The Reviewers' Interview Series from The Quake Workshop
Installment number 4 in the series is from Matt Sefton, reviewer and editor precision and refinement, of SPQ2 Level Heaven.
How long has your site been active?
Single Player Quake Level Heaven (http://www.planetquake.com/spq2/quake1) has been active in one incarnation or another for 2 years now. My new site, Single Player Quake 2 Level Heaven (http://www.planetquake.com/spq2) has been online since Jan 1st 1998. It currently receives around 1250 visits a day.
What decided you to try to play and rate all those levels anyway?
During the Doom days there was never really a good resource to pick up quality maps - it was a case of delving into cdrom.com and taking a chance on downloading some levels, some good, some bad. This wasn't a problem as Doom maps were very small file sizes. When Quake appeared, the only pages at the time offering level reviews was Hudak's Only The Best Quake Levels, which quite frankly should have been sued for misrepresentation (heh!) and Quake at the Mecca. Both sites provided links to levels and 1 or 2 line descriptions - no screenshots. As I live in the UK and pay for my online time, I couldn't live with spending huge amounts of time downloading crap levels, so I decided, in conjunction with Crash who I'd known from Doom editing days, to set up a review site that provided good, detailed level reviews and high quality screenshots of single player levels, as those were the type of maps we both enjoyed. My site would feature only maps which I considered to be the best examples of editing. Crash took on the daunting task of reviewing *every* level that made it to cdrom.com.
I still use the same principle today. The only maps you'll see featured on my sites are maps I personally enjoy. That's not to say that a map I don't feature is bad, just that a personal web page is just that - personal!
Ever dig in and try your hand at editing yourself?
I think you know the answer to that! I've released 1 Doom level (Evil Twin), 6 Quake 1 levels (EvilWorld, Underworld, Lost World, Jawbreaker, Arcane and Argonaut) and 1 Quake 2 level (Infiltrate : Subjugate : Eliminate).
How do you think that affects your review approach?
By having a good handle on the principles of editing, it allows me, I believe, to have a better insight into what makes a good level and the amount of hard work that goes into producing a map. I can hopefully see the flaws in a map, where something could have been improved upon, better appreciate a well built or complex structure, etc. I don't think that being able to edit is a requirement for running a review site - how many film critics could make a movie? - but it certainly helps. It also helps to avoid that "what the hell does he know anyway" attitude from some mappers. "He knows because he's done it himself..."
You just finished your 10,000 level. What do you play/do other than Q2 to keep from burning out on it?
Q1. :) Just kidding. I have very little free time so most of my computer time is spent playing id games - Doom, Quake or Quake 2. I also enjoy a blast through Moto Racer, GTA, etc. I walk Larry the Quakedog a lot, talk to my wife occasionally, I have a season ticket for Newcastle United - usual stuff.
Got any other details you want to share about who you are and what makes you tick?
I think that's already been documented too much elsewhere :)
How do you collect your levels for review? Search cdrom.com, submissions,...?
By any means possible. I have a lot of friends who build levels so generally they'll let me know when they have a new map. A lot of people ask me to review their maps via e-mail, I do a trawl of cdrom.com every few days (though not as much as I used to), I see maps on other sites that I've missed. Anywhere, really.
About how many levels do you think you play per week?
Not as many as I used to - probably between 6-8, depending on how busy I am at work.
Scored ratings or basic descriptions after clearing a specific quality hurdle: there are lots of methods. Wanna "pro and con" your chosen approach?
Well, I don't use ratings of any kind. Basically, if I enjoy a map, I review it. If I don't, I don't :) There are basic elements a map has to have to make me enjoy it - high build quality, great texture alignment, great architecture and lighting and most importantly it must be *fun*. I can ignore a few little errors if the fun factor is high. I'm not too concerned about a storyline or plot - after all, id weren't either, were they? :) Once I've chosen a level to feature, I try to write a review that gives people a good idea of what they're going to get for their download, that is witty (heh!) and that points out any potential problems with the map such as high r_speeds, sudden death traps, sticking points, etc. I also take a big selection of screenshots and pick a couple to feature that best demonstrate the look of the level.
I want people to feel that if they download a map from my site that it is at least going to be of a reasonable standard and that they won't have wasted their time and money.
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?
Honestly? The music :) I loved it. Other than that, the overall atmosphere of the base1 map, from the architecture to the explosions and radio chatter that greet you as you enter the map, really got the adrenalin flowing. I'd been waiting for Q2 for a long time - I wasn't disappointed...
And now, what keeps you coming back for more and more and more...?
God knows! I just enjoy seeing what the user community comes up with and I'm constantly surprised and inspired by the sheer quality of the stuff that's produced. Every now and then (like now) I go through a period where I'm sick of the sight of Quake maps, but it usually passes. When it doesn't, I'll call it a day.
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?
Yea, I play Q1 a fair bit. To be honest, other than the obvious cosmetic improvements, I don't believe there's a great deal of difference between the two games. The monster AI was not the huge leap from Q1 to Q2 we were led to believe, so the same basic principles of monster and weapon placement apply.
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 levels set in Makron's Palace and also the Outlands map - I would have loved to have seen more of those big outdoor rock face areas - but I like 'em all really. Anything with the E2U3 texture set can't be bad.
Without naming any map specifically, what is the biggest problem you see in levels?
Bad texture choices and alignment. The decoration of a map contributes significantly to whether an area is believeable or not. Even the slightest texture flaw can shatter that.
Why is a theme so important to a map?
Theme - yes. It ties the map together and gives you a purpose for being there. Storyline - I'm not so sure it matters.
Is it ethical/cool to redo maps from previous games (Quake1, Doom2, Duke, etc)?
Personally, I can't really see the point. I've yet to play a map conversion that is an improvement on the original. They don't really interest me. Create something original. In a redo, most of the hard work is already done anyway as far as the level design goes.
Has the Q2 editing community matured more rapidly than for Q1? Any theories as to why or why not?
Most definitely. There are new authors springing up all the time. When I first started building Q1 maps there were very few resources - all I had was Thred, no tutorial and a copy of Niklata's Map Specs. Now there are so many resources out there such as editing sites like your own, Rust, etc that give detailed tutorials on every aspect of building a map, editors that are highly developed with good support - it's a natural progression. I believe it's far easier now for anyone interested in map building to get started.
Which monster is your favorite, and which seems to be the toughest to deal with?
Gunner is my favourite (Icarus a close second 'cos he looks cool!). Gladiator is toughest to deal with unless you get up close - fires his railgun too fast!
Give us 2 monsters and what you think are their strengths: the best placements to get the most challenge out of fighting them.
Gunners are ideal - they have two attack weapons that work well at both close and long range. Best placed slightly higher than the player.
Standard soldiers are often forgotten about but used in packs that surprise and surround the player, they can be very difficult to get past.
Give us 2 monsters and what you think are their weakness and the placements that hamper the monster's performance.
The Flyer is wasted in cramped environments - one shotgun blast and they're gone. At long range outdoors they can be a real handful and difficult to hit.
Any Beserker a room's length away from you is dead meat. By the time he runs towards you and snakes from side to side to avoid your shots, forget it, very much like the Knights in Q1. Stick 'em in dark corners where they can surprise the player.
Any patterns you have seen with monsters so far?
Yea, checkerboards, swirly stars, stripes... oh, you mean when I'm *not* playing under the influence of alcohol? :) No, not really...
What do you think of the bosses for Q2?
They're OK - not my favourite elements of the game.
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)?
The lighting is markedly different - Q2 maps are definitely *smoother*, but both styles have their advantages and disadvantages. I don't really prefer one to the other. Obviously with light emitting brush faces, more realistic environments can be created in Q2.
Colored lighting. What a great toy... uh, tool,... for us editors.
It's definitely abused but not necessarily overused. Some authors, YooShin Yang for instance, manage to use a big variety of lighting styles between areas of their maps without the effect being jarring.
What is the strangest use of colored lighting (odd color for instance) you have seen - whether it worked or not?
Play Versicolored Vermination :)
Is it worse to have an area that is too dark or too light?
Both are bad - too dark may be slightly worse, especially when you have bad eyes like me :)
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?
Certainly, but like you say, the Q2 texture sets are large enough for mappers to get a lot of life out of them.
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?
Yes, definitely. For my own levels, I try to take existing textures and use them in different ways. I started in Jawbreaker by punching holes out of some of the base textures, which worked well. Thematically, the matched texture sets will always work better together as they were designed to be used that way.
Hell, what is your favorite texture/level feel (base, warehouse, city,...)?
E2U3 - the grimy garbage textures.
Are you still surprised by the new ideas that people use the new tools (translucents, light emitting brushes, etc) for?
Of course - that's what makes playing the new levels fun.
Traps, many love the challenge they present.
Traps are fine if they give the player a chance. Sudden death traps, unless obvious before the player stumbles on them, are not fun at all and can be very frustrating.
This is related to an earlier question; Rotating brushes, are they being used for good dramatic effect beyond just fans?
I'd have to say not really - not yet. One of the nicest uses of rotating brushes I've seen is in Iikka Keranen's Leftovers... map - the curved lift doors - very cool.
How much are you willing to sacrifice performance (r_speeds etc) for something that absolutely looks cool?
Personally, quite willing :) I have a fast machine. There is a limit though. Some maps, like Rick Troppman's Relay Station, border on the unacceptable.
Secrets: what is the best way to implement them into the flow of a level?
Secret areas are cool, but I would never place an item such as a key that was essential to finish the map in a secret area. To me secrets are the icing on the cake - nice to have but not essential.
Which gun is your pride and joy for Strogg blasting?
Are levels that restrict weapon selection and ammo more exciting/challenging or do you like full fire power every time?
Restricted weapon selection is far more fun. Even an idiot like me can finish most maps with every available weapon. Weapon and ammo placement is high on my list of priorities when judging a map.
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?
Monsters that drop weapons and ammo are a great bonus. I prefer levels that have areas with a *stash* of ammo and armour. To me, the perfect scenario is to constantly have the player on the edge of running out of health and ammo, making them think about what they're using until they hit the next stash.
What is your take on the special powerups, quad for example? Do they fit with a strong single player environment?
I have to say I never use 'em. Again, they're a nice to have, but can wreck the flow of a map.
What is your biggest tip for for someone just thinking about starting editing?
Go for it. It's a lot of fun, but don't expect perfect results overnight. It's a skill you have to develop and it takes a lot of patience.
Anything else you want to add?
Yea - this is for Lard:
Tell me ma, me ma,
Thanks. We all appreciate it.