Elvis: "I'm certain Bojrkraider is a household name in the lives of many community members as far as TRLE goes, but what can you tell us about his alter ego - Simen?"
Simen: "Bojrkraider is my alter ego I guess. I used to listen to Björk only and when I discovered Tomb Raider it wasn't hard to mix something up. I wish I could say I'm just a normal guy whose hobby is creating custom levels. I'm more of an artistic person who never decided in which art he should start to grow. I tried everything from singing, dancing, drawing, acting, but I always got to a point where I didn't feel the need to master any of those. I enjoyed acting in a theatre the most, where I had a few well received roles. All of those I was doing for fun, never really wanted to do any of those things professionally. I guess that simply wasn't that, something was missing... I could go on, but I felt that was not what I wanted to do in my life. Of course while I was experiencing the art I was also doing the necessary school and finally entered the study of archaeology. At the end of the first year someone mentioned that great woman doing incredibly fluent moves in a game called Tomb Raider. I had no idea that info would leave such a big impression in my life. I was a fan of the old pixelated Prince of Persia games and then the horror world of Alone in the dark. My favourite movies were something between Batman and Total Recall, I liked dark and macabre things! With archaeology I also got a big interest in old rituals and different religions, I studied some of them on my own. Those are some of my interests that are resting to see brighter days, I am completely in level design right now... I really didn't say anything about myself yet, lol. Maybe some other time..."
Elvis: "Does your moniker Borjkraider have anything to do with you liking Björk and her music? If so - what is it you like most about it?"
Simen: "Yes. I used an anagram on purpose to make it sound like Borg. Once I used a nickname ki_bojrk. Before Tomb raider, of course. My favorite album of her is Homogenic, dark beats, electronic sounds, strings - everything I like the most in one place. I like most of her other music too, but if you want my favourite album of all the times of all the authors, this would be it. I used to listen to her all the time. I was strange when I was younger. No, really! She was strange in the same way, so it just had to happen... Now I've grown up, I guess, because old friends who haven't seen me for a long time are telling me I've changed - that I look more normal, lol. Whatever normal should be."
Elvis: "How did you first discover Tomb Raider?"
Simen: "As I said, a friend mentioned it first. Only after a year I tried a demo and thought it's interesting to see a full moving 3d character in a 3d environment (yes, I know there were some more before like Fade to black, but Tomb raider was the first I saw). In a few weeks I got a new computer and soon after that, my own copy of Tomb raider. It didn't really grab me until the lift scene. Before I had reached Egypt, I was already in love. I thought Lara's smile in the intro was great but at the end it was Natla who did it for me, really. Remember, I said I liked dark and macabre!"
Elvis: "And how did you discover the level editor as a creative outlet for yourself? Was building levels something you always wanted to do?"
Simen: "I played TR1 and 2 many times, later installments not so much. Simply put, I got bored. I wanted more. I got interested in Japanese video games. Final fantasy was my new discovery, and then I found more of games like Secret of Mana and lots of Super Nintendo titles I never knew of before. I thought it would be great if I could create a game on my own. (Those were also my dreams back from the old Prince of Persia era). There was a lot of talk about a possible Tomb Raider level editor. I searched the net to find Turbo Pascal's. It was quite scryptic back then and hard to understand for me, but I knew it existed...
Then, a black part of my life begun when I got sick because of a tick byte and got out of a social life. (I just want to say here, in case you live in a part of the world where infected ticks exist (Europe, Asia and North America) - do check yourself if you were bitten by a tick and/or if you see a red circle mark on your skin, go see a doctor immediately, it must be cured in the first week after the infection!). I was very lucky and after a few years when I got rid of it and finally started living normally again. I found that Turbo Pascal's editor had evolved greatly, but there was also an official level editor and an already established base of custom TR levels on trle.
I downloaded a few levels and played them. Tarragona series by Josep Borrut made a big impression on me. I knew I wanted to do a series of levels myself. I tried both editors and liked the unofficial more, also I was in contact with Turbo and he offered lots of help with his editor. We also chatted sometimes and I found it really exciting when we were talking about how some things in TR engine work and how his editor works. The ezboard forum was the first I joined. Only later when I released my debut level I signed to other forums. There also were lots of bugs due to a problem in rendering levels made by the unofficial editor. I contacted a few players who were happy to help me with removing the bugs and also improve my gameplay - Kristina was a big help for me back then. I was actually surprised by how friendly people of the Tomb Raider community were!
