Text Interview with Aaron Hutton

25th February 2012

In May 2011 I conducted an email interview with Aaron Hutton, maker of Dissolution, which has just been added to PP.

Originally, I published this on MODoftheWEEK.com but since that’s dead, here it is.

Hi, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Let’s start with you. Who are you and what’s your modding background?

“My name is Aaron Hutton and have been modding since around 2002-2003ish. I started off by making short, single-player map packs for the original Half-Life game and built up from there. My more recent mods include HMS Defiance and its prequel.”

What made you begin work on Dissolution?

“Dissolution was originally conceived between 2005 and early 2006. At the time I wanted to make a horror mod that featured a space colony as the central location — inspired by Aliens versus Predator 2 at the time. Dissolution was dropped in the summer of 2006 because it was rather beyond my ability at the time but, after some more mod experience, I decided to try and go back to Dissolution in 2008. The main motivations behind the latest version were to tell the Dissolution story I had written in 2006 and to get the location of Xterrier out in the public domain.”

What were your objectives when you started the project?

“To tell an interesting story, to create a decent-lengthed single-player campaign and to improve on my previous mod (HMS Defiance 2) were the main objectives, but creating something I would want to play was big on the list too.”

Do you feel you have achieved those objectives?

“Yes. While far from perfect, I am happy with how Dissolution has turned out.”

How has the community response been?

“The community response was pretty positive. There have been some common complaints — repetitively, a lack of variety in objectives and some bland texturing — but overall the mod has been received well.”

Any idea on the total number of downloads?

“5,953 from ModDB at the moment — a lot more than I was expecting!”

Some readers may know that I wasn’t particularly complimentary in my review of Dissolution. How did you feel when you read my review? Were there other negative reviews?

“I won’t pretend it’s easy to read highly critical reviews of your own mod — it’s difficult, especially when you invest such a long time in a project. BUT, in saying that, it is often necessary that such reviews are written because, in the end of the day, it’s very helpful to know where you are going wrong, and a lot of the points you raised are fair points and are useful to note.”

Did you feel any of the criticism was justified, or did you feel reviewers had missed the point?

“Yes, some of the points were definitely on the mark. The lack of variety, for example, definitely is a justified criticism. I never expected every review to be glowing – after all, it’s impossible to please everybody – and Dissolution never was aimed at everybody.”

How long did it take to make?

“The current version was under development for two years — but it wasn’t a solid, organised two years of development, I went on and off the mod quite a bit during those two years.”

What would you say was the best thing about the mod?

“The story — a lot of people have said the story is very BioShock but I’d argue the story telling is very BioShock rather than the plot. The story was the one thing that mostly survived from the 2006 version of Dissolution and has several years of writing and re-writing on top of it — so I am very happy with the story.”

And now for the opposite. What would you say was the worst part of the mod?

“The lack of variety. It’s painfully obvious in hindsight just how unvaried Dissolution is and if I was still making it, I\\’d make a conscious decision to vary missions more and throw in new gameplay situations.”

What have you learnt from making Dissolution?

“Technically, a lot about the source engine. But I’ve also learnt that testing early is important — something I failed to do with Dissolution. Dissolution only went into testing late on and, because of it, suffers in areas I completely overlooked.”

If you were to make it again, what would you do differently?

“I would add a lot more variety to the objectives and gameplay and possibly rework the introduction sequence a bit. I\\’d also probably play around with the enemies’ AI a bit more and see if I could make them more balanced.”

Is there any advice you would offer to other modders, who are thinking of making a total conversion?

“My advice would be test early but also keep in mind what kind of game YOU would like to play. If you’re in complete creative control of your mod, create a mod that you’d want to play. While taking the suggestions of others into consideration is important, in the end of the day making a mod that you, yourself, can enjoy playing is a truly rewarding outcome.

What’s next for you? More Source work or another engine?

“I have another source engine mod in the works and am taking it in a decidedly different direction. I’ve decided to try a more puzzle-orientated mod with a more distinctive visual style. Dissolution was criticised by some as being bland or a bit dry visually, I am hoping to make something a little more visually striking next time around.”

Did you get to play any mods or games during Disslutions development? Did they influence you in any way?

“I played a few mods — Curse and Nestlings being two I loved. They inspired me to keep going, but Dissolution is drastically different from both mods so I don\\’t really think they influenced Dissolution all that much.”

In fact, what influences would you credit in general?

“Dissolution was inspired by a whole pile of things that I watched/read/played while working on it. The whole Wilson-reanimating-the-dead thing was very much Frankenstein-style, and the novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ played a lot of inspiration for Xterrirer society. Other influences would be Aliens vs Predator 2, Penumbra and Dino Crisis.”

Any there any mods or modders you particularly admire?

“I think Lewis Denby, creator of Nestlings and Post-Script, will have some really interesting mods on the go — he’s definitely one I will be watching carefully.

Well, that’s it. Is there any thing you would like to add?

“Just a thanks to everybody who played the mod and especially those who wrote reviews or left feedback!”

Thanks again for taking the time to answer these questions and good luck with your future mod development.

“Thanks for the interview and all the best with your websites.”

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