Richard: "Who is Titia Drenth?"
Titia: "My name is Titia Drenth and I'm 32 years young. I live alone in a nice little village called Hoogersmilde in the province of Drenthe, The Netherlands. My cat, Maarten, keeps me company. Forests are nearby so I can go take a walk in the woods whenever I like. I'm currently studying to become a math teacher. I already have a teaching degree in art but I don't teach at the moment."
Richard: "How did the name "Titak" come about?"
Titia: "When I was little I couldn't pronounce my first name right, so I called myself Titak. When my brother, who's ten years younger than I am, heard of this he started calling me Titak. So, I decided to call myself Titak when I started posting my custom Tomb Raider levels on the internet."
Richard: "I always thought it was a cool name. Do you have any hobbies outside TR?"
Titia: "Not much time for anything else at the moment but I like reading, gardening, drawing/painting, watching movies and being with my family."
Richard: "What are your favourite movies?"
Titia: "Psychological tinted movies are my favourite. Movies like Se7en, The Usual Suspects, Shawshank Redemption to name but a few. Movies in which the viewer does not know what to expect, usually because some person in the movie knows something frightening and all others (including the viewer) don't. But I also like fantasy movies, like Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter movies."
Richard: "So who really was Keyser Soze?"
Titia: "Wouldn't you like to know?
Another category that interests me are animated movies, both drawn cartoons and computer animated ones like Shrek. Those kind of movies are excellent after a hard day work!"
Richard: "You should check out the new Wallace & Gromit film: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit."
Titia: "I already have it and I love it! The animations are very well made and it is funny."
Richard: "Any favourite bands?"
Titia: "Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, Clannad, Phillip Glass, Sting, Jean Michel Jarre, Mike Oldfield, Bruce Springsteen, Nina Simone... too many to name 'em all. I like classical music as well."
Richard: "So when did you first discover Tomb Raider?"
Titia: "One day, back in 1996, I found my brother upstairs playing a computer game. First thing I saw was this female character shooting some wolves. My first thoughts were: "Pfff, another one of those shooter games." But it looked good so I stayed and watched a bit. I then found out it was a lot more than just shooting a way through the levels, it was also about solving puzzles and running/jumping/climbing a way through. Things weren't always obvious in this game. And the name of the game was: Tomb Raider. I got hooked and we've been playing the new games together ever since."
Richard: "Do you have a favourite game from the original series? How are you finding Legend?"
Titia: "Not really. Each game had it's own charm and I liked all of them. TR1 had the most tomb like settings though and good gameplay. It will always be one of my favorite games. I don't have the full version of Legend yet but I have played the demo. I really like the way the environments look and how Lara looks. I'll need to wait for the full game before I can say anything about the gameplay. I did like the fact that the demo had some puzzling in it. I sure hope the rest of the game has more puzzling to do than Angel of Darkness for example."
Richard: "How did you get into the Level Editor? Was it something you had been itching to do from the start or did the desire come later?"
Titia: "When I bought Tomb Raider Chronicles I was very surprised to find the Level Editor included. I first played the game and then installed the LE. I made my way through the tutorial and just couldn't wait to finish it so I could start my own level! I was hooked from the very beginning!"
Richard: "What projects are you working on at the moment?"
Titia: "Himalayan Mysteries - Full Version. This is a solo project and it will contain 3 cut-scenes and 7 playable levels. It is based on the background story on Lara, the way it is being told in the TR1 booklet. How her plane crashes in the Himalayan mountains and how she survives being alone for two weeks. This is my interpretation of what happened during those two weeks. UB4 This is a joint project with Richard Lawther. I also worked together with him on Underworld UB3 - The Plain of Jars."
Titia: "Yes, this time I'm only making one level and some objects, like plants.
The Team project. This is also a joint project which was set up by George Maciver. Each member involved makes one or two levels. I've already been making a few objects for these projects, including Lara's outfit and her weapons."
Richard: "How are these projects shaping up? Any ETA on their release?"
Titia: "Himalayan Mysteries will take some time to complete. No idea when it will be finished. I still have one and a half levels and one cut-scene to build. UB4 is getting along nicely, my level is mostly finished now... and The Team project... no idea at all.
