[Emambu] Let's start out with the general information. Tell us a bit about who you are, and what got you first interested in the SW universe and editing in general.
[Surman] I'm actually a 21 year old rookie Police officer, I've been out of the Police Academy for almost 2 months now (which is why I don't have as much time for editing anymore). I first got interested in Star Wars about the time the original trilogy were re-released as the special edition, I'd also just got Dark Forces, as a friend recommended it. After seeing the movies again and playing through DF I was hooked and ended up buying just about every SW game that was out at the time.
I first got into editing with Duke Nukem 3d, the editor came with the game and I fiddled round with it and muddled my way through building a box with a door and a pigcop cop in it. Eventually I managed to make bigger and better boxes and found I really enjoyed building my own stuff, so when I found out about the dark forces editor, I progressed into making boxes with a star wars theme. The thing I like most about editing is that I can take something I imagine and make it 'real' so to speak, as a kid I was always using my imagination to pretend I was in a space ship or army base.....I guess this is just an extension of that, now I can imagine it, build it and share it with others.
[Emambu] How did you first come across the DF/JK community? What prompted you to stay?
[Surman] When I first had DF and its editors I didn't have access to the 'net. I used to go to my dad’s work (which had internet) about once a month and spend a few hours there downloading stuff onto disk. I came across some great DF sites and downloaded all the levels I could. I guess I ended up staying because there was just so much out there for DF; I used to have heaps of DF levels stored on my HD, and at the time a lot of them were quite good, plus it was Star Wars.
[Emambu] "Rebel Agent" was your first endeavor into editing world of MotS, but have you had any previous experience editing before that?
[Surman] I'd been editing MotS for quite a while before I started Rebel Agent. It took me a while to progress from boxy levels and fully master the use of JED. Then I mucked about with a few different ideas, never finishing anything and starting new projects whenever I got bored. My first major project before Rebel Agent was my version of the Death Star. I think that architecturally it was much better than Rebel Agent but it got canned as I couldn't recreate it the way I wanted with JK/MotS.
[Emambu] Tell us a bit about your released level. What was your inspiration for creating it? Out of countless possible ideas, why pick this one?
[Surman] There were a couple of reasons, first I'd read the DF books and the expanded back story really interested me. Originally I thought about a two level series, with the first level based in the city outside the base, but scrapped that. I always liked the original DF levels; I still play DF occasionally now, and the first level was a particular favourite. It was supposed to be a secret research base, but it didn't quite fit with what I imagined (but considering the limitations of the DF engine it was damn good) so I thought I'd use the JK/MotS engine to enhance it and make it how I imagined.
[Emambu] While most of the scenes are original, there's also a bit that's tailored back to Level 1 of Dark Forces (Danuta). Any thoughts as to why? Are you paying homage to an extent?
[Surman] I wanted to make the level different, but still recognizable as the secret base on Danuta, so to that extent I tried to keep it the same, just adding some new bits. I also put in a few bits that hint at what’s to come later during DF. So I guess the answer would be yes, I am paying homage to the original Secret base.
[Emambu] With tons of areas that are placed simply for exploring purposes (i.e. not critical for completion of the mission) did you sketch out an overall design first, or did you build as you went along?
[Surman] Usually I do a bit of both. I've always been told I have a very visual imagination; a lot of it I just think about and build it, but if I have trouble thinking how a certain part should fit together or appear, I usually sketch it out from different perspectives. Initially I had an idea of what I wanted to add: medical bays, science labs and so forth. Then I started to design specific rooms on paper.
[Emambu] What were your personal goals when you created "Rebel Agent?" Do you think you've met them?
[Surman] Realism was really my number one goal. I wanted it to feel like a proper base, thus the inclusion of the extra stuff. And I wanted a level that was not boxy or boring in its design or architecture. I really wanted to add more, but the limitations of JK thwarted that. So although I was really pleased how it turned out, I was disappointed I couldn't add more. Overall I think I achieved what I set out to.
[Emambu] What was the easiest part in creating this level? What was the hardest?
[Surman] The easiest part was making the areas from DF as I had something to work off and basically copy; it was harder to add new areas keeping to the style of DF and making them interesting, and doing all that and preventing clipping in the open areas. The hardest bit I found was getting everything to work, particularly the mission goals, as when it came to cogging I was really out of my depth. And it was more by luck than skill and a lot of help from the JK community that I managed to do some cogging and get it to work.
[Emambu] Switching gears a bit, you're currently in production of another level, this time for the Jedi Outcast system. Can you tell us a little bit about why you decided to move on to a new engine?
[Surman] Simple, Realism. I can build more architecturally complex levels and do a lot of stuff that I couldn't because of limitations with JK/Mots, added to that just the fact that the Q3 engine is so much superior in everything when compared to JK (In my opinion, anyway).
