Action Gaming Interview BLOOD Designers on 19.11.1996
OGR was recently given the opportunity to talk to some members of Monolith, the designers responsible for the upcoming game Blood. Those interviewed were Nick Newhard, Senior Game Designer and Programmer and the Blood project leader, and James Wilson, Monolith Game Designer and Senior Level Designer for Blood. As you can see, they both had some interesting things to say, and we thank them for their time.

James Wilson, Senior Level Designer on the Blood Team. Game Designer for Monolith Productions.

OGR: In terms of level design, what kind of atmoshpere and gameplay are you aiming for in Blood?

James: We're aiming towards a well-proportioned mix of atmosphere with action. A good horror atmosphere relies on surprise and anticipation, which is sometimes opposed to the "hordes of monsters" idea of most good action games. Players can expect both in Blood. One moment they'd be walking down the dark halls of an eerie old mansion, a board might creak as an audible footstep is heard behind the player. The player spins around and nothing's there. A few moments later he could be fighting legions of the walking dead with a shotgun in each hand. Maximizing both the horror and action elements of the game are our main concerns. We're putting in a lot of work on the play-balancing of the levels to make sure that it never becomes a simple shoot-em-up with tons of monsters around EVERY corner, but rather tons of monsters in places where it scares (and hurts ) the most.

OGR: How difficult is it to strike a balance between an immersive environment and quick action?

James: It really depends on what you are going for. Quick action can be its own immersive environment, and Blood's network and modem play reflects that. But that's not all we wanted for Blood in single player mode. The difficulty is in reigning in the desire to throw everything at the player at once. That can be very difficult, especially in a genre where the player generally gets everything the game's got to offer in the first level. A lot of time is spent deciding when to give what, without denying the player what they want. Other factors affect an immersive environment, like the artwork and sound design, both of which we feel are excellent in Blood. A lot of time and attention is being put towards the sound design, since most of us feel that this is the biggest contributor to good atmosphere. Having the first true 3D sound system in a 3D action game helps.

OGR: Do you find the Build Engine versatile enough to handle both aspects [environment and gameplay]? Or do you sometimes wish it was better at one or the other?

James: I think it handles both aspects exceptionally well. I've been very satisfied with the Build Engine. Ken did an excellent job on giving us the kind of functionality we need to create an effective and convincing environment.

OGR: The Build version used in Blood promises some significant enhancements over the Build of Duke Nukem 3D--rooms on rooms, for example. How do these added features contribute to level design?

James: It allows our areas to be much more integrated and complex. It's freed us up to be a lot more creative, versatile, and sneaky. In play this means that danger can come from more directions and in more ways, make the environment much more dynamic and exciting. In Blood you can expect a lot more vertical depth than you got in Duke.

OGR: A lot of the weapons (ie the voodoo doll) seem tailor-made for multiplayer. To what extent is Blood going to be single- or multi-player oriented?

James: A lot of attention has been paid to both. They definitely have a different flavor, though. Single player games are heavier on atmosphere. There are plenty of things to kill, but we've tried to get that "surviving by the skin of your teeth" feel to it that encourages a little caution and intelligence in how you proceed. Our multi-player games are nothing short high-speed mass destruction. The player with the quickest guns and biggest appetite for death will prevail here. We've tried to split our levels up to compensate for both, providing, many levels that are tighter and smaller than almost anything you'll find in Duke and balancing that with really large single player levels. As a result we may end up having a few more levels than Duke did, but most of those extras will be very small levels intended (and THOROUGHLY tested) to be great multiplayer maps. On the weapons front we've given lots of our weapons and power-ups dual functionalities. The Voodoo Doll, for example, is very effective against zombies (disintegrates them!) and does a good job of taking down monsters from a distance. In multiplay, it is the ultimate sniping weapon, relatively undetectable, doing fair damage, and causing adverse effects like blindness (eye shot) and weapon holstering (shoulder shot)

OGR: With the sheer numbers of first-person shooters out there, how hard is it to be innovative? Do you ever find yourself thinking 'This is kind of like Doom...I better redo this part'?

