The Reviewers' Interview Series from The Quake Workshop

The second installment in our Reviewers' Series of interviews is from a young pup on the reviewing scene: Matt "Tron" of 3D Gamer's Edge.
Another fine read, so dig in.

How long has your site been active?

It's just a baby! Shop opened up in the last week of February, 1998.

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

As for playing them... I love seeing what people do with the Quake engine. The immersive capabilities, and the architectural creativity keep me hungry for more, and more. As for rating them... I get 10 free MEG from my IP, and I wanted to fill it up with something I know a bit about, and I feel like I can maybe help people find the levels, and help the authors get them exposed. Also, it's a great way for me to remember and keep a database of the maps I love!

Ever dig in and try your hand at editing yourself?

Nope, I just don't have that kind of free time. I'd like to try someday... maybe when Unreal ships with it's editor I'll give it a go. I've done a bit of AutoCAD, so I know just how huge of a task design can be.

How do you think that affects your review approach?

It's good in that I don't have any bias as to what a good level design approach is, but it's bad in that maybe I don't fully appreciate the effort involved in creating a playable map.

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

I like Jedi Knight, Curse of Monkey Island, and the 3D Ultra Pinball series. As for non-game related... I mountain bike, read too much, watch Northern Exposure, Travelers, DS9, and tons of movies, go to baseball games and batting cages, things like that. I also love to travel, and try and take a trip once or twice a year.

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

I'm just an ordinary average guy, having some fun on the Internet, enjoying the Q2 experience, and trying to enjoy my time on this big ol' planet Earth!

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

CDROM is the biggie, submissions are great, and occasionally I make a grab from the other review sites.

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

Golly, maybe as many as 15... or as few as 5 in a slow week.

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

I try to a little bit of everything. I give it a 1-100+ score, bullet a few plus and minus points, then give a summary of the whole shebang. I think its a great way to do it, as I give the reader a variety of ways to see what I think. The bad thing is giving an actual 'score'. I don't really enjoy that, because each and every map maker is unique. But, it's a necessary evil to me. I want a way to show my viewers which levels to go after first, and the only way to do it is to give them a pecking order. So, I have both an alphabetical listing, and a best-to-worst listing. I play anything, and I'll post a review of anything that anyone is willing to put out for public consumption. I guess the big thing is to remember that my reviews are just an opinion, and not to be taken too seriously.

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?

The opening movie really got me pumped... I bought it 3 hours before I had to go to work, and I almost called in sick =) I must have watched that thing 4 times that day alone, and I got goosebumps every time... the fly-by over the Strogg city is just a beautiful piece of work, and the sound pumping through a 40 watt sub-woofer is great. The intro got me into the game in a way that Quake never did, I was really mad at these Strogg, and wanted to shut them down... for good! Also, I'd played the demo, and was hungry for more...

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

As long as the Strogg threaten humanity, it's my duty to fight!! Plus, I've been a computer game freak since my Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 days, and I love seeing what the new tech can do. We all know that Q2 pushes the tech envelope, and I love being there, seeing what is possible, and what's coming on the horizon.

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?

The story. I mean, Quake was a groovy engine, and a riot to play, but where's the purpose? I've always been a D&D fan, and love reading "Fantasy" books (DragonLance, Eddings, Goodkind, Jordan...) so fighting Ogre's and Zombie's has a certain appeal to me, but Quake 2... The whole idea of the fight against enslavement/tyranny is great. I'm the kind of guy who gets really caught up in things, and while I made my way through Q2, I was seriously mad at the Strogg. All the tech advances aside, that is the key. As for Q1... it's been a while, but just last week I began getting a taste for it again, and may reinstall it for a while...

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

I loved the Palace. The architecture was beautiful, there were so many nooks and crannies to explore, and of course, by that point in the game the challenge has been pumped up to a high level. The prison Unit affected me very deeply. I was actually very angry playing through that Unit... I kinda surprised myself at how affected I was. It really is tough to make a choice though, each unit was wonderful in it's own right.

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

Challenge!!! I really need a challenge to stay interested, and my biggest gripe lately is that the Hard setting isn't being made hard enough for me. I really hate leaving behind a mountain of health power-ups. When there is health to spare, the quality of the fighting drops dramatically. Just knowing that there's an abundance of health makes the fighting reckless and sloppy. The same goes for ammo placement. If every room has a box of slugs in it, what's to stop me from splattering Guards with a Railgun? If an author can make me curse him, and restart his map several times, I'm pleased :) On those rare occasions where I actually need the Quad or the Invuln... now that's what I thrive on!

Why is a theme so important to a map?

You know, to me it's not an absolute necessity. Having a solid, well defined theme can boost the immersive quality of any map exponentially. If I actually bought a product, I'd expect that theme to be there. Now, when I download a free level, it's not as big of a requirement. I want the challenge, and the fun first and foremost. Adding a theme and immersing me into the map will definitely be a plus, but I'll (almost) overlook it if other qualities are present.

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

I don't have a judgment on this, but I will say that I prefer new and creative levels to re-hashed ideas.

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

Well, since I didn't join the Quake community until mid 1997, I can't really make an informed response to this question.

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

I love the look of the Gladiator... this guy has a 'Jason and the Argonaughts' feel. He's very tech looking, but for me there's a mythological aura about him, I love the way he moves. As for a good fight, I love the Gunners, Guards, and Enforcers, especially mixed into groups. Get a couple of Gunners flinging grenades around, and things get fun.

