The Reviewers' Interview Series from The Quake Workshop

The seventh installment in our Reviewers' Series of interviews is from Akuma of, appropriately enough, Akuma's SPQ2.
Read on fellow editer...

How long has your site been active?

I don't have the exact figures, but around a year or two. I really didn't get a reliable internet connection until just after the Qtest release. Things began with a pretty simple mould of what I wanted to achieve and everything progressed from there.
What you see before you today, is the result of a two year refinement process, and a great deal of work.

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

I suppose that initially I just wanted to contribute something to the quake community. As the site began to attract more and more attention, I started to feel that I had an obligation to produce material that was interesting to read and nice to look at. Based on the supportive feedback, I can see that people are finding it useful, and interesting. Constructive criticism is certainly a just reward, and it serves to motivate me in anything that I produce. The reasoning behind my commitement to the single player Quake scene, is due to the immense rewards it yields.

Ever dig in and try your hand at editing yourself?

Several times. I must have built 10 Quake1 maps, but only ever released modified rebuilds of the id maps DM1 and DM6 (both as old as they are lame). I've tried building for Quake2, but I didn't feel that my maps were upto the standard. Running a reviews (and partial editing) site, you would expect a high standard from anything I produced. People would expect me to practise what I preach. When it comes down to the fundamental mapping elements there's so much to consider, the slightest lapse of concentration or continuity and the map quickly turns from you ideal world, into something that you just can't seem to work with. It's a tricky business, and experience has taught me, that if I can't produce something I can be proud of, it's better to produce nothing at all. I haven't given up just yet though, I'll continue to tinker with QuArk in the hope that something good might result.

How do you think that affects your review approach?

Having seen first hand, all the work that has to be done, and done well, I can only begin to appreciate the time, dedication and commitement these guys are putting into their work. The art of mapping isn't restricted to the physical placement of burshes, or the chopping and changing of textures. You must remember that authors are having to deliver maps that are as original and creative as they are fun. For me, the hardest part of assembling any map, is finding the inspiration. I give special credit to those maps which endeavour to be original and innovative, due entirely because I can appreciate the work it takes to come up with something new.

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

I play the original Quake, Command and Conquer (Yeah, still), I eat cookies, and I read. When I'm not doing any of those things, I'm trying to code something in assembler. At the moment I'm testing the blue error screens : )

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

Cookies from Tesco :)

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

From a big tin marked 'Beans'. Oh, you mean seriously? I browse around and Sunsite, anything recent will usually catch my eye.
From time to time I'll check out what the competition is running, and usually take a look at those maps myself. I'm getting an increasing number of submissions these days, either from authors themselves, or helpful folk recommending things they just played.
Anywhere and everywhere is a valid resource.

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

Maybe 4-6 single player maps on a quiet week, and anything upto 8 when things get busy. I've also been checking out deathmatch maps every once in a while. If you take those into account, that figure is closer to 12.

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

I opted to present reviews in a written textual format before any design work began on the site. The English language is such a flexible tool. Choosing a system of numerics over such a broad ranging method seemed some how silly. A single paragraph can portray the exact impressions I had of a map, far more conveniently and thoroughly, than can any system of rating scales. With the addition of screenshots, the whole thing can convey it's message much more effectively. What, with a picture being worth 10,000 words and all, I figure that's 20,300 words per review. I mean, where else do you find that kind of content : )

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?

Nothing really suprised me with Quake2, If there is anything I've come to expect from id, it is most definately "the unexpected". Sure I was impressed, in just the same way I was with Doom, Doom2, and Quake (I never had the good fortune of playing Wolfenstein).
I wouldn't like to point my finger on one tiny element and say 'this rocked my world', but your question is rather specific, and nobody likes question dodging. I'll have to say that aside from the whole game being very polished, technically oustanding, and thoroughly entertaining, the first thing that really blew me away, was Steed's introductory cinematic sequence.

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

It would have to be the user created levels. There are so many benefits to the type of open ended architecture that id routinely employs. When you're done with the standard mission set, and you've seen all there is to see, there are always user created maps, conversions projects, mission packs and so on, that are sure to keep you interested at least as long as the original content. Its a situation where everybody wins. The game developers manage to keep us all entertained until the time of their next release, everybody has a great deal of fun, and lots of people find themselves a career in the process.

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?

