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  A chat with Soul Reaver - Community
  Posted by: Hfx-Rebel on 01-22-2007 @ 16:52
This News Item has been viewed 16,244 times
Hey everyone! We have a treat for you today; Here, and only here on WarCraft3Files, we have the inside story on what make the developer of one of the most popular Single Player campaigns ever released for this awesome game! If you haven't guessed yet, the developer I am speaking about is Soul Reaver and his now released five To the Bitter End chapters!

If you've just joined us from under a rock, or if you been working on a cure for athletes foot, and have no idea what I'm referring to, then you will want to check these out:
  • Chapter I: Dark Dawn
  • Chapter II: The Dream of Blood
  • Chapter III: Juggernaut
  • Chapter IV: Heart of Ice
  • Chapter V: Reunion

    Read on to get the scoop on the history of TTBE, why he chose his name, and if there will be more chapters to look forward to...plus a whole lot more!

    The Making of ‘To the Bitter End’

    As some of you might know, ‘To the Bitter End’ (or TTBE for short) in a series of single-player RPG/Action custom maps that I made for Warcraft III. At the moment I’ve completed Chapters I-V, and have an official page for it at http://www.familykrieg.com/tothebitterend/. Hfx.rebel from Filefront asked me if perhaps I’d write an article on them, and since I rather like writing, I thought I might as well. I’ll conduct it like an interview, only with the convenience of me knowing ahead of time exactly what the questions will be, seeing as I’ll be asking them myself.

    First, can you tell me about yourself?

    Well, I’m male, 24 years old, I love designing and playing games, and I live in New Zealand. I have a Masters degree in Film, Television and Media studies and wrote a thesis on ‘Interactivity and Narrative in Computer Games’. While my thesis was focused on how one could realistically mesh interactivity and narrative in games, rather ironically I didn’t actually try to do so with ‘TTBE’ because it would, quite simply, have been far too much work. I actually do have a job and a lovely girlfriend, and I work on TTBE in my spare time, which is part of the reason why it takes so ridiculously long for me to finish a Chapter.

    Why do you go by the name Soul Reaver? Are you a fan of Legacy of Kain?

    While I do greatly enjoy the story of Legacy of Kain (though the gameplay is sometimes a bit lackluster), my online name (and incidentally the name of the character I invented) were ‘Soul Reaver’ even before Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen was released. So no, the name doesn’t come from there.

    The true origin of the name will remain a mystery to all but my closest friends for all time, or until I get tired of keeping it secret, whichever comes first.

    And a quick outline of what TTBE is about?

    There’s a long version and a short version. The short version is that it’s about a group of five superhuman and immortal (but not indestructible) heroes attempting to destroy an evil tyrant – the sorcerer Morganem. Although their first attempt fails and they end up scattered throughout different worlds in Morganem’s universe, over the course of Chapters I-V they reunite, while fighting off Morganem’s attempts to finish them off. What happens after that, well, you’ll see. For the long version, go read the huge manual on my official site at http://www.familykrieg.com/tothebitterend/.

    So how did TTBE come into being?

    The settings and characters of TTBE are based on an RPG/tandem story that I’m a writer on. It’s actually a small ezBoard community called The Administorum (or the ‘Board Battles’) where we all collaborate (more or less) to write big, epic heroic stories about the larger-than-life characters we invented. Over time we built up a huge amount of background story to everyone and everything, so it’s a goldmine of ideas.

    But anyway, one day I decided I’d play a bit with the World Editor that came with Warcraft III and The Frozen Throne. I’d made some Starcraft maps before and thought it had a really good map editor, so I wanted to see how Blizzard had improved it with Warcraft III. I was highly impressed with how much freedom it gave to edit the game… so much, in fact, that I thought to myself “I wonder if I could create a Warcraft III version of my character from the Board Battles?”

