Ian: "René, tell us something about yourself. Where do you live, how old are you, what do you do for a living?"
René: "First, I want to say thank you for choosing me for an Interview. From the moment I read the first 'Level Builder Interview' that has been put online on Michael's site I thought 'Ah, that would be cool.' Well! I was born on June 15, 1985 in Austria, where I still (surprise) live. So when I write these lines I'm almost 18. I live in a small Town in the east of Austria which is called Pinggau, it's in the district of Styria. A very beautifull place, very green and idyllic. From Monday to Friday I go to school. Right now I'm in the last year before the 'Matura'. My school is divided into several departments. Mine is Electronic Data Processing and Enterprise Organisation. As you can hear from the name it's a lot computer stuff like programming and network management and database managemant and a lot of other boring things. But when I'm not at school and I don't have to learn for an exam I always meet friends and go out, and sometimes of course play computer games."
Ian: "You know,you cant tell anything simply by reading a name, but somehow (maybe through the design of your levels) I took you for an older person. Do your studies have any bearing or influence on your creativity and/or technical aptitude toward Level Building?"
René: "I have experienced that 'studying' computers and every little aspect of them, how they work and programming etc., doesn't require a lot of creativity and doesn't give it either. So my education doesn't have a lot to do with the feelings and the heart I try to lay into a level. But of course on the other hand a lot of experience with computers makes it easy to turn the idea of a level in your head into a playable game on the computer. So I guess my study has increased my technical aptitude but not necessaryly my creativity."
Ian: "How did you discover TR,and how long did it take you to master the Level Building process?"
René: "I discovered TR when I got my first PC when I was 12 I think. TR1 was preinstalled on the computer and already in the first night after I had got the PC the game fascinated me and I played until very early in the morning. TR2 was already out when I finished TR1 and I immediately got it. Then from x-mas to x-mas the number of TR Games on my shelf increased. When the LE was realeased I was very happy and even before I had it I started to plan a lot of levels and I had a lot of Ideas. The process of learning the Level Building Process never ends I think, there are so many tricks and backdoors and techniques that the possibilities are almost of an infinite number. But I understood the concept of the LEVEL EDITOR pretty much after I finished the TUTORIAL Level after two days or so. But I didn't built it exactly as the manual said it. I modified it a lot and took it as a starting point for a story I wanted to realize with the LE."
Ian: "Your experiences of the Tutorial Level sound a lot like mine! Are you aware of the Level Index? And, if so, what do you think of your level's scores and reviews?"
René: "Yes, I am aware of the Level Index and I think it's a great thing. I have personaly downloaded a lot of levels and played each myself. It must be lot of work to always keep it recent. Please let me recite a sentence of a review. TORRY reviewed Verschollen and wrote 'This is a neat little level that appears a lot easier than it actually is. There was one invisible walkway that took me ages to find and then only by accident, LOL.' I think this is so funny. The 'invisible walkway' was never intended to be found by the player. It's only there because I didn't know how to implement the falling tree. So I connected two rooms, one above the other, except for one 'line' of Bottom sqares which were later when the room was flipped increased and textured like a tree. But in general I think it's really exciting to read the reviews of my levels (I read them maaaany times). I also don't care how they are rated. Of course I'm happy when someone likes a level and take it as a compliment but I also don't take a negative review as an insult I rather take it as 'help' and good advice, because people only review things negative that I know are negative. I knew that Secret Operations wouldn't be very good rated but I wanted to release it anyway."
Ian: "Good to hear that your attitude to the scoring is ambivalent, which is how it ought to be. It's the comments (good or bad) that are, IMO, the more important."
René: "I don't know if I'm right but nobody seemed to notice that all my levels that I released are connected to a bigger game if you play them in a certain sequence, this is why you find ammo for a weapon that isn't in the level. The only level I didn't release was 'After The Fall' which is a (very) modified tutorial level which begins after Lara fell back in the pyramid. The sequence is: After The Fall (not released) - Secret Operations - Verschollen - Infiltration - Crash in the Highlands - Temple of Icheb/Excavation - Italy (That's also the sequence of creation time)."
