Elvis: "Though it'd be probably hard to find someone out there in the level building community who doesn't know you - for those who really don't - could you introduce yourself?"
Catherin: "My name is Catherin, I joined the TR internet scene in 2002, I like playing custom levels, I was a reviewer and I'm a level builder, although I haven't released a level for quite some time. I'm an administrator and 3 years ago I programmed the search function of trle.net."
Elvis: "I guess this is pretty much how all interviews are meant to start out, so let's get over it. How did you and Tomb Raider cross paths?"
Catherin: "It was in 1999 when I was in a supermarket and accidentally encountered Tomb Raider 3 which was a special offer then. Although I didn't know if I would ever play it or not, I bought it. The so-to-speak ''games'' which I had played so far - if at all - were e.g. "Pac-Man" lol. So I wasn't so keen on playing TR or any other pc games. But one day I installed TR 3 and played it. After having finished the game, I couldn't help but playing TR2, TR1, TR4 and TR5 immediately."
Elvis: "Did you always want to build levels or is it something you considered when the level editor came out?"
Catherin: "Actually I never wanted to build levels. My intention was just playing. Though the problem was that I got sort of ''addicted'' and as there were no more (official) TR games left to play for me, I just had to start building. I didn't know that there were custom levels out there, let alone that TR forums existed. I never searched for these kinds of things as I simply didn't expect that. As said, after having played all the official TR games, I was a little bit ''desperate'', hence I was kind of ''forced'' to create my own game. And that's what I did. I opened the level editor and built a game by following the instructions of the manual. I really enjoyed building the level; it was utterly thrilling to figure out how the editor and everything worked."
Elvis: "Have you had any time to think of new level ideas, taking into account that you run the Back to Basics contest, the website and the forum?"
Catherin: "When I visited Pat in October last year, she inspired me with her 'Peru-BtB' level to start building again. Hence I started to build a BtB level in November which is of course pretty late to be part of the competition, especially when you run the BtB contest, when you have to set up the database (MySQL), the guessing form for players, the websites,... Of course I didn't have the time to finish the level then, but I hope to finish it one day. Pat and Anders already beta tested three fourths of my level in December, so I hope I can somehow get Pat and Anders to beta test the rest of it once it is finished. Other than that I haven't thought of new levels."
Elvis: "Considering your huge involvement in so many things going on the internet, how does your every day life look like?"
Catherin: "I work freelance in the sector of languages (Spanish and English) and in the IT sector (php, MySQL, Typo3). Concerning languages, I teach business Spanish and English, and I also do technical translations for IT companies and law firms. As the amount of projects has increased, I have less time and that's one of the reasons why I haven't played any levels lately. Quite a pity as there are many levels left to play on my to-play-list. Then again I also have other hobbies than TR like going to the gym, reading books (Neil Gaiman, Christopher Paolini, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child), meeting up with friends. After several years of break, I've started with ballroom dance again, or rather with Standard dances, to be more precise. During the summer and when the weather is nice, I like water skiing and when I'm on holiday I like windsurfing and I especially enjoy scuba diving!"
Elvis: "Ooh, ballroom dancing. So what's your favourite dance (generally, as well as the one you like to dance the most yourself)?"
Catherin: "Concerning Standard (International Style, not American Style), I like dancing Slowfox and Slow/Modern Waltz most (not Viennese Waltz, mind you. Unfortunately the Viennese Waltz is one of the Standard dances though…) After all the years of ballroom dance, I decided to focus on Standard dances instead of my actual aim which was Latin dances but my dancing partner somehow persuaded me to choose Standard training. I really got to enjoy these dances and thought of participating one day in the Blackpool Dance Festival maybe. But as my dancing partner and I studied in two different cities, we both had less and less time to practice. Practicing once a week is just not enough. When going to a ball though, I mostly enjoy dancing Samba and Rumba."
Elvis: "When you built your first level, Escape from Zerlok, did you have any special goals for it?"
Catherin: "Not really. I just wanted to build a level. Though I thought if there ever might be some "kids" out there, who would get to play my level, then I didn't want the level to be too difficult or fiendish as I didn't want the ''kids'' to get disappointed in case they couldn't manage a timed run or whatsoever. LOL! I simply didn't expect these "kids", who play TR custom levels, to be older than 13 years of age… I thought I was just an exception.
By chance, I came upon a custom level, downloaded it and played it. (By that time I still didn't know that TR forums existed.) Due to the custom level I played, the idea of releasing my own level crossed my mind. So I invented a name for the level, I found a website which hosted a few custom levels (this website doesn't exist anymore) and then I contacted them and sent them my level. Time went by, one day I just googled for the name of my level and figured out that it was talked about in a stuck forum of trle.net. I was very surprised as I never sent my level to be hosted on trle.net. Anyway, I encountered that people had problems with my level (''butt problem''), I registered myself and, of course, fixed the prob. That's when I learned that some "kids" are slightly older than 13 and I also figured out that many very(!) experienced players exist."
Elvis: "Is there any significance to "Zerlok" or is it just a random fictive place for Lara to raid in?"
Catherin: "It's a fictitious place. I had a few names in my mind. Other than that I wanted to have a unique name for the place Lara had to escape from, I didn't want to release a level name which is a name of a brand or company. So I searched the internet for the names I had in mind. As I couldn't find the word "Zerlok", I decided that Lara had to escape from there."
Elvis: "You have a special connection to the Back to Basics competitions. You've taken the competition under your wing for the second year in a row and also contributed your currently 2 latest levels (Operation Golden Star and Qinghai Artefact) as part of the competition. What do you think is what makes the competition such a success for the builders, for the players and for you specifically?"
Catherin: "Builders surely like "Back to Basics" because it is a team project (builders help each other in the builders' forum) and I'm sure that builders also like it because it's a contest. In my opinion a competition is always fun to take part in. I think "Back to Basics" is very attractive because everyone gets the same resources and has to build a level with what is provided, so everyone has the same chances to win the competition and to present what they can do within a certain period of time. The fact that the levels are released anonymously is doubtlessly also a very valuable viewpoint for builders. This way, reviewers can send in their reviews without favouring any level builder. My personal motivation as a builder is that you get a provided wad (be it a custom wad or an original one) with which you can build and that you have to finish the level on a certain day, you can't prolong it and you can't make endless changes. For the players, the ''players' contest'' is surely of interest. Players can submit their guesses as to which author built which level. But even if there wasn't a players' contest, I think that players just like playing a whole bunch of new released levels which they can review. By reviewing the levels, the players also contribute to the contest; it's their reviews that help to crystallize the winner. Hence the "Back to Basics" competition is a project for the whole community which makes this contest such a success."
Elvis: "How do you envision the future of the Back to Basics competitions?"
Catherin: "I'm sure that BtB will continue to be pretty popular for some time, though not in the sense of "back to the roots". Last year and the year before last, I got many mails from people complaining that it's actually not a "Back to Basics", a "back to the roots" competition anymore. I agree that it's not. The conditions and circumstances have changed. Last year I created a poll asking builders and players if they prefer an original wad or a custom-made wad and the majority decided on the custom-made wad. I, for one have no objections using an original wad again. By using an original wad, I assume that even beginners would give it a go which actually is also one of the intentions of BtB. But it's the majority that counts and it's obvious that it's important for most of the players and builders nowadays to use high resolution textures, new objects, new animations... So I suppose there won't be an original BtB, a 'back to the roots-contest' anymore. Rather the opposite."
Elvis: "Knowing that you play the levels of other builders out there yourself - do you have any favorites from the ones you've played?"
Catherin: "My favourite level is still "The Sanctuary of Water, Ice and Fire" by René. One of the reasons is surely that his level was one of my first custom levels I've ever played. I was simply stunned that a builder is capable of creating and building such a piece. Of course, after having played a lot of other custom levels, I know that there are many brilliant builders out there, like yourself ;-), Tina (Castle Doomsday), Loch (The Killing Fields), Luis Martins..."
Elvis: "How would you describe your personal approach to level building?"
Catherin: "Sometimes I have a picture of a room in my imagination and then I build this room. The first room which popped up in my mind in "Operation Golden Star" is the big blue room with the waterfalls. This is the room I built first and then I built around my first room. (It was interesting to read Ian's review as he expected me to have built the level the other way round. The first part which the player encounters is actually the last one I built. I ran out of time ("Back to Basics") so I had to finish it somehow. Lol.) As said, I usually build a room, texture it, lighten it, colour it and then continue building other rooms. Then I add gameplay and as I go along I actually get more flashes of inspiration. After that I sometimes start to plan things out. But I'd rather say my ideas come while building."
Elvis: "What are the parts you liked the most yourself in your levels?"
Catherin: "That I finished them, lol. The parts I liked most? Hmm, in each level there are parts I like... What I liked most though is that I had fun building the levels and that I learned a lot. Learning when building is very important in my opinion and it is something which pushes and motivates me. It's great to see a level progressing concerning the ideas, enemies, gameplay, lighting… "
Elvis: "Other than your new level using the BtB '08 object and texture set - what else can we expect to see when we get to play it? What new things for the LE have you learned with building this level?"
Catherin: "The level is pretty colourful concerning the lighting, there are tighter timed runs than usual, lava rooms, outside areas with waterfalls… You'll have to figure out the rest yourself once it's released. As some people know, I am not keen on storylines, but I pulled myself together to write more than my usual short briefing because it was actually meant to be a BtB level. This time, by "storyline" I mean more than my usual briefing: "Find the artefact and get out alive." If you are interested in the short storyline, here it is: The Bora people are a tribe of the Peruvian Amazon. Their native country is said to be located between two rivers, the Putumayo and the Napo. As the Bora are afraid of outsiders, they have protected their homeland from indigenous foes. Although it's difficult to find the Bora and equally dangerous to seek for this indigenous people, another Peruvian tribe located the Bora and even stole a very important relic. In the Bora people's animist worldview, souls inhabit all objects; it attributes personalized souls to animals and minerals. One of the most important minerals of the Bora was stolen, the "Health Mineral". The Bora learned that the Yagua snitched their vitally important mineral and asked Lara to get it back to where it belongs, so that the Bora can continue to live in peace again. Lara has to find the Yagua people, who are supposed to live near the Yavari river, she has to detect the Bora's mineral and bring it back to them.
Getting back to your other question… By building this level I haven't really learned anything new yet but once I sort out the problems I'm having with the level, then I can say I learned something new. :-)"
Elvis: "As the countless galleries on your homepage prove - you've attended an impressive amount of fan gatherings. If you'd have to mention 3 memorable moments from these events - whichever come first to your mind (because, no doubt there probably are more than three!) - what would they be?"
Catherin: "One of those memorable moments was of course when I picked up Val from the airport (2003). She visited me a few days in order to attend a TR gathering with me. It was pretty exciting to meet someone I had only known via internet. It was also thrilling because we live in different countries. We had a great time and had lots of fun.
Another event, of course, was the big get-together in London (May 2005). I think we all spent a brilliant time in London, especially in the Holiday Inn Bar on Saturday. In my opinion it is utterly amazing how many nations gathered together in order to get to meet up; to get to see each other for the first time. Travelling to London to meet other TR freaks from all over the world was really fascinating, I'm sure you agree. ;-)
And last, but definitely not least, it was a very special event when I visited Pat (in October 2007) to get to know her. I visited her for several days and we really had a blast. Laughed together, visited different places, relaxed while eating corn and watching TV and, of course, we fiddled around with the level editor and played TR together. When I saw her at the airport for the first time, I had the feeling that we already knew each other; it was like visiting an old friend. Just great!"
Elvis: "Hypothetically - if we'd assume you have all the skills, all the programs and all the time you need to build the perfect level or game in your view - what would it look and play like?"
Catherin: "I really wish I had all the time, skills and programs! To be honest, if I had, I don't know what the level would look like. As I like desert levels, ice levels or London levels, I would probably choose one of those locations. A futuristic, very unusual, alien-like level would also be very interesting to build. But other than that, I can't say anything further. As already mentioned, my ideas come while building a level. I never think about gameplay, puzzles or enemies beforehand and it would never cross my mind to draw a map of the level before starting to build. I need an inspiring image first in order to get started. I had a vague idea for a futuristic level in mind but the picture was not clear enough to start building. So I simply didn't."
Elvis: "How elaborate does the vision of the level have to be for you to pursue it? Do you need to have at least a handful of key moments, so you can connect the dots then, or is one really effective moment inspiration enough to try and work out a level from it?"
Catherin: "For me, one key moment (e.g. blue, stacked room, at least one waterfall, adjacent room with water gutters, roofs, ropes; texture: cold looking tiles…) is enough to get really started. The key moment has to be pretty clear. (Sometimes it takes a long time until I get it the way I want but I'm not satisfied until I realize this special image. I don't care so much about other, not so precise ideas. I either change them, or drop them.) After my initial key moment, I get more ideas which I then add and connect. The ideas come by building. I never had a vision of a whole, complete level in mind when I started to build."
Elvis: "Are you satisfied about the feedback you've had for your levels?"
Catherin: "Do you mean the feedback which I received via mail? If so, yes, absolutely! It's also nice to get feedback by mail because it's more personal.
I suppose you are referring to the reviews, the scores, and the review system. When I got to know that a review system existed, I wasn't so thrilled. In my opinion people should simply play levels without scoring them. Reviewing them is different but only if the reviews are helpful, useful, constructive. I don't consider a review very helpful when it's actually just a mini-walkthrough; neither for the builder nor for another player. It is constructive criticism which helps a builder to improve, so if you get these kinds of reviews, then you can be happy. Back to your question if I am contented about the feedback, then yes, as I did receive constructive reviews. Considering the scores, I guess every builder gets/got overrated scores and also underrated scores for his/her level - at least from the builder's point of view. Of course, I'm not an exception. Generally speaking, I think some scores are rather subjective and some scores don't reflect the reviewer's written critique. That's why I don't consider the scores as important."
Elvis: "What do you consider to be the motto of your life?"
Catherin: "I could write "Life is what you make of it", "Get rich or die trying" or "Play TR, not Unreal Tournament". LOL. Probably you're disappointed but the truth is that I don't have any motto. I think one should enjoy the job and have fun in one's spare time.
When you're asking me about my motto, then I assume that you do have a motto. So, please let us know what your motto is. :-)"
Elvis: "Aha, the interviewer gets interviewed? The twist always comes at the end! That's not the motto, mind you, but it's actually similar enough: "Life's one big joke - you have to stick around till the punch line for it to make any sense!"