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Kurt Grytdal interviewed by Ian Smith aka Marksdad in June 2003

Ian: "After at least 2 years of release, I've finally been able to get an interview together with my old Net colleague Kurt; author of my personal favourite custom level, Old Haunts. So Kurt, tell us about yourself; age, location, employment. We want all the details!"

Kurt: "I am 25, single but not available (what's the appropriate word for that these days?). I live in Pullman, Washington State, USA. I work as an ASP web developer for the local university's Marketing and IT organizations. I'm not wild about my job and I am currently looking to do something of a similar nature in Atlanta Georgia (where I have family)."

Ian: "How, when and why did you start to play TR?"

Kurt: "I started playing TR in 1996 or 1997 (whenever it first came out). I was living in a dorm at this same university and while visiting my neighbor, I saw Tomb Raider in his room. Being 18 and male I was instantly drawn in by the two very large orbs on the box. Being one that had only started playing computer games just months before, I asked to borrow it and started playing it. I was hooked immediately on the CG intro (I hadn't seen a CG movie before) and then I was hooked on the realistic animations given to Lara. This game was 3d! I had not seen anything like it before (Doom/Duke Nukem were fake 3d). I actually never finished the first TR until two years later after playing TR 2 and 3 though."

Ian: "Before the LE, had you ever designed a computer game?"

Kurt: "I had dabbled in making some custom levels for Quake 2, Quake 3, and some other games that had very simple level editors. I had never really completed one or made anything I thought was all that spectacular. In my classes I had written some C games like blackjack and minesweeper clones. I was pretty proficient at making textures and 3d models at the time though."

Ian: "You were one of the first custom level designers, so presumably you got the hang of the LE quicker than most? How long did it actually take you to build your level?"

Lara's Tomb, Old Haunts

Kurt: "It didn't take me long enough. I released it with known bugs and questionable gameplay points (the spikes in the water come to mind). I think it took me about two months from intial concept to final release though. I remember doing about 2/3 of it during one week that Christmas holiday after it was released. I found the editor to be quick to understand (when compared to Quake 3's), very well documented, and very annoying! It kept crashing on me and I questioned the functionality of the interface. I had at least three pages of grid paper full of level ideas mapped out in a 1 to 1 grid as I am not very good at visualizing possible level issues. I remember spending over a day trying to make a fire puzzle do something that I eventually decided was impossible to do (those triggers were quite othersome). What you don't see with the level I made, are the many test rooms that I used that were never attached to the main level. I forgot to remove them when I finally compiled the last level. I had two versions, one with them and one without, floating around the internet for a while."

Ian: "Are you ok with TR (technically and in terms of gameplay)as it stands? If not, what would you like to see improved?"

Kurt: "I've always been fairly pessimistic against TR as I've grown to play more games of different genres (I'm a huge fan of first person shooters). It's not that I don't find TR's niche entertaining, it's that I have seen other games that work in the exact same play environment as TR do things SO much better. I hate the grid system of movement. I'm not wild about climbing and climbing and then climbing some more. I despise timed puzzles and trick jumps which make you reload if you fail. A well made game (or level) doesn't punish you with a reload if you fail. I say let death come from a beatable game challenge rather then a dexterity test (especially if you play with the keyboard!). However, I'm not totally anti TR. While I'm not all that excited about Angel of Darkness, it's because the gameplay looks far too similar. Climbing, hanging, and such will always be fun, but the mechanisms that perform these actions look too similar to something very old. Though this will probably date this interview, check out the videos for that new Prince of Persia game (sands of time). Now THAT's a 3rd person 3d adventure engine. I'll try out Angel of Darkness and let you know what I think (heck it comes out in 3 days or something)."

Ian: "What part of Old Haunts was the hardest to achieve?"

Kurt: "oh... now that's digging into the old memory banks... hmmmm I think the aspect I found to be the most difficult was providing a level that kept the player within the boundries. I played my level in just about every style I could think of. If there was a cliff or platform you weren't supposed to get to, I made sure to the best of my abilities that you couldn't. If you fell down a pit, I tried my hardest to make sure you died at the bottom instead of being stuck. In specifics though the hardest thing about my level is a tie between the earthquake chasm created when you were making a dash to freedom mid level, and some sort of triggering involving fire in the fake mansion. I kept finding myself able to jump over the earthquake chasm... thus ruining the feeling of hopelessness."