Ian: "Ah, now that's interesting! I released my first level as 5th in sequence, which was a mistake because the players/reviewers were (quite understandably) expecting a rising learning curve and not a step backward. Why did you release your levels out of chronological order?"
René: "Actually this happened because, I didn't know of an Internet Level-Sharing or about a Forum until some time after I finished Verschollen. But if I remenber it right all the other levels were released in the right order, except Secret Operations that was somewhere in between. So when I found out that I could actually release my levels Verschollen was the first one that came into my mind, because it was my favourite that far."
Ian: "Having just completed the last of the levels in your set, I think it would be a good thing to go through them all individually. I'm going to take the liberty of summing up (very briefly) what I thought of each of them. Please don't take any of this personally; it is simply to get you heartily responding! Verschollen (released Feb 1, 2001). A promising debut, with some nifty jumps in a pretty good cavern environment. Was this your first attempt at level building? What is the meaning of the title? What do you think of this adventure?"
René: "It's not really the debut, because Secret Operations was created before this one. But it's a debut considering the method of design. This was the first Level where I wanted to put 'life' in the environment, not like with Secret Operations where the point was just finishing the Level. Verschollen is German and kind of means 'cast away'. Lara finds herself inside a mountain in front of the other end of the warpgate which she opened and entered in the end of Secret Operations and she doesn't know where she is, so she's Verschollen. I personally really like Verschollen, I think it's my favourite Level of all. (maybe because I love junge levels). It's got a great athmosphere doesn't it?"
Ian: "It has, yes. In fact, I thought the design of the large caverns was very creative. But, it's a shame that this didn't follow on (in terms of the date of release) from Secret Ops, as it would have made rather more sense. Secret Operations (released Feb 17, 2001). Poor by comparison. Rather stupid at times (the Lever for the door in her Cell). A low point in your level-building. Am I being too harsh? Please feel free to challenge! Why build such a long staircase?"
René: "No, actually your not beeing too harsh. I mean the textues are ugly, the puzzles dumb, and the objects are sh*t. But plesse don't forget that two weeks after the LE's release the problems were big and the possibilities small. Lara wakes up in a cell after she's been taken captured in the Level before when she finally leaves the Pyramid. It's just about Lara discovering some 'Secret Operations' and discovering a Stargate which she finally uses to escape. But there's a good reason for the high staircase. The first room is at height 0 and to stargate is at height -100 I think. Because the place with the little lake outside (where you come over the high staircase) is connected with the rooms where the level starts, so I had to make a staircase to get there! I actually revised the Level with a lot of new Objects and textures, but this revise got lost on a system crash and I won't do it again also because of the other big project. By the way, this Level was inspired by 'STARGATE'."
Ian: "Crash in the Highlands (released Feb 22, 2001). Really good (though short) and stylish adventure. Was that shotgun ammo(if I recall correctly) in that little cave actually possible to aquire? And if so, how? Why did you not make the level bigger?"
René: "The Level is called Crash in the Highlands because Lara crashes with the Helicopter with which she escapes from the military ship in the end of Infiltration. In CITH the most important thing to me was the texturing and the lightning and I really thought about the story some minutes before I started building it. That's very unusal because I never think or plan before starting a level, the story and environment allways develops during the building process. What the reviewers noticed is that I intended to recreate the TR1 athmospere. I didn't make the level longer because I ran out of ideas and I didn't want to fill the level with a lot of sh*t to make it long, I also had the idea for Excavation and wanted to start this level before I forgot the ideas I had for it. This was what made CITH suffer a little bit. The connection between CITH and Excavation was the frozen underwater river, (see the textures on the wall in the end of CITH and in the begin of Excavation)."
Ian: "But I'm still wanting to know, in CITH there's a pick-up in a small cave (you can see it from inside the cave entrance, if I recall; but you access it from somewhere else) which seemed to me to be impossible? Was this what you intended, or was it (I think it was Shotgun ammo) accessible after all?"
