There’s an announcement at the beginning, along with a couple of exclusive screenshots, one piece of concept art and a wallpaper.
I am sure the guys will be dropping by, so if you have any questions for them, just ask, although I can’t guarantee they will answer them.
So, first of all, thanks for agreeing to this interview.
MR.sugar: “Iím honored and happy to be part of this exclusive interview. Itís nice experience for all of us!”
EvilGoodGuy: “It’s my pleasure! I have never participated in an interview before, so I’m happy to have this opportunity.”
OddEyes: “I’m really happy to be part of this interview.”
Before we begin, we have that World Exclusive Announcment: Operation Black Mesa and Guard Duty are joining forces!
Let’s clarify this. They are not merging into one mod, they are merging their teams in an effort to ensure consistancy of design across both mods.
They will be sharing assets and maybe even team members.
Have I got that right? Actually, how would you put it?
MR.sugar: “Pretty much what you say. Whatís going on right now is that we are one team, Tripmine Studios, working on two projects. We share content, assignments, ideas, suggestions and feedback across both projects. Still, both mod projects are independent on each other in terms of release date.
We expect that this will put off some weight from our arms and will help us to get done both mods faster. On the top of that, there will be that consistency, so both mods will feel like they are really from the same universe. And I think this is good news for all the people who are eagerly expecting remakes from Half-Life universe.”
Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and telling my readers a little about you and what you do on the team.
MR.sugar: “Iím Anton√≠n “MR.sugarď ŇĹoha and Iím 20 years old. I living in Prague, the capital of Czech Republic. Sadly, Iím still a student and it takes a lot of time I wish I could spend on the modding instead.
Iím the guy who started the Guard Duty project back in January 2009 and my role there is a team leader and level designer. As for Operation Black Mesa, Iím a level designer here since 2007.
You will have opportunity to play through 3 chapters made by me, Friendly Fire in Operation Black Mesa and Living Quarters outbound and Insecurity in Guard Duty.”
EvilGoodGuy: “My name is Brandon Smith, a.k.a. EvilGoodGuy. I am 21 years of age and I currently reside in the rainy state of Oregon in the USA; though in a couple of months I will soon be living in Washington – the home of Valve Headquarters!
I first joined Guard Duty in June of 2010, then a little over a year later I joined Operation Black Mesa in July of 2011.
My main role on the team is as a Level Designer. The Chapters that I’m tasked with remaking are: Boot Camp (both MP and SP versions), Duty Calls, and the first half of Captive Freight. I have also recently taken on the Lead Level Designer position for Leap Of Faith and Power Struggle, which I share with another level designer of the GD team, Ratboy.
Other than Level Design I also create props and world textures for my maps. I know how to go through the entire modeling process which involves: creating the mesh, unwrapping, texturing, building a collision mesh, rigging, animating, and compiling all the files that produce the final model which will be used in-game.
Having a working knowledge of all these steps and how they are done for Source allows me to help out other members who do not know how to perform the entire process.”
OddEyes: “My name is Stefan Berner, some people might know me by my nickname, OddEyes, and Iím from Germany. I’m responsible for 3D art and assets creation, but mainly I do environment- and prop art.”
Why did you start each mod?
MR.sugar: “I didnít want to start Guard Duty at all.
Still, after the previous attempt to remake Blue shift failed (Barneyís Tales), I thought that Blue shift is my favorite part of Half-Life and it deserves being remaked along with Opposing Force and original Half-Life. The final impulse was a message from a guy, Enraged, who helped me start this project. He said he likes my work and he thought Iím the right person to start working on this. He managed to convince me and thanks to him this team exists.
OddEyes: “I can’t answer that way, because I joined the Operation Black Mesa Team only about six months ago. But Iím really happy, that both mods exist, because working with the Half Life universe is really cool. Tripmine Studios started with these two projects. It would be genuinely cool, if Operation Black Mesa and Guard Duty arenít the last mods, that are released by a this studio. Who knows, maybe the studio converts into a real Indie studio. I joined Operation Black Mesa because I wanted to see how itís different to remake something instead starting everything from scratch. That happened before Guard DutyÖ”
EvilGoodGuy: “I joined GD because I had never been on a mod team before, so I didn’t want to jump into a project that would be released then forgotten about 2 weeks later. I saw a remake of a popular classic game as being something that would live on past its initial release period.
