An Interview with Kell

Kell and I "met" via IRC, he was so kind to sacrifice more than two hours for this. I tried to ask questions that are not the usual "Hello, what are your hobbies" but squeezing the essence of Quake-mapperish goodness out of him. Kell was so very nice to reformat all his answers into nice paragraphs. Bits that look like this mark additional remarks/fixes that were added after the interview itself.
I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed interviewing!

Comments are welcome in the news post at func.

Are you a Quaker since the early days?

Pretty much, though I didn't get online and into the community until about 99. I was introduced to Quake towards the end of 96, when I moved into a shared student flat. Everyone else there was a computer science student, and the place was filled with PCs, cables, NIN CDs and so on. And of course Quake.

I had been aware of Doom prior to that, but only in a 'watching over my friend's shoulder' kind of way. As soon as I saw Quake, I understood it, and wanted to get into it as far as possible. I still refer to that place now as the "house of quake" :P

It was fun.

As far as I know the Deathmatching was highly popular amongst students those days, was that your "thing" too or was it the Singleplayer part?

It was predominantly SP. DM was something I played a fair bit over the LAN, in that flat and with a friend in the next place I lived as well - but online….not really. The SP elements - atmosphere, exploration, the intimacy of it - those things appealed to me in a very immediate way. Whereas I never really been a competitive or gregarious person, so DM seemed something more of a spectator experience. What did appeal to me about DM was the mapping, although I sucked mightily at making a decent DM layout :P I did like the way touring through the id dm# maps switched sharply from one theme to another: green pseudo medieval dungeon - runic metal - scifi base. So those kinds of things about DM - stuff that didn't require me to do more than watch - were still interesting to me.

Do you still remember the first custom map or mod you played?

Hmm. I doubt I can remember the actual first, but there are a few that come to mind. The first custom map that I remember for how much it impressed me was Rubicon, by metlslime. I was struck by how effective the texture theme was and how complete overall it was as an experience - everything from the name to the logo on the walls to the use of ladders as a recurring element. It felt properly *designed*. The rubicon textures were actually the first non-id textures I ever mapped with, because of the impact their use in the original map made on me.

As for mods - tricky, I'm sure I played a couple of very very sketchy mods thrown together by some of my coder flatmates at the time, but they didn't involve much more than changing the speed of rockets or other equally minor things. I did play pain keep and rune quake a few times over LAN. With only one other flatmate - who wasn't as skilled as me - there was only so much we were going to get out of it.

Do you have a favorite map or episode? What do you love in it so much?

Oh crikey. I tend not to think in 'favorites' - my mind isn't anywhere near organised enough - but I find certain locatins, texture themes, ambushes maybe, can stick in ones memory. There's the desert/temple under a black night sky theme of that episode…damn, can't remember it's name now >_< From maybe a couple years back?

One of Tronyn's?

Yes, part of his desert dusk style. Name escapes me, but the atmosphere remains. aguirRe actually polished and released the maps if I recall correctly. [ The Night Journey]

Anyway, I can still remember the walltorches flickering away in these dry, dusty canyons under a midnight sky. Things like that float through my mind a lot, long after having played the maps.

There's that runic metal map made by Fern (before he left mapping) [ biff's House Of Spikes]

That was some beautiful brushwork, really *precise* use of runic metal textures. The gameplay of the map was good, I remember it had some satisfying secrets. But really, what I remember about it was the neatness of the texture use, that made the whole thing look like it had been cut by a jeweller. Thats the way I tend to remember things, rather than being able to recite a catalogue. And I'm sure it influences the way I map later.

Also, one last memory: Iikka's blue episode. That was one of the earliest custom episodes I saw - I actually watched one flatmate play through much of it; it was so good, it was worth *spectating* just to see what was around the next corner. He stopped in a few places as he played just so we could discuss the textures or lighting or something. I've actually started remaking that texture theme recently because the original wad is really quite small and many of the textures are non-powers of two. I wanted to work with the theme, after seeing the screenshots from the long-suffering Arcane Wizard project, but didn't want to be restricted by those small 48x96 textures :P

It's one of the standout accomplishments of amateur mapping, it really shows the significance of customisation of games like Doom and Quake. Iikka basically created an entirely new theme and style, but one that aligned so brilliantly with what was already in the game, then used it to map out a whole episode of entertainment. And all for free, just as an expression of his own talent. Really, I think ikblue still says something about the impact of Quake and customization. And all that beautiful blue lapis lazuli sticks vividly in my mind :)

What is your very own motivation to work on Quake related stuff?