René: "Do you mean in the room with the many spike holes on the floor? Yes, the pick ups inside it are very accesible. You know when the path splits in the very beginning of the level, go left and you will reach a wooden gate. Beside it there's a gap in the wall!"
Ian: "Infiltration (released Feb 27, 2001) . Big Ship action. A step back in invention,IMO. Admittedly, I mucked up while playing this, as I couldn't get rid of the wraith. The 'lighting the Cooker' puzzle...your favourite? Was your aim here simply to create a shoot'em up level?"
René: "Lara reached this ship with the little boat she found in the end of Verschollen. It's very silent and drifting, the crew is dead. Lara goes onboard it and wants to help the crew, which fails and she escapes with the helicopter. The first SAS you see in the Level is the Captain who tells Lara what happened and that she should escape. But this *.wav file was never released with the level, I also deleted the camera flight for this conversation for the 'INTERNET-VERSION'. I don't think of this as a shoot em up Level, because the SAS are supposed to help Lara and they only attack her if she attacks them (thanks to a bug in the SAS AI). I guess I just wanted to see if I could build a ship, which was very hard, and I wanted to make it dark and frightening. I like the Cooker puzzle. I knew that the players would bite out their teeth on this one. But of course Lara can escape with the Heli in the end."
Ian: "Excavation/Temple of Icheb (released Jun 28, 2001). I played this yesterday and loved it! A little classic. Masterful, and definately your finest achievement..or do you feel differently? Where did you get the ideas? You also tell a good story; are you happy with the finale, or would you have liked to carry it further? Why couldn't you get hold of a proper Key-hole?"
René: "I know that this one's my finest. Excavation and Italy are to blame that I threw this project to rubbish. I saw that my abilitys were increasing and I saw that my other levels weren't good enough and didn't suit to Italy and Excavation so I started a completely new project I'm still working on. When attempting Excavation I wanted to use all my abilities I had learned this far. I wanted good textures, athmosphere, story enemies etc. I don't think that I got ideas from anywhere, or that I was inspired by anything, I made all those things up completely in my mind. Only the very first part of the cave before you climb down was inspired by TOMB OF SEMERKHET I think. I'm pretty satisfied with the finale and I caried it further in ITALY. THE TEXTURE IS THE KEYHOLE. I know that it's dumb but I wanted her to switch something 'computer'. I like ICHEB a little more than Excavation because it's got more action."
Ian: "One of the many things I enjoyed in Excavation/Icheb was the Fire dampeners; lovely effect! The 'key under the dead soldier' moment (won't spoil it for future players) was also a brilliant piece of 'timing'. However, the underwater tunnel spoilt it a little. Was this your only attempt at an underwater maze? Why weren't either of the motorbikes rideable? I also thought that the result of the small earthquake was a little enigmatic. Could you not have included another Fly-by?"
René: "I tried to include 'some swimming' in all of my levels, there's some underwater action in Verschollen as well in Infiltration and in Italy for example. In Excavation I think I neded something to fill up a gap between two parts of the level and an underwater maze as you like to describe it appeared to be the best way to fill it. But I do this also because there are a lot of such water labyrinths in CORE's Levels. I also have to say that I'm very lucky with timing puzzles, you know where you have to be real fast and stuff. Most off the times I'm able to set the timer field for a door e.g. to a time, the first time, that it's not impossible but also really hard to get into the door, or get out of a rollingballs way, you know what I mean. The motorbikes were never ment to be rideable, I put them in animating slots because they were just some kind of 'decoration' to add more life to the underearth labor. Earthquakes are alwys good to give a reason for a flipmap, I like working with flipmaps a lot although it can be really affording sometimes, but I like it. I try to use not very many flybys, although I loved them in the original TR Games. But I think if you use them too much they ain't very special anymore and they can be boring, you know
when you fail at a puzzle 100 times, and you have to wach a 50 sec. fly by evertime trying, no thanks."
