The Reviewers' Interview Series from The Quake Workshop

The first installment in our Reviewers' Series of interviews is from, the man, the myth, and the legend: crash, of Crash's SPQ2. He really tore into these questions, so grab a drink and sit back for a long detailed read.

How long has your site been active?

since august 1996. started off as a general personal page with a Quake section, but i rapidly found the only area ever being updated was the Quake part, so i went ahead and jettisoned the non-relevant stuff... geocities only had two megs at the time.

so that's, what, about a year and a half now?

What decided you to try to play and rate all those levels anyway?

well, ever since Doom and Doom2, i've enjoyed playing user-created levels. in fact, i think i may hold some kind of record for playing the most Doom2 user levels (2,146, to be exact, and yes, i counted... more out of curiosity than anything else). when Quake came out, it was only natural to download and play every level i could. i had just gotten onto the web in late 1995, and was toying with the idea of making a web page and learning HTML (because it seemed fun, mostly). at the time, i had been corresponding with Matt Sefton about his Doom2 levels (level? i don't remember how many he made, but i do remember playing at least one), and he was putting up a page with what he thought were noteworthy Quake levels. that was cool, but i thought, "well, since i'm playing them all anyway, and i enjoy writing, why not just do them all?" also, i figured that our pair of pages could work together and cover the SPQ experience pretty well -- him with highlights and serious author's tips and like that, and me with the player's end of it -- config tips, CD selections, playing tips, and whatnot. for the record, his page was the first official SPQ page on the web, with mine coming in second. :)

Ever dig in and try your hand at editing yourself?

yes. one ill-fated Doom learning level, six Doom2 levels (two of which i'm rather happy with), and about 25% of a Quake level have been created by me. the Quake level in question died a quiet death some time last year when i found 3d editing to be much too time-consuming for me to do. i mean, i can do it, but the time it takes compared with the results i got didn't seem worth it to me. i still have the .map and .rmf files, too. :)

How do you think that affects your review approach?

because i can appreciate how damned difficult and time-consuming editing actually is; this is partly why i review every level. no matter how good or how bad a level is, the author put a lot of time into it (well, in most cases, anyway) and i feel that some recognition for this effort should be given. also, it doesn't help an author get better if s/he doesn't know what s/he could have done better in the released level. by getting a somewhat unbiased and objective review (based on my own personal likes and dislikes, obviously), the author gets some design feedback.

You just finished your 10,000 level. What do you play/do other than Q2 to keep from burning out on it?

strangely enough, i've been playing a lot of RTS games lately. my favorite has got to be Age of Empires -- this game is simply the most fun non-3d-shooter game i've ever played. i've been playing some Starcraft lately, too, and it seems pretty fun. Blizzard games don't have a lot of longevity to them for me, though, so i don't know how long that'll last.

other hobbies include reading (i usually read about four books a week, on the average) and learning new applications that take lots of time. currently on the slate for summer learning are FrameMaker and PageMaker; i learned some Photoshop over the last break, and i'm trying to find a cheap 3d/animation program i can play around with. learning is fun.

Got any other details you want to share about who you are and what makes you tick?

i have two interviews out right now, actually; one at Quake Map Hotel and one on Siren and Tolwyn's Pic Page, both on PlanetQuake. those pretty much cover everything, i think.

How do you collect your levels for review? Search, submissions,...?

90% of the time, i find levels on it's less than 30 miles away from me, geographically, so i usually get good connect speeds and throughput. lately i've been hitting because it's a lot faster. i also get author referrals in email, along with referrals from the other SPQ sites.

About how many levels do you think you play per week?

as many as i can. at my peak, i was playing 20-30 a week; now, with scheduling and *gasp!* responsibilities, i average between 7 and 10. i try to do one a day, but lately that hasn't been happening. of course, now that i review archives instead of levels, and archives can contain more than one level, the reviewing time has gone up accordingly. i usually do about 5 archives a week; more if i get lucky and get some "free time." :)

Scored ratings or basic descriptions after clearing a specific quality hurdle: there are lots of methods. Wanna "pro and con" your chosen approach?

