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GDC 2001 Interview: Paul Jaquays
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GDC 2001 Interview: Paul Jaquays

July 16, 2001 Article Start Page 1 of 2 Next

Even with professional level design, there are some great maps and others that are completely boring? How do you make your map one of the great ones?

The thing to do is to plan out what is going to happen in the map. Think through what events are going to occur, where they're going to occur, why they're going to be exciting. Then try to build as close to your plan - like all good battle plans, they fall apart when they meet the enemy. Plan ahead and think things through.

The mistake I've often made, and it is one of my design flaws, is I'll just build something cool and say, "Oh, I could have something come off of here. That would be cool. And I could have something come off of here." It just kind of grows by itself.

Instead of planning what I want [to happen in] the main flow through, I kind of let it grow by itself. When it just kind of grows by itself, you end up with stuff you don't need. It's hard sometimes to throw that out because it may be the coolest thing that you've built on the map so far, but it doesn't suit the level, or it's irrelevant to game play.

Let's take a hotel lobby shaped like a stop sign. The inner three-quarters is the seating area for a lounge. It is surrounded by four evenly spaced pillars, and is about five feet lower than the outer quarter ring. Leading away to the south is a hallway with a concierge desk in a nook on the left. What would be an example of something that would be irrelevant to gameplay?

Getting rid of all that furniture in the middle, that's something I'd probably want to do. Let's say I was coming back here [to the south], it would probably be irrelevant to play for most games to follow back into where the concierge was. It probably doesn't support the game unless there's something important you need to get back there.

[Often] you find a connection to a space that looks interesting, and you start building off of it, and then you think, "Well, this could go somewhere." or, "This could go back here." And you end up with a very complicated, ornate space that you come back to later and say, "No, my real flow should have been to go down that back hallway to that back stair." So, you throw out all that side stuff.

You've been going to tutorials on level design at the GDC. That's pretty amazing when you're considered one of the top designers in the field.

I just look at it as: there is always something that I can probably learn, even if there's just one little tidbit that I can take away. This is my third GDC, and every time it's been a crapshoot: sometimes I'll get something out of it, sometimes I won't. I'll listen, and pay attention, and be polite, but [sometimes] there's nothing there that I already didn't know, or didn't know how to do better, at least as far as I was concerned. Or, there will be others [where] the main content of the tutorial meant nothing, there was nothing that I could bring out of it, except he was showing his tool. (laughs) That sounds weird. He was showing the tool that he uses to input content into his engine. He made a statement that the artist, or the designer, or the writer should never, ever have to type things in, or run the risk of being able to type in lines of code that were out of syntax. Everything was point and click. I was saying, "We need that." So, I brought it up with another one of our designers and he said, "Yeah, we need that."

Why do you think that would help you out?

Because I'm not a coder, and our scripting is code. If I can remove it to something where I can grab a module, plug in values, change an axis of rotation, give it speed - that's a lot easier for me than having to write out what I want it to do in perfect syntax C++, which I don't know.

Don't the programmers traditionally make a scripting language for you?

This is our scripting language; it's a half step removed from actual regular code. We were talking about this in the level editing tools forum I was just in -- one of the things that programmers need to be forced to do is build content using the tools that they've written. One of the programmers there said he did that, and he went to his level designers and apologized for the tools, and said, "You never should have had to work that way."

How do you think that you can build better communication between the programmers and the designers so that the designers can get better tools?

I've got a feeling that it's going to be just a lot of persistent whining. (laughs) The main problem we have right now is our tool programmer has some very macro things that he has to do to the tool. He has also been the head of our Live Team on finishing up Quake 3 and Team Arena, doing bug fixes and changing the functionality. So, he's been torn between that and the new project and assisting a development team we're helping on another project.

Getting his time is crucial and difficult. I spend a lot of time on online forums helping people, and they'll come up with these great ideas, and things that they say should be fixed in the game. I said, "Well, your chance of getting new functionality is zero, or very close to it. We're focusing on bugs." Everybody wants some [Robert] Duffy time, and we're not all going to get what we want.