James: It's a constant worry. There is always a twinge of disappointment when we see a new game come out that has a feature that previously only we had, but ultimately all of us on the team love 3D action games, and we all have this idea of what the ultimate one would be like, and fortunately I feel we've hit the nail on the head with just about every part of Blood. We rarely say things like "This is kind of like Doom, change it.", but more like "What worked in Doom? How can we integrate it and improve on it?", that's the key. Multiple types of damage effects like explosions, electricity and burning (fire flies off the player as he runs around trying to find water to put himself out and stop his health from dwindling any further) all with very satisfying visual and audial results, real physics (you haven't seen the bodies fly until you've seen it in Blood), innovative weapons (Voodoo Doll, Flare Gun, Hellstaff that sucks souls and uses them for ammo), a very interactive environment where bullets even make ricochet sounds according to what kind of surfaces they hit, and more blood than you can shake a pitchfork at all make us feel pretty confident that Blood will have its place in the market. Not to mention that in a company packed with some of the best 3D action warriors on the planet (we are accepting challenges ) Blood has quickly replaced all other 3D action games as the multiplayer fragfest of choice (our daily after-work games go into the hundreds of frags very quickly, Blood is fast and furious in Bloodbath (DM) mode). As we like to say, everything's been done, we just do it better!

OGR: Final thoughts?

James: Our number one priority at Monolith (The name of our development team, we are developing Blood for 3DRealms. Check out http://www.lith.com for some of our other projects and information.) is to make games for gamers. I and everyone else on the team are here because we love games, and we all want to make the best game we've ever played. Both myself and Craig Hubbard (our other full time level designer) got our jobs as level and game designers from having made user levels for both Doom and Duke, and good games are about the most important things to us next to food and family, and sometimes even food loses out . As gamers we know that if we don't love Blood, players won't, and at this point, we LOVE Blood, and we think players will too.

Nick Newhard, Senior Game Designer / Programmer

OGR: Feature-wise, how is Blood progressing? Is it going to make good on its promise to surpass Duke Nukem 3D?

Nick: We are in the wrap-up stages of development for the shareware release of Blood. Besides the obvious technical improvements in Blood's game engine and renderer, Blood already surpasses Duke and other games (released or not) in the most important categories : atmosphere and action. Since Blood's feature list has never been set in stone, we will continue to quickly adapt new ideas that make Blood a superior game.

OGR: Do you have any bearing on the system requirements?

Nick: The basic system requirements will be a P60 with 8MB. I suppose you could scrape by with DX4-100 with 16MB and fast video card. Blood's download size and hard disk requirements are not yet known. You will need a CD-ROM for the registered version.

OGR: With games such as Jedi Knight, Shadow Warrior, Prey, and Unreal on the horizon, the battle for supremacy in first-person games is becoming more competitive than ever. How do you see Blood fitting into the market?

Nick: Just like Dark Forces, Lucasarts' Jedi Knight has built-in market share. With the addition of actual network play, Jedi is poised to do quite well. Most of us look forward to playing it. On the surface it might look like all these games are competing for the same dollar. The fact is, the only place these games really overlap is in the multiplayer 3D action arena. Players looking for unparalleled action and an atmosphere of horror will buy Blood. We have some of the most unique and powerful weapons in any game to date. The detailed enemies, realistic physics, very graphic nature of Blood will appeal to all horror and action game fans.

OGR: All in all, the Build Engine has had a pretty successful run. Is Blood likely the last we'll see of it?

Nick: If Ken puts his mind to it, he could quickly code several improvements to the Build renderer for future games. It's unlikely we will use Build again simply because Monolith is working on DirectEngine which dramatically surpasses the current wave of game and rendering engines.

OGR: Is there any kind of formula you've been following in designing Blood? Do you ever find that the 3D-shooter necessities--smooth control and movement, multiplayer action, or guns and big explosions--are distracting when trying to create an original product?

Nick: I think it's safe to say our biggest arguments were over issues related to the controls. I think Blood's control scheme fits both the genre and the market. General player movements speeds are faster than every game - except Duke Nukem 3D. We like the controls in Blood as they are because they fit the atmosphere, the weapons, the opponents, and the levels. The movement and jumping are all silky smooth and feel very solid. We anticipate very little tweaking from here on out.

OGR: Which of the major gaming networks are going to offer it?

Nick: 3DRealms signed an exclusive with TEN for Blood. We will definitely keep the gaming public informed if and when that changes.

OGR: And the million-dollar question: will we get to experience Blood before 1997?

Nick: That depends on whether you can come by for a visit. Seriously though, we are busting our respective asses to have a shareware release to 3DRealms by the end of the year. If we hit that milestone, the decision is still up to 3D Realms when Blood is released.

OGR: Final thoughts?

Nick: Thanks for the chance to answer some questions and talk about Blood. Now I must get back to work.