Matthias: "All your levels are in the Top 50. Do you feel under some kind of pressure in that you hope your next level will be equally appraised?"
René: "Not at this moment, this new adventure is so different and has some new and great ideas in it that have never been seen before. I can not compare it with my earlier levels but gameplay will be classical as all my other levels and not so frustrating as The Last Crusade (I think ;o)). I find this game the most beautiful I ever made and I can only share this. Not until it is released, then I will wonder how it will turn out. In the beginning I was very frustrated about the bad opinions about my levels that take so much time to create. But later you start to change and I do not bite in my pillow at night wondering about it. You can not do good for every one. I also wonder what they are thinking at Eidos now for the release of AOD. Probably the same...?"
Matthias: "The release of your new level might coincide with the release of AOD. Do you fear it might disappear without a trace (your level that is not AOD), and in general, do you think the whole level builder sub culture will cease to exist when AOD is out?"
René: "Well these are 2 difficult questions because I'd like to know this myself :o). I have planned to release the The Sanctuary Of Water, Ice And Fire in October (can not tell a date, so don't go wondering on October the first :o)). AOD will still be a month away by then. My expectations are very high of AOD and after my 'game' I have in mind to drop the level-editor curtain for good. I am afraid that the graphics will be so good of AOD and you can not create it with the editor we have now. So I think I can not satisfy myself anymore by placing a light bulb and thinking; hé, look how fantastic the light shines on that texture. Maybe the level builder culture will slow down including me but you never know..."
Matthias: "Have you ever been approached by Eidos with an offer to work for them?"
René: "No, what the hell are they waiting for ;o). I think they don't look on forums and websites looking at screenshots to pick out a good level designer. Who wants to become a real designer will find the way to fill out letter of application. I think I will definitely try that some day."
Matthias: "What makes TR so special in your view, compared to other Computer Games?"
René: "Well I hate things first, then I start to like it. I had no 3D-card and played a demo of TR1. Did not know any moves and I found it very boring, ugly and could not imagine why people where attracted to this game. After I got a 3D-card I bought TR2 to try a second time and I never thought that I ended up this way. The look, the music, the puzzles. I still feel the intensity when I look back on the Venice levels. The cut scenes and the FMV's who made Lara a real character. With the editor a dream has come true to give Lara an environment that you decide. Compare with other games? Return to castle wolvenstein, I have a demo and has a good graphic cut scene to open it. But the game, too macho, I am a soft type."
Matthias: "Do you think monogamy prevents us from real freedom?"
René: "Euh, what an odd Tomb Raider question. Well I think this is very personal for everyone. The people who are not monogamous will find each other easy enough to find their freedom. Penguins are monogamous so I guess I am a penguin. Aah, you did ask it in general but you may know it about me ;o)."
Matthias: "Do you have you any idea of how many people played The Last Crusade so far?"
René: "I have thought about that many times. When I look at the counter on my site and read topics about being stuck. And thinking how many people just look at topics for help who are not registered on the forums. And counting the many mails I got over the past 6 months. Let's say, maybe 5000?"
Matthias: "From all the chances there are to get stuck in The Last Crusade, judging from the mails you got, and the threads you read, is there some mean part of the level that you now wish you'd left out or modified, made it more customer friendly?"
René: "Yes, the size. But what is done is done and I never look back on a level. If you do that you can change it endlessly. Sure, there is an updated version but I only deleted the most important bugs. Also the first level is on the brink of crashing and some had a texture memory problem on older cards."
Matthias: "Assuming that Catacomb Towers was the first level you released, have you done some previous attempts that you thought weren't fit for mass consumption?"
René: "Yes, the tutorial level. Who hasn't got this level to play :o). I learned the editor by creating a copy of the tutorial level. Not the last outside areas because by that time I had seen it and in my enthusiasm the first rooms of Catacomb Towers where born. In between I played Chronicles but the editor got more attention. I have no unfinished projects on the shelf. At that time I could not think of an inviting title for the level and it had many towers so Catacomb Towers was obvious."
