Interview with Brandon James

We recently got the chance to interview Idsoftwares latest employee, Brandon "KillMe" James.
As usual with Quake Workshop interviews we stuck to the editing side of things and got some great long answers from Brandon
Read on

Could you tell us a bit about yourself.

I will tell you what I tell everyone else.. I was born with a Pong paddle in my hand.
Although it wasn't a requirement growing up (it sure seemed like it), I did my best to play every single game that came out.
I grew up with Pong and the Atari 2600, then moved on to the Atari home computers and the Commodore 64.. I begged and begged for an Apple back then, but Commodore it was.
I was determined to become a programmer, learning every peek and poke and ways to manipulate the C-64's Sid chip.
But it was the playing, not the programming that was given my full attention. I've been a complete computer freak since as far back as I can remember.
Running multiple bbs's in the St.Louis area until I was about thirteen and the whole time doing computer art, computer music and tinkering around with "Adventure Construction Set" and "Gary Kitchen's Game Maker".
I was given a five dollar allowance every week, which was promptly blown every friday night at the local arcade.. hundreds of quarters spent on "Star Wars", "Sinistar", "Qix" and (of course) "Dragon's Lair".
Somewhere along the line I decided that I wanted to be a director, which turned into my being an actor and starring in numerous plays through high-school, assistant directing some, including dinner theatre work.
Then I tried to make some movies with my friends. I became fed up with acting once I entered college and then started staying up too late playing games and not getting up in time for school. The cycle would repeat itself for the next 4 years which brings us to the present.

How did the job at Id happen

It was all very, very strange.
Out of the blue I get some mail from American saying "We need to talk".. rather cryptic. So, I mailed him back. we chatted, he called and I didn't hear anything else for two more weeks.
My entire life was put on hold for those two weeks, everything was focused towards the prospect of working for id software.
Then out of the blue once again American gets a hold of me.
We chat, he calls, we chat some more, then I was hired. The entire process took a little over 2 weeks, but in actual time (on my end) about fifteen minutes.
To be honest, I really don't know how it happened.. it almost feels like I've been here much longer than I have.

And can you still believe it happened :-)

From talking with some of the others, many of us still can't believe it happened.. well, not just my being hired, but others as well.
There are times when I swear I see people walking around in a daze here muttering
"I'm at id.. I'm at id.."
There are still days when I wake up.. and I figure it is just another ordinary day.. but then I see the big black cube on the horizon and everything catches up with me.
When I was at college (the first one), one of the med students down the hall had a pc, while I was still on my C-64.
I remember the night that he got Wolfenstein and I was completely amazed. I had played some other first person shooters, if you want to call them that.. like "Ballblazers" from LucasArts, but I just fell in love with Wolfenstein and couldn't wait until I got my own PC.
Then I fell in love with Doom.. then Quake.. and here I am at the company that brought these games to life.. it's all very errr, heavy.
To top it off, we're being distributed by Activision, the very company who pretty much started my addiction with "Pitfall 2: The Lost Caverns", "Fishing Derby", "Keystone Kapers" and countless others.. it's all very, very crazy.

How long have you been making levels and how did you find it at first

I guess you could say that I started making levels with Erector sets and Legos.
I would spend all of my time, when not at school, playing with Legos and building massive theme parks, snowspeeders and my favorite creation, "The Phoenix" from "Battle of the Planets", complete with all the separate vehicles..
I think I even built a Voltron once?
After that I started drawing out maps of dungeons and castles for D&D.. buying every module that came out just to look at the levels (I didn't have anyone to play with.. sniff).
Then I started enjoying traps, sparked by the Grimtooth series of books and would even recreate some of them in real life.. sort of. I had my room rigged for a while, so if you walked into it balls, covered in nails, would swing down from all directions and smack you.. there were levers beside my bed and in just about every location in my room for a sneak attack.
Real level construction started with Doom,
where I made only one level called "Crusher", which had two separate areas.. one had two series of crushers going off at different intervals.. you had to navigate through them to get the plasma gun, then the upstairs was a sort of 'dynamic' maze.. you could lower and raise the walls of the maze.. don't remember how well that worked though.
I tinked with level structure even more when Doom2 came out.. made some deathmatch levels for me and my friends.
Most of what I made for Doom2 never saw the light of day, lots of left over architecture that I could never get just right,
I always tried to do more with the Doom engine than I think was possible.
So I stopped making levels and concentrated on just playing the game. I was so bored with school that I can remember days on end where I would play Doom2 over and over again (from start to finish).
Quake came out and gave me the tools and engine that I had wanted to create WHAT I wanted. It was simply fantastic.
I devoted all my free time to tinkering around with Worldcraft and chatting with other designers on irc.
I starting thinking "Why play the game, when I can make the game?"

