Covaro: What got you started in computer gaming?

Charlie: I heard that only the coolest people play games.

What about DOOMing?

Again with the cool people.

I remember when I first downloaded the shareware. The fastest modems then were 9.6K or around there so I waited quite a while. But it was such a weird feeling to get inside a world, with creatures groaning all around and halls darkening into the distance. I couldn't believe it! I think I skipped school that week. Then, I continued to play because it was the first game we could take to the labs at school and play across our network. Basically, I kept skipping school so to speak.

How did the ADA come about and is there any meaning to the name?

ADA, or the Alpha Dog Alliance, was just the name that stuck from a hatfull of choices. I think it was just cocky enough to get us excited about the project. You know, you hear about 'alpha wolves' and 'alpha chimps' and what-not. There is always one 'alpha male' per pack who is the leader of the pack who sets the direction for the others; and beats the snot out of any other wolves/chimps who oppose. Certainly, if a group of alpha dogs came together, they would have to form an alliance, because the only way to pick a real leader would be to fight to the death. Or something.

How was the idea behind the S*T*R*A*I*N Project developed?

Incrementally, which is the only way I think you can do any project. That is, the story didn't come first, nor did the monsters come first. Nor did pretty levels come first. It seems to me that if you pick one thing first, like the story, and try to force everything else in place, something won't quite fit and it will show.

For example, the first story was that you were fighting mutants who were accidentally poisoned. When your character was hurt, his little image became more mutant. You didn't lose life, you lost "atomic structure." By finding vaccine-filled syringes on the level, you could replace some of your structure. If you lost all structure, you became a drooling mutant yourself, and your character was dead.

Well we liked that, but then we found out just how hard it would be to make 6 or so mutant baddies. You'd have to build models and bend them into walking poses and firing poses and dying poses, take photos from behind, in front, etc, then convert them to the doom palette colors and touch them all up. We hadn't thought that through! There would be hundreds of sprites to build. No one accepted the challenge. Should we back out of doing a "TC" and just do levels? Nah. There are plenty of full level sets.

We had a guy, Bishop, who would do some editing. He would redo the marine, then recolor or resize hundreds of monster frames. Hmm. We went back and worked the story over to be, essentially, DOOM III. We liked that just as much. Especially since we felt we had some important changes to DOOM II we could make! (More on that later. I peeked ahead at the questions.

Final story: All the demons were killed on *earth*. The end of DOOM II claimed so. But what if a bad colonel had stored some specimens at a moon lab so he could have experiments done? Somehow the hell-spawn have mutated into a stronger variety, but we'll leave the reason up to the player's imagination. Did the experiments mutate the demons? If so, did Satan plan this all along. Or is this just the second wave from hell?

In the level designs you did... what was your personal favorite?

Well, that would have to be 9, where you are teased three times when you try to get the rocket launcher! Nowadays, I admit it is a little amateurish. It's all about tricks. The whole time I designed it, I was trying to invent a 'roller coaster' of sliding walls and doors. I would think of a trick first, such as the demons that come down on platforms. The platforms are different heights and so the demons are released into your locked room in 'time release' fashion as each platform touches the ground in turn. Anyway, I would think of a trick first, then I would find a place for it. In the end, the level doesn't really feel like a particular place, but I think it demonstrated lots of new ideas (at least as far as I know) such as gates that close when you approach them and open again when you walk away. THREE ways to get stopped from reaching the same prize (a rocket launcher), running around in a room to get monsters to fight, but doing it in a figure 8 pattern instead of in a circle. And several more, such as the time-released baddies. Kill the current one fast or the next one will join in when his platform reaches the ground!

What goal were you looking to reach with the creation of S*T*R*A*I*N? How much did it meet your goals?

Aha! The question I wanted! Good interviewer! I'll answer the last question first: STRAIN met MY goals completely. I hope the rest of the team can say that as well. What were those goals? Well, certainly it had to be fun and unique. I also wanted it complete: new music, new levels, new textures, and new baddies. (Some would argue the baddies could be better.) However, my biggest goal was this:

Would it be possible to improve DOOM and DOOM II?