    So I got started. I made a blank map, put some creeps on it to test abilities on, and then created my first custom character. I based the character on the Arthas model, because I have to say that Arthas looks eerily similar to Soul Reaver, my character on the Board Battles (and my online name too). I began giving him some custom abilities, playing around with settings and numbers. Doing so started giving me an understanding of how the editor worked, so I went from there.

    I looked at online guides and asked around on some forums when I got stuck. I used photoshop, did some skinning, overcame a number of problems, picked up some basic triggering skills and eventually got everything working and looking how I wanted it.

    But then what? I thought it would be a shame to have Soul Reaver sitting there all alone. So I asked some of the other writers on The Administorum if they’d mind if I made models of their characters… I picked the ones that I felt I would be most likely to be able to put into the game. All the people I asked - Fei, Clutchfiend, Kitharsis and Kawanua - agreed to let me put one of their characters into the game (and Slayer allowed me to have his character make a cameo).

    So back to work, and I got more practice with skinning and triggering. Eventually I’d made 5 heroes and was quite pleased with myself. And then it occurred to me that great heroes need a quest. I had already had a rough idea for a story when I started making the custom characters, and now that they were done I could try to implement it.

    And so I got started on Chapter I. Learned a lot as I went along. Then I did Chapter II, and got started on Chapter III. It was then that Fei (the writer, not the character) convinced me to post my maps on the internet. I was a bit reluctant, since I hadn’t finished all the Chapters or worked out all the bugs… and besides, I didn’t think anyone except the people from The Administorum would care about it. But in the end I posted it anyway, and it turned out to be very popular (especially for a single-player only mod).

    Turns out that posting it was a really good thing to do. I had people write in and congratulate me, and that really kept me going. I always enjoy hearing from people, especially when they tell me about how they did on their play-through, or their thoughts on the game. That sort of encouragement has greatly helped motivate me. I feel like I would be letting down the fans if I didn’t work hard on TTBE and try and get it finished. And besides, with all the work I’ve already put into it, it would be a real waste not to see it through, right?

    So you made all of TTBE on your own?

    Pretty much. I often talk to friends and the like about ideas I have and ask them what they think, and I’ve consulted numerous forums and guides. But in the end, I put everything together myself… there’s no ‘team’ working on TTBE, it’s just me. I did the terraining, and came up with the story, and did the skinning, and the triggering and so on. I also made the official website on my own. Of course, I didn’t make the music for the maps. And I didn’t come up with the background stories for Fei, Clutchfiend, Kitharsis or Sera Poi – other Administorum writers came up with those. And I had some important help from Larc too…

    What did Larc do?

    For quite a while my maps were plagued with a serious problem – Chapters II-IV would, for no apparent reason, often crash Warcraft III when trying to load. It took me a LONG time to figure out what was causing that. But in the end, I confirmed that it was being caused by some 3D models that I’d downloaded from http://www.wc3sear.ch and imported into my maps. See, Fei’s blades and Kitharsis’ axes are actually separate models… and something about them was screwy and was causing the game to crash. It was by far the biggest problem I’d ever had with my maps. Luckily, I happened to mention this to Larc from maps.worldofwar.net over an instant-messenger program and he agreed to extract and get me those same models from Warcraft III. And he did, very promptly I might add, and the game hasn’t crashed since. So I owe him big for that.

    What other difficulties did you run into?

    Uh, that’s an immense question with far too many answers. Oddly, some of the stuff that looks the most spectacular in-game is often actually quite easy to do, while some of the other things that look mundane are actually really tough. I can safely say that the Lightning Storm spell has given me major headaches, and for a while it was the single biggest trigger I ever had. But I’ve simplified it significantly now and really, there are a lot of triggers now that are bigger or more complicated.

    I also almost had an aneurism when I learned about memory leaks after I was already well into making Chapter III. I read up on it and then went back over ALL my triggers in all the maps I had made to clean up as many memory leaks as I could find. That was a lot of work.