Matthias: "What impressed me most in Catacomb Towers as well as in Black Palace were certain camera angles. Like in Catacomb Towers right at the start when Lara comes sliding down the slope in the back and this skeleton awakes right in the foreground. Very dramatic and very cinematographic at that. It's not done very often, not even in your levels. Is there a reason?"
René: "Well it is funny you mention that. The camera shot with the skeleton is my most favourite sequence I created. You find this not in Last Crusade because I don't want to repeat things I have already done. But you may expect some in the new game. This shot captures so many things and when you did not jump you were beaten at least once by the skeleton. Camera sequences are very important to me and when they are set up right it gives the level that finishing touch."
Matthias: "Although the jolly bunch of level builders would never admit it (save one); do you think that a chart (i.e. the top 50) at mprager.de results in a certain competitiveness amongst level designers that might turn into envy and probably makes you the most hated man amongst them?"
René: "Good question, I will try to be totally honest :o). I rather trade my Catacomb Towers with Last Crusade in the chart. It is my first and best level I ever made. Black Palace has very good gameplay but I did not like the red overall ambient myself but it fits the level. Although I should not complain about Catacomb Towers because if I am correct it is still the highest level in the chart made with an original wad. I rarely play any other custom level so there is not really a competition feeling for me with other designers but, I am always curious about their reviews. What the players think is more important to me. What the site has done is encourage me to proceed making levels and it still does. Where would we be without such a site? It gives a lot of recognition and satisfaction when you read you are a class of your own ;o). With Last Crusade on #1 I was instantly famous and my previous levels became popular climbing back in the chart. Of course there can be designers that will envy me and they take a look at my level and maybe think; is this what they're talking about? Good things come with bad things and I'll bet Eidos knows that too. I create levels in my way as good as I can. Not knowing if it will be number one material or not. That's up to the players to decide. No one has influence on that. I don't think I am really hated, it's nothing personal. Till now we ask for help at each other on the Eidos forum instead of that and that's the way it should be. I may be good, but when I don't know something I feel not to bumptious to ask myself. Why should I feel competitiveness to others to reach high when I am or was already there :o)."
Matthias: "Ah yes, global success is just around the corner and for most people you probably are 'That Guy who created The Last Crusade' and this interview won't change it as there were so many TR related questions I had to ask. So just to convince us that you exist outside the TR universe, can you tell me what else you do, what's important to you, what rules your world?"
René: "Well I do not exist outside the TR universe. I live right inside of it. For me it's all about creating and having a big time with the editor. And this is not my only hobby. Even at my work I am an artisan modeling crowns and bridges. I also draw portraits and other stuff in my free time. I enjoy other peoples work but I demand quality. I found that in TR2, Last Revelation, a few levels from TR3 and Chronicles and some custom levels I picked out. Computers are a big part of my life, where is the time I played on my MSX, which now fits onto one floppy disk. Metal gear, Vampire killer, Usas and King's valley II, which had a level editor!!! I have six levels on tape. Dont ask me to send them. You probably laugh :o)."
Matthias: "When you started work on TLC, did you realize how long it would take you and have you ever been tempted to give up on it. What about your new level?"
René: "Last Crusade is popped out of my head without any paper work. I adjusted it for so long I got sick and tired of it. For players it was all new but I really can't see it anymore. 6 1/2 months I worked on the game. With the new game it is different. I know what I wanted to create but also without any paper work. It is all in me head and most of the puzzles develop while designing. Sure it is very big, bigger then Last Crusade but it has more structure. I am not tired yet, it seems that my patience is unending and I never give up."
Tina: "Are you totally absorbed by the level editor phenomena?"
René: "Simple question, YES. I would lie if I were not. Till now it looks like mass hysteria and I am sucked into it. It will cool off someday and then I will have something great to look back at."
Jon: "What do you envisage the outcome of this interview to be..... do you think you will endear yourself to players or alienate them, or merely give them something to read while they download a level?"
