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An Interview With Richard "Zdim" Carlson of Looking Glass Studios
- by Fisich

The fourth interview is our Half-Life: Opposing Force and Gearbox series as you will see is with Richard Carlson. He produced op4_meanie for the All-Star deathmatch maps section. Here is what he had to say about his career and his thoughts on deathmatch plus he even supplies you with a nice batch of witty one-liners!

Op4 Meanie Op4 Meanie

Fisich: As one of the greatest map designers in the industry, you needed to start somewhere obviously. Which game gave you your original desire to map and what did you find the most challenging aspect of getting started?

Zdim: As I always say: I'm a musician, damn it, not a level designer! ;)

Doom got me visually interested but I wasn't a hardcore shooter player, so I'd have to credit Heretic for making me actually want to engage in the detailed process of making maps. This fantasy version of the game allowed me to express my fantasy-tinged ideas, and after discovering WadAuthor, I cranked out a couple of dozen maps in a single six month period, mostly for Heretic, but also for Doom, Doom 2 and Hexen. I got hooked in a big way!

Getting started is never too dificult for me with anything I set out to do. I really enjoy that part of a new experience. It's the beginning place where anything is possible because you don't know anything about what's involved or how hard it is!

Fisich: The map which you designed for Opposing Force was very good indeed especially for more experienced deathmatch players who have warmed to it quite well. Was this your first attempt at Half-Life mapping? how did you enjoy working with the Half-Life engine and what problems, if any, did it pose during the construction period?

Zdim: I'd never built anything for Half-Life before, but since Worldcraft was my first Quake engine editor (and is still my favorite), it was refreshing to get away from DromEd, the very limited, very clumsy Thief 2 editor I use at Looking Glass, and work in Worldcraft and OpFor from time to time, to say the least.

I had no problems of any kind with Op-For or its special version of Worldcraft.

Fisich: From your experience of producing this map for Opposing Force, what did you find you would have liked to have seen be added to enhance the deathmatch experience overall? At the moment deathmatch is coming under fire from the teamplay based mods, is there anything that could be done to 'bring the people back'?

Zdim: Nothing! Half-Life/OpFor dm is a perfect blend of realism and escapism and a real treat to play.

Op4 Meanie Op4 Meanie

Fisich: What are you currently doing in the game designing world? Tell us a bit about how your career in mapping has unfolded over time and what your possible plans for the future are.

Zdim: I'm currently helping to finish up Thief 2 at Looking Glass Studios, which is literally going gold as we speak! Before that I worked on John R's Daikatana (didn't we all?) and before that about a year and a half with Anachronox. Before that, I was a pro musician and board game/rpg freak in Minneapolis, MN. Before that... Oh, never mind... ; )

The future is difficult to see because although I eventually want to design games, I don't want to deal with big budgets and big corporations. I'd like to see more independent game development and distribution. Meanwhile, I am very content to lend my humble skills to projects that interest me and folks who are a gas to work with.

I never do anything unless it's fun; first rule of life. Beyond that, I love to play with fantastic ideas and themes; those things will always draw me to a game, book or film first. I want to be amazed when I play a computer game or see a movie and when I'm working on a game like Anachronox or Thief 2, I get to be one of the guys who is trying to amaze you. I wouldn't trade that experience for all the tea in china.

Fisich: The thing which drives many map producers who work late night producing maps for their respective communities especially during the early part of their career. How much is this the same for you and have you any message that you'd like to convey to all these people?

Zdim: There are many facets of this phenomenon:


It's all part of a neophyte mappie coming into his or her own as an artist.

Yup, level design is an art. Shocked?

If one thinks otherwise, then one is stuck in the tools learning phase. And that woodshedding period is what that late night map making thing is really all about. Just like a guitar player practicing chops.

[If you think it's a science or a craft, than your maps will look like that. In other words, you'll most certainly build the way you think. Try to think of it as an art, and be willing to go even further than the tutorials and trends, and your levels will show it.]

During that night time adventure of map making, one's task is to try everything. (And drink LOTS of sodas and listen to LOTS of music.) Get all of the map making crud out of your system. Sit back, experiment like crazy and learn. Imitate, but don't repeat. Try to build things that amaze you. Try to do stuff nobody else has done..

Fisich: What is your favourite style of deathmatch?

Zdim: My favorite is Capture The Flag, particularly when I'm playing Tribes. My second favorite is a large, every-man-for-himself deathmatch with lots of players. It's hilarious!

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

Zdim: Yeah.
Logic is a systematic method of arriving at the wrong conclusion with confidence.
You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead.
Two wrongs don't make right. But two Wrights did make an airplane.
Normal is a kind of vegetative state where nothing happens.
Those who say they know, don't know. Those who know they don't know, know. Every old sock needs an old shoe.
The squeaky wheel gets the oil.
If you can see your goal, you're on the wrong path.
You don't have to be particularly clever to be a success in the world, just one day sooner.
Magic is real. Never bet Hakim he can't cast a Sleep Spell.

Zdim, I thank you!

Be sure to check out Fisich in action on the Lambda Map Complex and today's two reviews: Op4 Blue Meanie and Op4 Untimely Demise.

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