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Steve Tack's ZODIAC

Well ladies and gents, we're back after a somewhat long interview-hiatus with Steve Tack, head designer and project leader on the ZODIAC project. The ZODIAC project is a simple set of missions all with a focus on gameplay. The project has (as of late 07/02) released the first mission which can be attained from the project's website. Without further delay, we present a few questions and answers we gathered from Steve regarding his work:

DXM: When did you begin work on ZODIAC? And what sparked your decision to start making your own project?

Steve: I started poking at it around March 2001, but I didn't start working on it steadily until about November 2001. The whole reason I downloaded the SDK was to attempt some level editing (imagine that), and I realized I had done little outside of writing tutorials and model utilities. After some early mods folded, I got a little frustrated and figured doing a solo mod would be the best way to avoid all of that (even though the project isn't a solo mod anymore).

DXM: That's what I figured. So on that note, then, who has helped you along the way and in what ways?

Steve: Well Steve Foxon did all of the music, and is planning on doing custom music for the rest of the missions too. He was also very helpful in bouncing ideas off of and helping to come up with the story. Also, Nick Cowen did the mapping for the second mission and is currently polishing it up. Jeff Hellesen is my other mapper who is working on the fourth mission. I did get a lot of help beta testing, and help on a lot of little details like how to set up the launcher and that sort of thing.

DXM: I gotcha. So what is it that you hope above all to bring to players of your missions? A good story? Intuitive, interesting gameplay through level design? A combination of qualities? What is it that you pride yousrelf most on so far in the work you've done?

Steve: My main goal is to provide a little more Deus Ex style gameplay. If I can provide opportunities for some of the things that made the game great, like the ability to solve problems in various ways, rewarding exploration, providing clear goals to the player, and of course shooting bad guys in the head, then I've succeeded.

DXM: Excellent. So why the CIA? What made you decide upon the setting that you've chosen?

Steve: I wanted the first mission to be based on a real-world location to ground things in reality (not necessarily such a good idea as it turned out). I love the scene in the Mission: Impossible movie where the guy breaks into CIA headquarters, so that was the inspiration. I also wanted the first mission to be more of an exploration/investigation kind of thing before getting into the more combat-heavy stuff.

DXM: Speaking of that, I never got to drop in from the ceiling of the vault. Can you do that?

Steve: No, I had originally planned that, but couldn't figure out a good way to pull it off. There *was* going to be another room where you could get into the ventilation system, but it didn't work out.

DXM: I see. Very nice texturing in there by the way.

DXM: So what's the release plan for ZODIAC?

Steve: The plan is to release Part 2 hopefully by October or something. It will consist of the next three missions. (they are all shorter than the first mission) I'm getting help on two of the three missions, so that'll be a nice change. :) Then the "full" version with the final two missions will hopefully be done soon after that.

DXM: Excellent. So by "full" you mean that you will release a full package with the entire campaign's content?

Steve: I'll probably release "upgrades" to be nice to modem users as well as "full" versions. So yeah, at some point there will be a full package containing all of the content, which may contain a few fixes here and there too.

DXM: This is somewhat unrelated, but may prove useful material if you don't mind answering a quick question: What made you get into DX editing in the first place? What motivated you to create your own how-to editing resources website?

Steve: Well I loved DX when it came out, but I played through it and uninstalled it. Later when the SDK was released it sounded interesting so I dived in. Since there was essentially no documentation on how to actually build levels (and the Unreal editing sites were of help only in certain areas), I started writing up things as I learned them. At first, it was really just for my own use, but eventually it grew into that little site. I'm kind of surprised that there weren't more like it out there. Universal Constructor is the only other one I know of that's really focused on attempting to document the SDK.

DXM: Why the name Zodiac for your project?

Steve: Hehe, well you'll have to play the final version to find out. :) It has kind of a double meaning, but the initial idea came directly off of a conspiracy website.

DXM: Oh? Got any more details to share about that, or would you rather not?

Steve: Here's a hint: the MJ12 that is talked about on many of those conspiracy sites is closer to "X-Files" kind of stuff than the MJ12 in Deus Ex. ZODIAC has more to do with *that* MJ12.

DXM:: Ah :)

DXM: Now, it seems that (though please do correct me if I am mistaken) the Zodiac project started out as a one-man effort and blossomed to include a couple of other helpers along the way. How did you get together with these people for Zodiac?

Steve: It's kind of a convoluted story. For a while I was "sort of" on the Cold Hearted team (I think I'm still listed on the web site in fact), and at some point it kind of got reformed. Long story short, some guys working on that "parallel universe" Cold Hearted asked me if they could do some maps for ZODIAC. They were part of yet another failed mod called Illuminati 2072. The bizarre thing is that Cold Hearted is apparently back in another form... But anyway, I realized I had a bit much to do on my own, so those two guys are each doing one mission. Steve Foxon I knew from *another* very early failed mod called Bliss. I had heard some fantastic music he did, so I asked him to do the music on ZODIAC.

DXM: Excellent. It sounds as if you're no stranger to the mod scene and the variety that's found in mod teams (both failed and still going in some form). Is there any advice that you can give people on getting into the mod scene and managing to stay there, whether they're looking to join a team or start their own project?

Steve: Unfortunately I've had pretty bad luck with mod teams, with the notable exception of my involvement with Redsun2020. It seems that people will suddenly disappear for months at a time for no apparent reason. The lack of dedication and basic communication can be quite unsettling. If there are still folks around from DX1 modding after DX2 comes out, I would try hooking up with people who are known quantities.

DXM: I've tried to touch on as many aspects of your project as I can think of. Obviously, the story is something that is most well laid out by actually playing the maps, or so it sounds. We've talked at slight length about the locales in your project and the general map design as well as your future plans for the project. Is there anything else that you would have liked me to have hit on?

Steve: ZODIAC will be a fun learning experience for me and hopefully will provide a little DX-style fun for players. It should be fun to try applying what I've learned to the DX2 SDK. Assuming they release that of course!

And so concludes our interview. Be sure to regularly visit the ZODIAC project website for updates on its progress, and drop by Steve's own tutorial and resource website for all your Deus Ex editing needs!

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