René: "There is always a risk if you want to know more about a person of who you think he has accomplished something good. I am very fond of classical movie themes. Just recently they are getting more in the picture on special editions on DVD. Sometimes I think; what a noodle. So I find it not to important because I still love the music that he has composed and I would not like it any less because of him personally. I guess the same counts for me and therefore you won't find a picture of me anywhere on the net... not yet :o)."
edit: March 2006:
Further levels by René Brooymans:
The Sanctuary of Water, Ice and Fire and the latest: Sanctuary of Souls (Demo)
New Interview run by Lara for ever in August 2007
Do you know the level series of Piega, 'The Sanctuary of Water, Fire and Ice'? Of course you do, if you are a Tomb Raider player and a fan of the Customlevels. And we all know, Piega is working at a new Sanctuary project since a longer time. There is a Demo version yet, and we also could see a lot of great screenshots already. But how is the status of the project? What details could we further know about? Well, I had the chance to make an interview with Piega. So here are the information, some new screenshots and also two video clips. The project is alive, and we can look forward to something really big and unique again. And this is what Piega told me:
Lara for ever: So many people are waiting for your new Sanctuary project yet, and we can only try to imagine how much work must be behind a level series like that. How long are you working at the project yet, when did it start?
Piega: Well, when I completed the first Sanctuaries series I thought my editing days were over. I thought I should stop at my best and was happy with what I did. However The Angel Of Darkness was released and I found it a terrible game. Soon after a texture ripper was there so I looked at it and found some textures wonderful. Soon I realised much of the textures would fit a sequel to Sanctuaries so the idea was born. I just love cathedrals and its architecture and it would be a waste not to use these textures. So I started building the first rooms around July 2004.
Lara for ever: Well, the first Sanctuary level, 'The Sanctuary of Water, Ice and Fire'. It was released in 2002 and your most successful level so far. So, the new Sanctuary project will be the official sequel to it, or won't those levels depend on each other?
Piega: For the story, it is an official sequel. There will be an intro to what happened in the first so you don't need to know the older game to start on this game. You can play them separately.
Lara for ever: Can you yet tell us anything about the story?
Piega: Sure, most players will know how the first episode ended. Back home at Lara's mansion the obtained quill will end up in one of Lara's artefact displays in her trophy room. Then a mysterious mirror appears in the mansion. Whispering is coming from behind the mirror, and it is clear that this mirror is a portal to another dimension. So Lara packs her equipment to dive into an adventure not from this world. Once through the mirror you will find out how the story will continue!
Lara for ever: Every Tomb Raider player will look forward to your new and most ambitious project ever, for we already could see incredible things never met before in TR Customlevels. But perhaps not every player will be able to make it through on his own. Can you tell us something about the difficulty of the new Sanctuary?
Piega: Ah, difficulty. This is hard as difficulty is different for every player. When I finished the demo I sent it to someone to play at the meeting in Lage. Many were frustrated about the four trapdoor jump. In that demo I had not left the drawing to examine on how to jump. I'm glad I did afterwards, because I understood it was hard to figure out on your own in what order you had to jump. I can honestly tell that this is the hardest sequence in the game. Other difficulties are new traps I created, and the puzzle degree in difficulty is about the same as in the previous series. As for the map it is pretty big, but like the previous game they are themed, so you won't get lost in all the levels with halls that look the same. Personally I'm not the type to put a switch and door at each end of a level. You will meet a new kind of maze which is not finished yet. I hope I have created a fine balance so that a wide audience can enjoy and finish the game.
Lara for ever: Difficulty of levels is often an important factor in level discussions of today. Players often complain about levels of today becoming more and more difficult, perhaps to compensate other limits in building Customlevels. What would you think about that and can Customlevels with a more easy gameplay be made interesting though?
