With the recent release of Rock 24 I thought PP readers might like to hear what the two developers had to say about designing the mod. Below you will find a brief interview with Henley Bailey & Richard Acherki.
Although I haven’t specifically asked them they might be prepared to answer questions via this post. They seem like nice guys, so if after reading the interview, you have any questions please post them here and hope for the best!
Firstly allow me to congratulate you on a superb release! I wish there were more dedicated teams like yourselves.
Henley: Thanks! We both feel very lucky to find someone else who was equally as determined to create something new and actually finish it as well!
Richard: Thanks, it was a lot of hard work, but immensely enjoyable as well. Hopefully myself and Henley will be working on another project in the not too distant future.
What’s been the general feedback from the community? What you expected or were there a few surprise comments?
Henley: Feedback has been great so far, a few people have mentioned bugs but we knew most of the ones that were mentioned. (pull)We were surprised when more than one person described our mod as excellent and amazing!(/pull) We can only see the bugs after working on it for so long, still it’s given us a big boost to really get on with making more stuff for the community, I was intending to relax for a month or two but already we are both bouncing ideas between us.
Richard: I must say I have been surprised by the feedback from the community, we have had some really great comments and also some very constructive criticism, I’m looking forward to even more people playing it and letting us know what they think. I think the only way to improve is to ask the actual players of the game what they want to see?
One presumes you have a good working relationship but were they any crunch decisions that caused friction? I’m sure many amateur developers are interested in the dynamics of a two man team.
Henley: Yeah, we had one or two minor times when it was getting near the end and we both were getting frustrated with it hanging around. It was never a big deal or affected our relationship or work in any way though. We always take the mick out of each other anyway. We did have to make a few big decisions, one being that half the game that we had planned should be chopped! Seriously, if we had tried to make what we had in our minds – it would have been another 8 months work minimum. I’m quite glad we dropped those areas now although one bit would have been really amazing if we could have pulled it off like we saw it in our heads, that’s one area we may make as a mini mod!
Richard: Because we were both learning at the time of production (both being new to hammer) there was a lot of discussion about design, we originally built areas and then sent them to each other to be changed but this turned out to not be the most efficient way to design. As obviously we both had our own style and modifying each others work usually resulted in a long winded design process for one area and of course the discussion of which looked better. That said we were both friends from before we began working with each other, (pull)so anytime there was any friction (which was very rarely) it was quickly defused by the use of calling each other childish names!(/pull) In terms of design, we both agreed on almost every part of Rock 24, I think this was because we both had the same ideas for a prison, therefore production was very smooth. Near the end of the project we were both getting fed up of working on it for so long and things did get a bit narky, but it was never anything serious, it’s the nature of people to become irritable when things are so close to completion.
Your webpage lists you as Mastering Engineer and Lead Q&A technician. Can you tell me a little about those roles? Especially how you felt they helped or hindered with creating Rock 24?
Henley: A Mastering Technician is responsible for burning code and sending that code to magazines and anyone else who needs the game being developed for review or previewing etc. Currently, being new to the role – I’m mainly looking after the hardware, fixing PCs and network issues for the QA department but also chipping in with the mastering side too. However, before I was a Mastering Technician I was a games tester so that really helped out when we were creating our levels. We both know how to break games/levels and although there are plenty of places in Rock 24 you can break the logic we felt that if people want to break it then go ahead, we don’t get paid for this and won’t be spending our time guarding against deliberate attempts of sabotage!
Richard: A Lead QA (quality assurance) technician role basically means a test co-ordinator, I lead a small group of people on a project, I write test plans and arrange testing of the title I am assigned. I’ll also collate reports and report to my seniors about any major problems or design flaws. It’s a fun job, but it certainly doesn’t compare to level design. I’ve worked on a few titles including Conflict Global Storm for the PS2 and Rogue Trooper for the PS2. In terms of helping the mod, as I have tested for a while now I am quite aware of the best ways to break a game (and I am aware some of these are in Rock 24). When I designed my sections, I tried to make it work in a way that would reduce the ways in which the player could break the game. I.e. limit their interaction with objects, (hence the lack of a gravity gun), otherwise players would be jumping all over the place and breaking the game flow. Although I must add that with forethought, it’s quite easy to avoid major problems, whether you have testing experience or not.
As you mention on the homepage, you considered different plots and characters. Can you tell us anything about those or will they be used for other mods?
Henley: We did have a few other ides although I’m a bit foggy on the specifics now, Richard may remember though.
Richard: Now this is a good question, originally we had a level planned on a much grander scale, I think we will probably go back to the cut out sections of this map so I won’t say too much. I can however say that the areas you see in Rock 24 are far removed from what we originally planned and made in Hammer, I think the only room that remained the same was the holding cells room, (where Gordon wakes up). If I can find some pictures I have from this old version I will certainly dig them up and post them. (pull)In terms of plot and characters we always knew we wanted an NPC in there to rescue and join us(/pull), I think it adds a lot to the title to have another character you can rely on one that actually interacts with the environment instead of simply following the player. With hammer’s great tools this was made possible.
Talking of other mods, are you planning anything new?
Henley: Yes! Now we know the Hammer editor very well we can create something new which we know will be a lot better than Rock 24. We always considered Rock 24 as being our test mod, in that we would play around with ideas and learning Hammer whilst making a mod. Our next project will most likely be a Counter-Strike map with lots of custom content and whilst creating that we will be planning our next single player mod in depth. That may be in Source although I also have my eye on the next gen engines like Alan Wake and Unreal 3. In the meantime I may personally also be making some short (single level) games as a fun way to experiment and learn new things which I’ll release also.
Richard: Now that would be telling, but rest assured if the community enjoyed what we made we will definitely be making more ? Perhaps on another engine, as I had done some previous work on the old unreal engine and 2003.
What made you decide to add so many new elements to the mod? I’m thinking of the great camera work, the help via the voice etc.
Henley: Nothing really, most of the decisions we made were discussed between us as we got over excited about an idea and how we can make it in to a reality. I have a TON of tiny idea test maps, some are quite fun and you can see the seeds of some of the bigger things that made it in to Rock 24. I may release some of them for others learning Hammer to tear apart and see what makes them work.
Richard: Well I think we both wanted to move away from your standard shooter, I noticed a lot of the other single player mods out there, (whilst being very good) all involved shooting lots of enemies. I was amazed at Half Life 2 and Episode 1 because of the use of characters to bring depth to the storyline, I felt drawn into the story. I wanted to recreate something like this for our mod hence the reason we got voice actors in to do some of the voices. I also think a storyline helps hold the players attention, especially when it feels like you both have an objective.
A lot of the cut scenes were there to give the player a feel for the environment and try and hint to the player that shooting everything in sight was not the way to get through the level (and obviously to further the story). I do however understand that not everyone is partial to this type of game play. I think this was illustrated by the fact that some people had difficulty with the escaping the cell puzzle, even though Richard says to the player at the beginning that he has rigged the cell and the player should try and look for something in his cell to throw at it. Some players like to get going into the action, but (pull)we always wanted to create a game that although challenged the players trigger finger also challenged his/her mind to some extent(/pull).
With hindsight is there anything you would add or change?
Henley: Yes, a lot but that was just down to not knowing how to level design or use Hammer properly at the time.
Richard: There’s a lot that I would redo if I had the knowledge I now have about the design process. As Henley may have mentioned geometry was not as good as it could have been simply because the planning was not thorough enough. Also because we were learning about entities at the time of creation, certain sections were made in the incorrect way (I think this explains certain bugs that people have come across.) I can certainly say this mod has been a fantastic learning process, I think planning is the key to a good mod. I can’t wait to get started on a second mod, it should hopefully be something special.
Moving onto to some technical questions, well technical for me! Did you keep track of the number of hours you worked on the mod?
Henley: No, and it was probably for the best. We both put in a lot of hours. Some weekends we were hitting 38 hours, probably very unhealthy but there was a lot to get done! I think people really underestimate the amount of work that goes in to a mod, I know we did – even when we should have known better! I have a lot of sympathy for Valve now, I can easily see why HL and HL2 were delayed so much and so often.
Richard: I must say we didn’t count the hours, but there were days where I working at least 13-15 hours on the map and the same goes for Henley. A lot and time and effort went into the mod, although I must say development time could now hopefully be cut in half because it’s all about learning the editor’s ins and outs.
What about Beta testing. How close to the initial maps are the released ones?
