Sue Wicks aka Isis back homepage search
interviewed by Matthias Heuermann aka Dimpfelmoser in September 2002

Matthias: "Is playing Tomb Raider a mere attempt to escape from this world or has it any relevance to our daily lifes?"

Sue Wicks

Sue: "For me, yes TR is a form of escapism, it is also a great way to relax after a hard day at work (except when the bugs creep in and the hair gets torn out!) For other people I don't know - I would hope no-one would take it that seriously. Let's face it, it's just a game."

Matthias: "Is building custom levels really creative or is it just a sophisticated way of playing with Lego?"

Sue: "Level building like Lego? Hmm, well I suppose they are both creative based, perhaps TRLE is just a more adult form of Lego. I like to create new things which is why I find level editing so fascinating."

Matthias: "How important is the feedback for you?"

Temple of Thor

Sue: "Well it's great when people say they like the levels you build so that encourages you to do more. But the criticisms are more helpful so they are good too, for instance several people said both Thor and Luma did not have many enemies and the ones I did have were not that difficult to get rid of so I am bearing that in mind when building this new level. My problem is I don't like playing difficult levels and as in the first instance I am building them for me I tend to make them too easy but of course now I find most other players like a bit of a challenge. So I'll work on that."

Matthias: "You belong to the second generation of level builders, so to speak. Is that a blessing or a curse?"

Sue: "I didn't realise I was a second generation level builder - anyway I don't learn anything from other people's mistakes, I make them all myself and learn the hard way!! I have to admit I haven't actually played many other levels, I've downloaded quite a few but only finished two. So I don't really know what has been tried before and what has not, although sometimes I read the reviews of a level and someone will mention an Atlantean and I think what - how did they get that?!?"

Lost City of Luma

Matthias: "Which were the two levels you've finished?"

Sue: "The two custom levels I played and finished were, Driber's Tomb Raider Ancient Legends Level 1 - Excavation Site and the other was The Real Life Of Tutangkamun-Part 1 by Jörg Schnitzler. I think I chose them from this site, they had good reviews so I tried them. Excavation Site was good but it was a bit short. The creator of Tutangkamun had used a lot of imagination in his level, things I would never have thought of like the continuous rolling ball which triggered flame emitters on and off. The others I downloaded I didn't finish mainly because they were too dark. Why are so many custom levels made really dark? I just get bored and irritated. It seems to me a lazy way to make a puzzle - you should need to use intelligence to find a switch or a doorway, not the brightness button on your monitor or use up a whole packet of flares!"

Matthias: "Is there a female approach to level building?"

Sue: "A female approach? I think for myself as a female, the best part of Tomb Raider is the mystery, the exploring, finding ancient buildings, the feeling of being in a place where no-one has been for years - that is what first got me hooked on Tomb Raider. I suppose for the lads it's the guns and violence side (and I suppose Lara herself!) but for me the combat was never the best part of Tomb Raider, especially killing animals. A bit soft, that's me. Don't mind blowing up a few skeletons though."

Matthias: "So you think there is a difference between Tomb Raider and Ego Shooters like Half Life?"

Sue: "Well I've not played Half Life so I can't really say, but I don't like violence on TV, there is too much of it so I would not play a game for the blood lust value. I like puzzles (but not too difficult - I'm not that bright!) and Tomb Raider 1 had brilliant puzzles, clever but not too clever. Same with TR2, I loved the shipwreck levels but there was one where you had to find the three circuit breakers (I think it was the Wreck of the Maria Doria). I found two and then spotted the third behind a glass door. It took me several days to work out that I needed to CLOSE the door rather than try to open it to get that third circuit breaker. Now that's what I call a clever puzzle (well maybe not that clever, probably everyone else sussed that straight away, it was just me who was thick). So yes, I think there is a difference between at least TR1 and other shoot 'em ups (I think that's what they call them?), it was well balanced between the puzzles and the shooting bits. However, as the series goes on with 2, 3, 4 and 5 there are more people baddies so more gun battles."

Matthias: "So you're not really looking forward to play AoD?"

Sue: "To be honest I don't really know. I must admit I haven't read many of the previews about it but from what I have read it seems it's going to be more of the baddy shooting type thing and not much tomb raiding. Since you have asked me that question I get the feeling you know it is going to be like that and I'll not like it! But I'll still play it anyway, as long as it's got some good atmospheric levels it should be OK."

Matthias: "Players and builder alike seem to favour the Maria Doria adventure from TR2. But there aren't many custom levels set in a Ship Wreck. Why do you think that is and have you anything started in that vein?"

Sue: "Yes I did start a wreck level but I think it got a bug in it somewhere so binned it. But no, I didn't realise there weren't many wreck custom levels, I thought someone did a Titanic level didn't they."

Matthias: "Yes, there is a rather good Titanic Level around and it's not too dark. It's rather short though. You should try it one day. If there is a bug creeping in, wouldn't it make more sense to eleminate the bug rather than start from scratch?"

Sue: "Ah, but easier said than done! It depends if the level is nearly complete and is worth trying to save. If it is then you can work at getting rid of the bug, if not it is better to save your sanity and start again. Lost City of Luma is a good example of this. It was practically finished and then I added another shark and that it was it, the whole lot went belly up! Every time the shark was triggered it crashed. Then it started crashing when the wolves were triggered although they had worked fine before. At one point I as good as admitted to myself that Luma was dead, I read it the last rites and threw the whole lot in an unmarked grave (file) and left it. And sometimes that's the best thing to do, have a breather, do something else and then go back with fresh ideas. So eventually I decided to give Luma one last go, dug it up, removed a few objects from the level and some that were not being used from the wad and it worked! But that's one reason why there are so few enemies in the level. And yes I will get round to trying that Titanic level one day."

