Designer for the Atari Jaguar's Alien Vs. Predator,
both Hoverstrikes, and the best of the PSX Army Men games, and
Thanks for the time here, I am really quite flattered. First thing
I want to say about being a game designer in general, is that
we are all influenced by other games we may have played at some
moment in time. I will point out several instances where I may
have been influenced by a game, or a fellow designer. I strongly
believe in giving credit where credit is due, and to the individuals
who gave me the opportunity to succeed as a game designer. So
with that statement, I would love to answer your questions…
Aliens Vs. Predator did not follow the norm for
first-person shooters at the time. Most, if not all, had been
mission based games with one level after another. AvP broke that
trend, and instead implemented one huge map, consisting of five
floors, mostly accessible right from the beginning of the game.
Was this your idea, and how did it effect your design process?
LL> We were developing AVP at the time DOOM was
really hot, and I think we really wanted to have the same level
of intensity, and the feeling of uneasiness as you went through
the levels. Not knowing what was behind the next corner, you know?
The game was engineered by Rebellion, and their designers actually
gave us milestones of the game with the gameplay being much like
DOOM's in that you walk through a level, kill everything,
find a key, go to next level… again and again. Now, while this
method worked for DOOM, the producer of AVP, James
"Purple" Hampton, felt our game could be so much MORE, that it
could really feel more dynamic, even a little different each time
it was played. He handed the level design reins over to myself,
and a handful of other talented Atari designers. We came up with
the story, and spent weeks placing objects, and directing the
flow of the game. We had been given so much freedom, and we took
advantage of it, allowing the player to finish the game several
ways, striving to give that "non-linear" feel. Additionally, we
had to design each level to work for all 3 game modes, whether
it was played with the Colonial Marine, the Alien or the Predator.
Tuning the game proved to be a huge challenge.
What is the story behind you being the "Colonial Marine" for the
AvP game? Would you consider yourself to be Marine material in
the real world?
According to my calendar, I spent about 6 months on this game,
and 3 of those in the Atari office without a day off. One day
(or was that a night…?) I turned on the game and there it was:
"Colonial Marine - Lance J. Lewis". I think it was a nice way
of someone saying "thanks". They asked if I wanted my name removed
before we shipped, and I was like "Are you kidding?!?!". Although,
I was surprised that the game did ship that way.
Am I marine material? I suppose that starting out in the trenches
of the test department, and then losing your life to build levels
might qualify as a kind of twisted boot camp, but I detest physical
labor, so I think the answer would have to be no…
Rebellion programmed the Atari Jaguar's Alien vs. Predator.
Since you were an Atari employee, and not a member of the Rebellion
staff; was it typical practice to design a game at Atari and then
have a 3rd party developer actual code the game?
I don't believe this strategy is typical at all, and I never experienced
it again. In fact I have to applaud "Purple" for making a pretty
bold decision, as it was met with some skepticism. But he wanted
the game to be as FUN as it could be, and he felt that leaving
the engineers to code would let us have a majority of the features
we wanted to incorporate. And this allowed the people who actually
had seen the movies and understood the licenses (us Atari geeks…)
to handle the flow and design, and we really took pride in developing
You were the lead designer for both Atari Jaguar Hoverstrike
games. Do you have a particular preference towards one version
Not really, but technically speaking, the CD version had a few
extra perks. For instance the engineering crew managed to boost
up the frame rate by a stunning 2-3 fps... And some of the terrain
textures we were able to load as high res. Oh and the soundtrack
was CD-quality instead of MIDI. Seriously though, I always felt
the game was unnecessarily trashed in the magazines and flamed
in newsgroups. It may not have been a GREAT game, but a lot of
people put a lot of time and effort into making that game ship.
While at Atari, you witnessed the demise of the Lynx. What was
the general mood and feelings of this excellent portable console
not getting the recognition it deserved?
think the Tramiels were pretty much resigned to pulling the plug
on it, and I don't believe they cared about the unit's fan base.
The GameBoy was just huge, and there were only a handful of Lynx
games going through QA. Those of us in the development group though,
we really were quite saddened. We knew the Lynx was a superior
product with a ton of great games. So we spent a great deal of
time after hours playing "Todd's Adventures in Slime World"
ComLynxed. Our executive producer, Larry Pacey, had about 10-12
Lynxes in his personal collection, and we would bleed our thumbs
on "Slime World" while we consumed pizzas and beers-it
was some of the best fun! I'm pretty sure there are many stories
like that from other Lynx fans.
What is actually involved in level design? What steps and procedures
are required to design a level -- from the beginning layout or
concept to the final completed stage?
Speaking for myself, the first step to building a level, and possibly
the hardest part, is finding inspiration. Whether it's for a FPS
or some D&D crap, inspiration can take solid days or longer. I
find inspiration from a variety of sources, but I'll usually start
by playing a ton of games, classics and new ones, and not always
in the same genre as the game I'm working on. As for looking at
titles that are in the same genre, comparative analysis (playing
games at work) can be crucial. This is the time when you can pinpoint
what elements are most fun, and what aspects of gameplay simply
do not work.
Other than games, I try to get ideas for levels by looking around
me, literally. What are some building structures or landscapes
that surround me? If these were to be in a game, what might make
them fun? I'll also watch movies that may have similar scenarios.
If I'm trying to devise a game like Spy Hunter,
for instance, I would probably watch a ton of James Bond films.
For Army Men: Air Attack, I watched war and helicopter
movies like Apocalypse Now, Patton and Blue Thunder.
One of my favorite things to do prior to building actual levels
is study board games. Sometimes you can really get a feel for
flow, pacing, and structure by examining board games, card games,
and RPG's and how they work. Defining the game or level process
is an important step.
At this point, having some artistic ability is a plus, as sketches
should be made and details need to be specified in the design
document. This is key because your ideas have to be clear and
defined. The producer, the engineers, and everyone else on the
team will need to know exactly what you have in mind. Any question
should be answered within your document. Often the design team
needs to work closely with engineers, and you need them to understand
what you want right away. If you want the engineers to be annoyed
at you, give them a vague design document and see how quickly
they tell the producer to tell you to re-write it.
And a very important tip I try to tell other designers is… (drum
roll please…) to never fall in love with your own level. If your
game requires 30 levels, you will probably rough-design about
60 or more, and this is because you want to choose the absolute
best of all the ideas. So this leaves roughly half of your ideas
on the cutting room floor. You may feel very strongly about a
particular level, and think it's the greatest one of the bunch,
but when an AP comes around to playtest it, and says "Dude, what
the hell am I supposed to be doing here?" that may be an early
sign that your idea just wasn't meant to see the light of the
cathode ray tube. It can be difficult to fairly judge your own
creations, so it's good early on to have someone playtest anything
you are working on, and be comfortable with, and prepared to change
anything about the level, or trash it completely. The point is
not to make a level that YOU like to play, but a level that the
paying consumer would like to play… that is the real trick.
Many of the viewers may be familiar w/ the Rocket Jockey
game you helped develop for Rocket Science, but few, if any, are
familiar with the unreleased PC title Pest. Please
tell us about Pest, and your involvement with the
PEST is the brainchild of AVP's producer "Purple"
Hampton. It was reminiscent of old Tex Avery cartoons, with everything
just over-the-top. Wacky buildings without right angles, bright
colors, extravagant animal characters. The gameplay was simple,
sort of inspired by the frantic pace of whack-a-mole. There were
actually two styles of game- you could play as one of the "PEST"
characters such as a rat, an ant, termite, etc. The player characters
would have to devise a trail for the "panic-stricken-horde" to
carry off loot such as cheese. So you'd have a dozen or so little
mice carrying stuff for you along a trail you had established.
Of course there's a villain, The Exterminator, who would try to
smash you and your horde. Or, you could play as the Exterminator.
Both styles were pretty fun. You can read more about it at the
game's site, www.pest169.com .
You made it possible for us to visit the first floor of the Rocket
Science building in San Francisco, by creating a Quake
map of the facility from floor plans. Was this a training exercise
for using WorldCraft?
Yeah, it was one of my first attempts at creating a level with
a 3D-editor. Prior to this I had pretty much used 2D height-mesh
editors, so the jump into XY and Z was pretty exciting. WorldCraft
is a great tool, I had a good time using it. Quake
was pretty big at the time, and a bunch of people in the office
played it, so I thought it might be kinda cool to have a map of
Being a 3D Animator myself, I noticed that you used 3D Studio
Max for your level editing for the Playstation version of 3DO's
Amy Men: Air Attack. Is 3D Studio Max your preferred
Actually I used 3DSMax for BioSwarm, and I loved
it. Max is pretty sweet, but this comes from a guy who had used
unfinished, proprietary, buggy editors for each previous game.
So having a clean, working tool to use made me pretty stoked.
For Army Men: Air Attack I used a proprietary editor
that had been developed for the game Uprising by
Cyclone Studios. This editor was used for quite a few games after
it was built, you see, a big philosophy at 3DO was to reuse whatever
technology is accessible-even if it's like 5 years old. "Re-use,
re-use, re-use." I don't mean to slam 3DO here, they have some
talented individuals working there. An interesting story goes,
the producer of Air Attack, Kudo Tsunoda, is a master
of breaking down a design doc and guiding designers toward the
goal of producing a very complete initiative of what the game
is intended to be. Kudo's a talented producer I have much respect
for, but the guy is a little off. Apparently he was born with
a conjoined twin. Now this twin was little more than a tumor,
an odd growth, and it was surgically removed from him at a young
age. But it was an attached twin. and I think they may have removed
a little too much of Kudo, as this guy's work ethic goes at an
insane pace… I think HE is a little insane.
What is the current status of 3DO's BioSwarm for
We actually finished a playable level to demo at E3 in 1998, although
it was never shown there. In defense of the game, I think it had
really begun to take shape, and it was quite unique. However,
this was one of those projects that just had too many "red flags"
around it from day one. It was originally a sequel to the 3DO
Multiplayer game BattleSport. I believe Sony wasn't
too keen on the idea, so it was redesigned and called N.R.G. (energy…
get it?). Again, it wasn't received too warmly so it was redesigned
again to become BioSwarm. All of this was going
on while the game retained that same engine, presenting a problem
for the design team. I feel technology should be built to house
a game, a game shouldn't have to be restricted by pre-built technology.
Now, there was nothing wrong with the technology, it was great
in fact… but… it was built to do a particular style of game, so
every design after that was obviously going to be limited. Upper
management really didn't care about details like this and so once
again the 3DO theme: "Re-use, re-use, re-use..."