Level with Me, Magnar Jenssen

Level with Me” is a series of conversations about level design between modder Robert Yang and a level designer of a first person game. At the end of each interview, they collaborate on a Portal 2 level shared across all the sessions – and at the very end of the series, you’ll get to download and play this “roundtable level.” This is Part 3 of 7.

Of everyone I spoke to, Magnar Jenssen is the only one still actively working in the game industry as a level designer at Avalanche Studios. Before, he also worked on Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 (GRAW2) and Bionic Commando at GRIN, up until the studio’s demise. When he isn’t raking in all that sweet map-stamp money from arena_offblast for Team Fortress 2, he tinkers with some less profitable but absurdly polished single player Half-Life 2 mods.

Robert Yang: So, GRAW2. Sum it up.

Magnar Jenssen: You know, it’s one of Tom Clancy’s games. On the console it was a third-person arcade shooter, but [on the PC] we wanted to keep it more realistic, punishing, and “hardcore,” I guess. It’s very different from Ubisoft’s console versions.

RY: Did you ever get to meet Tom Clancy? What’s his role on these games?

MJ: No, I never did. Maybe he’s just happy to sign his name off on things.

RY: He doesn’t write the plots where, say, Mexican terrorists are trying to kill everyone?

MJ: We just got the story from Ubisoft and worked with that, with maybe a few adjustments for our PC version.

RY: I was trying to find a demo so I could ask you about it, but I couldn’t find it on Steam. [NOTE: I later found one. It never occurred to me to look somewhere else; so firm is Steam’s hold around me.]

MJ: It was funny – before one of the guys at GRIN started as a level designer, he had an interview with the boss. They asked him if he had played Ghost Recon and if he knew about the heritage and history and everything. He was like, “Well, I tried to play the demo, but it kept on crashing.”

RY: What was your role on GRAW2 exactly?

MJ: I was level designer and scripter… which means “object placement.” Artists created the assets, then I placed and scripted them. It was a lot of work, but we had a lot of freedom and control as well. Right now [at Avalanche], I work closer with game designers, which is a more controlled production.

RY: You say you had more “creative freedom.” What does that mean in the industry?

MJ: At GRIN, sometimes it was – I probably shouldn’t use this word – but it was a little bit of an “anarchy.” If we weren’t happy with the level, even though the game was halfway through production, we could just sit for 48 hours and redesign the level from scratch. We never heard from the publisher because we were insulated from that stuff, so we could do whatever we wanted, almost.

RY: Wait, are you telling me this stuff and expecting it’ll get published? I don’t want to get you in trouble.

MJ: I probably shouldn’t. [laughs] I’m going to get killed for this.

RY: What about your personal politics? The European stereotype is that you’re against American imperialism, but you’re making these Tom Clancy games that glorify that.

MJ: Story-wise, for the Ghost Recon games, that stuff is almost tongue in cheek. It’s written by French people who are maybe trying to sound really American –

RY: [shocked] Wait, French people write Ghost Recon?

MJ: Ubisoft is French, dude.

RY: I know, but I thought they might have an American branch to inject some Americanism in there.

MJ: They probably have Americans on the team, but the storyboard artists are probably French or French-Canadian, in Montreal or Toronto. It’s someone who’s not an American patriot, most likely, trying to sound a lot like a patriot.

RY: I was watching a scene from GRAW2. One of your Mexican allies says, “oh, look at what they did to this town.” Then an American soldier goes, “that’s the price of peace.”

MJ: It’s sort of tongue in cheek, but it’s also sort of not intended to be.

RY: But so many people are going to think it’s not tongue in cheek.

MJ: What should I say? Would anything be tongue in cheek for those people? [laughs] If people buy it like that though, that’s okay. That’s what it was supposed to do.

RY: What did you think of that business about Six Days in Fallujah?

MJ: It’s rough. Wasn’t that announced a year after the offense? That might be a bit too close to human tragedy.

RY: All these games are based on human tragedy.

MJ: But I don’t think it would’ve focused on narrative or shown you what happened there. I think it was a shooter that wanted to use the free publicity of the war.
RY: Do you think it’s possible for any of these military shooters to be insightful about war?

MJ: There were some games… Kuma, is the name?

RY: Kuma? Really? Don’t they just make that Source-powered stuff that no one seems to play?

