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Rüdiger Abend back homepage search
interviewed by Ian Smith aka Marksdad in June 2003 and continued in March 2005

Ian: "Give us some details about yourself. Age,Profession,Location."

Rüdiger Abend

Rüdiger: "I'm 36 years old (born 1967) and work for a shipping line at the port of Hamburg, Germany."

Ian: "How long have you been Tombraiding,and how did you get started?"

Rüdiger: "In the 1980s I was a computer programmer (Assembler, RPG II, COBOL85) on an IBM machine half the size of a football field (or so it seems today). 1989, I left for something else and it was not until 7 years later that I touched a computer again. December 1996, I was a roadie for a British rock group called Blitzkrieg, and one afternoon before a concert, I followed the bass player of the band to a store where he wanted to check out new computer games. TOMB RAIDER fascinated me instantly because the heroine could move around in 3D, explore the whole world (seemingly) in any direction, and what shapes they could create nowadays, oh boy! Back home from the road a week later, I immediately headed for the next dealer to purchase a copy of Tomb Raider. I glanced at the black flipside of the disc, decided it didn't look like a CD, and shyly asked the shop assistant: `What kinda machine ya need to play this?' and he said: 'See those grey boxes? It's called Playstation.' Realization dawned upon me that you have to restart with zero points if you stayed away from computers for 7 years, but I bravely gave it a try. TR 1-5 definitely still are the best for me. I also liked 'Dino Crisis 2', 'Fear Effect 1' and 'Silent Hill 1', not many else though."

Ian: "Was it easy to learn the Level Editor? How long did it take you?"

Rüdiger: "I was really hesitant for half a year to go into level creating. Then I created a few rooms, but the proportions and textures and lights, just nothing looked like I wanted it to, and another six months later my first awful level attempt was completed. I was a slow learner, admittedly."

Ian: "I'm not deliberately choosing this level to embarrass you,but I want to discuss each one of your levels in turn; so Beyond Merciful Fate. An experiment with the LE, I take it? Actually, I thought it had some interesting ideas (mostly involving cameras). How long did it take you to build,and what's it all about?"

Rüdiger: "My idea was to make the darkest level ever, with skeletons and mummies appearing, no real tasks to do, just a short study in sinister atmosphere for a possible REAL level later on. I experimented with cameras more than beginners usually do, simply because 'Beyond Merciful Fate' had a film-like approach, not a game-like approach. The negative reactions made me aware I'd have to pay attention to gameplay much, much more if I wanted people to enjoy playing."

Ian: "Into the Cinema. This essentially set the Ruediger style: short, sharp, very fast moving, and with a certain cheekiness. How long did this take to put together,and did it turn out as you planned?"

 Into the Cinema

Rüdiger: "The result doesn't show as much of it as I hoped, but this actually was a very ambitious project that took months to prepare. I took photographs of buildings for new textures, I composed music on my keyboard, I even recorded spoken word tracks with a young lady as I wanted Lara to comment on her progress during the game. Most of the work I did in preparation ended up in the dustbin though. The idea I still like best among those which finally made it into the level was the music (a little tune blending the TR theme into the Star Wars theme) that tells Lara which lever to pull. That's a unique puzzle, I think. Again, I want to point out I did not use Star Wars because it is one of my personal favourites, I just picked something very popular so that all players have a fair chance to recognize the melody. I used to play with a band back in the 90s that released a CD even, so I do have musical experience and would love to compose more music for levels. That's certainly another road to explore in the future."

Ian: "So those films in the foyer don't reflect your personal taste?"

Rüdiger: "No. I simply wanted some famous posters everybody would recognize, for example 'Charlie's Angels', and a few more were picked at random from my video collection (over 1000 films). I just needed a handful of colourful textures. In fact, I rather am a western fan and run an internet site at www.una-bara-per-django.de about them, yet I considered westerns inappropriate for a Tomb Raider city-WAD level."

Ian: "Black Fortress of Antarctica. Lara's life must be violently threatened at every turn! Is it not a bit too violent?"

Rüdiger: "I don't think my levels are particularly violent, except 'Into the Cinema', which has too many firetraps and SAS guards. 'Black Fortress' employs a deliberate visual style of black stones, white ice and Lara wearing a grey camouflage suit - it's almost like a black and white movie, thus emphasizing the coldness and loneliness of the place. The long run outside before anything happens adds to the latter. 'Astaroth', by the way, has red and black (and no other colours!) throughout the first half, Lara wears red, too! I am extremely aware of colours and shadows. The very bright outside and very dark inside the Black Fortress provide a stark contrast. I added a roof garden with heated water, colourful textures, red light and even plants to the fortress, so that people might notice the bleak look below was intended and not just an accidental result of 'no-other-textures-at-hand-right-now'. Besides, 'Black Fortress' includes the best jump-and-climb sequences I ever created, I'm still very pleased with this level."

Ian: "One critical point I raised in my review was that the Ahmet (fireball throwing) characters could perhaps have been better used as a finale,as opposed to simply standing in corridors mid-game?"

Rüdiger: "Endangering Lara every second is a necessity for a thrilling adventure, but you have to specify what kind of danger she's facing. Climbing on ice blocks needs attention, careful calculation of the next jump, and if skeletons block your way, a strategy as well. That's what I like. Danger in the shape of six armed opponents firing at you, or unmarked spiketraps suddenly impaling Lara without warning are less interesting for me. Such things maybe used at one particular point in a level for a surprise effect, but not all the time, and some creators overdid constant danger I daresay. Have you played Dirk Wouter's Breakout for example? Lara doesn't need holsters for her guns there! That's why I say my levels are not particularly violent, although they aren't puzzle-dominated of course. During the first half of 'Black Fortress', it's almost impossible for Lara to die. After the big jump, she walks across the iced outside area, enters the fortress without meeting more than a few bats and a dog, and the skeletons are no serious danger as long as she keeps running. Only with the demigods it starts getting mean. As long as it doesn't get close to the real world (like 'Desert Storm' games and suchlike), I'm not worried about the much discussed violence issue. Have you ever been to Egypt? You'll find that in opposite of what TR told us, the tombs hold no danger at all. At least nothing compared to the terrors of riding a camel for the first time, or crossing a street in Cairo after dark, being regarded as a foreign devil by fanatics and easy prey by muggers. In 'Astaroth' (not 'Black Fortress'!), I'd say the ahmets ARE the finale pretty much, because after that room, you just pull one last switch, cross the room with the invisible platform, and one minute later reach the level exit. Close enough to the end for me."

Ian: "No puzzles here as such, just fast moving gameplay.Does this reflect your personal taste in TR levels?"

Rüdiger: "Yes, that is if you don't refer to smoking guns only, but also sliding down ramps, grabbing the rope, jumping on platforms etc. Puzzles can be interesting, depends on their nature. What I dislike most in games is role-playing elements like they will start with in the forthcoming AOD which is why I'm not looking forward to that one so much."

The Seal of Astaroth

Ian: "Seal of Astaroth. Loved the beginning! What exactly is Astaroth,and do we get to see it /him in this level?"

Rüdiger: "The beginning is based on something that happened to me in real life. Few level creators ever said that, I bet. Back in the 80s, I was climbing a medium-sized mountain in the Alps, needed 6 hours to get to the top and said to myself: fine, another 6 hours for the way back and I'll be in time for dinner. I took a wrong turn somewhere on the way down and needed 36 hours until I was back in the village, half starved and crawling on my knees. That taught me one important lesson: everybody talks about how to get to the top - but never underestimate the way down. So, instead of creating a temple on top of a mountain, I created one at the bottom. Less cliché, more challenge. And a breathtaking camera flight to open with. Astaroth, according to the occult writings of the British magician Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), is the 29th Duke of Hell. Crowley claimed to have obtained a complete list of all 72 fallen angels once created by King Solomon, but most people who trusted him on that one ended up in lunatic asylums. The complicated sign that Lara is stepping on to open the knight's doors is the invocation symbol as used for rituals by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. I took the liberty to combine this story with another one (templars worshipping Baphomet), so there is no Astaroth in this level, just his seal and the templars."

Ian: "I genuinely loved 'Astaroth',but felt that it could have lasted longer.Is level duration important to you? Presumably you subscribe to the 'end a level leaving them wanting a little more,rather than them having had too much' theory?"

Rüdiger: "I don't intend a sequel to any of my levels (sigh of relief, anyone?). I played levels that did last too long, like 'shoot another vase, pick up another key'. Or wandering around a large area, not knowing what to do next. I shall finish a level when the construction is sound. 'Into the Cinema' and 'Jungle Queen' are strictly circular, the end room is visible at the beginning. In 'Astaroth', we have a mountain, an oasis and a hidden temple. The temple needs a meeting room where the undead knights used to perform their rituals, and a subterranean secret area (locked with that timed door) where the demonic creatures dwell. I could have added more corridors with traps, or more doors to find keys for, but it would not have been essential to the gameplay, so why extend it when there's no real point. Aristotle wrote exactly the same in his drama theory around 350 BC already, when he explained how storylines work. Smart feller he was, for somebody who never mastered a TR level."

Ian: "Wrath of the Jungle Queen. This is your best, IMO. What do you think?"

Wrath of the Jungle Queen (revised)

Rüdiger: "I don't think so at all. Among my 4 serious levels, it is the only one with regrettable mistakes (the not-impossible jump over the fence, the rope-swing) I'd like to repair, and the camera work is sloppy sometimes. It was put together in 4 weeks instead of 8 weeks like the other levels required each. Maybe it is funnier, wilder, more spontaneous, but not better in quality. It wasn't planned the way I planned the others, with many drawings before the first room is created. I just prepared the outfit, downloaded the tigers and vultures, and then said: let's do something funny with this. In the end, I was slightly disappointed with the result. 'Black Fortress' and 'Astaroth' fulfilled my expectations, whereas 'Jungle Queen' was just 'quite nice'."

Ian: "You introduce the story; you set the atmosphere; you build up the momentum; you end it without Lara having apparently achieved anything! Is there going to be a continuation?"

Rüdiger: "Illegal experiments take place at the lab, that's why they have hidden the building in the jungle instead of working in the city. Lara needs to get hold of the truck loaded with samples of these experiments so she can prove crimes against the environment. That's quite an achievement, isn't it. But I admit the story isn't easy to catch. I'd love to add movie scenes to the game, because a dialogue between Lara and the lab boss would have explained everything. It's a pity the level editor can't trigger MPEG files just like an audio track! Besides, it would give me a wonderful opportunity to chat up that neighbourhood girl with killer looks and make her pose for my video camera in a leaves-only outfit. :-) Any volunteers for the role of the lab boss out there?"

Ian: "I don't recall seeing a 'story-setting' in your Read-Me of 'Jungle Queen'. Did you provide one? If not,then that might have made the ending a little clearer."

Rüdiger: "The Read-me for each of my levels contains a few lines about the story, but I have seen sites that did not include it in their download files, or distribute my level without asking me, anyway. No problem, people may check my homepage for clues. In any case, there must be a better way to explain the story than typing it."

Ian: "Which level is your favourite? Why?"

Rüdiger: "Clearly 'Seal of Astaroth', because it has a unique first half, and the second half with the monster battle is so much fun, I love to play it again and again myself! This level has the best gameplay, design and textures."

Ian: "What is important to you in terms of gameplay? It's clear that all your levels have a certain style;is this something you're going to continue with if you build another level or are you planning to surprise people?"

Rüdiger: "I did a pushable block puzzle in 'Jungle Queen' for the sole reason nobody expected it. For my next project, I have just finished an underwater area with 7 entrances, 7 timed doors, 3 circular areas and only one exit that can indeed be reached if you do the right thing at the right time, but you probably won't. Even pros will need 10 tries for this one. People say my levels can be finished too quickly and too easily - well, let's see what they say after this one."

Ian: "Beware underwater challenges! They can be brilliant if done properly. I wish you luck! Have you ever encountered the 'why the hell aren't you working??' syndrome when building a level? If so,were you able to find a satisfactory solution?"

Rüdiger: "For 'Into the Cinema', it took me ages to make proper textures without blurred edges, I was wrestling with a texture maker that was not precise enough, my photos didn't have the right angle and so on. On top of that, although all newly recorded sound files were of the same file type, and I checked that 10 times, some were accepted by the level editor and others not. I finally decided to kick out everything except for the one that was really needed, i.e. the music for the puzzle solution. With my 3 levels after that, I didn't have any big problems, except for a few crashes etc., the usual stuff."

Ian: "You're building an Egyptian level, now that's an interesting retrograde step. Do you think custom levels are getting too complex for their own good? Do they also need to go back to their roots,or will that be seen as being old-fashioned?"

Rüdiger: "My new level's going to be called 'Last Night I Dreamt of Karnak'. Of course it is interesting if some creators make spaceship levels or secret-service levels. They shouldn't stop doing that, it's a refreshing change, I love playing something different myself. But Tomb Raider, let's not forget that, is about tomb raiding. This is not retrograde. It is essential. Probably the developers of the game (and the movies!) will turn Lara into a female James Bond soon. Not every player will be happy with that. Users with a level editor have a chance to provide a counterweight of 'good old Lara as we always liked her', and I enjoy this, old-fashioned or not."

Ian: "Do you play any Custom Levels yourself? What did you think of them?"

Rüdiger: "I played about 50 so far and reviewed half of them for trle.net or laraslevelbase.org . As one expects, they range from amazing genius to utter boredom, but you learn from bad levels, too, so I don't hesitate to download a level with low rating. It's like in the movies: after a 100 million dollar blockbuster, you enjoy to watch a B-movie, and after an awesome level with many new ideas I'll enjoy a standard catacomb level, why not."

Ian: "Do you have a particular favourite."

Rüdiger: "I really liked Justin's Atlantis series, Beneath the Forbidden City by Gecko Kid, Laguna Temples by Michal Mularz and Rene Winkler's small, but excellent Crash In the Highlands, to name but a few."

Ian: "Life ambitions? Do you have any?"

Rüdiger: "Exactly half of it is already gone, if I can trust statistics. That's bad news. I guess I have to become 200 years old at least, if I want to read all the books I'm interested in, listen to all the cool records out there, or watch all the movies I've missed. Some people hold this strange concept of 'boredom'. I was told it means you sit around and don't know what to do with your time. That bewilders me, because I always make so many plans that I have to dothree things simultaneously. I suppose that gives you an idea what kind of person I am. Probably this is also part of the explanation why my levels are a bit short sometimes - I'd love to already start with the next one."

Ian: "I like living in Hamburg because...."

Rüdiger: "I've been elsewhere and didn't like it. Sweden is too cold, Italy is too hot. Hamburg has always had a lot of sailors and foreigners, there is traditionally more tolerance here than in other cities or in the countryside. For a music fan like me, there's a lot of concerts to go to every month. I'm really happy here."

Ian: "So,to conclude,briefly sum up what we can expect from you next?"

Rüdiger: "Egyptian temple. Mindboggling innovation, you'll be quick to agree. Three doors, three entirely different missions to solve. The underwater triple ring maze mentioned earlier will give you an idea that I'm not talking about a conservative shoot-some-bats thing here, though."

...Part 2, March 2005...

Ian: I enjoyed 'Karnak', but felt (as did others) that it was a little too short. Is there a reason why many of your earlier levels are of short duration?"

