Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wolfer Q&A: Majik Monkee

Name: Matt Merrill

Location: Lincoln, Nebraska

Wolf 3d Nickname: Majik Monkee

Website: Monkees Switchboard

Website: Monkees Image World

Q. Where did your nickname come from and why did you choose it?

A. Well, back in 1994 when I was in college, my girlfriend at the time happened to discover one of the very first “chat rooms”, which for us, was nothing more than green text on a black screen on old computers that didn’t even use a mouse or Windows yet. I eventually decided to see what all the fuss was about and tried to find a username that hadn’t been taken yet but was having no luck. I decided to try misspelled words, and I was a big Red Hot Chili Peppers fan at the time. I remembered they had a weird spelling of the word “magic” on one of their albums at the time, so I came up with “majik” (they actually spelled it “magik”). I’ve always found monkeys amusing for reasons I can’t quite explain, and when I was looking for another “m” word to finish out my nickname, “monkey” was the obvious choice, although I once again chose a different spelling. People used to always ask me if I was a fan of the Monkees, which I’m not, or if I was a fan of the show “Monkey Magic”, which I’d never heard of prior to creating my nickname.

Q. When did you first play Wolfenstein 3d?

A. I believe that was back in 1993, my Freshman year in college. One of my friends had the game on his computer, and he was trying to describe it to me before I’d actually seen it. He told me you controlled a gun “floating around on the screen” shooting enemies, which honestly, sounded pretty stupid. I’d seen some old 3D maze type games before, but never a FPS, so I couldn’t grasp what he was trying to describe. I did eventually wind up playing it during a visit to his dorm room, and it seemed pretty revolutionary at the time. In fact, I think I actually played through the whole shareware version at one sitting.

The main things I remember are my surprise the first time I encountered Hans Grosse (for some reason, I didn’t think 3D games would have bosses), and pressing multiple keys on the keyboard at the same time trying to figure out what the ILM code was (my friend remembered there was a code that gave you everything, but had no idea what it was). The first time I played anything other than the shareware version was when the SNES version came out a few years later, and unfortunately, I didn’t realize the massive difference between it and the actual full version (which, thankfully, I did eventually get my hands on).

Q. How did you come to be a part of the Wolfenstein 3d Community?

A. That’s kind of a strange story, actually. I used to write reviews for console and PC games over at Gamefaqs, and enjoyed reading reviews others had written, especially scathing reviews. After reading a review for the NES game, Raid 2020, which claimed to be the worst game ever, I became curious about and decided to go outside Gamefaqs to learn more. I came across a blog called Encyclopedia Obscura, which was devoted to writing very lengthy, critical reviews of video games (among other things), and they had a very amusing review of Raid 2020. I eventually became hooked on the Encyclopedia Obscura site, to the point where I contacted the author and asked if he needed any contributors to his site, directing him to take a look at some of my own previous work. He actually accepted my offer, and requested I find something to write about and let him know what I’d be doing. Somehow, during my Google search for “crap games”, I came across the official site for Spear Resurrection. It had been a long time since I’d played Wolfenstein, and I had no idea people were still doing anything with the game. When I read the description of the game and realized it featured clones made of “human waste”, I was convinced I’d truly found a “crap game” to pick on. I decided I would do a piece for the blog about how insane it was people were modding such an old game, while poking fun at some of the “stranger” aspects of Spear Resurrection. Well, before I could do a proper review, I had to play the game first to prove it was as bad as I thought it was, and that’s when things actually turned around. Like most people, I was blown away by what Spear Resurrection had to offer, went on to be likewise impressed with Wolfendoom, and eventually found the Diehard Wolfers forum and Wolfenstein 3D Dome during my efforts to find more mods. I just couldn’t get enough of them.

Q. What is the best part about being involved in the Wolf 3d Community?

A. Half the fun of experiencing a great game (or anything that interests me for that matter) is having someone to share your experience with. No offense to my wife, but she cares very little about Wolfenstein, and very few of my real life friends (aside from my Brother) are really dedicated Wolfenstein fans. Without the gang at Diehard Wolfers, I’d be missing out on info about upcoming mods, feedback on mods I’ve released, and most importantly, a lot of great interactions I’ve had with a lot of really great people there over the years. I’d like to think I’d have still made mods without access to an active Wolfenstein Community, but the truth of the matter is, when I first discovered Wolfedit long before the internet was a big deal, I had very little motivation to do any editing or modding.

Q. You’ve released many popular mods, how much planning and development goes into each mod?

A. That varies a little from mod to mod, but for the most part, a whole lot of thought and planning goes into them before work actually begins. It usually starts with just a very general idea of what I’d like the mod to be about, and the first thing I’ll usually establish is the cast of enemies for the new mod (as an artist primarily, character design and selection is the most enjoyable part for me). Next comes the story, which will usually go through several revisions before I find a version I’m happy with, because without a good story, mods tend to feel very empty or pointless to me (I’m embarrassed to say that I download and play very few mods that have no story attached to them, I have to feel like I’m doing something meaningful when I play a mod). After the cast and story are settle upon, depending on the size and scope of the mod, completing the remaining elements usually takes anywhere from several weeks to several months. The Mutant Strike games generally took a few weeks to finish, while Operation: Letzterschutz and Halls of Stonehenge took several months to complete because of the increased level count and complexity of the code requests. I’m a very picky person when it comes to my mods, though, I don’t like releasing anything I’m not totally happy with, and sometimes that can delay the release of a mod when I’m nitpicking over the details of an already finished product.

