7Smoke Tennis 2018: Blue Edition - Behind the Scenes
By Mauritsio

With the 7Smoke Tennis 2018 Blue Release Event now behind us, we're having a look back on the development process of the mappack. What happened behind the curtains during all those months? Enjoy this very long read detailing the creation from start to finish!

2018. Remember when we called it 2017? It has been a journey of almost one and a half years - but now we're at this point. And what a journey it was, too! We saw many impedements and delays during these periods, we saw some members leave and some join in as backup... and we got to see the campaign go from a single level to a fully-fledged one ten times that size with more qualities than we thought we needed.

After gathering our 22 total Tennisers, on July 5th 2017 the Listâ„¢ was randomized and the participants were spread evenly among the Red and Blue teams. This was the original list of Blue's participants:
Biomechanoid, Adamasterr, Captain Russia, Pan, StealthToast, kodatarule, Opticus, Rabbit.ecl, Devostator, Harbinger, bench
Of course, the highlight would have been bench taking on the mantle of last mapper. Seeing bench turn out to be mapper #11 live in the Tennis chat was an extremely hyped moment!

Biomech had trouble coming up with an idea for a story that the other Tennisers would need to work with at first, but in just a few days he had set himself on a fantasy-horror theme, the first of which we saw in a WIP enemy showcase video just four days after the creation of the list. In the coming days, Bio consistently posted many progress pictures. He also prototyped the campaign's unique player model around this time.

On July 18th 2017, Noam and I arranged for a very special motivational video for our Tennis participants. We asked none other than Big Man Tyrone to relay a message to the Tennisers in this "motivational" video. With just a few encouraging words and some inside jokes, the entire tennis group had a great laugh viewing this.

On August 8th 2017, Biomechanoid finally finished his map and took only 34 days to do so (a hair away from beating Harry's overtime record in Tennis 2018). "Fortress of Dreams" set a perfect tone for the rest of the campaign and after some lengthy feedback was delivered to Bio - it was time for the next tenniser to carry over the racket: Adamasterr. Although he did make some progress with his map titled "Plague of Mind", unfortunately, he was not able to find time for his map due to real life constraints. Taking his place instead was Neo_minigan - a Russian modder who expressed interest in participating in Tennis past the deadline - Adam's absence was the perfect opportunity for him to join!

To hype up the community just a little, a "Serious Spotlight" video highlighting Bio's map was published to the 7Smoke channel on October 8th 2017. Kind of evil they wouldn't see the finished product over a year later... after convincing Neo to add a bench into his map, he showed off many more great progress pictures, and the campaign's very first custom weapon in what was then known as the Slice Hammer! On November 10th 2017, the map was complete - although some weren't sure if it fit the rest of the campaign thematically, and those enemy types had something off about them. Still, this would all be adressed in later builds - and it was now IDGCaptainRussia's turn to make a map. Although not posting as much progress as Bio and Neo before him (but still some), he had great ambitions for his map including adding in many scripted enemies and some nice expansions to the story.

TENNIS 2017+1
Going into the next year and incrementing the counter on the mod's name, early on we collectively agreed not to give everyone as much time as they wish anymore and instead capped everyone's time limits to one month. This would speed up the pace of map development of both teams. Just a few days later, CaptainRussia finished his map - "Shattered Dreams", which unfortunately was far too long for a Tennis campaign and suffered from many internal bugs - for the final build however, we vowed to keep the core idea of Russia's map intact while fixing these glaring issues. I'm glad that in the end Russia was able to cope with this, and his map turned out rather nice in the end!

On February 9th, we had a new initiative to make this Tennis mappack just a little more unique. Commissioning Soulmyr to create portraits of every Tenniser to use for the credits was a nice addition that added to the idea of each map being made by a different person. Now everyone in the project has their own portraits! (Bench has the best one, but he's a red communist, not a blue freedom fighter.)

After Russia, Pan was up next - although this slacking piece of s**t (jk ilu) didn't start working on his map until three weeks into the deadline. But that wasn't going to let him steal his participation. Renaming himself "7-Day Pan", he finished the entire map in a matter of five days - a small map, it ended up being, but after three longer maps it was much needed. A tiny swamp that turns an entire character into an elaborate Monkey Island reference is better than I imagined. Around this time, we were also posting public progress reports on the 7Smokegaming site - which is now no longer online. A piece of history which was lost to us. :(

Pan's map also made us struggle with ladders, which you'd think was a basic feature for games these days - but custom game titles had a tendency to make them very iffy to use. Luckily, NSKuber, as always, was able to script his way out of this problem and add in a custom ladder type which largely alleviated this problem. Later, on March 9th, an important change in the creation of content for Tennis would take place. Transparency around changes made by me and Noam to existing maps would increase and merging the maps together into a larger campaign would be streamlined, looking back onto that I can surely say it helped provoke discussion about map balancing and other aspects which helped us enormously.

Next up in line for the tennis racket was StealthToast. Although he didn't have much confidence in his mapping skills, he would do more than make up for it with his unique storytelling skill - "Necropolis" introduced us to the wonderful character of Stefan and expanded the story to a whole new level. Initially the map didn't look like much either, but you see very little of that in the final build now.

