Designing custom campaigns for the Left 4 Dead series is no easy task. It’s difficult enough learning how to do it; but due to the very nature of the games themselves, it’s an even more daunting task getting the community playing them. After playing both versions of Suicide Blitz ourselves — and being pretty much blown away — we here at Steam Addicts sat down for an extended chat with their creator R.T. Frisk. After reading this article and gaping in amazement at the screenshots, we’re confident you’ll want to play them too.
So first off, I want to congratulate you on your first release of Suicide Blitz 2. Very impressive work.
Thanks, much appreciated!
Tell us a little bit about yourself – where are you from, what do you do for living, etc?
Well I was born in Houston and currently live in Plano, Texas, just outside of Dallas. I enjoy astronomy, old movies and walks in the moonlight. HA! Well those are all accurate, but don’t hold it against me. I currently work in computers/servers and do some 3D work on the side.
Is your aspiration to one day do this professionally, or is this just a labor of love?
It started out as a hobby – but the more and more I explore, learn, and become comfortable with my work, it feels like something I would really love to do for a living. So if I could get a job doing this, yes I would leap at it!
Describe a typical day in the life of RT…
There was a time when RT had a life, then he discovered mapping and his life started to resemble that of a caveman.
Let me stop talking about myself in the third-person now…
I spend a lot of time at a computer, perhaps too much. I have been taking classes locally for all sorts of different career types — almost just a way to expand my mind if you will. Little bit of work, little bit of play, little bit of hanky panky if I am lucky… A pretty standard life I would say.
What are three things you can’t live without?
Internet, women and steak.
How long have you been designing levels? Was the original Suicide Blitz your first fully-released map?
I have been designing levels for about 7 years now – 3 if you want to count serious mapping. I started out with Source back in the Half-Life 2 days and literally just fiddled around in Hammer. I learned everything from the basics of level and game design, to events and I/O.
My very first mapping attempt was actually in Doom 3; but trust me, it was not worth looking at! I did a couple of maps in Battlefield 2, wrote some tutorials for F.E.A.R when it was released, and began work on an overly ambitious Crysis mod that never came to fruition (I still keep promising myself to go back and finish it). I made some CS:S maps that were never finalized. Mostly because at the time, I was just doing it for pure fun. I had nothing invested in them other than the time I spent just learning things.
Left 4 Dead was the first time I really decided to buckle down and finish something from start to finish – and do it for more than just kicks.
What other games do you play now, and games are you most looking forward to playing?
I am not as avid a player anymore. I am sort of all over the place with games – I’ll play a great zombie game like Left 4 Dead then turn around and play The Sims 3 on my iPhone. I do play a lot of games throughout the year, but very few of them keep my (multiplayer) interest piqued. I have been having much more fun with level designing long-term, then I would with a serious MMO or multiplayer game.
Games I am most looking forward to: Star Wars: The Old Republic, F.E.A.R. 3, Dead Island, Half-Life 2 Episode 3/Half-Life 3 (more than anything) and this space MMO Infinity if it ever releases!
What games or levels have you been inspired by?
In terms of just inspiration for wanting to make maps, it would be quite the list. I will keep it short: Unreal (yes the original), F.E.A.R.(2), the Half-Life Series, Portal(2), Doom 3, Far Cry, Crysis(2) – I know I am forgetting some, but those are the big ones.
There have even been some campaigns where I was just like, wow! One in particular was One 4 Nine by Kev Edwards. After I played it, I literally felt like this Hammer noob! His attention to detail was so much higher than mine; I learned a lot just from seeing how he put so much thought into each little area. Was a big help.
I also think that Dark Carnival is one of the coolest groups of maps ever made. I have loved it since the first time I played it.
Speaking of inspiration, Map 2 (The Riverwalk) is really stunning – what was its inspiration?
The San Antonio River Walk – quite dumbed down though.
Is there a personal connection there?
Well, it was something I wanted to do originally – I used to live near there.
Do you find it frustrating that you can’t join a Left 4 Dead game and automatically download the map – as with most other games? Doesn’t it really make it difficult for community maps such as yours’ to get the recognition they deserve?
For sure! As all Steam Addicts will know (particularly those who own Left 4 Dead alongside other Valve games), the lack of a real-time download has really been a hindrance to the mapping community.
In games like Garry’s Mod, you can download gigs of data on the fly, where L4D(2) still requires a third-party site. It all comes down to the L4D dynamic. In most cases, unfortunately, a campaign would be finished by the time you were done downloading it from the server. Since the (L4D) play style is not the same as in a perpetual campaign/map, your audience either comes from word of mouth or they are seeking maps out on their own. It is good though that sites like L4Dmaps.com exist, or I don’t know where we would be!
Suicide Blitz 2 is essentially a rework of your original Suicide Blitz map for Left 4 Dead (1). I know it’s a very hard thing to keep track of, but can you give us some sense of how much work went into the original, and how much additional time it took to get Suicide Blitz 2 to where it is now?
Suicide Blitz 1 took about 7 months to complete over a year’s time. Then there were times when I just wasn’t working on it at all. I was developing it pretty much in the dark. (In reference to the community) there was no hype, no advertising – none of that. It was my first real project that I was sticking out there for the “world” to see, so I was hoping that the quality would carry its reputation, rather than the hype. As for Suicide Blitz 2, that probably took about a year to complete. There was a short buffer after the game came out that I just played and did my own thing. I started to get some ideas for Suicide Blitz 2 during this time and eventually start on it about May of 2010. I didn’t hit it full force as I would have liked. I was balancing school, real-life and all that jazz so it was slow in coming. (Even with a campaign “base” already in place)
What motivates you most to spend all this time mapping?
Sometimes I wonder that myself (grins). Ha, just kidding!
You know, I love mapping. I love the creation process: the responses of people who play it, learning all the technical aspects and work that goes into creating custom assets and maps… It is just really interesting to me. It is kind of like asking an artist why he likes to paint, or a musician why he likes to play music – it gets in your blood! You start seeing the world in terms of how you could build it – paying more attention to architecture and things around you. It would be nice to get paid doing It, I won’t lie (grins again).
So you had some other contributors on this map (for instance the elevator music in the first map – made me lol), can you tell me a bit about how you came to be hooked up with them and what they added to Suicide Blitz 2?
I have always tried to stay pretty open with other mappers in the community, as well as these other selected few people who seem to be specifically gifted in certain game design areas. I would look up other mappers on Steam (or vice versa) and friend them. I would start talking with them about things and before I knew it, we were collaborating on ideas for their maps as well as mine. I have had my grubby little fingers in quite a few campaigns floating around – be it voice acting, a bit of level design and game dynamics, or navigation help. It is sort of my nature to try and learn from other people and give any help I can as well.
As for their additions, let me break it down for you a little…
shotgunefx, who I consider almost an alien (in a good, ET kind of way, because he talks to me in code and I am just like “what?!”) was huge in helping me with some of the more complex scripts in my campaign.
Boogada (the creator of Detour Ahead) helped me with sprucing up some areas when I was starting to lose it. He was a big help, particularly on Map 4 (The City).
Inigo Montoya helped me a ton with models; also a late comer to that crowd was bunny who really worked out all the kinks regarding custom melee weapons and a slick animation for the Coast Guard boat on Map 2.
Intro, saferooms and daylight reveal are all custom music. CosmicD did all my music except for one track on Map 4. Glad you liked the elevator music… I have that as my ringtone (laughs).
It was really a pretty tight knit group of guys I was working with constantly to get it all looking just right – they saved me a ton of time! I owe them a lot more than a shout out in a readme.txt file, that is for sure.
Which map of the campaign was the hardest to make? What part took the longest?
Some people seem to think the stadium was the hardest to make; but in fact, it was Map 2. Even though I had the whole idea laid out on paper (and in my head), it just took a while to make. There is still an ongoing optimization problem I am hoping to rectify in the first patch; but frankly, it just took a while to get everything meshing together correctly (i.e. lighting, fog, view distance, the details and whatnot). It went through some event iterations before I settled on the Coast Guard boat, so a lot of work was just scrapped and never seen. That is campaign designing, I suppose (grins).
You’re obviously a perfectionist. What’s the good and bad in that? Is there anything in the campaign you know you’ll never be happy with? And when will you know it’s “done”?
Trying to be a perfectionist in L4D is like trying to keep Bill from being killed off by Valve (why Valve, why?!)…
It is pretty much impossible. I probably wouldn’t say I am perfectionist per se, but there was definitely a level of quality I wanted to hit. Unfortunately, it is difficult in L4D mapping because there are just some aspects of the game that cannot be overcome (that’s right – I am looking at you, Survivor Bots).
Then you have to deal with things like server mods. You have to deal with some game dynamic inconsistencies that only seem to be inherent to L4D(2) (as opposed to other source games).
But enough of the bad!
The good thing is that you tend to work a lot harder trying to make sure all the major bugs are fixed (although it seems that dedicated servers have proven to be my greatest enemy again regarding weapon spawns). I like to think I did a good job with the navigation and overall flow, so in regards to the good; that is definitely a plus.
