Ian: "You are yet another member of the British Custom Level tribe. And one of the youngest, I would imagine? According to your profile,you must be around 17?"
Matt: "Yes 17 and one month, and may I add that the British Custom Level tribe is the best... obviously! And those from Leeds are even better! I go to college studying Law, German and Maths. But that's enough about me..."
Ian: "Presumably, you have a pretty good knowledge of all things computer related?"
Matt: "I know more about food mixers than computers! When we first bought a computer, it took me two weeks to work out how to switch it on, and I used to think that microchips were a microwavable snack! But my brother was one of those computer geeky types, and he showed me how to use it. I can make web pages and use paint programs but apart from that I'm a novice. I promised myself I'd look through the manual about Visual Basic, but it still currently sits on the shelf covered in dust. I use the computer for games mostly."
Ian: "This is an obvious question, I know. But it must be asked. How and why did you become involved in Tomb Raiding?"
Matt: "About 3 years ago I went to a friends house after school, and he had just bought Tomb Raider 3 and he was jumping around all excited wanting to play it. I said I wouldn't play it because I wouldn't like it, but he forced me to have a go at the temple ruins level and then river ganges. Surprisingly I loved it and wouldn't let him have a go until I went home! Later that week I bought Tomb Raider 1 and 2, and when I had finished those I bought 3 and 4 and played them through about 6 times each. So last year I bought TR Chronicles with the level editor, I threw the Chronicles CD to one side..."
Ian: "... Best thing to do with it!... "
Matt: "... and started with the editor!"
Ian: "Was Cave Village your first level? How long did it take to build?"
Matt: "My first level was called The Tomb of Matt the Great, which was just a strange version of the tutorial level. OK not the best title for a level, I admit. My second level was called Security Compound, where I tried to make a stealth type level, but it all went horribly wrong as usual. So one evening I was lying on my bed and this idea to make a village set by an underground waterfall in a mountain came to me. Perhaps it was because I had just played the lost city of Tinnos in TR3 which has an underground village in a snowy setting. Cave Village took me about 4 weeks to build because it is quite short. Most of the time was taken trying to get those timed doors as challenging as I could."
Ian: "I like the sound of Tomb of Matt the Great! Why not take what you've built and use that as a foundation for a bigger level? After all, now that you've got used to the LE, adding new elements to it shouldn't be so difficult, should it?"
Matt: "Using what I know now about the editor (which is not that much to be honest), I could improve the level and make it remotely enjoyable. But haven't we all had enough of Egyptian levels? I don't think there's much point making an Egyptian level unless there is something significantly original in it. And apart from that, Tomb of Matt the Great would be a level about my own death wouldn't it! I wouldn't want to tempt fate!"
Ian: "What went wrong with Security Compound?"
Matt: "It was doomed from the moment I created the first room. It was too similar to the level in TR3 with the same name and I couldn't get those idiot SAS soldiers to work properly, they wouldn't do what I wanted them to. They were supposed to patrol parts of the level and only attack when they saw Lara, but they just stood still doing nothing just like in real life. But I really enjoyed building the level so I didn't want to see it go to waste, so I turned it into a title fly-by which used to play every time I loaded the editor! But it mysteriously got corrupted and was never seen again. Oh well, no great loss."
Ian: "Was Cave Village 2 created due to the feed-back from the first,or were they planned as a continuing story?"
Matt: "I never planned to make a second level ever, but the feedback from the first level was ok but on the negative side. I'm quite a perfectionist, I'm never happy with what I do, as I wanted to make a really enjoyable mountain cave level. Re-designing the first would have been fairly pointless and I realised I'd not given Cave Village 1 a proper ending. How would Lara get out of the mountain? I loved making the waterfall and deadly river and I wanted to include this in the sequel but in a more epic way, and for it to have a more key role in the level. In a review by Sash for the first she said there was not as much swimming as she had expected, so that was another target for the second level. Much of the feedback was that it was challenging or (mentioning nobody in particular)..."
Ian: "... *Cough*..."
Matt: "... that the puzzles had no logic. I had the desire to rectify this in the second level. I also realised that the actual village was never included in the first level, so the idea came up that I would create a new level with the village surrounding the river in an atmospheric cavern. I'm fairly happy with the outcome and most of the players seemed to have enjoyed it to some extent! (I hope, they better not be lying to me!)"
Ian: "We have both created a series of levels involving exploration of a lost civilisation inside a large mountain. In fact, Cave Village 2 was released just two days before my level Return to the Hollow Mountain. Both of our levels involve finding access to a large dark and rocky cavern inside a mountain, with houses, crocodiles and rushing water to contend with. You're not in the process of building a Submarine Base level at the moment, by any chance??"
Matt: "How did you guess!? Only joking! No don't worry I have no plans to make a submarine base level... or maybe I should make one to compete with yours!"
Ian: "I can't recall where I got my inspiration for a series of levels about exploring a lost civilisation in a mountain,but what about you? How did the idea begin?"
Matt: "I was watching a really boring documentary on TV about underground glaciers and lakes. At the time I had just bought the editor so any possible idea was useful. But I dismissed that idea as I couldn't decide what Lara would do in the middle of a mountain with just a few rivers and the odd dead end cave to play with. A few weeks later I played TR3 through again, and that night I thought I could combine an ancient village with an underground river, and so I became obsessed with that idea and built Cave Village!"
Ian: "Were you able to depict everything you had planned,or were there ideas you had to modify/omit?"
Matt: "I incorporated most of my ideas into the level as I had hoped. The only problem was that I couldn't design an original puzzle involving buttons and pictures or even get it to work for that matter. That's why the push button puzzle seems as though it has no logic, I couldn't get it to work properly, and I gave the clue to solve it in another part of the level which many players had missed. The only other idea, which would have been fantastic, was to include real human enemies that looked like villagers, at the time the original wads were the only ones available so I was stuck unfortnately."
Ian: "Level Building.Fun or frustrating?"
Matt: "FUN!! ... for the first few months anyway... you can only have so much Lara!"
Ian: "What's next in the custom level pipeline?"
Matt: "Absolutely nothing! I never have the patience to finish a project I start anymore. I began building an updated and ten times better version of The Haunted Mansion, because again I was not happy at all with the original level! I used my own textures and planned to put more detail in it, but I stopped after building the front garden because I got bored and I had to start college again. Oh, the only thing I am doing however is the eidos community level, I have made a few rooms in that level which looks good so far. (I thought I'd take the opportunity to put forward a cheap plug for the level!)"
Ian: "Have you played many other Custom Levels? Any which you admired?"
Matt: "I've played and reviewed nearly 70 levels, and I had a great time playing most of them. I particularly like the 'short but sweet' levels that only take about 30 minutes or so, but are really enjoyable such as Tower of Babylon. Xeth's levels are strange and original but highly enjoyable. Hidden Garden was good if annoyingly challenging at times, but it looks amazing. There are lots of levels which have little memorable content but can help you unwind after a hard day if they are relatively easy."
Ian: "What do you plan to do with your life? What are you doing with it at the moment,in between building levels?"
Matt: "College and trying to avoid certain people in the college is what I'm doing at the moment. I wish I didn't have to leave to find a job which will no doubt be horribly tedious and boring until I get old when I can't do anything anymore. Yes you've noticed I have a positive outlook on life! After this year I'm hoping to study in Cardiff, Swansea or anywhere very far away from Leeds. I'm doing a law degree but I haven't decided whether or not to do German with it because I love learning the language! (Probably because it was easier than French!)."
Ian: "How about becoming a Lawyer in Germany?"
Matt: "Possibly, but there's something about Germany that I don't quite understand. Maybe because I once went to Cologne on carnival day! Thousands of drunk Germans... not a pretty sight!"
Ian: "Ahem! Sorry Michael!"
Matt: "I would have to learn a whole new legal system which might be interesting but difficult. But I love learning the language so I might try to work over there for a while."
*** Part 2 of the Interview run in July 2003 ***
Ian: "Well, I see that you have reached the heights of 'great level' status (you jammy so-and-so!). Selaachi's Secret has become one of my favourite Custom Levels. Where did you get the creative impetus for such an inspired level?"
