I managed to bully Leon into giving me an interview about the much-anticipated release of his second mappack entitled Leon’s Coastline to Atmosphere. Some of you should recognize the name from his first release, prosaically entitled Leon’s Mappack.
Anyway, with further ado here is the interview.
PlanetPhillip: Leon, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Leon: I’m a 43 year old male, living in the Hague, the Netherlands. My normal daytime job is freelance illustrator. I make illustrations for advertisements, books, sometimes newspapers, wall paintings, etc. I do this the old fashion way, with a brush and paint. I like computers, but these things I like to do with the hand and not with applications, because with most applications almost everybody can make something decent.
When I was about 7 years old I knew I wanted to be a comic book artist. Not so much the genre of Walt Disney or similar, but more in a Rick Ringers style. Later, when I was 16 or so I started to learn about adult comic books. Indeed most of them have an erotic or porno Style. Still, there are lots of serious comic books that don’t have that as main theme. You can compare my cartoon style with comic artists like Milo Manara and Enki Bilal.
When I was around 20 years old I started to publish cartoons in magazines and I did get an offer to publish a whole book by a Belgium publisher. But then I went into military service, (in those days every man had to do it, now it’s different and we have a professional army). When I came out of military service I took a break from comic book activities. I started to work fulltime as an illustrator, so I didn’t have the time to make cartoon books anymore. It takes a lot of time to make them, 3 months for one book is normal, and it’s not well paid either. About 8 years ago I bought my first computer, a 300 Mhz. Now we can’t believe that anymore, but than it was a fast PC, ha ha.
PlanetPhillip: 43 is a bit older than most mappers. (I’m 42) how do you feel that makes a difference to your maps?
Leon: I don’t think that it makes a big difference, I’m a big kid when it comes to gaming, if it does make a difference then it will be a positive one.
PlanetPhillip: You say that you have a normal day job. Have you taken time off from it (holidays) or do you work when you get home? How do you find the time?
Leon: Haha, yes, that’s a problem, especially now, at the end of making the mappack my normal day job gets a bit behind. I’m freelance, so I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. Still, when I have a job people expect me to deliver on time. So sometimes that means working late at night. Most of the time I do that work at home.
PlanetPhillip: You released your first mappack in March 2005 and it was received with great enthusiasm (over 25,000 downloads!). Did you decide to make the second before or after you released the first one?
Leon: I released my first HL2 SP mappack with 4 large maps, and before I released it I knew that I would make a second one, that would be bigger and better. This is because I have been SP mapping now for nearly 8 years and I liked HL2 so much that I just had to make a new one.
PlanetPhillip: Is there a connection between the first and second mappack?
Leon: No, there is no connection between the first and the second mappack.
PlanetPhillip: Are any maps that didn’t make it into the first pack included in the second?
Leon: No, nothing from the first mappack is included in the second.
PlanetPhillip: Can you describe a little about the second mappack.
Leon: The end of the original HL2 SP game was very unsatisfying for me and a lot of other people I’m sure. The big explosion at the end, and that was it. G-man told us something that made it clear there would be a new episode to play. But I wanted to know what would come next. So I decided to go on from there. This new set of maps can be seen as an unofficial episode that follows on HL2.
Here’s the story outline: After the big explosion you fall to the ground and are very badly injured. Some people find you and take you home to a small village outside the city where the citadel was built. After 3 months you’re strong again and want to fight on. You have never seen Alyx or any of the others since the explosion. But you try to find new people that will fight with you against Breen. Nobody wants to help, some are afraid, others think that Breen has learned his lesson and won’t start again. It also seems that most of his organisation was lost in the explosion. Then you hear that along the coast Breen is starting again and trying to take control again. So you decide to go to the coast. There you take a little boat and go along the coast so the Combine won’t notice you coming.