i suppose. i never thought of a system being superior or inferior to my own, because my system is based pretty much on my own personal preferences. it's also based on what i think is good in a level and what works in a level, given that the author is attempting to provide the player with a certain mood and feel with the architecture and lighting and monster placement and flow and everything else that goes into a level. it's suited for my chosen method of reviewing.

one "pro" is that my rating method goes hand in hand with how i think. when i first started rating levels, i came up with the five categories in about ten minutes. what's surprising to me is how long those categories lasted; indeed, i'm still using them, albeit in a modified version, given that Quake2 has capabilities that Quake did not. this helps me rate levels almost "naturally" and very quickly. best of all, it allows me to rate levels consistently, given my categories and preferences.

another is that the rating system i use is about as unbiased as i can make it. i make sure i tell everyone up front, "this is what i like and this is what i don't like and this is what irritates me," and i score levels accordingly. obviously, since any kind of rating system has to be at least a little subjective, this is taken into account, and i tried to limit the bias to one and only one category -- "fun". the rest of the categories are pretty objective, i think, and the same rules apply to all.

cons? everyone doesn't think like i do, and many will like levels i don't and vice versa. this is something i can live with, though, and this is one of the reasons i'm so happy SPQ2 reviewing (and pages) have started to crop up with greater frequency. the more players that are reviewing the better, because everyone has a different take, and feedback is something an author can't have enough of.

Quake2, you opened the box, popped in the cd and fired it up. What was the first thing that really got you excited and kicked in the "wow" factor?

Steed's opening cinematic. i'm a big fan of the science fiction/action drama, and there were a lot of obvious influences in that cinematic. i also loved the soundtrack; a lot of people didn't like Sonic Mayhem's work on the CD, but i gotta tell you, i play it in the car more than i do in the game. of course, i like that style of music. :)

in the game itself, the goals and "plot" were exciting for me. there was a serious drought in plot and level continuity from Doom2 to Quake, and for the single player, Quake wasn't very much fun. the add-ons that authors and coders made for Quake made it a whole game (instead of the engine demonstration i felt it really was), and that was as fun as it was interesting. this is why i often call Quake2 "Doom3", actually; for the plot and the setting and the story, it is the true sequel to Doom2. no, i don't want to see the true sequel to Quake, though... :)

And now, what keeps you coming back for more and more and more...?

user-created levels, units, and other miscellaneous items. by the latter, i mean things like the most excellent gamex86.dll erebus made for me that allows me to clear the status bar. i know nop(?) made a .pak file that replaces the icons with clear graphics, but the clear-status-bar thing i've got allows me to check my health whenever i need to. i don't know if nop's will allow you to do that; i imagine it does, though. also by "miscellaneous items," i mean the blue railgun skin that Casanova made; you'd think a blue skin for the railgun doesn't make much play difference, and it doesn't, but i think it's just too cool. (both of these items are available for download on my page in the "misc" section, if you're interested.)

one thing i discovered the other day is the Strogg Gone Mad mod (and i forget the URL); this is a gamex86.dll that makes the monsters a lot tougher, more aggressive, and more flexible in their defense of their base. there are a couple of oddities in it, but for the most part it rocks pretty hard; i can't even beat some levels on Hard any more because of it. very nice work.

You got Quake and now Quake 2. What really separates the two from each other from the single play standpoint for you? Do you still fire up Q1 from time to time?

i said it before and i'll say it again: Quake was an excellent engine demonstration, while Quake2 is an excellent game. no offense to those that worked their butts off making levels and textures and models for Quake, but let's face it -- it was a game going in two different directions that didn't mesh very well to begin with. what separates them the most for me is the level of immersiveness Quake2 has that Quake never did; Quake2 makes me feel like i'm actually doing something instead of just killing everything and finding the exit.

do i still fire up Q1? yes, but only to watch demos like "Quake Done Quicker" or the m3 highlight reel. i haven't played Quake single-play since last october, and i haven't played Quake DM very much. i do play some clan arena at LAN parties from time to time.