First, DOOM and DOOM II are great games, period. Even if they didn't bring the new "2 and a half"-D technology to gaming, the gameplay itself was ideal: prizes, secret rooms, sub-goals, scary monsters, shotguns, ... But I was a little disappointed in the DOOM II monsters. They looked great. There was a fat demon with flame throwers for arms, a rocket launching skeleton, a baby spider with a plasma gun, and, then of course, the archvile.

Out of those, only the archvile counts at all! I say this because he was different. He had a special behaviour -- his line-of-sight flame attack. This new behaviour forced you to think up new strategies for taking him out. As for the other three -- the revenant, mancubus, and baby spider -- well what did they add that imps and cacodemons didn't have covered? They were tougher to kill because they had more hit points, and there bullets hurt more. That's it! No new strategy required.

OK. The revenant had guided missiles so that's something, but not much because they were so damn fast!

All these monsters were very neat to look at, but they didn't really add much to game play. Your strategy was basically to use a bigger gun on a mancubus than you would on an imp. Of course, if the mancubus flames you, you're pretty much dead so don't get in the open. I found myself hiding behind doors and shooting my way through all of DOOM II. Those baby spiders were impossible. And that was pretty much true for the other new monsters, too. The game degenerated into slipping into the open, shooting a double barrel shot, then ducking away again.

In DOOM (I), you may be out on a ledge above some lava when a hidden trap door opens and out comes a cacodemon! Aaahhh! Shoot! No run! No Shoot! Phew! Got him. If this scene occurred in DOOM II, and the trap door opened, but exposed a mancubus, a revenant, or a spider demon, you would not survive. How fun is that? To spend the whole game hiding like a wimp?

In STRAIN, we tried to adjust the monsters to be a fair challenge. More importantly, we tried to make their behaviours unique. There is a super imp which runs very fast, but pauses before he fires. That's his weak point. And you better exploit it! Because, after the pause, he unleashes imp fireball after fireball. This is like a baby spider, but the fireballs are only as painful as an imp fireball and only move that fast. An intermediate player could dodge them, especially if there was some distance between the super imp and the marine. Of course, if you try to run, the thing will outrun you without even trying.

A level designer could (and did) use super imps in groups at a distance; all repeatedly firing balls of flame to light up the night! It's an experience that's a lot like "R-Type" or some other 'scrolling side shooter.' Notice one fun thing about DOOM is that you have a LOT of monsters. A big problem with Quake is that the world is pretty barren. The polygon monsters in Quake cause the designers to use a lot less of them. Monsters shouldn't be too hard to kill when alone. That way, you can use them in groups for a super slaugher good time!

We have a monsters with a very lethal weapon (I dont' want to spoil it, but very few hit points. Hmm, in a group of monsters who should you take out first? Could it be a guy who dies with one hit, but that is wielding a mega gun?

Hmm. If there are super imps in a group, which one should you take out first? That's a trick question. Notice that if you shoot them, they have to pause again before firing back. In other words, if you hit each one in turn with chaingun lead, they are pretty much immobilized. This is the only monster I know in any first-person shooter game where it is better to kill each one a little at a time, than to take out one at a time.

We also have flying robots shooting guided missiles which move very slowly. We got a few complaints at first that the missiles never hit the player and were too easy. Those same players didn't write back when they got to later levels and had almost no cover. They had to run around in circles from these relentless, slow fireballs, stopping to shoot occasionally, but knowing they had to start running again immediately.

Strategy! If a game doesn't require any thinking, you might as well be watching TV!

Do you believe that if you had only made S*T*R*A*I*N a add-on and not a TC it could have been as much of a standout project?

Not at all. And let me take this chance to point out how much harder it is to make a TC. You have to create baddies, play test them, then build levels that do fun things with them specifically! You can't just make pretty levels and then populate them with random creatures. You have to give holobots and demon lords the ultimate location for a new challenge specific to their abilities. That takes a LONG time. So, to anyone making an add-on, if you want a real challenge, the TC is the only way to go!

So where did all the weapons/monster designs come from?

I did one (the Minister of Hate -- the baby cyber). Bishop did most of them, including the marine, which was really complicated. Then Chris Shullenbarger did one (the Doppleganger -- the blue lost soul). Will Vale did one (the Polydrone -- flying chaingun cube), and Iikka Keranen did the FFG (red plasma). The new (and simple) monsters and weapons were done by me in Alias/Wavefront (the Holobot, and the Psychic Blaster.)

The behaviours of the new baddies came from Jon Landis and myself trying out new things until we liked what we got. You are limited in a lot of ways by what you can change in the DOOM engine. We then had to change some again that didn't work out as well as we had hoped.

There is one monster you'll never see. He is in the SS-Trooper slot of DOOM II, and you don't want to meet him. He's basically a super-explosive, super-speed spirit that is about a centimeter tall and flies. He is so destructive that he can kill you even in god mode! The reason we made such a beast is that we originally planned to have the moon base covered in airlocks and glass. Using an airlock wrong or shooting out glass would cause the release of what we called the "decompression daemon." Unfortunately, created such a level would be lots of trouble because of co-op games and deathmatches. In the end, not a single one of these monsters made it into the game. I can always hope someone will do a STRAIN add-on (an add-on add-on, basically). Then maybe they will use the decompressions daemon.

You guys got Shaw and Klem to do your music... did you ask them, or did they offer they're services.

I hope I can claim I introduced them. David Shaw volunteered and I scouted out Mark Klem after his awesome music in Memento Mori. I can't believe either of these guys work for free! They accepted the STRAIN challenge and the result was very impressive. This was before MM II or any other project. I hope they form a studio someday and do professional music. I hope I get a discount then. (P.S. Several of the group had me wondering why they didn't do levels professionally.)

What's next for the ADA? Quake2, or one of the other new shooters or are you staying with DOOM for awhile?

Quake 2 would be nice! I'm really, really enjoying playing it. Unfortunately we were an alliance brought together to make one game we all wanted to make, so it's not really a team like TeamTNT. Some of the members of ADA are now on TeamTNT or retired from writing games due to upset wives. (Our ages ranged from 16 to 40!)

If you had had the source code for DOOM back during S*T*R*A*I*N's production would there have been anything else you would have done to the game to change it?

That would have been great. There were certain monsters and effects we just couldn't get by changing a few tables with Dehacked. Still, there is a certain satisfaction in finding ways to push a tool (Doom II) way beyond its original purpose. Before we were through, we had to rename sprites to hide them from Doom II, steal animation frames and sound effects from one baddie and use them on another. It was a mess, but it was kind of fun.

Here's one we never got to do, but it's kind of technical, so if you or your readers want to skip it, that's fine.

Imagine this: when you pick up an invincibility, special writing appears on special walls. Should you use the invincibility sphere to actually be invincible or to run around looking for secret messages? For instance, we could have a picture of a target appear on a wall when you gulp the invincibility. The wall would be one that you would normally never shoot. Now when you shoot it, it would open to reveal a secret. Or we could have an irritating room with big, square floor tiles and a crushing ceiling. Most attempts to get through it will cause you to be crushed. However, if you swallow a distant invincibility and then run to this area, the floor will light up to show you wish tiles you can step on safely.

How to do this: Now, here's the technical part. Doom II uses a special recoloring when you are in invincible mode. Each of the game's normal colors are mapped to some shade of grey, normally. However, you can change that map if you want. We would probably change most of the colors to be sort of like the red shades you seen when hurt (because you could see a little better than when everything turns white). But a couple of special colors, say one green and one brown, would map to bright blue. Now you can make special textures that are full of brown and green, except you can hide messages with the special brown and green that you can't really pick out in normal mode. But in invincible mode, these special texture dots will glow blue. Unfortunately, we ran out of man power to build the few special textures. (The tool to set a couple of colors to special was already finished.)

So the answer to your question is, if we had the Doom II code, then, in a way, being able to just change the way the invincibility worked wouldn't have felt as clever.

While working on S*T*R*A*I*N, I'm sure there was probably a lot that you learned about level editing, sprite work, entity editing and so forth. But was there any one thing that someone taught you or that you taught yourself that sticks out in your mind?

If you are going to only work with someone over the internet, write, write, write! Write up everything you can think of that may be a question. If something can be confusing, it will be to somebody. It's hard enough to communicate in person. Sure, it may take 100 hours to write it all up, but, if you don't, it will take 1000 to clean up the problems.

As a matter of fact, I'm proud of the fact that the project was all internet based. Absolutely no other communication was done. I wonder how many such projects exist outside of the DOOM community? (Well, actually, Adelusion *did* call me one day and leave a message. It went something like, "Dude, I sent you textures over ten minutes ago. Why haven't you responded?"

As we all know, its enjoyable to make a good playable add-on. But what were some of the biggest headaches and/or setbacks that the S*T*R*A*I*N project went through?

Burn out! Every two or three months, the mail would stop, the level updates would stop, and there would be nothing. So every time we set a possible release date, we missed it by months! It's hard to stay focused for over a year when you have to do a regular job or school first, then edit levels for a hobby. Then Memento Mori II got released, then Dystopia, then Icarus, then... and we were still trying to get all these monsters in and a real theme in with no real feedback or positive comments. I guess, strangely, one of the people that kept things going was Frank Buckley. He wasn't on the team, but every few months he'd pop up with some e-mail asking if we were finished yet. Then we'd be like, "Oh yeah! *Someone* remembers we're still here."

So, anybody out there working on levels and experiencing burn-out: you're not alone!

Were there any previous TCs that you guys looked to for influence? And if so what were they in, level design, sprites, weapons, sounds, etc.

For me, I liked "obtic." It was a TC in that it had some new monsters and weapons. Most importantly, it revived Doom II for me because it mattered that it had new weapons and monsters. They didn't just sound and look different. They acted different and required some new strategies. I remember the flamethrower, and the imp with baron-like green fireballs. So, I didn't really get ideas for sprites or weapons or anything. I just got the idea that learning new strategies to outwit the enemy was key to having fun for me.

Same as above except for using Movies, Books, TV, Music.

I'm sorry that I'll just sound cliche here. I'm into Aliens, Terminator, Pulp Fiction, Douglas Adams, NIN, that sort of thing. Are there any Machines of Loving Grace fans? If so, you may recognize a few sound effects.

What about the level design? What were you guys looking to hit in that? Was it a id software level style, a spacey style, an industrial style or just a new S*T*R*A*I*N specific one. And if so do you think you guys met what you were looking for?

Here's where I think we did our best.

We planned more color, which turned out to be a big complaint against Quake II. I'm glad we did. Adelusion did a really nice job making colorful textures in my opinion. There are lots of lights and symbols and the like. Otherwise, we were going for mostly metal in textures, both broken down like Aliens and bright and shiny like Space Odyssey. After all, this was a trip to the moon with space ships and moon bases.

Bill McClendon wrote us up some level descriptions in advance and he included things like "underground with lots of twisting passages" or "grand building full of high ceilings and balconies." This is how we made sure we got a variation. You may have noticed how you start three different levels in the same lobby, but not three levels in a row! Two levels are in a row, then there is a level without the lobby, then, before you forget about it, you only see the lobby from above when passing by. Finally, you start another level in the same lobby. We tried for several types of continuance such as this, to prove that we thought it out in advance.

Then I wrote up some specs on how long a level should take, how infested it should be with monsters, wether it should provide a breather or be downright ruthless, and even a rough estimate of how much ammo one should get. There are lots of ways to make a level hard: maybe the monsters are tough, or maybe there are lots of traps, or maybe there is nowhere to hide, or maybe there isn't much ammo or health. We tried to get lots of variations in like that. (We also tried to get breathers in between really hard levels.) Of course, the docs also showed how often a new monster would be introduced and when weapons would be first discovered.

In the end, we even put in a level with a single monster. The level was mostly just various puzzles to solve for the puzzle-enthusiasts. If you don't like puzzles, there is an exit near the beginning. (But solving the puzzles give you many good prizes!)