MJ: They were making something like, “The Battles of Iraq and Afghanistan,” but I don’t think any major publisher is willing to touch that stuff. It’s too political.

RY: Ian Bogost wrote about Medal of Honor and free speech. He was making the case that all these military shooters want to have their cake and eat it too: capitalize on sensationalism, but say nothing about it.

MJ: Yes, and publishers publish games to make money. I think [Six Days in Fallujah] just wanted free PR, and it hugely backfired.

RY: I went to a BLDGBLOG-hosted talk  with a war photographer and a national security blogger. They said modern warfare, today, isn’t about guns. It’s more often about a hundred people sitting at computers, analyzing footage from a spy drone, then using a joystick to bomb someone. So it’s weird how warfare is becoming more like video games, but video games about warfare don’t want to look at the reality of it at all. There’s no heroism in sitting in an air-conditioned office, bombing someone, then going home to eat pancakes.

MJ: Exactly. You can just switch out enemies for space aliens and it’s the same game. It’s not realistic and it’s not about war.

RY: Then what are these games about, then? How do these games function as pieces of culture?

MJ: I don’t think it goes that deep. These are just popular video games. You don’t have to take it seriously, you don’t have to think about it.

RY: I guess I’m just trying to feed you my own opinion: Thinking “it’s just a game” is dangerous to think. When you think of war, you’ll think mostly in terms of Call of Duty. You’ll think it’s mostly a heroic exercise.

MJ: Yeah. There’s that Onion video about Modern Warfare 3 being more realistic, and you’d just repair hum-vees and sit around. People are aware of how detached it is from reality, but it’s scary to think that someone might sign-up for four years just because they’re good at Call of Duty.

RY: It’s not that direct. Most people know they can’t sprint upstairs at full speed, holding a giant rifle, in real-life –

MJ: – and then stab a guy –

RY: – yeah, and then stab a guy without losing your breath. It’s telling a lot of small [unbelievable] lies so that you’ll actually swallow this big one, about what war vaguely feels like.

MJ: Have you seen the trailer for the new Modern Warfare? The Eiffel Tower gets blown up. It’s funny, how it started out as this realistic World War II shooter with beautiful music tugging at your heart strings, and now it’s Michael Bay’s Choose Your Own Adventure in 3D.

RY: I was talking about this before with Jack Monahan: the first Russian level in Call of Duty 1, where you’re crossing the river and get 5 bullets but no gun. It was vaguely educational. They used to feel they had a certain responsibility to depict war authentically.

MJ: Well, [Modern Warfare] does come out every year.

RY: It only takes a year? My god.

MJ: It’s one of Activision’s big releases. They have to do it every year, or else the books might not look as good as they should. And each time you have to surpass the past one. Now they’ve blown up everything they can blow up. Was it Treyarch?

RY: Or Infinity Ward? But now they’re Respawn… but they have a deal with EA? People don’t even know or care.

MJ: Yes, most people don’t. The people on forums are pretty educa –

RY: Weirdos.

MJ: [laughs] … They’re educated.

RY: Okay, we’ve just talked so much about all this – maybe kind of boring – military FPS stuff. It must be refreshing to work on your own projects.

MJ: First it was my hobby, then it turned into a job. It’s still my hobby. I get up in the morning, make levels professionally, then come home and work on my own stuff.

RY: How do you do that? Most people do so much at work, then don’t want to look at a level editor for the rest of the day.

MJ: It’s an outlet. You have all these ideas, but you can’t put them in retail games that are more strictly controlled.

RY: Now, Mission Improbable and Whoopservatory aren’t really about story.

MJ: No, they’re about gameplay, as I’m not much of a story writer. When you’re working in games professionally, you release something every 2 years maybe, and work undercover up until six months before release. You work in a vacuum. I just want to see people play my levels and enjoy them.

RY: What strikes me about Mission Improbable – well, everyone else interviewed in this series has strong opinions about the importance of story, but I feel like you (and someone like Valve, at times) treat it more as a wrapper for something else.

MJ: It’s all about the gameplay, making something memorable and something fun. Story is just motivation for placing the player. For Mission Improbable, it’s contained completely in the readme file. You should just be having fun and seeing cool stuff. I’m not really a great story writer, I don’t know how to write three acts that build-up to something.

RY: I don’t share your envy. Maybe you’re not doing three act structure, but pacing is its own form of story. At the beginning of Mission Improbable, you’re sailing slowly into this cave. Then it slowly escalates as you get to the top of the lighthouse.

MJ: Yes, you need peaks in action. You tense up your shoulders, but you can’t play like that for long periods of time. Sometimes it’s good to be able to just relax and take in the environment.

RY: So what do you think of Dear Esther then?

MJ: I played some of it. I got maybe halfway through, but I got stuck on a bit of the terrain and fell through [the terrain], got annoyed, and quit out of it. I think it’s cool that it exists, and it’s cool that there’s an audience for it as well. For me, I’m scared to take things in a completely radical direction. Same thing with your stuff. It’s cool that people appreciate these things.

RY: But why are you afraid to try weird stuff? If this is your hobby, why not try new things?

MJ: That’s true, but you want all your hard work to pay-off. I’m afraid of spending a year on something only for 200 people play it. To go with something new then have it bomb completely? That’s a bit scary… which sounds…

RY: It sounds rational. But if you make it pretty enough, people will play it anyway? They’ll see screenshots, and they’ll want to see that space and explore it.

MJ: Absolutely. The Dear Esther remake looks fantastic. But the question is, will these new players appreciate it for what it is, or will they be disappointed there were no Apache helicopters and exploding Eiffel Towers? I think people might be expecting Crysis, only to be disappointed, and then they’ll be very vocal in their disappointment… Maybe. We’ll see.

RY: I still do encourage you to make something really weird.

MJ: I was thinking about this on the subway for the past few days: create a small level, a building – then have a “chronometer” that triggers randomly, teleporting you 20,000 years into the future or 5000 years into the past, to see how this small space stays recognizable but changes so much. It wouldn’t have much gameplay.

RY: That’s great! But I’m finding sometimes weirdness is too weird; I was prototyping a level where you couldn’t walk forward, only backward. Which, now, sounds like the stupidest thing ever.

MJ: Oh! I wanted to make something with those weeping angel statues from that Doctor Who episode. [NOTE: Someone made a Minecraft mod.] You might turn around, but then you hear footsteps and suddenly it’s 5 meters closer to you. Then you have a room with a pillar, and now this pillar is your worst enemy.

RY: So why aren’t you doing all this?

MJ: I should. But then the level designer in me takes over and I have to build an entire level around that mechanic. Whoopservatory was about cloning your movements to play cooperatively with yourself. It could’ve been just a test area released on design forums, but I decided to go all-in, so if someone downloaded it and didn’t like the mechanic, then at least they could enjoy the level instead. It’s playing it safe.

RY: The level designer in me thought you didn’t go far enough, but you were right to keep it short. I like that about your work; it’s well-executed, it’s confident. I’ve been working on Radiator 1-3 for two years, and I had a very game-y stealth mechanic about hiding from an NPC, but then I chickened out and deleted it. I thought the game stuff would be too hard for them for anyone who likes weird stuff.

MJ: It depends on who your market is, and how you make your own “brand.” People have learned to expect oddness from you.

RY: My approach has its own price. Did you know PlanetPhillip (a large HL2 mod blog / database) doesn’t have any entries for “art mods”? He thinks they’re so weird that they’re not even Half-Life 2 mods anymore.

MJ: Yeah, I saw that discussion. I thought it was pretty cool…

RY: Cool? I was so upset!

MJ: No, the discussion was cool. I think it’s cool that a creator can go out to defend his stuff.

RY: I always see it as lose / lose. If I go out there, being defensive, being an asshole…

MJ: [laughs] You weren’t an asshole.

RY: There’s all these artsy new Half-Life 2 mods coming out, and Phillip won’t cover any of them.

MJ: It’s a volunteer-based community…

RY: You’re right, it’s his site. He can do what he wants with it. But it really represents the huge divide between your conventional practice and weird stuff like mine. I really want to combine them, but so far, everything is telling me I can’t.

MJ: Maybe you could make a regular zombie-shooting level, then near the end it turns completely artsy.

RY: So basically, trick people.

MJ: Yeah. It’s about attracting a market.

RY: It’s weird to talk about people as markets. They don’t buy anything from us.

MJ: They pay us with their time. That’s why I’m scared to release a prototype, that’s why I over-develop everything. I’m always afraid it’s not enough.

