Behind-the-scenes interview with Michael Raymond-Judy
Heretic might be an old game, but some of
us still love it. For this reason, RambOrc
made a behind-the-scenes interview with level designer Michael
Raymond-Judy of Raven Software. Note that before the interview
it wasn't known that the maps for Heretic have been made by several
people (Mike is listed as the only level designer in the credits
of Heretic), thus some of the questions seem to be contradictory.
There's also a followup to this interview with more questions
about Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders here.
Hi Michael. You were Level Designer
on Heretic. Exactly what tasks did this title involve?
Well at that time it was pretty much
just making maps and placing enemies and goodies. I did help
a little with story background and defining locations, enemies
and weapons/items, but since that was really the first project
I worked on from start to finish the bulk of my work was map-making.
I also got to "help out" with some other peoples' maps doing
stuff like aligning textures (the words "firstcol" and "firstrow"
still give me shudders) and making sure there was a balance
of ammo to enemies.
Heretic was quite a rough change
compared to previous fantasy games from Raven. It gave up
on the "thinker" RPG aspects and delivered an instant action
shooter with a couple of extras like an inventory system with
artifacts. What were the reasons behind this decision?
I think the biggest reason was the more
direct involvement of id Software. They had some pretty strong
ideas about what the liked in games, and since they were the
ones providing the technology we listened very closely to
what they said. Also we had been "beta testing" Doom for a
while (which is to say we spent a lot of hours running around
slaughtering each other in deathmatch) and we saw how much
fun that kind of game was. The inventory was probably the
main holdover from our RPG mentality, and I think it did add
a new dimension to the FPS style of play.
Where did the ideas for the world,
creatures and background story come from?
Some of it came from us, some from id
(Sandy Peterson I think wrote the little bit on the back of
the poster/guide) and some, sadly, was made up by the people
who later wrote the manual/hint book. I say sadly because
they pretty much made things up as they wanted without asking
anyone here, and a lot of what they made up just didn't fit
with the "reality" we had created behind the game. Like the
second Highlander movie, I just try to pretend it never happened...
I can't help but notice that Heretic
made a lot of things nearly the same way DOOM did. No, I'm
not saying it's bad... rather the opposite. I myself think
that part of Heretic' success was that it capitalized on the
factors that made DOOM such a hit. Were these similarities
See above :)
(I refer to things like the kind
of weapons you get, the kind of monsters, the structure of
each episode like the feeling of the start level, that the
last map of an episode (ExM8) is rather small, but the last
but one (ExM7) is a VERY extensive one, the kind of bosses
in the end maps, etc.)
Ditto :) With the addendum that some
of this was inherent in the code we got, and since we didn't
have time to change some of it (how many maps and what they
are called, stuff like that) we were stuck with it. We DID
increase the maxvisplanes to about 4x it's original, to accommodate
the *ahem* "ambitious" layouts of some of our maps (when the
boss builds something, you try to make it work).
What were the main advantages and
disadvantages of the DOOM engine? Were there things you planned
but had to scrap because of engine limitations?
At the time the Doom engine was so far
beyond anything else out there we really didn't hit to many
limits (other than the aforementioned maxvisplanes). The worst
thing I ever had to do was take one map (not mine) and put
a big honking wall right in the middle of it so you could
actually run it. I think it was e1m4 (the big city "square"
with lots of buildings and castle walls outside). Nice map.
Too complex. As for advantages, I have said and will continue
to say that working with a known technology and existing tools
(no matter what quirks they have) is less sweat than trying
to develop engine, tools and game simultaneously. A known
limitation is always better than a surprise, since you can
at least plan around it.
Through what changes went the game
through in the course of development?
Pretty much the biggest change was the
name. I think it was called variously "Mage" and "Orb" and
a few other things (I think "Vorpal" was the one that got
the worst reaction from people here - 'it sounds like a whale
fart' someone said). Other than that we just had to re-make
or re-color some items and monsters, and add one weapon (the
Firemace, or "lobby ball" as we called it); the rest of the
game stayed pretty much intact from start to finish.
How did you create the maps?
Very quickly. I think on average I could
crank out a first run at a map in about 3 days, including
textures and initial placements. Then it took a few more days
(sometimes as much as a week) to tweak textures and items
to make it balanced and pretty. Then the boss hated it so
we made a new one :)
The editor (DoomEd) was a breeze, other
than the fact it had no side view, and aligning textures was
a pain. It ran on our "power machine" of the time, a 486sx
running on NextStep. Zoom.
What did it feel like to create all
the maps of a whole game alone?
I never did that, but I did touch every
map that went out. I think I ended up making a bit more than
half the maps for the original 3 episodes, and thankfully
Eric Biessman got hired and he cranked out a bazillion maps
for the SotSR add-on. But I can say that FIXING all the maps
for an entire game, especially ones done in a hurry by someone
else, is, well, "not fun". Except of course that I got to
add little secret rooms and traps to their maps and move weapons
for deathmatch, so when we played the "builder's edge" suddenly
shifted to me :) (or as someone one said, "Now I am the master!").
The original Heretic had a secret
map at E4M1. Who did create this map, what was the reason
for it, why hasn't the map been finished, and what name would
you've given it if you'd have had to?
It was supposed to be a deathmatch-only
map, I think it was patterned off a Doom DM map (built by
American McGee I think). There were so many versions of Heretic
put out (freeware, shareware, retail, add-on) that I think
it got lost in there somewhere. I don't think I ever thought
of a name for it.
If you could go back and redo your
work on the project, would there be something you'd do different?
I'd push to have a lot more maps, and
make the retail version include about 8 episodes. We dumped
what I thought were some good maps (especially DM maps) because
we didn't have space on the floppies... Also I'd spend more
time on the bosses. Like several of our games I felt more
had gone into the sub-bosses (I loved the Maulotaurs!) than
the main boss, because the main boss always gets done last
when there's no time to do it right.
Thank you for your time.
No thanks necessary, just send scotch ;)
Go to the
followup insider interview about Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders