Monday, 23 February 2009

Making a Scene

Hello Headcrabbers. Here's a scene from today's comic - a very nice one, in which Magnusson is riding Mr. Nibbles the T-Rex. Around them a few Metro Cops are returning fire while Mr. Nibbles disintegrates a cop in the foreground with his eye-beams. A picture really does tell a thousand words, no?

Well, I thought it might be interesting to go through how I made that scene on the off-chance that anybody had wondered.

First thing to note, is that this scene would not be possible with G-Mod as it comes 'out of the box'. I've got all kinds of extra ragdolls, tools, maps etc. nearly all of which come from (and all of which I really need to properly credit on the website!)

In this scene, the most obvious extras are the T-Rex and the laser beams. I prefer to do all the special effects 'inside' G-Mod if I can, so they're not painted on - they're real lasers in the game! Well, kind of real. You know what I mean. :)

So first off, G-Mod was started and the station level loaded. NPC's AI is switched off to prevent City Scanners flashing in my face the whole time and the T-Rex is spawned at the scene. We get him in position first - ragdolls are always a bit fiddly, but the T-Rex is a particular bugger, due to his size and his rough-and-ready collision box. A collision box is an invisible area around HL2's models made of relatively simple shapes - for example, there would be no point in having a collision box for the saucepan the exact shape of the saucepan. It would be a big drain on processing speed with little point, so although the saucepan is round and hollow, its collision box is just a basic cylinder with a rectangle where the handle goes. It's the collision box, not the model that reacts with the physics engine and the environment and this also explains why ragdolls won't 'touch' props and why you can't put anything inside the saucepan - if you try stuff just sits on top. You can put things inside the plastic crates, because their collision boxes were deliberately made that way - because they're just simple cubes anyway it's isn't too much of a drain. Having some idea of how that kind of thing works helps a lot when putting together G-Mod scenes like this one.

This comes in handy right away, because as I said the T-Rex's collision shape is rough and Magnusson won't sit on the beast's back - he just sort of hovers almost a foot above it! This is simple to get around - we use the 'No-collide' tool on the T-Rex, but not yet! First we position Magnusson in a seated position, then use the 'Statue' tool to freeze him, then we can 'No-collide' the T-Rex and sit the Magnusson statue on it neatly, fixing him with the physgun. The reason for doing it this way, is that if the T-Rex has no collide switched on and you try to sit a ragdoll above it, the ragdolls legs dangle inside the T-Rex, and it's almost impossible to get those legs out of there and position them properly!

The next thing is to spawn a saucepan and a warning sign, then use the 'colour' tool on them and dye them a pre-saved colour I made called 'Magnusson's Royal Yellow. A couple of blasts with the 'No-Collide' tool again, and the pot goes on his head and the sign in his hand.

Just for jobes, I spawn a Metrocop ragdoll and just dump him behind the dinosaur, so he looks like a previous victim.

The Lasers are a special mod I downloaded - one of my favourites. In-Game, they make the ultimate death weapon - turning Striders into dust with the merest touch! I spawn a couple of them, firing out of tin-cans and fix them somewhere near the monster's eyes.

Getting the lasers to look right is the hardest part - they can't be inside the T-Rex collision box. If they are, they don't fire out as they are hitting the T-Rex before they get anywhere. The best way I've found to deal with that is to spawn a camera which is going to take the final picture and watch through that as I tweak and fiddle and finally get the beams looking right. We don't want to see the tin-cans firing the beams because it's supposed to be coming out of the dinosaur's eyes, so I use a special mod tool called 'Cloaking' to turn them invisible. It finally looks cool - the only clanger is where the beam comes out of the invisible can it looks kind of abruptly cut off. That's where I'll make one concession for the scene and fix that post-snapshot with some photo editing software. Lastly, I use the 'Paint' tool to paint a cross on the pavement under where the beams go and switch the lasers off.

Next problem is I want a bunch of Metrocops firing at the T-Rex, but doing them all by hand would be incredibly long and tedious and besides, I want them to actually be firing their pistols and SMGs. The solution is to spawn something else they'll fire at and hover it over the T-Rex just out of shot, getting the Metrocops to fire at it so it looks like they're attacking the T-Rex.

This would all kind of fall down at this point with unadulterated G-Mod, as the only thing they would fire at would be heroic NPC's. If this was a human, they'd kill it so fast I'd have no time to take the picture, and besides the blood spatters would give the game away. I could use Dog, but he's a bit big and I'm not sure they'd even fire at him as everything Dog does in the game is pre-scripted.

