I was recently interviewed by Ryan Anderson, a huge contributor to Moddb.com. It turned out that we lived in the same province and so we decided to meet up and do the interview in person! Ryan was a really cool guy and we got along right away! It’s a small world and pretty cool how these sorts of things work out!
Ryan is launching an awesome new gaming news site which you can check out here at:
http://www.instantrespawn.com and you can check out the interview right here: http://www.instantrespawn.com/mods/making-of-out-of-hell/
The whole thing went amazingly well and I’d like to give a huge thanks to Ryan for the interview!
Interview by ‘Instant Respawn’
Out of Hell creator Long Nguyen tells us what it’s like to go to hell and back.
After experiencing the intricately detailed and moody environments of Long Nguyen’s debut mod release, Out of Hell, it’s of little wonder that he comes across as a developer focused on pushing the limits of atmospheric fidelity. 7 years in the making and built upon the gracefully aged UT2004 engine, Out of Hell has suffered many setbacks all in the pursuit of perfection.
Sometimes maybe going a bit too far, as Long himself laments on coffee cup models within one level, “The thing has so many vertices, because it’s so hi-poly, it casts a shadow on itself. It’s ridiculous- it’s so unoptimized. That’s still in the game and you know no one will ever notice that cup.” It’s a self-critical statement that shows Long may still not be totally satisfied with his work (and no artist really ever is), but he’s finally comfortable with releasing it to the world.
Out of Hell represents Long’s first steps into the world of game design. Minus the original soundtrack and minor coding contributions, he put the whole thing together by himself, going so far as to spend an estimated $5000 over the years. For all its flaws and hitches, Long’s first completed project still makes for one hell of a release.
It didn’t start out that way though. Originally, Long intended to only create his vision of the perfect weapon in games – the shotgun. Inspired by the arsenal showcased in other UT mods of the day like Night’s Edge and Infiltration, he wanted to try his own hand at a weapons pack consisting of shotguns only. Naturally, such weapons needed worthy targets and so he created some zombies as test subjects.
From there it gathered steam until it became a game all on its own with 100% custom art assets and its own story. This story may bear many similarities to the genesis of countless other mods and total conversions, but Out of Hell is unique in that its undertaking was a solo endeavor for a large majority of the project. Where others would specialize and recruit members to help in other areas, Long wanted to know about the whole process.
His motivation for this stemmed from his first experience within the game industry. “I was fresh out of computer animation school and had gotten a job at a local company as an environment modeler. I was scared to be honest because I didn’t feel that I knew enough. I knew how to model and animate (and not well, mind you) but nothing about the actual game-making process. When it came time for me to perform, I did so poorly and eventually was tasked with working on HUD elements for the project. Again, my inexperience and lack of knowledge really made things difficult and I was eventually let go. After that had happened, how could I apply at any other company with my level of skill where it was?” he explains, “This is why I took it solo, to force myself to learn it.”
While Out of Hell seems to have been released into the peak of multiplayer zombie-slaying mayhem, it actually references a much more subtler era in survival horror. “The biggest influences were Resident Evil zombies – that’s what got me on this whole zombie craze,” Long says, “[and] Silent Hill had like, the really disturbing visuals, the grittiness, the – you know – the stuff on the walls and what not.
Out of Hell’s design direction is really inspired by Silent Hill. And there’s this old side-scroller game Splatterhouse. There was some really disturbing visuals in that. Zombies without heads and maggots inside of them; when you’d punch them the maggots would come flying out. [laughs] Those were the three games that really influenced Out of Hell.”
But it wasn’t just the dark themes and gore Long was after. “My intent was to create a nice environment where a story could unfold,” he adds later, ”I find that games with a lot of back-story really interest me. I’d play Silent Hill like – dozens of times I finished it – trying to find every single nook and cranny, every single file to read, because I just like doing that – I like thinking about that stuff. So story is really important to me.” It’s a notion that Long’s put a lot of effort into with 3 major story revisions and restructuring the flow of level design as many times. The way the final product plays out, it really feels that you are dropped into a (un)living world and left to pick up the pieces as to how things went to, well, hell.
Much like Grinwood’s ruined streets, however, the road to completion was littered with obstacles and difficulties. About four years into development, Long thought his fans were getting restless after waiting for so long. Against his better judgment, he cobbled together a demo as a teaser [see The Evolution of Hell] – it ended up being one of his biggest regrets. Long-time followers panned the mod as a disappointment and he felt interest in the mod fade away as word caught on.
What was meant to be a gift to those anticipating Out of Hell had actually drove people away. “The general consensus was ‘My god, what the hell is this?!’ I can’t blame them, it was what it was. [The demo] was thrown together in a couple of days,” reflected Long. As most mods can be prone to as well, he also succumbed to announcing release dates that couldn’t be met, “I didn’t purposely mislead people. I grossly underestimated the amount of work involved. I underestimated the amount of time it would take and the problems I would run into. I really hated missing those release dates,” he said.
These events in turn drove him to bouts of productivity droughts, where Long had trouble finding the motivation to work on a project that many seemed to have moved on from. Many, but not all, as he recalls, “Regardless of how crappy the demo was, I was getting still getting emails from people around the gaming community and even from some [people at] game companies saying ‘keep at it’.” It was these words of encouragement that helped him see the project through. “There were times where I was depressed because it wasn’t moving at a quick pace. Not once did it ever cross my mind to abandon the project and that’s where the fans came in.”
In another stroke of good fortune, composer Justin Lassen happened upon Out of Hell mid-way through development and contacted Long about making music for it. However, with his can-do-everything attitude, Long felt he had the soundtrack under control and sent him a polite refusal, “Here’s a trick: take a sound like a dog barking or chimes and slow it down – slow the pitch down to nothing and you have a soundtrack! [laughs] There are some eerie sounds that come out of that.” It wasn’t until later when they re-connected and Justin extended the offer once again that he was finally brought on-board. “He gave Out of Hell its soul, [the soundtrack] fits the visuals perfectly.”
Fast forward to April of 2009, Long can finally see the finish line and makes what he hopes to be the final and true release date for Out of Hell. But yet again, fans were to be let down. This time for another reason entirely. “I can’t go deep into it, but I can say that we did have prospects [of commercializing Out of Hell],” states Long. The fans were cautiously optimistic of rumors of Out of Hell going retail, how much longer would they have to wait? In the end it wasn’t meant to be, as the creator puts it, “After a lot of thinking, I just thought it would be better to release it as a free mod and hopefully if someone takes notice maybe we could build on it in the future. It wasn’t developed to be any sort of a commercial project. It lacked a lot of features that a proper game should have, it wasn’t my main motivation to do Out of Hell.”
Finally, after missing many consecutive Halloween release dates, Out of Hell was unleashed upon the public October 31, 2009. The splashes it made within the modding scene barely made a mark with the greater gaming community with its focus turned towards the holiday season gaming glut. Nonetheless, it managed to capture the attention of thousands of gamers around the world, racking up 10K+ downloads in less than a week.
In asking Long what was next for him, he admits he’s still not done with the universe Out of Hell is set in. “I’m not burned out with Out of Hell. If people want me to expand on it, I definitely will. I’ve got a story for an expansion that takes place after the ending,” he says, ”And I’ve got ideas for a sequel where it takes place in the city and covers a lot of different things.” For to his next project, whatever it may be, Long is looking forward to gathering a team this time around. One can only imagine how much he can accomplish with a few extra artists and coders to support him.
For now though, we’ll just have to be sated with Long’s version of his own personal hell on earth. For more information on Out of Hell, visit www.outofhell.net