I think I've touched on some of the motivation above, but to elaborate is….a challenge. It's hard to put into words. What I can say is that creativity is the most important thing in my life. That's not by choice, I was born that way. Anything in my life that has ever made me really happy or sad has always come down to my ability to create. So the desire - a sort of mental pressure - is always there, seeking release.

Quake is such an incredibly accessible, rich palette to attack creatively. One of the things that makes it so attractive is something discussed many times in the community, but I think Kinn summed it up best when he wrote "at the end, id just threw it all together and hoped for the best - and it was." Quake is, in a design sense, very rough around the edges. It implies and suggests so many things, but is explicit about very few. That makes it very easy to imprint your own creative identity on it, as I did with the knave/fodrian theme. Also, the fact that Quake is a FPS. I've always noted the strong similarities between mapping and other activities; in the case of Contract Revoked especially I really felt like I was being - vicariously - a roleplay dungeonmaster. It's a very similar thing. Sandy Petersen of course was not only the author of the Call Of Cthulhu RPG, but was an experienced and supposedly rather devious gamesmaster himself. Which I think accounts rather well for his style of trap-fest SP mapping. That combination - empowerment of the egotistical GM along with the immediate interactivity of the FPS games - makes it a very seductive medium in which to express oneself. And that I'm sure is evident in any of the good SP maps/episodes anyone could care to mention.

For me, the most personal attraction to mapping is the opportunity to create whole environments. Worlds, in fact. It's not something I think I can really explain any further than that. That's for psychologists maybe ;)

Your works (just as Quake itself) are highly influenced by H.P. Lovecraft, what makes him such a great reference?

Well, first and foremost, the reason I've - somewhat irritatingly at times ;) - become the quake community's biggest HPL fan is very simple: it's because of the undeniable influence of Lovecraft on the original game itself. I wrote my ( somewhat infamous now ) article Lovecraft In Quake, not so much because I was a huge fanboy, but because I kept seeing all these influences - pawprints of the cthulhu mythos - all over Quake. But it seemed no-one else realised just how many there were.

But yes, I am a fan of HPL, though not really a major fan ( Lovecraft wrote far more excessively in his personal letters than he did in his entire volume of fiction. If I were really that hardcore a fan, I'd have read his letters too ) What I think is important about Lovecraft in Quake, why it was important in the original game and why I still remain open to its influence, is the vagueness of the mythos, the lack of - as I mention above - very much that is explicit. For me, the cthulhu mythos contrasts very strongly against tolkien's middle earth and all the 'classic' or if you're more critical 'generic' fantasy that is derived from middle earth - D&D for example. In contrast to that whole region of imaginative fiction, Lovecraft never intended to construct an entire, self-contained world. The mythos is, by its very nature, rough around the edges. So vast as to never be fully explorable, or even fully knowable. Yet inviting, eternally mysterious. No matter how far you travel in the mythos, you will never - figuratively and literally speaking - reach the edge of the map. I think that describes Quake's idiom rather well.

The other thing is that paramount in all of Lovecraft's writing is the importance of the mind. Imagination is truly the most powerful force - positively and negatively - in all the mythos. There is, for example, very little in the way of 'magic' or weaponry and that is something I really relate to, and find relevant to quake mapping. Imagination is the most powerful material we have to work with. Trite perhaps, but true.

Do you think you could love a modern Quake (like Doom → Doom 3) as much as the old one?

Like a proper remake?

Not "remake", rather a re-interpretation. Remakes always feel weird. rather something like the rmx maps (just technically modern)

Indeed, I'm sure I could love such a re-interpretation. It depends most on who is actually doing the reinterpreting. It's something I'd want to be involved in myself. I certainly don't find the idea to be 'heretical'. A reinterpretation could be done well or done badly. If it were done well, I'd love it.

I don't feel that what makes quake great, the things I love about it, are necessarily restricted to a certain resolution or engine or whatever. I'm sure there are directions that would not be the best way to go with a re-interpretation and design elements, render effects, fashionable things that wouldn't neccessarily be right. But in general, I think Quake certainly could make a viable subject for such an updating. Perhaps more so than some of the things we see presently.