Richard: "What is it like working on joint projects?"
Titia: "I really like it! This way you can split the job in pieces and each can do whatever he/she is best at. You can also discuss things and share knowledge to get the best results."
Michael: "You have a fairly unique touch in making these custom level worlds look very special. Is there any simple tips & tricks for us other level builders that you would like to share, so we can improve our own building skills?"
Titia: "Patience is very important because it really takes a lot of time to build large organic looking environments. And the will to make things look good: use good textures and apply them well, add good lighting, etc. Get those things right and it will immediately make the level feel more real. I never like poorly build levels, even when they have great gameplay. It just doesn't feel real. And it is important to take your time when choosing the objects for you level. It is important to make the objects fit so they don't look like something from another world. For example a typical Egyptian object in a Himalayan mountains setting... Not good."
Richard: "What aspects of building levels do you enjoy the most? And what aspects are the most aggravating?
Titia: "I enjoy shaping the environments most. Fiddling with the texturing, the shape of the blocks, the lighting, etc. I also like creating my own custom objects because they really enable me to customise my levels. Making the objects fit the environment is really a lot of fun to do. I therefore also like creating custom outfits for Lara. Most difficult for me is to come up with gameplay and good puzzles/traps."
Richard: "What about the level editor's little quirks - what winds you up the most?"
Titia: "If something doesn't work the way I want it to work due to the editor's limitations. But I can usually find a way to make it work to my satisfaction even though I sometimes have to settle for something less good."
Richard: "What is your main motivation for continuing to build levels?"
Titia: "Ideas keep popping up inside my head. I build levels to get those ideas out of my head. (I had already build three level-sets before I finally decided to post them on the internet.) But I also keep building because players seem to enjoy my levels. That feels good and it does motivate me to keep building and share my levels with the TR community."
Richard: "Unlike with some other games editors, trle is supported by a wide range of 3rd party tools; recently several new patches have also become available. Do these tools and patches make for better levels?
Titia: "Those tools surely make for better levels. When I first started building I had some ideas or levels but when I was building the tutorial level I found out that those ideas couldn't be realised because all I could use were those Egyptian objects. Now I can make those levels! The tools enable a builder to customise the levels, which is good I think. A builder can really use his/her imagination because a lot of things have been made possible now."
Richard: "Assuming you could summon up any tool to fix an intractable trle problem - what would that tool do?"
Titia: "Enable real weather effects in a level, like the rain and snow in TR3 and TR5. And an animation program which allows one to make animations within an LE room. This would make it a lot easier to make a cut-scene in which Lara can interact with objects and the environment."
Richard: "Well several levels have made a decent attempt at rendering both rain and snow but there is still room for improvement. It would be nice to have water effects like those in Legend, would it not?"
Titia: "Yes! The water in Legend looks fabulous! Which makes me think of something else that would be nice for the LE: a trick to make Lara reflect in the floor surface. Kinda like the mirror, only horizontal."
Jürgen: "What do you think about this new program, Tr45 Patcher, for level building, and will you use it for your levels?"
Titia: "I will use it if no problems are found with it during betatesting. But I will make it in such a way that it does not affect gameplay too much since not every player can use a patched tomb4.exe. For example: I'm currently using a patched tomb4.exe for Himalayan Mysteries with a larger view distance, Lara starts without any medipacks, and the colour of the bars has changed to give them a more icy look."
Richard: "How long do you think you will continue to build levels?"
Titia: "Until I run out of ideas or when the whole custom level community dies. (I hope not.)"
Jürgen: "Are there any plans yet what you will do after your Himalayan Mysteries?"
Titia: "Yes! Remember my Weekly Business levels? They weren't all that good and they were also unfinished. I want to completely rebuild them from scratch and continue the story, which is actually based on those very first level ideas I had. I've actually made some new outfits for it already! And I'm having a rather cool idea (if I may say so myself) for it! But I'm not telling you just yet what it is."
Richard: "Custom levels are being downloaded in larger numbers than ever. What does a good custom level offer that maybe a modern commercial game does not?"
