Jailbreak: Source Interview

Catching up with the Jailbreak guys wasn't easy, I had to hide all the copies of Prison Break before I could grab their attention. However once I had, they sat down and gave an insight into their exciting new version of the mod.

And for a taste of their own medicine I managed to steal some brand new media from them as well, enjoy.

For the poor unfortunates who do not yet know, can you please tell us who you are and what you do on Jailbreak: Source?

Wills: I'm Andrew Wills, and I'm primarily one of the level designers, but I also do modelling, skinning, textures, animation, sound effects, and voices. We don't have positions as such on Jailbreak as each of us can undertake any aspect of the mod, so whoever is most suited to a particular job... does it!

Dogmeat: I'm Dogmeat, I'm a software developer by day, and - uh - a software developer by night. I also try to keep things in line when Wills suggests the 57th feature request of the day.

Wills: Ouch! C'mon! Everyone wants rocket boots!!

IZaNaGI: I'm Robin "IZaNaGI" Molde, since joining Jailbreak last summer i have been responsible for maps, textures, models, graphics and sounds. I'm also responsible for hitting Wills with a spade when he does something he shouldn't of, (writing dodgey QC's or getting .vmt's file paths mixed up) which is quite often.

Wills: Hehe! Also, our final team member, Azelito is lurking around at the back somewhere... I think he prefers to stay silent and mysterious though.

I’d like to talk about the current version of Jailbreak that you’re working on, what are the main differences between this and your previous release, 0.3?

Dogmeat: Where to begin? One of our goals with 0.4 was to remove ourselves from HL2DM as far as possible, and to that end we've replaced all the weapons, the majority of the textures, all the models, many of the sounds, Azelito has replaced the entire HUD and added new graphics and even the Gravity gun got neutered.

Wills: Izanagi and myself have also added four completely new maps!

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In your last media release you revealed the exciting new perks system; can you explain how this will work and what effects this will have on gameplay?

Dogmeat: Quite simply points equal perks. Points are earned by doing various deeds such as killing people, releasing your team, defending your jail and so on. Once you have a bunch of points you can then spend these on a selection of 12 perks split over 3 levels. The levels are divided by how powerful the perk is, and you may only have 1 perk per level (to prevent uber powered players).

Wills: Although for a little while it was hilarious fun being an invisible, dead accurate, heavy weapons medic with regenerative abilities!

Dogmeat: Yeeess... The perks are quite varied in order to make them useful in a number of different situations. For example, on the wide open maps you may be more inclined to choose the double jump perk over the damage increase perk as it will give you access to areas that would normally be out of reach. Or you may choose the Accuracy perk rather than say Stamina or Speed increases if you're planning to defend and thus need the extra accuracy rather than the ability to sprint longer or faster.

Our goal with this was to make sure that the gameplay remains varied and challenging, and our playtesting so far seems to indicate that it does!

Apparently I can spawn in jail with a weapon? Explain this lunacy!

Wills: You can indeed! The "Concealed Weapon" perk allows you to spawn in jail with a silenced pistol. One of the chief concerns about Jailbreak 0.3 was the amount of inmate killing. Unmoralistic guards would stand outside the jail bars and shoot defenceless inmates for fun (and until we patched it, frags). Although frustrating for some players, we found this hilariously funny... We didn't want to simply block all bullets from entering jails... So we decided that inmates should be allowed to fight back!

Since including this, the beta tests have been even more fun! It's just great to watch as a cruel defender readies his aim on a defenceless inmate only to find himself shot squarely between the eyes as they whip out a silenced pistol! It can also be crucial when it comes to releasing prisoners, as an inmate is able to provide additional cover to incoming team mates.

I understand you have version 0.4 to a playable beta stage, how has this been progressing and what kind of typical experience can a player expect?

Wills: A typical experience? We can sum it up in one word: Fun. There's nothing quite like the rush of running, falling, jumping and crawling your way toward the release switch whilst under fire from rockets, railguns and lasers... then jabbing that switch and releasing all your team mates! Then finally watching as they all come running out of the open doors and beat the other team to death with Laser Cleavers! There's never a dull moment in JB, you're either fighting to stay alive, fighting to release your team mates, or fighting to escape from jail!