Ian: "You say you hate timed puzzles, and yet you put a 'run, jump up a room to a door' timed puzzle in Old Haunts.Was this a result of another puzzle not working out? Taking that further, you said that you'd remove the underwater spikes; but which part are you most proud of?"

Kurt: "I put one in? Hmmm, I remember now that was a tough one too. I'd have to say my dislike for these puzzles came from playing other levels that had them. Not that they were done poorly, I just realized that I didn't want to be subjected to them if I didn't know the trick. It may be a bit hypocritical of me to say that timed elements of TR are cheap as they are fundamental aspects of SO many games. I guess I just find them bothersome now in my old age. Maybe I need to play Super Mario Brothers again. I was most proud of my adaptation of the mansion in a more 'evil' way. I spent hours comparing dimensions (and I still didn't get it quite right) I think I captured the lighting from the lava well also. I was hoping that the player would be both confused and pleased by the faithful design."

Ian: "Have you read the reviews of your level? If so, what did you think of them?"

Kurt: "I did back then. I hardly remember them. If I remember right the gameplay parts that didn't make any sense (spikes in the water tunnel again!) were frowned upon. I also remember some overall confusion on why the Mansion appeared underground. There's a good reason for that confusion but there is an explanation; it's part of a story that I never completed. I only remember the negatives (not that I think it was negatively viewed upon).

Ian: "I think the element I enjoyed most in your level was the strong sense of humour. (The 3rd secret, the plot twist 2/3 of the way through). That's something you don't see too much of in custom levels. There have been several other levels built around the same scenario (Lara escaping from the end of TR:LR) but none of them had quite the same cheek as yours! Does this reflect your personality in real life?"

Kurt: "Yes I'm a bit more jovial about my ideas. Game modifications (and extra levels) appeal to me more if they are creative in theme as well. American McGee's Alice would be a perfect description of style that I would try to achieve. Morbidly amusing while being distinct. The third secret (I GUESS I shouldn't tell at this point) is really something that popped in my mind after too many debug sessions. Pretty soon Lara just becomes the secret in question."

Ian: "Have you played, or would you play, other people's levels?"

Kurt: "I did play some other custom levels at that time. I enjoyed a couple (one involved a Chinese temple of sorts and another had some neat puzzles) but I was busy making the successor to this level and didn't play much. I'm looking forward to trying out some of these top ranked ones."

Ian: "If you could live in any country in the world, would you still want to live where you are now?"

Kurt: "I like the USA. Just try to stop us. Hehehehe, I kid, I kid. Seriously, I enjoy this country for many reasons, primarily the land mass. I can go from an urban environment to the middle of nowhere in 2 hours from just about anywhere in this country. I'm also not a very 'traveled' person seeing that the most international I've been is Western Canada. Even the Canadians don't want them (I kid again!). It's hard to desire to live somewhere else if you've only seen it in pictures."

Ian: "Life Ambitions. Do you have any? If so, what?"

Kurt: "Well other than the usual mushy stuff (family and kids) I have hopes to develop game art or to work in CG animation for film. Games are an international juggernaut right now. I just hope Atari (well now it would have to be the former Infogrames) doesn't ruin the industry again. I've always had the wild notion of having some sort of fame. Not Michael Jackson sort of fame but being the guy/gal you see in the In Game Credits that you know and admire his/her work. Maybe that's more like recognition."

Ian: "Would Old Haunts 2 perhaps be included among them?"

Kurt: "It's always been in the back of my mind. I actually nearly completed 2 back when I was doing a lot of level making. I had some neat ideas, but overall I found my skills of making a cohesive, realistic level lacking. I've always wanted to try again. I'm pretty busy with other extra curricular stuff at the moment too. I'm making a Freedom Force mod (excellent game by the way) with a friend, I'm trying to get some more 3d animation work in my portfolio, and I just completed my home stereo (Grand Theft Auto Vice City never sounded so good). I would say there is a good chance I'll get to it. I'm going to play other levels to get an idea of what not to steal and I'll also play Angel of Darkness to see how Core's progressed."

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