Piega: Sure, once in a while I load up a custom game. When the difficulty is too high I'm an easy quitter. I'm more of a person who likes to enjoy graphics. On second place gameplay is important, but gameplay can be designed in so many ways. In the way it influences the fun factor in getting from point A to B it can win from graphics. Of course it is difficult to create an unwalked path for designers and players, but there are still fresh ideas to be found today. Therefore difficulty should not become the main factor that can kill the fun to play games. A main problem is that experienced players control Lara with their eyes closed and thus certain gameplay methods are done in the blink of an eye. If I would load my own game without knowing what to do (strange I know :o) then I don't know if I would finish it.
Lara for ever: The level editor is very limited, of course. But today level builders have great new abilities with new tools as the NGLE or TREP, for example. Do you use those tools for your project, and what are the advantages from your point of view?
Piega: Yes, TREP is the rescuer for the TRLE world. The main advantage of TREP is the way you can create new gameplay elements. You cannot play my game without it. While I have a separate MAC version in mind I don't know if I can get it done because there seem to be more limits even if my game is without TREP. Luckily I have a tester to find that out in time. TREP can also change colour values of certain things, but that does not interest me. The fix for the holsters and the draw distance are key elements for me to improve the quality. Believe me or not but Tomb Raider II has a greater draw distance then TR4. Only the draw distance before it turns to black is shorter. As for the NGLE I think it is stunning. No more 64x64 pixel tiles. While my game will stay 64x64 tiles NGLE will certainly be used in future projects.
Lara for ever: How many levels will finally be included in the new Sanctuary project, and will there be cut scenes or FMV's?
Piega: The game will have about 8 or 9 decent levels. I have also decided to add 2 cut scenes to the game. I wont say too much about this as I'm excited myself how they will end up. Besides Black Palace I never made an exciting finale but be sure to meet one in here! No FMV's, I don't have experience in this field and if I would try, then my game would be released somewhere around 2015. I have my limits.
Lara for ever: Can you tell us something about difficulties in building the new Sanctuary levels? Can you realize your imaginations as they are, or are there still limits, things you have to cancel because of not being possible to put into practice?
Piega: Till now I have put in almost everything in I wanted. Some things I had to cut smaller as I'm out of object slots or animation slots. Sometimes I delete enemies to make the puzzles as grand as possible as I'm a puzzle guy myself. I try to keep it challenging with the enemies as much as possible, and the final part will do that justice. I have also a new secret system which you will figure out in the game. In one level I went over the top, where half of the level is a secret area, woven into the normal gameplay part. You will love to figure out on how to reach it and feel smart to beat the designer! If you don't like secrets then that's a pity. Secrets were always a great add on in Tomb Raider. I just like to add more to it. My main realisation is to create a world that feels dreamy and colourful with a dark mood, and I think I have certainly accomplished that.
Lara for ever: I know, this question is difficult, but is there perhaps at least an approximately release date for the project?
Piega: You know, I can ask this question to myself :o. I wish I could. I know this is the longest time I ever worked on a game but the truth is that I spent less time on my PC. The days that I spent my hours on the editor at night are over. Also the workload has doubled as I now make all my objects and animations myself. They say the best games are not made on the attic anymore. New games are made with a team of eighty people or more with years of development. I'm just a poor soul working alone. A sanctuary of soul.
Lara for ever: As we could see some very interesting pictures yet it seems you already have ideas beyond your Sanctuary project. Can you yet tell us anything about your future plans?
Piega: As soon as NGLE came out I had to taste the new texture size. So I started working on my next big game to test. It is even bigger then sanctuaries. However, it will not include Lara. But before I get into that I don't know if I ever will start on it after this release. This purely depends on time, my mood and popularity of the editor. Besides that I think I will focus on smaller levels like in the old days. This way you get to play more from me and enjoy smaller levels. Everybody wants to pop out mega games these days but small levels are also fun. On the shelve I have the Bartoli's Hideout remake. A Science Fiction level with a space train and some ideas in my head. Sometimes I wish I had more time and less ideas :o.
Lara for ever: Thank you for this interview and the material!
Here are the links for two Video Clips from the project. The Quality is a little bit limited, of course: