Interview with Maciej Slizewski, author of
Tomb Raider: Heaven Lost is a low poly collection of recreated Tomb Raider fan arts by Maciej Slizewski.
One year ago he created a video to support Peter Connelly's Tomb Raider: The Dark Angel Symphony Kickstarter that he shared on Twitter (you can see it here). Soon after he started releasing more fan arts and it was the beginning of Tomb Raider: Heaven Lost and a dedicated Facebook page regrouping all of his fan arts was created.
He kindly accepted to let us know more about him in this exclusive interview.
INTERVIEW - 25 November 2019:
Hi Maciej, thank you very much for accepting this interview and taking the time to reply to these questions.
Thank you for this interview offer! I know about your site for quite a few years. I also am its regular visitor. So it is a real pleasure for me to be here. :)
How did you become a Tomb Raider fan?
I can’t remember the exact moment when I get to know about the Tomb Raider franchise. As I was a child, Lara was already quite popular. As I was starting to become a more aware type of a gamer, she was at the highest pick of her popularity. A lot of kids were liking her because of her adventurous appearance and her bold personality or because they played the games. Some of those kids parents were even playing Tomb Raider games too! One of my school notebooks had Lara on its cover. She was everywhere in the late 90.
I had a demo of Tomb Raider 2 for PC, unfortunately, my dads’ computer wasn’t very strong. It didn’t render the textures in a proper way and it ran in a really low FPS, so I never played the game for longer than 10 minutes. Luckily when I was around the age of 8 my parents presented me a Playstation (the first one). I remember I really wanted to play the “game with that famous Lara Croft” (in higher FPS count than 3). There was a game rental office in my town at that time, and thanks to that, one of the first games I played on my new console was Tomb Raider III! Unfortunately, I had to give it back after a few days. The office had a strange rental politics, it was quite cheap to lend it for 48 hours ( around 2.5 - 5 $ depending on a game), but after that time, the price went up very quickly, so it was more profitable to buy a new game.
TRIII was hard, but I loved it, I loved Lara, I couldn’t stop thinking about what amazing things I could discover with her. After a few hours with Lara I already knew I wanted to have Tomb Raider game on my own. I’ve decided to buy the recently released one. At that time it was The Last Revelation.
It put a spell on me instantly. It was much more cinematic than TR III. Especially first levels with lots of dialogues between Lara and Von Croy. Also, the epic cutscene of the mentor being trapped inside the temple at the end of Cambodia levels made a huge impression on me. I was amazed by it, I played the game to death! (quite literally… I didn’t have a memory card back then, so for a month or two I had to play it over and over again every time I died, wanted to play another game or just turned off my Playstation) The game still sits in my head as my favourite Tomb Raider game, despite the fact, I finished it for the first time many years later. (the last levels are so freaking hard)
I used to play it with a friend of mine, she was reading the printed walk-through and I was manoeuvring Lara at that time. The walkthrough wasn’t very detailed so we still had to find out a lot of things on our own. We had a lot of fun.
I also remember I was really hyped for AoD and Legend, I was collecting magazine scraps about these games before the release and I bought them at a release day.
But I couldn’t describe myself as Tomb Raider maniac (like today) until I was “plugged” to a constant internet connection at my teenage years.
That was the time when I started to search for new information about the games almost every day. An Internet connection and constant permission to many news and trivia about one of my favourite franchises made me obsessed with it. I even opened my own blog about Tomb Raider! It was only in polish language. Unfortunately, it does not exist anymore. Its name was “Lara stara, ale jara”, which translated to English means “Lara, an oldie but goldie”.
Its main content was Tomb Raider news about upcoming TR: Anniversary by Crystal Dynamics and deleted one by CoreDesign. I was also posting there a lot of videos I found on youtube. Strange official commercials with classic or AoD Lara, official trailers, fanmade music videos, short gameplays from custom levels.
I remember my favourite findings always were “Lara Croft & Prince of Persia - 'Anything you can do'” and “Lara Croft - Look At Me!” music videos by Kyo on Youtube. I even tend to listen to them now, especially while working on my fanarts.
It always amazes me how Tomb Raider fanbase can be creative! The spectrum and quality of what people here are creating are stunning! From time to time I also posted there some not-so-very complicated fanarts I’ve made.
Once I even decided to send one to Karima Adebibe myspace profile (hopefully official) and she used it as her profile picture! I thought it was my biggest creative achievement at that time! Haha :D The blog had about 10 visitors a day, a maximum of two comments under the post. But creating it brought me a lot of joy. I run this blog for about a year with a friend of mine, and after that, I stepped back to being more of an observer again.
Unfortunately, I was never a very active writer on any of Tomb Raider forums [either polish or international], so if you wonder, whenever you’ve met me on one of those places, it probably isn’t true. Now I am more active in Tomb Raider fanbase again and I am creating Tomb Raider: Heaven Lost fanarts! Yay! So that was my evolution of being a Tomb Raider fan, with different stages and phases of it! ;)
How did you have the idea to create your low poly Tomb Raider fan arts?
A little bit more than one year ago, I was working on a few different fanarts based on my favourite game franchises. I started to create them because I wanted to learn how to make high-quality retro low-poly inspired graphics. I was always amazed by the team behind Shovel Knight. Their game brings back memories of best-looking games from the NES era. It is just an illusion because, in reality, the game uses a lot of techniques and technology which weren’t possible in the eighties, especially on that hardware. The keyword here is “remember”, it looks and plays as you remember the old games, but not 1:1 as the NES games really were. So I‘ve decided I will try to learn how to make an art style I could call it PSX-Deluxe or PSX1.5! I wanted to know how to achieve that feeling with PSX-inspired graphics. Graphics of the time around the end of the Millenium is the graphics I associate my fondest gaming memories with.
Naturally one of the fanarts I’ve been working on was my interpretation of our beloved heroine - Lara Croft. I wasn’t planning to do anything more complex than a 3D model alone. I was even wondering if I should publish it somewhere. Rest of the models I’ve made at that time are still “lying in my cupboard”, unpublished.
Then, suddenly the Kickstarter campaign of Tomb Raider: Dark Angel began. I saw a lot of fans showing their beautiful creations trying to help to promote Peters project.
And an idea came to my mind “Maybe I could help them with my fanart Lara as well.”
I posted my first picture of MyLara on my Twitter.
It was very well received. I was really happy, but also very motivated to do more! There were also a few days of the campaign left, so I‘ve decided to make a little location inspired by my favourite level in Tomb Raider IV, Temple of Karnak and try to present it as a short cutscene in the vein of Tomb Raider the Last Revelation title screen.
It took me longer than I expected. I posted the video a few minutes before the end of the campaign and then... I guess you were the first one who discovered it on Twitter. You also tagged a lot of people from the Tomb Raider community! Thank you for that! That really helped me to reach a lot of great people.
The reception was marvellous. Official TR:DA profile reblogged it, also an official polish Tomb Raider site wrote about me on their facebook page! The one I’ve been reading since so many years! Unfortunately, as we all probably know, first TR:DA campaign didn’t reach its goal.
Luckily, after a few days of silence, they restarted it. I really wanted to be able to hear TR 4-6 music reimagined in the highest possible quality. I had no choice, I had to do a second video, bigger, better, stronger. The second video was created within a month. Using AoD theme as a music base, the first part of it was inspired by TR 4 again, but with more of my own invention this time. A little Egyptian location I developed from the ground up. And then, the second part was a recreation of Parisian Backstreets. Beginning of TR:AoD, made in my retro low poly style.
Once again I posted the video within a few last minutes of the campaign. The reception was truly positive, I even get some comments that people shed an emotional tear while watching it!
These two months were very intense, I was exhausted after that. But I was also very satisfied. I’ve learned a lot. Not even talking about the rewarding reception I couldn’t be more grateful, and wonderful people I get to know. After so productive one month and a half spent with my low-poly Lara, I felt a huge empty space in my life.
Suddenly I didn’t know what to do with my free time.
Of course, I was working on some of the personal projects before, but it was never so intense, emotional and effective at once.
I started to think about it and I realized there was also one thing I always wanted to explore.
I was often wondering what would it be if Core Design wasn’t forced to do sequels each year.
How the classic games would look if they had 2-3 years of development time instead of one.
I wanted to share a little bit of that fantasy with all people who enjoyed what I’ve done. I thought I could create a little glimpse of the Tomb Raider game from another dimension.
And so I started Heaven Lost project.
What is the process to create them, what tools are you using and is it complicated to do it?
I guess it is as a standard process of creating assets for a game.
First, I model the mesh using Blender 3D.
Simultaneously I create a low-res texture for the object in Krita.
Both of these programs are free and I highly recommend them.
Earlier I used to paint all the textures by myself, but currently, I do collages from stock photos or my personal collection. I make them in higher resolution and then resize it to 64x64 or 128x128 pixels, depending on an object.
If the object I’ve been working on is a character, (by that I mean an animal, human or monster) I rig and skin it. Simpler speaking, it is a way of putting a skeleton into the character. Skeleton is needed if you want to move their limbs in a complex way and create animations.
If you want just to rotate the object without special animation you don’t have to do that.
Then I import all of it to Unreal Engine where I set the scene (I do a little custom level).
I put there some lights and set the post processes. Aim of these is to simulate the look of an old game. (low screen resolution and known from PSX visible dithering)
The last stage is recording the fanart. I either make a screenshot using a tool that is a part of the engine or I make a gif with a little free program called Gifcam.
Is it complicated? It may seem so at first sight, but after you make it more than twice, especially with some helpful tutorials, it starts to be easier with each iteration.
What new fan arts do you plan to do in the future? Got any idea yet?
Haha yes, I’ve got a list of things I want to do!
I still treat it as a way of improving my skills, and training needs to be constant to be effective! I just unhook the things I’ve already made haha.
There are a few rotating artifacts left.
I also want to finish the series of TR-Classic Cover inspired renders.
I am also open for some spontaneous themes, just like my collection of outfits for the upcoming movie, or recreation of your favourite renders for that interview.
There is also one infamous short cutscene in my pipeline…
I am working on this cutscene since the beginning of TR: Heaven Lost...
Unfortunately learning animation and stuff around it turned out to be much harder than I expected. Answering that question made me realize that recently I was even starting to do anything but that cutscene! I have to return to it as soon as possible, I promised myself I will finish it. Actually, I’ve almost finished it with different techniques, but I was never satisfied with the final effect and I was always dropping it and restarting the project. Luckily I’ve learnt a lot during that process. I hope the next iteration will be the final one.
It's really not that complicated cutscene I just finally have to leave the comfort zone and make it…
I guess somebody should make some TR-related Kickstarter campaign again because without a deadline I get too lazy. Are you planning to do some? ;) I’ve already made models of some well known Tomb Raider AoD characters for the cutscene. So some additional renders will be coming too!
And the last thing on my list is “The End of Heaven Lost”.
I’ve learned a lot, but I think that almost after a year of spending most of my free time on it I would like to move on and do something else. I already started to think about what I want to do next, maybe to come back to one of my never finished personal projects. Maybe just rest a little bit.
I just start to feel a little bit of burnout already and I think it would be very sad if I were to ignore that and still create the fanarts without the finish line set. Maybe after some time, a few months of material fatigue, which comes sooner or later, I just would stop creating it.
I don’t want that to happen. I think it is important to finish Heaven Lost while I still am at the peak of passion for that project.
My favourite stories always had an intriguing opening, interesting middle part and emotional ending. I want my journey with low poly Lara to be that kind of a story too!
I want the ending to stay in minds as my love letter to the series, and a thank you card to all the people that supported me. Maybe a little fulfilment of their hidden dreams. Don’t worry it will not be very soon. As you can see, I still have many things to do on my list! (And I still don’t know what the ending should actually be). I am sure the ending will be my most complex creation yet, something above the quality of everything I’ve made until now.
So, to sum up: a few renders, few artefacts, finish the cutscene and do the last thing - ending, which will be something special. :)
You are a game designer at Teyon and you recently worked on Terminator: Resistance. How long have you been working there? Do you have any tips for people creating fan games and hoping to join the game industry?
Yes, I am.
It's been more than four years now. huh, time flies by too fast ;) But I’ve never been doing anything graphics related in my professional life, that was always my hobby.
