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 impressing 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 yet see impressing screenshots and got some details about, and I am whole sure this will be her new masterpiece, for not to say her lifework!
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 backgrounds. Here is what she answered me:
Lara for ever: You are working at 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 extra’s 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 (exept 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 though there are voices to tell us we have yet 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 it’s 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: Have you already plans about 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.
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:
And finally, watch a brand-new trailer of the project, to get a further idea what to expect from Himalayan Mysteries: