Episode 3: The Closure – Leon Brinkmann Interview

I would say Leon “SPYmaps” Brinkman is well known in the Half-Life 2 Modding community for his maps. He’s produced 3 full length mods in the time he’s been involved with Half-Life 2 and has previously released more content for other games.  He has a passion for mapping and its not hard to see. Episode 3: The Closure is his current project in teh tubez and we want to know everything about it!

To kick things off, would you like to introduce yourself?
That is, for those who don’t know who you are.
And whoever doesn’t know Leon is, may god have mercy on you in the future.

My name is Leon (SPYmaps) Brinkmann and i am 48 years old. All my life i have been very creative, I couldn’t exist one day without any creativity. All my life i have been drawing and painting, my biggest wish was to be a cartoon drawer (and then in the way of great cartoonists as Milo Manara, Enki Bilal, Mobius, etc. When i was around my 20’s i started to publish cartoons in severel magazines in
Belgium, France and ofcourse my own country. But, even when you are very good in it it still is very hard to make decent money
in that industry.

A Dead Combine on the Catwalk

Tell me about your history with modding and how you got started?

In 1998 my brother said to me that it maybe was a good idea to buy a computer because on that i could do so many creative things, he said. He himself already used the computer, he is a IT guy in the real sense of the word. But i hesitated, a computer, me?! I bought one not much later, my first pc, a 166 Mhz, (yes, you read it right guys).

I used it for 99% to game with, as soon as Duke Nukem 3D was released i played it and loved it right from the start. Till that time i played 2D side scrollers etc, but never a “real” 3D game, (even when Duke Nukem was not really 3D, because of the engine that it was made on, the Building engine). I simply couldn’t understand that this was possible, that a computer could give me such a fantastic world on a screen, where i could do exactly what i wanted. I never forget the moment where my brother was visiting me and i said to him that it wouldn’t  surprise me when we could make our own games a few years later, and that the programs for that would be available. He pointed at the Duke Nukem cd on my desk and answered; you already can do so, with the game comes the editor, so you can start right away. It was like i discovered the way to heaven! And from that day on i have mapped! I made over 100 levels with the game, till i played Medal of Honor: Allied Assault

So i started to map daily with MoHAA, and made severel large sp maps with it. I would have  mapped for much longer with Mohaa, was it not that then i bought one of my all time favorites, SoF2, Soldiers of Fortune 2. Man, even now that game still amazes me, i still play it once every 2 to 3 years! Before SoF2 did i never saw blood and gore in a game, and even today i haven’t seen a game with better blood and gore splashes.  With Sof2 i have made 6 sp-mods, in total i made about 30 large sp-maps with this game.

By that time i was a daily visitor on Modsonline, a great mapping forum site, where i met my friend Baltic.Forever. From that time on we almost daily have contact and we produce in a high tempo large amounts of sp-mappacks and sp-mods. He is a  real problem solver, i always call him Mr. Fixit. And i am more the creative guy. The amount of bugs he has fixed over the years are numerous, in some cases, especially with the Source updates he was the first in the community that was able to fix issues. Without his help i never could have released so much work.

After Sof2 mapping i started with Call of Duty mapping, and made some sp-mappacks with Cod1 and 2. Then came games like Quake2, Doom3, Quake4, Prey and of course Half Life2. Maybe its hard to believe for some but i never did hear  from the HL universe till i played HL2. In fact, till this day i never  have played all the HL1 games, although i still have them on my playlist,  and one day i will play them all, just so i understand more of the HL world. I have them all on my shelve in my game collection, just need to install them. From the first moment i played Hl2 i knew that this would be the next game to set my teeth in through mapping. It was not hard to learn working with Hammer.

Our second HL2 project was a large one, called Coastline to Atmosphere (CtoA). The community was divided, as always when it comes to my sp-mods. But this is normal for my work. In the beginning i always tried to please everyone, but when i learned one thing in this then it is that you simply can’t please everyone. My sp-mods are known for its high action, i love loads of enemies, explosions, etc. Especially my use of enemies makes that the mods are loved or hated.  Because many people don’t liked to fight against so many enemies. And that is ok, as long as those who do like the mods like them a whole lot then i am pleased. And that seams to be the case, i even seem to have a fan group and that makes me very proud.

Looks like some sort of News Setup...

To complete the list of my mods, after CtoA we made Strider Mountain (SM), Final Project Diary (FPD) and the last 2 years i have been working hard on my 5th and last HL2 sp-mod, called Episode 3; The Closure. These huge mods take much time and effort to make, it takes 2 to 3 years of daily hard work to get them out, and a lot of time i ask myself why i am doing this, lol. Its work that you don’t get paid for, and believe me, a lot of times it feels like work. But, creating maps is a addiction for me, i simply  can’t stop. Even when i am not mapping, but on the toilet, in bed or walking trough town, even then is all i can think of mapping. i am sick, hahaha.

Now why don’t you tell us about Episode 3: The Closure?

