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The Groll: on mapmaking, his dreams and experiences!

Interview by Swolte: December 2007

The Groll has stunned many a mapmaker by his relentless energy for mapmaking and the game in general. In this interview we'll take a closer look at this interesting person and ask about his motivations, abilities, and plans!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Who you are, how you discovered Age of Wonders, Heavengames, and eventually, the community?

I feel very honoured that someone like you thinks it´s worth to ask me some questions about myself and about my mapmaking style and that anyone in the community like to read this. OK let´s start. I try to keep it as short as possible. I´m male, live in Germany, and have surrounded Sol round about near 38 times, have a wonderful girl that likes AoWSM (as long as I don´t waste to much time with it) ;-) and we have two wonderful little children together.

I discovered AoW I as it became a low budget game. I bought a 10 games box for 10 DM (now about 5€ = 4,5 $). Most of the games were bad but then I found this gem inside and things ‘changed’. I played the original maps and found them ‘not too fantastic’ but the potential of the game and the abilities caught me fast. So I began to make my first maps (In the end it where four maps) for AoW I and found them better than the original maps. I played AoW I with my girl together (and still we play AoWSM now together in hotseat). It was great fun and as AoW WT came out I bought it on the first day. I was surprised how wonderful this game was and of course I made my first map (Marlenes Welt) for AoW WT. Then AoW SM came and I hoped for more. The potential of the game raised again and I was caught forever. It seems there was no limit anymore.

I found the community searching the web and first I thought I would never post in English because my English was bad but I upload my maps to HG.

You have become quite famous for your maps. Firstly, can you tell us a bit about the mapmaking process; how you start a map, and where you look for inspiration, etc...? Also, is there something like a The_Groll- map? And if so, what do you think that would be?

Thanks for the nice words but not everyone likes them. ;-) But on the other hand there are some people that realy love them and that alone is a little inspiration for me. But more it´s the need to create something nice. When I start a map it´s most the joy in painting something and that it grows like a flower. I do not paint the landscape and after it´s done I paste the events into the map. That not my kind because if I paint I ‘feel’ the land and then the ideas flow out of my mind and I create the events while I paint. It´s like music. I can´t write a lyric text without hearing the sound. So the events and the land grow together and the story becomes alive. I spend most very much time to my maps and so I don´t like the idea that some players are locked (AI only). I learn with every map and now I have a system that allows to make strong AI but only when the race is realy played by the AI. I never have a concrete idea for a map. I always have hundreds of ideas for a map and so I am like a sailor or a drifter. The map simply grows.

A ‘The Groll-map’? Hmm… I don´t know if I understand that question right. But a typical ‘The Groll map’. No there is no map. Any map needs to be another one. I hate to do things twice.

I heard you have almost finished 'Marlenes Laughter'. Can you tell a little bit about the joys and frustrations of this elaborate, yet unreleased project? Starting perhaps with explaining the title?

Hmm… ‘Marlenes Laughter’ got it´s name from my little daughter. Most of my maps carry names of my children in title. ML because my little darling laughs when she hears some of the unit sounds in AoWSM (The witch laughter sound when you click on this unit). She often laughs when I play the game and she likes traps. So be careful when this map comes to HG. I started the map in spring before upatch 1.4 was released and I only start it because I was bored.

Than it was like ever and it began to grow. That this guy came along and ask if I would make a map for upatch 1.4. What was his name… Ahh.. Yes, Swolte. I could not believe and feel so honoured I was asked to be part in such a great project. I didn´t know that he would drag me into a wonderful never ending story… So I made ‘Secrets of Marlenia’ and ‘Marlenes Laughter’ was put on ice for a while. Joy and frustration. It´s fantastic to let you mind run free and try all the strange ideas in my brain. The more difficult things are the more I want to make them and so the event list grows (now there a re about 4000 events inside ML). Frustration is the testing of this events in game (only partitional testing is possible in such a huge map of course). The frustration was when you thought it must work and it didn´t but then the must be a mistake and I can´t let it from the hook. The biggest frustration is the game bugs – Stop Movement bug (That´s the reason why it is not release now). And another thing that is still top secret inside this map. It was much work to do and test it and to make it available in a AoWSM map. This will change the kind of playing forever in an AoWSM map. As far as I know no one have done this before and as the idea grows it was clear that it will gulp much time (About 400-500 events). When you make a map you know the traps and secrets but I too want to play a map where I run into hidden traps that I don´t know. In ML there are so much events that I don´t know them anymore.

Then, after upatch 1.4 I wanted to work on ML again but Magog called for this mapmaking competition in November. I didn´t want to take part but it grabbed me and I started to make ‘Gates of Elocin’ where I want to use the predesigned area in a special way. ML was put on ice again. Btw, ‘Gates of Elocin’ was a success. It won the Mapmaking competition and I was proud even when there where sadly only four maps part of the competition.

You seem to have a tremendous energy and creativity for mapmaking. I don't think there is a mapmaker in the history of AoW who has managed to put this much detail, time, and content into his/her maps as you have. Where do get this energy from and can we learn this?

The energy is to love for detail and to love to create new interesting things. The joy create can´t be learned I think. I don´t know if anyone has spend so much time to a single map so far but time is not what hurts when I make a map. It´s not that I think I need to finish something because I want to play it final. To create something is the joy. Therefore there is no need to hurry. The ‘natural feeling’ – whatever if the land is wonderful or barren it the inspiration. Both need to look wonderful ;-)

Sure! Anybody can ‘learn’ to make maps but I don´t think it´s a procedure where anyone needs to ‘learn’. I think there are so many people that should simply open the editor and simply paint half an hour. There is nothing to learn. Simply ‘do’ – and you will be caught be the ‘feeling’ to create something. No need of a plan or special ideas. Simply paint and feel and you will create a nice map. The most important thing is that you don´t want to finish a map when you start making it. Then you will fail when you always think you only spend ‘time’ to the mapmaking process. You need to love it – and you will love it when you play with the things inside the editor.

Where do you think your mapmaking can improve?

Balance, AI pushup and the knowledge of some things, events. I create maps out of my womb. Balance – I don´t think maps need to be balanced. I think a map do not need that all races have the same strength. In converse. I like it when a map has some easy to play races and some that are real hard to play. So any kind of players can play and win the map. And when you play in hotseat or PBEM you always have different players. Some are so perfect players that they need races where it´s hard to win with.

My maps are SP maps with hotseat function but can be played online or in PBEM too but the it´s a question if players can accept the different settings. Balance is a difficult thing. AI pushup – The AI in AoWSM is so terribly silly that it needs some help. Since ‘Gates of Elocin’ I made system where I help the AI and it work. In my last map ‘Davids Winter Wonderland’ the AI pushup is very simple but it works fine and the AI becomes a real challenge for the human player. Event and knowledge – There anybody can learn more and more. I found some real nice tricks and always find more day by day. I made 6 Maps for AoWSM now and there is still so much to learn. Some things in my first maps I can laugh about now and would not do it this way anymore. Improve? Yes: Upatch 1.5. this will give us mapmakers unbelievable possibility´s when the things get implemented that I suggest. ;-) Top secret but absolutely fantastic ;-) They will change AoWSM to another game. Unlimited possibilities.

Would you have any tips for new mapmakers out there reading this interview?

Yes, maybe:

* Don´t feel that the mapmaking itself is wasted time – only needed to finaly get the needed map to play. Mapmaking it the real fun.

* Don´t want to much. Don´t open maps of some good mapmakers and look to deep into the event list and think. Man I need to do that all too. No need to do it. Be easy – fun is most importan

* Don´t want to much when you want to make your first events. Try and think. Start with easy events like messages and grow slowly.

* Feel the nature. If you like the landscape you will not lose the joy in mapmaking.

* Try first and learn – than ask in the forum.

* Use the different terrain tiles. Upatch 1.4 is wonderful.

* If you become an advanced mapmaker use SEM 2.0. It´s the best mapmaking Add on.

* Do not create a mod first. It´s much work and it´s not needed to make a nice map. Don´t want to much.

You were/are also part of the unofficial patch team. Can you tell me about that experience?

Yes, of course but that´s a longer story. :-) I worked on 'Marlenes Laughter' in my dark dungeon somewhere in Germany when the wire began to glow. Hmmm... A special email! It came from Swolte. I was never very active in the HG forum this days. Only a reader sometimes, not a writer because of my bad english. I remember this name (Swolte) from the forum and now he told me about this cool project and that he remembered one of my maps! He asked if I maybe like to make a map for this upatch 1.4. A nice 'high standard' map. My dungeon became bright and I was so happy, proud and felt very hounoured but also had real fear to be part in such a group of english speaking people. But they where all very nice and friendly. I must say that I have never thougth it can become such a challenge and adventure! I began to watch what they have done so far for upatch 1.4 and start to work on Secrets of Marlenia. The goal was to make a nice and interesting SP map that shows what can be done with upatch 1.4. The time I had to make this map was very, very short for a nice looking map. Thank´s Swolte ;-). But to work under the whips and the spiked club of this guy was very 'inspiring' and I was able to make this map in this much to short time.

During this mapmaking process I talked to some of the people of the upatch team (we had different teams for different goals) and I felt that they have a very high standard of things they want for upatch. That inspired me even more and I asked if I can do some grafic work for new items and structures. King David was alone with all this grafic work so far. This was the time when I was totaly caught and struggeled into this project and team. I never meet such friendly and powerfull people on the web. This people are a 'real team' even when scattered all around the globe and it is so fantastic to work with this people. They all have given so much energy and fun to this project. This is for sure one reason why upatch 1.4 was such a great success too. All this people don´t work for money but for a higher thing they love - AoWSM.

The more I made (new grafics - Items, structures and the map) the more ideas seem to be possible to realize in this team. And I have realy a 'full brain' of mad ideas sometimes... Ähh... Allways. Each of the members are always willing to listen, help or take help from the others. Critic is normal (Swolte is very nitpicking) and after some bad strikes (my wonderfull trees where crushed under his hammer) I learned how to get things to upatch. Making a hammer item for PawelS and a wonderful long range crossbow for Swolte and things are running easier after that ;-). Unfortunatly Swolte implemented his Crossbow to the wrong item slot in upatch 1.4 and since this mistake he can´t use the crossbow ability in the right way to this item. Hihihiiiii... bad mistake mate, ehh?

So we all learn many new things about this game, about working with different software tools and with our team members. In the end the uptach team became a part of my family and I found some real friends there. That is the greatest gift of all. Meanwhile we work on many new things for upatch 1.5 and we have an own hidden forum where we discuss all the ideas. One day I made a thread that is called 'Mad ideas' and I posted some real 'interesting' ideas there. Some seem impossible to realize with this game but I tried a lot and we can say now 'it is possible'. Await some nice new possibilities for upatch 1.5 and be not sad if the release takes longer than thought. 1.4 was released later too and this was very very good because King David and me where able to make some real nice structures that otherwise would never have been included.

Now as we work on upatch 1.5 I was even able to draw a new creature to the upatch. My first self recolored creature. I am always a drive for 'more'. What I don´t like on upatch 1.4 was the lack of decorative houses and structures for the different races and I wrote it on my banner to change that when we make an upatch 1.5. I already made many new things for the shadowworld that many people think is boring. With upatch 1.5 it will become more interesting. What more can I say...

Upatch work is amazing and fantastic in this team.

What are some of your future plans and dreams you could have in store for the community. Is there life after Marlenes Laughter?

Yes. There are more plans as I have time in life for AoWSM.

I want to make ML final.

I want to make a new MMBEM project with some mapmakers – Secret project so far.

I want to make ‘Gates of Elocin - Part II’

I want to make an enlarged version of ‘Secrets of Marlenia’ (from M-size to L-size)

I want to make much more for upatch 1.5.

I want to make one or maybe even two wonderful maps for upatch 1.5 with this special ability

I want to make this new Gentleman´s Rules and Setups available for advanced players that seek new challenges.

I want to make a map for PawelS AoW I mod – Looks fantastic so far.

I want to be part in the upatch 1.6 project – if there is such a project.

I want to rework all of my maps.

(before the interview) Thanks for accepting the interview. Please try not to be too long, eh...

Sadly impossible, sorry

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