I managed to get Chris and Jose to answer a few questions regarding life, the universe and everything.
Well, mostly about mapping and their mod: The Citizen. Read on to learn more.
Are you happy with the community response?
Chris: Yeah. Overall, it has been very positive. We received a lot of feedback and people found a lot of bugs that we hadn’t. We couldn’t have created the updated version without that response, and it will also help us enormously when making the sequel.
Very happy. A lot of people seem to have enjoyed our work and the little things It has added to the HL2 experience, even if it sometimes meant taking a non-standard approach to certain gameplay aspects. We did have some issues with players apparently angered by the mod being a bit different, and others based their criticism on comparing our 8 month project with the actual Valve games, which if you think about, is also a compliment! Overall we’ve had a lot of good feedback and criticism that has let us improve the mod and have more experience for future projects in every way.
There may be a few players out there that haven’t heard of you, tell us a little about yourselves, don’t be shy.
Chris: Well, I’m currently 28 and I work in IT at a University. I’ve always enjoyed tinkering with games, starting with DOOM, back when I got my first 486. I’m a big fan of retro gaming, and I tinker with a lot of older games. One of my favourite games to mess with is Red Alert 2. If you ever want an interesting map for that, let me know…
Jose: I’ve been mapping for the HL series since April 2001, and most of my work was directed to multiplayer mapping. In fact, the only single player maps I had ever done before The Citizen are Sandscroll and Idol Hunt for Half-life. In real life, I’m an architecture student. This has given me a nice training and knowledge in spatial design and I tend to incorporate into my mapping whenever possible.
You are both well known mappers in your own right but what made you decide to collaborate? In fact, tell us something about the actual process of making a mod as a two-man team.
Jose: The Citizen started with a couple of maps for HL2sp which didn’t even have a story besides the obvious things seen in the map. I made the source files available, and Chris decided to develop his own story with them. After seeing how his gameplay ideas an the inclusion of voice acting made the maps so much better, I asked him about the main storyline and if I could contribute.
I made some more maps, and new ideas came up while I made them, resulting in even more maps. By this time, we were already working as a team and sharing the files on a regular basis. Each time we discussed our work over MSN, we would agree on the tasks we would perform until our next meeting.
Instead of splitting the maps between each other like some teams do, each map would go through a set of visual and gameplay upgrades each time we worked on it, with both of us having an almost total freedom to make changes.
Did you have any particular, shall we say, disagreements over anything?
Jose: We often discussed which things were better between A and B, but I don’t remember any important disagreements on any subjects. This is probably one of the reasons why we worked very fluidly and took little to complete the mod compared to those projects which in most cases are left unfinished because of team problems.
Chris: We never really argued over anything. It was all very constructive.
I wish I were an observant enough player to know which maps you each made, but I’m not. How did you manage to merge your different mapping styles?
Jose: As I mentioned before, we each worked on all the maps. This means that in The Citizen you can find a map with basic geometry made by Chris, with lighting tweaked by me, with textures made by both of us and gameplay implemented by Chris. In other maps the architecture would be mostly mine and Chris would do the entity work. We both did geometry and entity work, but the balance tilts toward the architecture side for me, and the entity side for Chris.
The Citizen is a fine piece of work and it contains a lot of voice acting. I notice in the credits that you, Chris, are credited as Voice Casting. What exactly did that entail?
Chris: Well, I organised the scenes and all the voice acting. Some of the actors are me, my friends and relatives, so all those characters I recorded and edited everything for. The actors I don’t know personally I spoke with over the net about what I wanted and received recordings from them, which I edited to suit my needs and then shoved them into the game just like my own recordings.
Although there are various aspects to doing this, the toughest is when you need to lip-sync all the custom speech in the game., and tie that up with the gestures the character is making. I really did spend a lot of time on that. Some bits were easy (the auto-interpreter in the Phoneme Editor is pretty good at times) but some bits of it were a complete and total bitch to get looking even ‘just good enough’.
I noticed a small team of Beta testers. You may know I am very interested in this area. Did you set any particular goals for the testers or just let them run wild?
Chris: Run wild, really. Most of the testing I did was I got friends to play and I sat and said nothing while they played. I just let them work it out from start to finish, and play it without any input from me at all, but while I was watching. It was very hard not to tell them things at times – but it was worth biting my lip because I spotted an awful lot of bugs this way.
In fact, did you get them to record demo for you to watch?
Chris: I think all testing was done with one of us present.
Looking back, what would you do differently?
Jose: Some of our players weren’t happy about the airboat areas, and we understand the reason for this. While making the maps, however, it’s hard to judge how some things will turn out, and some maps had progressed too far when some of these problems were detected. Speaking of the airboat maps, these are very hard to build because you need a much greater map size and mapping effort to provide the same gameplay time that a normal map would have.
Chris: I’d really like to be able to model, so that I could have made some brand new NPC’s for the game, or even a new weapon or two.
Unfortunately, I have no modelling experience, and I don’t really have the free time to get any. Jose is in the same boat as me here. Does anyone have any good, non-copyrighted, human NPC models that you’d let us use for Citizen 2? 😀
As a rough guide, what would you say is the balance between you actually playing maps and mods and making them? I’m not talking about playing your own maps but other people’s.
Jose: I spend much more time mapping than playing, and it has been like that for quite a few years. I have of course played all the games in the HL series and mods like Minerva, Rock24, Riot Act, Awakening, etc. Playing maps is an integral part of mapping for a mapper, as you need to know what the standard of quality is, and what things you know will work, what things players tend to dislike, what hasn’t been done before, etc.
Chris: Less than I’d like, really. I’m pretty busy these days, and when I do get time and inclination for HL2 – it’s always my own stuff I end up paying the most attention to. Just because my time is very limited. I’d say I’d spend 90% of my HL2 time making my own stuff, and 10% of it playing other people’s stuff.
However, quite a lot of my spare time is dedicated to other games as well. I’ve been trying to finish Head over Heels lately. Anyone remember that?
Whose ideas was it to have the Combine suit disguises?
Jose: Chris originally had the idea to include stealth-type gameplay in the mod. I remembered the gas mask seen in one of the later levels of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and thought something like that would be nice for Half-life 2. The overlay material system and the nature of the Combine as our foe were the perfect ingredients.
Chris: I think I suggested it originally. I’m a big fan of the Hitman games where you can disguise yourself, and I’ve always wanted to do something like that in Source. So I might have mentioned it first in conversation between myself and Jose – but in the end, he made all the overlays and all the functional stuff that made that part of the game actually work.
I don’t want to sound negative but I feel you missed I great opportunity to give the player a moral dilemma but putting them in a situation where they either had to kill a rebel or be revealed as an impostor. Did you consider something like this?
Chris: I’m always thinking about things like that. I ended up thinking that a citizen-life-taking situation like that wouldn’t work in Citizen (not in the first one anyway!) but I am working on a map right now which involves a similar trust based situation. I like the idea of the player not knowing who to trust. What’s scarier than not knowing who to trust?
Jose: Yes. Originally, the player would be attacked by the rest of the rebel squad while still wearing the Combine Elite suit. While planning the events for that map (Sneaky Business Part 2 and Stage Fright), having this situation take place proved to be a big problem both in terms of ai relationships and removing the disguise. We ended up using a Combine advisor as the one who finds who the player really is.
Speaking of moral dilemmas, the player has to leave the squad behind when leaving the building. You don’t really have a choice, but it should make you think these things could happen, right? We still have a whole sequel in which to incorporate a more elaborate system of cause and effect.
How many people do you think have found all the Easter Eggs? Is there a way for you to know?
Jose: We know who did it first, since we told players to write an email as soon as they had found all of them.This has translated into a small tribute inside the sequel, in which we reward this player. Others have commented on having found all of them, but it’s impossible to know since obviously not everyone who has played has commented on the mod.
This relationship between developers and community has a lot of potential. Although we haven’t talked about this yet, there is a possibility of having a certain riddle within a mod that would require cooperation and sharing information between players of the mod. By having different paths with different secrets in them, something like this would be possible.
Chris: We have no way of knowing, really. My most pessimistic count of Citizen downloads is 2,000 – and if 5% of those people get all the secrets, that’s 100 people who have bothered to play that much.
That’s enough to make me happy!
What would you consider to be the best Hl2 mod release for gameplay?
Chris: I couldn’t really say with any kind of authority, because I haven’t played nearly as many as I’d like to. The best mod I’ve played is Coastline to Atmosphere, but it’s the only one of that kind of size that I’ve actually finished. I’ve never even played Minerva – I really need to get round to that. It’s hard to find the time these days.
Jose: As I mentioned earlier, I have played but a few of the great number of HL2 single player mods and episodes out there. I think all of them have very polished gameplay but I wouldn’t know exactly which one to place above the rest. I have good memories of certain areas from each of them in terms of gameplay. I could mention Riot Act as being one of the most solid ones, yet it doesn’t offer the new areas and themes of Awakening etc. Perhaps Rock24 had the best balance of story/combat/puzzles/level design.
Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions and good luck with any future projects.