Ian: "Italy (released Aug 4, 2001). Beautiful..as far as it went. Admit it; you got bored with this (You didn't even put in a 'finish trigger'). Why? What went wrong?"
René: "Im must confess that the only reason Italy became Italy was that I needed a Level that suited the blue bikini. But I like it anyway the Level itself and Italy itself too. Lara reaches Italy with the Jeep she gets in Excavation (and changes clothes on the way). I didn't get bored ! There should be a finish trigger in front of the blue door in the office. In this LEVEL cutscene that I cut out for the release Lara finds a newspaper and listens
to the radio that's on the desk to push the story further. I guess that's all I have to say to Italy because there is no special story that develops during the Level, it's just getting into the office. But I like the outfit and the cliff part. The canal part was inspired by the real Rome Level in TR2."
Ian: "I still don't think that a level designed to show off her Bikini (splendid thought it was!) should therefore not have a finishing trigger."
René: "There is a finish trigger indeed, but before releasing the level I cut out a flyby scene in the end of the level of which the last camera triggers a HEAVY finish trigger, so this is why there seems to be no finish trigger, because I forgot to set it back no normal after removing the triggering cam. So I'm sorry."
Ian: "So, how long does it take you, on average, to build a level?"
René: "Wow, that's really hard to say, because from the moment I begin a level until the moment I finish it I'm not only Level building, because I'm very busy with other things (that means school) but I guess for Excavation/Icheb it was 5 months or so. But on my current four levels I have been building for more than two years now, but they're almost finished."
Ian: "Do you have a set pattern to your work? (For instance, I always leave the cameras and music until the very end.)"
René: "No, I like what's called 'free art'. But I find myself coming into kind of a routine. The first thing on a room is the architecture and the doors to other rooms, then texturing, then lightning. If there is a puzzle in the room I place the necessary objects and triggers etc, but the static objects are always placed in the very end of a whole level, same as music triggers. The thing I hate most is texturing, because it's so important to the athmosphere and can be a LOT of work. But I like setting up logical traps and puzzles and flyby scenes. For my current project I also spent a lot of time with the Animation Editor."
Ian: "You said that you were distracted at the end of CITH by ideas for Excavation. Do you ever suffer from 'burn-out' while building, or are you interested all the way through?"
René: "It depends on how long a level is. There was no level that I built without interruption. But most of the time this was not because of loss of creativity but because of more important things at school that ate up my time. But sometimes Level Editing just sucks me off, so that's why I haven't done anything on my current project for the last two months. But this interview arose my interest in LE again I think!"
Ian: "What has been the most technically frustrating moment for you? You know, that instance of 'Oh,why aren't you doing what you're supposed to do!' feeling when theoretically you've done everything right, but the LE just doesn't want to obey!"
René: "OH YES. In my recent project I wanted to make Lara make a flic flac down some steps when she's a attacked my some kind of monster. It took me more than a month to find out how I could trigger a certain animation by an enemy and how to solve the problem that Lara stopped after the first step and stood still again. Wow, that really was a lot of work and extremely frustrating, but one night I had an inspiration regarding the State IDs and I worked the problem out in several minutes."
Ian: "Which moment in your levels are you most proud of?"
René: "Phuhh! That's very hard to say, I think it's a cutscene in one of the levels I haven't yet released, but in the released levels I think it's the moment when you enter the cave with the frozen river in CITH or maybe the thing with the KEY UNDER THE SOLDIER in Excavation."
Ian: "Do you find LE'ing a lonely pastime,or are your family supporting/understanding/encouraging?"
René: "My sister loves my Levels, as well as some friends from school that use to play some of my levels. Also some relatives like my uncle are impressed by what I'm doing. One of them even said I should sell these levels, needless to say that this is impossible! But when I'm actually Level Editing I'm alone, because I always do it at night."
Ian: "So, when are we going to see the next big adventure?"
René: "In the summer vacation when I have time again I will finish my new project, and I'm already eager to release it, but there's still some work to do."
Ian: "I look forward to it eagerly. Thank you very much for taking part in this interview."