Text Interview with Magnar Jenssen

5th October 2009

Here is a text interview I had with Magnar Jenssen the author of Mission Improbable.

It was conducted over a couple of emails with quite a long gap between. It doesn’t read disjointed to me but you may not it.

So, here it is, enjoy!

Well, firstly thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions.

No problem, my pleasure!

So, until Mission Improbable I hadn’t heard of you! Sorry about that. Please tell us a little about yourself.

Well, I’m a 26 year old Norwegian currently living in Sweden. Up until a few days ago I was working at Grin on games such as Bionic Commando and Ghost Recon. I love doing level design, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to contribute to Valves Day of Defeat Source and Team Fortress 2.

“Up until a few days ago”. Does that mean you have left?

Grin sadly closed down, but I’m now happily employed at Starbreeze!

Also can you explain how you managed to contribute to DOD Source and TF2 if you weren’t working for them?

For DOD Source I created a custom map that was quite popular, and around a year after I released it Valve decided to buy it and add it to the official mapcycle. For TF2 it was pretty much the same thing, Valve picks up a community map or two for each major update and adds it to the mapcycle, and for the Classless Update they picked my map Arena_Offblast.

I see from your website you made a few maps for DOD and HLDM. The one thing that stands out is the quality of the few releases.

Thanks. Those levels were created over a long period of time. I’m currently trying to be a bit more effective when it comes to releasing maps so hopefully it won’t be so few maps on there for much longer.

It must be hard being a level designer all day and then coming home to do more.

Not really. When doing levels on your own time they are 100% your own vision, when working professionally you won’t be able to decide on a setting for the level, how the action will play out and such. When working on my own levels, I can decide all of those things which I think is a lot of fun.

Let’s look at MI. It’s one of the few maps I have replayed, which is actually the highest compliment I can pay a map. What made you decide to make it?

Thanks, I’m glad you liked it! I’m a huge fan of the Half-Life series and I’ve wanted to do single player levels for it for a long time, but I was scared off by the workload. When making multiplayer maps you basically create the layout, test and tweak it, then polish it. With single player you’re about 50% done there, since you have to do the scripting, balancing and so on so it takes much more time. I decided to finally just sit down and start working on it, and I’ve learned a lot during the development of this first map.

How much pre-Hammer planning was there?

There was a lot of sketching and writing out scenarios in text documents. By doing that it’s easier to build the actual map, since you’ve planned everything out on paper and in your head, so it’s just a matter of building it. You won’t get stuck for weeks trying to think up how to progress the map.

What were your objectives for the map?

To create a solid and fun singleplayer experience that would fit in the HL2 universe and feel like it could have been a part of the original game.

Do you feel you have achieved them?

I think so, people seem to enjoy the map, and hopefully they will try out my upcoming maps as well!

Did it go through many iterations?

Yeah, there was a lot of playtesting, redesigns and so on. I have probably over 100 iterations of the map on my harddrive, in various stages of completion of course.

How long did it take to make? Do you know the number of hours?

I started it in February 2009 and it was released early July so around 5 months of working on it in my spare time. I don’t know the number of hours, but quite a few. I would put in a few hours almost every day after work, during weekends I would work a lot as well. A few days a week my girlfriend would get up at 5 in the morning to go to work, so I did the same and worked on it for 3 hours before going to work, then managed to sneak in an hour or two after work as well. So yeah, quite a few hours!

Beta Testing is close to my heart. How did you approach this aspect of level design?

I started testing it very early, since I scripted the map linearly. When a part of the map was playable, I would compile that part and take it into work to have colleagues test it during lunch. I’d watch them play it and take notes, then write a tweak/fix list which I would work on later. This went on until the map was fully scripted and playable from start to finish, then I would mainly work on pacing and such. I also included friends from the internet into testing during this part, so I would get fresh eyes on the level which gave me lots of feedback to work from.

If you could change something about it, what would it be?

A skip button for the intro boat ride 🙂 It’s crazy tiring to sit there and wait for the 500th time when testing the level.

I made a mention of the swinging pans in the kitchen. Was this a fluke or did you plan it that way.

They were put there for that reason, but I never thought so many people would actually notice them during the fight.

Are there any Easter Eggs within the map.

No, not yet. When I release the final map I’ll hopefully be able to implement some over-arching secret to the levels, similar to the Gnome achievement from Ep2.

When you say final map do you mean the last in the series or do you mean a final version of this map?

Well, MI is planned over 3 maps in total. As I release a new “chapter”, the map before it will be updated and receive bugfixes and such.

I presume that the overall response from the map has been very positive but did you receive any serious negative comments?

The overall response has been overwhelmingly positive, the only negative feedback I’ve received was regarding the story, or rather the lack of story. Hopefully with the release of MI2 that negative aspect will be fixed.

Do you have plans for any more SP maps for EP2?

Yeah, Mission Improbable is planned over three maps. I’m well underway on the second map, so hopefully I can start showing it off in the coming months!

How do you plan to release them? What I mean is will you update the first one and release it like Minerva, where the maps just continues from the jalopy ride?

Yes exactly, the transitions between the maps will be seamless, so the current map will receive a update which allows the player to directly travel to the second map.

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8 Comments

  1. Interesting read! Magnar’s work is very impressive and it’s great to see how designers from different backgrounds work on their maps.

  2. MikeS

    Ah, cool. Very pleased to read there will be more in the MI series. The first instalment was excellent.

  3. stoopdapoop

    good read, I would like to see more like this, asking creators about their work. Maybe what they’d change if they had another go, or what they think was interesting about the creation of their map.

    In fact, every big release should have an interview! if you think you can squeeze one out of the creators.

  4. Very nice. Thumbs up Phillip.

  5. WizardExt

    Very interesting interview, thanks Phillip and Magnar! Would be nice with an interview, like stoopdapoop says, for every larger release.

    For a modification it’s a bit short. I know it’s just a part of the whole package, but I not convinced this is the best way to do it.

    Me and Magnar Jenssen worked for the same company, different offices and projects. Good to see him back in game, at another quality studio – Starbreeze.

  6. When are we gonna get more in the MI series? This interview was done in 2009. I doubt we will get another chapter.

    1. It’s actually quite close to release.

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