The MDb interviews the lead designer of Metroid Online

The MDb Interviews Seraphim of Metroid Online

by Capcom

Seraphim (aka Bryan Taylor) is the lead designer for Metroid Online, a massive mod project for Halo Custom Edition for the PC. A few of you may remember the excitement that Metroid II TC was building almost a decade ago, and now the concept of a 3D Metroid mod for PC has finally been realized! The MDb interviewed Seraphim to talk about his work on Metroid Online. Be sure to check out the Metroid Online homepage where you can download the newly-finished mod!

Ok. What is the 'elevator pitch' you have for Metroid Online? Basically sum it up in a short statement for those who don't know too much about it.

Our song and dance?

Sure, interpretive dance, haha.

Pretty much, it's a Metroid mod for Halo Custom Edition. We redid all the weapons, we redid the biped (character you play as), and all the sounds are pretty much intact. Our biggest accomplishment is actually changing the formula from standard Halo gameplay. When you kill someone, they drop whatever missiles they have on them (you start with 2) and a health orb. Why that matters, is because you get rewarded for killing people. Sorta like Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, in a sense...

Our weapons are diverse, but fair, you have fast weapons and slower weapons with more precision. I spent weeks tweaking the beams to get them just right, and combining a beam with a missile makes a great combo that is fun to execute.

That sounds pretty cool. So how easy is it to make mods in Halo in comparison with other software like Half-Life?

Well, for the most part, you have free reign over what you put in your mod. Halo allows you to use 3ds max for all your models and you use a custom 3d studio plugin that exports it into a halo-compatible format. Tags allow physics and variable settings changing on fly, just like any SDK [Software Development Kit] (such as Source). I think the best part about using the Halo SDK is the fact that you don't have to block-model maps. That's one thing that turned me off from Source, but other than that, custom creation is custom creation, we've just spent so much time with the Halo engine's editing kit, we sorta just know how to do what we need to do.

Ok, so it's more you knew how to use the Halo tools better than anything else rather than making a hard statement that one tool is superior to another?

Yeah, it's one of the first editing kits I worked with, and the people I ended up banding with were big Halo PC fans as well. I tried Source before, and I don't like the level-modeling tools, that's really the only thing I could say against it. I have not tried Torque.

How long have you been doing mods then? Was Metroid Online your first mod?

Metroid Online was not my first mod, per say. The team that initially started the Metroid mod (me and Byram) worked on a map with low gravity and one-hit melee [kill] pistols called Coliseum. But as for other engines, I've dabbled in map-design, but when I did so, modding wasn't really as accessible as it is now.

How close-knit is your group? I know that's pretty important to any developer, independent, professional, or fan.

Well, in reality, as most groups that work on a mod online, it's sort of hard to be close-knit. We're all tight and we all get work done when need be, but it's hard since we all have lives. I'm the oldest one on the team at 24 years old, and the other members are highschool students with really impressive skills. Me, Lightning, Kirby, and Teh Lag are really the only ones still working on it right now, which I believe stays true to the staff page. But I've seen many different members come and go, as we've really overhauled our mod 3 times.

Wow, that's a lot over four years.

So it's sorta...not developmental jobs, albeit being very important jobs to uphold.

Ok. I don't know how familiar you are with other fan projects. I know some guys were working on a Metroid Prime 2D game, and there was a Metroid II fan remake that sadly didn't get anywhere. And then of course there was the good old Metroid II TC project for Quake II that got canned WAY back in the day. Tackling a project of this size is no small feat. What was it like working on such a large project and what were some of the big problems you had to overcome?

The biggest problem is time. The aforementioned problem that everyone faces these days. Working over the internet, you can't really bop someone on the head and say 'get to work'. You just have to rely that they'll help you out and get their stuff done. The morphball almost killed our project twice. Halo does NOT like having a vehicle that you can produce at the press of a key and then have it disappear whenever you get out of it. It doesn't sync, the engine goes haywire, we eventually had to drop it.

So no morphball now?

No, unfortunately, it's a hard choice, but it's one we had to make. Halo PC's multiplayer coding is weird. Also, I went back to think about it, and one of the main things I hated in Prime Hunters was alt-spamming. So I am sorta relieved we wont have to deal with seeing 15 other people rolling around in morphballs when you are trying to play the game.

Actually, I never played Hunters multiplayer. Or Echoes, for that matter.