Q. You have had a long standing collaboration with ack, what has it been like working with him over the years and what impact have his maps had on your mods?

A. I started working with ack before I ever even realized how talented he is as a mapper. When I was extremely new to the Wolf community and was first posting my ideas for Halls of Stonehenge, he contacted me by PM and offered to do maps for the project. At the time, I just thought it was cool to have someone offer this kind of help unsolicited, I didn’t even realize just what kind of talent he was bringing to the project until I started getting the maps. He really helped HOS stand out as a mod, and I firmly believe it’s a much better mod because of his contributions than it would have been with just maps from me (I did the first two, last two normal maps, and then the Funhouse secret map, ack did all the rest). After the success of HOS, it was only natural that I’d want that level of quality map-wise in my mods, and he was always willing to contribute to projects when asked. The only mods he hasn’t contributed maps to were Operation: Hundscheisse and OMS3. Most folks are aware ack has done a lot of maps for me, but what they may not know is that he’s also given me a lot of feedback on mod stories, reviewed maps I’d done for some different projects, and even provided sprites for me to edit for my projects on occasion. It’s been awesome working with him, and it’s a little weird doing OMS3 without him on board, but I’m fortunate to have a very talented team of mappers still to make the project a great one.

Q. You are currently in the process of making ‘Operation: Mutant Strike 3’, will this be the last part in the series?

A. That depends on how you look at it I guess. Officially, I’d have to say yes. We went for years with the Mutant Strike series ending with part two, where Jill basically disappears at the end of the story, and I always felt like that was kind of a loose end somehow, and after the great reception O:MS2 received, I kind of started viewing O:MS as being a trilogy at some point. During my “dark period” where I did no modding and didn’t visit the forums for a couple years, I still felt this strange longing to return to the modding scene and make O:MS3, I just didn’t have a strong enough story or strong enough motivation with some of my real life challenges. The conclusion of O:MS3 will tie together with the conclusion of Halls of Stonehenge and medEvil, and will hopefully be a nice wrapup for those storylines.

I am, however, working on a “prequel” mod of sorts as sort of a “prize” for an O:MS trivia contest I plan on hosting, which will feature Jill battling dog soldiers similar to those featured in Operation: Hundscheisse. It won’t have “Mutant Strike” in the title, though, and the story will be pretty minimal, so it will be a fun addition hopefully, but not necessarily an integral part of O:MS history. If some other ambitious modder wants to pick up Jill’s story in the future in a way that does justice to the rest of the series, I won’t complain, but O:MS3 will most likely be the final actual O:MS instalment.

Q. Do you have plans to make any new mods after O:MS3?

A. At the moment, no, but never say never. Most of my focus lately has been on ways to improve O:MS3, I haven’t thought very far beyond that. I will most likely expand upon my most recently released mod, Big Time Gangsta, probably a few levels at a time. Right now, I suspect I’ll offer help to people with graphics or whatever else I can do to assist others with their mods, but the mod development and planning process takes a lot out of me, and at the moment, I’m trying to minimize my own commitments.

Q. Why did you choose to release your mod ‘Revenge of Poopdeck Willie’ under a pseudonym?

A. RPDW was what I would call an accidental success. When I made it, I was lampooning mods that borrow levels from other mods, and also mods that tend to have a ridiculous difficulty level. Also, if you read the endart text, you’ll notice an intentionally poorly written, rather ridiculous story that goes with the mod. My efforts to make an intentionally “bad” mod failed, though, because as I was putting it together, there were still elements of strategy and “fairness” at work in my item and enemy placement, to where the mod was still winnable with effort and strategic playing. I didn’t realize this though until I’d already released it under a false name, figuring people would think the mod was garbage, and not really wanting to be associated with a garbage mod. I’m actually kind of proud of RPDW now, and find myself playing it from time to time when I want a challenge and a laugh.

Q. Which of your mods are you most proud of, and why?

A. That’s a tough question. I love most of the mods I’ve made, all for different reasons. O:MS2 is one of my favourites, simply because I feel like it’s a really story-drive mod with a lot of great elements to it. I also really like medEvil because there were some really great features that were not really done before at the time that Adam Biser managed to incorporate, and again, medEvil had a pretty solid story. Probably my overall proudest achievement mod-wise though would have to be Operation: Letzterschutz. In terms of scope, it’s my largest mod to date, has the most variety in enemies, scenery, and scenarios, but still managed to capture the feel of the original Wolfenstein for the most part. It’s also the mod that has the largest total number of levels done by myself, and that’s a pretty big accomplishment for me, since mapping is the thing I have the most difficulty with. So yeah, O:L is my favourite if I had to pick just one.

Q. What has been the most rewarding thing that’s come from Wolf 3d and your mods?

A. Knowing that people are getting enjoyment out of something I’ve created (or helped create) is the number one reward for me. I’ve never cared about the fact that modding isn’t a paying hobby, if I know that even a couple of people are excited about and enjoying something I released, that’s the real payoff. It’s a little surreal how I sort of forgot about the mods that I did for the past several years, then one day decided to Google some of them by name, only to find them reviewed and available for download on a bunch of different sites I’ve never heard of before. That’s kind of fun, and I’ve made some friends by contacting the various owners of these different blogs to introduce myself and comment on their reviews.

Q. What are some of the important things you’ve learnt about mod making along the way and what is some advice you can pass along to help others with mod making?

A. Well, first of all, before you even start making a mod, know what it is you want to accomplish, and have a clear idea of what you want the final product to be, otherwise, you’re just working aimlessly. That being said, once you start your project, be open to outside criticism and suggestions, don’t take them to be some sort of a personal attack. I’ll admit I’ve had people criticize ideas or concepts of mine, and at first I resisted, only to eventually realize the suggestions had merit, and watch my mod vastly improve after implementing the suggested changes. Not every suggestion will be one that improves your project, over time, you just learn to recognize when someone is offering you good advice and filter out the other stuff. My last bit of advice about modding is to pace yourself. Working on projects can be fun, but if you try to do too much in too little time, you’re bound to burn out, and start associating Wolfenstein with work – and that’s bad!

Q. What are some of your favourite Wolf 3d mods that you’ve played, other than your own?

A. To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve played a mod, I’ve mostly been working on mod creation since my long absence from the community. However, I do still have very fond memories of several mods. Probably my all time favorite mod thus far would be “Coming of the Storm” by WSJ. I remember that mod had just enough code changes to satisfy me, and the story and new enemies were really awesome. I also really enjoyed “Operation: Heimzahlung”, it was extremely well executed and very realistic. “Wolfendoom” is easily one of my favourites, not only is it fun but it was the very first true mod I ever played, and I’ll always have fond memories of it. “Spear Resurrection” and “Orb of Dilaaria” were fantastic mods, and two mods I started playing but never finished (right about the time I took my break from Wolfing) were “Trench Warfare” and “End of Destiny”.

Q. Why do you feel that Wolf 3d has such a long, ongoing legacy?

A. Well, most of the current members of the community are like me, people who were kids or teens around the time Wolfenstein first came out, and we have fond memories of how exciting it was to first experience the game, and want to expand upon that and keep that feeling alive. Also, I think editing the game and modifying the code is more accessible to a wider range of people than modding games like Half-Life or other complex modern day FPS games. Let’s be honest, the original Wolf 3D is still a fun game. It’s challenging yet not too complex, and the WWII era seems to be a really popular era for video gamers, so it has that working in its favor as well.

Q. Where would you like to see the Wolf 3d go from here?

A. Well, I’m excited to see the different ways people find to improve upon the original game, and I hope to see that continue, but at the same time, I sincerely hope we’ll continue to see mods or level sets with an “old school” flavor to them, because those are the ones that really capture the original essence of Wolf3D. A continuing balanced mix of the two would make me happy.

Q. Any words of wisdom you would like to leave us on?

A. Don’t take yourself too seriously. That goes for all aspects of life, not just modding. Also, don’t expect to be the best at everything in life, as long as you are doing your own personal best, people will usually appreciate the effort. Oh, and last of all, don’t expect to please everyone all the time, that will just burn you out, and it’s just not possible! =)

Wolfenstein Mods and Contributions
Halls of Stonhenge (2003) (Review)
Operation: Hundschiesse (2004) (Review)
Halls of Stonehenge: Special Edition (2004)
Operation: Letztershutz (2004)
Operation: Mutant Strike (2004) (Review)
Operation: Mutant Strike 2 (2005) (Review)
medEvil (2006) (Review)
Operation: Mutant Strike (SDL Version) (2011)
Operation: Mutant Strike 2 (SDL Version) (2011)
Operation: Hundschiesse (SDL Version) (2011)
Operation: Letzterschutz (SDL Version) 2011

Released under other Names
Revenge of Poopdeck Willie: Resurrection (Released as 'Elmer Fudd') (2004) (Review)
Venture 3D (Released as 'Village Idiot Productions') (2011)
Big Time Gangsta (Released as 'Ronowen Vance') (2011)

Other Contributions
Orb of Dilaaria (Graphics assistance)
The DieHard Wolfers TC SDL (Graphics Assistance)

Operation: Mutant Strike 3
Operation: Hundenberg

Unreleased Contributions
Kurt V's The Master (Graphics Assistance)

Alien Invasion Patch (for SOD, converts to Corridor 7 Enemies) (2004)

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