Modding Interview: Bryan Henderson’s Zombie Slayer

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Where would the mod community be without id Software? DOOM and Quake were some of the first games to spark what would become an entire generation of amateur game developers. And as id grew, so did the scene; some of those early mods went on to become the basis of successful retail games, and countless modders found their way into the industry by leveraging their modding experience.

But plenty of id Tech mods are still being released today. In our first id-related modding interview, we talk with Bryan Henderson, creator of “Zombie Slayer,” a mod that implements Heavy Rain/Dragon’s Lair-style quicktime events in DOOM 3. In addition to Zombie Slayer chat, the 29-year-old network administrator tells us about his first modding experiences, what he thinks the secret to a good mod team is, and what he’s working on next.

When did you first start modding?

Back in the late 90s, people started hacking apart game demos made using the game Quake to make movies. I found the entire process to be incredibly interesting since I had made movies back in the day using Red Baron’s movie editor. I never thought that taking a gameplay capture of someone playing a game and redoing the camera angles was possible.

I started researching into ways I could hack apart the demo format, and eventually created a movie using the Quake 2 engine in its demo format. I first made a movie called Rick Jones by using custom models and animations and coding it all in accordingly. The movie itself was a spoof on blaxploitation films. Now that I look back on the project, I think it was poorly done, but it was a good stepping stone in building up experience in working with a team. It also taught me the foundations behind basic game design — things like writing, mapping, modeling, animation.

My first role in a Real Mod Project was as a cinematic designer for the Classic Doom for Doom 3 team, writing and animating the intro and end cinematics.. Looking back at the cinematic work, I can see that my animation skills could have used some work, but I am pleased at what I have learned from the project. I also learned a ton about what it takes in a team to get a mod out the door. Teamwork and personal perseverance is crucial to getting a project out the door.

Was the idea of modding a game intimidating at first?

Not at all. I’m a firm believer that if you put your mind to something, you can do it.

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How did the concept for Zombie Slayer come about?

I really like to play something where I can lose myself in a story, and for the life of me, I could not find a good single player mod out there in the mod community. Most of the mods out there were multiplayer-only. I decided I wanted to make something I would enjoy — something rich in story — and figured that I would combine what I knew best — cinematics and gameplay — into one package. Perhaps in doing so, I would inspire other mod groups to create more single player mods.

One of my favorite games of the past was Dragon’s Lair, basically one large gameplay cinematic. I researched the ways the gameplay would work and the ways it wouldn’t and aimed to fix it all with the mod. The quicktime gameplay that Dragon’s Lair had created had become notorious. Fail once, and you had to repeat the same sequence again. But what if it gave room for error? I decided to add in a health system (I wasn’t sure how yet, but I was sure it was possible), so that you knew you had made a mistake in hitting the button, but you still had 2 more chances in the segment to get things right before the next checkpoint.

Was it difficult implementing quicktime events in DOOM 3?

It took me about 3 days to code in the cinematic system. The hardest part was getting all the animations done for the mod. Basically, for each button press, I had to create an animation for each outcome, so it went something like this:

Initial animation to:

1.) Failure animation
2.) Success animation
3.) Death animation (If >2 failures)

In essence, I had to create triple the amount of animations for each gameplay sequence.

You’ve said that it took 25 hour work weeks over a 2-year span to produce Zombie Slayer. How did you keep it up?

I’m not really sure. I think part of it was the fact that at the time, I really wanted to work in the game industry, so I figured that getting the project done would give me a pretty good shot at it. I was also getting very tired of school and had to do something creative to offset the tedious mental expenditure.

Hell, it was also fun, probably more fun than playing an actual game at times. It was a real buzz seeing my work in action. I’m pretty sure that was the real reason, but I did have several things going on in my mind at the time.

Who else worked on the mod?

Gazz from Classic Doom for Doom 3 did the finalized level design as a huge favor. I’m extremely grateful for his work, because without it, the mod wouldn’t be nearly as atmospheric.

Sonny James from Mystic Realmz Productions created the awesome soundtrack work. Even without the mod, the music is great.

David Kosta created the loading screen artwork. It worked well to tie in the segments of the mod.

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Was it a positive working experience? Anything you learned that might help other mod teams?

All of the work was very positive. I think what made the teamwork successful was having a small team where contact was constant and where everyone was contributing in a major way. Every person on the team had some kind of goal in mind, mostly having to do with building up a resume for the games industry. I believe that some kind of carrot on a stick is crucial to staying motivated to finish a project.

My suggestion to mod teams is to keep the team small and communicative. Also keep the work segmented and work on the project in small chunks. I have been a part of unsuccessful mod teams where the team consisted of over 100 people and the communication was not very tight or constant. With a larger amount of people in a mod group, people begin to slack off more and work on items that are not under their role. They also feel less worth being in a large hoard. They also work on different sections on the game, so nothing every really gets completed. Having a section of the game complete gives people motivation to continue on to the next section. I could go on about this topic, but you get the idea.

What projects are currently consuming your time?

I’m currently working on an adventure game. I tried to enter short story writing competitions, but after my tenth failed submission, I decided to go back to games.

Can you recommend any other recently-released id Tech mods?

Classic Doom for Doom 3 and Shambler’s castle are great Doom 3 mods. Zerstorer is a fantastic Quake 1 modification as well if you’re looking for something with story.

All-time favorite id mod?

Classic Doom for Doom 3. ;)

Thanks Bryan.

You can grab Zombie Slayer on the official website, or over on ModDB.

Reader Comments

  1. Really cool to see this interview! I did some voice-over stuff for this while tinkering with my own mod. The finished Zombie Slayer mod is a very impressive work indeed!

  2. It’s nice to reminisce on what we achieved with our own projects and how popular some of them were. I especially like the detail on the moddb page on how you went about creating the animations to put into the mod.

    I regret not having enough time to do my best work on the maps, I’m so busy these days that I miss all the modding work. Anyway, nice interview and as always, good job on the ZS mod!!!