Ian Smith aka Marksdad back homepage search
interviewed by Gerty in July 2002

Gerty: "A question probably everyone gets asked, how and when did you start playing Tomb Raider?"

Ian Smith

Ian: "One of the first games I ever played on the Playstation was a 3D mediaeval-type adventure game. I enjoyed it a great deal and decided to buy a Playstation magazine in order to discover more about the game. The magazine I chose contained a review, where it pronounced the game enjoyable but too similar (and not as good as) Tomb Raider, on which it had clearly been based. Obviously, this piqued my interest as I had never heard of Tomb Raider before, so I went out and bought TR1 (TR2 was yet to be released). I was disappointed at first, until I got to 'that moment' in the Lost Valley. At which point, I never looked back! I then bought and played each successive TR game as soon as it was released."

nearby countryside

Gerty: "You're a level builder but also a player. Firstly, you use different handles, why is that?"

Ian: "When I first joined Michael's site, I didn't realise there were lots of other builder/reviewers. I wasn't sure if it was the done thing to review other peoples levels in the guise of a builder, in case people thought I was deliberately downgrading opponents levels! Very soon, however, I discovered that there were plenty of other builder/reviewers, so my fears were unjustified. However, I rather enjoy having a somewhat critical 'alter-ego'!"

Gerty: "Secondly what do you prefer, building or playing?"

Ian: "Playing is great fun (especially other custom levels) as you can so easily lose yourself in these virtual worlds (and some of the ideas are brilliant) but I would have to say building, because it's just so satisfying seeing something you've worked out in your head or on paper gradually turning into 'reality'. Often it doesn't, of course, and you have to find compromises; but nothing beats the satisfaction of creating a fully explorable 3D world."

Gerty: "In building a level, how does the story come about?"

Ian: Back to Basics 2006 - Mallory's Trail"A couple of times I simply chose a Wad that I thought would be interesting to work with, and it gradually developed as I built; but mostly I come up with a concept. Escape from the Hollow Mountain, for instance. How is Lara going to get away in a manner that will be more spectacular than anything that's happened to her in the previous 2 Hollow Mountain adventures (The Adventure of the Hollow Mountain and Return to the Hollow Mountain)? Why not have her commandeer a motorbike and have her race her way out? Where is this motorbike kept? Is it well guarded? Is the exit path booby-trapped? Hand of Sirius was motivated by my desire to build a level where the whole purpose was to acquire an Artefact, instead of picking one up and using it somewhere along the line in order to open some sort of door. I wanted the Artefact to be the sole objective of her mission. And then, naturally enough, there would be people guarding said Artefact, who wouldn't want her to get away with it. The Final Quest came about purely and simply by my desire to have her 'meet her maker' at the finale. I was a little disappointed when I released the level, only to find several other builders had had the same idea before me! (editor's note: Ian´s very first level Frozen was released only later on Mar 2, 2002."

Gerty: "What is hard to do in building a level?"

Hand of Sirius

Ian: "Trying to come up with ideas for puzzles and challenges that nobody else has managed to come up with! I really don't think there are any totally original ideas left (using the existing Editing software), but it's fun coming up with variations on the same theme. I always put something new (technically) into each level, so that the learning curve is always rising; but once you've got the hang of the Editor, the actual building really isn't much of a problem. In fact, Hand of Sirius was great fun to assemble."


Gerty: "Playing a level, what do you like in a level and what not? What should be in it and what is a big NO in your books?"

Ian: "I really enjoy fast moving gameplay. A level which flows well from one moment to another in a logical progression is more satisfying for me than gameplay which grinds to a halt and has you wandering around for hours trying to figure out the solution to some obscure puzzle. Ingenious Puzzles are fine, but they shouldn't take too long to solve, as the player could easily lose interest, and once that's happened, the level has failed in its purpose. I don't mind whether a level last 2 hours or only twenty minutes, provided the gameplay flows. I absolutely hate block pulling/pushing puzzles, as there's only a few variations that can be accomplished(i.e. which square does Lara have to haul the Statue onto); I dislike mazes (although I confess to using one once!); levels where it's necessary to cheat in order to progress, and I hate puzzles with totally unfair and completely obscure solutions. I've also got bored with the Cleopal Wad, as it's so limiting. Egyptian levels aren't really to my taste either, although it's always pleasant to have Lara return there once in a while."

Ian's home

Gerty: "Noticing from your review you started playing the small and low ratings levels. Why was that? You haven’t played any of the big levels yet, how come?"

Ian: "I've played a few of the big levels, but the problem for me as a Reviewer is that most of these big popular levels have been reviewed so many times that not only can I not really add anything new, but my opinions won't really have any effect on the overall scores. I prefer the medium rated levels, because 1) they will be well enough constructed to be playable and 2) there is more potential there for finding things to write about. What can you say about a great level, other than "Yes, it's great" ? Also, the smaller levels tend to have smaller downloads. There's nothing more infuriating than having your connection expire when you get to 97% complete."

Gerty: "Do you have any favourite level builders?"

Ian: "Plenty! I think Leandro's and Treeble's levels have a brilliant youthful energy to them; Staticon's and Dhama's are visually inventive; I loved Data's 'Castle Doomsday', and her sequel is on my 'must-play’ list, and Mulf showed great promise with 'Heroic Manliness', it's just a shame he hasn't released any more. Hopefully, soon!"

Gerty: "Why did you volunteer to be part of the jury?"

Ian: "I was intrigued by how such a system would operate,when applied to what is essentially a hobby. How can you say categorically that one persons response to a level built by an amateur designer is right and another is wrong? How much leeway do you give to reviews before you step in and say "this isn't right". Clearly,if the review is lacking clarity,or there's a major disparity between a review and the scores given,then some sort of remedial action should be taken. But what happens when a reviewers opinion differs from that of the majority? If you say that a particular level is really bad,are you entitled to that opinion,even if everyone else say's differently? Of course you are! But at what point do you draw the line? At what point do you say,"This amateur review of an amateur level is incorrect"? Is there/should there be such a point? It's a question that the Jury is still pondering over!"

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