eTux: "I’ll keep it simple for the start. Who is JMN?"
JMN: "My name is Jacques, I'm 21 years old and from South Africa. I currently work as a computer programmer. I spend my free time playing games and, of course, designing Lara's world."
eTux: "How and when did you first learn about Tomb Raider?"
JMN: "Well it all started by accident (or maybe fate?) actually. I went to the local video shop to rent out a playstation. I saw this game with a woman on the front holding a flashlight. I remembered watching a game review on TV where you played as a woman shooting bad guys or something. Well I thought that the game in the video shop was that game. So I rented it. What a surprise I got when I started playing! It wasn't the game on TV; no it was something much greater! I was so drawn in by the atmosphere and gameplay that I couldn't stop thinking about it. I was completely obsessed with this game. You probably guessed it. It was The Last Revelation. I rented it every time I had enough money. Later I bought the pc version so that I can play without having to wait weeks in between. From there on I started buying the rest of series."
eTux: "After the releases of the new TR games a lot of people are trying to argue what Tomb Raideris about and whether the new games embody it or not. What do you think TR is about for you? What is the most appealing part?"
JMN: "Well for me TR is all about exploring ancient sites and ruins, getting lost and being alone in the wild. Many other games had those elements but they don’t have the unique feeling that only Lara can give it. Her personality is what makes it so great. The new games kind of have that unique TR feeling, but for me it’s getting a bit too modern. I think CD is focusing a bit too much on Lara’s appearance than actually the stuff that makes TR so unique. I guess they are trying to make TR appeal to more people but it’s kind of ruining the whole TR experience. But that’s just me..."
eTux: "You released your first level relatively late for the level building scene – in spring 2006 – does this mean you discovered the hobby at around that time or that it took you as long to build a level you were satisfied enough to release?"
JMN: "I started with the TRLE as soon as TR5 was released. I built many levels before my first release, but I never actually planned on releasing any of my levels before then. But when I saw all the custom levels being released by other people, I thought it was time to start working on a proper custom game, not just another randomly created couple of rooms stuck together. Now most of you (if not all) may not know this, but The Nightmare was not my first level released. It was a level named The Temple of India. I used a different name back then, I was known as 'The Raider'. It wasn't that great a level, but it was a start."
eTux: "I certainly didn’t know that! That of course changes everything and doesn’t make you a late bloomer after all! In fact I remember the Temple of India being a rather nice level! Was there anything specific you wanted to achieve when you started building that?"
JMN: "Before I released that level I built many other levels. But none of them ever made it online. I felt that it was time to start a 'serious' level that would. I wanted to make it fun to play and didn’t really have a story planned for it."
eTux: "What made you choose a Lara’s Home scenario for Tomb Raider: The Nightmare?"
JMN: "I wanted to have the game start out peacefully, to let the player enter the nightmarish world unexpectedly. I thought Laras home would make it more peaceful and comfortable because it was familiar to anyone who played Tomb Raider before. That's why I decided to design it according to TR3's home with some new puzzles and scenery added."
eTux: "What usually inspires your custom level ideas?"
JMN: "I like nature and like to see human structures being taken over by it. So whenever I see a great nature scene I get ideas for levels. I go hiking in the mountains a lot so I try to bring that feeling of being there into my new game I’m working on. I then think about puzzles that would fit and try to make it logical."
eTux: "What was the idea behind Eternal Mysteries? Was it just a clever way to combine a lot of smaller projects into one big game or a deliberate choice to make Lara daydream about past endeavours during another adventure?"
JMN: "The flashbacks you see throughout Eternal Mysteries are, like you say, parts of previous levels I started building but did not complete due to PC problems or ideas that I had before for levels. So instead of building complete games I incorporated them into one game."
eTux: "What is your opinion on the levels of other builders out there? Do you have any builders you look upon highly, or some custom levels you like best?"
JMN: "There are some truly great builders out there. I haven’t played that many custom levels but the one person I think is really great is Titak. She really knows what she’s doing and wants to achieve. Games I’ve played and like are Himalayan Mysteries, Lara at the Movies, Sanctuary of Water, Fire and Ice and The Ring."
eTux: "Is being a level builder in South Africa a lonely hobby? Are you part of any online communities, or keep in contact with other South African builders and players by chance?"
JMN: "Well it looks like I'm the only one here using TRLE. I won't say it's lonely, but I do wish there were more SA builders."
eTux: "How would you describe your country in a couple of sentences to someone who doesn’t have anything but a few stereotypes to form his/her opinion on (like me, for example)?"
JMN: "Well I’m not a tourist guide so don’t blame me for not inspiring you to come visit SA. The people here are friendly and always willing to help. There’s a lot to see and do and when it comes to nature we have everything from deserts to jungles. We have a wide variety of animals and plants, some of which aren’t found anywhere else. Many people want to leave here because of the crime, but there are worse places in the world."
eTux: "Which are the parts in your levels about which you feel you can really give yourself a pat on the back?"
JMN: "I think I'll leave that up to the players to decide. :)"
eTux: "And how would you judge the players’ decisions so far? Are you satisfied with the feedback of the reviewers?"
JMN: "I received some great reviews from players and as long as they enjoy my games I’m satisfied."
eTux: "Your levels have fairly engaging storylines. But how important is it for a custom level to have one? For example, do you feel a lot of players made the connection between the 2 explosions in Tomb Raider: The Nightmare?"
JMN: "I think it is good for a custom game to have some kind of story line. The idea behind the two explosions was to make the player wonder what has just happened. I like to include subtle hints here and there, but if the player makes any connection or not doesn't really matter, as long as they have fun. For my next game, I would like to include some parts in the game that don't really relate to the main story, but if the player chooses to discover more, they might stumble upon something great."
eTux: "That definitely sounds interesting! While still speaking on The Nightmare – one thing I always wanted to ask was about the transition between Lara’s Home and the 'Nowhere' level. To paint the picture for those who haven’t played the level – for a long time the screen is black, you have no control, but keep hearing lots of unsettling sounds, till suddenly you are thrown into the new environment. Did you want the players to use their own imagination in this sequence, or is this one of the subtle hints to what’s actually going on in the level’s storyline?"
JMN: "I wanted to let the players use their own imagination. It's like
reading a book. Everyone reads the same words but each reader has
their own experience of how the scene may look. I wanted to make it
unique for each player."
eTux: "Now – something completely different. Why are fictive character deaths so engaging?"
JMN: "Perhaps it's because you get to know the characters and start getting attached to them, especially for the playing character. You get to know them at a more personal level because you are controlling them and expressing yourself through them. I like to include an emotional side to the story. Some people don't like it, but I think it makes a game more interesting and unforgettable. But that's just me."
eTux: "So far you’ve released three games. Is there anything we can look forward to in the future? Anything you could give us a sneak peak of?"
JMN: "Yes, there will be another game in the future. But how long it will take I don't know, maybe a year or more. At the moment I can only say that it will be titled 'The Spirit of the Mountain' and show some very early screenshots of the first level. There isn't much to do and see yet. The story will be something about a lost civilization deep in the mountains few people ever heard about. Some dark secret is hidden in these mountains and Lara wants to find out more. What awaits her there, well, you will have to wait and discover for yourself. :) I want to keep as much as possible a surprise."
eTux: "That definitely sounds exciting! Thank you for sharing that and thank you for your time!"