Making fan games is quite a controversial topic.
There are companies which have nothing against it, and often acquire famous modders of their games as new employees.
As far as I know, Sega officially stated it has nothing against Sonic fangames.
But some companies don’t like that at all.
I’ve read a lot about Pokemon and Spyro fan-games that had to be deleted.
Working on a fangame does have this advantage that the originals game fanbase gives you a lot of feedback often very positive and is very curious about what you are doing from the get-go. That is a huge motivation.
Unfortunately, on the other side, there always exists a risk of receiving “cease and desist letters” from the brand owner, forcing the creators to delete their projects.
Being forced to delete something, you’ve been working on for a longer time and put a lot of your heart may be a painful experience.
If you want to make something like a fan-game that you should have that in mind.
Luckily we’ve got Tomb Raider Level Editor!
It is always better to make a game using the software given by the developers if such exists.
In that case, the possibility of deleting your project by the owner company is very low.
They released the editor because they wanted us to make these levels.
Things get more fragile if a man decides to use one of the professional game engines.
As far as I know, the most common reason why the companies delete fangames based on their properties is that the fangame can create information noise in media.
It can create confusion within a potential buyer of the owners official game, especially when the “mother company” is close to opening an advertising campaign of new entry of their franchise. The owner company doesn’t want a potential customer to think that your amateur fan-project based on their property is something they invested a few hundred millions of money. Reasons may be different, most probably, work of one person will rarely hit the quality of a product made by hundreds of professionals. And even if it reaches that level (everything is possible, some of us, Tomb Raider fans are truly genius), the company just may not want your vision on the franchise to dominate theirs.
Or just simply want their products to dominate internet searches instead of your.
Reasons may be different, it is their property after all, and they’ve got full right to it.
In that case, I would advise to brand it properly on the internet. Make it very clear that what you’ve created is a fanmade creation and not a competition for the rights owner. Maybe even in a title. Don’t be afraid of very visible slogans like “Fanmade Level”/”Tomb Raider inspired Climbing system”/“Fanart Lara Croft”, after all, that’s what it is.
Also, I think that the creation of one aspect of a game or recreation of one level from the original game or a simple Custom Level is still more safe than giving a promise of remaking a whole game.
Make it small, maybe one/two levels, or a level presented in a form of a video.
Smaller things also have a higher chance of being finished ;)
Unfortunately, If you plan to make a full remake of (for example)Tomb Raider Chronicles, it will probably be deleted from existence, when Square Enix will decide to make one on their own.
I bet that was the case of all fanmade Metroid 2 Remakes when Samus Returns had its announcement.
So to sum up: don’t be afraid of showing very clearly that your creation is fanmade, dream small, don’t be a competition for the owner company and if possible use tools given by the rights owner.
There is also one last reason, that may seem more obvious, but in reality, there are a lot of people who make it. The fan creations are deleted, whether there exists a suspicion, the creator wants to gain a material income using it... so please people don’t forget (in most cases) it is illegal to earn money on popular brands without its owners’ permission. ;)
And when it comes to joining the game industry:
Do different game project, do a lot of things, be very passionate about making games. Learn a lot.
Be interesting, be yourself. Make the potential employer want to work with you. And if you are sending a portfolio (especially a graphical one) make sure only the best stuff is included there.
Don’t forget to finish your things in the portfolio, it is always better to show something smaller but complete.
Make a nice website for your Portfolio… don’t send everything you’ve made in a zip attachment in an email.
Don’t make an open-world MMORPG as your first game. It is not a good idea. ;)
Don’t forget to be kind. Soft skills are very important while working in a group. One toxic person may influence the creativity and productivity of the whole team. It is not so hard to find out on the internet how a person treats other people. And if a potential boss sees that a potential employee tend to use very violent language calling everything he/she doesn’t like “shit or rubbish”, probably he/she will not earn the job. Nobody wants to have a person in their team who will express himself in a very aggressive and demotivating way, nobody wants to hear anything like that from their coworkers about their job. The demotivated and sad team will probably mean a huge loss for the employer.
Good luck! I hope your dreams will come true!
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