RY: [starts demonstrating the Portal 2 map, and it’s really buggy]

MJ: Was that supposed to happen?

RY: When I came up with this series, I didn’t think the mapping would be the hard part. I forgot how hard it is to prototype and script a map.

MJ: It’d be cool if the puzzle got more and more complex, each time you return to the room. Maybe 50% of the walls turn to metal. Maybe the pit gets filled with acid. Maybe you have to build a bridge across the acid with the five boxes… Though that’s all just more gameplay, it doesn’t “make a statement.”

RY: I think the cubes dissolve if they touch acid.

MJ: But that’s through scripting, isn’t it?

RY: I don’t think they even float. Do they have a “buoyancy” value compiled into the model?

MJ: We could make the pool of acid more shallow then. Or the next time the player presses a button, they’d have to manipulate the boxes to fall into a portal in some way. It adds another gameplay layer each time. Make that fizzler lower.

RY: Won’t it fizzle the boxes?

MJ: Use one of those red fizzlers. It doesn’t fizzle boxes, it holds them.

RY: Huh? That’s not… I think that might’ve been in a custom map you played. I mean, sure, we can script that, but I don’t think players will know what it is.

MJ: That’s true. Let’s restart this. What if you had to take a box with you, as you loop through the rooms, then take it back to the starting elevator to activate something?

RY: So we’ll have a floor button in the elevator room.

MJ: Hm, but would that make any sense?… What if going through the exit doesn’t complete the level, and you need a decoy?

RY: Oh, so you’d put a cube in there, then the elevator closes and takes the cube.

MJ: Yes, but it’d be pretty hard to convey that to the player.

RY: And I forgot there are fizzlers right before the exit elevators. We can’t do that.

MJ: Let’s restart again then. I still like the idea of dynamic environments.

RY: [looks through list of Portal 2 level elements] Um, laser catchers? No, I don’t like them. They’re too easy of a crutch to make something complex. “Just add lasers to it.”

MJ: Something with the tractor beam?

RY: The second time [you go through the room], you have to use a tractor beam to pull the crates out?

MJ: When you put the box on the button, it won’t stay on there [because the tractor beam will pull it off the button] so you need to bring the box with you to the exit and release it just in time. [pause] Um, do you think this level will be playable after all 8 designers have… ?

RY: [laughs] I don’t know. It’ll be a grand experiment. Oh, what if the tractor beam went into the exit elevator room?

MJ: How would you get past that?

RY: I don’t know. I just think it’d be cool, since usually that room is sealed off from anything the level can do.

MJ: Yes, it would break convention. But what if… taking the exit isn’t the objective here. There can be a secret area, a radio where you hear some noise, right underneath that overhang. You need to stack two boxes in order to enter.

RY: Oh, that’s where “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” can play from! See, isn’t it fun being weird?

MJ: Well, they did those secret areas in Portal 2 too. But Portal 2 is weird.

RY: Really? I thought it wasn’t weird enough.

MJ: You should start working at Valve then, and…

RY: I did interview with Robin Walker, once, at GDC. He basically told me I was too weird, that they wouldn’t even know what to do with me. He told me to call him when I make some normal levels. [laughs]

MJ: That’s what I’m saying! Be weird only in small doses, then once you’ve signed the contract –

RY: [still laughing]

MJ: Don’t forget to add a light in the room there, [so players can see it]. And add a hallway for the next designer to add something…

RY: … Yeah?

MJ: It’ll be interesting to see if any players really solve this.

RY: They probably won’t. Thanks for your time!

(Transcript edited for clarity and length.)
(Looking for the Portal 2 map? Sorry, you have to wait until part 7.)


  1. Dances to Podcasts says:

    “the first Russian level in Call of Duty 1, where you’re crossing the river and get 5 bullets but no gun. It was vaguely educational.”

    They were just copying Enemy at the Gates. It’s all about the movies with those guys…

    • Orija says:

      Yea, actually Russia had more guns than it had men to use them.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Or their men didn’t have enough mad dual-wielding skillz

    • DrGonzo says:

      I was going to point this out. That wasn’t educational, the fact he thought it was points out that the originals were probably more arguably distasteful as they were based on real events, completely warping them to seem heroic and not horrible, pointless wastes of life.

      Other than that very whiny issue I had, I loved the article. More of these please!

    • bear912 says:

      Interestingly enough, MP44’s didn’t exist during the Battle of Stalingrad, either, though there are plenty of them in Call of Duty’s depiction. Trivia!

    • Robert Yang says:

      You’ll be happy to know that I’m firing my fact-checker.

    • Tyk-Tok says:

      “Yea, actually Russia had more guns than it had men to use them.”

      Which is exactly why, at Stalingrad, there would be one rifle to every unit of Russian soldiers, and when the guy with the rifle got killed the guy behind him would pick it up and keep fighting.


  2. fela says:

    Ah good to see Magnar is doing well!

    We used to game in a clan together (=?= clan with no name!) back when he was first learning his craft.
    Hilarious guy, much talent.

    Ah the golden days of the original Day of Defeat and Team Fortress Classic..

  3. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    Just went through the Planet Phillips fiasco, it was certainly… curious.

    Go Robert!

    • planetphillip says:

      I’m not really sure why you called it a “fiasco”.

      Surely I have the right to decide what goes on my hobby website?

      Even ModDB refuses to add some mods.

    • The_Great_Skratsby says:

      Sure you do, however that doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing to choose on the behalf of a community.

    • zbeeblebrox says:

      @planetphillip: Just because you have a right to do what you want doesn’t mean your actions can’t cause a fiasco. :p But no, that was definitely hyperbole.

      I view it the same way I view the BSA not allowing gay Scout Masters: it’s distasteful, but they can do what they want with their private institution.

  4. magnarj says:

    Hey! Glad to see the interview up!
    Just wanted to make a small correction, in the header it says that I’m lead level designer at Avalanche, that is not correct, I’m just a regular level designer :)

  5. battles_atlas says:

    “I don’t think it goes that deep. These are just popular video games. You don’t have to take it seriously, you don’t have to think about it.”

    This line of argument saddens me. I get that people tell themselves this to live with what they do in return for a wage, but its nothing more than that – a convenient illusion. It all matters, there is no such thing as “just a popular video game”. Every story, game, film, book – they’re all of consequence, particular when played by young people in their millions.

    • faelnor says:

      That doesn’t sadden me at all. Jenssen has an objective and disillusioned view of the industry, and that is a great thing because he works inside it. We need more game designers who don’t buy into pre-engineered hype, and, on the other end of the spectrum, we need more game designers that can still cling onto the basics and the lessons of three decades of video games.

      Yang says: “I guess I’m just trying to feed you my own opinion: Thinking “it’s just a game” is dangerous to think.”

      To me, this is a problematic statement explaining why I feel more at ease with Jenssen’s position than with Yang’s (with all due respect). What is dangerous, M. Yang? The fact that thinking “it’s just a popular game, what are you on about?” is something designers as a whole are more often proud to be getting away from. Dangerous for the quality and scope of future games.

      “Games as a self-conscious sociologically impacting medium” may be interesting for some, but I sure hope my favourite game designers steer clear of it.

    • AndrewC says:

      The point being games *are* “a self-conscious sociologically impacting medium” whether you choose to pay attention to that or not. And what happens when the actual game makers aren’t paying any attention to it? All its sociological hooks will still be flapping around, but chaotically and without control or authorship.

      What such a thing looks like in the real world is regular flare-ups at embarrassing game content like ‘No Russian’, or Arkham City’s sexism problem, or all games’ sexism, racism and homophobia, or the toxic nationalism of these modern manshoots.

      But hey, they’re just games.

    • Zetetic says:

      “What is dangerous, M. Yang?”

      To me, the idea that people will mindlessly produce novels, movies and games without regard to the message they’re imparting or impact that they’re having on their audience. That’s dangerous.

    • battles_atlas says:

      Thank you for clarifying my point. “Art is never without consequence” as Brecht said. What happens when games makers believe, or pretend to believe otherwise, is the recreation/regurgitation of dominant narratives: in this case, that of the ‘just war’, and American exceptionalism. Cultural products are a primary means through which power operates, whether or not the creator knows it.

    • Robert Yang says:

      Yeah, what they said. I love “normal” commercial games, but I still want to see them improve and be a bit more thoughtful with their influence.

  6. Brahms says:

    Modding is serious bananas and Robert Yang is the most serious banana. I approve of this series with extreme gusto.

