Eric von Rothkirch of Electronic Arts

007 level designer interviewed

Electronic Arts' sinister plans for global domination of the world's computer gaming industry are enough to put Blofeld or SPECTRE to shame, and so it took a special kind of man to infiltrate their top secret underground bunker in California and survive to tell the tale. The name's Bye, John Bye.

We managed to track down one "Eric von Rothkirch", a shadowy member of EA's level design department, and debriefed him on how he was recruited into the company, and what exactly it is that they have him working on for them at the moment...

"Welcome to my nuclear family"

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The back entrance to EA's secret underground bunker in California

Although Eric is now working as a level designer for Electronic Arts, originally he was more interested in the audio side of gaming. "I've been a musician for a long time, and for the last 5 years or so I've been doing some sound design as well."

In fact Eric was a graduate of my own (sadly now defunct) games company, The Coven, and produced many of the sound effects for our Quake 2 multiplayer mission packs - "Disposable Heroes" and "Deadlode II".

"During that time I decided to start making levels", Eric explained. "I got a lot of help from a couple of the Coven level designers, and I'll always remember those guys for helping a newbie out. I wouldn't have this job if it weren't for them."

"I released a few Quake 2 deathmatch levels, and then started working on an ambitious little project of my own called Awakening, which was a partial conversion for Quake 2. I created all 6 levels in the project (4 deathmatch and 2 single player), and was also the director of the project."

"It was released not too long before Quake 3 Arena went gold, so I think that put a dent in the number of people who played it. But I think most who played it really enjoyed it. I'd like to publicly thank the people who helped on Awakening - without them it would never have been possible."

"To make a long story short, Electronic Arts took a look at my previous experience, I landed a couple of interviews, and the rest is history."

"License To Kill"

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The locker room where we accosted Eric

And what better place to start your professional game design career than working on maps for "The World Is Not Enough", the Quake 3 engined shooter based on the latest 007 movie?

"Like many people, I've been watching James Bond movies since I was a kid", Eric told us. "I grew up on this stuff, so it's an honor to be working on such a well known license."

"The movie lends itself to a lot of great gameplay moments, and our massive environments are based on all of the coolest scenes from the movie. We're working very closely with MGM and Danjaq to make sure that the game lives up to the action and excitement of the movies, as well as the overall Bond franchise."

It sounds like a dream job. "Overall, it's been a great project to work on", Eric admits, but it's not without its problems. "The challenges of a licensed game, or any game for that matter, surround certain parameters and time constraints that we all must abide by. In the case of TWINE, we have to deliver an exciting, fantastic game that stays true to the Bond world."

"For example, there are things that James Bond and other characters can and can't do. Or, to put it better, would and wouldn't do. It's an interesting challenge to make everything in the game coherent with the 007 experience, and also to live up to the amount of action and excitement that you see in the 007 movies."

"That said, I think TWINE is doing a stellar job at delivering the Bond experience - cool action, sexy girls, and state of the art weapons and gadgets."

"Q Branch"

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Some sort of industrial complex, no doubt where EA are manufacturing their latest super-weapon to sterilise Lara Croft and hold the world to ransom

Of course, what would any Bond adventure be without having the very latest technology driving it? Bond has his gadget laden BMW, and Electronic Arts have Quake 3. So what is it like working with id Software's engine?

"Working with the Quake 3 engine on a professional level is overall a smooth experience, especially since all the designers here have worked with id Software's engines since day one", Eric told us.

And naturally EA have had a few optional extras fitted, not only to the engine itself, but also to the level editor. "I'm not allowed to discuss specifics, but yes we have our version [of the editor] called EARadiant. We've added many very useful features that would make any worthy level designer drool."

The million dollar question is, will we be able to take EARadiant for a spin ourselves one day? "I know many members of the Bond team would like to see the editor released to the public at some point, but whether or not that will happen remains to be seen."

What we definitely will see though are the benefits of the changes that the programmers at EA are making to the main game engine itself. "We have some cool scripted stuff going on. I can't go into the details, but players will thoroughly enjoy the events and gameplay we're putting in the game."

"And there are obviously also some changes to the code involved in making the Quake 3 engine work on the Playstation 2."

"Do you play any other games?"

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The staff airfield. Unfortunately you can't see the UFO wreckage hidden in the hangar around the corner from this shot...

Yes, as well as producing a PC version of the game, Electronic Arts are also working on developing versions of the game for various console systems. And although obviously the Playstation and N64 don't have the polygon pushing power to handle the Quake 3 engine, the Playstation 2 version will use the same basic engine and content as we will see on the PC.

"Each of the four platforms - PC, PS2, PSX and N64 - will share the obvious Bond features: concept, storyline, main characters, etc", Eric explained. "On the flip side, each game will cater to their respective audiences with guidelines set forth by the technology capabilities of each hardware system."

"But in terms of PS2 and PC, because of their similar technology capabilities there won't be much of a difference in gameplay. Most of the gameplay seen in the PC version will also be in the PS2 version, although there might be little differences in the way the game looks in terms of graphics, simply because console systems still haven't quite caught up to that beast we call the PC."

Something that we can probably expect to reach the Playstation 2 version of the game is multiplayer support. We tried to interrogate Eric about what we can expect from the online side of the game, but despite strapping him to a metal table and threatening to cut him in half with an industrial laser, he wouldn't talk.

"We aren't ready to release that information at this time", is all that he would tell us. "But rest assured that we will have numerous multiplayer modes."

Conclusion

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Making a dramatic escape as EA security close in

With the Bond franchise behind it, the Quake 3 engine powering it, and a team of dedicated and experienced level designers working on it, "The World Is Not Enough" looks like it could mark a welcome return for 007 after the relative disappointment of the "Tomorrow Never Dies" game.

And with the game due for release just in time for this year's Christmas spending frenzy, Electronic Arts could be on to a money spinner that would make Goldfinger jealous.

In the meantime though, we had better let Eric get back to work before his absence is noted by EA security...

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