For those of you that don't know me, I made the official maps for the highly-acclaimed Zombie Master mod for HL2. After something of a hiatus, partially caused by not ever wanting to use the Source SDK again, I offered my services to the team currently working on updating Zombie Master. So now I'm remaking my original maps - a relatively simple task, or so I thought.
I've been using Worldcraft/Hammer since 1996, and the Source SDK since its first release, and you know what? It's got steadily worse in that time. Sure, there's been improvements to individual tools - Hammer, most notably, has a lot of new features. Of course, it also has a lot more bugs. Hammer, however, is not the worst culprit. The SDK launcher is. It's not an application to be taken lightly, as innocent as it looks. Underneath that old Steam veneer (why doesn't it use your selected Steam skin, Valve?) lurks a black heart, full of venom and malice, biding its time before unleashing a wave of destruction guaranteed to infuriate even the most gentle of souls. Exaggeration? Hardly.
I understand the need for the launcher, if not the underlying philosophy. The launcher exists to let you switch between the different game or mod configurations. It's a necessity - Zombie Master uses HL2's textures and models by default, along with its own. If you were making a map for CS:S, you'd need a different configuration. So that makes sense. What I can't fathom, however, is why we have three different SDK versions to choose from. Are people making new mods based on the 2006 version of Source? Maybe I'm missing something here.
Anyway, the launcher. It has a nasty habit of periodically resetting your game configurations. No explanation given, and no indication that it's ever going to be fixed. Those in the know make sure that the text file containing the game configurations is backed up and also set as read-only, just to prevent the launcher from eating it.
Now on to Hammer. As previously mentioned, I've been using it for years. I can more or less use it blindfolded (although I wouldn't recommend trying it.) but again, it has some major issues. Just yesterday, for reasons currently unknown, it stopped working with my Zombie Master configuration. For some reason (and I suspect a collusion with the SDK launcher) it wouldn't load files required for the editor to work. Nothing I tried would fix it. I reset the game configurations (and how telling it is that Valve saw fit to include that button in the launcher.) I created configurations from scratch. I completely deleted all traces of the SDK and re-downloaded it. Nothing. It's still broken even now.
Fortunately, I was able to find some information about how to move your game configuration to the 2007 SDK (what was known as the Orange Box) - it involves a degree of copying, pasting and editing game configurations to get it to work, but work it does. It's even a better version of Hammer, with a few extra features.
Except for two small issues.
First of all, I like to use batch files to compile my maps. A combination of Valve's insistence on using command-line tools, and their refusal to put the Hammer compile window into it's own process mean that Hammer becomes unresponsive until the compile has finished. Personally, I like to check on the progress while it's in progress. So batch files it is. Or rather, isn't - for some reason, the 2007 SDK won't let me do it. All I get is screens full of errors about missing materials. By the looks of it, it's not looking somewhere it should be, and I can't for the life of me work out why. It's most likely something glaringly obvious that I've overlooked, but I shouldn't be in this position anyway. It's quite ludicrous.
The bizarre thing about this particular incident is that the maps it fails to open work perfectly well in the 2006 SDK version of Hammer. I even managed to open them in the 2009 Hammer. It's just the 2007 version that dies. Even more bizarrely, the only maps that seem to cause this are the 4 completed maps from Zombie Master. Bear in mind that these are the raw, uncompiled versions of those maps. There is nothing to differentiate them from any other, unfinished, map.
So now, unless I can find out why this is happening, I'm left with having to deal with a bunch of workarounds just so I can work. (For reference, I'm remaking the maps from scratch, but I need the originals for reference, and for the occasional bit of incipient copy and paste action.)
A brief note on the 2009 SDK version of Hammer, while I'm on the subject. It adds a few new great features, like Instancing (about time) but the new feature where, after a few minutes of usage, each of the viewport windows goes black is somewhat less desirable. As is the feature where the keyboard shortcuts that I am so used to, randomly stop working.
But, Valve, you have had years to get this fixed. It's shoddy.
In a conversation I once had with Mike Durand at Valve (coincidentally after I'd written a long rant about the then-state of their SDK. See a pattern?) he said that they were too busy making cool games to work on the tools, and I considered that to be a fair point at the time. Now, though, it seems like something of a cop-out. When Valve provide the engine and games that the majority of popular mods are based on, and that this is seemingly a point of pride for them, then they should put more effort into making those tools work. It's not like they don't have the resources.