Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wolfer Q&A: Maxim Genis (DoomJedi)

Name: Maxim Genis
Location: Israel
Wolf 3d Nickname: DoomJedi

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

A. Well, the first gaming/modding forum I've discovered was NewDoom.com. The choice for the name just kinda' came to me (it was a large forum with a lot of standard nicks already taken, and I needed a more original one after a few failed attempts) as a mix of Doom and being a Star Wars fan, so I thought it would be a rare mix. Since then I've taken that nick on every gaming/modding forum, so that people will recognize me from other forums.

Q. When did you first play Wolfenstein 3d?

A. I was 14 or 15 (It was somewhere in 1994/5), and my schoolpal showed it to me on his computer and offered for me to try it. I mostly remember the blue walls, and having problems navigating around as every area and door looked so similar, but I kept returning to the same place, lol.

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

A. Being part of the Doom modding community (over @ NewDoom), I somehow got involved in the "Wolfenstein for Doomsday TC" project, led by Vermil. At some point during the project Vermil gave me the link to the DieHard Wolfers forum (I didn't know of any Wolf3D forums then, in fact I never even thought there would be a forum for such an oldie, even then, to be honest, I wasn't much of a Wolf3D fan) and told me to register there and help promote the project and hire new team members.

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


A. I won't be original to say the Community (Unlike Doom one), but it is very warm and friendly, including newcomers, also, there is something about the bulky Wolf3D engine that brings out amazing creativity out of people, I get great ideas from playing Wolf3D mods. All the engine limitations force you to be inventive. I have even more proof to that after spending a while in the Commander Keen modding community (being an old Keen fan). Having an even more limited Keen engine makes people there very inventive, it was very addictive but I still visit it daily, I don't see myself getting into any actual Keen Modding though. Still, some of my Keen art is being used in an upcoming Keen mod and I am currently working with one of the Keen Community coders (Lemm) on a Wolf 3d project.

Q.Where and how did you develop your amazing graphic art skills?
 
A. Long answer made short, practice, practice, practice, and patience! So much practice that I don't actually admit to have too much talent. You just gotta love what you do and put your time and heart into it, untill you feel the pixels at the end of your fingers, untill you spit and dream pixels. There are no schools for pixel art, sadly. I started from making games in Click&Play, and continued in Game Maker and Doom modding communities. I keep learning and improving, and keep challenging myself with tasks I could never dare before, and usually with success, that surprises me every time, like making 8-dir Wolf 3d Bosses just recently. I think I have pretty unique and recognizable artstyle in Wolf3D, it's amazing how in such a low resolution one can come up with so many different artstyles.
Pixel work for me is not a rational work, it's sort of human magic, like fast keyboard typing. Pixels out of place just immediately "stand out"/"feel wrong" and a pixel that finds it's place, it brings so much aesthetic pleasure. So it's like being a sculptor, it's about throwing a raw pixel splash and then removing the wrong pixels and uncovering the beauty hidden under all that pile of pixels, it's a non-linear process that slowly unfolds.
First the outline/body, and then shading and details (learned that from WLHack). Quoting A-Team "I love when a plan comes together". I don't leave it till I'm pleased with it, and I have high quality standards. Sometimes I can't get my eye off the result.
I keep improving by studying artwork of other Wolf3D spriters, like WLHack & MegaByte, constantly learning new tips and tricks while getting new ideas and developing new techniques, some of which I have shared in the Haven art tutotials that I've done.
I draw not only pixel art, but in "real life" on paper as well, since I was a child. My style is quite unique, pen and paper, no erasing, no colours. I especially love drawing caricatures and faces (99% male). People often can't believe it was done with just a standard pen, it looks like it has been painted.

Q. You have worked with some of the the best modders in the Community, how have you managed to get such talented people to work with you?

A. I wonder that as well, especially as I scrap more projects than release. Despite some clear areas of expertise, I'm far from being the best community spriter (anyone said MegaByte?). I'm not good with title screens and even textures. I do know how to re-use art elements and make the best of what I've got. I'm a trickster so to speak, I like the creativity of seeing an original way to solve a problem, seeing solution in unexpected places.
I especially wonder why people keep working with me after Sonder's cancellation. I could fully understand them if they wouldn't, after I scrapped 4 years of their work. It was a miracle for me to keep modding with the same guys, and I appreciate it very much.
I might not ever get an answer to that myself, but I guess it's just my ideas, art, long-term devotion to projects and ability to manage private development forum.
What's even more amazing, is that I get to manage most of the projects I'm involved in. Usually projects are centered around coders or mappers, almost never around spriters, but nowdays I try to manage less, especially after Sonder buzz when it was a team work, but I've got all the richoshets like it was my project. Still I manage a lot, it takes a lot of time actually and I partially understand why people avoid it sometimes. For me it's important to be able to get my vision across, I usually have very clear artistic vision of projects art-wise & feature-wise.
When I first entered the Wolf3D community and wanted to make "Femstein", no-one wanted to help me, and it was frustrating back then. I can fully understand it now, and new Wolfers still struggle with help untill they prove to be able to actually release a mod, rather than opening 10 parallel vapourware projects they can donate only ideas to, with no actual skills to back them up. It's natural, and it's a filter of vapour-wolfers, so many promising Wolf3D projects have never seen the finish line, hard to earn trust, but those who are serious and really want it will go the distance.
It could ended for me right there if not for WLHack, who helped many modders back then. He offered to modify his "False Spear" engine to make "Femstein". He did the coding and the mapping and so "Femstein" was released, and it showed (at least) my art skills to the community.
After that it was easier to get help, still, you have to have a good idea to start with. I guess my idea was good enough for modders to join in.

