An Interview with mexx


mexx, as one of the big names from the early days of Quake mapping you resurfaced in the forums last year. Am I guessing right that you still like to fire up Quake every now and then?

Well, actually very, very rarely. I was always tech-interested, so I pretty much ended my Quake 1 involvement once id released their next engine (Quake 2). I do however like to keep up with how the folks I met in the Quake modding scene are doing (a lot of them are still in game development), so I do the occasional Google search. That way I also stumbled upon the quakeone forum.

Do you still remember the first custom map or mod for Quake you played? Any favourites? (Did/Do you follow and play new releases?)

The first custom map I played was probably very crappy, as it took some time until good ones showed up. It's been such a long time thou that I no longer remember specific map names. I was very active back in the Q1/Q2 days and played almost every major custom release, but I haven't done so for many years now. I didn't even know there are still maps designed for it.

How was it back then, where did you hang out, how did you get feedback on your releases?

When I was designing my quake maps, I was studying computer science. While I had access to a blazing fast internet line at the university, back at my flat I was limited to a crappy, expensive modem dial up connection. It was extremely limiting. Feedback back in the time was usually via email and the quake level review sites that began to pop up on the internet.

It was also a crazy time where you'd be contacted by mod projects and companies. One evening close to midnight I was drinking and playing GTA (the topdown 2D version!) with a friend, when suddenly the phone rang. It was the 2015 guys, asking me whether I was interesting on joining them working on a new project called Medal of Honor (at that time, I had never heard of that game series before). So there I was, doing a job interview out of the blue, half-drunk, at midnight.

Was Quake the first game you made custom content for? What made you start making your own maps?

Yes, I started creating content with Quake. The tech was simply fascinating: Real three-dimensional architecture instead of the 2D+height info the Doom engine was capable of! Calculated lighting! My first maps were simple rooms where I played with brushes and light sources, trying out the engine.

Your releases kept getting better and better until you reached the climax with mexx9 and mexx10 which are considered classics now. (how?) did your development process change over time? Can you share some crucial map/game design thoughts you learned by working on these? What makes a good map?

My main design principle became "Every map has to introduce something new, unique." People get used to the basic game mechanics, if you want to keep them interested, you have to provide something new constantly. The most obvious choices would be to introduce a new enemy type, or a new weapon. Other ideas I used were changing the map setting from day to night in my Zaero Quake2 maps, or including elaborate set pieces like the elevator malfunction in mexx10.

Also, surprise the player. But don't use those dreaded monster closets anymore… I am guilty of having done them a lot, you could get away with that ("Surprise! Monster!") in the past, but I think Doom3 taught us this does not work anymore in modern games… But I still like stuff like the fake rocket launcher in mexx10.

Regarding the development process - actually it didn't change much, I simply became more experienced over time.

There seem to be two kind of developers. The one who has the final product in mind and will not rest until it is done. And the one who gets to work whenever the urge comes, burns out and comes back a while later. What was your approach?

I did not suffer from burnout at all as everything was so fresh and exciting during the Quake times. If I remember correctly, while I had a project running, I was spending most of my free time with the level editor. And projects usually came right one after another, I did not spend much time preplanning them.

Starting with mexx7 your maps had background stories, what came first, the map or the story?

The maps. The background stories for them were written by a friend of mine.

I took the opportunity to finally play mexx10 (I am not really into the base style) and was surprised just how polished it felt. The sound effects, the story/progress embedded in the gameplay, the effects. It reminded me of the Alien movies, probably also because of "Mother" talking to me.

Thank you! I had a great support team while working on that, Anthony 'Airon' Oetzmann and Martina doing the awesome sound samples (the original ones were even better, he had to downsample them to 8bit/11kHz for Quake engine), and yes, they do remind of the nasty ship computer in the original Alien. Reptile including set pieces from the maps into his story, and Matt 'Lemur' Sheridan creating the custom Zodiac textures and the superenforcer skin. Rotating walls from the official addon code, set pieces like the elevator or the malfunctioning slipgate, I think I managed to surprise the player a few times there.

What inspired you?

The engine and assets. A lot of ideas originated from experimenting what the engine was capable of and how I would be able to put it's assets to good use. Also, I was looking for stuff that hadn't been done yet. For example, the Quake engine always had problems rendering huge outdoor areas, so I took a try on that. Or I would modify the behaviour of some monsters and create an interesting set piece to show them off.

In 1998 the commercial Quake add-on Abyss of Pandemonium was released. You worked on it as level designer. Which of the maps did you actually create? I am just curious as I could not find that in its readme files.

I created: * start - Enter the Abyss * aop1m6 - The Forgotten One * aop2m1 - Heresy * aopdm1 - The Absolution

How was working on your first commercial project?

Unfortunately, working on AoP turned out to be a terrible experience. It was OK in the beginning, where I simply designed my maps and turned in their finished version. But later on the project leader flipped, showed more and more signs of immaturity and hubris. I don't recall every detail, but in the end, he simply put the finished product on his website as a free download without consulting the whole team, basically screwing everyone from ever getting paid. He seems to think of himself as the Grant Liberator from Evil Publisher, I think of him as The Idiot.

In the end you got screwed, what happened?

LICENSE.TXT from impel

We have made this full version of our software available to the gaming
community as shareware. please distribute these file through the net as much
as you like, you *must* include the documents and licensing info.

If you finish Abyss in SP, or play Abyss DM often, please register your copy
for regular updates, and a registration patch to register your version.

Registration does not include maps, they are available for download free!

See above. This was not a team decision.

Did you develop maps for other games after Quake?

I created 8 single player and every (6) multiplayer map of the Zaero Quake 2 addon, and a free Q3 DM map called "Devolved" (plus some CTF variations). After that, I worked on two commercial gameboy color projects.

After providing maps for the Q2 mission pack Zearo, you worked on some quite different games on Gameboy Color. How did this happen?

After finishing my computer science studies, I started as a professional level designer/programmer at Neon Studios. There I worked on those two gameboy color projects. Unfortunately, that job only lasted ~9 months, then JoWood (who had recently bought them) decided to cut down costs and have ~50% of the company fired. I think one guy there worked for a whopping whole day, only to learn he would be let go on his second day. Fab.

Apart from being the 42nd ex-Quake-developer who fell for World of Warcraft, what are you up to nowadays? Do you still do level/game design?

I'm raiding 24/7, I need those epics!!!!!1! No, no I don't do that, don't worry. Since leaving Neon, I'm working as a software engineer. However, a full-time job plus still playing games in my free-time doesn't leave enough room to also actively do level design. So nowadays it's enjoying good level design, and telling friends about it & raging hard about crappy designs that ruin games ("How the §$%& did that pass QA??!?!").

Bonus question: Do you still have the map sources? Would you release them under a free license like the GPL?

I still have everything on CD-Rs. If time didn't kill them, they might even still be readable. In the past, I already gave out some map sources to various mod projects so they could alter them and include their custom entities.

Thank you very much!

Spirit @ 20100824