Now your Manson levels had a consant theme throughout, was this planned or did it just happen?

This was somewhat planned.
After I saw the spike train from E1M6,
I knew that I wanted to make some dark and eerie levels to throw the player in and laugh at their suffering.
I started off with a bunch of ideas, then came to the realization that it would be best to not try and fit every idea into one map, but spread them out.
So, you have Manson1, 2 and 3. Manson3 was going to be a complete wind tunnel level, loosely based off of E3M5, but I decided to stick to what I had been doing and well..

Would you ever plan on putting them into a .pak file and releasing it

I had kicked around that idea for a while.. it would be nice to see all three levels combined into one big Manson32 ;)
I don't think it would be all that great for net play, but on a lan I'm sure it would be a blast. There are other minor touch-ups and fixes that I'd like to do, but with the release of Quake2, Quake maps will become a thing of the past.. ala' Doom2.

Which of the "homemade" editors have you tried and which did you use?

I tried just about every one of them at first..
Quest, Thred, Geometry(?) and others, but ended up using Worldcraft exclusively.
It had an ease of use that was not found in any of the other free editors.. so whenever anyone asks, I give my thumbs-up to WC.

Now i read somewhere that you start using the QE4 editor, was it easy to learn and are there any extra features/tools that the "homemade" editors don't have?

I was a bit intimidated at first, when I started working with QE4.
Gone were the multiple views, gone was the familiar interface.. (I still find myself reverting back to WC hotkeys).
But, after playing with QE for a few days, I knew that this was "where it's at".
I'm not up on the current level of "homemade" editors, meaning I don't know what features have been implemented.. but QE just offers so much power, flexibility and control over brushes. Vertex manipulation, shearing any which way you want, edge manipulation, fullscreen textured window, regioned areas and on and on.
Once someone learns the controls, I don't see how QE couldn't be their number one editor.

When you start to design a level do you plan it out before hand or do you just jump straight in.

It is so much easier to plan out your level before hand.. of course there will be instances when you just sit down and start laying brushes..
but having an overall idea, look or picture in your mind is a must.
Sometimes when I'm completely blocked I'll just sit down and start making stuff, which could possibly turn into something really cool, could be used as detail or could very well suck. When you are working on a project with multiple levels you pretty much HAVE to look at the entire scheme of things, the big picture.. and decide how this or that will fit in.
One of the great aspects of Quake2 are certain pieces of architecture that are carried over from level to level.. certain looks make an appearance throughout, giving the player a sense that they aren't just in some weird, time-warped mish-mash, thrown together world.
So, I usually try to get a good idea of what it is I'm working on, sometimes I'll draw areas out, build them and then work on 'connections' or filler at a later time.

Is it more challenging design levels for Quake2 than it was for Quake.

I would say yes.
There are locations and structures that I never thought were possible in Quake.. perhaps this can be attributed to QE4.. most likely it's because of the experience of the team here.
When working with a unit, it can be extremely difficult.
Now, building the levels are pretty much the same.. but looking at a unit as being one big level.. I'll leave it at that.
The design of the level has changed (can't wait to download whole units!), while the actual building and construction of the level has pretty much remained the same (except for the new-found powers given to us through the new entities and "surface attribute" tool).

Do you have a favourite theme/style you like to work with (base/metal etc..)