Now, you may think that all this planning would ruin creativity. First, we wrote down all the details, then let people pick a level that matched their style best. If they didn't end up making the level to spec, then oh well. As it turned out, it was always justified and we got more than we hoped for. But also, sometimes there is more creativity if you are given a few constraints. Think about it. When you sit down to write a level, how often do you think of twisting around parameters such as, "I'll put a single soul sphere near the beginning and then no more health for the whole level." Or, "I want a real stress-out where all the ammo is hidden in secret areas." Some people do, but I'll bet most don't. This way, you get start to think about different ways to fill out a level.

I'll have to admit though that near the end, we had a few extra cave-like levels or levels that were suppose to be on a ship but looked more like an underground factory. We ended up doing some creative arranging and so the results are not perfect. But we're happy.

As for an id-style or the like, gee maybe some of the guys did that, but I'm not that good!

Personally, what are some of your favorite add-ons for DOOM?

Again, I'm kind of cliche: Memento Mori I and II, Cleimos, Eternity, Obtic, Sudtic, Osiris, ... I don't think I have any unknown sleepers to talk about.

I feel bad for being so obvious, so let me throw this one curve ball: in deathmatch, frag-fests bore me! I like to hunt a guy down slowly. I watch a row of potions regenerate and see which way he went by the direction they reappear. I listen to doors and elevators. I divide my time between hunting him down and looking for secrets (which should be everywhere). I sneak up and ... blam! He gets me from behind. Ah! I love that!

There are a set of deathmatch add-on levels for STRAIN, you know. Most are good old-fashioned frag-fests, but I put in a huge "hunter" level with an environment that is always changing (literally); and plenty of secrets.

Another question, do you think Quake is a better game than DOOM? Not an engine mind you, but actual gameplay and levels.

No. Not better. It's hard to say it was worse, because I played it through three times. Also, you couldn't expect it to give you the same feelings as Doom because it wasn't as fresh and new of a concept anymore. I guess my biggest problem is that you run into one or two monsters at a time, but never a yard full of them. On the positive it felt really "solid." Buttons made big 'kachunk' sounds and huge stone floors slid down. You got very big guns that made ricochet sounds. It was very satisfying in that way.

What are the other key members of the ADA?

I don't want to upset any of the team, but there were some people who put in many more hours than others, and who could also be counted on to volunteer.

By far, the biggest contribution was from Adelusion. He did textures, play testing, and lots of levels.

The other huge contributors were Cyberdemon, Nostromo, Art Chang, Eric Roberts, Bjorn Hermans, and Jon Landis. If you've been following Doom for a while, you should know most of those names. Some of them did whole add-ons in the past, like Bjorn (Eternity) and others did several great individual levels, like Nostromo's Run. In our case, these guys did levels and lots and lots of play testing (especially Eric Roberts on the playtesting). Jon Landis also did a lot of the dehacking, and even some music and Art Chang did some sprite work.

Then, weighing in at one or two levels each are Bill McClendon, Chainsaw (who did lots of story work), Andy Badorek, Florian Helmberger, Darrel Esau, Ron Allen, Adam Windsor, David Graves, and David Davidson. Again, you should recognize several of these names. The ones you don't would be good candidates for a deluge of mail asking for more levels! There wasn't a single person on the team I wouldn't hire if I had a company.

Also, Bob Lindemann, Aaron Koller, and Xenos did deathmatch levels for us. Now that's taking a chance... writing deathmatches for an add-on before it's caught on. Say, has anyone tried STRAIN deathmatch, yet? We made changes that we hoped everyone would like.

Last but not least for levels, Holger Nathrath (of Eternity, also) contributed a few levels which we reworked to make them look like STRAIN levels.

Then, of course, for music there was David Shaw and Mark Klem. David also did the original story.

Graphics were rounded out by Bishop who did most of the sprites, and the Burke Brothers (Stuart and Brian) who want to break into comics and who did our opening STRAIN logo beast, the ADA wolf logo, and the comic-style pictures for our story. They do DOOM comics on the internet. Will Vale and Iikka Keranen also did a graphic each.

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