  7. planetphillip says:

    I much as I like and respect Robert and what he does, he is putting words into my mouth here with He thinks they’re so weird that they’re not even Half-Life 2 mods anymore.

    I don’t think that. (Although I did play a mod recently that consisted of turning pages to read a story. That to my mind is not a mod.)

    I think we need to put this into perspective. I run a small, focused site that contains reviews about mods I enjoy playing. Yes, the site has had moderate success, but should that automatically force me to add stuff I don’t enjoy playing?

    I respect and admire Robert’s work and similar authors and mods, I just don’t like playing them. Magnar himself said that players “pay” with their time. Why is it so different for a webmaster?

    “Art mods” are currently a niche market, even within modding, but they get a disproportionate amount of attention compared to “regular” mods.

    Their value should come from the intrinsic worth, not just because they are different.

    If you walk past somebody’s vegetable plot, would you complain to them that they don’t have flowers?

    Robert, please keep building your mods, just don’t get too upset when some people don’t want to play them.

    Thanks for the mention, anyway.

    • Urthman says:

      I’m a big fan of experimental mods, but I think your stance is very reasonable, PlanetPhilip. I hate it when people think that just because someone’s hobby project gets really popular they now owe everyone more (hi, Notch!). Your site might be the “definitive” HL2SP mod site, but that doesn’t give you any more time and energy than if it were some obscure list that no one had ever heard of.

      I’m glad that Research & Development made your list though, as that’s probably my favorite mod ever.

    • Robert Yang says:

      Phillip: Wikipedia is run largely by volunteers. If something isn’t in Wikipedia, that literally means people don’t think it’s important enough or it’s too obscure even for an internet hive mind to care about.

      PlanetPhillip is the authoritative archive for single player HL2 stuff. In 10-15 years, no one will remember my mods, but an academic or historian might use your database (as cached by archive.org or something) as a source of what the modding community was like back then. Except it won’t reflect the full community because you left them out.

      In the interview, I did agree with Magnar in the end: It’s your site. I can’t force you to do anything. But it still makes me a little upset, just thinking about it now. “With great power comes great responsibility.” Instead, you sometimes spend your time posting some really awful maps that you tell people to stay away from. You don’t think those maps are fun either. What does that tell your readers about art mods? They’re not even worth acknowledging?

      It’s okay if you don’t think Radiator is fun. But don’t cut out the other dozen fantastic mods, this rare jewel. It’s incredibly discouraging for those authors; not everyone has a mouthpiece on RPS to whine about their feelings.

      (I didn’t mean to attack you, but that’s the topic that came up when we were talking. I’m really sorry if I’ve hurt you.)

    • Talon says:

      To be fair, your comments sound a bit like Jon Stewart’s commentary on his show, where he claims that he’s just offering comedic value and not political discourse.

      I think the central point is that once you become popular enough, you may unknowingly or unwittingly be given a greater responsibility to represent the community, even if the entire thing was started as your very personal site. If a blog becomes read by millions, does that weight of readership change what the blog should (or shouldn’t) cover? Do more eyeballs mean that the original intent must be updated to be more fair and balanced? Does it go from ‘blogging’ to ‘journalism’ and have a duty to chronicle everything that falls under the umbrella of the blog, irrespective of personal feelings?

      I think Robert would say yes, and you of course would dissent.

    • Urthman says:

      Robert Yang, I say this with genuine good will for you and your work. I hope you are someday successful enough that you too are confronted by people who think you owe them something simply because your work is popular and successful.

      Philip is not cataloging all FPS mods, all Source Engine mods, all HL2 mods, or even all single-player HL2 mods. He’s cataloging single-player HL2 first-person shooters. If that’s not what you’re making, there’s no reason you or anyone else should look for your mods on that list.

    • wmcmahon says:

      I feel I should chime in here and I really don’t want to start a shit flinging contest, but I’d like to share my opinion on how I see both arguments. I have interviewed Yang on numerous occassions and Phillip has helped me with Podcast 17 countless times. Phillip’s site is called PlanetPhillip because it’s a collection of HL2 Maps/Mods accumulated by Phillip. I’ve always wanted him to catalogue “Art/Alt Mods”, but he sticks to a niche and doesn’t stray from it. He has made the agrument in the past that he doesn’t want to make his site too broad, else it will loose focus. I wish it could be different, but the bottom line it’s his site. Robert, you shouldn’t think of it as a historical archive. If anything, it’s an archive of Phillips basement.