Being a remake, it’s sort of like having a rough draft for a lot of your work already, so I figured it might be an easier project for me to start out on.
I then joined OBM because I felt I wouldn’t have enough time to dedicate to a more original and “from the ground up” project, though I’m pretty ambitious and wanted another mod under my belt. Plus Opposing Force is my favorite of the HL expansions ”
I have to admit that I am not really a big fan of “remakes”. Why not put all that energy into creating something new?
MR.sugar: “The reason I think we all have in common is that we love everything about Half-Life universe and once we have spotted all the possibilities Source engine offers, we imagined how cool it could be if someone moved Half-Life and itís expansions and enhanced it with all the new features.
I myself hate remakes as well, but I canít tell all of them are bad. I think I like the remake of the first Tomb raider more for example and I definitely prefer US version of The Ring (1) to the original one. These are just exceptions though, I consider most remakes a garbage, whatever we speak of movies or games.
The point is in how you handle it. It may not look like that, but even remaking something can be creative process and the final result can overcome the original.
We are going nuts with the design in some parts and they are beyond recognition now. Itís also interesting to try add new features in terms of gameplay and make them fit to the old mechanics from the original. I wouldnít say itís a waste of energy or creativity, remaking something has itís charm. People will feel they play the same game, but they will experience many new things and it will be as enjoyable for them as when they played the original for the first time.”
EvilGoodGuy: “This is a fairly tough question to answer, because I don’t think even I know the full reasons behind why I chose GD and OBM over something more original haha.
I suppose the major driving force in my decision to join the team was my fanboy love for the Half-Life games and the appealing idea of breathing new artistic life into an old game so that we can deliver a more immersive and detailed experience than before.”
OddEyes: “The Half Life universe is so big and intriguing, it was clear for me, I want to be part of that mod. It makes me smile, when I read that fans will play the original game once more, because they love that franchise so much and can’t wait till we release our mod. All that wouldn’t be, if we were trying to establish a new IP. Our fan-base would be much smaller.”
Let’s talk about the “merger” for a moment. Whose idea was it?
MR.sugar: “We canít tell who came up with this idea. I think everyone had this in their head for the while already. We heard this from the community as well and I think this was one of the most important things. The part of community wished we merged or shared assets across the mods and I consider this was one of the important things we considered, the fact even some fans would love to see this happen.”
Were the other team open at first, or did you need to convince them.
MR.sugar: “On both sides were people, who just didnít want to merge and vice versa. The have been several reason for this skepticism.
Itís not easy to perform as an action and itís a bit risky for both teams. Both projects have been in development for quite long time already, so important questions like, what will happen with the duplicated content came up. There was a question about the fact each team may have different vision for certain things as well and we didnít want to come to have an argument and cause both teams to fall apart. “
How different are the team’s dynamics? Does this make a difference?
MR.sugar: “One of the very first things we considered when speaking of the merge was the team dynamics. We are sure that itís important for both teams to have same, or at least very similar team dynamics to ensure smooth development.
Operation Black Mesa had to change itís approach to make it fit to the Guard Duty team workflow, as they older workflow wasnít very good as it even caused some complications in the past.
At this point, we share SVN and TRAC within both projects and it seems to work very well. “
How long have you been working together now?
MR.sugar: “It will be about 3 months and I think we are all enjoying it.”
What went better than expected?
MR.sugar: “Almost everything. There is still a lot of stuff that can turn out bad, but Iím pleasantly surprised how smooth was the entire process to date.
I was afraid how will members handle sharing the criticism and overall communication across the teams, but it looks like it went better than expected and everything works perfectly.”
What didn’t go as planned?
MR.sugar: “Well, matters about content sharing and SVN didnít well as I personally expected. Iím still about to do something about this, but itís nothing crucial that would affect the development process in a bad way.”
Did you have to backdate much work? I mean, to get that consistency we mentioned at the beginning.
EvilGoodGuy: “Surprisingly there really wasn’t much content which we had duplicates for. The major conflictions are important NPCs such as the houndeye and bullsquid, which had already been made for each mod before the merge.
