the top floor with one of those crane hoist window bar things over the window. While I'm sure the map maker didn't put that much effort into the design, it would help to have a pully on the top floor so things could be hoisted up there.

The inside of the smithy is tiny; a small hallway leading to the best approximation of a forge one can make with early source mapping skills. I like the modern mechanic's tools to represent a medieval smiths tools on the table there; and the tiny anvil. The inside of the church is also very small, but nice. There is a sharp 90 degree turn into the main hall of the church, with a pulpit and only enough room for a tiny congregation, but hey I buy it for a town with like ~8 houses. The "windows" along the sides of the church in the image above are actually just holes; no windows are there and the back window can't be broken.

Short ways from the town is a tiny farm. Once again- the squares of wood on this building look like pure black voids of space because of source updates no doubt breaking the map and the lighting. I don't think it always looked like this; you can use a flashlight up close to see the normal wood. There's really nothing to not for the farm itself; it's a barn with no living space, just a patch of dirt outside where people no doubt place watermelons to grow. It is Gmod after all.

Next up is the castle itself. The Castle is the center of the map and probably it's coolest, most intricate part. The castle has a moat and a bridge that leads up to its drawbridge. Both the drawbridge and the portcullis can be drawn up using two levers in the guardhouse, which is both functional and cool. The inside of the castle also has a courtyard and a few buildings within it; which in my opinion is a great castle design and feels more realistic then the more compact "one building" castles you see in some fantasy media. The various buildings have mostly empty rooms, as well as a small office / "throne room" for what we can assume the lord of the place would be like, though obviously using the modernized Half Life 2 assets.

This map has a soundscape, as with most Gmod maps. This one strangely has a swamp-like soundscape for when you're inside the castle; you can hear the croaking of frogs and wet swamp noises- possibly for the moat, but it seems strange and off putting. It's nothing in particular to speak about, but I think the idea of having a castle surrounded by nature sounds like that is kind of unique.

I distinctly remember using this castle and the bridge as a battleground for humans versus zombies in the past; large NPC wars were always a staple of oldschool Gmod fun. Unfortunately the NPC AI isn't very good; unless you leave the castle gates open and drawbridge down, there's no way for them to even try to get into the castle.

However there is a secret way inside the castle. The well in the center of the keep can actually be entered from the moat using a secret passage. There is an invisible ladder down the well (meant to represent climbing) to reach the inside of the keep from the outside. I should also mention that there's normally no light down in the well, I added the light you can vaguely see in the image so you can see how deep it is. I love secret passages like this in maps.

Next up is the dungeon, or oubliette. I like the design of this; it has an upwards grating and hole people can fall or be pushed into, with a small dungeon door that can only be opened by a lever too far for the person in the cell to reach. I also like that the map designer gave enough space so that falling into the dungeon from the hole causes a small amount of fall damage- Gmod's default fall damage isn't the same as half life's or TTT's, so I don't know if it's more or less, but it seems like it wouldn't be a lethal amount, which is perfect for the type of dungeon this is.

To me, this also has a sort of environmental storytelling to it. I remember imagining this castle keeping a prisoner, perhaps a rebel, inside the dungeon. Their friends can't risk an escape attempt, but can at least sneak in through the well and send them food or a hidden weapon from that grating above.

Next up is the largest tower of the castle. This one is furnished; the other towers are mostly empty or built along the walls, not even really worth showing. This one however looks like a royal bedchamber; I like to imagine a princess lives here. You can also see a chair placed before a strange floating piece of material; this time I don't think it was a glitch, but the map maker's own creation. It's meant to be a mirror, almost certainly, but since the source engine doesn't support mirrors it's just a blank slate of material with no makeup desk. I want to give a lot of credit to the map maker here for at least TRYING to put something like that in, instead of just ignoring it completely.

But that's it for the castle. Next up- the "forest" in the corner of the map.

I never was quite sure what this forest should be. When you spawn into the map, you appear in the middle of the town, the map's most developed section- thematically speaking spawning into the forest might make sense as if you are a traveller coming to the Kingdom. But that wouldn't fit what's in the forest; at the center is a small, run down building. The various holes and ruin of the building doesn't fit anything else in the map, meaning it's a unqiue entity. 