Got a fav level, or hub set from the standard Q2? And what about it sets it apart from the other levels?

hmm. gotta think about this one, because i don't know the names all that well. the jail set, to me, was the most fun and the most memorable, and it's still my favorite to play in single play mode... probably because the first time i played it, and heard all my fellow marines howling and screaming, i really got mad at the creatures in the game for doing this. i haven't been that involved in a game in... well, ever. :)

Without naming any map specifically, what is the biggest problem you see in levels?

there is no one biggest problem, but there are two major problems that i've been seeing. the first is playing speed. be sure to test your level on as many machines as you can before you release it, including lower-end machines. not everyone is playing on a p200mmx or better, and remember -- the recommended machine is a p133 with 24mb of RAM (for software mode). of course, this is an obvious bias on my part, because i'm running a lower-end machine.

the second is detailing and the "little things." by this, i mean items like ambient sounds, logical use of colored lighting, having an origin point (where did the player come from to enter your level? he didn't just beam in), making sure the text in your F1 doesn't overlap the graphic, and having monsters drop appropriate items. all of these seemingly-insignificant things do add up over the course of a level. you need to be able to immerse the player totally and consistently in your level, and by having things that negatively affect the player's suspension of disbelief, you run the risk of having the player remember that s/he's playing a game... instead of experiencing a little slice of your world.

Why is a theme so important to a map?

internal consistency and the suspension of disbelief. you've got to have a basic thought or feel to hang all your architecture on, and you have to have a basic reason for the level to exist in the first place. all the details will fall into place as long as you have a consistent theme to apply them to, and you'll find it easier to create with that in mind.

Is it ethical/cool to redo maps from previous games (Quake1, Doom2, Duke, etc)?

sure. it's not original, but it's okay in my book. as a learning experience for your chosen editor, recreating other people's originality is fine, but if you're going to release something, make it your own creation. no remake is ever going to get a TLKA on my site because of this; if i wanted to play E1M1 from Quake, i'd play it. i don't need to download it.

Has the Q2 editing community matured more rapidly than for Q1? Any theories as to why or why not?

oh hell yes. i was seeing high-quality Q2 levels much sooner than i expected, and the virtual flood of them (considering the higher machine requirements for editing and the longer compile times) at the current time is simply incredible. not that i'm complaining, mind you, but i'm sort of overwhelmed from time to time at it.

any theories? sure. Quake2 has an entrenched, web-based editing community inherited from the groundwork of Quake editing. since the specs for maps didn't really change all that much (colored lighting, no textures in the .bsp, some target names, some triggers, all the monsters), and we already had the specs for rotating brushes and the like, it's hardly a surprise that editing sites and editors were able to convert to the Q2 map specs quickly, smoothly, and pretty easily. all the really hard work of figuring out how everything worked had already been done with Quake.

Which monster is your favorite, and which seems to be the toughest to deal with?

favorite is the gladiator, because he looks so cool (and because he has a railgun). the one that seems to be the toughest to deal with, in its own element, has to be the parasite. i would have said the gunner, but since you can drop him with two super shotgun blasts, and you can usually stun him well enough with the first, he doesn't really qualify. the parasite, however, can take a beating, and once he latches on to you, you just keep taking damage. man i hate those things.

Give us 2 monsters and what you think are their strengths: the best placements to get the most challenge out of fighting them.

machinegun guard, the most underrated and underestimated monster in the game. strengths: the ability to fire when crouched, the ability to take a significant amount of damage, and the ability to acquire and fire faster than just about any other monster. also, he dishes out some pretty good damage, especially when you're not wearing armor. placements: in packs. put three or four of these boys together and don't give the player any armor or a repeating weapon (like either of the machine guns or the hyperblaster). also, putting them above and behind the player (like a ledge above a door) can be devastating due to their ability to fire very quickly. spreading them out in a room, so the player has to take them one at a time, is good too. don't put them too far away, because they get blind too soon, and won't fire.

gladiator. strengths: instant-hit one-shot killing damage, can take a beating, has both a ranged and a close-in attack. weaknesses: takes too long to acquire, has difficulty shifting from close-range to long-range attack, will never shoot the railgun close-in (but he should because it has no blast radius). placement: put a pair of them a fair distance away from the player, and make it so the player can't run up on them. ledges and chasms are good for this. the reason you want the gladiator to be fairly far away is so the player can't hear the railgun warming up, and s/he won't know when to dodge. use two, so the player is always moving; if you can somehow get them to stagger their firing pattern, they can be very effective. also, keeping them inaccessible prevents the gladiators from falling prey to "shambler-itis" -- running up until he starts the close-in attack, backing up and shooting while he's swinging, and then doing it again.

