Focal Point is another level that found its way to Quake Live through the Quake III Arena NoGhost Mapping Competitions, along with Justin Ingels' level Devilish. Several other authors whose work features in the Quake Live premium packs entered the competitions, including Tom Perryman, (Battleforged) and Pawel Chrapka (Dreadful Place).
The map is set across three floors in an abandoned base, with open ceilings and occasional windows looking out onto bright, otherworldy skies, with a Quad/Haste (or megahealth depending on your gametype) appearing at the cylinder that forms the centrepiece of the arena. The map is well stocked with a slight leaning towards explosives and lots of armour, so expect many rocket battles when fighting here.
The design uses cel-shading animation style techniques in a manner similar to maps like Lichtwärts for Quake III, Strafe Training for Quake Live, or the White Room for Quake I, but unlike Lichtwärts or Strafe Training, the level is not floating in space, (or on canvas, if you prefer) but is intended to be an alien base involved in terraforming research, as extracts from Simon's design notes describe:
“The map was started as an experiment to see if I could link portal sky geometry to the playing area. The early concept stuff turned out pretty good, so I thought it would make an interesting art style for a small level. The current map is small to medium in size with all weapons except BFG and RG. The level art theme is an alien installation which is trying to create a stable new cloud layer above the planet surface with the aid of a huge laser beam pointing upwards!”
“The first experimental map featured one cylinder model on the ground and a second one in the portal sky. The models required various amounts of tweaking with scale and placement but eventually they locked together and the illusion was complete.
With the aid of additional textures and various degrees of alpha transparency, the edges of each cylinder were blended together. On the ground additional cylinders were setup to make the light effect brighter and more detailed next to the player.
The rest of the sky portal was made up of several cloud layers stacked on top of each other and then setup to rotate slowly around the centre of the beam like a vortex. Each cloud layer was fine tuned with additional fade and glow effects to create more depth.
The beam was made up of several particle like textures that flowed up both cylinders and then alpha faded into the clouds. Eventually a pulse effect was added that had to be painstakingly synchronized across both cylinders with unique shaders.
Powerful items and weapons often have their actual locations marked so that everyone knows where they will appear in a level. The style of the floor markings can range from an obvious light fixture cut into the ground, to a simple set of scratches or a burn mark.
“The map is made from simple textures with no detail and just hard black lines. The detail comes from the architectural shapes, the concave walls braced by chunky support pillars, the inverted fat columns and the high wall guardians with glowing lights for eyes and long curved noses.
All these structures are saturated with a mixture of pastel yellow and intense blue lighting which creates a vivid alien landscape punctured by various sky windows of strong bleached white light.”
Although the texturing used here is simplistic by design, the lighting used is excellent, and offsets what would otherwise have become a bland theme in the lower levels, allowing newcomers to differentiate between the different areas easily as they get to grips with the layout.
The amount of attention given to aesthetics crosses over to gameplay as well, it's obvious that Simon has gone to great lengths to expand upon the traditional markers used in Q3A / Quake Live levels, adding item location ‘cogs’ and particle stream jump pads, attempting to set new conventions that are both visually appealing as well as functional. Unfortunately, the level suffers (at the time of writing) from similar glitches to those found in Silent Night, Quake Live's Christmas arena, as detailed in this forum thread and on youtube here.
The cogs used to denote item placement are somewhat reminiscent of the ones found throughout the levels in the Quake III HeadHunters modification, which in terms of level design is one of the highest quality mods available, but has never been quite as popular as mods like CPM, Threewave CTF and Rocket Arena.
Design bugs aside, Focal Point is one of the highlights of the Quake Live Premium Pack, offering great gameplay for small team deathmatch/clan arena games as well as duels and free for alls. Hopefully in later versions the remaining gameplay glitches will be ironed out.
There are no secrets in this level.