The Mound - A Half-Life 2 Level



  • Created in 10 weeks half-time.
  • Used the World Editor Tool Hammer for map building.
  • Chapter 4 out of a 13 Chapter campaign that the whole Level Design class was involved in.
  • The map "The Mound" was part of the Half-life 2 campaign that our class made during our Advanced Level Design Course.
  • The level before hand took place in a Combine facility and the player has just escaped the city. This is the first time the player will experience great outdoor areas.

Getting Started.

The first thing I did before designing this level was figuring out why this level had a right to exist. The class and I decided that this level that I had responsiblity for, were supposed to take place outside the city.

In the levels before, the player were on the run from the combine and had just escaped the city. So this was the first time the player got to experience the outdoors.

I was also responsible for introducing the Shotgun and Antlions. The Antlions made my decision to make a coast level with beaches and cliffs a natural choice.

To add some variation in the level I added tunnels and caves that had been made by the coast's Antlions.


Working with the Hammer Editor

As I am quite familiar with the Hammer Editor, I had for the most part a smooth experience making this level. I have previously made a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive map, which made the mapping easier.

Though level building was not without its problems. I had a little bit of trouble figuring out how I was supposed to blockout my level when most of the playable area would be made out of hills, beaches and coastal cliffs. Unfortunately I realized a little bit too late that I could have made the blockout using the terrain tool, it could have saved some time. 

Another thing I was not that happy with was optimizing the level. Due to time constraints, I had only time for some quick fixes to make it run a little bit better.

All in all, I'm quite fond of using the Hammer Editor. It's old and it really shows, but, when you dive your head into it, and get to know it, it does exactly what you tell it too.



A view of the map inside the Hammer Editor.

Map-making Timeline

The Blockout

  • About two weeks into the project.
  • I made a rough iteration of the level.
  • A problem arose:

  • I wanted a lot of terrain in my level but making organic shape using blockout tools took a long time.
  • Lesson Learned:

  • I should have used the Terrain tool even in the blockout phase. Removing and replacing all the blockout brushes with Terrain pieces took too much of my time.
  • I used this pipeline when I did my Left4Dead2 Level and it made the map-making a lot easier.




Beta Stage

  • In the middle of the project I got a good structure and shape on the level.
  • Because the Antlions was the new gameplay feature in this level,sand and rock textures was something that I had to put in as soon as possible.
  • The sand texture had special properties so I could make Antlions burrow up from the sand when it is touched by the player.

Final Build


  • After about 9 weeks the level was almost complete.


  • During this time I spent my time polishing scripted events, texture polish and optimizing the level.

Level Walkthrough

In the following sections, I will talk about the more important moments that set the pacing, setting, gameplay and story of the level.

Overview - Part 1

Overview - Part 2

First View

  • The first thing I wanted to acheive at the start of this level was getting a sense of calm.
  • The player has just escaped the Combine Facility and is given a moment to catch his/hers breath.
  • Standing on a small hill, it gives a small overlook down to the beach.
  • A small path leads the way.



Introducing the Shotgun and Antlions

  • The second thing is the introduction of the shotgun. So why not introduce the Antlions at the same time?
  • I placed some extra loot crates and a combine corpse to draw the player's attention, just in case so the player would not miss it.
  • When the shotgun is picked up, the Antlions attack in front of the player.

The Beach

  • Further along the beach, a section of "The floor is lava" keeps the player busy.
  • The beach has some rocks and debris that serve as safe-areas.
  • Stepping on the sand will attract Antlions.
  • The beach is littered with some loot crates to help the player reach the outpost.

Combine Outpost

  • The Thumper can be activated to repell nearby Antlions, it gives the player a brief moment of relief.
  • Going up the ramp, the player spots some loot crates in front of them.
  • I wanted the player to keep his/her attention on the crates, to get a nice view when the Antlions fly over the fence and attack. I wanted to keep all of these segments in the same field of view for the player.
  • Inside the house, there is more supplies and an Antlion Burrow. I tried to get storytelling and gameplay at the same time.
  • The outpost was overwhelmed when they came from below, the defense perimeter did not help at all.
  • The player can get through the combine fence by using the control panel. When the fence is down, the way is clear to go up the cliffs.

Into the Pit

  • At the top of the cliffs, the only way futher is down this Antlion-made hole.
  • I wanted the player to feel that they are tumbling down a dangerous path where there is no coming back.
  • I added webs to confuse the player and Antlion larvae that the player crushes on the way down.
  • The crushed larvae will alert the Antlions and the player must defend him/herself.
  • Once inside the pit, the only way is up the spiral path.
  • The player is constantly attacked by Antlions and their acid-spitting workers.
  • Once out of the Pit, the player must find his way through the narrow tunnels.

Cliff Outpost

  • Once out of the tunnels, the player finds himself in the basement of the Combine Cliff Outpost.
  • After all the Antlion fighting, I wanted to let the player relax for the rest of the level.
  • Once out of the basement, the first thing the player sees is some loot crates at the edge. When the player reaches the crates, a nice overlook is given. The player can see the Combine Outpost down below and the rest of the beach. I wanted the player to see where he/she was before, to get some feeling of progression.
  • The level ends inside the facility, when the player jumps down a hole, made by the Antlions.

Overall Pacing

Even though I got some of the gameplay for free by using the beach to randomly trigger Antlion ambushes, I added extra gameplay events for two reasons:

  • 1. By adding some extra triggered events where Antlions attack the player from cliffs or burrows, I felt that it made the level less stale and repetitive.

  • 2. The second reason is that the world felt more alive. You as a player are intruding on their territory and in responsive, the Antlions try to attack you in different ways.

Final Thoughts

The development of this map have been a fun and relatively trouble-free time. Making a campaign for Half-Life 2 as a class was something that was really fun to do and in the process I learned so much more about Hammer and level design in general.

Despite some time lost during the blockout phase, the map making went relatively smooth. As I was already familiar with Hammer and had played a fair amount of Half-life 2 before, I could spend more time designing the level. I felt that I came up with decent storytelling in the level by for example, placing Combine corpses in the outpost. The "Into the Pit" segment was also something I'm really proud of, going down a narrow path and then coming out into the claustrophobic tunnels felt really great and a nice change of pace in the level.

Scripting was something that I had done very little of in Half-Life 2 and the whole class helped eachother with it.  Working with others trying to figure out solutions were a lot of fun and felt so rewarding.

All in all, I am very proud of my map and it was a lot of fun making it. As a designer I feel that I have developed my skills further and my teamworking skills have grown.