This is where the first map starts, you find yourself on a little island on the edge of the coastline. The story that I just have told is to be displayed in text that comes on screen while a nice cut scene movie shows a bird that flies along the coastline. You start going to the shore and from there you have to search again for Breen while you kill as many of the Combine and other troops as possible. You heard something about Breen building some kind of satellite that is above the earth in the atmosphere, and you have to find a way to get to that satellite. To do so you have to go high into the mountains that are lying behind the coastline. The main task is to get into that satellite, and then to kill Breen and destroy the satellite.
PlanetPhillip: How long has it taken you to make? Approximately how many hours have you spent on it?
Leon: It has taken me about 1 year to make, it has about 12 or 13 maps. It sounds silly, but I still don’t know exactly how many maps there are because they are numbered in a silly way and I still haven’t had the time to see how many there are now. I have to check it all out again and that takes a while. Sounds silly but this is really true, so let’s say there are 12, but I’m pretty sure that there are 13. In the beginning I mapped every day for about 6 to 8 hours and the last 3 months I spend at least 8 hours, sometimes even 12 hours a day. Sometimes I think I’m crazy to do so, but this is because I’m saying now for months that it is nearly done. Sometimes I had to cut one map into 2 maps, because it was too big. Or I suddenly had a great new idea that I really wanted to implement in the map, so I added a new one somewhere in between. That’s why I don’t know exactly anymore how many there are. So, lets say, this new map pack took me a year to make and 8 hours a day at least.
PlanetPhillip: What got you into mapping?
Leon: That’s very easy to explain. My first real game was Duke Nukem 3D (I believe it was 1998 or so), I played always arcade games on the street. You know, those things that you had to put in a coin to play 3 levels or so. But that was nothing like Duke Nukem that was super-realistic because of the 3D effect. It wasn’t even real 3D, because it was built on the Build engine, which could not produce real 3D images. So you couldn’t look straight up and down. Still, for that time it was super and when I played Duke I wanted to make maps for that also. So I said to my brother; “I assure you that there will come one day when there will be programs that allow you to make your own levels”. And what did he answer? That you already have the program! It is included on the CD!
PlanetPhillip: What are you main inspirations for your maps?
Leon: It’s hard to say what my inspirations are for maps. Even when I was little I was a real daydreamer, I did and do nothing else but thinking the whole day of things that could make the reader/player say Wow! Nice effects, story twists, etc. It’s a process that I just can’t stop. It’s always has been like that.
PlanetPhillip: Can you describe the process you use to make a map from the initial idea to actual release?
Leon: I never make sketches on paper or so, or it is a total layout, but most of the time the map looks completely different from the sketch I did. So I just build what I think of, and when I do so I’m thinking of what I will build next, it comes all automatically.
PlanetPhillip: You mentioned Duke Nukem, what other games have you made maps for?
Leon: Like I said, I started with Duke Nukem (About 70 SP maps), Shadow Warrior (About 50 SP maps), Napalm (About 4 SP maps, all done with the Build engine editor), Quake2, (7 SP maps in a single mappack using QeRadiant), MOHAA (About 9 SP maps into 2 mappacks using MohaaRadiant), Unreal Tournament 2002 (3 SP maps using worldcraft), SOF2 (26 SP maps, that’s 5 SP mappacks using 1.2.11 GTKRadiant up to 1.3.12 GTKRadiant), COD (6 SP maps into 2 SP mappacks using CODRadiant) and finally HL2 (17 SP maps into 2 SP mappacks using Hammer 4.0)
That is what I have made over the last 7 years. You can see, I only build SP. To say it even better, I have never even tried to make 1 MP/CS/CTF of whatever kind of MP map. I hardly ever play MP/CS and when I do it is for about 10 minutes a month. I’m a real SP man you could say.
PlanetPhillip: WOW, that’s a lot.
After Interview Note: I will try and get exact details from Leon about some of those maps and make sure they are added to the PlanetPhillip database.
PlanetPhillip: You seem to work alone rather than joining a team. Is there any reason for that?