In a refreshing move, the next Tenniser, kodatarule, only took 10 days to finish his map, finishing it on March 21st. The shortest out of every tenniser in both Blue and Red so far! Imagine when we had one-week deadlines in the first tennis mappacks... "Dark Secrets" was a map that played nicely - but it caused one large disagreement, namely on story aspects. The characters of Murray and Stefan were originally completely killed off, which was especially dissapointing since Stefan had just been introduced in the previous map! This issue ended up being "fixed" in the final builds by giving the player a choice to sacrifice either skull, with each skull ensuring the player would have different bonuses such as extra damage.

On April 11th, a large shift in mapper order took place. We had to touch the sacred order in exchange for more certainty that the mappers would be available during their allocated turn, and also to restore balance between the two maps sinec we had two drop-outs on Red's side. Previously a balance of 9 versus 11 mappers, moving bench to Red restored this to 10:10. Devo would now instead be arranging for the final map of Blue.

Perhaps one of the most interesting appearances for this tennis was Opticus Prime - nobody knew what kind of stuff he would bring to the table, since it was his first venture into major Serious Sam mapping. I can happily say now that everyone came out very surprised with the result! "Heaven Realm" finished on April 14th, and following a large set of suggestions, it was time for the final three maps in Blue's campaign: Rabbit, Harbinger and Devostator. Before this, a large test of all seven maps so far took plave and a lengthy (really lengthy!) discussion about what the story should shape up to be took place. Most important issue - the skulls had to come back from kodatarule's map! And some other surprises were in the works, including a tiny reference to the first Tennis mappack near the end. We also agreed to not make the final boss of the campaign a Khnum reskin... oops. Around this time, Soulmyr would also finish working on custom hands for the player character, and the world got its first look at the player character itself in a progress report on the old 7Smoke site.

With the 8th map coming up, the turn was Rabbit's. But... we still don't know what happened to Rabbit around this time. He seems to have simply dissappeared, or ignored us for some reason. Either way, he had no visible intentions of showing any kind of progress or even show a sign of life. So we made a backup plan: replace Rabbit with Asdolg, another Russian modder who had much experience in modding (just without relasing anything) and swap his place with Harbinger's. Asdolg officially joined on May 12th, This would put Harbinger at the 8th map - and as you might expect from him, most of his went into creating many enemy resources! The map itself may have been a little barren - but with all those new enemies it's a great introduction to the "Nightmare Realm" and really sets a new tone for this trio of ending levels. (Even if loading the map took like seven different fixes at first.)

During Harbinger's turn Asdolg was also hard at work setting up assets for his map which would be called "Ashen Wasteland". He had plenty of rocks in the works (and a killer background that went to Harbinger's map instead), althought most of these ended up being repurposed for Devo's map. After all, we know that Asdolg's final product turned into something that's not very Wasteland-y at all. Instead he started posting progress pictures of the Ancient Complex in early June, and finished it on August 1st. Around this time we also started talking about replacing existing weapons and enemies with some more custom ones, to set the campaign apart. Especially the Nightmare Coalition was in need of some redesigns. There's also this "brilliantly" drawn roadmap Noam made to illustrate the final stages of development.

The torch was then given over to Devostator - although he was quietly working away the time, with his map came a satisfying conclusion to the campaign and one of the most well-designed Tennis levels to date! Just look at it! Around this time, people were also given their last chances to update their maps before Devo finally finished on September 16th. His map had something of a... different, ending though, which actually tied itself to the plot of BFE. That was a little confusing - but again, the final build fixed everythingâ„¢. Also, this was made after the final test and it's the crossover everyone deserves when we finish Red!

Then it was time for Alpha. Bio laid the groundwork for some new weapons, Asdolg went to work fixing minor bugs in the entire campaign and Noam put together a comprehensive list of suggestions which led to changes such as the coloured corridors in Neo's map and the choice to sacrifice either skull. There would also be work on the new Nightmare Coalition enemies around this time - effectively, the whole campaign was being turned on its head with all kinds of revamps and additions. Not only that, but we had Soulmyr draw up some sweet character artwork which we would use for...

...the voice actor recruiting. This may have been one of the most exciting times in Tennis, although not many of you caught the full story yet. This process mostly happened between me and Noam. We posted an auditions page for the mod on a site known as Casting Call Club, where many aspiring voice actors gather looking for projects to lend their voice on. After creating our own page, we left auditioning open for about two weeks. At that point, we had gotten nearly 80 auditions, which was very impressive in our opinion. Problem was, we had a lot to choose from! By far the hardest cast was the Dream Wanderer himself. Noam and I were torn on two specific voice actors - we had some doubts about one's tempo of speech while the other felt too flat. The choice ended up going to Steve McGrath, but not without Noam being very doubtful on the situation. In the end, Steve provided a much better performance than he did in his audition and we were both very satisfied. Another character who was very popular was Stefan - he had by far the most auditions, no wonder as he's the comedic relief character. We even had Lapper put forth an audition - but ultimately our choice went for Dennis Hart, who nailed what we imagined for the character. The other characters were trickier, but in the end I think we were able to be satisfied with everyone's performances. My personal favourites are probably Murray and the Nightmare Lord. Some of the VAs even got a nice little financial token of gratitude!

After everyone (minus one) sent in their voice lines... it was time for Beta. We did several tests (which involded waiting for Roy for a full hour!), Asdolg made a Russian translation for the mod, and we accidentally had that voice actor's demo reel video "leaked". ...And here we are now. What a story, eh, Mark?

Thank you for playing Tennis Blue - we hope to do even better with Red. See you then!