Give us 2 monsters and what you think are their weakness and the placements that hamper the monster's performance.

berserker. weakness: no ranged attack. placements that hamper their performance: any time they're above or below the player. i've seen way too many packs of berserkers pop up where the player can leap up on a ledge or dive into a pit and be completely invulnerable, because the berserkers can't follow and can't shoot. that's when i whip out the flashlight (okay, blaster) and nickel-and-dime them to death. takes time, but saves ammo.

flyer/icarus. weaknesses: they take too long to shoot between shots, and they don't have many hit points at all. placements that hamper their performance: any place where they can't use their mobility. putting them in small rooms, or putting them in areas where the player can run back down a small, narrow hallway (forcing them to fly in there to get the player) make them big clay targets for the super shotgun. give them plenty of room to fly, and start them very very high and/or very far away -- since their shots are so fast, the player won't be able to dodge -- and putting monster clip brushes over any small openings (at a fair distance from the opening, in a quarter-sphere arrangement) forces the player to take the fight to them... outside, where they have the advantage.

two monsters that have too many disadvantages to be useful are the brain and the bitch; both are way too slow to be effective unless they're used in ambush with many other monsters to provide distractions.

Any patterns you have seen with monsters so far?

in usage? not really. each author has his/her own style of placement and usage. one pattern i've been seeing lately and that's strange monster groupings, along with putting unlike monsters in large groups. this causes way too much monster infighting; it's the player's job to kill the monsters, not their job to kill each other. putting berserkers in front of any monster that shoots is Not A Good Idea. also, be wary of putting numerous gunners in high places -- they'll lob grenades all over the place, killing any "friendlies" below them.

What do you think of the bosses for Q2?

the flying guy is cool, if only he weren't so lethargic in movement and firing. the big tank one is awesome, but suffers from the same lack-of-speed problem. Makron? too easy to kill if you've got something to dodge behind, and too hard to kill if you don't. not a good balance, actually.

all in all, they were okay, but a pack of gunners scattered around would be more challenging.

I have heard it said that the radiosity lighting in Q2 has really cramped the lighting, in that stark shadow contrasts aren't as common in comparison to Q1. What is your take on this? Is lighting markedly different between the two games (ignoring color for a moment)?

yes. Q2 lighter is much softer and more diffuse. it looks more natural for outdoor areas and indirect lighting, but as far as i've been able to determine there is no such thing as "spot" lighting, and for areas that have inset floor lights or whatnot, it looks odd. also, there's much more of a problem with lighting bleeding through wall corners and ceilings because of this -- it just seems to flow all over the place. i remember Q1 had a utility that provided "negative light" or something (for creating shadows and dark areas, if i remember correctly). Q2 could definitely use this, because i haven't seen a level yet that has had effective shadow-casting. i kind of miss it, to tell you the truth, because of the mood it sets.

Colored lighting. What a great toy... uh, tool,... for us editors.


What can you say about it? Have the level editors out there used it cleanly?

for the most part, yes. just like any other tool, though, it's great when used effectively, but really horrible otherwi


Is it abused or overused?

mmm. hard to say. i don't know how you could abuse it, other than by choosing nasty or garish color combinations.

What is the strangest use of colored lighting (odd color for instance) you have seen - whether it worked or not?

i haven't seen a strange use of colored lighting that works, and i doubt i ever will, because the shock factor of the strangeness pops me out of the suspension of disbelief i find so critical in a level. the strangest/nastiest uses of colored lighting always occur when the author uses extremes. stay away from any number in any slot of the color over 200 (for instance, using 255 0 0) unless you're marking a keyed door or critical area. bright primary colors have never worked in any level i've ever played because they're simply so unnatural... although i think a bright flashing red or green or blue might be good as a backup for an alarm siren or something.

Is it worse to have an area that is too dark or too light?

both are bad, but dark is worse; i hate stumbling around in the dark, and, since i have flashblend/dynamic lighting turned off, i can't even use the blaster to illuminate my way.

