Today's interview is with Meatsack. You may know him for his User Error Single Player expansion for TRON 2.0, and for his efforts to try and create a TRON fan film.
I hope you enjoy reading this latest interview.
FAQ: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where do you come from, and what are your interests/hobbies (aside from TRON)?
Meatsack: I’m 32, currently live in Louisville, KY, and am married with children.
Sci-Fi/Adventure/Fantasy has been a big part of my life as long as I can remember. Reading and movies mostly, but when computers became affordable: my parents got me a Commodore 64, to work with. I was ten. I quickly learned enough BASIC to write a fantasy text adventure game, much like ZORK. I’ve always wanted to be a game designer since then. I somehow got a B.S. in Accounting instead. What was I thinking?
Otherwise, I’m also into camping, paintball, writing (SF/F), and LAN parties with friends.
FAQ: When was the first time you heard about, or saw, TRON? Did you see the movie, or play the arcade game, first? What did you think of the film?
Meatsack: I saw TRON in the theater when I was eight years old. I somehow got my parents to take me back to see it once or twice more. On the way out of the first show, I saw the game in the arcade. It had a crowd around it, but the cabinet was one of those that had the second screen above it so kids like me could see what was going on. My parents had to drag me down the hall since I was so enthralled, I couldn’t look away.
As far as the film goes, it captured my imagination and I wanted to get an Atari 2600 ASAP. (The Atari was the first thing I ever worked and saved money for, to buy on my own.) I was eight years old then. So I didn’t nit-pick the film, look for errors, or anything like that. I just enjoyed it for what I thought it was: a journey inside a computer game.
FAQ: When did you first find out about TRON 2.0? Was it one of the demos? And what did you think of the finished game?
Meatsack: I had a subscription to a game magazine when TRON 2.0 was announced. I checked with Fileshack regularly until the demo was released, which I then played online fairly often until the game was released. I bought the game the day it came out. I completed it on normal difficulty three days later. Then I played it through again.
Like the movie, I didn’t nit-pick the game until much later. I just enjoyed the experience for what it was: playing inside the computer world, which had enthralled me so long ago. The next few times through the game: I paid more attention to detail, level design, AI behavior, storytelling elements, etc. Overall, it was a very positive and fun experience for me. Though I didn’t care for the loose ends, left hanging at the end of the story. I wanted the whole story to be wrapped up nice and neat. BVG left room to grow, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. (At least through them!) Bummer.
Online play was much different, though. It looked very good, but the gameplay got old quick. (Remember, this was before the Derez patch.) I wasn’t great and lost a lot, but I didn’t mind that at all -- as much as a small handful of players who soiled the arenas with foul trash talk and whining . . . even if they won! It may be different now, but I just can’t get into online play much anymore. Those same reasons go for most online games, for that matter. I play for fun, and good sportsmanship helps that experience a lot. That’s why I really enjoy LAN parties with my buddies.
FAQ: When did you first create your User Error story? What form did it originally start in? Did it start as a script for a fan film, or an expansion for TRON 2.0? Were you always planning to do both, or did one idea evolve out of the other?
Meatsack: User Error started shortly after I got a good grip on using DEdit. Everyone was making maps for Light Cycles and Disc Arena. I like to be different, and was underwhelmed by the lack of gameplay types available for the game. So in learning DEdit, I made some experimental Disc Arena maps with alternative methods to winning. I’m no visual artist, so the arenas weren’t very pretty. And their alternative nature caused them to be buggy in most unique ways. But I learned a lot in the process of making them.
I then decided to do what nobody else even hinted at doing -- an expansion for the single player game. I thought: an expansion’s storyline usually picks up soon after the original game ends. I didn’t want to step too much on the existing storyline, so I made an alternate main character working at the same place. Then I had to invent a reason he gets digitized. One thing led to another, and I embellished a lot on it. I had hoped for a small expansion, but after outlining the basic storyline: I ended up with 15 levels to make, to tell the whole story to my satisfaction.
Good design comes from good pre-planning, so I started a User Error development notebook: where I sketched out rough level designs, goals, dialogue, and email texts for the first mission (five levels).
I made those maps and released them as a playable mod. They weren’t visually astounding, but they told a story. The mod was well received by the part of the community that played it. I got a lot of feedback, and made some changes . . . but never got around to releasing an update with the modifications in place.
The reason for this, is that I was distracted by life in general: and TRON-Sector specifically. I stumbled into the fan film section of TRON-Sector’s message boards, and found an enthusiastic fan who wanted to make a CG film based in the TRON world. He goes by the nickname of Falty. We talked a lot, and I wrote the User Error movie script; based on the storyline I had made from designing the game expansion. Falty did some wonderful work -- making some first steps toward getting a movie started -- before he fell on hard times. I’ve heard little from him, since then.
I still have the ambition to make both the game expansion and the fan film, but I lack the self-discipline to focus on either one enough, to make much progress on either.
FAQ: How is the second part of your User Error expansion for TRON 2.0 coming along? Who else is contributing to this project, and how much of the actual level design and implementation is being handled by each person? What is it like working in a team, as opposed to by yourself? When can we expect its release?
Meatsack: The User Error project has grown bigger than I ever expected. Not so much in the popularity department, but more in what I want it to be in the end. The second mission (three maps) of the User Error expansion is completely planned out in my developer notebook, and I have the DEdit world geometry done for the three levels. I just need to make time, to edit in dialogue, emails, NPCs, and enemies.
I’ve delegated levels for the third mission to other TCDG members, that were interested in helping out. They each got a separate "system" to design, for the player to raid and obtain data. Those levels are completely of their own design, and I’m not restricting them in any way: except the amount of version upgrade bonuses they can hand out. From what they have shown me so far, they are coming along nicely.
It’s not a team effort, since each level is an individual undertaking. So the expansion project is more of a compilation than work of a well-managed team. I think that by doing it this way: the final product will be much more interesting, than the player suffering my design style throughout the whole expansion.
Everyone is working in their own time, and I’m not a pushy person -- so there are no deadlines. Right now, there is no release date for the next User Error expansion, except "when it’s done". All I can say, is that I am determined to get it done eventually . . . even if it takes me until I’m 80 years old . . . and I don’t plan on taking that long.
FAQ: At the same time, how is the fan film progressing? What happened to the work you and Falty were doing on a CGI film? And what is happening with the team you contacted, who created the Muppet Matrix fan film? How are negotiations with them proceeding?
Meatsack: As I mentioned before, Falty has fallen on hard times and isn’t able to work on this project right now. I still have all the work and samples he sent to me, when we were really working hard on the production. There are other people interested in helping out that have contacted me. I’ve even put out messages requesting assistance in certain areas. However, what I really need for the movie to move forward is an animator.
I’ve talked with the guys who made the Muppet Matrix about making the opening segment of the User Error script. I used the material collected from Falty’s efforts, to make the pitch to them. I was quoted that they would do it for $2000, and that they wouldn’t change the price on that later -- even if they made the big time, after they graduated from the ITT Technical Institute. So the price is set for about two minutes of footage. I’m saving up for that to be done: but am still wanting to pull the TRON community together, to make the whole movie as something we can all be proud of.
I tell you what, though . . . if I hit the lottery jackpot . . . I’m hiring those Muppet Matrix guys to make the whole movie, then I’ll retire and devote my time to finishing the game expansion!
FAQ: Are you still looking for team members to join either project? If so: what talents are you looking for in potential team members, and what will they be asked to do?
Meatsack: I’m absolutely looking for any and all talent that I can get to work on the project. There are some specific talents I’m missing, to pull everything together on both film and game expansion fronts.
For the expansion: I’d really like someone artistic to make over my existing levels, to make them as visually stunning as the movie and original game. I think they look really boxy and flat, as they are now. I just don’t have the artistic touch needed, to do what I want visually.
As far as the movie goes: I need animators. I have plenty of volunteers for voices and modelers -- though I won’t turn anyone else away, who wants to help on those fronts too.