Henley: We got 4 guys from the hl2world.com forums, they each gave the mod a blast and gave us some valuable feedback. We addressed 90% of the issues they were having and the other 10% although valid we decided it would require too much work to fix. At that point we really wanted it out so we can start on something new and better.
As for how close they were to the original maps, some areas are pretty much spot on but most have had RADICAL changes to the point where it’s almost unrecognizable. This again was down to us learning hammer and learning about level design, optimization and game flow etc etc.
Richard: We did make amendments to the level after the four testers from HL2world gave us their feedback, we amended between 70-90% of their suggestions, but some of them required too much rebuilding and therefore were passed on. At this stage we really wanted to see the project go out.
I presume you played a few mod before and during you development work on Rock 24, did any influence you, either in a positive way like “Man we should do something like that!” or “Man, let’s avoid those kind of mistakes!”?
Henley: Funnily enough, we didn’t play many mods. I did play the first Minerva level and one or two others. As for ideas, we have so many ideas ourselves (there’s a few we still REALLY want to make a reality) that we wouldn’t want to make other peoples ideas. The only other game we played was BF2 when we wanted a break from developing. Basically, if we weren’t working then we were mapping and that went on for the last 9 months solid. My fianc’e is very happy the mod is complete and she now gets to see my face again. 🙂 We knew exactly what we wanted to avoid, both being long time games players and testers! Being a games tester, you really start to realize exactly what makes games fun or laborious which really helped us in the making of Rock 24.
Richard: Actually I can’t say I played very many other mods, I did have a play of Minerva, which I was very impressed by, but I think that’s about it. I think at the time I was trying to spend the most time developing. I also think that between Henley and myself we had tons of ideas, and I’ve never really been in to plagiarizing. ? In fact (pull)I remember that we cut out a lot of the ideas we had(/pull), I remember once specific one being very cool, perhaps we will remake it if we get the chance ?
Did you set out with a particular gameplay style in mind or did it just develop naturally?
Henley: Personally, I initially wanted to make a full puzzle game, in my mind I wanted a type of Myst puzzle game, situated on a very ambient island. Kind of an escapist game with intricate physics puzzles and some very varied characters. I actually made a start on this but due to my lack of knowledge at the time it was proving difficult with the large outdoor areas and what I actually wanted to achieve. Then myself and Richard decided to make a mod together so we took the puzzles indoors in to a prison (Rock 24 prison) to use them there. Richard also enjoys puzzles but also likes a lot of shooting.
As we built the level however it became more and more watered down until we decided to go the normal route of shooting stuff with a few basic puzzles thrown in to keep people busy. 🙂 We thought that most hl2 players expect to play a hl2 game in a certain way, if they were then forced to progress really slowly and use a lot of time solving complex puzzles the mod would get slated with only a few people who actually enjoyed it. The cell puzzle is the only one that was left in from the original idea and that was simplified a great deal! I think we made the right choice in the end but (pull)I still want to create my island with puzzles game!(/pull) Maybe if they release an SDK with Alan Wake.
Richard: I think we had an idea of what we wanted; the use of an intelligent NPC was a must and also not just a straight forward shooter, some puzzles. Although I believe a lot of the mod developed as we went along. I think it would have been cool to have had some more physics stuff in there, perhaps next time.
I’ll probably go back and play the mod again next month (I like a little break between plays!) but were there any Easter Eggs or hidden areas? IF there are can you give my readers some hints (Actually, forget the readers, tell me!)
Henley: haha, there may be one or two things in there…. 😉
Richard: Ha ha, well there are some very small Easter Eggs in there. All I can say is:
- Ones in a place that’s not very clean.
- I’m also sure Richard likes his personal space.
- Combine Guns emplacements are dangerous places to stand near.
Did you consider releasing commentary like Half-Life 2: Episode 1?
Henley: We did talk about it once but we didn’t think anyone would really be interested in what we had to say about our mod and would prefer just to get on with it. I love the commentary in HL2 though, so maybe next time.
Richard: We did consider this but I guess it would have taken a fair bit of time to implement and we really wanted to get the mod out. But if people really want to hear from us perhaps we will for the next mod.
Well, that’s it, anything you want to add?
Henley: Nope, that’s great – thanks for helping us out!
Richard: All I can say is, thanks to the community for taking the time to play what we created, and (yes it’s a plug) if you like it vote for us. And hopefully we will have something new for at some point next year ? And of course thanks to you for hosting our files 😉