A TIME ODYSSEY
Interview by Lara for Ever
I know trix for a longer time meanwhile yet, as a successful level builder, as well as an awfully nice person, and as a good friend. I was very lucky to win her as a co-worker for my small forum and wouldn’t want to miss her again. And also being a tester for her current level project I took the chance asking her for a special interview, which trix agreed on. And it is really special, a trip to the past until her beginning work with the TR editor on the one hand, and a detailed look at her current project on the other hand.
For further this interview is also a look into the future. Because this current project of trix means the end of a chapter, and simultaneously the beginning of something new, as happening often in life. Also if there are always people those changes are very sad for, they happen. But you will read more about all this in the interview.
But no matter where the way will lead trix in the future, no matter which new worlds she will explore with her great talents, one thing is for sure. Her Tomb Raider projects will stay unforgotten!
But enough of this opening speech, here you can read about what I asked trix, and what she answered me then...
Lara for ever: Can you first tell us about how you did come in touch with the editor at all, and what was the reason for trying to build levels for yourself?
trix: The very First contact was of course after the release of TR5. Building levels by myself sounded exciting, but the first glimpse at the editor window discouraged me. The editor disc vanished uninstalled in some drawer. Until February 2002 my TR-friend Terry insisted on building something together. And she wouldn’t give up trying to convince me, so I promised reluctantly to have at least a look at the editor. I started building the tutorial and tasted blood almost immediately. Didn’t even mind that Terry couldn’t help since she hadn’t much time. It’s such a great feeling to place a trigger, and the game reacts exactly as it was intended to. Luckily I didn’t know yet that that wouldn’t be the rule...
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Lara for ever: In 2003 you have released your debut level, The Dead Sea Scrolls. Of course it is always difficult to start with the level editor, understanding all things, and finally creating a functioning level. But your very first try was such a big surprise and success yet, if we see the ratings beyond 9 at the Levelbase and trle. I could even read a review with the author telling, that this may probably be one of the best released debut levels ever.
Can you tell us something about the way from the first thought of building until the finished level? How long did you work at this project? And how could you solve all the problems beginning editors have to fight against to release a almost perfect level like this?
trix: Usually I have no explicit plan while building and DSS is no exception. First there was a rough story, that was created by Terry: three magical scrolls that summon a monster. Thinking about scenery I had this Isthar Gate in my mind, that had impressed me since I saw it first many years ago (I was always very interested in archaeology). Strange that this fascinating and picturesque Babylonian theme hasn’t been used before. Anyway, some weeks before DSS Miguel released Ninive, with almost the same textures. Gameplay is always the most difficult part for me; I usually hope that the ideas will pop up while building. So the project soon grew bigger than the intended three levels. I love details and storytelling, so Larson got his role. Later it seemed too short so I built Larson’s home as bonus level Looting Time. And so on. The campaign is sort of patchwork which developed step by step while progressing the work. The only part that was readily composed in my head was in Har-Meggido, when the skeletons rise from the ground rhythmically to Holsts „Mars“. The whole level was built round that scene. Building time for DSS was one year – including the time needed learning the editor. The reason for that pretty short time is probably that I didn’t use self made stuff – except of some textures, and that WAD and TGA weren’t close to the limits. So the problems wouldn’t be too serious. I solved the remaining problems like probably any other author does: trial and error, deleting and rebuilding whole areas, splitting of the levels and often just by pure chance.
Lara for ever: After your successful debut level it was difficult to top it, of course. But your next project, Aegean Legends, released one year later, was even better. I must name this here, 9,78 at the Levelbase, and 9,67 at trle! If people thought it before yet, now they knew, there was a new star at the level building heaven! Working about one year at this new level you really surprised the whole community again.
So, can you also tell us a little bit about the work at this project? About the conversion from ideas to a real level, about the difficulties because of the limits of the editor and compromises? Could you realize your final imagination, or were there still things not coming true in this level?
trix: Again it started with an archaeological site that had impressed me deeply: Knossos and the enchanting Minoan culture. I longed for a sight of the restored palace. Probably Aegean Legends was so successful due to the dense story: lots of authentic archaeological details (like the Disc of Thera), together with well-known classical mythology and it all taking place in a holiday region.
But without Metasequoia (which I just learned before building it) AL probably wouldn’t exist. I needed matching objects like columns and battlements to create an authentic architecture; standard material seemed unsuited to me. Almost all objects were built and textured after archaeological models and so are the fresco textures. This was the first time I spent more time building objects and textures than I spent for levelbuilding itself. Strange enough this was and is the campaign with the minor problems – except Santorini. But „minor“ is of course relative when speaking about the editor. Santorini had to be shortened heavily and I should have been even more radical. And I kept some puzzles in Knossos, even if they wouldn’t work optimally every time. Sometimes I claim on my ideas to strong... Looking at my work from nowadays I would change something in every single level from The Dead Sea Scrolls to The Lion sleeps Tonight. I built them according to the way I like playing but that’s not always the optimal way. Anyway I‘m satisfied with the result of AL, especially with the look.
While building this series the editor and me almost got friends. But that wouldn’t last for long, only until I started the next project...
The Lion sleeps tonight
Lara for ever: Well, only about half a year later your next level was released, named The Lion sleeps Tonight. But first it wasn’t planned to give it to the community, for you only created it for a friend. You also did not work as long at it as for the other projects, and though, after releasing finally it was whole successful again. We can read it in the reviews at the levelbase and trle again.
Why didn’t you want to release this level for the whole community first, and what changed your mind? How did you get the idea at all, and are you satisfied yourself with the result and conversion?
trix: Terry always wanted a jungle level for DSS, but that wouldn’t fit whit the scenes I had chosen. Later she told me jokingly, I’d owe her a jungle. And while still working on the last level of AL I felt like creating a simple quick constructed level with many different animals. It wasn‘t intended investing much energy, just a little child’s play until I would get an idea for a „real“ level. A birthday gift for Terry, it was intented to fit just for her. But everytime I’m building levels they tend to develop their own life, more ideas arise, the project is growing and prospering – and in the end I had three rather big levels. Birthday was over since several weeks and I let the decision up to Terry whether the project should be released or not. And of course she wanted to share it with the community. Btw. music except the title song was strictly of her choice this time and although I was a bit sceptical sometimes the result is very harmonic.
Again the editor treated me very badly and I needed some time to find out the reason why: it was the high number of triangular squares which are needed to make a landscape looking natural. I was fighting hard for every single triangle and I had to reduce the number of rooms and vivid landscapes to avoid crashes or unreal enemy behaviour.
Underworld UB 4
Lara for ever: In 2006 you joined a team project with Richard Lawther, Bojrkraider and Titak some of the most famous names in the Community of level building, as you helped realizing the big project Underworld UB4 - Taking Care of Business. Can you tell us about this experience, working together with Titak and Richard Lawther, and in a team project of this size?
trix: The work in such a high-calibre team has two sides: it increases your creativity potential due to the continuously idea transfer; on the other hand it causes pressure to meet the high expectations of the series. I had self-doubts for a long time period, also because I didn‘t manage my editor crisis yet. And I feared to disappoint Richard, whose levels I adore. So I needed some time to like my own level, but in the end it was UB4 that brought me back to the editor and therefore to ATO.
The team work was very harmonic, we helped and encouraged each other. I’m grateful for Richard’s confidence in my abilities and for being part of this ingenious series. An exciting experience I gained a lot of.
A time Odyssey - Vesuvius
Lara for ever: Four level projects, and four times of great success! Of course the name “trix” was long well known in all the customlevel community then, and everybody hoped for more interesting levels from you, of course. But since 2004 there was no new release, though we know you are working at a new project again, called A time Odyssey.
Meanwhile we know some details about the project. It is a sequel to Aegean Legends, and Lara will even do time travel there. Can you tell us how this idea was born, and when did you decide to start this sequel?
trix: It started with a visit at Pompeii, that arose the wish to reconstruct a ruined complex again. Almost at the same time I had rough ideas about a medieval setting... a time machine was the solution to have both in one series. I don’t know when the Thera’s energy sphere part popped up, but I thought it would be charming to continue this story. Especially because some of the players were disappointed somehow with the open ending in the Aegean Sea. The first ideas came up while working on the Lion levels and I planned to release it in fall 2005. But two crises (burn-out and very bad editor problems) came up at the same time and I didn’t touch the project for almost two years. I invested too much work in it to give it up but had too much problems progressing the editor work.
A time Odyssey – Dayport
Lara for ever: I would think building a level with playing in different time periods can’t be easy to create, it seems very ambitious. And you are working since a long time at this project yet. Can you tell us about the problems of realizing your visions here? Are you so far satisfied with the results, and could you put all your imaginations into practice?
trix: I love scene variation, I always try to have many different sceneries in my series. Important to me is a convincing connection between them. But the restricted resources and heavy limits of the old editor have been so bad. The Pompeii level made problems when it contained only 70 rooms, which were roughly two third of my plans (yes this is the only series where I made rough sketches for every level before starting). The level kept crashing when enemies where triggered or, even worse, already at the start. Many of my detailed constructed objects had to be removed from the Wad, I had to reduce the map and remove every room that was only for optic and 3-D-illusion. The result was a to too buggy playable level but I was rather discontent with it. I didn’t feel to start with any of the remaining levels because I had to restrict everything too much.
The project was rescued due to the new tools, that increase heavily the resources of every part that’s important to me. Especially the additional static slots of the new WadMerger convinced me. I consider objects as very important for atmosphere: a pitchfork, a wooden bucket gives you time colour. And waste two scarce static slots of the wad. I had almost no problems to realise the pictures from inside my head with the medieval levels; and the only problem I encounter with the actual level is gigantomania. City is growing and spreading huge but with relative few gameplay. But it’s so much fun not having to count every single vertex, every light bulb or every texture fragment. Indeed this level is the one where I could see all of my ideas come true yet. But I’ve built only two third of Somewhere Sometime so far – and if an error would occur now I’d be really in trouble. Well I just decided to go on and be optimistic. I haven’t changed much in the Pompeii level, it is an acceptable version – otherwise I had to rebuild big parts of the map totally. And I wouldn’t have been able to reconstruct my plans I had three years before anyway.
A time Odyssey – Dayport Castle
Lara for ever: Do you use the NGLE and TREP for your new project, and what are the advantages of those tools for you?
trix: As said above: without the new tools I’d probably never finished ATO. What’s important to me are the extended limits. Especially the new WadMerger with extra static slots, NGLE with extension up to 6000 objects and that multiple texture tiles which can be used also in higher resolutions than 64x64. Unfortunately this higher texture resolution came too late for ATO. I don’t feel to rework the old levels; I use very few bigger textures in Somewhere Sometime. But I want everything fit together. Another important point is the extendable sight in TREP, the increased room geometry and the increase of the number of the ambient audio files. Indeed I use the new possibilities just to raise the resources. Of course I know that especially TREP has to offer much more possibilities. But my building style is a simple classical one and so I’m more than content just with the mentioned increasing functions.
A time Odyssey – Somewhere
Lara for ever: As we know, your so far levels were not exactly made for beginning players, as the degree of difficulty always was demanding. What can you tell us about the difficulty of A Time Odyssey, who will be able to play it finally?
trix: It won’t be too difficult to play this time. I’ve learned that gameplay that resembles rather easy to the author usually is hard for players. You won’t find too much acrobatic movements and almost no time runs. For tricky parts there are alternate ways that are usually opened by finding certain secrets. For this time I wanted the player to have a rather relaxed playing time, to wander around, to explore and to enjoy the sight; I guess it’s a series for everyone, also for beginners. Well the reason for this could also be the lack of ideas and burn-out feelings... Anyway I hope the expert players won’t find it too boring.
A time Odyssey – Bonuslevel Museum
Lara for ever: How many levels will there finally be in this new project, and will there also be cut scenes or FMV’s?
trix: Like I always do there are more than the planned three levels (one per time period); now there will be five playable Levels and a „cut“, a little final sequence that shows Lara returning successfully. It’s not playable, just a long flyby sequence around and in Lara’s mansion. It contains also the short psychedelic time warp incidents that connect the single levels. But there won’t be a real cut sequence with dialogue or even an FMV.