My first big success was really a demo level called Forgotten Cave which was released as a surprise because of a joke made on Lara's home. It was Kris' birthday, I don't know what I said exactly, when she or someone responded "just give her a level!" and I said, "Ok, right away!"
I was just in the middle of creating my Experiment 2 levels. One level was already finished, the other only in half, so I quickly put them together and upload them to my geocities page. The download limit was so small; almost nobody could get the package down, lol. I remember sending the level then to TRLE.net and laraslevelbase. Also we tried to put it onto a server of Lara's home, but there were some complications because nothing worked on my side, lol. Anyway, Forgotten cave was well accepted, so I rushed finishing the rest of the levels, then also Bex from Lara's home offered me some space on the server and suddenly I had my page where I was able to upload my levels whenever I wanted.
Elvis: "Over the course of your level building career you've used both the - official and unofficial level editor - particularly your first level - The Experiment was created using the unofficial editor. Was this a deliberate choice to get the best out of either worlds or do you have a particular preference with which of the editors you like to work with?"
Simen: "Both editors are good, but each has its good and bad sides. I build with Turbo's editor, maybe also because it was the first I tried and got used to. All my latest levels in Experiment series are and will be built by it. I used official level editor for a few levels because I wanted to have cutscenes in them and the unofficial haven't supported them yet. I also participated in the first Back to basics competition where we had to use the official editor (Lara of Persia), I'm also involved in some group projects and I sometimes correct or change some things in the levels of the others, so I still use both editors. Of course lately the official editor is replaced by its updated brother NGLE."
Elvis: "The subsequent levels in the series - The Alpian Caves, Under The Moonlight and Budapest Museum have all been at the top of the Top 50 levels chart and rightly so. What have been the inspirations that have shaped the series as it is right now?"
Simen: "Would you believe that the true inspiration behind this was Natla? It should be a story about life and death and of the origin of Lara, everything told in 7 levels. Well, my small project I had in mind developed and grew bigger, it got so big I couldn't control it any more. So I changed the story. What you saw till now is still about 2/7 of the original story, but after the change I can say it is 3/4. One last part is coming one day, but since I am to busy to do any actual progress it will take a while.
In The Experiment games I use some elements from the Final fantasy games. You can see that in some fantasy environments, characters and boss fights like the mermaids at the end of The Experiment 2. I also took some things from Tomb Raider 1 which has the best story for me of all TR games so far. As I said, I liked the idea of Tarragona series which was originally built around World heritage monuments of Spain. In our little country we don't have much, but we have Skocjanske jame (The Skocjan Caves), a beautiful cave complex and also other caves from which the most know is Postojnska jama (The Postojna Cave) which is also a home for an incredible small creature called human fish - Proteus Anguinus (because of her colour of the skin). The Alpian caves were inspired by those two caves.
In Under the Moonlight I wanted to show how beautiful the mountains can be. The environment was inspired by Julius Alps, the flowers that you could see there grow in the mountains, and the most famous is Leontopodium alpinum or Edelweiss in German.
The Budapest part is inspired by one of the most beautiful European cities. I actually went there when half of the levels were done and took a few pictures, some of them I also used in the levels. I needed a city with catacombs and a museum where I could put my story in. I wanted it to be near my country, so Budapest came to my mind. While looking at the pictures I also discovered the magnificent architecture of St. Matthias church and just wanted to make it for my pleasure. Later I put in some gameplay and added it to the pack."
Elvis: "You've mentioned the Natla character as an inspiration a couple of times now. What do you find so fascinating about her?"
Simen: "While trying to find a recipe for immortality and ruling the whole universe she became so unhappy and evil that she would destroy everything to get what she wanted. She showed a great power but at the end Lara won and she was controlled by a player, so basically a player won, defeating the evil. Natla represents some things that everybody thinks about at some time - the power of ruling your own world on your own. But at the end you see that's not it, saving the world is better. She's simply a perfect villain. The only one that left the same impression on me of the games that I played was Kefka from Final fantasy VI, but he was even meaner. She also said one of the best lines I heard from a villain before being frozen: You won't rest either, or your damn continent Atlantis!... or was it damned continent of Atlantis... Anyway, I hear the first version, but might be wrong."