Oh, well, yeah.. It was a problem in Hunters - a LOT. Echoes was only 4 players, so it wasn't as bad. And you could only play as Samus! :-P

So what's the best piece of advice you can give to anyone else who is interested in doing a project of this scope? Having a group of dedicated people - probably a bit more than just a hobby, right?

The best piece of advice I can give is prevail. Set your goals at a reasonable height, grab some friends or meet some people with the same interests and some talent, and work hard to accomplish that goal. We've almost stopped the project several times, and now that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, I'm glad we didn't.

That's great. I've seen way too many projects go under for one reason or another. Are you planning to add more to Metroid Online, or leave it as it is? Maybe do something else?

Well, once the 'mod' is finalized, we can add it to any 'map' we design. So we are planning on finishing up some of the other ones we had planned or still have the models of but never finished, etc. I am currently going to college for game design, and I know some of the team members said they'd be interested in working on other projects, especially Lightning. I want to create some original content, I've had a Metroid overload the past years.

Ok, so you've basically just got a toolset now for other people to expand on, right?

Exactly. We are going to protect the maps (can't rip content from them) initially, but after we release some others, we'll probably open-source it. I just don't want to see a bunch of blood gulch mods. *sigh*

Haha, ok. What other maps you thinking of making - or is that a secret at the moment?

I have always wanted to make my own rendition of what I think the original Chozo homeworld/temple would look like. I even have that drawn out and started modeling it, but never finished it. Also, I want to make some 3D versions of Super Metroid areas, I think that would be neat.

That's cool. Maybe we'll see that Chozo map sometime, eh? The first thing that came to my mind actually was the extended area of the Phazon Mines that was cut from Prime. There was supposed to be a giant Meta-Kraid in there.

Oh yes. I actually was going to model that, but never figured out a way to put it into our mod.

Haha, sounds like the same problem Retro Studios ran into! Now I know you can use mods as part of a portfolio to get into the industry. How do you think future employers would react if you put a Metroid mod in your portfolio? Do you have any idea? I mean, would they be a bit nervous about it or impressed with what you got accomplished?

I think I am just going to show off custom level design such as that Chozo area I described earlier and some custom stuff that I modeled that never made it into the mod. My portfolio is sure to expand over time with my coursework at school, but I think unless I'm applying for a job at Nintendo, they probably wouldn't want to see another company's IP plastered all over every page.

Ok. I just haven't heard anything from people who tried that. So you're intending to take an industry track after college? Doing what kind of work? [game industry, of course :P]

Yeah, I might want to create some indy projects, because I can't see myself bending to someone else's creative idea for much longer. I have at least 4 game ideas I really want to make, but I'll probably end up just focusing on one.

Yeah, it can be a problem if you think too big. So are you thinking of doing something in the way of programming, art, design?

I do so many things but I prefer modeling and level design. Programming is boring to me.

We certainly love to see mods like this, but some companies can be a bit touchy about using their IP, and it's always sad to hear that something promising has been shut down. I know Nintendo has forced a few projects to cancel in the past - Metroid Classic was shut down, for instance, perhaps because they were making a game that was exactly like the original. And then, of course, there was the famous case of John Carmack's own Dangerous Dave in "Copyright Infringement" way back in 1991, so they're with [in]famous company. Have there been any complaints from Nintendo regarding Metroid Online (knock on wood)? Any ideas on how to keep a low profile or at least stay on Nintendo's good side - if such a thing is even possible?

The only thing I foresee is that we can advertise it as what it is. It isn't a new game, it's a mod of Halo. Any time you contact Nintendo, you get the same vanilla email about how they won't officially support your project. But at the same time, they don't say that they will kill you and burn your entrails either.

I figured as long as Nintendo didn't know about it, there was nothing to worry about.

I think our mod will be ok (especially after the fact that they will have to provide a C&D to Halomaps.org, one of the stingiest website operators I know). Its on their official forums...(fan-made post). They probably know about it. We were in a Euro magazine too.

That's pretty cool. Which one?

Official XBox. Someone from over there sent it to me. They were whining about it, actually.. But it's an article none-the-less :-P

Whining about what? The fact that Metroid is encroaching onto Halo territory?

Yep. Exactly. I have a transcript, I think.

That's kind of funny. One of the questions I want to ask is actually 'Because this is a Halo mod, what do Halo fans think?'

