John W Anderson

March 16, 1999 on

A = John W Anderson aka Dr. Sleep (level designer – Finished five assigned levels for Kingpin. I designed the last episode, “Crystal Palace,” where the final showdown with the Kingpin was to take place. Responsible for design of architecture, lighting, texture mapping, entity placement, and scripting scenarios.)
Q = Dominic Drane of Reality Debug Software

Q: Tell us about yourself.
A: I’m 42, I collect and read a lot of books, and I don’t do much else in my spare time. I haven’t been to a bar in 10 years, so I don’t know any new jokes.

Q: Do you think that the violence levels in King Pin will be accepted?
A: KingPin’s violence level will be embraced by gamers because it’s more realistic - and I know it’s what people have been begging for the past couple of years. The violence will be condemned by the usual watchdog groups for the same reasons.

Q: Games like Caramageddon find it difficult to be released, how will King Pin convince the board that it is a violent game, whilst being acceptable politically?
A: KingPin is about gangsters, so the violence is appropriate in that milieu, and in that sense non-gratuitous. You’re killing people who are trying to kill you. Running down innocent bystanders with your car, on the other hand, is great fun (and I love the idea of it, frankly), but it’s gratuitous by nature. And of course, that’s the point, I think. What’s acceptable to people should be judged by the people who buy the games. If they don’t approve, then they shouldn’t buy it. I don’t believe that violence in movies, books, or games turns normal, non-violent, well-adjusted people into homicidal maniacs. I do believe that the amount of violence one is exposed to can lead to desensitisation, but I think our society reached the saturation point long ago, beginning with the reports and pictures coming out of Vietnam in the late 60s and early 70s. Too much of anything can be bad, whether it be gangsters, politicians, or teletubbies.

Q: What do you think of games like GTA, Carmageddon and Postal?
A: I haven’t played any of these games, but I’ve read about them and talked to others who’ve played them. I totally support the idea of these games. Whether they’re great games or not is something I’m not qualified to comment on. But I think the sensibility behind them is refreshing. They sound like fun, and if I had more free time, I’m sure I’d be playing them. Seems to me that they’re supposed to be fun and funny. They’re probably also a little sick, but so is the humour in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I don’t believe that any of the folks who made these games are condoning anyone’s going out and actually killing people.

Q: What movies, if any, have inspired you on making King Pin levels? If so, was Seven one of them?
A: The biggest film influences for me in designing KingPin levels are BRAZIL and METROPOLIS. I’ve also snitched from DARK CITY, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, BLADE, CITIZEN KANE, RICHARD III, BLADERUNNER, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, and BATMAN. I like SEVEN, but there’s nothing in it for me to use, that I can recall.

Q: Do you prefer working on Urban Gothic architecture levels or the more colourful Dakatana levels?
A: Doing the Greek levels for Daikatana let me get away with making up a lot of stuff and taking a great many architectural and lighting liberties. Doing real-world architecture is much more difficult, especially if you’re trying to convey height. You can’t just build a 50-storey skyscraper with the Quake engine. It doesn’t like it. The clipping plane won’t allow it. On top of that, we’ve only got around 800 polys to work with. Alex and Mal have done Skid Row and Poisonville with all these nicely detailed rooms and warehouses, and never go over 400 polys. Me, I build a box with nothing in it and I’m already over a thousand.

I find it much more challenging doing the neo-Gothic stuff, but I’m having a great deal of fun with it now, too. I think I’ve become a better level designer since I’ve been at Xatrix, because I’ve had to create stuff that was totally different from anything I’d done before.

Q: Is the atmosphere noticeably different at Xatrix, compared to Ion-Storm?
A: The atmosphere at Xatrix is certainly more focused than what I’m used to, which is a good thing. Drew also provides us with more snacks and soda. But the best thing is that I don’t have to take three elevators down 54 floors to go have a cigarette. I’m on the ground floor and the back door is 20 feet away. Elevators are bad for your health, you know.

Q: How do you think King-Pin will fair against half-life, Quake 3 Arena, Dakataina and Duke 4 Ever?
A: Half-Life is the greatest shooter ever made. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best game I’ve ever played, period. A lot of developers will try to copy it, but I think KingPin is a different sort of game. Quake 3 Arena is deathmatch only, so there’s no comparison. Daikatana is doing something different, with tons of monsters and weapons, and I think it will be cool. I don’t know much about Duke 4 Ever except for the one screen shot I’ve seen. KingPin is probably closer to Half-Life than any of the other three, but I think we’re pushing the envelope in different areas than are the other games. I mean, they’re all doing or did something new - and so will KingPin. I think this will be Xatrix’s biggest hit ever. I will say that the pre-game hype isn’t worrying us, because so much of the game is finished, and it’s not as though there are a bunch of empty promises left for us to fulfill. There is still a lot of hard work ahead, but we know our schedule and we’ve been sticking to it.

I think the 3D first person shooter is still very much alive, and KingPin - along with these other games - will appeal to gamers of every stripe and find a very large niche in the marketplace.

Q: Do you like “Tim Burton” movies, if so for their surreal content or gothic architecture?
A: I’m a huge Tim Burton fan: FRANKENWEENIE, PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, and ED WOOD are four of my favorite films. I also like BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS. And BEETLEJUICE. And NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Okay, yeah, I like ALL of his movies except for MARS ATTACKS, which was still okay. I like his films for their dark, brooding quality, which is due to both the surreal content and gothic architecture. I’m anxiously awaiting his next film: THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW.

Q: What modifications have been made to the Quake 2 engine?
A: An awful lot. I’m not really qualified (or at liberty) to go into detail, but if you’ve seen the screenshots, you can see that KingPin looks very different from other Quake games.

Q: Do you think “curved surfaces”, will change the number of “quality” levels?
A: Everyone wants curved surfaces, but I don’t believe that such a feature will make anyone a better level designer. I imagine that curved surfaces will present its own problems, and like anything else in level design will not all-by-itself make a bad map good. Curves will certainly let us do cooler stuff. I don’t know much about the engine limits in Quake III, so we’ll have to see. The screenshots I’ve seen have certainly been impressive.

Q: What music do you like?
A: The Beatles, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, Natalie Merchant, Enya, Yes, Genesis, Tangerine Dream, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Cat Stephens, Joni Mitchell…

Q: Do you have a social life? (no offence)
A: Well, it’s not real social, but I enjoy going to bookstores. The nice thing about Los Angeles is that there are a lot of author signings here, so I’ve been able to meet quite a few writers whom I admire. Especially thrilling was meeting Ray Bradbury a month or so ago. He was absolutely fascinating and must have spun about 15 different stories about books, authors, movies, and the like - all while he signed the box of books I brought. Also met Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time), but he was awful grumpy.

I’m also a huge film fan, but I see more stuff on video these days than at theaters.

FREDZ | Monday 15 October 2018 - 23:13
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