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interviewed by Marksdad in July 2014


 

Marksdad: "OK, a few questions to get you started. Age; nationality; career?"

Alex: "I currently am 18 years and I'm French. I just got out of the high school life and I was selected to continue my studies in law."

Marksdad: "We shall discuss each of your levels in turn (and detail). So, to make for an easy start, let's get your first release over with quickly, shall we?! Escape from the Military Base - Was this the first level you actually built?"

Alex: "It was not my first level. I had already tried other projects with jungle or Egyptian theme (with one room) where the atmosphere was awful ... Gradually, I improved and I learned to use the right objects, connecting the rooms ... Later, I even tried to do a project where there was only sliding. This is why, in all modesty, Escape from the Military Base remains a level where I wrote down my personality, because there is action, humor, peace and other things to see."

Marksdad: "If/when you replay it, how do you now feel about it?"

Alex: "To me, it's the classic 'debut' level, i.e: One big area; lots of killing; no lighting, etc etc. It doesn't seem recognisable as an 'Alex adventure' to me, when (if!) I replay it now. By the way, is that why you put '2' for the gameplay in your review?"

Marksdad: "Well, we shall get to that always sticky subject of reviews and ratings a little later on. I presume that you started building last year? When did you first find out about TR and the world of Custom TR Levels?"

Alex: "My father was a fan of Tomb Raider and collected Lara's statuettes and booklets with it. What memories ... I have started to build last year. I think it's thanks to the reboot released in 2013 that I went back to my old Tomb Raider games from the PsOne, which then reminded me that there was a real community (very welcoming) on Internet, I so did some research and it's in June 2013 that I began to regularly play custom levels. I started in the construction of levels because I wanted to play Tomb Raider custom levels, but for that I needed the main directory of TRLE, there was the winroomedit in and then I said: "Why not me?", I decided to send the project because it seemed more fun to see its welcome, the advices given to improve. (When building his 1st project, we don't always know how to make it great)"

Marksdad: "Now we come to your first fully-fledged level: Villa of Remembrance. I thought that this was a fantastic concept! Where did you get the idea?"

Alex: "Do not tell those who do not read this interview, but ... I've taken the idea from another game that's dear to my heart : Kingdom Hearts; I love to adapt Tomb Raider to different themes."

Marksdad: "Already you're experimenting with creative uses of music (one of your trademarks). I also enjoyed your use of visual themes for each of the levels (an idea you come back to in your other multi-level sets.) However, I felt the whole thing looked rushed in terms of visual appearance and gameplay. How long did it take you to construct?"

Alex: "I am glad that my use of the music is memorable, you know, I'm a big fan of the soundtrack of the video games, I can even listen 16-Bits music or from a bad game. I want the players, through the game, feel what I feel while listening such music. It can be epic, sad, ridiculous or even funny, sometimes I can help them with a situation (tight rope) or a texture. ("C'est le zoo ici ! ") I will not deny that I have precipitated the building, for the simple reason that I realized that I didn't have the capacity to make it great. In addition, I felt that my image was tarnished because of my 1st level, so I wanted to show that I had ideas and that I wasn't limited with the basic tools of the editor. I realize, by replaying it, it's quite boring. The gameplay and visuals were at my capacity. Netherless, it took me one month and one week (With free summer months) to build it."

Marksdad: "The title also states that this is a Demo. Are we likely to see a second (longer?) version?"

Alex: "I assure everyone, there are chances that the Villa of Remembrance will have its full version, but I'm not currently planning. There is so many ideas that we can add on, I realize that this project will be the longest that I have to build. And I have other projects to show to the community. If one day, I haven't ideas in mind, so I will rebuild it."

Marksdad: "Escape from the Military Base v.2 This is basically what version 1 should have been, IMO. Yes, there are still beginner problems with various parts (particularly with the somewhat boxy rooms); but you're now displaying the fact that you can combine 'quirky' with 'traditional'. For instance, the Armory rooms where you're only allowed to choose one type of weapon for the remainder of the level (you have nothing at all to fight with to begin with). I loved the room with confrontations with multiple baddies which nonetheless had a 'No Smoking' sign prominently displayed."