Matt: "I had a lot of inspiration from films and mainly other games. I'm a massive fan of the underated Silent Hill and to a lesser extent Resident Evil and I've always enjoyed the atmosphere. If anything whether it be a game of film has brilliant atmosphere, I will love it. I'm also a big fan of psychological horror films and so this is the type of genre that appeals to me, I wanted to bring a bit of that into Tomb Raider. With this in mind I began The Haunted Mansion, but failed miserably! For a start I got really bored and just released it as it was which looking back was a mistake, I was totally unhappy with it but the reviews were surprisingly reasonable. So I thought to myself as I often do `I can do much better!´. With the decent reviews for The Haunted Mansion I thought, yeah if I can make a bigger, better level surely it could get up there with the great levels. I suppose I have achieved that as you said, with a 8.0+ rating. All films with even a hint of a haunted type mansion or house in it, I am a big fan of. Also I love the Addams Family (but who doesn't!). About the `jammy so-and-so´ status, I noticed you used kind words there I can think of harsher ones, well I just think I'm a bit lucky as so many people despise and spit on mansion levels and would rather stick their heads in boiling oil. Dimpf is yet to review it and he is the biggest hater of mansion type levels, so expect it to go under 8.0 soon! I wanted to give a mansion type level a twist with custom textures, objects and atmosphere. Also, Ian, I'm sure you can give the editor one last go and get up there with us. ;-)"
Ian: "Well, that's a slightly sore point. Due to the expectations of so many players,it seems to me that you can't build a level today and expect people to rate it highly unless you throw in everything but the kitchen sink! I really don't have the inclination (and,more importantly,the time!) to be grappling with all of that. Plus,the results are usually huge file sizes which deter many players from downloading them. How do you feel about this?"
Matt: "I have to agree with you on that one, in fact throwing in even the kitchen sink is a must. It's very time consuming and irritating to have lots of new things and mess around with wads and textures. I suppose some people are more naturally suited to this than others, I'm not one of them, I found it frustrating and very hard to even do what I did with Selaachi's Secret. It makes you wonder exactly how much spare time some level builders have! Do they not have jobs?!"
Ian: "'Do they not have families' is more likely. Anyway, have you played any of the Castle Doomsday levels? If so, did that series have any bearing on Selaachi's Secret?"
Matt: "Hail Data! The queen (or king depending on what way you look at it) of spookyness. I've played the first two of her adventures and loved them both. I don't think it had much bearing on Selaachi's Secret because it wasn't what I was going for. I wanted a calmer but still spooky uneasy atmosphere which Doomsday isn't as such. I wanted to try and match the quality of level that Doomsday is but not copy anything. But as yet she's still beating me to it."
Ian: "Where did you get the name from?"
Matt: " was hoping nobody would ask because I nicked it from somewhere. (yes, shame on me). I'm a massive fan of the Discworld games especially the last one, Discworld Noir. It's set in Ankh-Morpork the city from the novels on a dark thundery night with a theme of death, murder and mystery. Being a fan of this type of genre I of course loved the game. There was a section in the game called `Selaachi's Mausoleum´ which was perhaps my favourite bit. It didn't play a large part in the game but I thought the name could suit a high class English/Belgian family which the mansion in Selaachi's Secret was home to."
Ian: "How easily were you able to get the hang of Custom textures, Wads, etc.?"
Matt: "Surprisingly easy actually, it was just annoyingly time consuming. Half the time I was thinking, 'why the hell am I doing this it's taking ages, will anyone appreciate custom textures and objects'. But never the less I carried on because I wanted to include originality in a mansion level. One of my aims while building was to turn people's opinions that mansions can be interesting in Tomb Raider! Well I suppose some people may have been 'turned', but others not. I included about 90% custom textures, the gravel, all the wallpaper, floors, grass, mud, virtually everything. I'm pleased I did that than take the easy route and load up a tomb raider tga and start texturing. With the irritatingly annoying WADMerger, I almost gave up altogether but it started responding how I told it to."
Ian: "Did you plan the level out beforehand? How easy or hard was it to come up with puzzle ideas?"
