Felix Drott, coordinator of BloodLines
BOB: The BloodLines TC has been a long time under way....
FELIX: Yeah, since the beginning of 1997.
BOB: But Blood wasnt even out then?
FELIX: Well no, but the Build games that followed Duke Nukem 3D got massive attention. Blood had a devoted following from the moment Monolith launched the Blood website.
BOB: So you actually started coming up with ideas before Blood was out?
FELIX: Yes, we had the first three episodes of the TC plotted out fully before the full version of the game came out. Of course we had to scrap a few ideas, because they were in the original game, but for some levels, we decided that we could do it if not better, then at least different from the original maps.
BOB: I understand. Im sure that what attracted people to the game was the horror theme, which at the time really hadnt been done before within the genre of first person shooters.
FELIX: Well, Doom had horror elements...
BOB: Surely. But The Doom games had strong science fiction elements too...
BOB: So to rephrase my question, Blood was the first 3D game to feature real gothic horror...
FELIX: ...of course theres also Nitemare 3D and Psygnosis made an adaption of Bram Stokers Dracula as a 3D shooter.
BOB: Will you let me get to the point?
BOB: What I wanted to ask was, what attracted you to make a TC for Blood, months before you had actually played the game?
FELIX: I was very impressed by the Build engine in Duke Nukem, first of all. And the building tools were so easy to use. I had started making a small conversion for Duke 3D called "Duke Noir", inspired by movies like Se7en, The Usual Suspects and dozens of older thrillers and horror films, but honestly, I was very inexperienced with the build engine, and Im happy that I didnt go any further with those maps, they would have been terrible. But I had a list of ideas, a long list, for maps, monsters and....
BOB: Hold on for a second! If you didnt have any building experience, why did you decide to start a TC group?
FELIX: Eh, you got that wrong. I DIDNT start the TC group. A guy called Mike Misamore did.
BOB: But you ARE the coordinator, right?
FELIX: Yes, now. But when I joined the team back in February 1997, it was as an idea person, an artist and perhaps as a mapper. It wasnt until later, when Mike Misamore decided to cancel the TC that I and a few other team members picked up the pieces (after all, we had spent months coming up with ideas, discussing back and forth).
BOB: Why did he cancel the project?
FELIX: Im not sure really. Perhaps Blood just didnt turn out to be what he expected, perhaps he just wasnt dedicated enough. He was very young, 13 I think. Kids change their minds often.
BOB: Are you still in contact with him?
FELIX: No, not at all. I dont even remember if he replied to the mails I sent him when I became the coordinator/webmaster.
BOB: If hes reading this, is there anything youd like to say to him?
FELIX: Nothing that should be said in public... Nah, just kidding. What I would like to say is this: I understand why he quit the team, being a coordinator is hard work, I know that now. But I hope hes learned that its childish to want to break your toys so that no one else can play with them.
BOB: You say you understand why he quit the team, have you considered doing the same?
FELIX: Eh, I think were talking a bit too much about me...
BOB: [laughs] Is it getting too personal?
FELIX: No, Id be happy to answer the question. Yes, I have considered quitting the team, but decided not to. Too much work has been put into this to simply drop it all now. But what I mean is, there are so many other people on our team, I think we should...
BOB: But you ARE the one being interviewed.
FELIX: True. But still...
BOB: So who else is on the team?
FELIX: One of the mappers who have made the biggest contribution to the TC is Hades. He has made four maps, and contributed to a couple of others. He has a great feeling for creepy gothic buildings. His asylum map is the BloodLines demo map, which is also the first level in the TC...
BOB: Theres been some accusations about the Asylum map being a rip-off of the madhouse in Redneck Rampage. Do you have any comments about that?
FELIX: Yeah, I have Bob [laughs] I have some comments on that. First of all, the idea for the asylum, I came up with that. WAY before Redneck Rampage came out. Actually I was surprised there wasnt an insane asylum in the original Blood, especially considering all the Lovecraft references. I know they were supposed to have an asylum map in Cryptic Passage, but it was removed because they thought it was too close to the hospital map in Blood. Also it seemed natural, even though we didnt know the ending of Blood when we started out, that the player character would have spent time in a padded cell after the happenings in Blood [laughs].