One thing I will never be happy with regarding Suicide Blitz 2 is the fact that it is based off an earlier version of my work. I learned a lot of things since I made Suicide Blitz. I would have loved to have made a completely new 5-map campaign, but it seemed more logical to just expand and revise the original version. The original Suicide Blitz map 2 actually contained level design elements that I made when Episode 1 came out! So getting rid of some of my earlier work was a priority for me.
I think I will know this is done when the bug reports stop flowing in. That was how I gauged calling Suicide Blitz “final” on L4DMaps, so I am hoping to do the same with Suicide Blitz 2. There will be some changes in the upcoming version that will hopefully get it to where I want it to be.
And when can we expect that?
I am hoping for mid-June at the moment. I am letting Version 1 simmer a bit so I can grab as many bugs as I can in the first patch. I don’t want to have the community downloading an insanely large amount of versions.
Any particular part of the campaign that you spent more time than you should have tweaking simply because you felt driven to get it “just so”?
I already mentioned map 2, but also map 4 was a big tweakfest. Boogada and I were literally Skyping every other night with ideas on how to make certain parts look better and whatnot. That probably went on for about 2 weeks straight, and then on-and-off for a couple of months until I felt we had it looking pretty good. I really like how Map 4 turned out though (the theater, bowling alley, underground and apartment). I would want to kill zombies there if I hadn’t made it!
What do you like most about mapping, and what do you dislike the most?
Creating worlds in a 3D environment is just awesome. I mean, I was a big Lego kid growing up; but ya know, there was only so much you could do with that. Besides, I barely had enough to make a house – those things just lost themselves! Anyway, I really can’t describe it with any more intelligent word than just “awesome”. It is quite addictive.
What I hate the most: sitting at my computer in front of Hammer, practically a zombie myself from a 20 hour day, wondering why this little dynamic isn’t working and wanting to thrust my face through the monitor to just end it all! I think a more proper answer would be illogical problems – those certain problems in editors that literally defy logic. It usually all works out though!
What’s your opinion on Left 4 Dead versus Left 4 Dead 2 both as a player and level designer? And what other things would you like to see incorporated either in a patch or future release (aka L4D3)?
Left 4 Dead 1 is like 28 Days Later with a taste of humor and Left 4 Dead 2 is like Zombieland. They really have a totally different feel. As a player, I prefer Left 4 Dead 2. It has everything the first game had (minus the consistently dark atmosphere), plus a lot of other great things.
As a mapper, Left 4 Dead 2 is the winner hands down. Valve gave us a lot more flexibility with VScripts, weapons and events, as well as assets.
As for L4D3, I would really like a myriad of infected and possibly survivors. I always felt the fact that there were no NPCs in the game was a bit of a drag, too. I know it would be tough to implement successfully, but I would love a game that covered the actual outbreak – full with people running in the streets, CEDA still active in the L4D world, and some survivors having to deal with the initial chaos of the outbreak. A lot of this is wishful thinking, and I know it would be a difficult thing to do, but that is what I would like (grins).
So what’s next after you make the final version of Suicide Blitz 2?
I have had Portal 2 on my brain so bad I almost feel it would be a travesty if I did not try to create something for it. I would like to start with something simple to see if I can really create something in a totally different game and have some success. I have been in talks with a couple of other mappers (Boogada from Detour Ahead and Darth Brush from Dead before Dawn) about making some movie-related campaigns. We will have to wait and see if that pans out. I’d really like to work on something as part of a team (just for the experience).
Any advice for your fellow aspiring designers?
Don’t Panic! Oh wait, that is something else… BE PATIENT!
Now this doesn’t apply to all games; but for L4D, Source guru or not, you have to be patient. I think a lot of new mappers want to jump in and create the greatest thing ever because they have this “idea” in their head. We all have that amazing idea; of course making it work in a game can sometimes be like forcing a hot dog weiner through a Cheerio hole… (Wow, I am full of them today).
My advice is to start slow, learn your tools, and practice before you try to create something for the public. Use real world locations to get the hang of designing. (It helps to have a reference) . And stick with it! Mapping something large can really be a strain on your personal life, so pace yourself. Don’t get burned out. Oh, and don’t let people get you down if they rip on your work. Just learn from it (if it is a viable critique), and try again.
We’d like to thank R.T. for being so generous with his time and for his insightful responses. You can find the latest download mirrors for the Suicide Blitz maps at his website suicideblitz.info, and for all the latest updates be sure to keep Steam Addicts in your bookmarks.R T Frisk, RT FRISK, Suicide Blitz portal, suicide blitz 2 portal 2, suicide blitz