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

Gunners: When they start pumping out those grenades... yikes! Put them up on a ledge that's too high to jump on, and have about 3 or 4 of them in the same room. If it's just one, you can get in his face, and shock him, then take him down, but when you've got several spraying bullets and grenades about the place... there's some fun!

Parasites: Just about anywhere these little buggers are a nightmare for me. If I can sneak up behind him, he's history, but if he sees me first... They always do damage, and if they're in a group... ughhh. When these guys are in a narrow corridor or tunnel, they are very tough.

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

Gladiators: If I'm on the same ground as them, and have even a little bit of maneuvering space, no problem. I get right in front of them, duck down, and strafe back and forth just outside of the reach of their claw. The machinegun makes quick work of them and I'll never take a hit. Especially if it's just one of them.

Tanks: Slow as can be. As long as there's something to hide behind, they'll never hit me. I've taken them out with my Blaster more than once when trying to conserve ammo.

Any patterns you have seen with monsters so far?

The Beserkers are the worst for that. All you have to do is get in their face, then back away quickly. While they take a swing at you, you've got plenty of time to dink away at them. If there's area to move around in, it's easy to take out as many as 3 with just a Blaster, they're so predictable that it's easy to avoid taking a hit.

What do you think of the bosses for Q2?

The 2 Makron manifestations? Oh, they're tough all right. If there is a Quad or an Invuln on hand, they aren't all that bad. But, if you don't have that luxury... it's a different story. As for the giant insect and the big Tank-guy, they're not too tough. I need room to strafe the insect, and some cover to hide from Tank-guy's rockets, given that I'm OK.

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)?

Oh sure, Quake was either light or dark. Quake2... I've seen an amazing amount of lighting schemes used. Q2 is a lot more natural in my opinion. Under-lit areas get on my nerves though :)

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?

I've seen a gaudy map or two, but mostly I feel it's been used very nicely. I really enjoy the ambiance that it can add to an area. I love red lighting in cramped watery areas... such a good atmospheric tool.

Is it abused or overused?

I don't think so...

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

Hmmm, I can't really think of any 'strange' uses :)

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

Too dark. There's nothing that I find more annoying than having to use my Blaster as a 'flashlight' to light my way. If it's in a specific area, for a definite reason and effect, that's fine, but when it's the rule and not the exception... blah. I don't mind brightly lit areas at all. There's less strain on the eye.

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?

Yes, but as you say, there are so many textures to choose from, that I don't mind a lack of new ones.

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?

Oh yeah, I love to see people experiment. I don't even care if it comes across as unappealing to me... I'm just happy to know that authors are trying to push the limits, showing signs of creativity.

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

I loved the look of the Palace. I really don't have a 'favorite' though. It's the variety that is important to me.

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

Well, on a certain level, I want the choices to make me feel like I'm in a real place... to look around and know what type of structure I'm in. On another level, I enjoy when textures are used to just look plain stylish or cool, disregarding functionality.

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

The architecture should drive the texture use.

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

Oh yes... I'm so pleased when I can look at an object or structure and think "I've never seen anything like that before!" For example, I played a user-created map the other day where the author had built little glass containers full of 'toxic waste', and they were lying around a lab-type of area. What a cool idea!

Traps, many love the challenge they present.
What is your perspective on "architecturous carnivorous?"

I like to be clued in if a 'trap' is approaching. Instant, unavoidable death-traps are no fun to me as a player. If I die in a trap, then come back, look around, and think "duh, I can't believe I missed that!" -- that's OK.

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

Yes, I've seem a few good uses. Big spinning gears, I love that kind of stuff! Also, I always look at the fans built by the author... I love some of the fan builds I've seen.

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

It's fine by me. I love to be amazed by visual effects. However, if I drop my resolution to below 640x480, and still can't play through a section without serious slowdown and choppiness, I'm a bit disappointed.

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

I love a secret area. There's nothing more appealing to me than to be able to get in 'behind' the scenery and roam through a hidden passageway. Out of the way item are my second favorite. The kind where you've got to keep a sharp eye on the lay-out to get to a difficult area. I'm not much of a fan of the 'shoot the button to open a panel' secrets.

Which gun is your pride and joy for Strogg blasting?

I know this is lame, but the super shotgun is my all time favorite. It's my default weapon, and there are never enough shells for me. For pure over-kill, the Railgun is fun too.

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

I love the challenge, so keeping weapons and ammo to a minimum is my favorite approach. However, I do occasionally hunger for that "unlimited ammo and weapons" arcade-style Strogg slamming :)

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?

Items spilling onto the floor in front of open crates... having a Strogg cough up a weapon or some ammo that is appropriate for that particular Strogg is cool... or just having Strogg-specific ammo near the Strogg that's using it is OK as well.

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

You know, it's very rare that an author challenges me enough to resort to Quads or Invuln. In the Q2 full game, I needed them more than once... and I love that type of an attack. This is my simple rule: If you're going to give it to me... make me need it. :)

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

Look to the full Q2 game maps for starters... there's a reason why so many people are willing to shell out $50 for the game :) Then I'd suggest browsing around the various Spq2 review sites, check out which levels rate well, and read the review procedures. Then, be creative! Don't just copy what works well -- put yourself into your map, and you'll come out a winner.

Anything else you want to add?

A huge thanks to all the Spq2 authors out there. You guys just keep dishing out so many good quality free maps, and I for one am quite pleased!

Thanks. We all appreciate it.

No problem! It's been fun. And a thanks to you for taking the time to put together this project, and actually include a newbie like myself in the interviews! Matt "Tron"