Titia: "Nostalgia and a certain simplicity. The old TR games are very solid and so is the LE engine. Lara moves in a good way, even though everything is grid based. But such great stories can be told using this old engine!"
Michael: "How is the Shuttle PC doing that you won for Stargate as your contribution to the Lara at the Movies Project?"
Titia: "It is still running even though it is getting old. I'm going to treat it with a new graphics card and a RAM update. It really looks great on top of my desk and I always manage to get weird responses when I take it to the computer tech guys at the local computer store. Very funny!"
Michael: "You will again be visiting the TR Meeting in Lage this summer. What makes you come back again? What do you expect there?"
Titia: "It will be my third visit and I come back because I've really enjoyed my first two visits. I've also learned a lot during those meetings. Tips and tricks about the LE and things about how to create my own objects and, last year, how to create animations using 3D Studio Max. Just wonderful! And I've also helped people with their struggles, which is also a lot of fun. But basically I expect to have a good time again!"
Richard: "And that about raps it up. Titia Drenth, thank you very much for your time!"
Another Interview with Titak run by Lara for ever in September 2007
Titak is a well known name in the TR Customlevel community, and she has been working with the level editor for several years now. In 2003 Titak released her debut level, Return to Egypt, with following seven further projects in the same (!!!) year. In 2004 we got her impressive Lara at the Movies part, Stargate, a level which was her biggest success so far. We could learn about her talent in level building very soon, and it was growing to the top with the beautiful Stargate level. So, no more increase possible then?
This will be the load screen then, a drawing by Titak:
Who ever should think so, well, think again. Titak is working at a new and very big project, the full version of her Himalayan Mysteries Demo level from 2003. We could already see impressive screenshots and got some details about it, and I am very sure this will be her new masterpiece! You have wondered about why not receiving any further level of Titak since her Stargate level in 2004? You perhaps even thought her building time was over? Not at all. The time since then was spend on this big project, of course, but also on others too. So she created 4 levels for UUB3 - The Plain of Jars, 1 level for UUB4 - Taking Care of Business, and she made a lot of objects for the The Team - Coyote Creek project.
The Tannhauser Monastery:
Now I asked Titak for a new interview, to get more details of the project and the background. Here is what she answered me...
Lara for ever: You have been working on your Himalayan Mysteries project for a long time already, as it started in 2003, with releasing the demo version of this level series. Now, in 2007, the project is still in development. Can you tell us about the reasons for this long time period?
Titak: I have not been working on this project continuously. As stated above I have also been involved in other major projects, either building levels or making lots of custom objects for them. Another reason why it is taking me so long to finish the HM project is that I have been creating a lot of custom objects for the levels. Almost all objects have been custom made by me. And I have been creating several custom animations, including long ones for cut scenes, for Lara. I have also been running into 'limits' problems with the levels, so I had to split some of them. This was not a bad thing at all, since it allowed me to add more gameplay to the levels, which has made the levels much better in my opinion. But it did mean extra work.
In the crashed plane:
Lara for ever: Can you tell us about the accruement of HM? Was it planned as a big level series from the beginning, or did the idea grow with working on it? And how did you get the idea for such a huge project?
Titak: The first idea was to have four levels: the first two levels were in that 2003 'demo'. A cave level with the alien settlement and a level inside the alien spaceship would be levels 3 and 4. But ideas kept coming, the levels kept expanding and now I'm up to 9 playable levels. Two extra levels were added and some levels had to be split due to 'limits' problems. The full version will also have 4 long cut scenes. I got the idea when I read the background story on Lara in the the booklet of the Tomb Raider game. I developed the story for this custom level adventure from there and I soon found out that it would not be possible to put it all in one level and that I would need at least 4 levels to tell the whole story.
Lara for ever: Could you realize all your ideas for the project, or had there to be compromises because of the limits of the editor?
Titak: Most ideas could be realized, with some I had to make compromises. But they all have been realised pretty much to my satisfaction.
Lost in Ice and Snow:
Lara for ever: Meanwhile the level builders have great new tools to help them beyond some of the editor limits, TREP and NGLE. What is your opinion about those tools, and do you use them on your current project?