Elvis: "I think the original music for your series by Pimpernel is awesome! What was your interaction with the composer like? Was the music tailored for specific events in the levels, or did you just find a fitting moment for already composed tracks?"
Simen: "All the tracks were made for a certain scenario in a level. I simply sent him a description of the place or of what will happen and then let his imagination flow. Only on two occasions I made a request of expanding the already existing TR tracks, like for the main theme which uses the menu music of TRC and the landing scene from the start of the Budapest levels which was based on the TR2 FMW that introduced the Offshore rig levels. I always thought of how those two short pieces of music would sound if they would continue for a minute or two and I think pimpernel did a great job here. I really like also his worm battle music where he used different sounds to not make it too boring, the attack of the small spiders music where he tried to imitate the walking of hundreds of small legs, and the underground temple music which was made in three variations for water, fire and wind."
Elvis: "They say that if you want to be a good writer, you should read a lot of books, if you want to be a good filmmaker - see a lot of films. Has this somehow played out in your custom level building career as well? Do you play the custom levels of other builders, and if so - do you have any you like particularly?"
Simen: "Probably what you say here is true. I don't know how many custom TR games I played, around 500 I guess. But I don't know if I am good because I played other levels. I just do it, it comes out from me. The important thing is that I am having fun while I'm creating and later playing a level. Unfortunately I see now that I used quite a few puzzles or traps that were not fun for me at all but I just thought they should be there. I would remove those now without a blink of an eye.
The most influence on my gameplay was done by the fans of custom levels, so I'd like to thank all who either wrote me or left a review or a comment on the forums. I've read all of them I could find and correct my mistakes in later releases. Constructive criticism (who thought of that expression? lol) is the best you can give to the builder who wants to make better levels. But good or bad reviews help a lot also. Good ones tell you what you must keep; bad ones tell you what you should not use any more. Whatever you say in reviews, don't lie to make the builder happy, rather be quiet and comment only the good things and leave out the bad. Still, I must say my Experiment levels were made for hardcore players and for those who want some thinking puzzles. I tried lately also with easier/harder versions but that somehow don't work. I'm thinking of something else, but you'll have to wait.
Custom levels that I like most are similar to mine in one way or another. I don't have an author that I prefer but rather the types of levels I prefer. One author can make a level that bores me to death and another that I could play on and on until I finish it. They may be a fantasy or have some logical puzzles or simply feel different. I could name a few of them that I consider as my top ten, but till now there are just too many, so I couldn't completely decide anymore. It depends on how I feel. It's the same with the music, one day I'd listen to pop, the other day to classic... But there are some little gems that I could play any time. One of those is Hanami in Kyoto by Miss Kroft. It is simply great. And the last level that really really captivated me was Ancient legends III by Driber. Those two also have a very good selection of the music for my liking."
Elvis: "Group projects seem to be the new black these days, you being part of such mammoth projects like Coyote Creek, Underworld: Unfinished Business 4 and most recently the TR Search HQ being the best proof. What do you think makes them so appealing to builders?"
Simen: "I wanted to do a big series. As I said for The Experiment, I had to cut the story down. I simply wouldn't be able to do it. Also building alone might get tiresome someday and it takes lots of time to see a result. Building with a group of other builders is a great experience, you see how they build and learn new things, and the knowledge gets shared very quickly, especially if you work with experienced people! Also the idea of a completely new full game grows much faster as most of the builders do only one or two levels. The only downside might be that the story that you're involved in is not exactly what you wanted to do, or sometimes some builders may leave. That happens because people lose interest for different reasons, but still - when you finish a level you know you've done your part for something big. You just have to wait and start another Project! If the previous project is not released or simply stops, you may still release your level in another Project or as stand alone level.
In the first two projects I was more part of a support team than anything. For Coyote creek I did only a few objects. Being a part of UB4 was a real fun. I had to do a few cutscenes and Richard gave me a lot of freedom after he saw my first cutscene. I remember taking a lot of time before I actually finished the next one. Here I must thank Richard for his patience.
The Trsearch project was really important for me. I wanted to be part of the project that would produce a game for all. And that I saw in the TrsearchHQ Emergency! game. Some levels were so simple but so much fun. I finally understood that fun is the most important to make a game suitable for everyone. Hard puzzles and difficult runs and jumps are not for everyone. Since I was one of the leaders and the most levels that were done had the permission by the authors to do with them whatever I like, I started eliminating the not so fun things and changing some gameplay. Some had only geometry but no gameplay. I tried to design something new. That's how TRL bars moves were made, first for the mountains level and later they were used also in some other levels. For the Village I really had no idea what to do, then I browsed through sites with custom objects and found some great ones made by Spongebob and crazy aunt Agatha was born. The project was hard to finish, but with the help of Michiel and White Tiger we finally completed the rest of the levels.
Lately I'm involved in King Arthur project. I won't do any new levels; I'm just polishing and finishing Seipher Zero's levels. Also for my Experiment levels, Gerty will help me with texturing."
Elvis: "From what you've mentioned - you used to be an archaeologist yourself. How could you handle all the excitement? I imagine shooting up mercenaries, jumping over pits, avoiding traps and solving ancient puzzles would be pretty exhausting! Or was your experience as an archaeologist slightly different than what Tomb Raider lets on? ;)"
Simen: "Right from the start I wanted to see how it looks on the excavations, so I soon put the theory aside and tried the practical part. Here is the truth: no Indiana Jones or Lara Croft style. You get some tools that are used in gardening, painting, drawing, house building and geodesy. Now dig the dirt! You work all day, no matter what time or weather. The exception is rain or snow, then it's impossible to work, only if you're working in a tent. Then the weather can't stop you as well. Imagine hot sun all day, 2 months, and you're digging, then sweeping, photographing, drawing, digging, sweeping,... and so on and on. And then there is winter. It's cold, the soil is hard to dig because it's frozen - you have to excavate a prehistoric fireplace, so first of all you put on warm gloves, then you put on plastic gloves to not get wet and start digging the fireplace out carefully, looking for pieces of coals or parts of pottery or grains. But the worst thing is working after the rain. Everything is sticky; mud on your boots, mud on your hands, mud on your notes, there's mud everywhere! When you get home, all you see is a hot shower and the bed. But this is so much fun if you find something! Imagine prehistoric soil marks for houses - you can see dark soil marks, then a number of fire places and places for pottery. Lots of broken pottery, maybe an ancient construction made from stones, and old piece of wood. You're digging out the past with a story that is yet to be revealed. After a month or two of hard work you start seeing the results. Different stages of settlements, animal bones... Did you know the best thing you could find on an archaeological site is a pit for litter? You can see what they ate, used and how they lived! Or imagine excavating a villa from a roman period - you find lots of jewelry, money, amphoras, fresco, mosaic, ovens, heating system, sauna, pool. At the end everything needs to be analyzed, compared to similar discoveries and carefully studied. At the end a big report of the excavation is created. The artefacts find their place in the museum; the knowledge is gathered into two stories. One scientific for archaeologists and historians, the other for public to know something more of what happened somewhere in the past or just for looking and admiring the artifacts in the museum or "in situ" (at the place that it was found). It's great to see how people come and listen to the stories you found in the ground on which they walked a few months ago.
If you want to know, the closest I got to Lara Croft were the boots and running while jumping across the pit at the part of the excavation site that was already abandoned. You can't run where the researches haven't finished yet, you might ruin something!"
Elvis: "Fascinating! What has been the most exciting find in your career so far then?"
Simen: "I would say it was a complex with Roman bath/sauna with mosaiques and fresco. The bath was only about 4x3 meters big but an awesome moment to be there at the day of the discovery."
Elvis: "Did your experience as an archaeologist somehow impact the way you built your TR levels?"
Simen: "No. Only in the first Experiment level I tried to create a place that would look like a real excavation site."
Elvis: "Saying that you'll be coming back to archaeology, I could guess that it's not what you're doing at the moment. Would you be willing to share what your current occupation is?"
Simen: "I'm a level designer. What? It's true! But doing this professionally is much harder then doing it at home for pure fun. I am exhausted and chronically out of time. But this is my dream and I enjoy living it!"