Was there a feature of more advanced engines you did miss (for example pixel shaders, volumetric fog, something mapping) whilst developing your maps?

Fog is certianly something that would be relevant to Quake, both local and global fog methods, a la Q3 engine.

Shaders? Well, basic obvious shader effects like glowing pentagrams etc. certainly offer something in the way of better decoration - the glowing red runes from the runic metal wad are an obvious candidate for shaderfying. American McGee's Alice has just such runes in a few of its maps.

But the subtler shader effects coud be more relevant. Terrain, such as was demonstrated by sock in his Q3 map Pyramid Of The Magician, is something I'd love to be able to populate with fiends and droles. The terrain in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - the best I've yet seen - is very much what I'd have in mind, though perhaps with less concrete :P

Those are things that have burgeoned over the last 7 or 8 years I'd say, as FPS games have tried noticeably to move outdoors. Outdoors is somewhere I think Q1SP always wants to go. Though it should not be at the expense of indoor environments too - I wouldn't expect an engine primarily designed to render terrain ( Far Cry perhaps? ) being the right choice for a Q1 reinterpretation.

But that's stuff I feel would not be at all incompatible with what makes Quake Quake. Terrain, fog, portal sky, ragdolling - these things are relevant to the Q1 feel.

Now a tough one: What makes a perfect map?

Ha! No such thing.

It's a good question though, but because there is no right answer. I actually don't use the word/concept of perfection at all, even in things not related to mapping. I find it a useless, distracting way of thinking. I don't find life is really about perfection, or lack of it, so I don't start by aspiring to a perfect map anyway.

There are, however, things that are in some non-technical way quantifiable about good maps. I could ramble on about this for some time if not careful, so I'll try to remain brief and coherent.

I'd say the most important thing to do when making a map is to 'put yourself in the player's shoes.' Trying to objectively identify 'what makes a perfect map' then apply it like some formula has been attempted in other, much more important fields in the past, such as economics or sociology or psychology. With less than stellar results. It is not about becoming self-concious about how close you are approaching some ideal. I'd say the important things is in the approach, rather than the ideal. And so, as I say, the best path to follow - even though it doesn't lead to perfection - is the path of the player's imagination.

Some things that good SP maps probably have in common:

Exploration. Players like the freedom to explore, to see what lies around the next corner, over the next hill. Maps that offer up such places are enjoyable.

Consitency. This is something exemplified by Valve software. Mark Laidlaw actually cited the original quote in an old pre-HL2 interview on GameSpy iirc, a quote from Poe I think….? Something about the most important aspect of inventing a world is not that it be 'realistic' but that it be 'consistent.' And this is borne out in the commentary nodes in HL2: e1 and HL2: Lost Coast, where the valve designers often talk about a "consistently credible fiction." Good SP maps will create their own environmental vocabulary and stick with it. I did this with Contract, Iikka did it with Halls Of The Shambler god, metlslime did it with Rubicon. It doesn't mean that one needs to spell it all out beforehand and adhere to it like a set of commandments. It means letting your imagination run riot, but then thinking about not just the individual things you've created but how they will now react to each other in the player's mind: "if I use this kind of water texture in my map, how is that going to relate to the lava at the end?" That sort of thinking is important in creation I think.

So in short: 'perfection' is not achieved by thinking about what you build, but your approach to building it. That's about as far as I should go; rambling ahead.

Contract Revoked and your other maps feature very hard to find secrets, do you try to put yourself in the position of a player on his first play when placeing them?

Some of the secrets are hard, yes. I do think a lot about how the player will/won't find them, and their consequences on subsequent gameplay.

The most work I did on secrets - the most revision - was in red777. Mostly because it was the map which I was fortunate to have the most playtesting of. I had several good players/mappers playtest it, recording demos each time, which really helped me chop and change a lot of elements. Some of those were secrets.

I don't want my secrets to potentially ruin a map - by giving a powerful weapon too early on for example, but that line near the start of the Contract Secrets page is true - I enjoy building secrets. Part of the reason I make so many is because I tend to just construct areas that are not actually necessary for progression through the map, but seem to make architectural sense. And part of the reason is that I know that, because they are secrets, the player might not find them and *isn't required to find them*. A player needn't feel they failed because they fought righ through one of my maps and didn't find all the secrets. That's sort of what secrets are for: not to be found right away. So I take that opportunity to build things and place things as secrets that are a little more entertaining for me. In red777 for example, there are two secrets, one at either end of the the central line of symmetry of the whole map. Part of me building those is just to allow me to *show* the opposite ends of that symmetry line and at each, build a window that opens out onto the skybox. It lets me add a little detail that suggests more exists beyond the confines of the map, without actually having to work that heavily into what's going on in the main gameplay areas of the map where such features might really conflict with the actual gameplay. So secrets are a pressure release in a way, for me to enjoy my own map as it were, without interfering so strongly with the main part the player is there for.

