Gary La Rochelle aka maniac44
Gary La Rochelle interviewed by Ian Smith aka Marksdad in November 2002

Ian: "Usually, I'd begin one of these interviews by asking the custom level builder how they first discovered TR. Often, the answer is that they played a demo of a TR game in a Games magazine or some such and became hooked. In your case, however, the reasons are a little more unusual. Explain."

Gary: "I used to work at Eidos Interactive's San Francisco office. I worked as a game artist. I was there when Eidos was first formed (I worked for a company called Domark Software, which merged with four other companies to form Eidos). It was hard not to notice TR. When it first came in for testing, we all went 'wow'. I've been following TR ever since."

Ian: "Right, I would then probably go on to ask the custom builder what prior experience they had (if any) with designing computer game levels. In your case, I would imagine that it would be your life story. So (very briefly) give us a run down."

Gary: "I've been doing art all my life. I decided to make a career out of it and went off to Art College. After I got out, I worked for a couple of graphics places then went freelance for 12 years. Got tired of that (I like a steady pay check) and noticed the Bay Area was a major game producing hub. I always liked 3D computer art so I took a few classes in it. Then I got lucky and ended up at Domark as a 3D artist. I became a true 'Gamer' then."

Ian: "I'm sure there are many young custom level builders out there who would love to have a job designing/building levels. Can you give any advice to aspiring Game designers on how to break into the industry?"

Gary: "I can only speak for the art part of the gaming industry. Learn as much art as possible. Be able to draw things, not just work a computer. You have to know Photoshop and a 3D program (MAYA would be the best program to learn). If you want to be a level designer, have a good architectural sense. Play lots of games!"

Ian: "Now, another question I usually ask is 'How difficult did you find the TR Level Editor Manual?'. But you would presumably have found it simple to understand because you actually wrote it. Was that a satisfying experience? Is there anything you'd change or feel the need to clarify?"

Gary: "I would have liked to add more illustrations to the manual. There was just two of us working on it (Rebecca Shearin and myself) and we had to figure out everything. There was a lot of testing ('Gee, I wonder how this works?'). That cut into the writing/design time. I don't think I'd do it again. I'm a visual artist not a writer."

Ian: "When you say you had to figure everything out; do you mean that you didn't already know? How long were you actually given to write the manual, anyway? (I like some of the turns of phrase you employ amid the technical instructions, btw!)?"

Gary: "We were given the tools from CORE. They build a new set of tools for every game. Since CORE built the tools, there was no need for a manual for themselves. But we had to figure out the new features and just exactly what they did. CORE was extremely busy getting TR Chronicles together and just didn't have the time to sit down and tell us everything they knew about the editor. Figuring out the OCBs of the objects was a chore. I'm sure we didn't get all of them."

Ian: "Well, under those circumstances, I must say that you did an extremely good job. Now, at this point, I would probably ask the builder to go through each of his levels in turn, but I am in the very fortunate position of being able to ask you to comment on one of the actual published TR games. I know you didn't have a hand in designing the first few, but do you have an actual favourite among the Core releases?"

Gary: "I liked TR2 the most then parts of TR3. TR3 got a little carried away with the puzzles."

Ian: "The Lost Artifact. Basically, you built it. I love it; it's undoubtedly my favourite of the Gold games and, IMO, more enjoyable than TR3 (the game it was designed as an Add-on for). What was your actual role in its construction?"

Gary: "Three of us put Lost Artifact together. Phil Campbell (who designed all of the Gold levels), Rebecca Shearin (who did all of the textures for the Gold games) and myself. I took care of new 3D shapes and their textures, some of the environmental textures, the interface splash screens, the manual and ad art. I also modified some of the shapes from TR3 and made new things from them. For example: the worker in the orange jumpsuits. They used to be the security guards with batons. The Highland warriors use to be the South Pacific native. We all put our heads together for the storyline/level layouts. We also started working on the TR4 Gold levels then the plug got pulled on the project."

Ian: "OH! You have to tell me more!! What type of levels were you hoping to create? Egyptian, or were you planning on sending her somewhere new? You don't happen to have saved any of the 'work in progress', by any chance?"

Gary: "It was going to be Lara Croft in the Caribbean. We could have levels relating to New Orleans (Voodoo, Mardi Gras, Cemeteries), Port Royal Jamaica (Pirates. There's a very interesting history to Port Royal. It was THE pirate hang out in the late 1600's. Half of the city sank beneath the bay in an earthquake. Would have made for a very cool level), and the Bermuda Triangle. There are no surviving art/models from that effort.

