Map Labs (@MapLabsComps) held the Test Tube #11 Halloween Horror 3 Bone Room, mapping competition from October 11th-19th, 2020 with the themes of “Halloween Horror” and “One Room.”
I had not made anything with Hammer since 2016, so I went about setting up Mapbase and gave Hammer a spin. After a few days of poking at Hammer to confirm I still knew how to draw brushes, add textures, and had a vague understanding of entities and input/outputs, I started coming up with map ideas.
My initial concept for the competition was going to have the player in a large room that required the player to look at specific objects/entities to change the look of the room. Each corner of the room would have a puzzle that directed the player to stand in a specific space and look at a specific object. The areas between the corners of the room would be filled with strange objects that turned to follow the player. They would slowly make their way towards the player to give a sense of dread while trying to solve the “look at this object” puzzles.
The primary issue with this idea is that it requires me to come up with several puzzles, detail several areas, and there was no way for me to easily create an object that traveled towards the player. I found out that there was no way to travel towards the player after about a day and a half and went back to the drawing board.
During a screening of Crimson Peak, I daydreamed about other concepts and finally did a quick search for common fears and phobias. Equipped with a list of 20 phobias, I evaluated which ones would theoretically be possible in Hammer with the limited resources of the HL2/HL2:Episodes assets.
The 10 phobias I was trying to incorporate into the map:
- Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (fear of long words)
- Hemophobia (fear of blood)
- Necrophobia (fear of dead things)
- Trypophobia (fear of holes)
- Astraphobia (fear of thunder and lightning)
- Agoraphobia (fear of open spaces)
- Nyctophobia (fear of darkness)
- Claustrophobia (fear of tight/crowded spaces)
- Acrophobia (fear of heights)
- Thanatophobia (fear of death)
I planned on linking the concepts together in a large single room; guiding the player from one area/fear to the next via small text messages in the distance.
The “Fears and Phobias” map ended up spanning a total of 5 fears/phobias and was submitted to the MapLabs contest on October 18, 2020. According to Steam, it took me roughly 21 hours total, including setting up MapBase and getting my bearings in Hammer again. Some of this time is also me accidentally leaving Hammer open, so it’s likely closer to 10-12 hours spent actually working on the map. The link to play the map and the rest of the contest is/will be posted below. I recommend playing it before continuing to read, as I will be giving away everything.
The level starts with the camera zooming in on the crowbar and a brief title sequence with a vague flickering lighting. The intent is for the player to take the crowbar, but it’s technically optional. The purpose of the crowbar is for the player to feel like they will need to fight off some enemies (they won’t actually have to).
After grabbing the crowbar, the player sees: “There’s no coming back here. / It’s time to face some fears. / What are you afraid of?” which is flare text to make the player think about what scares them and also let them know that they won’t be able to pick up the crowbar again.
The player at this point will notice that the only direction to go is down; a short fall where the landing area is shrouded in darkness. The player doesn’t have a flashlight or anything at this point, so it’s a bit of a leap of faith. The words “1. Nyctophobia – Fear of Darkness” appear on the screen right before the player steps over the edge.
Once in the darkness, the player is met with two headcrabs who may or may not notice the player. This serves as a jump-scare and implies that the dark isn’t safe; the player will need the crowbar (but they won’t). The words “Come here.” display nearby.
Once the player reaches the words; they words hop to another part of the map. As the player wanders in almost complete darkness, they are met with groans from headcrab zombies and the ambient noises from Ravenholm.
After the player reaches the third “Come here.” message, the lights turn on and it’s revealed that the player is in a large warehouse and was in no danger the whole time. The player picks up an SMG and is greeted with an elevator.
When the player has gotten onto the elevator, the words “2. Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia” appear on the screen followed by a brief pause, then “A Fear of Long Words.” This is a brief joke; as the player is supposed to think the long word has something to do with elevators.
The elevator stops short of the platform it appears to be aiming for; sparks fly from the track. The words “(save recommended)” appear, because I wasn’t confident on how to set up auto-saving and the title/dark sequence is a bit long if you die a lot at the next part. As the player looks for a way to get up to the platform; they will notice a headcrab zombie torso on top of some explosive barrels. The hope is that they will try to shoot the explosive barrels.
If the player shoots at the barrels or tries to step off the elevator, they are greeted with an invisible floor. I ended up using the “fog” texture and setting it to “not rendered” to get the effect I wanted of blocking bullets but also creating brief smoke clouds.
If the player walks onto this invisible floor, the words “3. Acrophobia – Fear of Heights” appears, as the player floats high above the rest of the level. The player navigates an invisible maze, three stories in the air, by firing a gun at the invisible floor. SMG ammo is provided at regular intervals so it’s more of a patience thing rather than guessing where to go and keeping track of ammo left. The words “Watch your step.” appear in the distance at a ventilation shaft as a brief joke and to give the player a goal to aim for.
When the player reaches the ventilation shaft and steps inside, the words “4. Claustrophobia – Fear of Tight Spaces” appear on the screen, followed by “(save recommended).” There’s technically no way for the player to actually die at the next part, so the save is meant to instill a feeling that the player could make an incorrect decision.
As the player reaches the end of the shaft, they see an odd “caution” striped piece of metal on the left and two floating text messages on the right: “Option 1” and “Option 2” at branching shafts. Technically it doesn’t matter which the player chooses because the result is the same; giving the player the option is intended to imply that the player can get this “wrong” and die and have to start over.
Once the player makes a decision and starts down the shaft, the player is greeted with the words “Don’t look back now.” If they decide to turn back, they will notice the “caution” striped piece of metal has started moving towards them, following them down the shaft, which is obviously unpleasant.
If the player looks straight ahead and continues at their slow pace down the shaft, they may notice that the walls of the shaft are tapered in a way that seems like the walls are closing in. This effect may be too subtle but it caused a bunch of issues while I was making it. The effect is achieved by using player clips to constrain the player to the center of the screen and then using func_illusionary brushes that the player’s collision box can clip into. This lets me shrink the vent down to a space of about 16×16, even though the player can only fit in a space of 33×37.
As the player reaches a dead end in the shaft, the words “5. Thanatophobia – Fear of Death” appears. If they turn around, they should have at least 5 seconds or so to see the metal piece slowly approaching them to, presumably, crush them to death. When the metal piece gets close enough, a crushing sound plays and the screen goes black.
The words “The End” appear over the black screen and the player is done with the map.
Halloween Horror 3 was posted on October 30, 2020 and “Fears and Phobias” scored 19th place out of 23 entries (not including the bonus entries) with an average score of 25.667. So that means I was in the Top 20!