Another attempt at a more realistic map, gm_church takes a break from the trippy map fame and offers something more subdued and atmospheric. Similar to gm_school, it is based on a real life location. However for gm_church, I took the interpretation much more seriously. This warranted taking a complete set of reference pictures of the location to help guide me during development—something I had never done for a map before. Of course there is still a fair amount of creative liberty at play here. I embellished the degraded state of the building and added a surrounding forest and mountains, complete with underground caves and a spooky attic. This marks my first attempt at a proper exterior environment, something I would greatly improve upon in future maps.
A few of the original reference pictures used for gm_church.
Much of the atmosphere of the map is heavily influenced by Boards of Canada, a band I was quite invested in at the time. You can observe my not-so-subtle references in the form of obscured album art hung in picture frames around the map. Don't be fooled by the initial blatancy though, as the influence runs much deeper than just some pictures on the wall. In fact, I've established quite a bit of a backstory for this map as emphasized by the huge underground facility beneath the church building. I won't go into much detail since I am not a very good writer, but it involves a newly established cult that worships Gabe Newell (yes, it's an inside joke) and a malevolent corporation named "Ferox Industries" performing some ethnically questionable experiments on them. If you're still curious, just play Outlast 2, as I took a lot of inspiration from its rather horrific story.
Many of the textures you can see are also photosourced directly from the real life counterpart (I added normal and detail maps as needed). I did my best at the time with my old iPod camera—trying to ensure uniform lighting conditions and proper angles wherever I could—though unfortunately the quality of the textures still suffers a bit in spots. However, given the rather aged appearance of the Source Engine, I think they blend in pretty well. In addition to the textures, I also created a handful of custom models from scratch for this map, which was another first for me. Most of them are based on items I found in the real location, including offering plates, golden planters, ceramic flower pots, posters, and a brochure rack. I made a few other special assets for the map (including the logo and related material for the aforementioned malevolent company), though the vast majority of assets come from Valve's various Source Engine games.
A selection of textures that were used throughout the map, including the fictitious "Ferox Industries" logo and related material.
Unfortunately due to my unfamiliarity with large exterior spaces at the time and lack of planning ahead, the map is not very well optimized. Even on powerful computers, you will see framerate drops if you're outside. Funnily enough, the boarded up windows were my attempt at fixing the issue by trying to cut down on visibility into the interior (it didn't work very well). Overall there is just too much being drawn from both the interior and exterior areas all at once and the map's performance suffers because of it. It was definitely a learning experience and something I've learned to control in future projects.
Ultimately I would end up improving upon almost every aspect of this map in some way through future projects, though I think gm_church still stands on its own due to its rich atmosphere and intriguing backstory. It also shows that I was continuing to gain confidence in my level design as I began to incorporate more details and even venture into creating custom assets to suit my own needs and give the map what it deserves.