Quake2 is a much more refined immersive game than quake ever was. Everything ties together to produce a consistant environment that is visually stunning. For me Quake2 will always be the better game. It's textures are designed with a real purpose in mind, maps take those textures as composites of worlds so far unsurpassed in the pc games industry. Models are clearly oriented with the bio-mechanical theme and fit seemlessly with eveything else. There are just so many elements that are all so perfectly balanced within quake2. It has an equilibrial balance bettered only by nature's eco-systems. Quake2 will be one tough cookie to beat.

Quake on the other hand, has it's emphasis placed firmly on adrenalin pumping action, and heart racing combat. Crash observed that continuity was low, and believability was even lower. I couldn't agree more with his opinions, but I must state, that I really do prefer to play Quake. It runs much more smoothly (obviously due to my low end machine) and action is more intense. I have this thing for high monster counts, and low Artificial Intelligence that, short of returning to Doom, is hard to find outside of Ritual's 'Scourge of Armagon'. I've never been able to assertain exactly what is so satisfying about ploughing through a 60 strong army of dumbass imps with a shotgun, but I know I enjoy it : )

So yes I do play Quake1 sometimes.

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

Ah, yes. It has to be the Mine levels. A very difficult texture combination, with plenty of close combat situations; I enjoy using the Super Shotgun to uppercut the monsters into the lava, or off the edge of platforms. There is something deeply fulfilling about watching them hurl through the air like a sack of potatoes. The Mine units provide a great deal of opportunity for such a wicked suprise attack. For the most part, the Mines are the most polished area on Stroggos.

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

I could write a book on this very subject, but for the purpose of this interview, I'll spare you the trip into town, and give you the abbreviated version right here...

You can tell an amateur map the instant you set foot in it. There are obvious identifiers such a poor lighting, reduced architectural intensity, and over emphasised monster compliments, and then there are the more subtle things that give you away. I've seen a number of maps that manage to give the illusion of some degree of proffesional work, most notably in monster placement and item distribution, but failed so horibly on environmental flow. Novice mappers tend to think of maps, as a series of large rooms, connected only by cramped corridors. At the end of those corridors you'd probably find another large room, and then another corridor. It's hard to imagine a more wasteful use of such a powerfull engine, but people keep churning this stuff out and making us suffer.

Other areas very important to the success of a map, are the rooms. I know what you're about to say, "Doh, rooms are everything!", and in a sense, you'd be right, in another however you would have just fallen at the very first mapping hurdle. As soon as you start to think of rooms as single isolated units of a map, you are commiting yourself to producing an environment that feels restrictive, and looks like a hamster cage. Rooms are much more than isolated areas, you can build upon them, and add features to enable them to connect to other regions of the map. To illustrate my point here, I would suggest that you take the time to explore some deathmatch maps, and experiment with different methods of interconnection, such as tunnels, windows, grates and trapdoors. The 'Da-Pak' guys are masters of such techniques, and you'll find some incredible examples on their site. If you'd like something a little more single player oriented, there is no example finer that Matthias Worch's 'Beyond Belief'. Notice how these guys expand on the concept of rooms, in the process of taking them on to become something much greater than a six sided rat run?. That is how maps should look.

The next big mistake is over use of Keys, I used to see this all the time, most people are wising up to this now though. If the player is made to trek around the map searhing for a tiny key that could be anywhere, with his entire search based on a "Find the Blue Keycard" message, the resultant exploration will not only be laborious, it will steal something from the entertainment value of your maps. These kind of exploratoriums always leave me with a hollow, unispired after taste...

Monster placement is also very important, and can be easily overlooked. When you're putting monsters into a map you should think carfully, about the size and armourment each has; putting a Supertank on a bridge or an island in a lake, is both un-intersting and boring to play, furthermore a restriction of the player's mobility at such a crucial conflict could mean the difference between success or failure. Hijacking the players superior autonomy for a little while can be a fine trick to play, but stealing it at an inappropriate time can induce frustration. Though often the most interesting of tools an author can have, it can either make or break a map, use it sparingly and wisely!

While I've got the chance I may as well mention that Teaming doors hasn't quite caught on yet either. What you need to do is give both the doors a 'team' and a name say 'door1' so they'll both open together. It can't be that hard can it?

Why is a theme so important to a map?

I don't think that 'theme' is really the best word to use here. I believe that maps should obey a single, unwavering 'style', be it Base, Mine, Metal or whatever, as long as it maintains that style for the duration of the map. When you have a transition of styles, that is when things start to go pear shaped! The word 'theme' implies a little more than a basic texture set and architectural theory, to me it suggests that a map has to look like something most commonly associated with the real world. Something on which it is based, that extends beyond the architecture and into the fubctionality of the level itself. Though having some predetermined theme, usually provides an excellent playing experience, I don't think it's important enough to be classed as a prerequisit for a good map.

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

I dont mind personally, as long as there's not an epidemic of e1m1 conversions. I played a conversion of one of the original Doom2 maps running under Quake, and although I'd played that thing a hundred times in Doom2, I was really impressed by the differences the Enforcers and such made. If someone wants to do that, it's fine by me.

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

Quake editing took off really slowly by comparison. I think this was due to the fact that, with Quake1, having true 3 dimensional freedom was completely alien. There were a similar number of maps around, and things have met the same time scales, but we were seeing very proffesional Quake2 maps much earlier than we did with Quake. Artifacts native to Quake2 were put to good use quickly too. I think we have the work of programmers such as Robert Duffy, Armin Rigo and Yahn Bernier to thank, for doing such an excellent job with their respective editors, for that!

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

My favourite? Either the Gladiator or the Gunner, I think it would have to be the Gunner. The toughest, would probably be the Parasite (strogg dogs : ), because they move so fast, and are capable of taking masses of health if they get even remotely close. Unless you have a fast weapon you'll end up dog food. Other than that, they're ugly as hell, and never fail to scare the crap outta me!

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

The SuperTank's greatest strength, is it's firepower. Don't stand still! Put one of these in a nice open area and watch him cut you down from even the best defensive positions. The degree of concentration those shots fly around at makes even the Makron look tame.

The Parasite's main strengths are it's speed and long ranged attack. A perfect situation to take advantage of this, would be a small compact room with limited manouverability. Ideal for the parasite, yet difficult for the player to avoid getting hung up on the local architecture or the parasite's harpoon.

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

I always felt that the medics were the most redundant of all Strogg monsters. Their rate of attack is pitifull, and they take so long to revive a fallen monster that you very rarely see it happen. Put a big group next to a fallen Commander, and watch your player dice them like a mad man!

Iron Maidens (bitches) are another of those pathetically underpowered folk. Even in sniping groups you'll have plenty of time to crawl out of harms way, and read the manufacturer's label on the side of her rockets as they scream by.

Both are far too slow, and have very limited attacks, they could be put to better use as roadblocks.

Any patterns you have seen with monsters so far?

In placement or usage?
None really. Everyone places monsters where they see fit. Sometimes I can imagine what lies in wait around the next corner or behind a door, and I'm usually right. It all depends on the style of the map, and the tastes of the author. I have noticed that you get the Icarus mainly in the sky, flying about, and Barracuda sharks in the water, which is strange. Can't think why? I'm not saying that I'd love to see flying fish in future maps, but a little unpredictability might be nice?

What do you think of the bosses for Q2?

It's very 'American' to have lubering great bosses, and although I can live with that, I wouldn't mind seeing something a little more nimble, like a cyborg Baron of Hell for example. Perhaps even a Gunner with Quad Damage or an assimilated marine?

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)?

Having faces emit light reduces the number of cluttering point entities in maps, and due to their convenience, many authors might be neglecting the point lighting. I do feel that it's a little unfortunate, because those very same lights produced such atmospheric areas in Quake, it would be a real shame to lose them in the conversion.

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

I've seen a great many applications for coloured lighting, some of them have worked, some of them haven't, I'm pretty sure though, that the real innovations with colour are yet to come.

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

'Cleanly' is one way of putting it. Another would be 'sparingly'. I'd love to see all those thousands of colours put to greater use with architecture and textures, in the same way that id did in the water areas of the first few maps, and the waste tunnel's green luminessence from 'cool'. I'm just not seeing enough of that at the moment.

Is it abused or overused?

It's certainly been used effectively, but not to any great extent worthy of note.

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

None really, everyone seems to keep to the primary colours, and combine them with textures well. The obvious stuff id pioneered is all most designers use. I suppose the strangest I've seen was a coloured lighting example I threw together a while ago. It looked kinda' like a rave.

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

Both will make your map look really nasty. But dark is definatly the worse of the two evils. I hate trying to find my way out of pitch black labyrinths.

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?

Only a few. A lot less than I did for Quake1.

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?

Because Quake2's textures are designed to fit Bases or Mines specifically, and many of them are set to fit onto one another, there have been far less daring texture combinations and creative ideas. I really miss seeing things like castles and forests from Quake. The Quake2 texture set is far too technology oriented for my tastes, and though I would have preferred a much broader range, there isn't at lot I can do about it!

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

Mine. Those textures are just too cool.

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

There are obvious disjointed areas, where a texture should fit onto another, but doesn't and thus looks a little messy. There are areas where textures change too differently and therefor stand out. But the best way to tell if a texture fits, is by checking if you even notice it. It might sound a little odd, but I tend not to notice the textures that fit together perfectly. Having a perfect match suggests that the textures are both seamless, and non contrasting, so naturally, you should notice them less. Having said that, there are also some styles that have quite a contrast, and still manage to look incredibly cool.

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

It would be great if textures would fit themselves automatically, and the grid wasn't in any way connected to them, but I guess we just have to accept the way things are, and make the most of what we have. Architecture, and conforming to the grid will dictate much of the maps appearance until id invents something better.

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

It never ceases to amaze me, how many wacky ideas the folk out there can up with. I think some of them are every bit as mad as they are creative!

Traps, many love the challenge they present.

Traps provide a diversion from routine play, and offer the player something different to test thier wits. Everyday combat might test the players abililty to aim, shoot, and take the best possible advantages the architectue lends. Traps however, are a whole new kettle of fish, they can test those skill other mapping tools cannot reach. A valuable decoy in any mappers arsenal, but another one that should be used with caution.

What is your perspective on "architecturous carnivorous?"

I really hate traps that strike without fair warning, or seem to come from nowhere. Use them conservatively (ie; non fatally), so when they do strike, and they player realises he's fallen for the oldest trick in the book, he isn't left frustrated and angry. This is usually the point where players resort to cheating. Instant death traps are no fun, so bare in mind, the player doesn't know what you are expecting him to do. You'll need to make things obvious and linear. Ensure there is a way of avoiding your traps, that the smarter more observant player will spot. It doesn't have to be a big pointing sign that reads "Don't stand here pal, it's a trap", something a little out of the ordinary might suffice.

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

I have seen some intersting uses in Deathmatch maps, but nothing really eye catching in single player. Roatating geometry is seldom used for anything other that decorative purposes.

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

Concentrated architecture would be best used in areas that are of little significance to play. This might be where there are no monsters, or at the beginning of a map. Unpopulated crash sites seem to be a popular area for concentrated architecture.

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

It goes almost without saying, that items necessary to the successful completion of the map should never be hidden in secret areas. Areas that are intentionally hard to find should also offer more valuable bounty. After all, swimming through a pool of lava for something like a backpack is hardly worth the cost in health. I find that secret areas are especially effective in maps where the player is encouraged to make every ounce of ammo count. Anyone finding the secret would appreciate it more, since it's value it greatly increased. I'm also partial to 'the shortcut secret', be they physically shorter routes, that cut out a challenging area, or weapons that make the disposal of a particular monster that little bit more bearable. Quake2 has a vast array of useful tools, choose the secret ones wisely.

Which gun is your pride and joy for Strogg blasting?

Ah, This is the question I've been waiting for :)
Most definitaly the Railgun, it's so satisfing to see a tiny spray of gibs in the distance!

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

I suppose I have a bias for maps which force me to hold back the ammo for the right monster, and use things in the correct circumstances. I find that having to think, and plan ahead with every little action adds something quite special to 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?

Having monsters drop items seems to be a popular answer to this one, so I'll have to say that hanging them from the roof by a long piece of cotton, like furry dice is definately the best approach : )

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

I'm gonna have to stand by id on this one, and say that I do think these items are as valid in single play as anything else. My sole justification being that they provide something a little different. After ducking and diving through battlefields and conserving health and equipment for god knows how long, it follows that you might want to grab a Quad and paint the town red! If there were no such items, I'm sure we'd all be complaining that single player games were too monotonous?

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

I've seen countless maps that look dreadful because the designer has failed to grasp the concepts of basic texture combination. If you're starting a map, and have a pre-determined style, look for examples of how that style works. Which textures fit where, and what combinations go well together.

Anything else you want to add?

Yeah I'd love to "asm add di, 4" and not get an "invalid operand combination error"!
Also, check out The Powersphere Quest it's a really good q2 Single Player episode!

Thanks. We all appreciate it.