As the title of this last mod says, (the working title for this mod was by the way Rooftop Retreat) Ep3; The Closure, will this be my last HL2 project. I have received many mails for people who told me that they thought it was a shame that it stopped, they considder me as a major mapper in the HL2 community. But after 5 large sp-mods, with a  total amount of around 45 sp-maps i am donewith HL2, each texture, model and even sound file i have used for my feeling at least one million time. It simply is time to move on. Another big factor is also the popularity of HL2. This is getting smaller by the day, what is logical, the game is 7 years old now i believe. And when you put in so much time and effort in a mod, then you want it also to be played by many people. And even great HL2 mods these days have download amounts of around 20.000 to maybe 40.000. When you know that CtoA is at least downloaded around 300.000 times that i know of, its probebly even higher, then you understand what i mean. Also, when you work with new games magazines, and people from the industry notice you. This is not really the case anymore now with HL2. Still, there is another reason that makes me decide to move on. And that is indie development, making my own game.

TC is almost done, as i said have i been working on it for 2 years now. On Moddb you can see many movies and screens of this work. I have learned not to predict release dates,  because 90% of the times you can’t keep them. Still, we are talking about a few months, not years, for TC to be released. It is again a large sp-mod that will take many hours to complete. It will be in the line of my older sp-mods, but with a few major differences. First of all, i would like to see if i can please everyone with this last one.

The last 2 years a lot has changed in the field of engines, editors and the use of them. Before you had to pay a huge amount of money when you wanted to use a high profile engine/editor as Cryengine, UDK, Unity, etc. Now they are free for indie devs to use them, and when the game is successful you only have to pay a few percent for using the engine. The market for indie games is also huge now, and grows each day. So, it simply is time to move on, very exciting new times are ahead of us!! I already have a lot of ideas about this indie of mine, but that is for later. First i need to finish Ep3;The Closure (TC) and then we can talk about indie development.

What is different this time around with The Closure, compared to your previous mods?

In FPD i added a system that made it possible for the player to decide if he wants a normal amount of enemies to fight against, or more enemies. He could choose at the start of each new map. I have added this system again, but with the difference that you only have to choose ones at the start of the mod. Another big difference is that this is by far the most story driven sp-mod that i ever made. A much heart comment on my older mods is that they don’t have a large story. That i really tried to add this time and i think i did succeed in that, at least i hope so. I always have done my best on each map i made in the past. But with this mod i have done my extra best to make it as good as possible. In the past there where always a few things in maps, that i wasn’t pleased with, or simply could have been made better. In this mod i have repaired or changed such issues, each meter in these maps is the best i can provide now in level design. The mod has 14 large sp-maps.

Since you  named the mod Episode 3: The Closure, do you think people will accept it as the sequel to Episode 2? Or do you think its better as your own continuation of the series?

Well, about Episode 3, and if people will accept is as a sequel, i think not. although maybe some will see it like that, hopefully. if you mean if people will get angry, that i call it ep3. maybe some will, but i am not the first one that calls this mod ep3, i seem to remember having seen one or two in the past year or so. of course do i call it ep3; the Closure, just to get more attention to my mod. people will look when they are interested in HL. still, it is really not the only reason why i call it Ep3, i believe i explained this previously. this is my 5th HL2 sp-mod, but from those 5 i myself only see 2 of them as real good and big ones. so this is my 3rd real episode so to speak. also is this not the first time i call a mod of mine a ep, in fact, my mod Coastline to Atmosphere was mean as Ep1, as a follow up to the HL2 story line. Many people also did see it like that, and they loved the mod for it, (it is downloaded over 330.000 time).

Also, tell me more about your plans to make an indie game!

about my indie development i can be short for now, i have decided that this is my last mod, for now. i said this also when i released my last mod, but now it really is real. after this i will start with indie, and ofcourse do i have a lot of ideas. the last 6 months i do think a lot about it, but it really is to soon to go in to detail because it is still all very early. for instance, i don’t even know which engine i will choose for it, the latest Crytek one, the UDK, Unity, i even am thinking about the enhanced Building engine. so you see, it can go in each direction. what i can say is that i really do hope that i will be able to make a fpshooter in 3D. But this is very hard, to deliver a good fps. simply because you do need a team for that, and it is not easy to find good developers. so my first indie will probebly be a simple fps, in the way of graphics, and when this is not possible then i will go for a topdown shooter or a side scroller. beside fps games i also love those sort of games.

Some great lighting in an Indoor Office Area!

Awesome! I’m definitely looking to see a story driven mod made by you.

Many know already your a great mapper, tell me about working with hammer, do you like it?
What would you change about it if you could?

What can i say. Over the last 12 years i have worked with a whole lot of editors;

Duke Nukem engine, the Swarrior engine, QeRadiant, Worldcraft 1.6a, MohaaRadiant, GtkRadiant 1.3.7.dev,Gtk 1.3.8 and 1.3.13, CodRadiant, Hammer 4.0, doom3 mod tools, quake4 mod tools, and Fear tools.