The texture set for Q2 is pretty extensive, and well supported by theme sets, but are you seeing fewer original textures due to the change in the format of the texture files?

so far, yes, but you have to remember that Q2 editing has only been around for six months. it takes time to make textures, especially when you make a lot of them. i've been seeing the occasional texture set entry in archives, and i have no problem installing them. the fact that you have to compile them into a .pak for easy distribution is a block of some kind, sure, but i'm not positive that's the only reason. i'm of the mind that the reason we haven't been seeing a lot of new textures is, for the first time in a long time, the authors are actually happy with the texture set.

Do you like to see people experiment, stretch the existing textures into combinations that weren't tried in the id levels? Or are the strengths of the matched textures that much more superior?

if authors can take a texture and stretch it or truncate it to make something interesting, i say more power to them. of course, the author has to make this modified texture work in the level. however, i love going through a level and seeing an "old" texture applied in a way that i've never seen before, much less imagined, and thought, "wow. odd that i never noticed that texture before"... when, in fact, i've probably seen it a hundred times.

the author has to use whatever textures (in whatever combinations) work for the theme and the mood of the level. i'm not quite sure what you mean by "matched" textures, but if you're referring to the per-level texture sets, i've already seen a couple of instances where they were mixed and matched to good effect... so i know it can be done.

Hell, what is your favorite texture/level feel (base, warehouse, city,...)?

base. most definitely base, with the "storage area" warehouse textures (crates and the yellow and black striped ones) thrown in.

What visual clues do you consider for whether textures go well together as a player?

similarity in apparent material, and similarity in apparent function based on the surroundings. for instance, if you're in some intermittently-lit underground caverns with water running through them, you're not going to see carpeting and polished marble underfoot, and you're not going to see nice bright shiny metal surfaces. you're going to see rusted metal and drainage for the water and crappy lighting fixtures... because who's going to fix up a cave?

this one's kind of subjective, actually. if it makes sense visually, then go for it, but if you look at the combination and have even a shred of doubt about it, don't do it.

Visually, should the textures drive the architecture or vice versa?

neither should drive the other -- they should work in concert to provide the desired effect. they're halves of the same whole. brushes should be created to accommodate texture patterns, designs, and sizes, and textures should be applied, scaled, and inverted (if necessary) to enhance brush structures.

Are you still surprised by the new ideas that people use the new tools (translucents, light emitting brushes, etc) for?

as much as i hate how this sounds, no, i'm not surprised by what people can come up with. i lost my capacity for surprise back in the Quake1 days. now, i just marvel at what they can come up with, and usually laugh out loud in delight at some ingenious use of a texture or special that i wouldn't have thought of in a thousand years.

Traps, many love the challenge they present.

yes, many do. i'm one of them, but only when the trap is designed to test the player's skill... and not the player's patience.

What is your perspective on "architecturous carnivorous?"

you mean killer architecture? killer architecture has been a problem since the days of Doom, and will continue to be a problem as long as the author has to resort to it. i have never liked it, and never will, with one exception: if the author has included a number of clear, non-ambiguous signals that the upcoming area is deadly, and has given me a way around it (or a way to disarm it), i don't mind it at all. if i'm stupid or persistent enough to trigger a trap i know is lethal, then it's my own fault if i die.

This is related to an earlier question; Rotating brushes, are they being used for good dramatic effect beyond just fans?

hard to say. i can't think of any uses for them other than maybe irising doors, fans, and spinning pumps and antennae and the like. i'm sure there are many uses that clever authors can come up with, but at the current time, i can't see them being used for dramatic effect at all. they're still pretty much in the novelty stage, i think, and unless something changes, that's the way they're going to stay. i don't mind, though; effective ornamentation sets the mood just as well as (sometimes better than) effective brush structures and texture placement.

How much are you willing to sacrifice performance (r_speeds etc) for something that absolutely looks cool?

if there are no monsters around, the performance hit is tolerable, if not acceptable. if gameplay (i.e. combat) is directly affected, i am not willing to sacrifice performance at all; too much depends on the fluidity of movement in combat, and horrifying r_speeds hinders this beyond any acceptable limit.

