Rock 24 Interview tracked down Richard Acherki and Henley Bailey, the brains behind the recent single player adventure, Rock 24 and asked them some questions. Read on..

So before we start how about you introduce yourselves and give us an idea of your background in level design and mod development?

Richard Acherki: I originally started mapping on the Unreal Engine years back I dabbled for a while never actually creating something worthwhile of release. I also worked for the SAS mod way back when it was based on the old Unreal Engine. Then I moved over to the source engine and it’s all kind of come together from there.

Henley Bailey: My first real map I created was about two years ago now, before that I had played around in different editors but never been serious. I had made two levels called Base_16 and Base_17 for Doom back in the day, that was with the doomed level editor when I was 15.

What made you decide to work on Rock 24 and where did you draw inspiration from for this mod?

Richard Acherki: Rock 24 was an idea that Henley and I discussed over various units of alcohol and fast food lunches. We thought of a few scenarios we wanted to do but we settled on the prison as our final idea. Inspiration wise I can honestly say that I always pictured an Alcatraz style prison but a little darker, torture, mutilation etc. The rest was imagination I guess.

Henley Bailey: We decided to create Rock 24 after we met each other at work and talked about Half Life 2. Both of us didn’t know much about Hammer at all but really wanted to make a mod. We then started planning Rock 24!

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How long has the development process taken?

Richard Acherki: Probably about a year and a half, but that’s from paper to release. A great deal of that was learning stuff as well which was quite a task after a long day of testing games and really not wanting to sit in front of a computer for the remaining hours of the day!

Henley Bailey: All in all, it’s taken about a year and a half from the first ideas of doing a mod right through to release. I’d say about a years worth went in to it, that was working on it when we could – in the evenings, weekends etc.

From playing Rock 24 the thing that struck me most was how well it all linked together and gelled with the main character leading you through. What kind of planning was involved with the design, did you go for drawing it out and then ‘orange mapping’ the levels or was there another method involved?

Richard Acherki: To be honest we didn’t plan half as much as we should have. We would usually have a very basic idea of what we wanted then we would evolve that idea as we worked through the building of the level. It’s probably not the best way to go about things but we have both certainly learnt a hell of a lot about the design process.

Henley Bailey: At first we just went right ahead and built stuff, we did plan to a degree but we didn’t really know what we were planning for so just built the first area together (the cells), that took a great deal of time between us but we learnt a massive amount.

Describe in your opinion, some of the hardest challenges involved when working on a single player project?

Richard Acherki: I think the hardest part of design is making sure the player can’t break the sequences you create. It’s hard trying to get the balance of the player seeing things happen and not being able to screw up the sequence. An example of this was the interrogation scene with the three guards and the captain of the ship. I originally wanted the player to be active when it happened so they could move around as the sequence played. But I also guessed a lot of players would just blast the guards instantly, but that sequence was set to further the storyline a little. Some people really disliked these cut scenes, yet some people liked them. It’s hard to get the right balance for everything.

Henley Bailey: Scripting and events is the hardest thing, trying to make everything work in a fluid way and still allowing the player freedom of movement etc. That’s why a lot of puzzles are button based, it means we know where the player is at that time and can pretty safely start sequences etc. It’s quite surprising just how much work goes in to making the mod feel fluid and un-restricting.

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With only two people working on the project and much more happening then just level creation, how did you manage the workload?

Richard Acherki: Yeah this was a bit of work, we put a lot of time into it because we could only work during our spare time. There were times where we would work solid for about 13 hours, but that was nearer the end of the project so it wasn’t all doom and gloom. I think we usually tried to get a certain amount of hours in each day. Other than that I guess the only way to do dedicate any spare time to it.

Henley Bailey: At first we both worked on the same area, the cells. Once this room was complete we opted to separate the rest of the game between us both. I took the last three maps and Richard took the first three. Throughout development, we both continually helped each other over skype, constantly communicating about everything to ensure everything would mesh perfectly when the time came.

I really enjoyed the way the main ally to Gordon directs him through the game with various scripted events and vocal instructions. Was this a difficult area to implement?

Richard Acherki: It had to be the Richard NPC, because a great deal of scripting was controlled by him, it meant any issues with his scripting would mean the player was unable to complete the level. I believe there are some issues with him still if the player goes out of their way to break the scripting.

Henley Bailey: It was fairly difficult to do as if Richards scripting breaks the whole game suddenly stops working, we had to script it in such a way that it would never fail.

Are there any features of the game that you are particularly proud of?

Richard Acherki: Hmm, I’m proud of the escape from the cells (it made the player think a little more) but I must admit that Henley was the brains behind this. I guess the pipe breaking the wall was okay. I don’t know, it starts getting hard to see your work as good, once you have stared at it for so long. I just hope others enjoyed it.

Henley Bailey: Not features as such but I’m particularly proud of my lift sequence, it worked almost exactly as I had written down on paper. The only thing missing was sparks as it plummeted but this was due to a Source engine limitation.

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As mentioned earlier you involved more then just level design, including custom speech and animation scripts. How have you found working with the Source engine and the various tools?

Richard Acherki: Valves tools are immensely powerful, I think with the right amount of time and understanding it is possible to create some truly amazing scenarios. I have to say a big thank you to Valve for allowing us to use such tools, it’s a shame more developers don’t follow Valve’s example.

Henley Bailey: Overall, the tools provided by Valve have been really fantastic! Sure, there are bugs and some frustration but really, the amount of work gone in to providing the development tools for us is incredible and for that we thank everyone at Valve! Without them, we wouldn’t have had a chance in hell of making anything really.

Have you got any advice for budding mod developers, particularly those with smaller development teams?

Richard Acherki: It’s all in the planning, planning can help avoid all those problems that crop up if you haven’t really thought things through. Also stick at it, the problem with a lot of mods is they start and then never finish they get bored or lazy half way through, even though what they are creating is absolutely amazing. It’s all about keeping motivated.

Henley Bailey: Just go for it and use bull tactics, just keep ploughing at a problem and development until it’s finished. It worked for us; if we weren’t so passionate about making a mod we wouldn’t have even got 20% through before giving up. There were times when it seemed we would never get it finished so we just worked at it more until we could see the light.

Looking back, is there anything you would have liked to improve/add/change etc?

Richard Acherki: Yes there is a lot that if we had the chance to remake this I think a lot of the game would change, I have included some pre production shots areas were remade a fair few times. I could list lots of things we wanted to work on but I wouldn’t want to bore you guys.

Henley Bailey: Lots, Rock24 was our first mod and attempt at level design etc. The next mod we create we will know how to plan and what to plan for. This will be reflected in our next mod!

Bacon and eggs or fish and chips?

Richard Acherki: Bacon and eggs (with mushrooms and fried bread)

Henley Bailey: Bacon and eggs (with beans!)

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Any plans for future projects on the Source engine, will we see a Rock 25..?

Richard Acherki: Hmm we are working on a CS level at the moment, but perhaps another single player level, although it may not be on the Source engine.

Henley Bailey: Yes, we are currently designing a CS level – after that another single player mod is on the horizon although we are unsure if it will be with the Source engine.

Any special thanks or shout outs?

Richard Acherki: I have to say a special thanks to everyone in the community who played/supported us in our endeavours. We created it for the community and hope that everyone one enjoyed it as much as we did creating it ? Also to all of my friends who clearly hated me talking about something they have no interest in.

Henley Bailey: Thanks to Laura for just generally being an awesome girlfriend and understanding/helping all the way!

A big thanks to Richard and Henley for taking the time to answer our questions, make sure you check out Rock 24 and play it if you haven't already!

- By Blink 06/12/06