Eric Claire aka eRIC

interviewed by Maciej Skrzypiec aka DJ Full in 2014

Today a true legend decided to talk to us, whose years in curved pathways of TRLE journey told us multiple stories, while his reviews helped us a thousand times. It's the highest time to learn this very special builder from a quite different view. An inventor of flying medikit crawl, a block of immersion, a green lantern of mystery. Hello, eRIC!

eRIC eRIC: Hello!

DJF: I checked the release dates of your levels and I see the 10th anniversary of inital Eastern Sanctuary is coming in few weeks. I remember that game had some sophisticated passage design, a path twisted so tightly one wouldn't believe. Do you want to make each square useful?

eRIC: Yes, generally I try to make each square and block useful, although shaping of the blocks may be only for décor sake. I have always hated wasted places in real life. It seems absurd to me that a place would have no use, almost as much absurd than thinking a person has no utility. What I say here may be absurd though.

DJF: Could you tell us what prompted you to start this very first project, and was it really the first one or were there some unpublished experiments before?

eRIC: I began to open the editor in 2003, 2 years after beginning playing custom levels! I was not interested in building and also thought it was not for me. Being a programmer on the big Mainframe IBM computers, a job having nothing to do with personal computers and their many softwares and editors to which I knew nothing, the PC world seemed (and still seems) amateurish and not quite reliable to me when compared to what is used in the industry and bank/insurance companies to perform mass processing, and also not well documented.

DJF: I've seen a mainframe computer in an astronomical observatory, storing radio telescope data. I thought a crash of such unit would mean a fatal loss - but do these things crash at all?

eRIC: Sometimes mainframe computers have a failure, but that's rare enough and there are tons of backups made by the system staff. There can be program malfunctions that need to be corrected every day though, but that's part of our job as well. We write new programs and correct another number of them we have not even written ourselves, without being authorized to blame those who were there before us - that can be frustrating . So I waited this long to have a go at levelbuilding for this reason of PC inexperience.
Eastern Sanctuary

But then at a time when I was a bit bored playing levels I decided to have a go - I wanted to see more levels built with the Coastal and TombofSeth materials.

DJF: Sounds like a good start - the world is missing something, so let's add it. What's so special in those levels? Why did you dive into them and not the other ones?

eRIC: Concerning Coastal Ruins, it was a draft of what an open world begins to resemble, and having an atmosphere reminding a vacation place. Ruins and castle by the ocean, what a great location of setting. The atmosphere in Tomb of Seth was just perfect when I played TR4 for the first time, I could almost feel the heat of that place and the presence of an evil entity. It is possible that at times the settings we like to raid or build in TR reflect some experiences we had in the past, like climbing trees when we were kids, discovering a tunnel in the country side, visiting ruins of a castle, or an island in the Mediterranean Sea, or places we'd like to go. I will never build a dreamlike level, I'd be reluctant to adventure myself in my dreams.

After reading a few pages of the manual and trying to build a few rooms with the Coastal stuff, I realized I could not understand how to build rooms that were meant to be outside or inside, in fact I did not even understood how to make portals properly. Some features of the editor seemed obvious to me like segmenting walls, other weren't at all. A partially outside world was surely too ambitious for someone who does not even master nor even understand many of the basics. This short map was horrible to see , so I gave up and decided to rebuild the Tutorial according to advices given by respected builders in the forum.

DJF: It's relieving to hear jumping into deep water without a life jacket didn't repulse you.

eRIC: After the high room with the pool, I decided I knew enough to undertake a first level, and so the first level of Omegapolis (Signs) began to come to life.

I remember how happy I was to successfully make working simple things like a combinations of pad triggers , then decided to go on with a full adventure, at that time I could not stop building... When Omegapolis was almost finished I made a pause with this project to build a level which would take place outside, that's how Eastern Sanctuary was built, in only a few weeks.

DJF: Running several things at a time, like a mainframe computer.

The levels of Omegapolis took longer, at times I deleted whole areas and started again. Levelbuilding was generally quite stressful for me, being too much anxious for the feedback; I only began to really take pleasure and enjoying myself constantly when building Journey in Togarma and the Andrea's Sword levels.

DJF: As a player, I can agree these are the most friendly of that period. It may prove builders' feelings are reflected in players' experience.

Forgotten temples of Togarma

DJF: Was there a reason why Eastern Sanctuary didn't become Omegapolis prologue but a part of a completely new story?

eRIC: The theme of exile is what underlays all of Omegapolis and Andreas's Sword games. Exile is a recurrent theme in the story of mankind and personally that fascinates me with its multi-dimensional aspects, despair and hopefulness, brokenness and healing. Eastern Sanctuary storyline was the first I wanted to tell and will hopefully see the day of light with the release of an upcoming game which will be the continuation of that one and Journey in Togarma.

DJF: What is the core of your building?

eRIC: Having confidence that skills will develop with practice (and some restrospective hindsights & feedback) is essential I think; It always does unless one loses interest and fades away. Methinks no one is born a Levelbuilder, it is lot of work and passion to see new adventures come to life while learning more things, how to create better lighting (so far the levels I built did not had any sun bulbs!), better geometry, how to use objects differently, etc….