BOB: The accusations are not just about the idea of a madhouse map. Ive heard rumors that huge parts of it have been copied/pasted from Redneck Rampage. What do you have to say about that?
FELIX: You know, I feel like Quentin Tarantino defending himself against the accusations of having ripped off Reservoir Dogs from Ringo Lams City on Fire [laughs]. No, seriously, that is not true. The map has been built from scratch. The reason that some people think they look the same, is that weve borrowed some textures from Redneck. The padded wall texture and the texture for the hallway walls are the same. So I understand that people find them similar. Also, there are only so many ways you can build an asylum. I mean, there are cells and there are hallways. And if those cells and those hallways use textures from another game, sure, there are bound to be locations that look pretty much the same. But if you look at the structures of the two maps, they are totally different. Compare them in Build and Mapedit, and youll see how different they are.
BOB: Thanks for clearing that up. Returning to the topic, which other team members might we know?
FELIX: When we started out, jAsOn and Lobo, were part of the team. They have made some horror themed maps for Duke3D, among them the 3-level episode called 666. Those boys have really sick minds. I love them [laughs]. Sadly, they left the team because they didnt have the time, but they came up with a lot of great ideas and sketched out the first two episode outlines. jAsOn started a map called Caleb in Wonderland, which Hades is now completing for him.
BOB: Who else?
FELIX: Reactor and Headhunter, the brothers behind the Gods addon for Blood and Gods 2 for Blood 2, has made an exceptional airport map. I havent seen a construction like that in any build game. Its amazing. I have no idea how they work on it. They have three sectors above eachother, and they all fill up the whole board in MapEdit. And the design of the map is just mindblowing. It feels like a real, very big, airport.
BOB: Reactor is also webmaster on PlanetBlood I believe?
FELIX: Yeah, I think so, yeah thats right. Oh yeah, I was about to forget about Matt. Matt Mann, hes finished two maps and is working on two others now. Hes a really good mapper, and he has a great eye for detail.
BOB: Has he made anything else we might have played?
FELIX: No, I dont think so. To be honest I dont remember. I think he was working on a Duke TC which was cancelled.
BOB: I see.
FELIX: He is really cool, because he knows exactly what he wants to do, but hes still very open to other peoples ideas. Thats a really great quality to have as a mapper. Some people have no idea what they want and base their maps totally on other peoples advice, and others, like myself, have trouble taking advice, we want to do things our own way, because we think were always right [laughs]. But Matt has that sense of direction, which allows him to listen to people and then sort out the stuff he knows doesnt belong in the map, and add the stuff which seems right.
BOB: Now, you are yourself one of the main mappers for the TC, right?
FELIX: Yeah, Im working on a handful of maps. Plus Ive done some artwork, including the new enemies.
BOB: Well get back to those... But as a mapper, what are your considerations when building a level?
FELIX: Theme and style, first of all. The first thing I do is usually building a single room, which captures the mood and setting of the map. Its not always that I actually use this section in the finished maps, but it helps me define what I want to do. Something as simple as the choice of textures and colors can change your perception of the whole map a lot. Or sometimes, if the map is based on a technical effect rather than a setting (such as "real time clock counts down while player rushes to deactivate bombs"), I construct the mechanics first, to see if it will work at all. If it doesnt work, theres no reason to continue building the map.
BOB: But when youve done this first room or effect, do you go back to sketching the map on paper?
FELIX: Usually, no. I sit down and brainstorm, and come up with ideas that match the setting of the map. Perhaps I sketch something, if I feel its easier to describe it in a drawing than in writing. Then I group the ideas together, structuring them on a time-line. Even though the game is basically non-linear, its possible to set the pace, to spread out the action sequences and build up to a climax. I also note if there are any alternate routes for the player to go, and if so, how they differ in content from the primary route.
BOB: You dont draw the map?
FELIX: Not normally, no. I usually go right into building. I feel that I work best when the map is allowed to grow organically rather than being locked down from the beginning. No matter how you work, new ideas will come to you as you build, and its easier to change something this way, because theres no plan for it to upset. Also, its much easier to look at something and determining if the size in right in 3D than it is in a 2D map, because what works in a map, usually doesnt work too well in 3D view.
BOB: Could you give an example?
