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interviewed by Matthias Heuermann aka Dimpfelmoser in July 2002

Matthias: "Aesthetically your levels are quite different from everything else; did you deliberately try to come up with something new or is this you natural approach to level design?"

Richard Lawther

Richard: "A bit of both. Some areas - like the all-white binocular room (Inverted Dream Factory) was an idea executed without much adaptation from the original concept. But the outdoor areas evolved gradually as I tried different textures and experimented with strategic placement of 'gaps'. I also have little interest in recreating reality - others will always do that better than me. My stuff is - and is always intended as head trip."

Matthias: "Are there any non TR related influences (artists, film makers, illegal substances, etc)?"

Richard: "Artists: - my official favourite band is CAN - German experimentalists from the 1970's.Cover Tago Mago - Can Their music was perhaps an influence - not directly on my levels - but on the way my mind turned out. I bless the day my brother introduced me to Tago Mago - so brilliant it hurts. Today I listen to many different types of music. There is a fashion in the UK for 'Chillout' music a sort of Dance/World Music/Classical hybrid and sometimes when I listen to this stuff I picture my levels... and I'm away... Film makers: The Usual Suspects remains my favourite film - a masterpiece of Cinematography, Direction and Acting, and script, and The Other Bits; Blade Runner, and the films of Hal Hartley are also up there. Illegal substances: 10 years in the Gulf States sure helps wean you off that stuff - unless you want to risk a prison life sentence. But when I was younger - yes - plenty. I'm actually quite puritanical about drugs these days - I think they are bad and chronic users of any substance risk long-term problems. Take Ecstasy, for example, it destroys serotonin receptors in the brain thus putting the user at risk of intractable depression or worse. I bet you thought I was a raving crack head - well I put the record straight there. Lol. "

movie poster

Matthias: "No such unworthy thoughts could ever cross my mind. So what were you doing in the Gulf states and what do you miss now apart from the sun?"

Richard: "It was a good life, I travelled through Saudi, UAE, Oman - climbed, swam, fished for Tuna and forecast the weather... specifically sea conditions, wave heights etc. I do miss the sun a lot."

Matthias: "Recent surveys disclosed that almost every player hates labyrinths and yet we find two mazes in your last level. Can you explain the fascination the maze holds for the level builder?"

Richard: "Mazes are a lazy solution to gameplay - they are easy to put together. I usually create mine towards the end of a project when the original ideas are starting to dry up. I thought my 3-D water maze was a bit different, though; the very last thing I did on this level was make those three blocks red. It was 100-times harder before - even I couldn't find my way."

Matthias: "You released your three levels in quick succession. Didn't it take you long to build them or don't you do much else?"

The Inverted Dream Factory

Richard: "In the 7 weeks between CPU Crash and Inverted Dream Factory, I managed to get 2 weeks in the English Lake District and go climbing - my other hobby. I guess I'm just fast. No longer being in full time work also helps - I only do occasional leave reliefs in the Middle East (fill in for others on holiday) so I've got time on my hands... and level building is addictive once you start. That said - I'll only start a 4th level if I come up with some good ideas and/or if I learn more about object editing."

Matthias: "So you are not working on anything at the moment, nor have you any ideas for a new project?"

Richard: "No, the tank is finally empty. I'm taking a break - and I'll start again in the Autumn I think. If I do get an idea that excites me I'll bang out a level in a few weeks. It's the learning curve that takes time. I'm open to suggestions as to what people who like my stuff would like to see next. A good gameplay idea or theme could get a mention on the readme file." (wow! you say) "How do you find the time to play all these levels ('don't you do much else')?"

Matthias: "Well, level playing is addictive as well. But I try to cut it down and go out some more. Would you say that you have to be anti-social to spend so much time with your computer?"

Richard: "All things in moderation - sage advice for both of us."

Matthias: "Enemies don't play a major part in your levels. Can't you be bothered or do you save that for games to come?"

Adrienne Shelly, in a scene from: The Unbelievable Truth

Richard: "I just think TR enemies are crap. If I want to rumble I'll play Unreal or HalfLife. - I just tend to put them in as an after-thought. However, if the Xian Warriors from Floating Islands became available I'd place them as the focus - coz they're great - and frickin' hard to deal with!"

Matthias: "Are there other features you miss with the Level Editor as it is now?"

Richard: "Oh yes. The Level Editor itself is restrictive. I'd like to be able to create much bigger environments without texture drop-off, and I'd like sky graphics appearing below eye-level so that you could escape from the in-a-box effect present in all levels. I'd also love those jump pads seen in TR2 and the rope slide of the same game. In general I'd like to see more things in the environment that MOVE... I think the custom building thing will run out of steam eventually when the next TR game arrives. The graphics engine is just too dated and boxy, and players and builders alike will get fed up."

Matthias: "Were you eager to read the reviews for your first level and were you disappointed with the results. Did you get a different feedback on other TR sites?"

Richard: "Yes and Yes. I thought I would do better with the average score but in fact my original enthusiasm was borne out be private feedback via email: You either loved this stuff - or you thought it was shit. Negative reviews, like Sheevah's 2/10 for textures came as a blow - but also served to tighten my focus for the upcoming levels. St.Trevelyan's Folly was a tutorial level for me - but also my least inhibited level. Some players may still prefer it to what followed... I, for one, still strongly recommend it. As for other sites: Tombraiderchronicles does not review anymore, and Lara's Levelbase seems to list my stuff but not mark it. Are my levels up anywhere else."

Matthias: "If you were a tuna fish, how would you feel about the people who are trying to save the lives of dolphins?"

Richard: "Dolphins get stuck in the Tuna nets, right? And these Greenpeace folks are cutting the nets?? I'm cool with that. We're all batting on the same side here, methinks."

Underworld UB2 - The Ghost Train at Castle Orr

Matthias: "As a level builder, what advice can you give to the reviewers in order to improve the rating sytem and make the whole concept of reviewing even more entertaining?"

Richard: "The system: It's too late to make the fundamental change I'd like to see: I think the atmosphere/textures set - which is worth 20 points - could include 'originality' - a worthy feature in my view... and if you think I'm complaining... you're wrong, because this existing section is where I pick up my marks. The objects/enemy section could be dropped - now I am complaining (not really). Reviews: You place your level on a site like mprager.de - you take the reviews you are dealt. Sheevah's review of Folly is one with which I have no problem because she did not like the level - but there have been others - from enthusiastic reviewers - who have gone on to give average marks out of sync with their comments. It's frustrating because you need very high marks to get noticed on mprager - and some reviewers plainly don't see that. The new index (editor's note: 'Levels of the Moment') should address this problem."

Matthias: "Which other level Builders do you respect?"

Richard: "Psiko. His levels are just amazing, especially the objects he creates. Also, Josep Borrut - is hot on gameplay; he, more than most, understands the player's viewpoint I think... As for Piega... he's a master craftsman but he's approaching this game from the opposite end to me; also, his gameplay needs to be much more focused, in my opinion."

editor's note: Richard and Titia released a joint project in April 2005: Underworld UB3 - The Plain of Jars.

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