One of the 'goals' we set ourselves with Take On Helicopters was to find ways of better engaging the player. It's quite a broad goal, and it can be approached in a number of ways. Some of these, we've discussed in the past - like new animation work or gathering new source audio; others, like the Career Mode, provide a great structured way of presenting helicopters and drawing in the player. However, as with our Tutorials or Challenges, it would appear to be an ultimately finite experience - at some point you'll 'finish'. Not so: that's where the Editor really comes into its own.
The Editor is a powerful system - an important pillar of the community content-creation toolset. It enables players to build anything from simple to really quite complex gameplay, resulting in countless publicly-released custom scenarios, campaigns and game-modes. It's a system that's been developed and augmented over ten years. It presents a range of useful tools and, of course, all the problems associated with integrating new features, while trying to retain a manageable UI. Suffice to say, we felt it deserved a little bit of attention.
Below, technical design lead, Karel Mořický, presents some of the changes to the editor and discusses a few of the associated improvements that we've sought to achieve, with the goal of facilitating the player-editor in mind. Following that, new Bohemia Designer, Thomas Ryan - well known for his community missions like Operation Cobalt - talks a little about what drew him into making missions, and presents a sample mission, which we've documented in a video and textual guide
Taking On The Editor
Take On Helicopters - while technically based on the 3rd generation of the Real Virtuality (RV) engine - started as a completely 'blank slate'. Instead of just copying all previous Arma 2 data and simply adding helicopters, we tried to hand-pick only that which was important - getting rid of more obsolete stuff - which also helped us to better understand the engine. The thing is, this is the first major RV-engine project upon which none of the original Arma: Cold War Assault creators worked directly (although some kindly provided support or raw data). So this data 'purge' helped us to start anew and use features because we wanted to, not because they were just 'there'.
The Mission Editor, one of the most important features, has stayed without any change for pretty much 10 years. If you're using the tool on a day-to-day basis, you eventually start asking if it could be streamlined a bit. You know, small details like key shortcuts or image previews, things that should be there by default. Even when it's in-game, it's a tool, and it should look like tool. Gone is the sidebar with text-based buttons, replaced them by something what is common to every PC tool people use - icons. It saves a lot of space, as buttons were required to be a bit wider to be compatible with languages like German, which use quite long words.
Apart from improving the basic layout, we also introduced some new features. The most prominent would be the debug console, which enables community designers to track values on the run, something which was previously achieved only by complicated data tracking mechanics or by installing third party debug solutions, some of which were too complicated for new creators. Among other additions are in-game config viewer (which enables you to explore all objects, faces, animations,... basically every content in game) or the simple user interface editor, which was also used to rebuild all the game's menus. The Mantra here is to offer community designers the same tools we're using internally.
It's one thing to design a mission, but presenting it to players is also important. That's why we focused on rethinking how overviews and loading screens should look. Again, common practice here was to work with a Photo-editing tool template, which supplied all the fancy effects like frame, shadow or centering. Problem is, community creators don't have access to such templates and if they would, many of them wouldn't know how to use them. So menus like mission or campaign selections were redesigned to look cool even if you use simple screenshot and crop it to correct size (which can be done in MS Paint). The user interface will make sure it looks consistent and handle the rest. The same goes for loading screens and loading text. Another addition to overviews many people might appreciate is author field. It allows you to clearly sign your content, letting everybody know you're the one behind this awesome mission or world.
At the risk of being trolled, I'm not afraid to say that many of these changes were heavily influenced by recent Playstation 3 games such is inFAMOUS 2 or Little Big Planet 2, both of them featuring well structured and easy to use in-game editors. Consoles don't allow you to edit outside of the game itself - you have no folder management, no external tools, no Google search. If the in-game editor won't let you to do something, nothing will. This is ideal for newcomers, as they can learn to use the editor very easily and produce some playable content in matter of hours (like me). However, if you're really into the editing, you may eventually find this solution limiting, and that's where strength of the PC comes in - the ability to think and work outside the box, forming not the content, but the game itself. Our ultimate goal is to provide the best of both approaches, easing access to newcomers while remaining open for experienced modders.
Taking On Editing
Before I joined BIS, I was a member of our community, as well as a Staff Member at OFPEC - The Editing Center for quite some time, helping vets and newbies alike with editing-related issues, almost all of which were focused around our Mission Editor in one way or another. I had been using the Mission Editor for quite some time myself. In fact, I kept myself busy playing OFP all the way up to 2004 just by using the Mission Editor, before discovering the community website OFP.info, and then the rest of our the community.
Eventually, I decided to dedicate myself to creating a story-based single player campaign with good gameplay for ARMA 2, which was released as Operation Cobalt. It was the biggest mission editing task I had ever undertaken up to that point and, thankfully, it paid off. Before it, I had only publicly released one single player scenario, entitled Loose Ends, which was a demo mission for Rellikki's Chernarussian Red Army troops addon, but prior to the release of my second campaign, Blood On The Sand, I released For Queen and Country. The praise these received and continue to receive still amazes me today, and none of my released work would have been created without the Mission Editor and scripting languages available in our games.
The transition between working on my own and working for BIS saw many things stay the same, but some things were inevitably going to be different as well. I still make missions using the same Mission Editor and the same scripting languages that our games have always included, but the addition of developer tools and consultation from my colleagues has enabled me to do even more than I was previously capable of. And now, with the newly-redesigned Mission Editor included in TKOH, complete with a Config Viewer and Function Viewer, along with a proper Debug Console, it's easier than ever before for you to create your own experiences in our games and, hopefully, this guide will help to get you started.
To this end, we have put together a simple example mission made using TKOH's Mission Editor, the make-up of which starts off fairly basic, but then gently progresses to the more complex aspects of mission editing. These include working with scripts, creating working briefings, and getting used to TKOH's improved Function systems which are designed to make your mission editing endeavors just that little bit easier.