FELIX: Well, Im building a map taking place in the high-rise offices of a publishing company. I wanted the building to look REALLY tall from the outside. The problem was that a computer screen is horizontal, and although you can look up and down in Blood, you can only do it in a very limited angle of 45 degrees or so. So what I had to do was to make the building very slender instead. Its perhaps only about a fifth of the width of a real building of that type, but it looks right, and thats what matters. Of course, the problem is that the inside of the building is actually much bigger than the outside, which is quite a paradox. You dont notice it when you play the map, but Im sure that some builders would consider it bad map design.
BOB: Im sure they would [laughter].
FELIX: But its not much unlike filmmaking. The exterior is shot outside one building, the interior is shot in another building, or perhaps even in a studio. All that matters is that it works when you play the map.
BOB: Now, you mentioned a corporate highrise building. That seems more like something out of Blood 2, rather than the return to the gothic world of Blood, which Im sure many of your fans are hoping for?
FELIX: In my opinion, the failure of Blood 2 wasnt really in the setting as such. I agree that some of the futuristic aspects felt wrong, that some of the research facilities etc. seemed more like something out of Sin, but the large problem with Blood 2 is a total lack of purpose, which killed the atmosphere. They have some great settings. I mean, the gothic train station was way more spooky than the one in Blood, but when the "plot" consist of running from point A to point B while killing enormous amounts of cultists, you might as well be in any other setting. That is in my opinion what made Blood great (and later as game like HalfLife), because the things you had to do were related to the setting. You need to make the setting part of the game, not just a background for repetitive action and keyhunting. Of course it didnt help Blood 2 either that it had a couple of subway trains too many [laughs].
BOB: So there are no subway trains in BloodLines? [laughter]
FELIX: Actually there are two. One you can ride and one you can only see from the outside. But if we had new Caleb speech, I would probably have him comment something like "Oh no, not another subway". [laughs]. Did I answer the question by the way, about returning to the style of the first Blood game?
BOB: Well, if you could elaborate...
FELIX: BloodLines has four episodes, each one having its own theme and style. The first one takes place in the real world, where Caleb escapes from a mental hospital, where he has been locked up for the last 60 years or so. The setting is very similar to the original Blood maps, which I guess were supposed to take place in the 30s (although I dont think they had shopping malls back then), but more contemporary. There are modern cars, phones, tvs and computers, but the buildings are mostly old and rotting. We were much inspired by the gritty style of Se7en. At the end of the episode you go to Kingsport (a coastal town known to Lovecraft readers) which is more old fashioned. The second episode takes place in the Dreamlands, which allows for a much freedom in level design. Its a setting based on the collective unconscious of dreaming people, so its based on the art and fiction of our culture. Its a very unique setting. I dont recall seeing anything like it since playing an old game called Weird Dreams on the Amiga.
BOB: Yes, I remember that game. Very surreal and weird.
FELIX: Exactly. The third episode takes place in the border area between life and death.
BOB: Sounds like something out of Shadowman.
FELIX: Yes, the original concept was very much like that, although we had the ideas years before Shadowman came out. The maps are places related to death, morgues, crime scenes, accident sites, warzones and death row. The idea was that each of these locations shows a side of the phenomenon called Death. Originally I would like to have had a concetration camp in there too, but decided it was it bad taste. Im sure it would have been a very powerful experience though. The episode is a journy through these dark shadowlands towards the Necropolis, a city of bones. This episode is probably the one most similar to the original Blood, because the levels are more gothic.
BOB: And the fourth episode?
FELIX: The last one returns you to reality, but the world is coming to an end. Buildings are in ruins, others are burning, an epidemic is raging. Id rather not reveal too much about the last episode plot.
BOB: I understand. Do each of these episodes have new monsters unique to the settings?
FELIX: That was the original idea, but when Blood came out, and we discovered there was no way to change the AI, we decided not to. We have two new enemies, but they are only new graphics and sounds, they act the same as the ones they are replacing. Although they FEEL very new. Ive been testing our maps with the new enemies for a long time now, and it feel very weird when I once in a while play the original Blood and see the old enemies. But I guess that means that the new ones fit the game so well that you forget that they werent in there from the start.
BOB: And the new enemies are the Mad Businessman...