The whole mod has been built around the concept that anyone can jump in, have a great time, and not feel like they need to read a manual or have prior military training in order to do well! This is an anti-realism mod, everything is extreme, the weapons are huge and crazy, the damage is low, there's no one shot kills and its all about epic battles as each team pushes backward and forward to win the round.

In terms of progression, we've been working on 0.4 since two months after we released 0.3, so around six months now, and development has flown along at a nice and steady pace. We don't pressure each other to get work done, and as a result, everything gets done much faster! This is a hobby after all, it should be fun!

Some of the new maps are shaping up very nicely, in particular Metropolis & Iridium. They look very different from the standard C17 style maps and have hints of Unreal Tournament about them, what has been the inspiration behind these and the other new maps?

IZaNaGI: Unreal is definitely the inspiration behind our map theme, random locations in space and time that people love to play in, whether it be on a starship in an epic battle or in a high security prison.

Wills: Absolutely, the whole style and attitude of Jailbreak has certainly been influenced by that series. Jailbreak is all about fun, everyone gets a chance to enjoy themselves!

IZaNaGI: For me, my inspiration comes from movies and games such as the Star Wars and the Halo series, especially in Iridium where influences can be found in obvious things like the huge space battle seen outside the fighting arena. Smaller influences would be the texture and lighting designs which were heavily inspired by games like Bioshock.

Arroyo on the other hand was almost completely made up in my head and the only inspiration come from my previous maps (cyber punk-esque), spliced with something a little more natural, which is a theme I tend to neglect.

Wills: In terms of my two new maps, Deepcore was heavily influenced by the film The Abyss and Bioshock. For the remake of Metropolis, I looked to sources such as Blade Runner, Star Wars Episode II and Serenity/Firefly in order to get the right feel. And the inspiration for Plague came from an episode of Doctor Who, where the Doctor visited Shakespeare. I just loved the atmosphere of the episode, and tried my best to translate that into a map...

Plus, there's just something cool about shooting laser guns at bad guys in Elizabethan England!

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There are currently four of you working on the development of Jailbreak which would surprise most people, what are the pros and cons of such a tightly knit team?

IZaNaGI: Not only is the team small but we have an extremely relaxed attitude towards the amount of work we do at any time, were not under tight schedules or working towards massive goals we cant hope to achieve. We work when we want to and when we do we're guaranteed to do it to the best of our ability's because it is fun and because it is fun we seem to pump out more work then a team of 10+ seems to.

Wills: I would have to categorically say there are no cons to working as a small group. I've worked on a few other mods in my time, all with large teams, and nothing gets done. As a small group I think we've inspired each other to learn more, become great friends and almost compete to get things done, and the satisfaction is so much greater as there's less of us to share the glory!

IZaNaGI: Let's not forget also that were "multi talented". There's no single dedicated prop modeller, no single dedicated mapper, etc. Me and Wills especially have all our bases covered because we can build that prop we need in XSI, or a particular texture in Photoshop, without having to slow down progress by having to wait for someone that could potentially be unreliable or just have more important things going on in there lives.

Can you go into a little bit of detail on your level development process, do you rough out the map in dev textures and test the gameplay together or do you have a separate method?

Wills: Personally I don't use dev textures! I know some people may frown on this, but it's just what I'm used to. My mapping method is a bit hap-hazard. I get an idea for a small section, make some textures, and start building it, then I just keep going and see where the map takes me. At a certain point, which can't be defined, I stop, see what I've got, draw it out on paper and then retro-actively plan the rest of the map around the section I've already built. It works for me!

IZaNaGI: When I sit down to make a map I usually visualize a theme first and then a location. For example a futuristic airport, a dilapidated starship, an underground forest. Once I have a nice idea in my head I draw a layout that i believe to be balanced before actually starting a map. Usually it's a case of mapping small sections, texturing and modelling as I go. I only really build layouts and dev texture them in single player maps.