      I will be the first person to line up and defend “Art/Alt Mods”, hell I think I was even one of the first to use the word Alt Mod in the Source Community. But Robert, you are coming off a little childish and it doesn’t suit you. What you are basically saying is “Look at me, I’m doing something unique so I diserve attention” and while your projects do, 100% deserve attention, you are going about advocating them in the wrong ways. This might get me in trouble because there is this idea that artists shouldn’t conform and they should do what “feels right”. But you sound like you want to be so much a part of PlanetPhillip, but in the end it also feels like your making the argument that it doesn’t matter “fuck the system” “I’m an artist!”. Video game designers should do one of two things when they find a resistive market:
      1. Give no fucks
      2. Try to reach out to that audience and design something that is both entertaining to you as an artist and to the audience you are trying to reach.

      I think that is the hardest part about art and even creative design… tailoring. Making something that reaches the largest audience and it seems you are struggling with that. It sounds like you are pigeonholing your designs for the sake of your title as an artist and if that doesn’t bite you in the ass now it certainly will in the future. Don’t worry though, Podcast 17 will forever chronicle the words of Robert Yang if you are worried about the historical recolection of things.

  8. Radiant says:

    GRAW 2 being written by french people answers SO many questions about that game.

    • Strangineer says:

      We had plenty of lovely ubisoft voicework. One of my favourites is one of the actors reading “Captain, convoy approaching!” as “Captain Convoy approaching!”.

      Imagine hearing that 10 times a day.

  9. Pace says:

    Mission Improbable was great. Aren’t we still waiting for a third part on that?

  10. RagingLion says:

    (Continuing to love this)

    You got to mentioning Mission Improbable which I played and it was cool to realise I’d played some of this guy’s work.

    It’s interesting to see the very different philosophies at work in your different interviewees and yourself. I’m definitely in favour of the direction you’re personally pushing in but I don’t want to discount what this guy and many others are doing too.

    I don’t how much of this was a joke: “Be weird only in small doses, then once you’ve signed the contract…” but these sentiments put a seam of sadness into me. Some of this stuff isn’t even that weird or experimental! (I feel like saying) I can conceive of all kinds of direction for games to explore in my head that haven’t been yet. I don’t want to be weird for the sake of it but there’s so much that won’t be seen unless we deviate from a relatively narrow scope we’re in at the moment.

  11. The_Great_Skratsby says:

    Great interview, I’m going to be very disappointed when it comes to an end.

    A massive tip of the hat to Mr Jenssen and the Grin and Ubi devs of the pc GRAW 2. It was excellent seeing the IP keeping its much more tactical and hard boiled roots, despite the change in direction on the consoles (which were great in their own right). Honestly refreshing in an era of rather lackluster multplatform development, particularly for certain IPs (ho-hum how I do miss Rainbow Six).

  12. matrices says:

    The first 10 questions seemed to be, as the interviewer later conceded, him trying to push his opinion onto the interviewee. I understand that he was trying to get him to articulate his views on it but it’s a bit of poor form there.

    Any indignation over how video games glamorize war strikes me as misguided and poorly aimed. “We” don’t fight wars. Period. A handful of volunteers, moved by blind nationalism, family tradition, or the allure of careerism go to war armed with the world’s most sophisticated toys to kill the world’s poorest people. While the rest of…do whatever the hell we do and indirectly support it.

    The act of playing a video game honestly has fuck-all to do with that overall scenario. We stopped giving a fuck about war once we were able to outsource the war to a small segment of society and limit the casualties to those sketchy brown people who use another word for God.

    This isn’t even new. If you look at the history of the Vietnam War, the protests in the United States over the war ebbed with the decrease in American casualties, not deescalation of the war or of the suffering of the Vietnamese. The intensity of American bombing actually increased after the height of the protests and the announcement of the coming “end” of the war.

    TL;DR Video games aren’t the disease. They’re just another symptom.

  13. zbeeblebrox says:

    These are really more like focused conversations than interviews. Half way through this one, I literally lost track of who was doing the interviewing and had to scroll back up to figure it out, heh. But they’re honestly very interesting in spite of that.

    Magnar seems like a really intelligent guy, although they way he talks about the modding scene in such coldly economic terms is kind of depressing.