Is there a work of yours you are particularly proud of? (Quake related of course)

Well, any map I'm currently working on tends to be my bestest favouritest ever…until I finish it and start the next one.

But I would say that I will always be proud of Contract Revoked because I achieved some very personal things with that episode, and created something that is *still* influencing and inspiring other people. To me, and to others I believe, it is more than the sum of its parts. It's more than just "some maps." It wasn't a collaborative effort, it wasn't based on someone else's map, it didn't use an existing theme. It drew together a lot of things that were - and many that still are - very important to me and it's something I know not just anyone would have been able to do.

So yeah, I'll always feel a ittle bit proud of Contract :)

And a bonus Question :)

Scotland (Kell lives in Edinburgh) = Castles for me, are your country's castles inspiration for you?

Yeah, to an extent scotland's architecture is an influence. Though in fact, it was four of the castles in wales that were actually the biggest castle influence on me. It was a long time ago, well before quake, I was on holiday in wales with my parents. We visited four of these very impressive and famous castles: Harlech, Beaumaris, Conwy and Caernarfon. They were built by Edward I - the bastard english king in Braveheart. At the time, I took a lot of photos and bought the tourist guide for each castle. I wanted to do something wargame hobbyish with them, but didn't know what. Years later, when I discovered Quake mapping, I got all the reference back out and used it to build what was first kdm3 and then, for the first QExpo, remade as kdmd.

That was actually kind of an important map for me, even though it isn't the first thing people will think of, because I built it partly to *be* a map consciously influenced by real castle architecture. There have been so many 'castles' built for Q1, and all the ones I've seen struck me as not remotely like real castles; spiral staircases that fill the whole diameter of a tower, square instead of round towers, surrounding the whole castle with cliffs, because there's no other way to end the terrain in a Q1 map. Stuff that just totally broke the feel of castle for me. So I tackled kdm3 as an antidote to that. It contains what I suspect is still the most architecturally realistic spiral staircase in quake - which is some sort of achievement :P Then I had to make realistic castle architecture actually yield a playable layout, and as I said earlier, my DM mapping has never been that great. So I was very pleased that it was reviewed with glowing praise at the Daz/Dranz level cave.
beaumaris.jpgkdmd.jpg Remaking it for QExpo also made a very clear, visceral marker for how I'd developed as a mapper. All in all, a satisfying achievement - even if no bugger has ever actually played it :P

Having said that, I think it's not actually the medieval architecture of scotland that is the biggest influence. Edinburgh, being the center of the scottish enlightment, is saturated with neoclassical architecture. I actually only realised this a few months ago. Just as background info - I've never owned a car; I've been what is now described on the websites that populate the Inspiration And Reference thread on Func as an "urban explorer." I walk. A lot. I've been walking the streets of edinburgh for nearly two decades. Just do a simple google of Edinburgh and you'll see the sort of architecture that has been soaking into my mind ever since. Some artist once observed that one's artistic influence is pretty much in place by the time you're out of your teens. So I'm sure I'll be carrying the neoclassical sandstone architecture of edinburgh with me for the rest of my life. If you look at any of that stuff, then at the knave wad….well, it doesn't take an art critic to see the relationship. The weird thing is, I genuinely wasn't concious of it at the time. I thought I was being more influenced by Q3 and Alice. There is one texture in particular - the copper telepad texture in knave - that is taken straight from a real location. It's a door on a government building on the high street in edinburgh. I should take a phot of it someday. It's right behind a statue of David Hume, which is probably easier to google :P

So that's the sort of stuff that actually influences me the most, rather than the highlander/braveheart sort of thing. Having realised that about the knave wad, I've started thinking about how else I might influence my own imagination. Unfortunately, my budget isn't likely to stretch to travelling to the middle east to soak up islamic geometric designs just yet. But it's something to aim for I guess :)

"Recorded" 2007-04-24, Published 2007-04-27 - Spirit