Ian: "Have any of the custom levels so far produced met the TR4 Gold concepts that you were attempting, do you think?"

Gary: "I don't think I've seen any custom levels that remind me of what we were planning. But, then again, I haven't seen all of the levels."

Ian: "Well, I can assure you that there are none out there that have come up with those ideas. But, then again, custom level builders are working to a disadvantage; in that they only have a limited set of textures, (and therefore Themes) to play with. Getting back to Lost Artifact, I have to say that those Scottish Castle textures are lovely, and a firm favourite among many custom builders and players. Were you responsible for them?"

Gary: "No, I didn't do them. Some of those textures were used from the India levels of TR3 (made by the talented folks at Core). Rebecca would modify some of them for our needs. She would also make up new textures to fill in any needs we had. Rebecca is amazing with textures."

Ian: "Which is your favourite among TLA levels?"

Gary: "I think Shakespeare's Cliff was my favorite. There's just so much going on in that level. And a variety of ways to explore the level. Going nuts on the quadbike is fun. During testing, we had to see how many places we could get the bike stuck in. Then fix it. That was a few fun days of testing."

Ian: "How did you go about designing the Gold levels? Did you plan/draw them all out beforehand; make them up as you went along; both?"

Gary: "Phillip Campbell was the genius behind the Gold Levels. The three of us would sit down and discuss what we wanted in the level and what kind of game play we wanted. Then we would lock Phil in a dark room with a 55 gallon drum of coffee and a carton of cigarettes (Phil, you really should stop smoking). A couple of days later Phil would come out with a level. I'd play it and recommend changes (which were very few). Then Rebecca would start the texturing. Also each level had a movie theme to them. The first two were the Highlander. The third was The Great Escape. Forth was Thunderball. The fifth was Planet of the Apes. The sixth level we threw together in two weeks just to wrap things up."

Ian: "Speaking of creating new shapes/objects; what do you think of the custom built 'additions' created by the fans? The Objects, the WAD mergers, and the rest; do you approve, or does it infringe on Core/Eidos territory?"

Gary: "I think it's great. We knew people would come up with these things. CORE also had an Animation Editor (called the Anim Editor) which edited shapes, their textures and animations. It was never released because it was so complicated and it would take a manual twice the size of the Level Editor to show how it worked.

Tomb of Nelomgals

Ian: "Ok, Tomb of Nelomgals (released Mar 5, 2001). This was your contribution to the custom level repetoire (and my ostensible excuse for interviewing you). How long did it take you to build? Presumably you must have breezed through it."

Gary: "Nelomgals wasn't at first made as a level. While writing the manual, we had to test a whole bunch of things that we weren't sure how they worked. So I made a test level. I'd stick in something and test it out. After the manual was done, I looked at the test level and thought 'with just a few more days work, this could be a real level.' Since Eidos then eliminated their internal development department after the manual was done (i.e. We got laid off), I had some free time on my hands. So I finished up the level."

Ian: "Explain the meaning of the title. Is it an anagram? It's always intrigued me."

Gary: "Nelomgals is the name of a friend spelt backwards. She's a huge TR fan and I named the level after her."

Ian: "So her name's Slagmolen, then?"

Gary: "Yes, and she also helped test the manual. We gave her the manual and told her to see if she could build a level with what we had written. And she did."

Ian: "Are you aware of the extent of the custom level craze? Have you played any of the levels themselves?"

Gary: "I played a few of them. Some people are very talented. After spending a few years of my life with TR, I started to burn out a little on TR. I wanted to check out some of the other great games out there. So after departing from Eidos, I wanted to spend a lot of time just playing other games. Just to see something else besides TR."

Ian: "What Games are you currently enjoying? As a matter of fact, what are you working on at the moment, and when can we expect to be able to play it?"

Gary: "Right now I'm playing Battlefield 1942. Just finished NOLF 2. I can always enjoy a good game of Yuri's Revenge. I spend a lot of time checking out demos of games. While at Eidos, I had the unofficial title of 'Keeper of the Demos'. Whenever a demo of a game came in, I held onto it. And if anyone need to do some research on game play, we could check out the other game demos. I'm waiting for 007 Nightfire. Phillip Campbell is now the Creative Director on the 007 series. I always enjoy his work. I'm currently doing freelance work for a couple of game companies. I'm doing textures, interfaces, icons and developing game play. The one thing that I'm really enjoying right now is developing games for the cell phone industry. You can get things done very quickly in that field. If you have the right people working on a cell phone game, you can have a game done in a few weeks as opposed to a few years."

Ian: "Well, thank you for Nelomgals. And on behalf of everyone at, thank you for the Level Editor!"