Leon: I like to work alone, than way you can really make what you want
PlanetPhillip: What made you chose the Source Engine/HL2 to make maps?
Leon: I didn’t choose the Source engine, in fact, at the beginning I ‘hated’ it. Better said, I wasn’t too pleased with the fact that HL2 was built on Hammer. I first thought it would also be made with a Radiant version (HL2Radiant, ha ha). It was just that loved HL2 so much that I had to learn Hammer, if I wanted to or not. I just had to work with HL2. Also because after the 6 COD maps I was tired of COD mapping. This was because COD mapping needs a whole lot of scripting. Even for opening a simple single door you need a script!! For a sound, a script, NPC movement, a script, and I can’t script.
Over the years I learned but BalticForever has always helped me with the difficult things. So he always took the scripting part and I the mapping part. That was with COD, in my MOHAA days I didn’t know him. I knew him when I made my last 10 SP mappack with SOF2. He helped me with how to do some difficult things. I make the story and the map, and when I can’t make something I ask Baltic if he can see how it should be done, then he helps me with it. With HL2 mapping it was hard to learn how to optimise a map, and place the level change triggers. So Baltic does all the optimisation of all the maps, and places all the level change triggers in them so you go from one to another map. And a lot of other things he taught me how to make. For instance the AI Relationship in HL2, and those kinds of things. Also he made the cut scenes for all the maps, only the last 2 cut scenes I have made myself.
PlanetPhillip: Beside any major bugs, do you plan to make any changes to the mappack based on the user comments?
Leon: The maps are fully tested, so the final release will have no bugs at all, or ones so small that they can’t be noticed. When I release a mappack I want it to be professional. I hate it when people release one, then fix bugs, release it again, again fix bugs, and on they go. In some download lists you see 6 or 7 times a map name, and you think; that guy has made a lot of maps. Then you see it’s just one map, but every time with a little fix. I think you have to go until it is really finished, and only then should you release your work. Of course is it very hard to sit for months or even a year on your work waiting to hear what the community thinks of it. But at the end the result is much better than a mappack full of bugs.
PlanetPhillip: What are you plans for the future? A well-earned rest I suppose?
Leon: I’m not sure of my plans for the future yet. I would like to map with COD2, but I’m afraid that they still work with separated scripts, and I don’t like that. I would like to map with FEAR, but that game needs a very powerful PC, 3GHz and above. So many people won’t be able to play it, so that’s why I probably won’t start mapping with FEAR. Maybe I will continue with HL2 mapping. It depends on how big the HL2 community will get. I think and hope that it will get bigger again. Especially when the first new episode of the original HL2 is released. That add-on will bring people (back) to HL2. I don’t want to map for a game that won’t be downloaded many times. For instance my SOF2 adventure was a bit late. I started with SOF2 when it was already one and a half years old. So the download rate of my mappacks never went over the 5,500. That’s nice, but when you work so long on it, you want it to be played by as many people as possible. For instance my first Hl2 map pack was downloaded about 24.000 times. You really get recognition then. So, I will take a little break of a week or 2, but then I have to start again. It depends also on what kind of new games will come out. I also like Quake 4, have tried a little test map with it and it’s the same engine as Doom 3. What I don’t like about Doom 3 and Quake 4 is that you can’t make very bright maps; they always have to be dark a bit. That is how that editor/game works. The more light there is the lower the fps are.
PlanetPhillip: What other games do you play beside HL2?
Leon: I like to play First Person Shooting games, and late at night for fun, racing games, to ease my mind. Lately I have played F.E.A.R., Doom 3 + ROE, Quake 4, Far Cry (great editor, that sandbox!).
PlanetPhillip: Do you think they have affected your maps in anyway?
Leon: Games will always affect my map making, I can’t say in which ways because I really don’t know. I never try to make something that I saw in a game; to copy something is too easy most of the time.