With Quake, it was the metal set.. I couldn't get enough of Metal4_4 and the fullbright reds. They were just extremely easy to work with and looked good as well.
I've always had a fondness towards "dirty metals", sheet metal, steel, iron etc.
So give me some of those and let me build some big pipes and I'm set.
Dark, dank and spooky areas are my favorite.. probably because of an incident I had once with Doom. Give me lots of traps, gadgets and moving things.

Where did the name "KillMe" come about

My last job was working at a 'multi-player gaming center' in Lawrence, Kansas called "The Battlezone".
Basically, we'd take five bucks from someone, sit them down and let them play any game they wanted.. well, when it was my shift, you had to play Quake or else.
So, I'd run around with the new customers armed with only an axe, calling myself "KillMe" (much like calling myself 'Target' or 'HeyComeGetMeStupid').
The customers would feel the rush of their first kill and come back for more and more. It's also from 'Eraser', specifically the mix off of 'Further Down the Spiral' from NIN.

Which are your favourite id level and "homemade" levels?

Favorite id levels.. hmmm.
The first map from Doom and Doom2 will always be great. Doom: e1m1, e1m5, e3m? (start off in a small hallway, stairs in front of you, cages off to the right.. you know?)
Doom2: map01, map07, map?? (very brown, each building surrounded by a moat, big spider behind bars.. bah!)
Quake: e1m2-3, e1m8, e3m5
I would have to say that my all time favorite "homemade" levels would be 'Ledges' for Doom/Doom2.
We must have played those for hours and hours, never getting tired, never wanting to stop.

What are the important ingredients which make a great level, and what are the biggest flaws you see.

Balance, balance, balance, more balance and atmosphere make a great level.
What makes a great level totally depends on the type of level you are trying to make.. what sort of situation you want the player to experience.
If you are creating a base level, then you have many, many choices on how you want the player to act.
Do you want them to sneak through the level, being cautious?
Do you want them to go postal?
Or a combination of both?
If you create a level and the player experiences it the way you had designed it to be played/experienced.. then you are set.
When the player rounds a corner, there is something new.. a new surprise.
When the player is finished, when the player is exhausted or exhillerated.. if they achieved what you set up for them to achieve, you've created a great level.
If you leave them wanting more, you have made a great level.
When looking at levels, I try to look at the level as a whole.
The lighting, the atmosphere, the layout, everything.
If supports look to thin, bah!
If the lighting doesn't create the mood, bah!
If the lighting doesn't sustain the mood, bah!
I want a level to suck me in and take hold. Every corner should keep my interest.
Not only should it be a blast to play, but should be a blast to just run around in. Some of the biggest flaws that I've seen in levels deals with the atmosphere.
Through the use of music, sound, lighting and architecture any kind of atmosphere is possible, but not keeping a grasp on that atmosphere is perhaps the biggest flaw that I see.
There seem to be too many people, who throw every idea into a level, making the level very hodge-podge.
Once you setup your 'theme', then stick with it.. don't go crazy with different styles. Consistency throughout is a must.

Is this interview to long :)

Yeah damnit, you've just delayed Quake2 by an hour!
How does that make you feel?!
Besides that, I'm starving.. and I can't eat until I finish this! I'm weak from hunger, tired from lack of sleep and it's all because of the interview.
Live with that.

How many levels will you be doing for Quake2

There are three levels which I have built from scratch, two of which will definitely be in the game.. the other, who knows?
I am also helping out with 10 other levels, adding architecture/removing architecture.. building secret areas, texturing, adding lighting, scripting events, adding sounds, monsters, items etc. More than that? Perhaps..

Is Quake2 going to beat every other game thats out there when it's released :))

You mean there are other games that are going to be released? I wasn't aware of that.

I know how busy you are so i'll wrap this interview up by asking if you have any last words to say to your thousands of fans around the world :)))

Thousands of fans? Sure.. After Quake2 comes out, may you all rest in peace.. you will never see the light of day again.

Well thanks for taking the time to do this interview with us


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