Since I’m not a demanding lead designer -- I don’t push people to do anything they don’t want to do, or set deadlines. So . . . both the game expansion and the movie are coming along at a snail's pace, in everyone’s spare time. If anyone wants to see anything done soon, they can feel free to jump right in and do something. Otherwise . . . it’ll all get done . . . eventually.
FAQ: How do you feel, regarding the situation with the TRON film sequel from Disney? Last year, a press release announced that Disney intended to do a remake (rather than a sequel) with new writers -- and without Steven Lisberger (the writer and director of the original). Since then, we've heard nothing. Probably because the news was not met with a warm reception, by most fans.
Meatsack: Disney is a business. They want money, and as much as possible. I understand that. My best guess is that a TRON sequel would have to follow the computer game, which would alienate most people -- except those who have already played it. So the next best idea, is to remake the original movie with respect to today’s level of technology. But then Disney scrapped the idea, because of God-Knows-Why. Maybe they couldn’t merge the feel of the original TRON for us old-school fans, with the new feel of digitization stories for the kids. (I cite Code-Lyoko and Zixx as examples.)
So if making a sequel means a limited audience, or not pleasing a segment of said audience: then what’s stopping Disney from making it? It’s not like they don't take a chance every now and again, on what turn out to be blockbuster flops! Cabin Boy anyone? How about Meet the Deedles? TRON is guaranteed to not suck as bad as those titles. I think Lisberger would be great to write the next movie. TRON is his brainchild, so he’d definitely get the feel right for the movie. That’s not to say that nobody else would get it right. But as long as the movie isn't Lawnmower Man 2 bad, I’d go see it.
FAQ: What do you think of the current state of affairs, on the TRON 2.0 scene? You and I are both part of a group of people interested in creating projects for TRON 2.0, called the TCDG (TRON Community Developer Group). We make our home on the Boxhat web site. We tried very hard to get BVG to release more editing materials to the modding community, but there were strings attached and in the end we were rebuffed. How do you feel about BVG's lack of support?
Meatsack: I think that the state of the TRON 2.0 scene is one of abandonment. BVG gave up supporting it, a long time ago. I personally talked with the same contact at BVG that you did -- at the very end of those days, where the TCDG was asking for source materials. This person was very professional and kind, when it was made clear that nothing more would be forthcoming from BVG regarding TRON 2.0 . . . ever. Frankly, I would have taken the materials with the strings attached, so that something else could be made for fans -- by the fans. (The problem is, BVG didn't even give us a choice in the end. Discussions about a release, were simply terminated. - FAQ)
I’m thinking that the deal ended because of Disney’s proprietary rights lawyers, worrying what inappropriate things might be made with their property, if all the materials were made publicly available. (I agree that this was probably the main reason, other than requiring BVG to spend money on what they saw as a poor investment with little financial return. But if they were worried about inappropriate content, then it was a silly reason: because there's nothing stopping anyone from doing that right now, even with the limited resources we were given. - FAQ)
TRON 2.0 is also slowly being abandoned by the players. Without much new content to keep things fresh and interesting, I think people are getting bored with what’s available and moving on to the newer games out there. Everyone that’s left now, are hard-core TRON fans and people that check back in every now and again, to see if anything’s new. Or just to visit with friends. I’m feeling it, too. But as long as I live, I will continue to be a part of the TRON community and try to contribute what I’m able, to enhance it.
FAQ: You've had a chance to read the first issue of the new TRON comic from SLG Publishing, isn't that correct? What do you think of the first issue, and do you plan to purchase the remaining issues?
Meatsack: The first issue is the typical storyline setup and hook, like any good production. Kind of like the first scene of CSI before the commercial break. The dark and brooding storytelling is very Blade Runner-esque. I’m liking it so far. There’s a lot of potential for the comic to be great, and just as much for it to go all cliche on us. I trust the writers know what they are doing, and will make it a wild adventure for the readers. I’ll definitely be buying them as they come out.
I'd like to thank Meatsack for agreeing to do this interview. If you want to help him with his projects, visit either Boxhat or TRON-Sector and reply in one of the message threads discussing his work.