I have also asked [christoph] for an interview now. He is a level builder editing for a long time yet, and who has released a lot of different and interesting levels so far. And he continues building, after some thoughts of perhaps leaving the editing community, so we can be very lucky for this decision. I wanted to learn more about the reasons of almost giving up, as well as questioning about his past levels and looking at his current projects. And here you can read what [christoph] answered me, and if we perhaps have a chance to still get a lot of further levels from him in the future.
annotation: Translation partially by 'Die Basis'
Lara for ever: You are working with the TR editor since 2002. In this time you have created a lot of levels, most of them on your own and some also in team projects. Watching the ratings on trle and the Levelbase most of your levels have been successful, with Jade Empire and The Land of the Rising Sun being your best projects so far. Can you tell us first how did you come in contact with the editor first, and when did you decide to start level building?
[christoph]: Well, like most people, I bought Tomb Raider Chronicles when it appeared. In the beginning I didn't pay attention to the level editor which was included. Having played Tomb Raider Chronicles I focused on the LE. I found some pages about the LE in the TRC strategy guide. I read through these pages and built everything according to it. After that I looked for the TRC CD and accidentally found the German manual. Of course, I immediately printed it (I still have the copy of it). The thing I was most fascinated about was the fact that you could create your own worlds with the LE. In the beginning you could only build things which came along with the LE but soon Tomo managed to make it possible to use other objects from TR1 to TRC. Then this was my hour of birth and I was the slave of the LE.
Lara for ever: The limits of the TR editor have always been a big problem for level builders, at least before the new programs TREP and NGLE. Was it difficult to get your imaginations true for your projects at the old editor only time, and how could you get beyond the narrow frontiers of the editor these days?
[christoph]: Well, you cannot compare now with that time anymore. There are poles apart, but at that time it was exhausting to build. If you wanted to use new things you had to check for days if this could be realised with some slots. Today, luckily, this is quite easy and quick, and now you can better build your levels the way you intended to. As for me, I'm very happy about the fact that TREP was released. Because at that time many people worried about the fact that the distance limit was 18 squares, if you used more than 18 squares you could see the horizon and that damaged the beautiful atmosphere.
Lara for ever: Your talent of level building is obvious, and we could see your progressing with the years, as your name is well known in all the world wide Customlevel community meanwhile. Building a lot of levels like you, was it difficult for always getting new ideas for interesting projects again, or were there also times of thinking there would be nothing more you could create beyond your so far successes?
[christoph]: Well, new ideas are a bit difficult. As a level builder you always want to build levels which don't already exist and this is getting more and more difficult. And when you even lack of new ideas, then you come soon to an end. That's why I decided to give up building with the LE because I even was in the doldrums for two years as it reflected in JE. But luckily, these times are over.
Lara for ever: In fact, not long ago you told us to finally leave the community, at least for level building. And now you are working again. Can you tell us what changed your mind? And will you keep working with the editor even beyond your current projects?
[christoph]: Yes, I really wanted to give up building levels because I didn't feel for it for two years. I even had a lack of ideas when building Jade Empire, if I really felt for it JE would have become a very special series (as it is know I don't like it very much). Due to Zickenalarm I'm building again. She encouraged me in the Messenger (MSN) to continue building as she is a fan of my levels. I always refused but then there was a time when she managed to persuade me. At first, I decided to continue building JE revised, but then I suddenly came up with Black Villa. In the meantime, I have such a lot of fun with the LE as I never had before. I even enjoy making objects with Meta, I always detested that.
Lara for ever: Can you tell us your opinion about the new programs for level building, TREP and the NGLE? I know you are using those tools for your levels too meanwhile, so what are the advantages for you?
[christoph]: Let's look at TREP. With this nice tool you can define new triggers and make new actions e.g. in game cut scenes if you step on something. And you can nice up your level by changing the load bar, distance limit etc. With TREP you can simply build your level according to the ideas which cross your mind. NGLE is better than the old winroomeditor as Palone corrected a lot of mistakes which occurred in the old one. It doesn't crash that often as the old one did. But the best thing is you can use high-resolution textures which add a lot to the atmosphere.
Lara for ever: Can you tell us anything about your future plans yet? What will follow after your current projects, or are there no ideas yet?
[christoph]: Well, I cannot say something precisely. At first, I want to finish JE revised and Black Villa (maybe there will also be a Back to Basics 2008 level from me, I'm considering to participate. I already have the material and I'm trying if the material fits for me to build a level). But I definitely want to build a level in VCI style as in TR Chronicles. Due to TREP you can finally build what you ever wanted as there aren't hardly any restrictions.
Lara for ever: Your level Jade Empire was one of your biggest successes. Why did you decide to rebuild it with the NGLE? And will there only be new textures, or do you also change the game content?
