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    03/20/00:
An Interview With Randy Pitchford of Gearbox Software
- by Fisich

Kicking off our Gearbox Spotlight Week, I bring you the first in a series of interviews with the Gearbox guys. We start off by asking Randy Pitchford all manner of questions about Opposing Force, how it was produced, and if you're a mapper, how best to get recognized commercially.

Fisich: Hailed as the great expansion pack ever for the greatest game ever, everyone certainly had high expectations of what was to come before the launch of Half-Life: Opposing Force. Everybody loved it, yet the mapping community has been rather slow to move over to Half-Life: Opposing Force even though it offers a much better experience both in deathmatch and single player. What would you say to those contemplating moving into the Opposing Force world? What benefits does it offer?

Op4 Bootcamp Op4 Bootcamp

Randy Pitchford: It's a tricky decision for designers. On one hand, Half-Life: Opposing Force offers new features available like friendly soldiers, medics and engineers, new textures, rope climbing and a ton of new weapons and creatures so it makes a lot of sense to take advantage of these features if you want to make a robust set of new level content. The drawback is that Half-Life: Opposing Force runs under Half-Life like a mod, so right now it's technically difficult to add new code. New content resources can be added easily enough, but some of the more hard-core mod makers like to muck around in the code a bit. But, I've heard of a few Opposing Force projects going on that I'm looking forward to see mature.

In any case, I recommend that designers looking to do some Opposing Force level making visit http://halflife.gamedesign.net/. You'll find a complete Opposing Force entity guide there as well as tutorials and forums where designers share what they've learned. We worked with the administrator of the site to make sure the Opposing Force editing information is as complete as possible.

The All-Star designers managed to learn what they needed to create Opposing Force deathmatch maps very quickly. The advantage of building deathmatch maps for Opposing Force is obvious when you consider the new weapons and player models available. Amateur designers should look at the single player and All-Star deathmatch maps for inspiration and then try to out do what's been done there.


Fisich: One of the biggest obstacles when designing new content and levels for Half-Life is getting that authentic Half-Life 'feel'. How difficult was this for yourself and your team to overcome? What advice would you offer for those producing maps at the moment for getting that 'feel'?

Randy Pitchford: Before we began building a thing, Gearbox designers and artists literally disected the original game. We examined everything from texture schemes and standard dimensions of things like stairs and doorways all the way down to more abstract things like pacing and the design of the player challenges. We tried very hard to invent new types of encounters and challenges but made sure they were mostly consistent with the thinking applied in the original game. On one hand it was a success because everyone who plays Opposing Force knows they are once again part inside the *real* Black Meas Research Facility. But, on the other hand, a few criticisms have been laid upon the game for not making enough of a departure from the original. The reviews and general reception of the game, however, proves that for a game expansion like Opposing Force, staying very loyal to its parent was a smart move. But, one of the neat things about Opposing Force is the new multiplayer maps. We contracted some of the greatest designers in the industry to build the "all-star" deathmatch maps for Opposing Force. What's neat about their maps is that they could depart from the traditional Half-Life feel if they wanted. Some of the maps are very original and beautiful, and some of them fit right in with the Half-Life theme. All of them are very fun.

Fisich: Half-Life is a truly epic game that has taken over the lives of many, including myself. Opposing Force was really the tip of the Iceberg of what the Half-Life engine can stretch to. With the single player experience becoming better all the time, what would you say to games which solely concentrate on multiplayer particularly Quake 3 in this respect?

Randy Pitchford: I'd say that it's great to enjoy games with multiple players. That's one of the reasons why I have been so excited about the new All-Star deathmatch levels we included with Opposing Force. I, personally, spend just as many hours playing games with others as I play alone, but I tend to make buying decisions based on the complete package. So, I'm much more likely to not only purchase a game that offers a complete single player experience, but I'm also more likely to be happy about my purchase after I've played it if the game has a lot to offer me when I'm playing alone. I think that the recent multiplayer entries (Q3A, UT) have solved the single player problem nicely with their various game modes and bot AI. But, for the most part, I'm much more interested in a single player game that gives me a sense of purpose and context. That's why I enjoy working within the narrative of Half-Life. As you said, it truly is an epic game.

Fisich: We have a very large mapping community that is thriving at the moment. There are a great deal of new maps being released week in week out and some are of very good quality indeed. What would you say to those interested in level design as a career? and what would be the most important thing to achieve in this area of design?

Randy Pitchford: The most important thing is quality. Producing quality work (and making sure that I see it) will get you noticed. In order to make things good, you've got to practice. That means that you're likely to make some mistakes at first. So, the key to making quality work is just going for it. Just make stuff. The more you make, the better you'll get. You'll learn pretty quickly whether you're the right kind of person to be a professional game developer. If when making stuff, you're motivated to do more and better things, you've got the right stuff. If you find that the community likes what you've created, you're going to get in. If you ask any of the All-Star designers how they got started in the business, you'll probably find that most of them began as amateur designers who had a combination of skill, talent, motivation and luck to get in.

Fisich: One of things that impressed everybody the most were the new monsters and weapon models that were introduced into the game. It was obvious that nobody was expecting so many in just an expansion pack. Just how big a task was created all the new monsters though? especially huge beasts such as the Pit Worm and the equally frightening but much smaller zombie grunts that throw their insides at you?

Randy Pitchford: The Gearbox art team is just about the best I've ever worked with. Brian Martel, Landon Montgomery and Stephen Bahl designed the new creatures to perfectly fit within the Half-Life universe and provide the kinds of encounters we needed with Opposing Force. All of the new content in Opposing Force is pretty substantial, but the team tackled the development like pros. They were always on schedule and always exceeding requirements. While most players notice the new creatures, few realize that we actually redesigned and rebuilt a whole collection of soldiers for Opposing Force. This is cool because we provided those characters as multiplayer models too. You can now be a drill sergeant, a recuit, Otis the security guard or even Cpl. Shephard himself. All of the new, high quality multiplayer models in Opposing Force really compliment the great level design work that the All-Star team did. And, the new weapon models the art team created for OpFor really make Half-Life deathmatch a much deeper experience with lots of variety and action.

Fisich: There are some very promising Opposing Force single player works in the making at the moment, particularly Tim Johnson of Gut Reaction who is producing his new masterpiece for Opposing Force, A.L.I.E.N and Mr. White of Loki's Missions. How much do you follow the new content that is produced on a weekly basis? and is there any message you would like to convey to all those to slave away day and night outputting the new content?

Op4 Bootcamp Op4 Crossfire

Randy Pitchford: I watch the amateur development community - but I do it passively. I will say that we do pay attention and we have hired people from the amateur community in the past. I would love to see an up-and-coming designer out there really blow me away with something. When that happens, I'll be calling :)

Fisich: Is there anything you'd like to add?

Randy Pitchford: I'd like to thank you and your readers for playing Half-Life and Opposing Force. There are a lot of games out there to choose from, but the fans and press have shown that Half-Life, Opposing Force and all of the great mods that end users have made are where most gamers want to spend their time. Gearbox, Valve and Sierra remain commited to rewarding the Half-Life community by upgrading the existing games and providing more new content and game types - so stay tuned!


Randy Pitchford, I thank you!

Be sure to check out Fisich in action on the Lambda Map Complex and the first two reviews this week, Op4 Bootcamp and Op4 Crossfire




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