Behind Zee Levelord

Image courtesy of Ritual Entertainment

'Lo! What's new in the land of the Sinning levels?

Arrgh! Trying to finish this damned game is like trying to pull an impacted molar with your toes! Well, maybe not THAT bad… …but the shit does get thick towards the end of a game… Under severe stress, I find that I somewhat revert to an earlier mindset, when I was about eight years old. Say, …that's the South Park age, isn't it. Anyways, at this point, I'm throwing bona fide temper tantrums when I'm alone (like hurling a bowlful of yet-to-be-ovened meatloaf across the kitchen after a lump of it had the audacity to fall out of the bowl for the third time while I was stirring it, …or flinging two, …count `em, two Age Of Empires CDs likewise across the room after the game wouldn't cooperate by letting me win (ballistic CDs shatter quite coolistically), …or, in fact almost really ramming the guy that cut me off on 75 and, as I then passed him in the 'slow' lane, giving me the "What are ya gunno do!? Hit me?" look, …or, …or wait, parenthesii! … )).

I'm also talking to myself… …I mean TALKING to myself. Not just the swearing in the car at traffic kinda talking or laughing out loud along with the TV audience, …I mean full-blown conversations and extended outbursts.

The Contrary is back, too… …you know the 'other' that you talk to while thinking to yourself? Well, the Contrary is a childhood version of that entity and it almost always contradicted me when I was a kid. When I hit my teens, the internal conversations turned more agreeable and now, in adultdom, it's more like a simple monologue, …but now he's back. For instance, as I approach a yellow traffic light and think "I can make that… …easy!", the Contrary immediately comes back with "No you can't!". It's the pronoun "you" being uttered by something in my head that scares me.

I back up to a half pack of fucking cigarettes a day… …that's a monkey that NEVER gets off your back, kids! I make fun of synthetic substances and potables and such, but cigarettes are THE worse! Tobacco is baaad, mmmkay?

…does that paint my personal slant of the scene at Ritual well enough?

As one of the oldest (if not oldest!) level designers in the industry, do you have a hard time keeping up with all the advanced tools used in nowadays games? And learning all the entities for the game (especially scripting in Sin)? Or is it as easy as if you were one of them 21 year olds yourself?

The level designing discipline is quickly becoming a multi-personed one. With all that must be done with the characters (scripting and dialog), and battling ever-increasing performance demands (maintaining framerate with ever-growing environments), and in-game cinematics, and computer consoles, and controllable entities and… …where's that cigarette… …NO! …sorry. I've had to dump a lot of 'my' job on the Young Bloods. Herr Worch has become like the Auto Preminger of Ritual; he has done (notice the tense of that verb, …done) most of the cool cinematics like some Hollywood director. Charlie The Rolling Wieder and Patrick The Phookish One have trail blazed most of the sophisticated entity stuff like consoles and character scripting. Again, the shit IS getting thick!

Do you see the job as level designer changing in the next 4 to 6 years? Build maps only took a few weeks, Quake maps take a few months, who knows what is next? Do you see several people working on a level instead of everyone doing their own?

Yes, yes, as per above, …there is just too much for one person to do anymore. In addition, I think all of the complications mentioned are only going to get more complex as they are the "cool" aspects of FPS now. Soon, the AI will be so advanced that controlling the game's cast of characters will require someone akin to the Director in movies.

Sin's been in production for quite a while now, coming out several months later than the original project release date. If you could make Sin again, would you take a different approach to some things?

There are more than one reason for SiN's tardiness. The predominant ones, though, are the intrinsic characteristic that all games are late, games are based on software, and in particular to SiN… …we kind of had a delay in getting the final engine code. With respect to inherent lateness in games, a lot of that is due to wanting to jam as much as you can into it before it's put on the shelves. It's really hard, actually, to release the final CD because, as a developer, you will never be able to change anything on it again, …and there is ALWAYS more you want to do. There's a certain lull at the beginning of a new game and I think this is a residual "Where'd our baby go?" syndrome.

The fact that games are based on software is the real killer. As an ex-bit jockey, I can't tell you how hard it is to pin down a bug-free set of routines, especially one that is as complicated as a 3D, networking game. Some of the stuff done by game programmers could easily qualify for a doctoral thesis.

Lastly, we did get the final engine code a bit late as per our original schedule. Since then, it's been like building an airplane while in-flight. When you finally see SiN and all it's glorious features, you'll understand how busy the Wizards of Lb have been.

As far as games in general go… …our schedule hasn't been so bad, yes? I mean, I know of many-a-game, being anticipated right now, that is more than a year or two late ;)

In the recent editorial you wrote for Loonygames, you stated that Duke 3D was such a great game because it was 'fun'. Now that Sin is almost finished can you say that Sin is 'fun' too? Are whatever the company's goals were for Sin archieved?

Definitely! That's all that counts… …the Fun Factor. SiN will definitely be fun to play, that is assured, and it will hopefully go above-and-beyond anything you've seen so far in a game. We would like to put so much more into it, though. (Remember the "It's Hard to Put It Down" syndrome above?) I'm looking forward to seeing SiN II start-up as there are a ton of fun things waiting to be implemented.

What's this about you and Bugs Bunny on the Sunday morning?

Bugs rules! As a character, he rules because he never starts the shit… …well, usually not, but always ends up on top through guile and, of course, humor. As a cartoon, Bugs is still one of the funniest things and I have never lost my appreciation for him. The humor was funny as a kid, and it's also cerebral enough to entertain me now. The Simpsons is the only other cartoon that contends with Bugs, but there's no real hero in that cast, …at least for me. Sure, Joe Siegler has his Homer… …but that's not a usual case.

You're one of the industry's most well known level designers, what does that do for you?

It's very cool in that this is my personal kick-ass job and, above that, I get a lot of attention doing it. Most in the industry are very low profile and truly humble. Level designers, on the other hand, are by their very nature self-servicing, egocentric, self-inflating, megalomaniacal terds that need to be feed compliments daily and continuously supported emotionally. So, being well-known is very cool!

How do you come up with your inspiration for new levels?

Mostly from free-flowing thoughts, …daydreaming and fantasizing, similar to when I was a child playing with G.I. Joe and Major Matt Mason and such. I also get many of my brainstorms during those semi-somniatic states just before and just after sleep. The Russian Potato Juice and Californian Salad provide stimulation, too. A lot of ideas are simply appropriated (a euphemism for stolen) from movies and books and such.

So, when's Sin coming out then? Haha just kidding damnit


k, That will be all Sir. Dont wanna take away any more valuable Sin production time :)