Alex: "Ah yes, this level just shows that I'm resentful towards myself. :) In fact, after the construction of the Villa of Remembrance, I had many other ideas that seemed still difficult to achieve. For this third release I decided to create a fun, varied and representative level of the player itself as with the choice of weapon. So I decided to remastered my first level with all the advice that I had so far, despite some still square rooms; but I think everyone wasn't happy with the difficulty being to economise the munitions of the guns at the beginning of the game. Moreover, when the player fights the real first squadron of the game with his guns for the last time (with this "no smoking" texture), it shows that the player can be both in an epic moment, but in a world that he doesn't understand, he is in a weird or serious unknown. Besides, the music played (St Francis Folly Theme) at this time, reminds me a quite desperate or mysterious situation where the environment does what he wants. Sometimes, having eliminate 20 enemies at the same time by just having used one big medipack can be hilarious. :)"

Marksdad: "Hilarious? Well, some may see it that way! Does this mean that you have a strong sense of humour in real life? In other words, if any of us ever met you, would we be thinking 'Oh yes, definiteley Alex!' or would we instead think 'this guy's not nearly as interesting as his levels!'?"

Alex: "I don't know if I have the same humor in real life, because, represented on the game and in oral it's very different; but the common point between these two types of humor is that I am someone who always want to do a bit of humor, but I still can't have success, plus I'm a little shy when I have to face a real person. I must say, I prefer my humor in the game than in real life. If you come to my house, I think you will probably not laugh in the same way as in my Tomb Raider levels. :)"

Marksdad: "Before we carry on further,I have to mention your excellent command of the English language. You say you're going to study law? Is linguistics necessary for this at University?"

Alex: "For the University, I made a vow (in the same institution), which included the right in addition of English. I don't know why I wasn't accepted, only in the simple law formation. This is probably because of my final results or the fact that it is reserved for an elite. However I think I need to know a lot of english words in this basic formation."

Marksdad: "Ok, next up is Lara's 2D Adventure. Firstly, were you familiar with the other 2D adventures out there (e.g. The Jumps and Runs of Sara Droft)? Second, how long did it take you to create the levels; and was it hard to go against the natural 3D nature of the LE, or did it become easier to build as you went along?"

Alex: ": Lara's 2D Adventure is, I think, the game that has started to really take my time to build with the editor. It took me over 3 months to build the 7 levels. I think these are the cameras that took me longer to do and not the architecture, I could have had a little more work on it, but I gave everything I had for have good visuals. All levels were based on elementary themes, I wanted each player finds his favorite environment with a completely different gameplay in every levels. Basically, I didn't know there were other levels in 2D, it may be silly to say, but how not to think that someone has already had this idea with an editor that is now 15 years old? It's only after posting it that I learned there was other 2D levels."

Marksdad: "Again the use of music was inspired! Did you hear The Nutcracker (and the other appropriate music tracks) in your head when you originally devised the final level, because it fits so well."

Alex: "Generally, before build a story or a level, I always think about what musics I will use. Sometimes it's the music that makes the gameplay, gameplay sometimes requires music, one can inspire the other. Sometimes I remind me of a great music during developement, I add it, and that generally gives a new element to the game."

Marksdad: "Were you surprised by the somewhat negative reaction in the reviews?"

Alex: "For the Review System, sometimes I badly take the advice from a reviewer, especially if he seeks to insult or belittle the work and the heart that a builder put in his game. It has happened that I spent a whole night to thinking if I made ***?? the right choice by releasing or creating after a bad review. But, there are rewiews (as does not have finished the game) that should not appear, you can't force a player to complete it, but why not give another chance to it? It's not like if there were more than 15 minutes to redone."

Marksdad: "Do you feel the review system is fair and properly representative for the builder? Clearly,it doesn't deter YOU from building."