FELIX: Yes, a businessman gone insane, attacking you with a letter opener [laughter]
BOB: And what else?
FELIX: I dont know if I should reveal this. I can say that it replaces the bat. I always hated the bat, because it was so small that I rarely noticed it, it didnt seem threatening at all. So we made something a bit bigger.
BOB: A big bat?
FELIX: [laugh] No.
BOB: Are there any plans to add more?
FELIX: Not really. For a long while I wanted to make these creatures called The Linewalkers for the second episode, but I dont think Ill get the time. They would be VERY creepy though. Like dark shadows moving around. Im not sure which monster they would replace. Probably the Gill Beast or perhaps the Bloated Butcher.
BOB: I know that you for a while considered changing the cultist?
FELIX: Who told you that? Yes its true. For a long while I wanted to change the monks into members of the Cult of the Pallid Mask. They were supposed to wear blood red suits, dark trenchcoats and white face masks and shooting with a gun in each hand.
BOB: Hong Kong style.
FELIX: Yeah [laughter].
BOB: So what made you change your mind?
FELIX: Well, that was around the time Blood 2 came out, which, as you know, did have cultists wearing suits. But people hated it, they wanted the monks back. So Monolith put monks in the Nightmare Levels addon. I figured that I didnt want to suffer the wrath of the Blood community by changing the monks [laughs].
BOB: But I sense that you personally prefer the new cultists?
FELIX: I admit, I wasnt a big fan of the monks, but they grow on you [laughs]. Ive even made a logo for a basketball team called The Monks to decorate the gym in my school map. Thinking about it, the hardest thing would probably have been to replace the cultist speech. So Im glad we didnt.
THE BIG QUESTION
BOB: I understand that you are trying to wrap up the TC now, cutting some corners, just trying to finish things up?
FELIX: Things have been moving slowly for the last year or so, because weve lost so many active members. Some have started in college, which means no time for map editing, others are working, while a few have begun working as professional mappers. Right now it seems that only Matt and I are working on our maps regularly, so not much is getting done.
BOB: How much is finished?
FELIX: 9 maps are 100% finished. That means no more testing, no more changes. 6 are about 80% finished, and 4 or 5 more are barely 50% done. These last 5 will probably remain unfinished, and later released as such, for people to explore and get inspired by, although they cant really be played.
BOB: What about cutscenes?
FELIX: At least 3 or 4 cutscenes will be in the game. An intro, and ending and one or two to explain whats going on in the plot. I cant say how elaborate they will be. Perhaps some images will be replaced by text, and I doubt that we will waste space with animation, although it could be done. They will be done in a graphic novel style, similar to some of the scenes in Gabriel Knight 1.
BOB: I probably shouldnt ask, but when do you plan to release the TC?
FELIX: When its done [laughs].
BOB: I knew youd say that [laughter].
FELIX: Well, thats the standard answer in the gaming world, isnt it?
BOB: [laughs] I know, this is a bit off topic, but its the last question on my list: How has it been being the coordinator of a TC, and would you consider doing it again?
FELIX: Its been terribly. At least for the first few years, when people were actually working on the project, and you felt that you were responsible for keeping them enthusiastic about spending their free time on this without getting paid [laughs]. And no, I wouldnt do it again, because only a few very unique people can feel commitment to something theyre not getting paid for. So few people can keep devoted to something for a very long time. Also, I feel that the genre of 1st person shooters is dying out. Its all turning into multiplayer games. And the genre as such lacks interactivity. I mean, I love HalfLife in single player, but its still based too much on action and combat. I think that 3d games are the future, but it must go beyond shooting and killing.
BOB: So what would you like to do next, if not a 3d shooter?
FELIX: Id like to write an adventure game, taking place in a 3d world, but with puzzles. I have an idea for a horror game in the style of Gabriel Knight set in Los Angeles, exploring the dark side of the movie business and of the film medium itself.
BOB: Sounds interesting. You have a title for it yet?
FELIX: Not really, Im calling it "Sunset by Night", but thats not the real title though. But I have a tag-line: "The Devils afoot in the City of Angels" [laughs].
BOB: Well, good luck with it. Thank you so very much for giving this interview.
FELIX: Thanks. And youre welcome. I hope weve answered some of the questions people have about the TC.