Once I have a map that I am happy with and about 75% detailed I send it to beta and let our dedicated team look for bugs or imbalance. I can then take back that information to the drawing board and rethink those things without having to do anything drastic to the actual map. It's probably not that best way to do it, but it works for me!

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Some people may remember the name Jailbreak from way back in the Half-Life era, is your mod connected in any way?

IZaNaGI: Before joining Jailbreak: Source I had never actually heard of the game mode before, but when it was pitched to me by Wills, I absolutely adored how simple yet fun the original concept was, team deathmatch / capture the flag, with a twist.

Our version of Jailbreak is not connected to any other versions (be it HL, UT or Quake) and we like to think were taking it down another avenue, kinda like Jailbreak 2.0, it still has the core gameplay but we have added heavily to it.

How long have you all been working on Jailbreak, what inspired you to bring the idea to Source?

Wills: Myself and Dogmeat started developing Jailbreak one year ago, with the first release going out on February 19th 2007. Dogmeat and myself have known each other since school, but now live a few hundred miles apart and at Christmas last year he popped down for an afternoon and we got talking about mod development... after a while we hit upon the idea of re-creating Jailbreak for Source, as it was a game mode we used to love back in the old days!

0.4 has been under development for the last six months, with the majority of the work being undertaken in the last four... we've managed to create four new maps, four hundred custom textures, around ninety custom props and seventeen completely new weapons in that time, alongside all the new code features and HUD art.

Describe some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced with the Source engine and why you’ve decided to stick with it for Jailbreak.

Dogmeat: I guess the biggest challenge for me has been the sheer size of the SDK that Valve provides. It's great that they've given us so much to play with, but I've lost count of the number of times that I've spent hours trying to figure something out only to find that it can be achieved with a simple call to function x.

Having said that, most of the time things run smoothly and it's been quite straight forward to achieve our aims (thus far). Having a day job occasionally inteferes with this though!

Aside from technical reasons, we like the source engine because of the community that surrounds it, with a vast array of mappers, modellers, developers and I guess most importantly players. Part of the fun in making a mod is knowing that there will be people out there keen to try it out.

IZaNaGI: The best thing in my eye's with the source engine is how easily you can add content to it. Obviously Jailbreak is chocked full of custom content and being able to jump from program to program, adding things here and there in a matter of minutes makes modding for it more fun. I can honestly say that I have never run into any major pit falls the whole time I have modded for the Source engine and it's still as rewarding to use now as it was 3 years ago, if not more so.

Wills: No complaints here, I've found the whole experience to be very rewarding. Hell, I managed to learn how to weapon model in one week! Source is the most versatile engine out there. It's also got a perfect learning curve. Sandbox2 for example, just doesn't cut it for me, the curve is too sharp (for making anything other than desert islands), and the technology isn't versatile enough.

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Are you intending to embrace any of the newer source engine features that we’ve seen come into play since the Orange Box was released?

Dogmeat: We will be moving to the latest SDK at some point in the future, but that's more with a regard to keeping up with bug fixes and maybe one or two of the new features such as the updated scoreboard.

We try to focus on the mod from a gameplay perspective rather than a "what technology can we cram in to seem cutting edge" point of view. As we keep stating, we're trying to make something fun, not something bleeding edge. If we come across something that adds to this, then sure we'll stick it in.

Wills: We're like Pixar... It's all for nothing if the story's rubbish!

What was your reaction to the recent announcement of the SteamWorks feature that Valve have made available to developers, is this something that interests you?

Wills: Absolutely. It's something that seriously interests at least myself. I've made contact with Jason Holtman of Valve regarding Jailbreak utilising Steamworks in the future to release new versions and auto-updates of Jailbreak, integrate Achievements, and make use of the match-making features, but we've yet to hear back! Right now, I'm not clear if Valve are intending mod developers to make use of the system... But, it would be incredible if we can!

Now, whether Dogmeat is interested in applying all the code necessary to integrate Steamworks into Jailbreak is another story...

Have you aimed 0.4 at a certain number of players per side? Can we expect to see some relentless 16v16 battles etc?

Wills: All our maps have been constructed with the possibility of 32 player epic battles, but for us, 8 vs 8 is just perfect! All our maps vary in size though, for example Abalos is a great 6vs6 map, whereas Woodneck and Arroyo shine with 8vs8 or more, so there's something for everyone and every server size.

I’m hoping for the ability to smuggle in a Portal cake with various tools hidden inside, might we see this in 0.5?

Wills: Haha! Good question! I quite like the idea of making the Concealed Weapon perk into something more interesting, perhaps random shivs like sharpened toothbrushes or plastic knives! Maybe one of these will be a carrot cake, with a lock pick inside!

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There seems to be plenty of visual custom content, have you approached the audio side of things as well?

Wills: Indeed we have! We've replaced nearly all the normal HL2DM sounds with our own, all the new weapons have their own custom sounds, and we've also done lots of map specific sounds too, from scary songs to release announcements and more... My wife has been a gold mine for voices!

The question that mod teams love to hate, when we can we see a release of 0.4?

Dogmeat: Our aim is to release inside of a month. Depending on the discovery of any further bugs.

Wills: We're almost ready to release now, we just want to make this the best it can be and polish it up with a big can of Mod-Shine (TM)! Plus, last time we released 0.3, we had to patch it a week later because of a crash bug we missed... we don't want to make the same mistake twice!

Any plans for a map with a shower and a “drop the soap” gameplay mode?

Wills: LOL! Not currently, but you've given me a damn fine idea for a custom texture!

Have you got any features that you’d like to add to future versions of Jailbreak?

Wills: New player models! At the moment I'm trying to persuade the team to go with Biped Dinosaurs versus Robots! Something tells me, they're not all onboard with the idea yet!

In short, yes... We're planning to go the Total Conversion route, and we've got a few more features we plan to add, mainly being a few new gamemodes, such as "Rescue the VIP" and "Extraction". We've also got plans for a few more new weapons, a squad system and deployable turrets.

The thing is, we've got ahead ourselves, most of the features included in 0.4, were features we planned to include by around 0.8 or 0.9... So new releases should come fairly quickly from now on.

I always ask mod teams what advice they have for other developers who are looking to start a mod or join one, what words of wisdom can you offer?

Wills: Keep it simple. Keep it small. Release often. I think the main thing to remember is not to join a mod, or start one, with any misconceptions or for the wrong reasons. None of us are doing this to get industry recognition, or in the hopes that Valve will call us up and offer us jobs... we're doing it for the love of doing it! Some people like going to the pub to relax... I fire up Hammer and make one!

Too many mods fail because of over-ambition. Get the basics in place first and release it, then polish it as you go along!

Any shout outs or thanks?

Wills: Shout outs absolutely must go to Asskicker, Winter and Altaire, our three heads of beta testing. They have been absolutely instrumental in the development of Jailbreak, and without them we'd be swimming in bugs and nowhere near a release by now! They've also contributed a lot to the mod's development with suggestions, ideas, content and assistance with adminstration etc.

I also wanna give a BIG shout out to my wife Laura, without whom, I wouldn't have any map ideas, she's also contributed with beta testing, gameplay concepts, textures, art, voices, sounds and made her own map for JB which will be included in a growing custom map pack to be released shortly after 0.4! In fact she should probably be listed as a team member really!

Dogmeat: The rest of the Jailbreak wives need thanking as well for their patience and lonely nights whilst we're all hacking away at this beast.

IZaNaGI: To my little Princess who has just had our third baby (delicious on a sammich!!!) and has been so patient with me during my modding madness. A massive thanks to our numerous beta testing minions that have come and gone in the past six month's. Blink at Interlopers for being the best guy in the HL2 community [/arsekiss] and to all of our other supporters, that's right all three of you!!!!!

Wills: Ha! Yes we're very fond of our three fans! Maybe you guys will get some company soon!!

Big thanks to the Jailbreak team for a great interview. Check out their mod over at jailbreaksource.com

- By Blink 23/02/08