Seeing as a lot of work was put into both versions and although one might be better than the other, it’s a complete shame if one is scrapped just because our teams merged. We are currently experimenting with ways to see if it’s possible to keep keep both versions in the mods without causing confusion. The current idea being thrown around is for one to represent a male, while the other be the female counterpart. Whether that idea will work or not is still up in the air.
Other smaller, less important models/textures, are simply compared to see which one is of higher quality. The better one is kept and the lesser is scrapped unless applicable somewhere else for more variety.”
How do you communicate across teams? Did you have to change software or processes?
MR.sugar: “Nope, the basic communication works the same way it used to work before the merge.
The most important stuff is kept on the development forum. That seems to be the best way how to ensure the important discussions are always available to everyone regardless on time and easier to find there, even the old content…
On the other hand, live meetings on some kind of instant messenger seems to not be the best solution. The bigger team is, the harder it is to organize this live “chit-chatď, due to timezone differences and the fact everyone would have to change their daily programme and this could be quite annoying.”
I presume that both team leaders remain in control of their own team. Is that right?
MR.sugar: “Not at this point. The leader of Operation Black Mesa is currently out of our reach due to personal problems. The fun fact is he even have no idea we merged, at least as far as I know, he is not aware of this. It will be big surprise for him when he comes back. I hope he will come backÖ.”
What happens if there is a disagreement regarding a style, look or feel of something? Who gets to decide?
EvilGoodGuy: “Basically, everyone gets to put their 2 cents in, then typically changes are willingly made to suit the will of the majority.
If its absolutely necessary for 1 person to be the deciding factor, then it will typically be the Lead of the department.”
Will the merger delay the release of either mod?
” MR.sugar: I expect the exact opposite. I expect both mods will be released earlier due to the merge. Both mods gained new assets and new team members just in couple of days. That boosted the progress nicely.”
Will you be beta testing each other’s mod?
MR.sugar: “Yes, remember that we are one team working on two projects. Entire Tripmine team will get to the betatest of both mods. We will probably invite some close friends and family members to the beta test as well.
Just to avoid questions in regards of demo/beta, we wonít release these to the public. We are still considering open multiplayer beta though, but thatís still in the air.”
OBM’s last media update was April 2011. Why such a long silence?
OddEyes: “We have prepares several images for the end of the last year. Since it was decided, that we merge the teams, we hold back our media for this exact event. This way it’s a much bigger impact, than releasing images once in a while.”
Can you give us some examples of this “consistancy” across the mods?
MR.sugar: “Sure we can. Aside of all weapons being shared, NPCís like scientists and security guards, we will even have consistency in levels. As example of this I would point out the small Hazard Course portion. In Opposing Force, you can teleport there with the Displacer. We sure will keep this and we are also not planning to cut Hazard Course from the final build of Guard Duty.”
Guard Duty’s last update was December 2011 and things seem to be progressing nicely now.
EvilGoodGuy: “It’s taken a while, but our team is really starting to get filled out and become grounded. There are naturally periods of time when development is slow and times when its fast, but I feel that we are heading in the right direction. I’m confident that we can keep up a good pace of media updates for the fans and finish the project before we are all old and grey ”
Will you be timing updates together? I don’t necessarily mean at the same time, but perhaps alternative udpates.
MR.sugar: “We have to make our updates streamlined. We are heading for separate updates which are not released at the same time. We canít say that we wonít have updates released at the same time at all. It all depends on what kind of update it is.
I can see dev.blogs being released for both mods at the same time, or any significant update, like the merge update we are currently planning may, be released together.
I canít tell you for sure though, we donít have a single pattern for our updates.”
Which team members are shared across both teams?
MR.sugar: “Easy answer here. Basically everyone. When working on our team, you have freedom in terms what you work on. You can do whatever you feel like you want to. If you are 3D artist doesnít mean you canít do some programming. It works the same way here, if you feel like you would like work on something for Operation Black Mesa instead of Guard Duty, why not? This lack of restriction is very important factor that allow us to gain new experiences and it helps us to grow up.”
Has any of the concept art shown by OBM in April, been turned into in-game work?
MR.sugar: “If you are speaking of Gargantua and Tentacle, then no, we havenít touched these yet. It all depends whenever some of our artists will feel like they would like to start these. The level design concepts are the different case though.”
Okay, time for some hard facts. Tell me where each mod stands in relation to: Level design, Sound design, Models and Textures.
MR.sugar: “Haha, You know, Guard Duty and Operation Black Mesa are very big projects and itís hard to say how much is done. You canít miss that we are still changing some things, even if they are done. So parts of levels are being redesigned and so on.
I thing the merge will help us to get things done faster though. “
How do you manage each team member? Do you have internal project dates etc?
MR.sugar: “This is something we experimented with back in times Guard Duty was a separate project. We had milestones and we tried to hit them. It didnít work though.
At this point, we stick to the “deadlinelessď workflow. It seems to suit our needs best. We are people with real life, school and work, so we canít afford to spend so much time upon the project as professional developers.
So each member just work as fast as he can. And in my humble opinion, the development process without deadlines is more smoother and we tend to experiment more with some interesting features. I believe itís the way to create quality product.”
I am sure both mods need members. What are you looking for at the moment and how can interested parties apply?
MR.sugar: “Everyone is welcome, as long as you have talent and you are a fine person to work with. What we need at this moment? I would say we need some reinforcements in the level design department, mainly for Operation Black Mesa. One more very experienced coder would be handy as well.
Itís easy to apply. Just contact us on the Guard Duty forum, send me a PM on Moddb or leave us an E-mail at email@example.com . This E-mail is valid for OBM applicants as well, so is the Guard Duty forum. Just donít forget to tell us a little bit about yourselves and attach examples of your previous works.”
Will new applicants be expected to work on both mods or can they choose which one interests them.
MR.sugar: “Yes, we expect they will work on both projects, but we wonít force them of course. Anyway, if they work on specific project only, itís likely to happen that we will port their work to the other project as well…”
Have you considered timed releases?
MR.sugar: “Nope, we are always heading for “When itís done, itís doneď . Each mod will release separately when itís done, without influencing of the other project that will remain in development, if itís needed.”
Will there be any cross-mod Easter Eggs? In fact, will there be any Easter Eggs?
MR.sugar: “Can a game without proper Easter Eggs even exist now days? I donít think so.”
Where have you moved away from the original games and why?
MR.sugar: “Good question. We are trying to not go very far from the original, but sometime itís needed. We do this specifically when we feel the portion of level doesnít make much sense or just doesnít justify the gameplay and itís boring The elevator crash will be very different for example and iím not speaking of Xen levels .
We are also considering some new features that will influence the gameplay as well, but we are still not ready to talk about this. We are also discussing about bringing back some things that didnít make it to the final Blue Shift.”
What will amaze players about each mod?
OddEyes: “We have several cool things in development, but we haven’t announced all of them. You will definitely find something new in our game and at the same time you’ll have a familiar feeling.”
EvilGoodGuy: “Besides the attention to detail and graphical updates, I think the thing that players will enjoy most are the new features and story enhancements that will help each mod to better define its own identity and better immerse the player in the story.
I can’t go into any details about any new features because most are still under discussion.”
If you could go back to the beginning, when you first started these projects, what would you do differently?
MR.sugar: “Nothing, even the negative experience has itís purpose, right? Itís also the way to learn something new and grow a bit moreÖ
The only thing I would change is that I think it would be better to merge OBM and GD in the earlier stages of development.”
Have you had any contact with Black Mesa Source? Would you want to?
EvilGoodGuy: “Our team has had no direct contact with the fellas running the show over at Black Mesa Source (at least since I’ve been on the team).
I am always interested in conversing with fellow modders, especially ones that have undertaken such a large project, but would I want to collaborate with them in regards to our projects? I would have to say no.
The reason for that is because our mods are not only remakes, they are great opportunities for us to get our work used in the final release, with the intent of it being a great portfolio item. So although many fans might think it would be a great time saver to just use content from Black Mesa, we would be robbing the artists on our own teams of opportunities to create and display their own work.”
OddEyes: “I don’t have contact with Black Mesa Source, but I follow and enjoy their work and media release. Can’t wait so see their final product.”
