October 28, 2021

Profile: Retro Interview: Steve Rescoe

ION Storm designer Steve Rescoe answers great questions from webmaster and mapper Matt Sefton. Rescoe discusses his past and his editing. He also expands on his design style and on the ingredients necessary for a great single player level. He also lists a his favourite levels, designers, and monsters.

Andrew “Kolinahr” Wu

By Matt Sefton / PlanetQuake

Steve brought us the awesome Village of Dread, Liquid Despair and Drakopf levels and is a prolific map designer. Here’s the deal…

Tell us a bit about yourself (like how old you are, where you live, what you do in the ‘real’ world :)

Well, I don’t remember exactly, somewhere around 30. I live in Oregon, in a house in a small town near a forest. In the real world, I make a living as a T-shirt designer and silkscreener (most of the time). I also do illustrations, portraits, oil paintings, etc. My hobbies are playing guitar, collecting and reading science fiction, comic books, drawing my own comics, building animal skeletons, and of course playing and creating levels for Quake.

Did you edit Doom levels before Quake? If so, which levels did you design?

I did make some Doom levels, mainly as practice until Quake and editors for Quake came out. I made a level called ‘Adolf’ which has a new monster that is a big floating Hitler head and also some new textures. I made a 3-level episode called ‘Skyewood’ with lots of new textures, a new dragon monster, and also a rather amusing explodable toad. I also created a separate new monster patch called ‘Sockmonkey on a Lime tricycle’. (Matt is rendered speechless :)

How difficult did you find it to learn Quake editing?

Learning Quake editing was very difficult at first. I started with a very early version of QuakeStudio, and a lot of trial and error. The Quake Map Specs helped a lot; I sure didn’t know what the hell ‘brushes’ and ‘entities’ were before reading that.

What was the most difficult aspect of it?

The most difficult thing was trying to learn about something that nobody really knew much about. And the editors coming out weren’t finished. To learn Doom editing, I had this huge book, ‘3d Game Alchemy’, with step-by-step instructions and a CD full of editors.

How much time do you spend editing a week?

When I’m not working, I’ll spend as much as 8-12 hours a day building a level. Sometimes 8-12 hours a day for days in a row. I’ll forget to eat, what day it is, etc. I tend to get completely immersed in it (can you tell?).

Which Quake editor do you use?

I use Quest v1.081. I’ve tried others like Thred, Worldcraft, Quma, QuakeStudio, but just didn’t like them as much.

What do you think are its best features?

One of the things I like is using the keyboard and mouse to move around in the 3d view and move vertices. I usually keep it on the fullscreen 3d view, and occasionally toggle it to 2d to be accurate. I don’t know, Quest just seems faster and easier to use to me. Probably just personal preference, plus I’ve spent 100’s of hours using it.

What features do you think would improve it?

Unfortunately, the creators of Quest aren’t going to be developing it any further than v1.1. I would have liked to have seen brushface texture rotation implemented; also some more entities like misc_explobox, fireball, trap_shooter, etc., all of which I still have to type into the .map file. Every once in a while, I plan on trying newer versions of Thred, Worldcraft, etc. to see if I might want to use one of them instead. For now I’m staying with Quest, despite its minor flaws.

How do you come up with ideas for your levels? Do you plan or sketch them in advance?

I get a lot of my level ideas from dreams or when I’m still half awake trying to sleep. Sometimes I’ll catch a glimpse of a really interesting space or bit of architecture in a movie on TV, and that will give me an idea. Mostly my levels start with me wanting to ‘really’ be in some place that was just a picture in my mind, and then trying to create it in Quake. First I make some ‘3d’ sketches and then a general 2d map of the level. Once I start building, I always get more and often different ideas. The finished level is never the same as what I started with. Drakopf, for example, was going to be an enormous dragon skeleton that you could climb around on. After I’ve built about 80-90% of a level, then I start putting in the monsters, weapons, health, etc., and start playtesting. This always gives me ideas for new areas and models (triggers, teleports, keyed doors). I always spend at least a week or two playtesting and adjusting things after it’s ‘done’. I’m somewhat of a perfectionist, and it drives me crazy when I find some flaw in the level AFTER I upload the thing!

What do you think are the ingredients to make a great Single Player level?