Q. Before we start to jump into discussing SonderKommando: Revolt, can you tell us about what your original ideas for Sonder were and what your vision of the project was meant to be?
 
A. Well, the original idea for Sonder is a bit private for me, though it has been published all over as well. I've never put any spotlight on it as I consider it personal and irrelevant for Wolf3D modding, this is just a mod like many others. Let's just say that I (at least at that time) was interested in past lifes, and got to believe I was myself a SonderKommando in Auschwitz. This got me interested in the whole SonderKommando/Holocaust issue, as a personal inquiry. And then during "Femstein" development an idea came to me of how I can actually attempt to recreate it in Wolf3D engine! I'm a Wolf3D modder dammit! I could play my own past life, this time changing the outcome. Wolf3D engine fits Nazi theme well, so I already had the enemies and such.
It was clear right from the start that it’d be a huge creative challenge to recreate a realistic place in a limited Wolf3D engine for any kind of real resemblance. Also I wanted to create a unique and immerse experience for the player, to feel fenced in, and to feel watched with no place for any basic human privacy, feeling of massacre, despair, feeling of random/sudden death, where you feel you can be sinpered just for fun at any time from one of the towers and much more, but those kind of unique challenges are the ones that fuel modders around the world and Wolf3D modders in particular. It looked interesting, challenging, original, all the elements of a great Wolf3D mod. It was interesting to see what this would unfold into.
I made a draft of the original plot based on what I thought to be my incarnation details. Since then it was re-written numerous times and so by the end had little resemblance to that original draft. We tried to add missions to the player and plot progression.
That original impulse for the mod turned basically into pure attempt to make a great, unique and challenging Wolf3D mod and nothing more, especially as no other team members shared or maybe weren’t even aware of my original personal impulse, and even I didn’t keep it much in mind, and sure wasn’t discussing that. It was a Wolf3D mod like every other, we didn’t try to show anything, teach anything and there was no agenda. Dr. Phil says “Things often start for one reason – and continue for another”.
Anyway, my original impulse was personal (and mostly forgotten even by myself during 4-year development) and was aimed at myself only, and was irrelevant to anyone else. The mod itself wasn’t going to mention it anywhere. I didn’t try to re-create history or re-write it in any way (and no, you cannot create a Wolf3D mod with just 18 Nazis killed in the real SonderKommando 1944 revolt), it was a “fantasy plot”. I wasn’t trying to make a Holocaust learnware or documentary (or claimed it to be such), no Wolf3D mods does that, and even original Wolf3D (where you kill Hitler himself, Hitler Ghosts(!) and Mutants) didn’t mean that and was no more accurate historically than Sonder. No-one learns history from mods, and sure not from Wolf3D mods, no student hides Wolf3D laptop under the desk during a history test to count the Nazi's He kills. Mods are meant to be played by those who appreciate this form of art and see it as such, not as documentary – just art. Art doesn’t have to be historically accurate and answers to noone. ART – has no limits. The only ones that limit art were Nazis and religious fanatics. In Israel they wanted to cover nude statues in history museums or move them to a backdoor room. If someone finds this form of art offensive, don’t look at it and don’t play it (it’s a pixelated modification of a 20-year-old game for God’s sake that only a few diehard Wolf3D fans still play, not them, not even their kids, they play very 'educational' and 'deadly accurate' “GTA3”?!), let it be enjoyed by those who know to appreciate it and see it for what it is, without taking it out of context for the sake of a headline. In Holocaust museum even small kids can see REAL PHOTOS of mass graves and tortured bodies, not a few red pixels to represent blood in a mod so detailed that an eye is represented by just one pixel/dot. The mod was made mainly for relatively small Wolf3D modding community, and not for those “headline thirsty” reporters who asked me if I try to make money from the Holocaust. No, it’s a free mod like any other Wolf3D mod (they’d know that if they'd any research on the subject), and they are the ones making “headline money” over Holocaust at this very moment.

Q. At what stage during the modding process did all the attention start to fall on the mod, and what caused it?

A. Attention (from Wolf 3d community and fans) was there all the time, all the 4 years of it's development as this was a very anticipated mod by the Wolf3D community in particular, and I was naive enough to do everything I could to keep the hype going, being naturally excited about the project, as wells as being my first large project. The development was open and public, with screenshots and updates so by the time the YouTube trailer came out the sudden over-attention came to me as a total surprise, the mod's page had been there for years on moddb, including full descriptions and screenshots before it got the spotlight.
The massive media attention came after the YouTube trailer (which I agree was overdramatic and didn't reflect the mod itself) came out, especially when the link to it was sent to a large gaming website that loves juicy headlines and which asked for a response from me and from ADL (The anti Defamation League). After I was naive enough to fall for that (uncarefully rushing the response before ADL will say their word, forgetting I know nothing of dealing with the media and being a "media virgin"), my "easily and professionally" distorted into a pre-planned headline, taken out of context response of myself, along with an expected response from the ADL which understands nothing of gaming or modding (even my msWord version doesn't recognise the word) and just says things people expect it to say, gave the Jewish (and later the World) media a bone to chew on. Then all hell broke loose. For a "media virgin" it was a feeling not less than a group rape, no-one cared about me, my feelings, my privacy, or even the correct information...

Q. You made the hard decision to cancel Sonder after many years of work, how hard was that 
decision to make?

A. Well, the decision itself wasn't hard to make, I saw right away that I have no other choice. It got out of proportion to an extent that a very private and sensitive person like myself couldn't withstand a public release of any sort. Some alternative solutions were considered by the team, including remaking it into a non-Holocaust mod, changing art and story, but after 4 years of work, no team member had the will to work on Sonder any further. Also as an artist (and modding is an Art, at least for me), Sonder was perfect the way we envisioned it. Everyone felt it's gotta be released as is, or not released at all. You can't repaint Mona Lisa into Lady Gaga without it losing it's charm, original vision and intent, and without having a feeling of self-betrayal by the original artist. Also the plot was heavily embedded within the level design, art and even coding features, it was there in the core of the project. It's easier to make a new mod than alter this one into something else it was never meant to be.
What was hard was coping with the made decision. I had to deal with multiple "fronts", and each stretched my emotional strength to the max;
- 1. I had to deal with myself cancelling my own work after 4 years. That was the (relatively!) easiest part, as I mod not for the result but for the enjoyment of the modding process itself and I already had a lot of fun making Sonder (and will still be able to play it myself). I also, by that time, already had to deal with similar situation before when we lost Sonder's source, till an older version was luckily found and re-worked. Also the alternative of not cancelling the project was most evident.
- 2. Wolf3D modding community - After I myself did everything to hype his project and keep the buzz, I had a lot of explanations to do cancelling 4-year awaited mod just 2 weeks before the release, especially right after such a teasing trailer. Making Sonder the most famous abandonware in Wolf3D modding history (I didn't say biggest, just most famous, for me 'Lair of the Mantis' by TheJosh is the biggest, I still hope he'll return!). I even thought the community might not forgive me for this and I might be even kicked out for bringing too much unwanted attention upon the Community.
- 3. Sonder team (aka "Team RayCast") - This was the hardest part, MUCH harder than the previous two. It's easier to cancel you own work, but cancelling free, excellent, talented and devoted 4-year work of the best modders in the Wolf3D community is very hard, especially as they still wanted to release it, and especially when I do this because of failing to cope with the media buzz and making many naive mistakes along the way. It was like admitting my own weakness, which in this case canceled so much work of other people who did nothing to deserve it. I actually thought no-one would ever work with me again and that it would mean the end of my Wolf3D modding career.

Q. Will Sonder ever be released publicly in any version?

A. No. The World insisted it won't be publically available to people that might get offended, and so I respect this. Needless to say that it's still available to project members to play privately, and maybe even a bit wider circle of people, still only within the Wolf 3d Community, as this project was mainly made for them and they know to see it for what it really is, just a well designed Wold 3d mod and nothing more.

Q. Both of the Wolf 3d mods you have made so far (Femstein & SonderKommando: Revolt) have proven to be controversial, Is there a reason why you've chosen such subjects for your mods?

A. While I see how you can link those two mods, there isn't much common ground for me in those. Yes, in both mods I wanted to do not just another Wolf 3d mod, but something not done before, something different (but only that, different, not controversial), even that is not fully true though. At first, a particular idea comes to me, and only then, the fact that it's not only a great idea, but ALSO something not done before (which adds it some extra points in my considerations), modders like challenge and innovation. It's exciting to suddenly realize "this can actually be done in Wolf3D engine", and maybe inspire other people to try to implement something fresh under that overmodded engine. It's about creating an experience, and even better, a not overused one, and one that presents a unique modding challenge.
That said, both mods started as personal projects that I'd do for (just) myself, even if no one else would ever get to see or play them. I never actively seek controversy, I mean, why would I? Anyone who followed me closely during the "Sonder media buzz" period could see my reactions, stress levels, and this is not something you'd expect if I'd be "a controversy seeker", but clearly the opposite. I didn't enjoy even one second of that media buzz and controversy, and just prayed for the spotlight to go away. I'm a very private person who hates any kind of invasive and uncontrolled spotlight. As I've stated elsewhere also, I'll be staying away from any kind of controversy in my future mods!

Q. Despite the controversary's, what has been the most rewarding thing that’s come from Wolf 3d and your mods?

A. Not all of it I can mention here, or even most of it, but when an experienced Wolfer who has really "played 'em all" says your mod is the best Wolf 3D mod that he has ever played, then that is really something quite rewarding!

Q. Are you working on anything new at the moment, and if so, what can you tell us about it?
 
A. Yes, I'm very busy as always. I'm working on no less than 4 different and promising Wolf3D projects.
Only one of these projects was announced just recently by a released playtest trailer – so it's hard for me to talk about them in too much detail. I have to say I even enjoy the fog of secrecy, every mod feels like a surprise for the community, like the feeling of a surprise party.
In general:
- 1st project is the main project of "Team RayCast", started after Sonder's cancellation. It's a Large-scale long-term mod based on WSJ's "Castle TotenKopf" engine, that has tons of potential, and should appeal to wide audience of Wolf3D fans. Finished artwise this mod is currently stalled for over half a year for lack of active coders.
- 2nd project was planned as a fast mod (full TC actually, not WWII-related) with just 9-10 maps, and is currently in the mapping stage, finished artwise and coding-wise. RonWolf is the main mapper. We hope to release it in the upcoming months, but promise nothing. If it'll be well accepted by the community, then some nice art and story for a trilogy are already made as well.
My 3rd and 4th projects plan to take Wolf3D to the next level with things never implemented in a Wolf3D engine before.
- 3rd project was planned as a surprise for Wolf3D 20th anniversary, I’ve hinted of it at the Haven forum recently, I won’t add anything to it here. Also, don't take that as a final deadline.
- 4th project is called SplitWolf and has just recently released first YouTube playtest video – splitscreen Wolf3D (SDL) co-op mode support for up to 4 players on a single computer. The video speaks for itself;


Q. What advice can you give to others that you’ve learnt over the years about modding?

A. - Never overhype your mod.
- Keep external backups of the files.
- Avoid controvercial themes.
- Keep replay value high.
- Make a clear and detailed maplist on early stage of the project.
- Try to learn new skills so as to be less dependant on others.
- Play mods of others for inspiration and ideas.
- Force yourself to stop adding features to the mod in some stage, even if those are cool.

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

A. Oh, there are so many of them, too many to list. Some of my favourites are "Project Eisenritter", "Orb of Dilaaria", "Spear End of Destiny", "Spear Resurrection", "Absence", "Trench Warfare", "Castle TotenKopf", "Operation: Letzterschutz", "Spear of Destiny Reloaded", "Operation Todpfad", and many others.

Q.Why do you feel that Wolf 3d has such a long lasting legacy being it was released so long ago?

A. The great community. Wolf 3d is relatively easy to mod, both art-wise and mapping-wise, with great modding tools, addictive gameplay, SDL, plus there's a great collection of coding tutorials.

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

A. Modding is not a hobby, but the way of life. Know you can always change your life, don't be just a passive pawn in games of others, make your own game, your own story, your own path. To mod is to be a God of your world, creating without attachment to the result, while admiring and respecting creations of other "Gods".
There is always a key for every door, a weapon for every Boss, and every maze has an exit, God is a flawless modder who never makes mapping mistakes.

Wolfenstein Mods and Contributions
Released
Femstein (2007) (Review)

Cancelled
SonderKommando: Revolt
SonderKommando 2: Warsaw Uprising
SonderKommando 3: Road to Treblinka
Secret of Eridu
Russian Front
Heaven and Back

Other Contributions

DieHard Wolfers TC 2011 (Artwork)
Project X (Artwork)

Unreleased
SplitWolf
Main in progress 'Team Raycast' project
Smaller in progress 'Team Raycast' project

Unreleased Contributions
Mutant Uprising

Other 
Various Tutorials and Artpacks for general modding use;
Art Tutorials (Wolf 3d Haven Forum)
General Artwork (11mb)
Undead SS Sprites (113kb)

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