Once again we're saved by a downloaded tool, this time one that allows you to set NPC's relations to one another. I spawn a roller-mine, which is perfect as they are small and bullet-proof! This is fixed just above Magnusson's head with the physgun, and all the Metrocops are set to 'hate' it! They all immediately open fire on it in a most satisfying way and it hovers there taking no damage at all, allowing me all the time I want to get the shot right. I turn NPC AI off for now, as the noise is pretty irksome, all those guys blazing away at once!

Around the area I spawn a few crates and barrels with dynamite stuck to them, all of which is keyed to detonate instantly on the same keypress as fires the T-Rex's lasers.

I also fancy some of the windows on the hotel being on fire, but you can't ignite an area with the ignite tool - you have to ignite a prop. I spawn some shards of wood, use the physgun to stick them against the windows, ignite them (turning the lifespan of the fire up to 10,000 so I have bags of time to get things right for the snapshot) and make the shards invisible with the Cloaking tool. This works perfectly - it now looks exactly as if fire is spouting from the windows! I like the effect, but in the end I take it down because after all, the battle has only just begun - the windows wouldn't be on fire yet! I'll save this effect for the next strip.

Finally, the poor sap who is to be disintegrated. I spawn a Metrocop on the cross on the ground I painted earlier, but don't bother to get him to 'hate' the roller-mine like his friends - I just want him to stand there and await his fate.

At last! Screenshot time. First, save the game one last time as I've been doing constantly all the way through. It's really annoying to accidently press 'Z' and erase a ragdoll you just had positioned perfectly!

NPC AI back on - immediately the Metrocops spot the roller-mine and start blasting it with their guns. Camera ready, I start hammering away taking reams of pictures and hit the keypad button. All at once, the lasers fire, the metrocop is disintegrated, the dynamite blows, it's all over in a split-second and I have about 8 pictures of it . All that's left to do is pick the best one and edit the whole thing together. I'll go into how I do that next blog. :)

So as you can see - one picture can mean a lot of work, but problem-solving the various obstacles is a lot of fun.

When all the shots for a strip are finished I like to do one last thing to celebrate. Breen is blathering away on the big view-screen, trying to convince us it's cool that the Combine made sex totally pointless, so I turn no-clip on and fly over to the tiny room where the half-a-Breen is doing the Breencast. In there, I leave him a party-favour - a 500lb bomb attached to some timed dynamite.

Flying back to the town square, I watch on the screen as Breen happily chats away, then press the keypad button. A distant yet heavy BOOOM, the screen whites out and when it clears Breen is nowhere to be seen...

Now that's entertainment!


Friday, 20 February 2009


Greetings Headcrab Fans, and welcome to the Life with Lamarr Blog - 'the webcomic that makes awesome look tame'.

I thought I'd keep the blog kind of separate from the comic - reason being, there seem to be many webcomics which present you with a 3-panel strip and then the author follows it with a 4,000 word treatise on how their entire life is going, with some defiant apologies for why they haven't bothered to update for the last couple of months.

Like we care! We just want the comic!

However, just in case people with more room in their heart than I have do care, if you want to read a webcomic's blog then here it is.

'Life with Lamarr' is still an infant comic, but assisted with some carefully-placed ads via 'Project Wonderful' we seem to be doing OK. 'The Spoony Experiment' seems to have been an especially rich source of visitors - social networking sites are a complete waste of time. So we live and learn!

One question that you may or may not wonder - as we are now at a point where Magnusson is poised to ride a T-rex with death-ray eyes over City Seventeen and Lamarr was just involved in a swordfight with another headcrab - is, do I make all this junk up as I go along or is there a grand plan?

Surprisingly, there is - I don't work a script out to the n'th degree because then I get bored when it comes to making the poses and dialogue, but I do have a sketched outline which means I know where the story is going. The ultimate fate of all the characters in this particular tale are already decided and the grand conclusion of this chapter should occur in 6 strips or so!

As to the website, one omission that I will correct is a page detailing credit for all the people who have made various mods that have made the stories possible, i.e. the T-Rex model, the swords, special G-Mod tools etc. Generally they don't even ask for credit, but they deserve it nonetheless. If anyone out there has their own ideas about what's missing from the site, do let me know - via the message board, or mail me at

With that thought in mind - onwards!