DJF: I never noticed the lack of sunbulbs! It might be not that damaging as people say. Did your way of applying them changed after you introduced the sun, or does it stay as it was?

eRIC: Lighting is always a mysterious experiment for me, a domain that can always be improved, sometimes you have finished a room and see that the lighting is just perfect and realistic, but in many other rooms you just don't know why there is not this feeling where you know that nothing more can be added, and then you don't know what to do to make lighting more atmospheric and realistic in these other rooms.
Isola Bella

DJF: I remember these lighting patterns, different in each project. The Red and the Blue seems to be such experiment even from the name. In the meantime it began your multi-year adventure with Back to Basics. Have you planned it to be that long and ambitious or was it just another spontaneous leap into the unknown which unexpectedly changed into a fruitful habit? Now that you used to attend it regularly, could you tell us if you had any special tactics for handling the contest limits? Do you just glue things together, build intuitively or plan everything carefully to get the final flowing result? Is there any "raiding" factor you follow?

eRIC: In real life in my job, there are longtime projects requiring much organization and planning, and also shorter works more or less unexpected that must be done more in urgency. I like to work both ways, being able to adapt very quickly; in my job, just like for level building, often different types of works without the same approach are managed at the same time. So I'm used to work in “urgency”. It is exciting to have once in a while a challenge to deliver a work of quality right in time. For level building, this type of work approach can create a very good stress from which fresh ideas may come. My participation for the BtB was always spontaneous. If a theme did not inspire me, or if after a few days it has been revealed I was left without a main structure in mind with at least some gameplay and architecture ideas, I did not participate.

DJF: Any future BtB projects in plans?

eRIC: There is no planning for future BtB participation, but I will maybe pick up the gauntlet again when someone else will have win twice the competition :]

DJF: They'll have a hard task. The release count drops, but numerous talents rise around like undead skeletons...

eRIC: Only kidding, building BtB levels is greatly rewarding by itself but a bit exhausting in the end when all is done, and as far I am concerned there is a bit of sadness as well when this period of time comes to a rather abrupt end.

DJF: Entries differ. With great variety, no particular level fully sinks into memory, so whoever plays them all may be the least satisfied, unless he opens his favourite in the last order - unlikely to happen for you never know which ones these are. But what can we do? Build a great bonus level together, unlocked after everything else is played? Even less likely to occur.

I have the warmest memories from Babylon is Fallen - one of few sets I replayed, for as much happens on the screen as in my head. Have you enjoyed creating this one? You created the only that complex Sumerian game, possibly none will follow, so again I need to ask: why this theme and no other? Is it oriental world which attracts you or civilizations we know little about? Or?

eRIC: Civilization falls is another recurrent theme in the story of mankind. There is no joy when a civilization falls, and there is no need to mourn either for a cyclical process of which the outcome is self-evident. So I wanted Babylon is Fallen to be rather cheerful, an adventure that would be like a visit to what was once glorious and now is not. I wanted it as a shiny adventure, so it's good some players have warm memories of it. I agree there is not enough levels taking place in Middle-East with great civilizations and monuments. Turkey, Judea, Persia, and yes Babylon... Given today possibilities with the new generation tools, I hope someday a builder will come up with a city of Babylon resembling more to what it could be in reality at least in our imagination, with large streets, lots of gold, breathtaking hanging gardens, things that were rather absent from Babylon is fallen as it was built with the ol' good editor and its inherent limitations - I had to place fixed cameras in some rooms to avoid crashes I could not get rid of.
In the lion's den
Andreas' Scroll

DJF: How is it now? Do you think it was "for you"?

eRIC: It's easy to say afterwards. We become what we do, but still I am not sure I have always the patience, especially when having to learn new things about new tools.

DJF: Are you happy with what you made so far?

eRIC: Yes and no. There are always some things in all of my published levels I'd like to have done differently. All of them. This awareness hurts, I am long to forget about my own shortcomings. At times, reviews - those with constructive criticism - express the things that you know already or that you will only be aware of later.

DJF: If we speak of later: what next? Is the adventure begun in 2004 and continued in 2006 is still supposed to be concluded?

eRIC: I hope the conclusion, a multi-level game began in 2011, will see the light of day - I have difficulties to run again the levels built so far after a computer crash and data loss. Anyway it would be the first from me built with TRNG. The theme shall be the number 4 and inspired by figures and symbols found in the Bible with some appropriate enigmas. Almost all audios tracks and textures shall be new to the TR world.

DJF: Sounds promising. Good luck with the data recovery and have a lot of fun with this one.

You started within the tighest limits and progressed into full customization, checking every step inbetween. But what's the absolute essence? If you had to define Tomb Raider with one word, what would it be and why?

eRIC: In one word: Exploration. Discovery of places mysterious to the player where enigmas are to be solved, paths to be followed, until the final showdown. Atmosphere is mandatory. Enemies and traps, more or less necessary.

DJF: I think the last picture has it all. Thank you very much for this interview. See you around soon!

Babylon will fall