Kevin Learwood aka Staticon back homepage search
interviewed by Ian Smith aka Marksdad in August 2002

Ian: "To start with that ever-popular question: How and when did you first start playing Tomb Raider?"

Kevin Learwood

Kev: "I'd seen my friend, Dhama, playing it since the first one came out but steadfastly resisted playing, myself, on the grounds that I am a lousy games player. He finally nagged me into playing the second one shortly after he'd just finished playing Last Revelation. I was surprised at how easy it was to pick up the control method. I quite enjoyed it until I got to the wreck of the Maria Doria. I think that was when I became hooked. I have now played all the commercial releases at least once each."

Ian: "The Level Editor Manual. Pain or pleasure?"

Kev: "It was a pain when I printed it out and stuck a staple in my finger while binding it. But seriously - it seemed a little incomprehensible at first but, once you get to know where to look, it can be a goldmine of information. I don't think they cover some aspects of the editor well enough but, on the whole, its not that bad. It got me out of trouble a couple of times."

Ian: "Do you have any previous experience with designing and building custom levels for computer games, or was Tomb Raider your first experience?"

Kev: "I was a professional programmer for two years writing games software for the old Atari 8 bit computers and ST's. That was in the days when we still programmed in machine code. I was mainly involved in the coding but, I did have to work with the game designer and graphic artists in building the levels. I even wrote some level editors for the games we created but nothing as sophisticated as the TR editor. I believe that I am one of only two people in the world who possesses a nearly complete, working copy of 'Shadow Of The Beast' for the Atari 800XL and 130XE."

Psychedelic Caverns

Ian: "OK, let's go into each of your levels in turn. We start with Psychedelic Caverns. This was your very first custom level, presumably. And custom textures, as well! A fun experience to construct?"

Kev: "Yes, this was the first. It was mainly constructed as an exercise to learn the editor and to experiment with the textures. Apart from the picture of my local church hall being demolished and the water texture, all the textures are wallpapers from Windows and Linux. The overall feel was a bit odd, like a dream, which is what gave me the idea to do a series which could be played throughout as a dream sequence. This also allowed me to do a few things which, in the real world, would be impossible."

Ian: "The Sewer. (This is my personal favourite.) If I recall, you say in your Read-me that you had help in designing the Sewer itself; Was this from another custom level builder?"

Kev: "Yes. Dhama again. He is a perfectionist and had started this sewer level but it was not leading anywhere for him so I took it on. The cave and initial tunnels, the room with the boulder trap and the magnificent altar at the end all remained virtually unchanged in this level. Come to think of it, I didn't have to do very much in this one. (laughs). Actually, I added a puzzle or two, did some texturing and generally modified it to suit my requirements and, hey presto, level two was born."

Ian: "Doom Temples. I must ask you this: the two 'jumping rooms' are the most fun I've ever had playing a TR game. But (although I'm loath to point this out) there's a very similar sequence in Dhama's Fire and Ice. Is this coincidence?"

Kev: "*whistles and looks about innocently* Actually, I had play tested Fire and Ice and thought what fun that slide and jump sequence was, so, no, I cannot claim originality for that bit. I do, however, think that I was the first one to have a water wall in my level. I am very proud of that double-barrelled room where you have to jump into the wall to get up the slope."

Ian: "Now we come to Scotish Ruin, a level which can't be accused of outstaying its welcome. Is there meant to be a backstory to this and it's sequel."

Kev: "Not that I can think of. This was supposed to be the first level with open sky in it but, try as I might, I could not get it to work. That's why it is enclosed in a giant greenhouse. I also liked the textures on this one but the wad I used didn't inspire me overly. The puzzle pieces seemed a little limited and some of them were a little out of place. But then again, this is a dream and odd things happen in dreams."

The S.S. McGreer

Ian: "The S.S. McGreer. The best push/pull object puzzle I've seen in a custom level, IMO. Was it difficult to devise?"

Kev: "I'd like to say yes to this one but... I had this game on the Gameboy and Megadrive (or Sega Genesis outside the UK) where you push boxes around a warehouse onto pre-determined squares. This puzzle was inspired by that game. It took a little modification to fit in with the 3-D nature of TR but I think it worked."

Ian: "The Cathedral of the Fallen is the best example of the 'Staticon effect'. Where on earth do you come up with all these extreme visual ideas? Is surrealism a hobby?"