Which mods have inspired you to do better work? In fact, do you have time to play mods?
MR.sugar: “As a game developer, I think itís very important to find some time to play some mods and games. You can gain some inspiration from it and also learn from their mistakes.
Sadly, I donít have very much time, but doesnít mean I donít play mods and games at all. I love games and mods that are trying something new. Dear Esther was very enjoyable, so was mod called The Stanley Parable or Korsakovia.
I enjoy playing Nuclear Dawn and Red Orchestra 2 and anything by Valve. Oh and I canít forget to mention Penumbra and Amnesia!”
EvilGoodGuy: “When you consider I work 40 hours a week and spend the majority of my free time working long hours into the middle of the night and weekends on GD and OBM, asking if I have time to play mods is definitely a good question haha ”
Although most of us are very busy, I always make time to play mods, even if it means taking away precious time I could be spending working on GD or OBM. I feel it’s very important and even revitalizing to see and play work done by fellow modders.
There are quite a few mods, for various game engines, which I have enjoyed. But to list just a quick few Source mods in particular: Goldeneye: Source, Eternal Silence, Dystopia, and Empires, are all quite impressive.”
OddEyes: “Definitely inspiring is a game called “dear estherď, which originally started as a mod as well. Their whole environment art is so beautiful and inspiring. I really like it that the team released a polished version of the mod. Apart from that, I don’t have time to play mods at all, in fact I have hardly time to play games.”
After being in production for so long, your skills must have improved. Have you gone back to parts you thought were finished and brought them up to the same standard as the newer parts?
MR.sugar: “Itís natural part of the development process. It happens and itís not always easy to say goodbye to something you have been working on for days, weeks or even months.
I think most of the team members already experienced this. Iím already working on 7th version of the lobby for Insecurity, some of them were scrapped in the very early stages, some were almost finished.
I always bring something cool from the older versions to the new one though, so not everything is wasted. But mainly, I learned lessons from the older designs and I wonít repeat the same mistakes again.”
EvilGoodGuy: “This is something that definitely happens. At this stage in development, most of my levels are pretty well structured that when I go back and change something it’s just something small. In the past, however, I have gone back and redesigned the lab in Duty Calls, for example, about 5 times because my perspective or style for it kept changing, and because it didnt match quality of some of my later levels.”
OddEyes: “I joined the team only six months ago, so I havenít had the necessity to redo some old assets. But I realize how my skills improve from task to task, so I can integrate new work-flow and make the assets even cooler.”
What file backup strategy do you have?
MR.sugar: “I think our files are in save. I perform frequent SVN backups. The files are being stored in my computer and laptop + USB disk. On the top of that, I burn the backups every month on the DVD. I hope thatís enough to avoid losing all the work we have done permanently?. Itís important to say that itís not only the files I backup, but also the TRAC database and our forum backup.”
How do you see the future of Tripmine Studios?
MR.sugar: “Thatís hard one. What I dream of is that we may become indie team after OBM and GD are done and we start working on something completely new, based on our own universe. I always wanted to try something outside the FPS genre. As a huge fan of horrors (the good ones of course, not the brainless slashers) I would love to start working on the first person horror adventure, a combinations of Scratches (just in full 3D environment) and Black Mirror (My favorite horror adventure that comes from my homeland). Definitely without shooting and killing enemies.
This will decide after we are done with the current projects. It depends on how many people will want to stay with us, as I expect a lot of people will be offered a position at some bigger company and some people will just wish to stay away from the game development for their entire life.”
EvilGoodGuy: “I see us finishing both mod projects without cutting any corners and delivering a quality gaming experience we can be proud to show in our portfolios. Beyond that it’s difficult to say what will become of the team.
I suppose if there are a core group of us that want to remain together after GD and OBM are finished that we will start a new project, except that time it will be completely original.”
OddEyes: “Tripmine Studios started with these two projects. It would be genuinely cool, if Operation Black Mesa and Guard Duty arenít the last mods, that are released by a this studio. Who knows, maybe the studio converts into a real Indie studio. ”
Well, thanks for taking the time to answer the questions and good luck with both releases.
25th February 2012
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