Elvis: "Without spilling too much beans (can't risk getting you fired!) what is the game you're working on like? What suggestions could you give to all those folks out there who want to pursue this as a job?"
Simen: "I'm not allowed to comment on this yet. You'll have to wait for the official announcement. It is 3d, with characters walking around, then you walk around and do some stuff, lol...
I can't really make a good suggestion. It is hard to get into gaming industry and stay there, and even harder to get noticed. I guess it also depends on where you live, in big cities it is definitely harder. But there are plenty of companies all around the world that are constantly looking for newcomers, so if you really want to - you may try your luck. They do expect you to show some portfolio, a concept made on your own, being a part of the mod team is a big plus. Usually there is also a list of programs and abilities the game developers are searching for. It also depends on what you would like to do as a part of the game developer's team. Of course, the most important thing is that you're a gamer and that it's your dream job.
Something like: Dreaming of creating games is not enough, you must show some knowledge, but the best is to show what you did and let know what you are offering. Also you should be prepared to work hard; sometimes you may work long into the night. You may find out you were going into the wrong direction and then correct everything all over again. Creating a game with all the next gen stuff and thinking of all the modern technology and how the players would react in a certain level is a long and hard procedure. If that's not what you really want to do every single day, don't even think about."
Elvis: "You've also attended the Tombfest London 2005 - how would you sum up the experience for yourself in a nutshell? Have you attended other meetings since or maybe met a particular person from the community?"
Simen: "It was one of the most A W E S O M E experiences I had in my life. It was like meeting celebrities. So far that was my only TR meeting. I meet occasionally with Oxy and we drink a cup of coffee or two."
Elvis: "It may be just an assumption of mine, but Slovenia probably sounds exotic enough even in Europe, let alone the rest of the world - how would you describe it to give, in your opinion, an accurate description to the folks out there?"
Simen: "We are small, but have it all. Mountains, sea, hills and fields. It is really separated in 4 differently looking countrysides. I live near the mountains part and that is also my favourite one. Also the majority of our country is covered with woods, so lots of greenery and the air here where I live is great. Still the pollution in our major city is big, but who cares if you may enjoy fresh air just a few steps away. Everywhere you go you might find something nice, cute and small. There are a few must see things like the already mentioned Skocjan and Postojna caves, then the mountain parts which are really awesome and it's easy to get there. We have a few old cities that have preserved their middle-ages look till now and are somehow magical. Our country is a place where you can enjoy the nature in one of the 4 different environment styles and you can still hide from the fast-paced style of living that is slowly getting everywhere."
Elvis: "You've said that the Experiment series has been reduced from a much larger series in your mind, due to the existing ideas expanding more rapidly than expected and time constraints. Does that mean that the next installment will be the last in the series? Can you give us a sneak peak of what we can expect?"
Simen: "Yes, next part will be the last. No sneak peaks, everything is packed and waiting somewhere on my PC. Still there are a few pictures I once took and are somewhere on the net. I will just say that outfit and some enemies were done by Litepulsar and that most what you'll see wasn't seen yet in a TR custom level. Only in one level I use a similar idea like sea in Ocean moon by Richard. I can say that puzzles I made up are completely crazy. Don't try to guess the release date. The project is unfortunately on hold for more then a year now."
Elvis: "No sneak peaks, huh? Maybe I should change my approach. So - finding a lock of your hair in one of the Easter egg areas of Budapest - creepy. Can we expect more of these [Easter egg areas] in the final installment of the series?"
Simen: "Definitely yes. Those levels will be a step back to the Alpian caves gameplay."
Elvis: "And finally - how would you sum up your life's message as you would like to present it to other people?"
Simen: "Life's message? Is that the motto thing? To sum up my life's message is still to soon, lol, but I like this one: If all what life brings you are lemons, do yourself a lemonade. This was a quote by someone but I like it. With lots of sugar, I may add. ;)"
Elvis: "Whilst sipping on my glass of lemonade, I thank you for the opportunity to get to know you a little more and I'm sure others will agree! It's been a pleasure! Looking forward to whatever comes next from you!"
editor's note: Simen also released The Experiment - Intro (Nov 2004).