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Lance Lewis

Level Designer for the Atari Jaguar's Alien Vs. Predator,
both Hoverstrikes, and the best of the PSX Army Men games, and more!

LL> 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…

MT> 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.

MT> 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?
LL> 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…

MT> 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?
LL> 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 the gameplay.

MT> You were the lead designer for both Atari Jaguar Hoverstrike games. Do you have a particular preference towards one version or another?
LL> 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.

MT> 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?
LL>I 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.

MT> 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?
LL> 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.

MT> 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 title.
LL> 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, .

MT> 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?
LL> 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 our building.

MT> 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 modeler?
LL> 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.

MT> What is the current status of 3DO's BioSwarm for the Playstation?
LL> 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..."

MT> You are a classic game player, with a particular affinity for the Vectrex. What are your favorite antiquated consoles and games?
LL> Yeah I maintain a Vectrex tribute site, so obviously, that is one of my favorite systems. But I think my all-time favorite is the ColecoVision- I loved all the accessories for that thing, and the games were pretty good versions of some classic arcades. Of course, EA Hockey and Madden Football for the Genesis still get some heavy rotation. The MicroVision handheld was pretty cool too, my best friend Hank, he actually got me my first gig in games, he had one and we played it a ton back in the day…

Since Aliens vs Predator is a staff favorite here at Good Deal Games,
we offer a hefty salute to Lance for helping create one of the scariest games of all time!

Have questions? E-mail Lance



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