    Chapter V provided me with another unique challenge. Chapter V took me almost an entire year to finish. When I thought it was nearing completion, it was time for me to go overseas to China for a few months. But I felt like I had kept people waiting so long, it wouldn’t be fair for me to keep them waiting until I got back. So I installed Warcraft III and the editor on the laptop I was taking with me. Unfortunately, it turned out that the laptop was nightmarishly slow at loading and doing things. Want to add another action to a huge cinematic trigger? Wait 20 seconds before the new action even appears for editing. Want to save your work? Wait 5-8 minutes. Want to play the map or load a game? Wait anything from 4-8 minutes. I felt like I was spending my entire life waiting. Since I playtest the maps a lot before I release them, it was even worse… the laptop ran Warcraft III rather slowly, so I was sometimes tearing my hair out with frustration trying to play my map on what I came to call SlideshowCraft III. It turned out there was a lot more to do on Chapter V than I had ever guessed. The AI triggers especially required immense work. Most of that probably isn’t visible to people when they play, but trust me, the work is there.

    I’m aware that there are some small bugs in some Chapters – Chapter I, for example, sometimes takes a bit longer to start playing the victory cinematic than it should – but none of the bugs are what I’d consider game-destroying and only happen occasionally. Unfortunately the bugs also tend to be very hard to reproduce which makes fixing them very tough.

    Anything you’re particularly proud of?

    There’s a lot of things I’m proud of – most of all the overall gameplay experience – but when it comes to specifics, I’m actually very proud of the skin I made for Kitharsis. He looks awesome with those tattoos.

    Also I’m very proud of the cinematic in Chapter II where Soul Reaver first meets Fei Serumen, and the battle against the Juggernaut in Chapter III. But as I said, there’s a lot of things I’m proud of, so I’m not going to try and list them all here.

    Do you have any particular design philosophy?

    Several, actually. Firstly, I believe a game isn’t fun unless it’s challenging. Lately I’ve played too many games that I’ve breezed through. I prefer a game where I’m white-knuckled and have to give a big heaving sigh after barely scraping through by the skin of my teeth. The hard-earned sense of victory makes everything much sweeter.

    On a more general note, I believe that there’s no point in making a game to try and please everyone. Everyone has different tastes, different things they enjoy. I won’t try to appeal to everyone. Instead, I just try to make the sort of game I personally would like to play – that way, I can be guaranteed that at least ONE person will like it.

    And lastly, I don’t believe in doing things half-arsed. If you’re going to do something, then put some effort into it. Otherwise what’s the point in even starting?

    And what’s in store for the future?

    Well, after finishing Chapter V, I’ve decided to take a short break. While I might experiment around with some of the skills and things that the companions have (I’d like to change how some of the work), I think I’ve had enough of my laptop for a while and will wait until I head back home before getting started on Chapter VI.

    I’m hoping to have Chapter VI be an all-out war. There’s going to be corpses piled to the heavens, spells sizzling and crackling through the air and stuff blowing up everywhere. I want to make it clear that, with all five of the heroes now reunited, they can wreak absolute havoc. The five of them are going to take on an army head-on. Or rather, they will if it all turns out how I’m hoping it will.

    After that I still need to do Chapter VII and VIII, as well as the prologue and epilogue cinematics – that’ll be a challenge all of its own, since I’ve never made a cinematics-only map before. Then I’ll wrap it up by putting it all together as a single Campaign file.

    So, where’s the story going? There seem to be some loose ends and hints here and there…

    I’ll put it this way: I’ve got the story all worked out, but I won’t tell you where it’s going. I’m hoping that the ending of the story for ‘To the Bitter End’ will be spectacular and worth all the effort of fighting your way to. I’ve tried to have it that each Chapter has its own self-contained story while at the same time building up to the grand finale as well.

    Plot is important to me, and I’ve tried to put a lot of effort into making sure that the story remains consistent and interesting. Of course, you can always skip the cinematics if reading all that text isn’t your cup of tea.

    Any plans on expanding ‘To the Bitter End’ further after it’s done? Maybe a multiplayer mod or something?

