by Riven (view all articles)
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An interview series focusing on the art and science of level design and those who have experience in it. Sampled from around the level design community, a mixture of amateurs and professionals alike divulge their insights into what makes a successful level and what it takes to get there.
This is series entry #7 with Jon Rickenbacker (Orpheus).
Welcome to The Official SnarkPit Interview Series of 2011. Here we're looking to interview individuals who have at least two years experience designing levels for games. We accepted entries from amateurs and professionals alike in an effort to enlighten the masses, especially those who are aspiring level designers or hobbyists. From new to old, there is something to be learned by all. People from around the world talk about what got them into level design, and what they do to push the limits and explore the possibilities. Level design has always been a collaborative effort spent conversing with others for critiques and opinions, and it is in this spirit that these interviews are presented to you.
This is Interview #7 out of the series as given by Mr. Jon (Orpheus) Rickenbacker.
Jon has been with the Pit since the very early days back before 2001, and he's been mapping since before that. He's released many maps for Half-Life 1 Deathmatch, and reviewed many, many more. His talents now days are relegated to helping other mappers improve their 'game' and wrestling with limited bandwidth issues around the net. Jon has experienced many mappers come and go, start and stop, and his expertise really lies in his experience talking to all of these mappers has given him over the decade. He is the 8th member to have joined the Pit and because of that, he was very influential in helping to conceive a lot of this website's feature concepts and tools; The Snark Pit would not be what it is today without him. We thank him for taking the time to stop and send in his responses!
If you'd like to reach Jon, you may contact him through our PM system on his SnarkPit profile page: Orpheus' Profile
(You will need to register and/or sign-in as a SnarkPit member to send him a 'personal message' through our system).
1. SnarkPit: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with level design?
Jon: My name is Jon Rickenbacker. I am 48 years old and I have been known as Orpheus since my advent unto the internet in 1999. I drive long haul and travel extensively in my job. I got into level editing originally with the game Doom 2 but unfortunately in those days the level of interaction between members of the mapping community was non-existent, so my experience in Doom 2 was pretty basic. With only a local Bulletin Board Service for group community association the level of mapping experience was extremely low, and that's an optimistic view at best. Nonetheless it sparked a desire to learn more about mapping for games.
From there I moved on to Duke Nukem 3d. The BBS was still my only course of community interaction but by that time the level of computers and thankfully gaming itself was far more advanced than Doom 2 ever thought about being. We had a small but enthusiastic community dedicated to death-match arena style playing. I released, if released can be a term used for a local BBS, about five maps. All simplistic by today's standards but still good enough to encourage my moving on to more powerful engines. After Duke was Unreal 1. In 1998 the Unreal Editor was definitely a step in the more advanced direction. In fact, the difficulty level was a hurdle I never truly cleared. I made several attempts at death-match mapping but sadly nothing fruitful ever came from it. I was still on my local BBS but if I recall, there were a few tutorials available. My maps were much better than Duke Nukem's but still lacking in my opinion. In 1999 I discovered two things that altered forever my gaming experiences. The internet and Half-Life 1.
2. SnarkPit: How long have you been mapping and critiquing others' maps?
Jon: I started Doom 2 mapping sometime prior to 1998 but began in earnest in February of 1999. With my discovery of Half-Life. I began critiquing in 2001 with my discovery of Snarkpit.
3. SnarkPit: What games and game types have you mapped for?
Jon: Doom 2, Duke Nukem, Unreal and Half-Life.
Deja_Vu - Jon's first released map for HLDM
4. SnarkPit: If level design is currently a hobby for you, what do you plan to do, or continue doing with your experience and skills in the near future?
Jon: At my age, hobby is most likely my only option. However that's not to say I enjoy it less because of that limitation. The joy of assisting others to discover themselves in the mapping community is a powerful incentive to continuing my association in level editing. Seeing others advance from timid beginner to an even more enthusiastic member of the mapping community is second only to your own gradual advancing in skill. My goal is to be around as long as there is a place for me.
5. SnarkPit: Where do you look for inspiration or whom do you look to for ideas and in what mediums?
Jon: With my job and the travel it provides,there are unlimited sights to use in mapping. From structures to natural environments, all provide incentive.
6. SnarkPit: What is the most important step or aspect in designing a level for you?
Jon: Getting started I suppose. I am a chronic procrastinator. I dream up ideas all the time but finding the time to implement them is sometimes put on the back burner to real life activities.
7. SnarkPit: Are there any special techniques you use in designing your levels?
Jon: I download and study other maps. I note what works and what fails. I rarely employ what is most popular in favor of what lasts.
Deja_Vu_2 - An original map for HLDM
8. SnarkPit: What do you do to get your name out there for others to play your maps?
Jon: I visit servers that are themselves play-testing maps and ask them to showcase my maps that are work-in-progress. Many servers host maps of this nature and tend to draw others of similar mindsets. Creativity breeds creativity.
9. SnarkPit: What three pieces of advice would you have for an aspiring level designer?
-First, know thyself. What map types interest you and strive to make them better by making one yourself.
-Second, be open to constructive criticism. A closed mind will definitely restrict your advancement not only in the mapping community but your personal skill level.
-Lastly, know when to finish a map. Some maps just cannot be improved upon past a certain level. Finish it and move on to another map.
10. SnarkPit: What should a beginning level designer focus on the most in attempting to develop their skills?
Jon: Think small. Many new mappers have grandiose ideas for a map and often get discouraged because of the time it takes to bring one to fruition. Thinking on a smaller scale will deliver you a completed project that you can use as a stepping stone to bigger things. You will get more satisfaction knowing that you have completed something others can enjoy. Unfinished maps fill endless hard drives. Don't add yours to the pile.
Double_Trouble - A HLDM SnarkPit competition entry.
11. SnarkPit: What's the most valuable lesson you've learned about level design?
Jon: You will never learn it all. Joining a community to assist you in your growth is the most important thing you can do in level editing.
12. SnarkPit: How important is optimization to you in designing a level, and how much of your time would you say you commit to it out of the entire level design process?
Jon: Optimization is paramount in my opinion. The net is inundated with maps that are incomplete because the author refused to take the time necessary to optimize their work. I would say I dedicate 50% of my time spent on a map just optimizing it. The first 50% goes into planning and construction.
13. SnarkPit: Is there a particular level or custom map from any game that stands out as an excellent example of craftsmanship? Why?
Jon: Actually I have three categories. The first is "fun." The most fun map I ever played was the default [Half-Life 1] map Stalkyard. I have played it more times than any other map. It is solid, fast paced and well connected. It is also small enough to play on 56k without to much trouble. Second is "creativity". Gollum's map Apotheosis stands out far and away the most creative map I have ever seen. Lastly is "beauty". Finger's map Broken Palace stands out as the best looking map I have seen.
No_Patience - An original map for HLDM
14. SnarkPit: What other skills do you think are imperative for a modern level designer?
Jon: Besides open mindedness and thinking on a small scale I would say being able to accept that you will never learn everything about mapping. You will always need assistance from others and creating your reputation in the mapping community is something only you have control over. If you develop the idea that you are above others, your reputation and assistance will drop to a point that eventually you will either quit or fade away into the ether of mapping history.
We'd like to thank Jon for taking the time to share with us his viewpoint and thoughts on the community. He's a highly active member and loyal participant in discussions around the Pit. Thank you!
If you're interested in giving an interview and feel that you qualify, feel free to check out our questions and criteria for submitting an entry here. We'd like to hear what you have to say!