Rüdiger: "My future ones won't be 3 hour epics either. I like to play levels I can finish the same evening, without help forums and walkthroughs, so that's the kind of thing I'm building myself, too. Last Night I Dreamt of Karnak is not a typical example for my way of building, though. It was built in a different way from my other levels as I had it on paper, with details like numbered rooms and doors, room height and width, before I started building it. Thus it became a lot more calculated and less spontaneous."

Facing the Spirits of the Dead

Ian: "'A typical Ruediger level'. Do you get fed up reading this review comment?"

Rüdiger: "From my point of view, I've tried completely different things, ranging from the bright and funny Wrath of the Jungle Queen to the dark and serious Facing the Spirits of the Dead, or from the shooter Dancing on the Edge of Infinity to the complex story of The Voice That Should Not Be. If I knew what people think is 'un-Ruediger like', I'd do some more of that to surprise them :-)"

Ian: "I think my personal favourite level of yours is 'The Voice that should not be'; partly because it really strived to have a developed plot and partly because it was far longer (around three times the leangth) than most of your others. How long did it take to build and would you tackle this sort of ambitious storyline again?"

Rüdiger: "It was half a year with no other projects in between. From the scheduled 3 levels it was cut down to one and a half, otherwise I still wouldn't have finished it. I won't try another project that size, simply because I haven't got enough time. 'Voice' was crossing the borderline between fun and work too many times."

The Voice that should not be

Ian: "A quick glance at your level-building history shows that you have a flamboyant style of Title creation. What comes first,the Title or the level."

Rüdiger: "The title, always! It really helps to develop the story from a first idea. The reason why 'The Voice That Should Not Be' is not entitled 'Tomb of Cassandra' or 'Temple of Athena' is that the title advised me I'd have to move the story in a direction that allowed Lara to hear this voice in the end. Or another example: 'Wrath of the Jungle Queen', where I tested the outfit with gun animations and then said to myself: Hey, Lara looks like a wrathful jungle queen here... but whom would she fight and why? Certainly people who destroy her jungle! And then the story started to develop from there. The title is the key to a level. Its effect is not to be underestimated. If you take 'Where the Sea Demons Dwell' for instance: The title tells us that we shall visit the realm that belongs to the sea demons. Lara is merely a tiny intruder here for a day. 'Dancing on the Edge of Infinity' creates this picture of Lara joyfully jumping over deepest pits, it suggests bo! th danger and fun. In most cases, I couldn't imagine my levels being released under any other title!"

Ian: "I've been priveledged to play your latest 'Where the Sea Demon's dwell' and I have to say that you're getting terribly devious! I won't give anything away,but people will be cursing some of your traps out loud. Where do you get ideas from?"

Rüdiger: "Since my previous level 'The Voice' was too easy to play for expert players, I decided to set the difficulty a bit higher up this time. I learnt a thing or two about that from playing TRLE Gold, especially."

Ian: "Is there a long future for Custom levels,or do you think they've reached their peak by now?"

Rüdiger: "The first time somebody said: 'They can't do anything new in the movies anymore, I've seen it all' surely was a hundred years ago, and they're still making them. I don't think people will get tired of Lara Croft any time soon."

Ian: "The TR Movies - a mistake. Discuss."

Rüdiger: "I wouldn't mind a third one, actually. But it should be more gritty, dark, claustrophobic, and less glamorous! On the other hand, I see why many people aren't satisfied. The fans had years to create their own movies of what Lara Croft is about in their imagination, and whatever movie the producers would finally make, it could never fulfil everybody's expectations."

Ian: "What can we expect from you next."

Rüdiger: "Better late than never, I'll release the bug-fixed version of 'Wrath of the Jungle Queen' and after that, I have plans for a dark, scary level called 'Victim of the Blood Goddess' and a bright, colourful puzzle level named 'Psychedelia'."

Ian: "Excellent idea's to be looking forward to. Here's to the next Interview in five levels time!"

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