On Track Making
(Reprint of the Zone's interview)
- used with permission -
Our two interviewees are pretty well
known in the MTM community. They are: Yeastman
- who makes cool tracks like Las Vegas Supercross and Dry Falls, and Oliver
Pieper - he's the guy with the great utilities and the man who practically
created an aftermarket in creating Monster Truck Madness tracks. When you
go to download Dark Star (a track that really blew us away), make sure
to read about all his great utilities, great tracks, lots of help, and
a request for postcards from those who have enjoyed his tracks.
-- The MSN Gaming Zone --
<Zone> So, can we play you guys on the Zone?
<Yeastman> Yes, I do play at the Zone, using my member ID "Yeastman." The Zone has been one of the founding reasons that MTM has reached the popularity that it has online. Just about every gamer I have ever met in the Zone's Maximum Overdrive room has been very kind and supportive, and if I ever want to stop making tracks... I just go into the Zone. I get so much support when I enter it, that it drives me to make even more. As far as specific race experiences, I will never forget a race on LA Supercross with a fellow player called "Mister T." We battled head to head for 5 solid laps, cutting each other off, block passing, squaring off turns... it felt like racing in a real Supercross, it was a lot of fun and was very memorable.
<Oliver Pieper> It seems like the internet has become faster -- at least the connections from Germany to the US. I was expecting serious lag, but most ping times were around 200ms and gameplay was smooth and enjoyable.
I was pleasantly surprised when I hosted a race on my track Dark Star and four people joined immediately. They all had the track already mounted. It seems like Dark Star is really relatively popular on the Zone.
Due to high phone costs in Germany ($1 per hour and more) and a lot of work in the next months (I'm in the process of finishing my degree in computer science at the university), [I can't be a regular] but every now and then I might be there. My handle is Redburne.
<Zone> Your tracks were voted the most fun to play by the Zone's editorial staff. What were your goals in making this track?
<Yeastman> Well, my tracks generally have one very important goal, which I strive very specifically to reach: making them as close to reality or "The Real World" as possible. Realism is fantastic because it triggers different memories from every person who sees or plays the track. Besides, I've always felt that fact is stranger and more interesting than fiction.
<Oliver Pieper> As with all my tracks, the main purpose was to show what can be done in track editing. I wanted to create a track that was a totally new visual experience, and I think I was successful.
Dark Star was built around the textures. When I started, I had only a very vague idea of how it should look. The layout of the course changed shape several times (and very drastically, too) while I built the track.
<Zone> Are there any particular things we should note about your track, such as shortcuts, new textures, or...?
<Yeastman> Usually, I try to avoid designing shortcuts. However, a few of my tracks have shortcuts, but with the exception of 1 of my 11 tracks, those "shortcuts" are planned and designed to be very close to or equal in speed to the regular course route.
I've made my share of custom textures. Since I made LA Supercross, every one of my tracks has had custom textures. In fact, the 3 tracks made after LA Supercross have a combined total of about 250 custom textures made by me. And Washougal MX has a massive amount of hidden areas and messages. In fact, about half of the time I spent making that track was spent making hidden areas.
<Oliver Pieper> One funny thing about the track is that it doesn't have a single 90 (or 180) degree turn (in contrast with most other tracks that ONLY use the standard 90 and 180 degree turns). That was never my intention when I built it and I was quite surprised when I noticed it.The other noteworthy thing may be obvious: there's not one original MTM texture or object on the whole track. All objects were created with my program BINedit. Either by me, or in case of the antenna towers, by Rooski, the author of the two fantastic tracks "Rooski Ridge Road/Rally" and "An Eighty Eight."
<Zone> What tools did you use to make the track, and do you have any recommendations or warnings on tools for our readers?
<Yeastman> I recommend downloading and using Paint Shop Pro, and all of Oliver Pieper's Utilities. Oliver's Utilities are very powerful, especially Binedit. Take your time, print out the readme and learn it through reading and experimenting. Most of all, be sure and thank Oliver for sharing these programs he made with all the editors.
<Oliver Pieper> For the custom textures I've used Adobe Photoshop 4.0 and Paint Shop Pro 4.12. I couldn't live without them. Both are available on the Internet as trial versions. The custom objects were built with my program BINedit. I've also written a small utility to create the banked turns of the track. It doesn't have a user interface and I had to rewrite it for every turn. I'm not intending to release it to the public, at least not in the near future.
<Zone> Describe your path to proficiency in track making. How did you learn to work with the track editing tools and how come your tracks are better than the efforts of so many others?
<Yeastman> When I first learned how to use the Track Editor, there were almost no other editors around who knew how to use the editor. So, we were all learning. I simply printed out every document I could find about the editor, and studied them.
I think my tracks are preferred by a lot of the MTM racers because of their driveability, and scenery. This is something that I think comes from instinct and cannot be taught. I raced Motocross for years before a injury forced retirement from the sport in 1995. Those years of racing Motocross and indoor Supercross races created an instinct and an "eye" for a good jump (or road) that few people have. [Yeastman has also been in the landscaping business for six years which helps with track scenery.]
<Oliver Pieper> It all began before the track editor was out. I was determined to edit the tracks and got as far as "manually" extracting certain files from the game PODs. The first thing I ever changed was the hood texture of Boogey Van, by directly inserting the new texture into the MTM file TRUCK.POD.