For me, it certainly seems like a "horror" focused part of the map. The building itself is also a mystery; it doesn't really look like a sawmill and is too big to be like a hunter's cabin, and with the barrels inside it seems to me that it's meant to be some kind of dilapidated inn or travel house. I don't think the intention of this building was very clear; but it is nice to have a thematic change of pace from the rest of the map at least.

Finally; we come to the ancient church. I don't know exactly what this is really; I see it a bit like a temple or monastery, but it's a bit of a mausoleum. It's also the highest elevation of the whole map; giving the impression of being the real "castle hill" on this castlehill map. From ground level, it's also the only part of the map that really tries to feel like an actual place; lazily placing a few big stones to give the impression of a mountainous region.

When you open the two double doors of the temple (or noclip into it) it begins to play a great atmospheric music track. I actually don't know what track this is; but it sounds very professional and very HL2-ish, so I assume it's one of the atmospheric tracks from the game, but I don't recognize any of them in particular. This music track also keeps playing for as long as you continue the level, almost as though you discovered the map's biggest secret.

And I'll give you a bit of a spoiler; this temple does have a secret. It's in the main hall. I'm also quite a fan of that generic spotlight effect, not visible from outside of the temple, that comes in through the hole at the top. When you find the secret switch, the statue moves aside.

It opens up a ladder to a secret area. Now remember, this is Half Life 2's source engine, so this isn't real time lighting. I do like how the map creator baked this lighting detail at the bottom of the stairs though; makes the area within seem all the more darker.

The ladder leads to this; an extremely dark chamber with a seemingly bottomless hole. The sides of this area seem to have pathways or stairs, broken and fallen apart, with a main bridge over the dark chasm leading towards a secret tomb. This place is insanely dark normally; both images were taken after placing spotlights and light tools to make them visible. Even so, it's incredibly atmospheric and creepy; especially with that music from above.

Across the short bridge is a secret tomb. The tomb is small, with two torches that cannot be lit, however disappointing that is. And finally, within the secret tomb, is a skull and some old bones. I like to imagine this being the bones of some kind of saint or great ruler. Still, after ALL that buildup, I was hoping for something greater. Of course- that's the inherent problems with a map like this- it has certain limitations. Perhaps in a perfect world the creator may have had another idea for the bottom of this tomb; an ancient vampire monster being spawned? Maybe a magic sword? Or were just some old bones in a dark place filled with mystery supposed to be all that was here?

With this shot; you can see how small this secret area really is. The hole is actually pretty deep- but just ends at the bottom in a generic stone floor; no secrets or cool stuff down there. It's basic, sure, but it really spoke to the imagination of my younger self.

Here comes the personal story; I used to make my own screenshots. I would open up Gmod, pose ragdolls (usually TF2 characters) in cool or action themes, take a screenshot and use that as my computer desktop years ago. For this map and bridge in particular; I made a picture of a few TF2 characters crossing this bridge, fighting off a hoard of crispies. The crispies were the ragdoll of a charred, burnt up corpse sometimes used in jumpscare videos from HL2- they were the scariest looking ragdolls. I had them crawling up the sides of the bridge, charging in from both sides, with the TF2 characters running towards the ladder. One character was being dragged to the ground while the others ran on, helpless to do anything about it.

Now this is the part where I'd tell you I still had that screenshot, and post it- but I don't. That was well over ten years and four computers ago. I don't have anything to show for this effort- except for the memories of this map. But I can tell you something; that screenshot, and this bridge area in particular, they gave me the direct inspiration for the Anemics random encounter and the original picture of the Dead Underground City Encounters post on this blog. This gmod map is an origin of just one idea; but something that sparked my inspiration in the very least.

I like that Steam saved my spray

Anyway; this blogpost was really masturbatory. Moreso then usual. This wasn't really building to anything; moreso just a project of pure nostalgia and a little story about inspiration. It was fun to go back to take pictures of everything; this one was just for me. If you find something useful or entertaining in it, then I'm happy for you.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this post, source maps definitely have a certain ambience about them (especially when you play them alone). Clearly a lot of thought has been put into the castle and the church secret and such, someone put a lot of time and effort into it. Not enough to, you know, make the skybox work but it’s still an interesting map.