Kev: "I like to think that I have a highly developed sense of the ridiculous. I love surreal art and writings. For me, the more surreal, the better. I also find life in general is pretty surreal but I'm not sure if that is reality, or just the way I see it. As to where I get the ideas - I don't know. Maybe some childhood memory half remembered and mixed up with later sights and experiences? Who can say? The only thing certain here is that they come from my head... I think."

Ian: "Finally, City of Broken Dreams. The notorious dead guard moment! Have you had much feedback on that (or, for that matter, of your levels in general) from TR players?"

Kev: "Two or three people have emailed me to say what fun they'd had playing my levels. A couple of people needed help, mostly in the S.S. McGreer, before I'd put the walkthroughs on my site but, on the whole, not really. The guard sequence gets mentioned in the reviews but, other than that, no. Again, this had been done before. I came, I saw, I used it in my level. It is a good effect though."

Ian: "Which of these levels is your personal favourite, and why?"

The Cathedral of the Fallen

Kev: "To play, I think it has to be the S.S. McGreer. I like underwater sections. But visually, the Cathedral is very striking. It conveys an impression of largeness and, being partially submerged, a feeling of abandonment. Maybe I should have used a Debussy sound track on it? But than again, the water wall and the large submerged hall in the Doom Temples come a close second in the visual stakes."

Ian: "Is there anything you're not happy with and would change?"

Kev: "Psychedelic Caverns sticks out like a sore thumb when compared with its successors but I don't think that I'd change it now. It still has its place as an intro to the set. Also, I've always felt that you have to stop somewhere, otherwise you could spend the rest of your life tweaking and refining and never progressing onto the next project. It will remain as a statement that: 'I am learning how to use this editor and here is the first attempt, warts and all.' I may revisit the theme though."

Ian: "I've mentioned the 'Staticon effect' earlier; where do you get the inspiration to build these adventures?"

Kev: "Mostly, the inspiration comes from the combination of textures and wad objects. Once I start a level and get a few bits and pieces in it, it usually gives me more ideas to use. Once the setting starts to take shape it, also, plays a part in inspiring further developments. At least, that's how it works for me."

Ian: "Moving away from specifics, I'd like to know(when you play TR),what do you enjoy most? What draws you to the game?"

Kev: "I like a challenge. But, as I stated earlier, I am not that good at playing games. The joy of Tomb Raider is that, whilst it poses some knotty problems at times, generally they can be solved with a little thought. And, boy, what a great feeling you get when you succeed. It's also a blast when you get to dispose of a few baddies in the process."

Ian: "Have you played any other custom levels? If so, what did you think of them?"

Kev: "While I was making my levels,Lara's Dream 9 I didn't play any other custom levels except GeckoKid's Beneath The Forbidden City. I was making Psychedelic Caverns at the time and this level was so much superior to what I was doing that I almost gave up. I'm glad that I didn't even though my levels are not spectacular. They do, at least, give beginners something to practice on. Since I finished my last level, I have played quite a few custom levels and become a reviewer. (Currently on my thirtieth level). I am constantly and pleasantly surprised by the inventiveness on the builders. There are some beautiful levels out there now. Mind, there are also some right duffers as well. I think I have been lucky so far inasmuch as I have enjoyed nearly all the levels I have played. I do believe, however, that some are getting too hard or, at least, too hard for beginners and me. As an example, I have been playing the excellent Rescue series by MagPlus. With most of them, I had to resort to the walkthrough to complete them. One of them had a large, underwater maze which, to my shame, I had to re-enable and use the DOZY cheat to complete. And The Rescue - 11 has a rolling boulder puzzle which beat me completely. Don't let this stop you playing these levels, though. They are a magnificent joy to behold. The hardened players don't seem to have too much trouble completing them though so it must just be my poor game playing that is the problem."

Ian: "Any more Staticon Custom Levels in the offing?"

Lara's Dream 8

Kev: "My main goal in creating these levels was to use each of the wads that came with the level editor. That done, I will need to start creating my own wads but so far, I've not had much inclination to get to work. Other projects have intervened. A few months ago, I finished my sixteenth album, I have been refining my skills with PhotoShop by making custom sig pics for members on the Eidos forums and I've been getting to grips with a new and better digital camera. I have got a hankering to revisit the Psychedelic Caverns though, so maybe. I already have a nice castle entrance built, which was originally intended to be a new level. It just seems a shame to waste it though so it may appear as a prelude to the caverns. I have also been playing with some home-made textures which are beginning to look nice and have started stirring the creative urge. As to a new level in the offing - I'm afraid that you will have to wait and see. I have got a bit rusty in the level editor department."

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