Matt: "As I have done with all my levels, I got a piece of paper and drew out the whole level bit by bit. In the case of Selaachi's Secret it took me hours and hours, the mansion had to have the right internal design, but fit together to provide some variety in gameplay. One thing I was keen to avoid was just having the mansion, I wanted a well rounded mansion and it's grounds so the player could become emersed in it's atmosphere for long enough. The hardest parts to design were the tree section and the mausoleum because they needed an aspect of gameplay with jumps and puzzles. It worked in a way becasue it has some variety, but had a downside that the level became very large and had to be split up into two. This created long corridors so all of it looked right, which some reviewers picked up on being an annoyance but it couldn't be avoided without scrapping the entire thing and starting again which I wasn't prepared to do. The puzzles were hard to integrate in a house and so I wrote down possible puzzles such as the scales puzzle and tried to fit them in. The scales wouldn't work so I replaced it with the very easy element puzzle. I'm VERY envious of other level builders who make perfect puzzles, if I met them one day it would be hard to resist attacking them out of envy! ;-)."
Ian: "The atmosphere was terriffic! Are you pleased with the outcome?"
Matt: "Yes, very pleased. It was just how I wanted it at the start with it being relatively silent, calm but spooky with the thunder and the lack of humans. I admit it became a bit bland because that's how it was the whole way through but I think it helped the gameplay because people enjoyed the atmosphere. After complaints of my levels being a bit dark, this one was brighter which compromised the atmosphere which I again received complaints about, level builders can't win. One aspect I totally overlooked was the use of custom music and sound effects, I didn't use any. I feel the atmosphere could have been improved dramatically if I used this, perhaps adding some spooky classical music with the globes puzzle and the clock tower, and some quieter but eery music for the graveyard. This is an aim for the second part of the Selaachi adventure."
Ian: "What next in the pipeline?"
Matt: "Glad you asked! Gives me a shameless chance to plug my next levels! I'm keen to better the atmosphere of Selaachi's Secret with smaller areas and better objects. The next adventure takes place shortly after Selaachi's Secret. Lord Selaachi's nephew has stolen the Hand of Selaachi which Lara retrieved from the mansion and is intending to take it to Belguim where the family came from and use it to gain enormous personal power. Lara gains intelligence of his whereabouts, he's on the 23.00 Eurostar from Waterloo station in London to Brussels. Lara must gain access to this train as it passes into the Channel Tunnel, then on the train must kill the Lord's nephew and get the artefact. She then travels to Belgium to destroy it in a town Selaachi grew up in. I'm intending to better the previous level in all ways, this new set of levels includes better atmosphere and a moving train level set inside the channel tunnel which I enjoyed making immensly."
Ian: "The 2nd part of your adventure sounds tremendous! I was worried that it would be another Haunted House adventure (you can have too much of a good thing), but it sounds as if you've opened it out beautifully. Do we have a release date?"
Matt: "Don't worry, no more haunted houses from me. You put it quite tactfully but I know people don't want to keep playing mansion levels whether it be haunted or not. The 2nd part of the adventure will have buildings but not neccessarily always houses. I need to finish it before I go to university, so hopefully it will be finished by September 03."
Ian: "Have you played AOD?"
Matt: "Yes, and I have mixed feelings on it. Tomb Raider in it's essence is non-existant in AOD because it's an entirely new style of gameplay in my opinion. The game lacks interesting jumps, original Tomb Raider style gameplay and sheer awe value and introduces more investigative gamplay like talking to other characters. When playing it I think that there's something missing, perhaps decent FMVs and enemy AI. In my opinion, Core should rap up the Tomb Raider saga because it has run its course and not keep making games because it's a good money spinner."
Ian: "Do you think there'll still be a demand for Custom Levels now that the 'official' games have returned?"
Matt: "Definitely, infact more of a demand. I have spoken to a lot of people about AOD and many are dissapointed. I feel this may spur level designers into taking inspiration from AOD but making it interesting. One aspect AOD excelled at was atmosphere and a lot of builders will see how much more fun the game was with this. Expect a lot more atmospheric custom levels to come!"