A Week in Our Worlds – Jim Hughes

For the final installment of A Week in Our Worlds we have two more interviews. The first of which is with Raven’s very own, Jim Hughes. Jim talks with us about the cage they keep him in over in the Raven basement and the sexual fantasies he sometimes has towards his fellow employees.

1)So are you like Raven’s little secret weapon that they keep locked up down in the basement? I mean they haven’t even posted your picture/bio on the Raven homepage (at least not that I could find)! Do they at least keep your cage clean?

I would like to think of myself as some type of secret weapon but unfortunately I am just one of many here at the company. At the time the company web page was being put together I was busy doing some work for SOF’s first showing at E3. Needless to say I was up to my neck in work and I never wrote a bio for the web page. I was being hounded all the time for a bio and finally they just gave up. Truth be told I hate having my picture taken and I will do anything in my power to avoid it. I was just using my workload as a excuse.

As far as my cage being clean that is another story. My office is a mess and ever since the cleaning woman hung herself things haven’t been the same around here. Although the office looks disorganized everything is within my grasp on the floor around me. I tried to clean it up when my father visited recently but it still looks like a burglary in progress to the average person.

2)Tell us a little bit about how Raven managed to sucker you into working for them? Have you worked for any other game companies?

I was working on some Quake2 levels at home. A friend icq’ed me and said that Eric Biessman updated his plan file saying Raven was looking for designers. I had released a 3 level pak for Quake2 before and was in the final stages of a second Quake2 unit. I honestly never thought I would have a chance in hell of getting a job here. I knew the current maps I was working on were good but I figured somebody else would have something more impressive. At that time the talent pool of level designers on the net was amazing so I wasn’t even counting on getting a response back from Eric. I sent him a mail saying these maps were works in progress. The maps were populated and were in the final stages of tweaking. He mailed me back the next day saying he liked them but wanted to see something that was finished and balanced better. I sent him the first Quake2 unit and he wanted to talk to me on the phone. After the phone interview Raven offered to fly me out for a interview and the rest was history. Within a month I moved out here and started working on SOF right away.

3)So what kind of stuff are you into? Where are you from? Did the FBI ever find you? I tried to tell them that you left the country but they just wouldn’t believe me.

I have spent most of my life in Sayreville New Jersey. I moved there when I was in forth grade but before that I was born good old Brooklyn New York. I remember moving out to Jersey and people making fun of my Brooklyn accent. I thought that was all over but it started again once I moved out to Wisconsin. When Eric interviewed me on the phone he had never heard anyone talk like me except in Mafia movies. He told everyone at Raven he just did a phone interview with Frank Rizzo from the Jerky boys. Before I got out here I already had earned the “Rizzo” nickname which then later turned into “Jersey Jim”. I think my accent is going away but I will never sound normal out here, everybody talks like news reporters in Madison.

Obviously I was am really into computer games but before that music was my life. I have played guitar for the past fifteen years and was attending college for music. After two years and a associates degree I took a break to start teaching guitar at a local music store and opened up a recording studio with two friends. At this time I was playing in a band called “The World is Flat” and also recording some instrumental stuff on my own. After a while the whole studio idea didn’t appeal to me so I left. I started to see how hard it was to make ends meet being a musician and I had it very easy since I was still living at home. I think deep down in mind I knew I was going to have to find a career that I loved and could still make money. Level design was a hobby of mine but I never thought it would provide me with a job. Shortly after that the Raven job offer came in.

As far as the FBI goes if they had to find me they wouldnt have to go very far. Raven’s offices are located right across the street from the FBI here in Madison. In fact I believe Raven use to be located on the lower floor of that building.

4)What all games have you done work on?

The only professional game I have worked on is SOF. For the retail version I worked on about 9 maps. For the gold version there are another 3 of mine in there. Before that I did “Saturation Point” for Quake2. I also released “Gods of Rapture” and “All Black Within” for Quake1. I still have a 3 map unit for Quake2 that was never released, maybe one of these days I’ll take a weekend and finish it up. I had some other odds and ends for Quake1 that I never released also.