PlanetPhillip: What keeps you motivated when you get tired and frustrated?
Leon: With such a big project as this is now you get frustrated a whole lot of times, that’s true. Lot’s of things can’t be made; I always have less space and memory in a map. With every map I really had to stop myself, and say; “now stop, make an end to it and start with a new map”. I just can’t stop. The most frustrating is the time that it takes to make such a big project as this. Especially the last 3 months am I working night and day, and it doesn’t seem to help. I go to sleep with burning eyes and back pain. But it was the same with the COD maps, and the SOF2 maps. Especially at the end it’s all very hectic. There are so many things to think of, that sometimes I don’t know anymore what I’m doing. But, finally it will all be done, and then comes the good time of sitting back and reading all those nice emails that you get!
With the last mappack I got about 30 mails per day for 4 weeks or so and that makes it all OK again. And I’m hoping for a job offer. I did get one from a game company in Canada, but that meant relocating, and we decided that I would first finish this new mappack so they could see what I could do with Hammer. I said to them that the first mappack wasn’t a good example of what I could make. Just because that was the first time I worked with Hammer. I’m not sure anymore about that job in Canada, the offer would stand as long as I needed it. But Canada is a long way from home. I’m aiming for Europe.
PlanetPhillip: Are your skills self-taught or do you visit any mapping/editing forums frequently?
Leon: All that I have learned I taught myself, but of course with the big help of Baltic and of all mapping forums and tutorials that are around. Lots of things you just can’t learn yourself, you first have to see how it’s done before you can make it. It’s like learning how to drive a car. If you never saw someone turn the steering wheel then you would never that is the way to turn the car around. Maybe you could learn it all by yourself, but that takes just too much time, time that is better spent on mapping itself.
PlanetPhillip: This next question is of personal interest – What sort, if any, of music do you listen to when mapping?
Leon: I like synthesizer music, especially the oldies, kraftwerk, Tangering Dreams, Vangelis (with or without Anderson), Herojudi Fudjikaki, Andreas Vollenweider, Tomita, Hubert Bognermayr & Harold Zuschrader, etc. And the last 10 years I started to appreciate some classic music, and easy listening.
PlanetPhillip: If you could improve any one thing about your skill-set what would it be?
Leon: What I would like to improve is to learn how to script, and modelling is also something that I still want to learn how to do. Because sometimes you need a particular model that just isn’t there in the game. In this new mappack I really needed a key card that has to be found so that 2 doors can be opened. A Dutch friend of mine, called Jurgen made one for me eventually.
PlanetPhillip: As a mapper, what are your strengths and your weakness regarding mapping?
Leon: My strengths are hopefully to make maps that are really fun to play. What I always try to make is a world where people can lose themselves in, one that they forget that they are playing. And my weakness? I’m not sure. I try to make everything as well as I can. Maybe it is that I can’t stop mapping, because like I said is that really a problem. Too often I had to cut up a map because it was getting to big. But for sure will I also have normal weaknesses, although I don’t know them yet.
PlanetPhillip: Do you have a strict beta testing procedure? For example do the beta testers have forms to complete regarding hours played etc?
Leon: Well, the beta testing procedure is simple. Jurgen and Baltic do the testing, I play what I made and I also test them as good as I can. but there are always things that I simply can’t test because I know what will happen. So Baltic and Jurgen test them, and I ask them to report everything that doesn’t look good, or could be better made, or isn’t logical.
This is a very easy job because Baltic is constantly involved with the growing process of the maps, so he sees everything grow because I send the new versions about 3 times a week to him. But Jurgen gets the map when it’s done and he is an excellent tester. He does that really very well, and makes a real report out of it in WordPad or so, with screens from everything that is wrong, or doesn’t look right. Then I fix those things, and then the maps get tested again, this process continues until there are no errors.
PlanetPhillip: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me and I wish you success with the release.
Leon: You are welcome.
10th April 2006
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