For me, a great single player level should be: It has to look good, interesting architecture, carefully thought-out lighting, no ugly texture mismatches, stick to one general look or theme, have places in it that are interesting to explore, and area proportions should feel right. Playing; There should be a variety of kinds of monster attacks, just enough health and ammo, and several different ways to beat the level. You shouldn’t be able to exit until you kill off the monsters. I like it when I have to use strategy to win, like saving a particular weapon for when you really need it. So I guess that mainly the level has to look beautiful, and be enormously FUN to play.

What is your favourite id map (or maps) in registered Quake?

My favourite registered Quake maps:
Tim Willits’ Underearth, Necropolis, Wind Tunnels
John Romero’s Ogre Citadel, Crypt of Decay, Wizards’ Manse
Sandy Peterson’s Elder God Shrine, Palace of Hate
American McGee’s Ziggurat Vertigo
Hard to pick _a_ favourite; I pretty much think they’re all great levels. The first time I played Ziggurat I was really blown away. I’ve never experienced anything that so closely captures the mood of being in a dream.

What is your favourite user created map (or maps)?

Hard to say what my favourite user maps are; I haven’t played them all yet. And the ones I have tried all have flaws except maybe Arma2. I really like Jim Lowell’s Deso and Critters a lot; some areas could have used slight play improvement. I tried the Fearcastle a lot of people have raved about, and though I think it looks great, it doesn’t play too well at all. Place of Belonging plays great, but the size proportion of most of the level doesn’t feel right at all – way too cramped.

What is your favourite monster :) ?

My favourite monster is definitely the Ogre. I just get a huge kick out of those guys with their leather aprons and the way they sit down really hard and growl when you shoot them. Plus the combination of grenades and chainsaw is great.

What is your least favourite monster :) ?

Least favourite is that incredibly annoying tar baby. If I don’t shoot them right away, they always get right in my face. Arrrh!

What advice would you give to people wanting to build their own Quake levels?

Advice for people wanting to build their own Quake levels: study id’s very closely; they really know what they’re doing. Reading the QuakeMapSpecs is very useful. Build several practice levels and get some experience before you upload something. Do lots of playtesting and fix every flaw you can find as well. Ask lots of questions on things you don’t know; some people can be amazingly helpful.

What are the worst and/or most common errors you have come across while playing user created maps?

Some of the common errors I’ve seen in user maps: areas with way too many monsters, no cover, and not enough ammo. Maps with no sense of direction or progress towards the exit. ‘Single player’ maps that are DM maps with some monsters casually tossed in. Maps where the lighting isn’t well thought out, just a few really bright ones and hardly any shadows. Places in maps where you get stuck and have to start the game over. Bad texture placements like floor textures as doors, tech textures mixed with medieval style textures, etc.

Who is your favourite id level designer (hint: you can choose people who have left the company :)?

Favourite id designer: I can’t really say, I think they’re all great, just slightly differing styles, all of which I like.

Where do you go on the internet for Quake editing help and information and Quake news in general?

For help I usually go to Stomped and just surf around looking for information. I’ve also posted questions in the Compuserve action quake forum and in the rec.games.computer.quake.editing news site.

How did you publicise the release of your last level?

I don’t really publicise a release of any of my levels. I’m going to start my own web page soon and use that. Sometimes I put a screenshot of an upcoming level in the Compuserve action quake forum.

Did you get a lot of e-mail response?

I got a lot of email on both my Drakopf and my Village of Dread levels (2-6 a day for a week or two). I love it! It really gives me a thrill to know that people aren’t just playing them, they’re enjoying them enough to write me about it too. Really keeps me motivated. I got a few emails on my Museum level. Hardly any on my Liquid Despair level, which seems odd because most review lists I’ve seen put it above my other ones.

Finally, what features would you like to see in Quake 2?

Some features I’d like to see in Quake2 would be new monsters (hopefully they will get the dragon to work right), doors that rotate open, more episodes than Quake1. I’d really like it if there were less limitations on the size of addon levels, number of polygons in view problems, etc. It’d be great if I could really build anything I can imagine and not be so restricted. I’ll probably just have to wait for the next generation of 3d games and computers!

Steve, thanks for your time!

Interview © Matt Sefton and Steve Rescoe, 1997.

Microphone cover photo by Alex Cole on Unsplash

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