Secrets: what is the best way to implement them into the flow of a level?

since anything can be marked as a secret, this one's hard to answer. it really depends on the level -- how the author has set up combat situations and difficulties, balanced with the weapons and health given. they should be placed irregularly, and in non-obvious locations. i'm of the mind they should require the player to wander off "the beaten path" to find, and should be fairly inaccessible. whether they're "explorer" secrets (hidden from view and unmarked visually, requiring climbing and jumping to obtain), "come get me" secrets (in plain view, with a non-obvious route or method to get to them), or "blind" secrets (only a specially-marked texture or panel or button revealing their location but not their contents), they should hold non-required items ("bonus" items, as it were) that are helpful but not necessary to the completion of a level. items that i enjoy finding in secrets are the middle level of armor (not power armor and not jacket armor), bandoliers, and backpacks. sometimes a quad is nice, but often a quad is just too much for a single player level. things i don't like to find are power armor (the red one), the +100 health, the invulnerability, and any weapon other than the rocket launcher -- the reasoning here is the player should get everything up to the grenade launcher (with the possible exception of the chaingun) during the course of the level, and anything bigger than the RL is overkill.

Which gun is your pride and joy for Strogg blasting?

call me old-school, but i've always loved the super shotgun. still do. i run out of shells more often than any other type of ammo. the railgun is fun, but it's overpowered in the extreme... and i absolutely love the humming sound it makes when you've got it in your hand.

Are levels that restrict weapon selection and ammo more exciting/challenging or do you like full fire power every time?

restricting weapon selection is fine; all a person really needs in a single player level, in my opinion, is the shotgun, super shotgun, small machine gun, and grenade launcher. ammo restriction is a peeve of mine, but having monsters drop appropriate ammo when they die is a nice way to control the amount of ammo in a level. full fire power in a single player level is usually ludicrous unless you've got a boss or three roaming around... and even then, the flyer and big tank can be taken care of with the above weapon mix. i'm of the mind that Makron should only show up in units, never in a single level, and then only rarely. it's the whole "cyberdemon" thing from Doom2 all over again.

Obviously, just leaving health and ammo laying around is pretty cliché. What are some of the better tricks to integrating items into a level's theme and flow?

having monsters drop items is an excellent way to both control pacing and ammo amount as well as lending a little realism to a level. to that end, the monsters should only drop related items -- gunners don't shoot shotguns, after all, so they should never have shells. same goes for armor; by the time you've shot a monster up, it's unlikely in the extreme that he'd have enough armor to drop a whole jacket's worth. shards are cool. health is a little trickier. in fact, i've never found a "realistic" reason to have health just lying around. secreting it in a certain number of locations is good; this requires the player to plan ahead and remember just where that last medkit was located.

on the other side of the coin, though, i sure like the "scavenger hunt" feel of locating and taking caches of the +2 health bottles and armor shards. :)

What is your take on the special powerups, quad for example? Do they fit with a strong single player environment?

on skill 0 and skill 1, sure. on skill 2, rarely; if you need to put a quad in on Hard, you might first check your monster/weapon balance, because that's where the problem usually lies. some are necessary, like the biosuit and rebreather... and others are utterly unnecessary, like the invulnerability. (there's an exception to every rule, though; Warren Marshall used the invulnerability as the requirement for finding a secret in Bad Seed, which i thought was pretty cool. i think James Parkman did the same thing in Azure Mines, but i'm not positive.)

What is your biggest tip for for someone just thinking about starting editing?

give yourself plenty of time (like 40-50 hours) to learn the editor and the process, look at what reviewers and the public think are the best levels out there and note what works and what doesn't, and beta test the hell out of your level before you release it. read the editing sites and join mailing lists, if possible, to get tips and have questions answered. read the map specs so you understand how everything works. there's a lot of information out there by authors that have gone before you, so you don't have to repeat mistakes that others have made.

Anything else you want to add?

i just want to say a great big "thanks!" to all the authors over the years who have taken the time and the effort to share a little bit of their souls with us and create worlds for people like me to play in and enjoy. i'm just glad i'm able to give something back to them that might be of value, and i truly appreciate all their efforts on my (and others') behalf. they're doing this out of love for the game, and the only reward they get (other than the occasional job offer) is feedback. remember, if you like a level, be sure to use the email address in the .txt file and tell the author about it.

Thanks. We all appreciate it.

thank you. this was fun. :)