Here's a transcript of the article:

Our faith in all things green and armoured was dented this month when we saw this horrible little hack being buzzed about the internet. Someone, somehow has managed to perfectly spliced together halo and Metroid Prime to create a death match where master chief goes head to head with primes heroine Samus Aran. In the movie, Master Chief can be seen taking a walloping from the lovely Ms. Aran with various rocket launchers, before taking his revenge by turning into her trademark morphball and giving her a right good squashing. Then he rolls the environment, where you can see the gentle curve of the halo disappearing into the distance. It sure is purdy. This leaves us with a puzzle though - we're simply unable to figure out whether the hack was made by an XBox or a Nintendo fan. And is it a Metroid Prime level that's been hacked or a Halo level? One thing is for certain - we'd love to know WHO MADE IT. If you want to see the movie for yourself, gawp at Samus Aran having the guts to invade Halo, just go to Google video search and type in the words 'halo','metroid', and 'hack' to witness this bizarre crossbreed of a game for yourself. Who knows, perhaps it is actually a trailer for Halo 3 after all? Yeah, right."

Most people that play Halo on the PC are familiar with Halo Custom Edition, and most that still play, mod. A lot of them are Nintendo fans, and those that aren't seem to receive our mod as a new fresh approach to fps-multiplayer. I've had some "outsiders" (people not familiar with Metroid or Metroid Prime - the interface our mod is based upon) [test it out] and they loved it.

Well that's good to know. And yeah, that article sure is a bit whiny :P

Ya think? I think it's what they do best :-P I tried getting in contact with them but...that was near to impossible.

Wow, and they even have what is essentially a public call about it.

Yeah. We got a LOT of traffic from that. it wasn't even our post too. I then made a video to counter it with the same keywords and called it the NEW Metroid Halo Hack Video or something like that. It's...infamous. We all still joke about it. I mean, the missiles are smoke grenades from a Counter-strike mod that my buddy was working on at the time too and once they hit the 'skybox' (pretty much what tells the Halo engine where your sky is), they disappear. And the morphball was a warthog back then with a model replacement. We just made the driver of the vehicle invisible. Otherwise, you would see MC flipping around.

Hey, what works, works.

We have a lot of secrets we use to make the mod look good. most are unconventional, but like you said...what works, works.

Hah, yeah. Thanks for the interview!

Thank you, well appreciated.

Bonus Questions

What was the biggest thing you learned when working on Metroid Online?

Taking up a Metroid-related mod is not as easy as I imagined it would be. I have even more respect for Retro Studios and Nintendo than I did before. Retro did an amazing job at recreating a classic Nintendo game in 3d, and we spent years trying to get it to look somewhat like Metroid Prime. I am happy with the results, but jeez, I now know the pain and process of game development and hopefully it's a lot easier when you are working together in a team in an actual office instead of over the internet.

What are you most proud of in Metroid Online?

I actually talked to someone that worked on Metroid Prime at Retro Studios and he said he was impressed with what we were able to do with the Halo engine.

I know you've talked a lot about what you put in the game, but what do you think fans should be most excited about?

I think fans should be most excited about Metroid being on something other than a Nintendo console. Halo PC, since it's less demanding than the games out right now, is a pretty accessible title, and since Halo Custom Edition is a free add-on, it's easy to get our mod and play it. The variety that's offered in our mod is something we worked specifically on, and I don't think that's something available in even some of the commercial games for the PC. That, and .. the fan-service. I think Samus looks great and it's cool to have the baby Metroid hatchling in our mod as well - as the flag and the oddball.

So what do you think? Who would win in a Samus vs Master Chief fight? Also, we all know Master Chief can take out an apocalypse of viral zombies, but how well do you think he would do against life-sucking airborne jellyfish?

I like Monty Oum's approach to the question [Monty Oum created Haloid], but my personal opinion is that Samus would win. The Chief has firepower, but Samus has tact and maneuverability. She can freeze him with the Ice Beam and then roll around him with ease in her morphball, lay some bombs, double-jump, flip in the air and fire a couple of missiles at him in the time it takes him to reload his rocket launcher. I think the real fight is Cortana vs Samus.. Chick fight! Woo hoo!

And because we asked the last guy we interviewed this, what's the best Metroid fan site on the web with the initials beginning with 'M' and ending in 'Db'?

.. Um, ModDB? ;-) lol, jk. I love the Metroid Database, and the service it offers to fans and newbies alike. Keep up the good work!