Matthias: "Are you working on anything at the moment?"

Tower of Sumpta/Beneath the Tower

Sue: "Well, I was in the middle of a great jungle level - and then I had to stop and do this interview (just kidding!) But yes I have started several other levels and binned most of them because they were junk. The one I am doing at the moment is called Tower of Sumpta/Beneath the Tower (I really don't know how I come up with these loony names!) and it's a jungle/temple type thing. But I'm stuck at the moment, so I might bin that too."

Matthias: "What do you mean, you are stuck? I always thought it were the players that get stuck. You ran out of ideas or encountered a serious bug?"

Sue: "Sorry 'stuck' was probably the wrong word. A serious lack of inspiration would be more accurate. But so far no bugs although something strange is happening - I'm using the guide in this one and at one point I have a camera set up to watch him come through a doorway but when you first see him beyond the doorway he is dropping from the sky! Figure that one out - I can't!"

Matthias: "Neither can I, but regarding your current project, I have to say that I don't like jungle levels that much. Dont you think those cubic trees look a bit daft?"

Sue: "Yes, I know what you mean about the trees but I'm afraid that's because the level editor builds in blocks, there are no curved lines (unless you add a curved object). The original Tomb Raider designers did very well with their trees though, if you put the textures in the right place and design the tree with lowered branches and, well it's difficult to explain but if done properly they don't look so bad."

Matthias: "What do you miss most with the level editor?"

Sue: "I must say there are still a few things that are available in the level editor as it is that I have not been able to get to work, like mist rooms (that one has completely passed me by) and the fog bulbs never work properly for me so I think I ought to master those bits before I hanker after missing features."

Matthias: "What do you hate most in the original TR games?"

The Wrath of Thor

Sue: "Too many people in the later games. TR1 had very few people and that gave it the best atmosphere for me. You really felt that Lara was exploring ancient places where people had once lived but had long since been abandoned and no-one had set eyes on those buildings or objects until Lara came along. With TR 2, 3, 4 and 5, usually wherever Lara went there were loads of 'baddies' already there and that spoils the feeling of discovery."

Matthias: "I like your first level so much better than Luma, which I thought was a bit weak on gameplay. Had you a different approch as far as the storyline was concerned?"

Sue: "Actually Luma was made before Temple of Thor. I got as far as asking someone (eTux) to test Luma (which he did and he gave me some great feedback and tips) but then I got bored with it (mostly because it kept crashing - see above!) and didn't release it. Then I started Thor and I thought that was better so I released that. It got good reviews so I dug out Luma again, gave it a tidy up and chucked it out. I do make up the story as I go along, I don't have the patience (or the time!) to sit down and make a plan or write notes or whatever some people do. I have about 20 levels I have started and not finished, mostly because they are rubbish but sometimes they get bugs or I get bored with them. With Thor I made most of the level without thinking what the ending would be or what Lara's ultimate goal was, then in the texture set I saw the Thor sign from St Francis Folly and I thought well shove that in the end room with the glove and make it Thor's Temple with his glove, that will do. I made up the story when I wrote the ReadMe file, which went out with the level. With Luma there wasn't originally a proper ending with an artefact to find and it was eTux who persuaded me to put in something for Lara to find at the end."

Matthias: "If I would like to have a go at the Level Editor myself and I know zero about programming and stuff, how long would it take me to come up with something like Temple of Thor?"

Sue: "Well I know virtually nothing about programming but all the basics for level editing you need to know are in the manual which come with the level editor. You don't need to know anything about programming just to build the levels (it's people like TRWad and Turbo Pascal who do the programming for the extra tools we use like Wadmerger and Stripx). But if you do decide to have a go then I can't emphasise enough how important it is to build the tutorial level in the manual. A lot of people say they never bothered but I know I could never have done Thor or Luma without doing the tutorial level first. It just covers all the basics you need to know so you avoid the mistakes some builders make like stretched textures and paper thin walls. As for how long it would take to build a Thor type level, well to be honest I think this is a fairly basic level, there's nothing particularly clever in it. I suppose it depends how brainy you are, after all I believe a lot of the top 50 levels were built back in 2001 when the level editor had only been around a few months so those authors obviously picked it up a lot quicker than I did."

Back to Basics 2006 - The House of Kuan-Yin Lo

Matthias: "So when did you start to work with the editor?"

Sue: "About December 2000 so it took me about 18 months to feel confident enough to release a level."

Matthias: "Ohh, I'm awfully sorry; so you are by no means part of the second generation of Level builders but were among the Editor Pioneers. Regarding the level you're currrently working on; what is your ambition there?"

Sue: "I don't think I'll come up with anything no-one else has thought of - so many other level builders are way ahead of me, the ones who are using TRWad's new animation editor to create new movements for objects - I haven't even downloaded that yet, I'm still getting to grips with Wadmerger - so I think these people will be the ones with all new ideas. But I would like to get a level in the top 50, that would be wonderful! (Can't see it happening though)."

Matthias: "Well, I definitely can. We just have to wait and see."

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