Titak: I use both TREP and NGLE for this project. I think they are great additions to the level building world. They offer many more possibilities than the old TRLE. I'm using TREP to make certain ideas possible, ideas that would not be possible without TREP, like freezing cold water that slowly takes away Lara's health when she is swimming in it. Very suitable and realistic for the first 2 Himalayan Mysteries levels. So far I've only been using NGLE to replace all my 64x64 textures with 128x128 ones.
Lara for ever: So, you're retexturing the levels of HM with the NGLE. This means certainly you had to start the project new then after such a long time of progress. What caused this decision?
Titak: I decided to replace my old textures after having seen some levels that used higher resolution textures. The textures looked so much better than the 64x64 textures. A good thing is that NGLE comes with a Map Converter. This program converts a project and the texture set so it becomes suitable for using the Big Texture feature in NGLE. The good thing about this is that I didn't have to retexture the entire projects. All I had to do was replace the textures in the converted texture set with 128x128 textures. It took some time to replace them, but it was worth the effort. The levels look much better now.
In a frozen tower:
Lara for ever: We already know about the main story of HM since your release of the demo version. After a long way of development and changes, can you tell us if the main story is still the same, or has it changed too?
Titak: The main story is still the same. Some extras have been added to explain the events and the story better, but other than that it is still the same.
Lara for ever: Always an important factor for all players, can you tell us something about the degree of difficulty? Who will be able to play your levels?
Titak: Some people have played the levels already and none of them found them extremely difficult. They got stuck for a bit in some places but never in a way that it became really frustrating (except for one part, but that has been fixed). So I think that just about every player with a bit of experience in playing custom levels will be able to play these levels.
In a frozen ship:
Lara for ever: For there were changes on your way of development, can you finally tell us about the number of levels for the project? And also we would like to hear about the cut scenes, how many of them do you create, and is it very difficult to realize them?
Titak: Himalayan Mysteries will have 9 playable levels. One of those levels is really short, the others are much longer. It will have 3 long cut scenes, one at the start of the game, one after the first level and one at the end of the game. The last one will also show some credits. I have also made some shorter cut scenes that take place during gameplay, like a conversation with a monk, and after using a computer disk to learn about the whereabouts of the hidden monastery and the artefact within. Cut scenes take a lot of time to create but luckily there are several ways to trigger a cut scene animation, so that isn't the hardest part. I've used four methods, using the method that best suited the situation. Animating Lara is the hardest part for me. It is pretty difficult to make Lara move smoothly and realistic, to make her move like a real human would. I'm pretty satisfied with the animations I have created though and I'm still learning, so I'm pretty sure Lara's movements will be better in my next level set.
The monastery sanctuary:
Lara for ever: The NGLE and TREP mean great new perspectives to the TR level builders. But still there are people telling us we have seen all things possible in TR Customlevel building. What is your opinion? Is there still space for new developments of levels, new ways to go, or have we reached all frontiers yet?
Titak: If we keep using the current tools available to us I think we've pretty much seen it all by now. The only way for us to see (and use) more possibilities is when people continue to change the tomb4.exe beyond the boundaries of the current TREP version. I haven't tried TREP to its limits so I still have things to discover and I intend to experiment with it a lot when working on my next level set.
Lara for ever: Do you already have plans beyond HM, or will you first need a break after such a long time of development for one project? Of course we all hope to get further levels of you in the future, and if there are plans yet we would like to learn more about them.
Titak: I've been hinting at a 'next level set' twice now, so yes, I am planning a next level set which I will start working on after HM has been released. I will use (and need) TREP a lot in those levels so I'll first have to spend time experimenting with it. I actually have a lot of ideas for the story and the environments already and can't wait to get started!! The levels will be based on a story I've had in mind ever since I started building 7 years ago. I actually started the story with my Weekly Business levels. But those levels didn't turn out very good and I had problems with them. I also couldn't find suitable objects for them and since I had not yet learned how to make my own objects I abandoned the project. I will now build completely new levels with different puzzles, gameplay, textures and environments and there will of course be more levels to complete the story.
Lara for ever: Thank you for this interview, Titak!
Comparison Screenshots - with and without the NGLE: