The Reviewers' Interview Series from The Quake Workshop

Number 5 in our Reviewers' Series of interviews at last. It is from, chris aka "guf" of the

Throbbing Fugue
Fugue Critical SPQ2 Level Review
Some more good stuff in here, so dig in.

How long has your site been active?

My first publicly posted review was for Ed Cope's "Gib me liberty" on February 12, 1998 (day after my 21st bday!), but the Fugue existed in some form or another since early January.

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

I love user-created levels, and I wanted to give something back to the community. In my ignorant opinion, it also seemed like there was a somewhat open niche for criticism sites in the level review scene, because a lot of the glowing praise I saw in reviews seemed a bit overdone after I had actually played levels. So, in hopes of promoting the creative exchange of levelcraft, I set up the Fugue around constructive criticism, and opinions on design elements.

Ever dig in and try your hand at editing yourself?
How do you think that affects your review approach?

I've done quake and quake2 map editing, but nothing released... yet (soon, my precious ;). My attempts at editing have given me a lot of respect for level authors, and the amount of work that goes into bringing a map concept to life. I wish everybody playing these user-created levels would give editing a try, to cultivate this respect and for other reasons (mwahahaha, more levels for me!).Hopefully, it's also tempered my critical comments, so they are a bit more accurate in terms of expectations and level of critique.

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

I don't really play other games that much. I'll check out a demo from time to time, but q2 was the lastgame I purchased... I do still play Doom from time to time, sort of a "revisiting the roots" type thing to see/remember some of the best level designs ever. Beyond that, I have "hobbies" outside of gaming, which is pretty important, IMHO. I read an awful lot, paint, draw, practice Hatha Yoga, etc. Breaks are very necessary for keeping a fresh perspective on stuff, especially for reviewing.

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

Hehe, I also practice zen meditation, and yes, there is a "zen of quake". =)

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

On a regular basis, I lurk through almost all of the very professional spq2 sites available, and authors send me release announcements for submission from time to time (which I really prefer, kinda because of the nature of the reviews). I also go directly through and author pages.

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

Depends on the week, of course, but I would say on average I play around 6 a week.

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

Hehe, my approach is a short description of my experience with the level, which is generally a sort of "pro"s section on what I really liked, and then I have a specifically labeled "cons:" section that details specific things in the map that I think could use improvement (sort of "pseudo-beta test" comments); sometimes this entails very specific details, and other times general concepts.

The positive aspect of my review style (at its best) is constructive criticism that helps to fine tune level authors' evolving levelcraftiness, in both parts of my reviews, plus's and minus's.

One of the negative aspects of my reviews is that the "cons:" section may ruin the experience for the end-user if they haven't played the level before (usually my reviews come out long after the level has made appearance on other pages, so I don't think it happens to often). Another negative aspect is simply that the "cons" are my own limited opinions of stuff at the time that I review it... different stuff pleases different people, so all the "cons:" comments need to be taken with a grain of salt.

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 level designs, of course! Actually, everything really knocked me out (except maybe the enemy AI), from the unit mission system, to the creative player-progression methods. I absolutely loved the artwork behind everything, from wall textures, to monster skins, to cinematics. Kudos to Kevin Cloud, Adrian Carmack, and all the id masterminds that helped develop the artistic flavor of Q2.

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

A seething homicidal impulse =D. I keep coming back to to learn from the level designs, trying to get a glimpse of the thinking process behind the creation of this badass game, and the user-levels that have enhanced it so much.

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 don't play spq1 anymore at all. The Q1 levels I loved most were the base and metal levels, which is basically all of quake2! I also liked the higher numbers of low-health beasts in Q2... if it were up to me, there would be a lot more monsters that would have excruciatingly vicious attacks, dramatically violent death's, and only take 1 or 2 shots to take out. This aspect of Q2 magnified the drama of the battles, rather than having the durability of the monsters expose the lack of AI, like the beasties in Q1.

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

The Power levels are sweet, extremely reminiscent of the metal levels in Quakel, filled with all sorts of very versatile, dark metallic textures and wonderful atmosphere: glowing pipes, wiring, rust, and creepy ominous ambient noises... ditto for the Space levels.

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

Lack of attention to ambience, such as sound effects and subtle atmospheric details in architecture and whatnot, seems to be a bit of a problem. Another problem I have noticed is inappropriate texture use... there is room for a fountain of creativity in the use of textures, but lots of the textures have pretty explicit applications for taking advantage of three dimensional and meshing effects created by the textures design.

Why is a theme so important to a map?

Theme is one of the most important aspects of level design, very key for establishing location. Cohesive themes make level navigation intuitive, fun and interesting, and good themes define the personality of the map, from architecture styles to textures to lighting to monster usage to almost everything. Sometimes a bit of an elusive quality.

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

Sure, as long as you give credit where credit is due; it's a good learning experience. I don't usually play remakes, and I don't post them.

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

It sure seemed like the transition from doom editing to Q1 was a much more vast leap of process than between Q1 and Q2.The level of quality in Q1 rose pretty slowly in the beginning, whereas the Q2 user-maps started out very high in quality, and just keeps on going higher. The community, learning resources, and tools for Q2 were already there from Q1 days.

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

I don't know... I really dig all the monsters with dramatic death animations, like the beheaded Enforcer, and the Icarus (I love watching them spin, crash, and burn). I guess my fav adversary is the Gladiator... when you hear his evil alien warcry, it chills your blood. When used in appropriate doses, the Gladiator creates some frantic battle situations that encourage movement and close-up work. The parasite is one tough cookie, IF he has you on his ground... that little flesh-hook is impossible to dodge up close and in the open, in addition to his ability to handle damage. Hearing the idle claw tapping of the parasite really puts me on edge.

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

The Infantry guards (shotgun and machine gun) have much better aim than either the Enforcer or the Gunner, and the Machine Gun Infantry can take enough damage to make you sweat. Attacks in groups, and set ups for crossfires are lethal for the infantry. Shotgun/supershotgun battles with these fellows can be challenging and very satisfying, sort of like the packs of imps and former soldiers in Doom2.

I’ve found the Iron Maiden has the best performances stationed in twos or three (the number depends on the weapons/ammo available) on higher ground with a minimum of cover or at a bit of a distance in a tight corridor. The Iron Maiden does not play well with others, but as part of a larger battle sequence where they are mainly inaccessible to the other beasties and/or cannot hit them, they can be very cool additions to the melee.

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

The Beserker is one of those monsters that's very easy to use incorrectly. Despite it's speed (which should have been faster, dagnabbit!), they are easy AND tedious to kill unless used in tight quarters, surprise attacks, or coordinated assaults with other beasties. Anytime you place a Beserker on an upper or lower level, he's an idiot sitting duck, and this usually ruins the sense of emersion for the map.

The barracuda shark is a limited use enemy to begin with, but any placements where they see the player and are triggered before the player is even close to the water is pretty boring. Hide them in the depths, or make sure the victim is out on a narrow ledge at the water’s edge before they come out to play. Otherwise, it’s boring blaster work.

Any patterns you have seen with monsters so far?

People have been really overusing the tanks in unoriginal battle situations for "endgame" type sections of maps. The best tank battles I have played have been with a bare minimum of cover and no retreat route, using the grenade launcher... or are you asking about patterns within their behavior? The Parasite can't seem to hook you if you stand on his noggin =).

What do you think of the bosses for Q2?

The Bosses are very cool to look at, and have some fantastic animations, but beyond the wow factor of seeing them, they're not incredibly fun to battle. Unfortunately, when they're mishandled by authors the battles become very tedious. I wish that level authors wouldn't use them so much unless they are doing a unit; it takes awayfrom their grandeur and impact.

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)?

Yeah, dramatic shadowing seems to be less prevalent in Q2 levels, but I still think the radiosity lighting looks better... it just takes a little more to get the proper shadows in (all the same, I don’t think the super deep shadows of Q1 are possible with the radiosity). The lighting is definitely different between the two games, especially considering the light emitting surface properties... mix that with all the other lighting techniques like spotlights, arealights, and pointlighting, and you can get some absolutely astounding atmosphere.