    I’m not going to make TTBE multiplayer. I think doing so would change the gameplay experience so much that it’s no longer appropriate for what I was trying to make. As for expanding To the Bitter End, well, I don’t think so. I’ve thought about voice acting for the cinematics, but I’m not going to do that unless I can be assured that I have a crew of highly talented voice actors and a very good recording studio… and I don’t see that eventuating. Besides, I’d only do that if I were to release a ‘gold edition’ or something, since voice acting would massively balloon the already formidable file-size of the maps.

    One of my biggest dreams would be to have someone make some sort of animated ‘intro’ for “To the Bitter End”… even a flash movie would be great. But I personally don’t know how to do something like that, and besides, it would require a huge amount of work. Nobody’s volunteered yet, though I’m open to offers (hint, hint).

    And what about you in the future? Any other maps planned?

    I do have an idea for another map or two, but I don’t know if, after finishing “To the Bitter End”, I’ll feel up to taking up another huge World Editor related project.

    I’ve got three other projects that have been in the works for some time and two of these are pretty much done – not Warcraft III maps but pen-and-paper RPGs and Strategy games. I’m actually thinking of trying to make those into full-fledged stand-alone commercial computer games, though we’ll see how that goes. The transition from pen-and-paper to computer game will require some effort, that’s for sure. Effort and money.

    Any other games you could recommend?

    Sure, I’m a big fan of computer games. I think ‘Deus Ex’ (the original, not the sequel) is one of the most brilliant games ever made, especially if you stick with it. Equally good is ‘Planescape: Torment’, which had one of the best combinations of storyline and interactivity of any game I’ve played. There’s a good unofficial patch for Planescape: Torment that I recommend to anyone who gets the game – refer to http://www.planescape-torment.org/ to get it. But both ‘Deus Ex’ and ‘Torment’ are ‘thinkers games’ which require quite a lot of time and effort to play.

    From an action perspective I can’t recommend ‘Descent: Freespace’ and ‘Descent: Freespace 2’ enough. Those games showed me what ‘white knuckle action’ really meant, and had a decent story to boot. Even today those two games still impress me in terms of graphics, sound, gameplay and everything. Amazing pieces of work. How I wish there was another sequel. All of these games are on the old side so you might have to fish for them a bit, but on the upside they should be easy to run on most people’s machines.

    Oh, and I also think ‘Half-Life 2’ is a great (if somewhat shallow) game… but I hate Steam with a passion and wish it would go away forever.

    I’d say that just about wraps it up. Thank you very much!

    No problem. I’m busy, but I’ve always got time for you. And to my audience, feel free to e-mail me with any questions you might have at meet_soul_reaver@hotmail.com.

    I'd like to thank Soul Reaver for his time and effort with this! Two Thumbs Up!

              Next News Post 01-26-2007 @ 20:04 - FileFront Network Insider #82
              Previous News Post 01-21-2007 @ 19:59 - Poll Results

    Average User Rating: 9.7
    Number of Votes: 6
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  • User Comments  
    The following comments are owned by the user that posted them. Warcraft 3 Files is not responsible for their content.

    Total comments: 2 | Last comment: 01-07-2009 at 13:19

     #1 - Lame - 10-20-2007 at 23:11
    Joined: June 28th, 2007
    Posts: 3
    Two Thumbs Down!

    I hate maps with timers. Go back to playing nintendo games.

     #2 - 01-07-2009 at 13:19
    Joined: March 11th, 2006
    Posts: 27
    In response to Oomo: I believe that (in TTBE at least) the timers make perfect sense gameplay wise, as they add a sense of urgency to the proceedings and mean you can't just sit back, happily letting all your ultimates cool down before every battle and breezing your way through. Additionally, every single timer also makes sense in terms of the plot.

    But it's like i said in the article - it's impossible to please everyone, and I don't see why I should try to. TTBE is not appropriate for people who like games with a slow, laid-back pace, or for gamers who don't like a challenge.

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