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Interview - (2004-02-18) Joel and Blackheart
Title Interview - (2004-02-18) Joel and Blackheart
Description Onyx interviews Joel and Blackheart for the Phrozen Keep on the upcoming Shadow Empires mod.
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ONYX:
There's been a lot of interest in the forums lately regarding the cancellation of the Cabal Wars and Wheel of Time mods. Both projects were very ambitious and long-awaited. But the fans shouldn't worry, it's not lost. The authors have joined forces to form a modding team working on a brand new mod known as Shadow Empires. Little is known about the project so far but I managed to corner both Joel and Black Heart and ask them a little bit about it.


ONYX:
Could you tell us a little about yourselves?

JOEL:
Well, my name is Joel Falcou, I'm a 24 years old French guy. I live in Clermont Ferrand, a somewhat "big" French city in the middle of the country. I've been there for 5 years now, attempting to get an engineering graduation and just started a computer science PhD. I got a girlfriend and a hellish cat ^^.

BLACKHEART:
Well I live in Texas with my wife and two sons. I am executive Chef for a major restaurant in San Antoine. I am 34 years old with a few degrees under my belt (Physics, History and a Culinary). I spend a lot of time working on the computer or fishing.

ONYX:
What sparked your interest to D2 and what made you start modding?

JOEL:
Ouch, that's old memories. I started by modding Diablo I and Hellfire during the time of the great Varaya and Khan Diablo/Hellfire modding forums ^^. I learned assembly language and hex editing by looking at endless pages of codes exposed by the king of modding of this ancient time: Dr Zed ^^.

Then Diablo II comes out in July 2000 (iirc) and well ... I played it through with all the 5 character classes in about a month ^^ losing characters at each patch, rebuilding them again and again. I was still modding Diablo I, with our ol' methods and tricks ^^. Then around patch 1.08 of Diablo II, I came across The Phrozen Forums. Back to our old forum site. I tried to keep up with basic techniques, building mods every time a new patch came out ^^.

Why did I leave D1 modding? Well, the game started to be old. Possibilities were a bit limited and one day V&K closed their forums ^^ So I decided to jump on the D2 band wagon. The fact that D2 was an easy txt modification process opened up far more possibilities than D1 (even if in the end, we were able to make wonderful stuff). The fact that gfx can be also changed easily was a major reason for me to get there ^^

BLACKHEART:
Well in short I hated realms play and the fact that single play was largely unsupported by Blizzard. I started looking around and found the Keep. After a year or so of lurking around I registered and started trying my hand a doing some of the basics. Then I stumbled into map editing and found my true calling.

ONYX:
You both had different projects. How did you decided to scrap the work and team up?

JOEL:
Ah great question. I started modding by making small changes here and there. About 4-6 months after I started I felt the need to make, well, a “true” mod. I played AR-DotD and BG mod for hours, staring at all the nice tricks TeknoKyo and RicFaith/SubSanity did. However, I don’t feel inclined to make a "lookimasmartassimadeamodwith50000levelsand25kdamagedagger" so I tried to get some idea up. Then comes out Cabal Wars - a mod based on an actual story of course ^^ not a bunch of modification thrown together. The first version was crappy as hell, bugged, overpowered, a true poopoo. Then I meet Brother Laz, and here comes the Light. This guy was a true modder, with clear objectives, good common sense and precise remarks. Every time he posted, you will be sure his ideas were kicking ass. He helped me, I helped him. And finally I was on the verge to release a workable mod. But well ... as the time goes, the fan pressure goes higher. Moreover, I feel like the mod was writing itself. All the things I did were so predictable. Then real life stuff kicked in. I got a job, work had to be done and I got less and less time to do what I always did. Have fun. CWAT wasn't fun anymore. So I left it dormant for a few weeks, then Black Heart launched a call, asking for some skill edition in exchange of map works ^^ Firstly we did that: skill for maps. But as the time went on, we found that we could scrap our stuff and make a true team work. After some brainstorming, here comes Shadow Empires.

BLACKHEART:
After a computer melt down in which I lost 185 megs of work on the WoT mod my heart kind of went out of it. The lack of motivation and pressure to make the mod something I was not willing to do (a mod directly based on the works of Robert Jorden) I began some freelance map work for Joel one thing lead to another and Shadow Empires was born.