But I never worked with one editor for a long time, ( for the last 6 years or so I’ve nearly mapped daily with Hammer). So i know Hammer really well now and i love it, it’s a very easy to use editor and its very different
layout and style compared to the GTKRadiant editor. I have to be honest and say that it wasn’t always easy to work with Hammer because of the many corrupted Valve updates. The last few years Hammer is fully steady but the first few years there were times when Hammer simply didn’t work for several days up to a week or even more, because of such a update. And that was killed me then, because when you are in a mapping mood and can’t do anything. And going back to a earlier Hammer version was never possible because of the automatic update through Steam. That made that i really hated Hammer and Valve quit some times. But like i said, the last 3 years or so Hammer is fully steady and it works like a charm. Like i said before will this be my last HL2 project, and therefore the last time for at least quit some time that i work with Hammer. I will miss the editor for sure, but i won’t miss the updates. I still am looking in to editors and engines that i will choose for my first indie game, and maybe, maybe i still will choose the source engine for that.

About changing things in Hammer i can be short, there is really nothing that i would like to change about it, or even that i can think of. It seems that Valve is working very hard on updating tools for Hammer and Source in general, it seems that the Source engine is really a pain to work with when you are a modeler. But as mapper i really to do love Hammer as it is.

Shawn:I could only imagine that you’re great with Hammer after you’ve been using it as long as you have.
As far as mapping goes, what have you learned from your other mods, what to do and what not to do?

With each new map I learn something new, most of them are not about how to map or make architecture but more about gameplay. For a mapper it is always a great learning experience to see people play their map, therefore it is a real shame as mapper you never see people play your work. I do ask my brother to play a new mod of mine once It’s done, just to see if things work out as I thought they would. But he usually plays map-parts differently from what i thought the player would. But, over time you still get a understanding of how things will work. Therefore it is really hard to name specific issues, but still, there’s a few i can name, for instance it’s not smart to use invisible walls in your map to guide the player, years ago this was quite common but now; you simply can’t do this anymore. Personally i to hate it to bump in to a invisible wall. Something else is that maps can’t be to dark, even when they need to be because it needs to be scary or for some other reason. Most players hate it, myself included. In general it is always quite hard to make excellent maps because what some people like is not liked by others. So, it simply is impossible to please every player. For instance the amount of enemies, some like it easy and others, like myself like many enemies to kill. Still, you can make maps that are liked by most people.  With the technical side of mapping there are many things to learn when you start, and this is different with each editor and game engine. But that can easily be learned by following the tons of tutorials that are out there on the net. So, it is quite hard to answer your question in general.

Yeah, that was sort of hard, but that was a perfect answer.
Tell me a little about your team, You already introduced Baltic.Forever, Who else do you work closely with?

Well, I can answer this question shortly; There is no team, I work alone. with the previous mods I worked always with Baltic in the way of backup, especially with complicated map issues he helped me out, and all the bugs where always fixed by him. With Strider Mountain and Final Project Diary we used some models that where made by Baltic and Cubedude. But with Final project Diary I knew Hammer and the Source engine so well that I was able to fix all bugs myself, and also didn’t i had any problems anymore with complicated issues. So from that time on I worked alone, although I still use some models that where made by them for the previous mods, and with this latest mod I have been working solo, I tell them what I am doing, and they do beta test the maps when they are done,but other than that I am working solo.

Do you like working alone then?

I like it, you can do exactly what you want. And you never have to be afraid that someone leaves the team, or doesn’t do his job, or offers crappy work. On the other hand, I’m a mapper, I can’t model, make animations (except faceposing) or do other things like making textures etc. so I always have to work with whatever a game has as content. that is why I am glad with sites like gamebanana so I can find custom made stuff. Of course it would be great to be able to build whatever I think of, because now I have to work with what there is and what I can find. After this last mod I will start indie development as I said before, and I am thinking about looking for team members for that, but for this last mod I choose to work alone.

Yeah, when you have to rely on people sometimes that can be a little rough.
Whats your personal favorite mod that Isn’t made by yourself?

It’s hard to name a favorite mod, not only because there’s more than one that I really liked, but  I always forget their names, (silly, I know). Also, I have to say that I don’t play that many mods anymore, but this has mostly to do with that there are not many new mods made anymore, SP ones that is, I only play SP. I think that about 80% of the time that I sit behind my pc is used for mapping/modding, then 15% of the time to play the latest, newest fps and racing games, and 5% that is left for playing mods. but as I said is this because there are not that many new mods anymore that I haven’t played, for HL2 that is.Sometimes I check if there’s new Crysis sp-mods to play too.

Do you want to say anything to the readers or your fans about the mod, or anything at all?

I am glad people follow my work and that sites like Modinformer are interested in my projects!

Some great stuff huh? Well, Leon has some more for us – out of his busy mapping schedule he’s managed to get us some exclusive never-before-seen footage for us to show you [Few] faithful Modinformer readers!
Extra Pics Too!

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