No More Room in Hell Interview

Interlopers caught up with 3pidemiC from No More Room in Hell, and extracted some answers about the hugely anticipated mod before looking suspiciously at the bite marks on his arm...

Please take a moment to introduce yourself and explain what role you have on the team.

Hello! My name is Tyler “3pidemiC” Grohoski. I am the lead Public Relations Supervisor for the “No More Room In Hell” modification for Half-Life 2. I handle our mod’s relationship with the public. I promote our media, scout for and recruit new staff members, organize community and staff events, make public announcements, gain interviews, and basically spread the good word.

As many people know NMRiH has been going since before HL2 was even released, how hard has it been keeping the mod alive over such a long time period with frequent staff changes to boot?

Well, we’re not going to lie here. It has been extremely tough over the years. We have gone through many hardships over this time. We’ve had our FTP hacked, hard drive crashes, crucial team members leave, community backlashes, content hijacking; you name it. But what separates us from most mods out there is that there are not many teams that can put up with those sorts of hardships. Most mods, when faced with what we have experienced, will just give up. Sure, we have lost members because of it. But we have always pulled through it. There has always been a base set of members that have stuck with us through these hard times and will continue to pull through until this mod sees the light of day. We will not give up.

Can you update us on the current production situation of the mod? Are you managing to implement all the features you planned to?

Honestly, we are on the most straightforward streak of progress that we have ever had in our four years of development. Our developer builds of the game are being updated with new content and everything is really coming together. We’re certainly making sure that we have all of our code done and ready before we implement the simple things such as weapons or sounds. A mistake that most mods make (and a mistake that we have made in the past) is that they get simple things such as weapons and hand models in game, but that’s it. There is no code that really is the foundation of the game itself.

As far as our features go, I think that we’re making surprising progress in there. I say surprising because there are things being implemented that we never thought were possible. We’ve already implemented our first gameplay mode; Survival into our build. Our zombie AI has been perfected to function in a way that a true zombie fan would be proud of. The infection system has been written, oh yes, and barricading is just about done too.

Of course there are some very ambitious things that we thought of and were suggested way back in the day that (at least right now) will not be there. So things such as driveable vehicles and invisible cyber-zombies ( ) will not be in the first set up builds.

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Explain what you think makes a zombie mod appealing, and what you think NMRiH has that will set it apart from the rest?

I think that it’s the genre itself that makes the any zombie mod appealing. The genre has definitely gained a major cult following over the years. Personally, I think that the idea of an epidemic that can bring down the entire world is a very scary and interesting thing. Everyone has their different take on their situation and how they would survive if something like this ever did happen. That is what NMRiH is trying to capture. It is putting you and a group of others is various locations throughout the timeline of the epidemic and it allows you to work together to act just how you would act in real life. It seems kind of ironic to stress realism in a fictional genre, but that is what we are going for. NMRiH is going to set itself apart because of we are staying as true to the zombie genre as we can and we are going to combine as much realism as we can. There are no power ups, no plasma rays, talking zombies, boss zombies. It’s just you against the real, true walking dead. And being a die hard zombie fan and speaking for die hard zombie fans, we wouldn’t expect anything less than that.

Tell us a little about what kind of experience a player can expect from a typical game in NMRiH.

As I stated previously, we want to create the most realistic experience for the player in a fictional zombie world. You are going to be group with seven other players, dropped into a location, told your objectives, and then rely on your brains, communication, and whatever weapons you can find to survive.

How will the zombie AI work, do you plan to overrun the players and force them to work as a team, or will there be room for suicidal heroics?

The zombie AI has been heavily worked on to be as true to what we feel makes up the mindset of a zombie. Following certain details outlined in George A. Romero’s zombie films and The Zombie Survival Guide, we have created a zombie code that any true fan would be proud of. Our zombies can see, hear, smell, and sense your presence. Each scenario will be different, but it will be almost impossible to complete your goals in the game without teamwork. I have yet to find a situation where one “heroic” player has been able to run through a map without being killed or infected. Our infection system, zombie spawns, weapon and ammo layout are all being designed to stress teamwork. This is also why we are creating an eight player maximum for our servers. We have always felt that the less people you have, the easier it is to work as a team.

Has the source engine proved to be scaleable enough for your design goals? Both in terms of the game play side and also the level presentation.

Yes, I think everyone on the team can agree the Source engine is a very good engine to create mods for. It has allowed us to be able to implement most of the features that we have wanted, so far. But although the engine has the capability, you need someone talented enough to be able to actually program it correctly too. That’s what it nice about our current state right now. We can request something to make our gameplay more efficient, and it is implemented within days. As far as level presentation, our mappers have been able to take advantage of all of the features that the engine has to offer to create the best looking maps possible. I think that our maps speak for themselves.

What has been the most challenging feature to implement?

So far, barricading has proved to be the most difficult to implement. This is because, due to a recent design decision, one part became quite tricky to optimize - but we are past that hurdle now.

Are there any special techniques you have tried to keep the reins on such a large scale project? Managing a large team must have its problems?

Well, I must note that we do not have a very large team. We have learned from the past that having a huge team is almost impossible to manage. And usually it has nothing to do with the managers or being unorganized, but really with people’s work habits. You have to understand that when you recruit new staff members, almost 60% of the time or so, the new recruits turn out to be duds. They will often do no significant work during their time with the team or do no work at all until they are eventually booted off for those reasons. It is very hard to find dedicated team members that are in it for the long run. In our past, we were plagued with a whole group of these dud staff members, but now we have a good solid team that all communicate and work together.

We see many mods go down the beta release path, are you planning to try this as well, or do you foresee a full version 1.0 release?

I think it’s is pretty clear to the team that we are going to go down the ol’ beta path. Not that is a bad thing at all. I think that it gives the community a chance to watch the mod grow and to be able to correct issues and add features without just jumping right in with a full version release.

Fortress Forever was unfortunately timed with a release at the same time as Team Fortress 2. Do you think that Left 4 Dead might pose a threat to NMRiH, in terms of establishing a player base?

This is something that I have definitely thought about because I noticed it right away when it happened to the mod that you mentioned. I can also remember when L4D was announced and most of us were in shock because the basic concept seems to be the same as NMRiH. But I really think that it is a different situation with us. In the case of FF vs. TF2, it was about updating a franchise. Team Fortress Classic was a very popular game with a very big fan base. Everyone from that fan base was eager for a Source version, no matter where it came from. Our situation deals with two completely different games. Sure, we are both co-op zombie games, but I think that the details are quite different. I’m sure that the release of L4D will effect our player base in some negative way, but I also think that because NMRiH is staying true to the zombie genre in ways that L4D is not, we will still always have a solid player base.

What advice would you give to a budding mod team or an amateur developer looking to get involved in a large scale project?

Be prepared and stay organized. Make sure that you have a clear goal at the beginning of your development and stick to your goals. Also, make sure to communicate with everyone on your team and make sure that everyone has something to do.

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Where have you looked for inspiration for NMRiH, any notable films that have a direct influence on the game? Will there be any moments in game that players will identify with from a film?

From the beginning, NMRiH has been almost completely influenced by George A. Romero’s zombie films. We have taken his classic idea of the slow, dumb, shambling zombie and brought it into our games. Our environments, zombies, weapons, and props all seem to be an homage to his great films. But that is not the only place where we get influence. The Dawn of the Dead remake has inspired us to create a faster and fresher version of our zombies to go alongside the slow ones. Great books such as The Zombie Survival Guide, World War Z, and The Walking Dead graphic novels have also greatly influenced our mod and staff.

I suppose the public will have to wait and see in our game where the influence is apparent. I can tell you though that our mapper Darth_Brush created his “Crossroads Mall” map as a mirror to the Dawn of the Dead’ remake’s mall and our zombie AI code coincides with the characteristics outlined in The Zombie Survival Guide.

Have you had any interaction with Valve during the production of NMRiH?

I touched a hot valve in my car since I’ve been on this team...

No, we have not had any interaction with the Valve company in the production of this mod. But I think we would all be more than happy to have some.

How have you approached the sounds in NMRiH, can we expect chilling ambient tracks and grisly zombie audio effects?

Our wonderful team at Sonic Valley studios have been very good to us in the sound department. They have been able to deliver all of the dark, moody, frightening, gory, loud, and booming audio tracks that we have asked for. Our players will definitely be impressed by all of the custom sounds in our game that we are using.

We still plan to have ambient music in our game just as we have set out to do from the beginning. Our composer Beckett has created a handful of wonderful tracks that fit well in our game, and if we need any more we will go right back to him.

I know you must get asked it all the time, but any clues on when we might expect to be downloading the first version of the mod?

Ah yes, the age old question...

Once we do reach our next “Milestone” in development, we are going to set up the process for beta testing. Taking application, setting up tests, and the works. As far as an official release date is concerned, I think that we are all hoping to do it before the summer.

Your favourite zombie film of all time?

My personal favourite zombie film of all time is George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead. To me, this film just does everything right. Yes, it is a tad slower that his other films but what is so great is that it does not rely on just action to be effective. It has a wonderful setting in a world where humans have become an endangered species and the dead have taken over. It has always intrigued me as to what would become of the world if such as outbreak occurred, and Day has shown me just that.

What advice can you give to anyone caught in a real zombie apocalypse?

Cut your hair, wear tight clothes, grab a machete, and don’t forget to bring a laptop wherever you go so you can join all of the other survivors in a game on NMRiH.

Any other comments or thanks?

I would like to thanks all of the people out there who have supported us over all of these years. It really means a lot to us to see these people still hanging around. But also to all of the new fans too for helping us to continually build our community. If you have not yet already done so, please visit www.nomoreroominhell.com, sign up on our forums and interact with all of the wonderful people there.

We can not wait to show you all what we have been working on.

- By Blink 03/02/08