Alex: "I think the review system remains fair, everyone must do his review at any time, but I don't yet understand why some people don't have much wisdom and look like they are forced to review a bad or difficult game, when you can just leave it out ... It seems that people forget that when a review of a game not completed is posted, there is really no way to know the real player's opinion about the entire game. I said all the time, despite the bad reviews, I can't stop, because I need to know if I've create a perfect game. In addition, I have a bunch of ideas that I want to expose, so I can't give up. :)"

Marksdad: "How about the ratings themselves? Are they important to you; or does providing entertainment take priority?"

Alex: "I take a lot of attention to the reviews because my goal is always to please to the players, if the review gives many points that means I've properly done my job and the game is enjoyable and visually worked. A review can be representative of the opinion of many players, even if everyone doesn't like a game."

Marksdad: " The Desert of Despair. For me,this was not only your most ambitious adventure to date; but at the same time also your most conventional. For those that haven't YET played it, it bascally starts in a desert town in the evening; develops into three different levels resulting in the collection of three keys; then returns to the town later at night, where you can use the keys and progress to the ending (which involves a Disco Hall). So five sizeable levels, then; all linked and all filled with 'Chapian' moments. How long did this take you to construct?"

Alex: "Indeed, the Desert of Despair may seem a little classic compared to my other levels, even if I left a little my mark. Based on the average, it would be my best game, but I feel it has remained rather quiet towards the players, I thought just the name of the game would give the wish to download it. Normally, this levelset was not really in my plans, and it was 'imposed' after my prevous 2 levels appeared rather difficult. I had, this time, the wish to take into account the pleasure of the player in a good ambiance through a shooter that is not limited to a 2D or in a too varied environment. Even if I liked myself the musics and the decor based on a desert atmosphere, I have a preference for cold places. It took me 3 months to build this levelset, I think more I make levels and more it takes me time."

Marksdad: "One problem I found was that there were a few moments which were somewhat buggy (a collapsing bridge that didn't necessarily collapse; barriers that couldn't be shot to begin with but mysteriously changed their physical make-up later in the same level; a few places where camera clues would have been vastly helpful). I read on the Forum that you never use beta-testers; prefering to always test them yourself. Isn't this a little reckless? What is your motivation behind this?"

Alex: "There are indeed bugs which I had no power on this game like the disappearance of some enemies, but in fact all these problems that players have faced are focused on the gameplay; we can't always understand the logic of the builder. I wanted a lot to "switched" the enemies one by one and force the exploration in the 1st level. But, I don't quite understand what you mean with the bug of the collapsing bridge? Some players have spoken of this, but it looks like it works. The gameplay consist to kill every enemies before to continue. I must admitted it's a bit confusing."

Marksdad: "It wasn't clear that all the baddies needed to be shot in order to reactivate the bridge. Perhaps a camera fly-by might have helped? Now you see, this is exactly the sort of suggestion (amongst many others) which beta-testers can give, which the builder may never have thought of. If you knew that testers could come up with valid suggestions on ways to improve your level, would you not perhaps reconsider using them?"

Alex: "It's true that I am anxious to test my own levels. I think it's because I don't necessarily go with the same mentality that some level designer who usually aim to create the most perfect game. Maybe because I also want to have the merit of beta testing, plus, sometimes I make many trips between the game and the editor, sometimes for no reason. Then, I don't really feel ready to share the gameplay or the story to some testers. Maybe it's silly, but I'm like that. I am indeed aware that a beta tester could give many tips to the author if the gameplay gets confused. But I told you, I really want to do everything alone; maybe one day, if I build a level with a gameplay or an architecture too researched, I would appeal to them. :)"

Marksdad: "When do you do your building? At weekends/nights/holidays? Does it present a problem with your studies?"

Alex: ": Most often, it's the weekend or the evening. I can balance my time between my studies and TRLE, and sometimes it's good to let go of your computer when you are stuck for inspiration or strengthless to build. At the moment we do this interview I take up my free time given by the holidays for my greatest game ever made, I think it will go beyond anything that I did; at least,I hope."

Marksdad: ": That sounds intriguing! While on that particular subject, how does your family feel about the huge amount of time you spend sitting at your PC, building all these levels? You say your father was a big TR fan. Does he take an interest?"

Alex: "My family didn't always really interested in Tomb Raider, plus, my father no longer plays retro games and even less on PC, but he likes a lot to play Tomb Raider 2013 on console. Out of Tomb Raider, my family is interested by the fact that I build, they often say: 'Wow, Alex, if you continue you will work in the field of video game later!' I have sometimes wondered if, in fact, I would not have been good in this field. But I don't know if passion should become a source of income."

Marksdad: " Lara at the Games: Bubsy 3D This is your latest level. For a while, I thought you'd somehow ported the original and added Lara to it; but you actually recreated the visual and gameplay style of the PS1 game extremely accurately. Were you concerned about the reaction to a Joke level?"

Alex: "I was a little afraid that people spit on me after this release (The ReadMe that I put there is quite defensive), but it worked quite well because it was funny, perhaps different from other customized levels too. I somehow also want to save Bubsy 3D of its drowning, by making it funny and including particular levels like a black and white vision or a wacky 'metropolis'. So yes, I am still concerned by reviews. Levels classified as 'Joke' are sometimes very strange and different from normal levels. Lara at the Games - Bubsy 3D is strangely become one of my best levelset. Can you imagine the madness? While Bubsy 3D is supposed to be one of the worst in the world? Is it because I have been faithful, inventive or funny that it's pretty well rated? I don't really know ... It is a game that really relaxed me during its construction, my abilities were high with the editor and I needed a break, so I said that I could make an adaptation of the game Bubsy 3D, because I like the series and it's interesting to redesign it. I had planned it since I released my first level, but do you imagine doing such a level after a failure ? In addition, make cutscenes, textures, objects and even captured sounds or musics require some organization."

Marksdad: "What is your favourite amongst your own levels?"

Alex: "I think I don't really have a favorite game among those I created. I try to offer something different for those who have or haven't play my levels."

Marksdad: "What about the piece of gameplay you're most proud of?"

Alex: "I made a list because I'm too indecisive :) :
Military Base : The choice of weapon (lol, nothing to see in fact)
Villa of Remembrance : The TR4 Zone
Escape military base V2: The ultra long slope
Lara's 2D Adventure: All phases of scrolling
Desert of Despair: All anachronisms (Fallen and dance hall)
Bubsy 3D: All death scenes"

Marksdad: "What are you building now?

Alex: "The game that I build is very close to one of my 6 levels that I released, it's at you to guess to what it will look like. :)"

Marksdad: "Intriguing! By the way,are you familiar with other custom levels by builders who happen to share a similar style to yours? (I'm thinking here of builders such as B.Howaito; Ruediger Abend; and, at the top end of the scale, Richard Lawther?)"

Alex: "Yes, I've played many trle levels (more than 100), and I know a few levels from B.Howaito and from Richard Lawther, but I've never played any levels from Ruediger Abend. Cartoon World and Curious ventures of Larson are the Howaito's levels that I tried; levels from Richard are Astrodelica. There is an author that I found and is a bit like me I think, it's Loch. After posting Lara's 2D adventure, I learned that the principle of scrolling also appeared in Dreaming for a Revelation, including a place with textures from the editor that is also found in a secret in the Creative World level, and later a sort of choice of weapon as Escape from the Military base. I want to say that I don't particularly seeks to inspire me or copy ideas from other TRLE authors, but rather things I've seen in other popular games."

Marksdad: "If you had a chance to 'revise' any of your levels, would you do so; and to which one?"

Alex: "There are two levels I would like to correct, even if there are many flaws in my other levels; this is Lara's 2D adventure with some passages that ruins the playability or 2D comfort; plus, a toggle oppacity and an animation are missing. I also like to correct 'The Desert of Despair', there are some bad textures and some ammo that can't be picked up."

Marksdad: "Will you now slow down your level building when you begin college/university?"

Alex: "I don't think going to the University will really slow me because even though we have to write and write again, I would probably have a little free time. We have just to manage a little time. Be sure that even if I don't have time to build, I would come take a look at the TRLE community."

Marksdad: "You will always be welcome...and the TRLE community looks forward to whatever you may build in the future. Thank you very much for finding the time for this Interview."

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