The five levels:
- Shadow of Vesvius (takes place in Pompeii ’79 AD)
- Dayport Sunset + Dayport Sunset Castle (1381 AD)
- Somewhere Sometime (roughly Belle Époque) + bonus level Museum of Fine Arts
But I’m hiding some extra items for explorers amongst the players. And maybe they will gain access to a little bonus level. But this depends on how much building energy I have left after finishing Somewhere.
Loadscreen Dead Sea Scrolls
Lara for ever: I know there is still no concrete release date. But perhaps an approximate one?
trix: If everything goes right, it will be probably November. Well, I’ve learned that never ever everything goes right... But hopefully the release will be still this year. Since some of the levels are relative dark autumn/winter is best playing season anyway.
Loadscreen Aegean Legends:
Lara for ever: Well, as I know this new project, your biggest and most ambitious one ever, will also be your last one for the TR community. You have told me about to leave the community after the release. This will be a shock to all the fans of your levels, as it was for me. Can you tell us about the reasons for this decision?
trix: TR always took only a part of my heart, and this part kept shrinking during the last years. I only have played a few custom levels, even highly praised ones didn‘t find my interest anymore. Building levels became more and more difficult to me, the enthusiasm of the first years was gone. Too few possibilities to integrate detailed stories and sub stories, to develop characters, the only way to deal with enemies is to shot (or to ignore) them, all the same jumps, swings, pushes, just variations of the same puzzles and traps over and over again. The worst thing is the block system: Walls are either two metres of thickness or thin like paper, I hate this unrealistic proportions! I know new tools to handle with the editor will offer more new possibilities. But it’s always just TR and this is too one-dimensional for my taste. On the other hand I might lack of creativity to make more out of those possibilities. However, TR, especially the building part, isn’t much fun to me anymore. Maybe this will change one day, some of the great former authors did come back...
Loadscreen The Lion sleeps tonight:
Lara for ever: No doubt about this sad fact, the community will once again loose one of the important names for level building. Other big names left before you, as Jedi Master, Jon Heywood, Hendrik or Hokolo, for example. And now it’s trix. Beyond your personal reasons of leaving, what is your opinion about the general future of the Customlevels? There are voices to tell us we yet have seen all what’s possible in level building. Do you think this is true, or is there a chance Customlevels could still evolve beyond the so far limits of the editor? Will they have a chance to survive?
trix: Of course there are still lots of possibilities. The persons who develop TR tools probably don’t stop at the actual status quo but keep on working on extensions and improvements. Especially the design and atmosphere of future levels will be much better due to the bigger textures and weather options. It’s also much easier for beginners to build levels with those new tools, that will increase the number of releases. As long as there are players there will be plenty authors who give them great stuff to play. I think it’s only the custom scene that maintains the interest in TR.
Loadscreen A Time Odyssey
Lara for ever: Can you tell us about your own plans for the future? Leaving the TR community, what will you do then? Are there any details you can make us known?
trix: I will stay creative, of course, with a different editor. My great love was always Thief. I got much more building inspirations out of Thief missions than from anywhere else including other TR levels. ATO ist influenced heavily by Thief: lockpicks for key, crossbow archers in thief design, and especially the flexibility in Somewhere: there is often more than one way to reach some items. And I have gone even a step further: The bonus level Museum of Fine Arts is the trial of a real stealth level, making the player sneak like in Thief. Only the player who makes it into the vault unseen will get the trophy. Maybe the players will hit me in their reviews for that, because it’s really hard and very uncommon for TR players. Btw. there’s also a special exhibition room Thief – a little advertising for a great game that incredible and creative custom scene would earn much more players. I will take more time to write reviews for fan missions and of course to give the Thief editor DromEd a try by myself. I’m looking forward to learn something completely different – hopefully with success.
Thanks to everyone who‘s been playing my levels. You gave me encouragement and your reactions were a great reward for all the efforts.
Lara for ever: Thank you for this interview, trix, for all the great levels you have created for us! And all our best wishes for you and your future!
Annotation: Trix has her own Thief section at trcastle, which is always being updated and enhanced. Link to the fan missions.
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