Heretic Developer Interview

by RambOrc

Heretic might be an old game, but some of us still love it. For this reason, RambOrc conducted a behind-the-scenes interview with level designer Michael Raymond-Judy of Raven Software. Note that before the interview it wasn’t known that the maps for Heretic have been made by several people (Mike is listed as the only level designer in the credits of Heretic), thus some of the questions seem to be contradictory.

Hi Michael. You were Level Designer on Heretic. Exactly what tasks did this title involve?

Well at that time it was pretty much just making maps and placing enemies and goodies. I did help a little with story background and defining locations, enemies and weapons/items, but since that was really the first project I worked on from start to finish the bulk of my work was map-making. I also got to “help out” with some other peoples’ maps doing stuff like aligning textures (the words “firstcol” and “firstrow” still give me shudders) and making sure there was a balance of ammo to enemies.

Heretic was quite a rough change compared to previous fantasy games from Raven. It gave up on the “thinker” RPG aspects and delivered an instant action shooter with a couple of extras like an inventory system with artifacts. What were the reasons behind this decision?

I think the biggest reason was the more direct involvement of id Software. They had some pretty strong ideas about what they liked in games, and since they were the ones providing the technology we listened very closely to what they said. Also we had been “beta testing” Doom for a while (which is to say we spent a lot of hours running around slaughtering each other in deathmatch) and we saw how much fun that kind of game was. The inventory was probably the main holdover from our RPG mentality, and I think it did add a new dimension to the FPS style of play.

Where did the ideas for the world, creatures and background story come from?

Some of it came from us, some from id (Sandy Peterson I think wrote the little bit on the back of the poster/guide) and some, sadly, was made up by the people who later wrote the manual/hint book. I say sadly because they pretty much made things up as they wanted without asking anyone here, and a lot of what they made up just didn’t fit with the “reality” we had created behind the game. Like the second Highlander movie, I just try to pretend it never happened…

I can’t help but notice that Heretic made a lot of things nearly the same way DOOM did. No, I’m not saying it’s bad… rather the opposite. I myself think that part of Heretic’ success was that it capitalized on the factors that made DOOM such a hit. Were these similarities done consciously?

See above 🙂

(I refer to things like the kind of weapons you get, the kind of monsters, the structure of each episode like the feeling of the start level, that the last map of an episode (ExM8) is rather small, but the last but one (ExM7) is a VERY extensive one, the kind of bosses in the end maps, etc.)

Ditto 🙂 With the addendum that some of this was inherent in the code we got, and since we didn’t have time to change some of it (how many maps and what they are called, stuff like that) we were stuck with it. We DID increase the maxvisplanes to about 4x it’s original, to accommodate the *ahem* “ambitious” layouts of some of our maps (when the boss builds something, you try to make it work).

What were the main advantages and disadvantages of the DOOM engine? Were there things you planned but had to scrap because of engine limitations?

At the time the Doom engine was so far beyond anything else out there we really didn’t hit to many limits (other than the aforementioned maxvisplanes). The worst thing I ever had to do was take one map (not mine) and put a big honking wall right in the middle of it so you could actually run it. I think it was e1m4 (the big city “square” with lots of buildings and castle walls outside). Nice map. Too complex. As for advantages, I have said and will continue to say that working with a known technology and existing tools (no matter what quirks they have) is less sweat than trying to develop engine, tools and game simultaneously. A known limitation is always better than a surprise, since you can at least plan around it.

Through what changes went the game through in the course of development?

Pretty much the biggest change was the name. I think it was called variously “Mage” and “Orb” and a few other things (I think “Vorpal” was the one that got the worst reaction from people here – ‘it sounds like a whale fart’ someone said). Other than that we just had to re-make or re-color some items and monsters, and add one weapon (the Firemace, or “lobby ball” as we called it); the rest of the game stayed pretty much intact from start to finish.

How did you create the maps?

Very quickly. I think on average I could crank out a first run at a map in about 3 days, including textures and initial placements. Then it took a few more days (sometimes as much as a week) to tweak textures and items to make it balanced and pretty. Then the boss hated it so we made a new one 🙂

The editor (DoomEd) was a breeze, other than the fact it had no side view, and aligning textures was a pain. It ran on our “power machine” of the time, a 486sx running on NextStep. Zoom.

What did it feel like to create all the maps of a whole game alone?

I never did that, but I did touch every map that went out. I think I ended up making a bit more than half the maps for the original 3 episodes, and thankfully Eric Biessman got hired and he cranked out a bazillion maps for the SotSR add-on. But I can say that FIXING all the maps for an entire game, especially ones done in a hurry by someone else, is, well, “not fun”. Except of course that I got to add little secret rooms and traps to their maps and move weapons for deathmatch, so when we played the “builder’s edge” suddenly shifted to me 🙂 (or as someone one said, “Now I am the master!”).

The original Heretic had a secret map at E4M1. Who did create this map, what was the reason for it, why hasn’t the map been finished, and what name would you’ve given it if you’d have had to?

It was supposed to be a deathmatch-only map, I think it was patterned off a Doom DM map (built by American McGee I think). There were so many versions of Heretic put out (freeware, shareware, retail, add-on) that I think it got lost in there somewhere. I don’t think I ever thought of a name for it.

If you could go back and redo your work on the project, would there be something you’d do different?

I’d push to have a lot more maps, and make the retail version include about 8 episodes. We dumped what I thought were some good maps (especially DM maps) because we didn’t have space on the floppies… Also I’d spend more time on the bosses. Like several of our games I felt more had gone into the sub-bosses (I loved the Maulotaurs!) than the main boss, because the main boss always gets done last when there’s no time to do it right.

Thank you for your time.

No thanks necessary, just send scotch 😉

The following questions were originally published as a separate followup interview, concentrating on the addon episodes from Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders.

Hi Michael. You were Level Designer on Shadow of the Serpent Riders. Were your tasks any different from those on Heretic?

Not really. Although there were more people helping (good thing) which meant sharing the map load eased things a bit, it also meant more watching what everyone was doing and making sure it was up to standard and worked together well.

What was the decision behind creating 2 new episodes for Heretic and releasing them? I see a strong similarity to the re-release of DOOM together with a new episode as Ultimate DOOM. Was it a conscious decision to follow id Games’ example?

Actually it was more that we needed to fill a “project gap” until we got Hexen contracts worked out, and we had a good demand from the public for more material. I also felt personally that SotSR was what Heretic originally SHOULD have been- more episodes, more content, and a wider variety of areas. In some ways it would have been nice to re-order the maps and move items so you could play the episodes with D’Sparil at the end, but that’s not how it worked out.

How did you work together with Eric, the other level designer? Did you create maps together or did you make your maps separately and then put it together to form the 2 episodes?

We did some of both. We also traded maps back and forth to get a more “balanced” feel, so I would work on areas he had problems with and vice versa. It’s a way of making maps that seems to have gone by the wayside (too little time now I think) but personally I felt it made all the maps feel more polished. Having more than one perspective is always good, and when you built something yourself it’s hard to step back and say “it doesn’t work”. Letting someone else rip it apart and rebuild it may hurt your pride, but it makes better gameplay.

Shadow of the Serpent Riders has 2 secret maps at E6M1 and E6M2. Who did create these maps? What was the inspiration for them? What name would you give these maps if you’d have to?

E6m1 was a map based (very loosely) on the old Raven office. So maybe “Raven’s Lair” would work for that one 🙂 The other one was built by Brian Raffel, it’s kind of a mix of ruined temple and mine, so I have no idea…

Thank you for your time.

Just send more scotch 😉