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?Is it abused or overused?

There are level authors that have a great deal of skill in applying colored lighting so that it's very noticeable yet not overwhelming. I've seen a few abuses in the higher quality maps, but usually the colored lighting seems to be a bit neglected and downplayed.

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

A completely blue room for a blue keycard. I didn't think it came off well.

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

Both are pretty bad, but usually too dark is worse. More than anything, I look for variation in the light levels to distinguish different areas and give them a specific feel.

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?

Definitely. But there are a few out there, and I suspect a lot more will appear on the horizon.

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?

Generally, the strength of the matched textures is superior, but the really awesome stuff develops from the id's establishedtexture conventions. There is some very creative stuff going on out there, but IMHO, level authors should try to learn id's style to better develop their own. Usually, randomly throwing together textures to avoid norms looks pretty poor.

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

The Base and Power texture sets are damn cool. I'm also a sucker for anything well done with all the tech textures (wires,computers, electronics).

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

Color, material, and architectural schemes really define successful texture usage. A lot of textures are specifically designed to mesh at their edges, and attention to this gives the map a noticeably professional feel.

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

They should work off each other, symbiotically. One will be dominant in terms of design decisions over the other from time totime, but in the end, it should even out. Adhering consistently to themes architecturally and texturally is pretty big in my book, so as long as you got that, you're in business.

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

Yeah, the translucence and warping effects have been very fertile grounds for creativity in crafting a level's atmosphere and style, such as in Carl Utz's "WHAT THE END IS FOR" and "The Bloodshrine" by James Parkman.

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

Instant death traps are pretty frustrating and take away from the pure fun of emersion, unless they are very creative in theirindicated presence so the player can sense it before it strikes (dead bodies littering the floor in a particular place, sounds, etc. anything that makes you stop and say “hey, waitaminute…”). Traps that nip away at your health are very cool, when done creatively and used in moderation.

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

Yes, mainly in drawbridge type stuff, which I happen to like a lot, as well as badass hinged sewer pipe covers, doors, and various other things. I haven't seen much outside of id's established uses. Hehe, thereare TONS of fans in user-levels.

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

I'd rather have the performance, but it's never been a real problem on my pII233 =P. Performance is very important, and the Q2 engine is pretty versatile for accommodating really cool ideas, it's just a matter of retooling the original plan a bit.

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

NEVER make them integral to progression in the map. I've really enjoyed being able to see some secret very directly, thenhaving to figure out how to get to it, but anything that makes me feel smart for figuring stuff out, whether subtle or direct, makes me happy (feed the ego!).

Which gun is your pride and joy for Strogg blasting?

SuperShotgun! It encourages brutal, adrenaline pumping close-up work.

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

Depends on the level, but both extremes usually sucks (WAY too little, or WAY too much). I love levels that use carefullycontrolled ammo counts to force you into using all the different weapons available in your arsenal, adds a nice variety to battle situations. Weapon acquisitions should always be carefully controlled and timed.

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?

Arranging them with warehouse boxes, having enemies drop them (very very cool as long as it's appropriate to the beastie), and having "armory" or "supply" rooms/areas that you have to interact with to get the stuff (hitting buttons, finding security passes to the doors, etc.). I love it when weapons/keys/etc. are made available framed as coveted prizes with spotlights, pedestals, cages, and other elements that say "this is something special", rather than having them sitting of the floor or on a random box.

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

Absolutely, everything but the silencer works very well in the single player environ (I've never seen the silencer used very well).Quad and invulnerability have always seemed best suited as items to be found in secret areas.

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

Believe in yourself and never give up if you really love it. Mimic the masters until you are no longer an apprentice. Don't beafraid of trying something new, and never stop learning.

Anything else you want to add?

I want to give many thanks to all the mappers out there for working so damn hard to unleash their babies on the world… The user-created level scene is incredible. I also want to say thanks to all the great editing-info sites out there (like you guys at the Quake Workshop =), you’re an indispensable resource for making editing so accessible, helping to release entire worlds from the mind's eye.

Thanks. We all appreciate it.

Thanks for giving us a forum to express ourselves!