IntroductionThe original Field Zone mod had a real problem in terms of ambition - it's a common mod killer. To try and fix this issue, Stroll has moved away from the rather ambitious step of messing around with replacing the Combine or figuring out hybrids and simply setting the mod in the HL2 universe. It's a total cop-out, but it's easier, quicker and makes no real difference at the end of the day.
However, new problems arise from this approach. Stroll is already setting itself apart from many HL2-universe based mods with its considerable difficulty curve and fresh new weapons and locale, but the fact of the matter is no amount of Photoshop is going to make the Combine act any different. Sure, you can sharpen them up and radically change their look with very little work, but Kate Moss is still Kate Moss even if her eyes aren't crossed in Grazia. The relationship between the Combine, Player and Citizens needs to be changed. The core dynamic of the relationships needs tweaking. As I will iterate time and time again, it's how the player interacts with a situation that changes how they feel about it, not they look of it.
How is this achieved? Why?In a bid to try and make the citizen/Combine relationship a little more complex, Stroll's small population of grizzled refugees don't attack or interfere with the Combine operations, and the Combine thus leave them alone. This forces the player to second guess their decisions; if you see a bunch of Combine soldiers and you're not violating their security or shooting at them, they'll ignore you. Not only will attacking them put you in a pretty dangerous situation - you're extremely weak without Gordon's HEV suit - it'll also annoy Stalkers that would otherwise assist you.
There's no real purpose to this besides making the gameplay a bit more thinky and less shooty. The player can't just jump into a bunch of enemies and kill them all, because they might have to then trek through a basement full of zombies with low health because the only Stalker who knew a door's combination lock has been killed. It'll also bring life to the story and generally just make everything a bit more colourful and interesting. Furthermore, as mentioned, it distances Stroll from the usual HL2 mods. If I'm stuck with the Combine, I may as well be resourceful with them.
However, I knew even without playtesting the section I a player would react immediately to what they percieved as a threat. I had to show the Combine were present and powerful, but not an immediate threat. The player needed to be taught not to engage on sight.
Christoper Livingstone gives a good example of a player lesson in his Concerned Webcomic notes;
"The rollermines are a prime example of how Valve teaches you how to play the game while you're playing the game. In the Black Mesa chapter, shortly after you get the gravity gun, there's a highly enjoyable sequence where you get to play catch with Dog, using a deactivated rollermine (though you don't know it's a rollermine at the time, it's just his ball). A few chapters later, you encounter the real, dangerous rollermines that like to attach themselves to your car and give you electric shocks. And then you realize that the catch with Dog wasn't just teaching you how to use the gravity gun, but also that you can use it against this particular enemy."
Teaching the player in these situational ways is far, far better than some of the truly horrific tutorial methods out there. From Egoraptor's gripe about explanational tutorials in the form of narration, images and text to the awful example in Dwarfs?! there are many bad ways to explain to the player what to do. I could have had a narration telling the player or a bit of writing on the wall, but they're lazy and easily missed. Instead, I simply placed a citizen in clear view of the patrol, watching it. The player does not need instructions or orders - humans are naturally observational and will learn very quickly if you just show them in the right way.
I haven't playtested this yet, but I'm reasonably confident it will work. I'll get back to you on results, and a blog post explaining the uses and advantages of situational teaching. This concludes a post covering Stroll's dynamic relationship between the enemy, player and NPcs and how the player is taught about this relationship.