5)How did you originally get into level design?

It seems like the same cliché level designers story but it was Doom that completely floored me and infected me with the level design bug. I was always impressed with good graphics ever since the Colecovision and Commodore 64 days but Doom was so far beyond that. I bought a Doom editing book and started messing about with Waded. I still remember doing the first tutorial of a octagon room with a pillar in it. After that I was hooked. I fooled around with Dark forces and Duke for a while and then Quake came out. At the time I wasn’t on the internet so I would go to a friend’s house to download all the utilities. I was in awe of what was possible with a light sourced 3d engine. I tried different editors before settling down with Worldcraft and then started building maps. After a while I got the hang of it and started releasing some stuff. The rest is history.

6)Ok Eric Biessman and Jon Zuk in a real wrestleing match (not that fake ass WWF crap), we’ll even throw in a few bats and and clubs, who wins?

This is a real tough one. See Eric is a pretty strong guy and would probably throw Jon around but there is a problem. Jon “Shifty” Zuk didn’t get his nickname for nothing. See Jon is from Chicago and he is a very well connected guy. We have all seen the recent news stories about the Zuk family from Chicago. Vinny “The nose” Zuk and Tony “Knuckles” Zuk were just recently arrested for murder and selling fire works illegally.

To answer your question if it was just Eric and Shifty one on one then Eric would probably win. But if it wasn’t correctly monitored and Shifty has access to his “family’s” resources then Biessman doesn’t stand a chance in hell.

7)So do you still see yourself working at Raven, designing levels, in five years?

It is really hard to think that far ahead. If you told me 5 years ago that I would be working at Raven making games I would have told you to quit smoking those funny cigarettes. It has been 2 years already here and I can see myself doing level design for a while. We will see if Raven puts up with me for another 3 years.

8)In your opinion, whats the best level you’ve ever played?

I am sort of partial to SOF but I was very proud of all the levels. My favorite though is nyc3. I remember sitting with Eric talking about what we wanted to happen on that level. I also remember Mike Renner (he built, populated and scripted the level) drawing the opening room layout on a white board in back of his cube. I thought the level pacing was really well done. I also like the way the situations are set up with the hostages. It was also very cool to see the cops on that map. Sometimes there are situations that just “gel”. The lighting and architecture are great and the combat feels good. This is one of those levels that just worked on all aspects. Even when testing through the game thousands of times I always looked forward to playing that one. When you feel like you are “there” then the designers have done their job.

9)What level do you believe shows off your talents the best?

This is a really hard question to answer since most of the maps I did for SOF were very different from each other. It is hard to look at my own stuff objectively since I only see it for the faults and improvements I could make. I was very proud of the first Iraq level in SOF (Irq1a). I thought it looked different from what people were use to seeing and I thought it played well. It was also a cool feeling sneaking around the town in a disguise. I was happy I was able to pull of some of that style of architecture with brushes. I was surprised it even compiled and lit correctly.

10)Any words of advice you wish to share with us?

The best advice would I could give would be to set realistic goals and try your best to stick with them. If you start a map then make a effort to finish it. There was many times out of frustration that I was ready to give up on a map. I forced myself to finish a full map in my earlier days just so I could say I made one complete map. I think if I gave up on that map I may not be here today. When starting out the task may seem overwhelming but once you have actually built a complete map it is easier from that point on. Whether is a deathmatch map or single player map doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you start it and finish it. If it sucks then you dont have to release it, just start another one. Your second effort will probably be better and take less time. After each map I built I felt that I had learned something that I could apply to future maps in order to make the better.

A big thanks to Jim for his time and we promise next time we’ll try to steal the key from Kenn while he’s sleeping and let you out of your cage for a little while.