[Emambu] Your level takes place onboard the Tantive IV, so will this take place during the events of ANH? Is there anything about the plot, or the cast of characters, you'd like to reveal?
[Surman] Sure. The player will take on the role of a stormtrooper during the boarding of the corvette in ANH, and there'll be a couple of troops that follow you around and help you out. The plot will involve the player 'capturing' the ship along and performing tasks such as getting to the comms center before the rebels can send a distress message and locating and downloading the computer system in the search for the stolen plans. The player may also have to escort Captain Antilles to Lord Vader; haven't decided about that bit yet.
[Emambu] Concerning construction, will the layout be similar to "Rebel Agent?" In other words will the corvette be fully working and complete with nonessential areas like the imperial base in your last level was?
[Surman] Yes. I plan on building the Corvette in full, inside the hangar, complete with living quarters and everything. At the moment I'm going off the Tantive IV cut out in the incredible cross sections book, and also using the interior design of the Radiant V from TPM incredible cross sections. Other parts I'm making from scratch to fit in with existing stuff.
[Emambu] Do have any kind of enhancements planned, either flashy or functional - or both? Any new sounds, skins, scripted events, etc?
[Surman] So far I have many new textures, thanks mainly to BSR, and I've been working on a couple of new rebel skins to add some variety to the characters in the level. I'd like to add some new scripted events but for the moment I haven't even looked at the scripting system. Once I've done the architecture that I'll 'try' to learn how to script. Adding the rebel DH-17 blaster would be good, but I really don't have the skills to make and implement it at the moment.
[Emambu] What kind of atmosphere are you going to create? What kind of mood do you want to put the player in?
[Surman] I want parts of the level to be fast paced action/combat like in the opening scenes of ANH, but other parts I'm aiming for a more subdued atmosphere. Certain parts of the ship will be better defended and some empty, so I want to keep the player on his/her toes throughout the level.....you never know where those sneaky rebels will be hiding. Overall I want the player to feel that there is a sense of urgency to completing the objectives, before the rebels can send a distress call or delete the computer system.......I wonder if its possible to add time limits to the objectives?
[Emambu] When you finish with this one, are you going to plan any more future projects?
[Surman] Yes, at some point I'd like to finish off my Death Star project for JO and perhaps mess around with a few other ideas.
[Emambu] Do you want to speculate on a possible release date, or is it too soon for that?
[Surman] Way to soon for that! Unfortunately with my job and the amount of time it takes up I have no idea if I'll even be able to finish this level. Fingers crossed that eventually it'll get done.
[Emambu] Now that you've delved into the MotS and JO engines, which do you think you prefer? What are your feelings on the strengths and weaknesses of each? Anything that's easy to accomplish with JO that you couldn't really do with MotS? And vice versa as well?
[Surman] I prefer JO's engine, for the reasons I stated earlier. You can build more complex stuff with it. I think overall that JO is much better, but from what I've seen it’s much harder to create great SP levels. Whereas with JK, editors accomplished a lot through cogging, it seems that the JO scripting system is limited somewhat (I may be wrong there...), and I don't think the community will see as much variety in SP JO levels as with JK.
[Emambu] Do you see yourself ever returning to finish some of your uncompleted works such as your Death Star level?
[Surman] Not the JK versions, if I do it'll be for JO. Death Star I would really like to finish one day.
[Emambu] A bit off topic but I have to ask: How does it feel to be a cop? Anything that you really enjoy? Anything about the job surprise you, things you weren't expecting when you first decided to join?
[Surman] I really enjoy all of it. Some of it’s not what I expected (like the attitudes of other cops, racism and sexism are definitely still alive in the police service)...trust me it’s nothing like TV, a lot of it is paperwork. But I look forward to going to work every day.
The hardest thing is getting used to carrying a gun, it just feels so alien (to me anyway) to carry a firearm. And it’s pretty scary when you realize you've got the power to end someone’s life or injure them, though fingers crossed it never has to leave its holster.
[Emambu] Any last thoughts, comments, reflections, or observations that you'd like to make?
[Surman] I guess one thing I'd like to comment on is the quality of JO levels, both released and in development. There’s some amazing stuff being built out there and a lot of very talented people making levels. It’s just a pity there’s not more SP stuff in development. (As a gamer I prefer the SP experience over MP).
[Emambu] Well, that's the end of the interview. Thanks a lot for your time, and best of luck on your upcoming level.
[Surman] Thanks, hopefully it will get finished and released, and not too far in the future!
[Emambu] You can check out the progress of Matt Surman's JO level, and other sp levels, on our Showcase Forum board.