Interview: Xizor's Palace

Hi, I'm Wandering Jedi and have I got a tale to tell about Xizor's Palace, which is shaping up to be one of the greatest DF levels ever. Back in the glory days of Dark Forces, before the release of a certain game, there was a web site for the Shadows of The Empire(SOTE), the Second Clone War. Mt. Kurek was released, which set new standards for DF levels, far outshining any level LEC had done in the original mission pack. Dark Forces fans egarely awaited the completion of the series, and Xizor's Palace was looking to be outstanding. Jeff Walters, creator of Mt. Kurek, had said that Xizor's Palace might even eclipse his fabulous level in some areas, especially architecture. David Arandle was working hard on Xizor's Palace.

But things changed, and David lost interest in his level. I had written David about the status of Xizor's, and found out that he had no intention of completing it. To me, this was such an artistic and human many hours, so much time and effort spent, just to go down the drain. David did give me permission to try and find a DF level author who would complete the level. Scouting around, I was quite happy to find that Trip Stallings, the author of Desalination Plant(and check out his SE.. in fact we will post further enhancements to Desal if Trip wishes us to) was willing to complete Xizor's!

Xizor's Palace now stands at about a 50-50 venture and Trip seems to be sparing no effort to improve the level and give it wonderfull special effects. I've done interviews with both authors about the level, and we also have screenshots for you.. just see the archictecture for yourself!

David Arandle

Q: David, can you tell me how you originally got involved with SOTE (the Dark Forces series Shadows of the Empire, the Second Clone War)?

I think it was sometime around October of 1996 that I was first approached by Jeff Walters to join the SOTE project. Jeff had seen my second level 'Jundland' and on the strength of that approached me to see if I would be interested in creating the third level of the four level SOTE project. The Third level was Xizor's Palace. At the time I had read the SOTE comic series so had some idea of what I might be letting myself in for. I thought it would be quite a challenge so I agreed to join in. Note: If you are not familiar with Jundland it is set on Tattooine and features a full recreation of both the exterior and interior of a Jawa sandcrawler. The level is played from the point of view of a stormtrooper.

Q: Do you have any rememberances of the Glory days of Dark Forces, before JK came out? Wasn't the community something special?

It certainly was. I kind of joined in late after many level creators had already completed their first 'bad' levels using the DOS based DFUSE (my first level was created with DFUSE too). Over a period of about two years (1995-96) I got to know some of the top level creators such as Jereth Kok and Lionel Fouillen. I remember when David Lovejoy's 'Admiral Ackabar' site was the best DF site on the web. That was then replaced by The Crow's Nest (run by a guy whose name escapes me at the moment - Geoffry Elliot sounds right? - but the site was awsome!) There were also many ambitious multi level projects being worked on back then. Many of them were never completed but they certainly helped to keep the community alive. During that time I only made about two complete custom levels but I wrote numerous tutorials and became something of a DF question and answer service. Most of my tutorials were written as a result of someone asking me how to do something. Usually I wouldn't know the answer so I'd go away and research it then write a tutorial. I made my first WAX a year after I wrote a WAX Tutorial and had to use my own tutorial to relearn how to do it!

Q: How many hours and for how long a duration did you work on Xizor's Palace?

I spent about 6 months working on Xizor's Palace averaging about 5 hours a day, 5-6 days a week.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievements in your part of Xizor's Palace?

Well most of my work was on the overall design of the level architechturally, I really didn't get to design any traps or puzzles. I would have to say I really like the interiors of the inner palace areas e.g. the Throne room, guest bedrooms, main hall - all those areas. The animated flame in the fire places looks effective to. I didn't create the graphic of the flame but I did all the technical coding to make that effect work.

Q: Xizor's Palace is now being completed by Trip Stallings. Judging by the amount of work he's put into it, its now a 50-50 project. Can you tell us anything about your dealing with Trip(author of Desal), and any difficulties you might of had in the transition?

I haven't talked with Trip a great deal about his work on Xizor's Palace so I really don't know too much about what he's added. I wasn't too particular about what he added to the level since I had no intention of finishing it anyway. I did outline some ideas I had planned, areas I was going to add but hadn't yet gotten started on. I also gave him the basic story line for the level. Aside from that it's been pretty much his project since he took it on. I've only really talked with him if he had a question or needed any assistance for finding custom components.

Trip Stallings

Q: Trip, can you tell us about the state of Xizor's Palace when you first received it from David Arandle?

The architecture was in place, but several textures needed to be aligned and there were many opportunities for expanding the explorable areas of the city surrounding the palace (similar to the two-part MotS level at Kaatrassii Space Port). Also, I spent some time making largely unnoticeable changes that define my style (reducing doorways to 1 unit in width, changing door track textures, using more building-like textures for large buildings, etc.). David had already put some time into creating a Xizor wax and a Guri wax, but one is unfinished (I could use a volunteer here). Finally, David had already added some inconsequential side-trips of his own that lend to the verisimilitude (not to give too much away, but look for the advertisement for a piece of ANH history at the visitor's center) and that helped to inspire some of my own. The mechanics of the palace were pretty much finished, whereas the city itself needed more work. I doubt I will change much at all cosmetically about the palace -- David did a gr eat job here (as earlier screen shots show).

Q: What do you think the strengths and weaknesses were in the original unfinished Xizor's Palace?

Strengths -- as mentioned above, the architecture and feel of the palace. Also, the story of the level, which I have modified to match the events of SotE more closely. Weaknesses -- also mentioned above, the unfinished feel of the city. David's city was a closed road loop. To give it a greater feeling of depth (but without actually expanding the visitable areas), I have opened up some side streets and some peeks through buildings that let the player look beyond to the massive city as a whole. Also, I am working on adding branching stories -- I want this level to be playable along several different paths.

Q: Did it take long to learn enough of David's style to feel comfortable with Xizor's Palace?

A few walkthroughs made it clear that there were primarily two basic architectural themes: the verticality and coldness of the city and the softer, more baroque curves of the palace. David has created some great textures to pull off the feel of the latter, though I will be adding much additional light sourcing to help complete the mood.

Q: I know you are putting a lot of work into this project. Can you tell us what improvements you are making?

Several mentioned above. In addition, there will be some scripted events (events that play out an element of the story at cued times, including special effects), lots of movement, and then some touches that make a level unique and lend to the feeling of actually being there, like paths and areas without game completion consequences, heavy use of ambient sound, machines that work and serve a purpose, etc. I am trying to take the crowd feel from Hoerby's Harkov to the next level by adding more citizens, and some who move as well (suggestions and ideas for pulling this off would be appreciated; right now I have several citizens running around on mousebot logic, so I'm not quite there yet).

Q: Did you make any changes to the story line?

Yes. See above.

Q: I loved the improvements in your SE of Desalination Plant. Is there any chance you may yet do any more work on the level?

Desal will always be my favorite project and I will continue to tinker with it, most especially once the Dark3D engine is released, but I doubt I would inflict it on anyone. Enough is enough. No one needs Desal II. I'll just do it for fun.