ONYX:
CW:AT and WoT looked great. Is all the awesome work put on these mods really scrapped?

JOEL:
Of course not. Black heart is a talented map creator and all the experience he had in this field was preserved. On my side, I reused most of all the custom gfx I made for CWAT. On another point some of these works have been cannibalized. The first character classes we revealed were made by mix and matching old Wot and CWAT characters, and the skills were variations of old ones I'd already made ^^ The other big point is the code editing. I've tried to limit it to a minimum because it's fun but when you spend a weekend staring at hex stuff ... it's start to be o.O The 15 act systems will be reused but in a different way, the clue scroll and racial rune words code will be reused too but it's a surprise.

BLACKHEART:
We will be using everything we can recycle. No reason to let all that hard work go to waste. WoT was a learning experience for me. It taught me skills that I use now and for that it was worth doing but it's time has passed.

ONYX:
Will Shadow Empires be the long-awaited "total conversion"?

JOEL:
It will apart some recurrent themes (we can't realistically change EVERYTHING). The story line and all the rest will be totally new, we focus on the mood, trying to get a Diablo I feeling. Something dark and gothic. Every character classes will be a kind of ambivalent people, good and evil at once. All levels will be changed, and the quest layout too. Prepare to go back and forth trough the first acts ^^. Another good point will be the extendable system we'll use. The mod will be cut into 3 "expansions", each allowing you to play in 5 different acts, making you go up to level 50, 100 and finally 150.

BLACKHEART:
I don’t think a total conversion would best describe what we are trying to do. I decided to mod Diablo out of love for the game and think that it should retain some of the basics of the original game play.

ONYX:
Could you tell us a little more about the planned features in Shadow Empire?

JOEL:
Well, I dunno where to start. All the classes will be reworked from scratch, beyond the classical scheme. The assassin is now the Vampyre, the amazon is an enchantress-like class, inhabited by a faeries spirit that gives them control over nature and elements. The act distribution is new too, and completely non-linear for most of them. We have tried to be as detailed as possible on maps layout and design to ensure that people didn't even know where they actually are. Items are new too, and some cube usage will be character dependant, far away from the simple class restricted one. Monsters are all new and quite hard, still in the Diablo I line. One monster alone is easy to defeat. A pack of 5 is a true challenge. Maybe BH will have more to say on these points ^^

BLACKHEART:
There will be a total rework of all areas to remove the same old track used in D2. A lot of new maps and creative level reworking to make a fresh outlook on the playing experience. We wanted to make a truly creative mod not just a bunch of small changes to characters and items. When it comes to layout and quest the implement of the fifteen acts will allow us to really get the creative juices flowing.

ONYX:
Have you ever modded other game then D2?

JOEL:
Diablo I and Hellfire mostly. I tried Neverwinter Nights, which is a dream for modder and module creator, even if the 3D model thingy is hard to get at first glance. And the fact I’ve got a poor computer doesn't help either ^^

BLACKHEART:
No.

ONYX:
Do you play mods aside of modding, and if yes, which ones?

JOEL:
I used to. Ancestral Recall and BG mod were my favorites for some time. I always liked Eastern Sun too, even if I didn't get enough time to truly play it ^^

BLACKHEART:
I started off with AR and DotD. I have played most of the mods released just out of respect for the creators. I spend a bit of time playing SIC, ZYEL, Eastern Sun and the Rune Mod.

ONYX:
Is there any advice you'd give to anyone who's just starting out making mods or considering making a mod for D2?

JOEL:
Well, first, have a plan. Don't jump right on the keyboard. Think, plan, do the most stuff on paper first. Then don't do something because it CAN be done, do it if it has a logical purpose. You could easily add + to all skill recipes, but do you NEED it? Lastly, don't get discouraged; modding is not an easy task, start small, and then build larger and larger.

BLACKHEART:
Stay focused on the task at hand. Modding requires a lot of work and patience! Lastly when asking questions remember to try to provide as much information as you can in a coherent form as to help others help you.

ONYX:
Thanks for your time and good luck on the new project.

JOEL:
Thanks

BLACKHEART:
Thanks go to all the modders who have helped me along the way.


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