Do you find it's actually the hardcore gamers that do most of the communicating?

Hardcore gamers have a different point of view. They're an important market, but they're a comparatively small market. They're also the ones that are likely to be online, to take the time to come and complain, suggest, and occasionally praise.

Are you sick of hearing the comparisons between Quake and Unreal?

Yes. It more has to deal with the "Team Arena should have been free" mantra. We made the original engine, Quake 3, and then we made a commercial add-on for it. But the tendency of publishing companies lately to give away content, whether they have actually produced it or not themselves, has kind of changed the mindset of a lot of the players to, "Well, if he gives it away free, you should too." Ignoring the fact that we're talking about 400 megs of executable content that most people wouldn't be able to download even if it was free.

How important is it for level designers to have interests outside of gaming?

I think that you need to have a life outside of gaming. That's not necessarily true for everyone, but my personal taste is that when I do something for a living, it stops becoming entirely fun. I went through that with roleplaying gaming - it was my hobby in college. When I left college, it became my job - making roleplaying games and illustrating them. It slowly became less fun to actually play the games. When I switched over to doing video games in the early 80's, I lost interest in playing arcade games because that's what I did for a living, and I started playing roleplaying games again. When I switched again to roleplaying games, they weren't fun anymore. So, I think it's very important to have interests outside - something that's your hobby. Doing what you do for a living probably shouldn't be your hobby also. It makes it hard to separate the two.

In terms of inspiration, I imagine that having interests outside of work would lend to creating better levels.

Some people get their inspiration from music. What they hear, they try to put that down into something that people can see, [so people can] get the same type of feeling. I go to art books. Movies, I think everyone draws off of movies.

And sometimes movies appear to draw inspiration from games. We were looking at the Aliens movies recently, and we were looking at some of the surface textures in one of the movies and said, "that came out of Quake 2." That was the same texture we had put in some of our maps in Quake 2. I think Quake 2 came out before that particular movie, I think it was either the third or the fourth [movie], the one on the prison planet, but we were seeing surfaces in it that were exactly like those in our game. The people I work with assured me that the game had come out first.

Do you find that when you travel, you look around you for things that would make great levels?

Well, it's more that I look at surface textures. We vacationed in France about 2 ½ years [ago]. I had a camera with me, and every time I saw something that looked interesting, I photographed the surface. It got to be a joke. We were staying with a French family, and one of their daughters started pointing out interesting things that I could take pictures of for textures.

I assume they made it into the game?

No, because we really haven't done anything entirely relevant to that. I've got a personal project on the go, and I'll go back through those because some of them would be appropriate.

And this is another game?

No. It's for a second map pack for Team Arena. One of the things I did as we were getting ready to ship Quake 3 Team Arena was, I said, "Okay. It would be cool if we had a lot more maps available soon after the project came out that were professional quality." Everyone on the project was pretty tired of it, you know, no one wanted to make maps. So, I went and looked through a lot of maps that had been made by fans - I looked for what looked good, what played good, what I enjoyed, and played well with the artificial intelligence bots. [I] isolated that down to about a double handful of maps, we played sets of them in house, threw out a couple of them, and then I contacted the map authors and asked, "would you be interested in participating in a project where you turned your map into a Team Arena map with my help?"

I eventually brought in AstroCreep, the other moderator on the Quake3World level editing forum and together we went through the maps, made lists of changes and suggestions, worked with the map designers, and we turned their very good Quake 3 capture the flag maps into professional quality Team Arena maps that supported the four new game types. [We] used the new textures, and added new play areas that were needed to make the game work right.

The first one was incredibly well received, and I've got another one in progress. We came up short a map for the pack and the other guy coordinating it with me and I are considering doing an original "realism-based" map for the pack. That's what my photo reference would have gone for, but in the end we chose to work with another mapper. We were considering a third Team Arena fan map pack, one with terrain maps, but neither of us really has the time to put into setting it up and making it happen.

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