[christoph]: Well, nearly two weeks after I had released Jade Empire the NGLE was available. That annoyed me a lot as I always wanted to use high-resolution textures. Then I just thought of building a revised version of JE as a lot of people liked it a lot. There won't be only new textures but also new rooms e.g. I restructured Moonlight Temple in such a way that some people may not even recognize it at the beginning. I have also added a lot of new rooms as well as the "Seneth Game" which cannot be found in a custom level so far which I was really amazed at.
Lara for ever: We all were looking forward to the second part, as you named the beginning of this adventure Jade Empire - Part 1. But meanwhile we know there will not be any second chapter. This is a sad fact for a lot of players, so can you tell us about the reasons for this decision?
[christoph]: Well, in the beginning Jade Empire was supposed to take place in different locations like Russia, maybe jungle like Ghana and High Security Compound. But to be honest, I didn't really feel for building a sequel. I will surely never build a sequel to a level. I will rather concentrate on one level and no series as they mean a lot of work. JE 2 was supposed to consist of 4 to 6 levels. I didn't want to build that anymore. Therefore JE 1 revised will have final story, well it already had one, for JE 2 I would have only enhanced the story. I'm really sorry for the players who looked forward to JE 2. But never fear, I will be there for you for many new levels. There won't only be Asia levels as I wanted to have more variety. Only Asia Levels is a bit boring in the length of time.
Lara for ever: Now you are also working at a whole new project, Black Villa. And 'black' is not only a part of the name, the whole level will be build in black & white. What was the reason for this unusual decision? And how difficult is the transfer with black & white today, as we know it was such a lot of work for the first attempt, Psycho and Rebecca by Debbie Overstreet.
[christoph]: Well, I only came across Black Villa by thinking of a hardcore level. After Jonson on the levelbase had searched for a very difficult level people recommended him CIL und Taki. Then I found out that there aren't many hardcore levels at all. As I have already toyed with the idea of building a very hard level with more than only short time runs I decided to build one and considered where it should take place. Then I accidentally came across a black and white picture of a tree by using google and then it clicked with me. So how about a black and white level? Due to TREP you can also colour the energy bars. No sooner said than done. I searched for objects on TRsearch/LB stuff and some textures and finally discovered some things. Then I collected some basic stuff and then I have built the first rooms. But there is one thing I want to mention. Not everything will be black and white. There will be another colour which will make the level creepier.
Lara for ever: So, if you mention it yet, this is another important point to speak about for Black Villa. As you say the degree of difficulty will be extremely high deliberately then. You want to make a level for expert players, even going one step further. As you told us there will be the most difficult jumps and shortest timeruns, and there will even only be checkpoints instead of free saving the level as usual. This is new to the Customlevels, and for we know TREP makes such changes possible a lot of players are a little bit afraid of the future. Modern action games show this way to us, more and more of them do no longer allow free saving. Also the new TR games follow this path, and now the possibility to do so in Customlevels is also given. To me and many other players a horrible imagination. Do you think your level will only be an exception, or do we have to expect a big change in this point? Could checkpoints in Customlevels get normal some day? And why did you decide yourself to use this option?
[christoph]: Well, as I intended to build BV as a hardcore level you should not be able to save freely. Whether checkpoints will be standard? I hope not. This is only an exception for me so far. I will not use regular checkpoints and that's what every builder should do. Only if it really fits into the level, but also then they should think twice and maybe offer two versions. In the beginning I only wanted to build BV as hardcore version but I think it's better if I build a second version; a version fort he regular players. I will activate free saving for the normal version. The checkpoints themselves will remain in the level as the player can use them as indication for the fact that something happens. Furthermore, the time runs will be easier and kept moderate so that every player can master them. Maybe there will not be time runs at all in the normal version. But one more thing about the checkpoints. I appeal to all level builders, please use them only if really necessary, because many players prefer free saving.
Lara for ever: Thinking about the future of Customlevels, what do you think will still be achievable beyond the possibilities of today? Can the editor still be further modified, or have we reached the limits yet?
[christoph]: No, we are far from reaching the limits. Well let's say it that way. We are just starting. The next important feature in the level editor scene may be the Fexengine from Paolone and Turbo Pascal. Unfortunately there isn't a lot of information available so far. But we can be sure that the level editor scene is far from being exhausted. Especially if levels built with the old engine are much better than the original games. As for me I'm looking forward to the future of the level editor.
Lara for ever: Can you tell us about the release dates of the new Jade Empire version and Black Villa yet?
[christoph]: Well that's always a bit difficult. As level builder you really want the level to be released yesterday. But I cannot say something about it. But as for now Black Villa could be released in November/December. But it is better not to prepare for it that much.
Lara for ever: Thank you for this interview, [christoph]!
Two new trailers:
Jade Empire revised