When the Track Editor came out, I was overjoyed. The first custom tracks were released (like the classics Andies Mountains and Hoakie's Howdown), but I noticed that nobody was using custom textures. But using the Editor helped me a lot in understanding the inner workings of MTM, and it enabled me to understand most of the file formats. I released my first MTM utility TrackEd. With it, one can copy and rotate parts of a track and even copy them from one track to another.
I finally managed to extract some BINs (the MTM/Hellbender objects) and convert their textures to the MTM color palette. The same knowledge helped me to create the first MTM models with modified textures. Finally, my track "Unreal" was released and surprised quite a few people. I received a lot of feedback, and the most frequently asked question was "How did you create those custom textures/objects?" That prompted me to write some instructions on the issue. They are still available on my site, and as far as I know, many people are still using them.
I've wanted to build a track in a dark environment for a long time, but had no specific ideas. Months later, I was playing around with Photoshop when I discovered the "Lighting Effect" filter. I knew I had found a way to produce very realistic looking spot-lit road sections for a track in darkness. Later the same week, I found some nice pictures of the planets of our solar system in the directory of an old astronomy program.
I thought they might look good on a custom backdrop, and so they did.
Those two discoveries were the inspiration for Dark Star.
<Zone> What is your advice to beginning track makers? What are some of the common mistakes that beginners make?
<Yeastman> My advice to new editors is one thing: READ! Read everything written down by anyone, anywhere about track editing. There is a lot of information available these days about editing, and before you go emailing questions to everyone, read the readme files, the FAQ files and anything available at Web sites. Some other advice would be don't be discouraged by the power of your computer. My first 9 tracks were made with a P120 with 16meg of Ram, and a tiny 2MB video card. With 16 meg you can't compress textures, but that will only make the size of the .POD file larger, it won't detract from performance of the track at all.
<Oliver Pieper> My advice (in order of importance):
1.Give your track a theme, and follow it through. Yeastman's tracks, especially his rallies are a great example of this. And Dark Star too, I hope. [We should note that neither Yeastman nor Oliver Pieper knew the other person was being interviewed for this article, and yet they were both gracious enough to mention the other. The Monster Truck community is pretty cool, eh?]
2.Don't start building a track "just to build one", wait for an inspiration first, something that sets your track apart from the others.
3.Don't hurry! All my tracks took more than a month to complete. Let others test and comment on your track before you release it. Get the OK from all testers before you release it.
4.Make sure that all the textures match, and that all objects behave as they should (no puny signs that stop a speeding monster truck dead in its tracks or buildings that move when hit by a vehicle).
<Zone> If there was one thing you would change about Monster Truck Madness, what would that be?
<Yeastman> The one thing I would change would be to turn it into a Motocross game. This same MTM game engine would work superb, and with a few physics modifications, it would be a great Motocross game, very reminiscent of the old Excitebike game from the 80's, where timing the jumps was the key to making fast lap times.
<Oliver Pieper> Only one thing? That's difficult, there's a lot of room for improvement. I think I would enjoy a more complex driving model. It's just too easy.
<Zone> What has been your most satisfying experience in making tracks?
<Yeastman> My most satisfying track designing experience was when I finally figured out how to make a realistic looking stadium for a Supercross race. I was so excited that I stayed up all night working on it, clear until noon the next day. Seeing the stadium unfold before my eyes was great. To me, that was very exciting.
<Oliver Pieper> The reaction of my beta tester Rooski, the first person I showed my half-finished track. He said, "First of all, my initial reaction was to check and see if I was playing the right game. To see your world appear for the first time was a total shock! The environment completely deviates from everything we've come to recognize as MTM."
<Zone> What was your least satisfying experience, or the most difficult thing, about making this track?
<Yeastman> A low point was when I made Washougal MX. I designed the track at the wrong spot and it wrapped around to the other side of the 256 x 256 grid, making it impossible to make a map for the track, and therefore impossible for the computer trucks to navigate. After an extra night of work, using Oliver Pieper's TrackMate program, I was able to transfer most of it to the center of the 256 x 256 grid. From there, I used the options inside the editor to redo any portions of the track that I could not move. It added about 2 days to the design process, but I was happy just to have saved the work.
<Oliver Pieper> As with all tracks I got stuck while building Dark Star. I was certain the track was not yet finished, something was missing, but I had no idea what it was. The work rested for about a week until I came up with the idea of the glowing red signs ("Crossing Ahead," "Wrong Way," etc.) and the red dots at the bottom and the sides of the overpasses. After I had added these (and Rooski's antenna towers, too), the track looked finished to me. My beta testers agreed, so I finally released it.
<Zone> Anything else you would like to share with our members about the game or your track?
<Yeastman> Just to say thanks to everyone for all the support, and the MTM community is one that has been so good to me that I will never leave it. Many thanks to Oliver Pieper for making his programs available. If I ever do stop designing, I will certainly still play an active role in racing at the Zone. I am currently working on a new rally, set in a desert/rocky atmosphere with high mountains and low valleys, a computer generated terrain that spans the entire 256 grid world, with 100 new textures to go along with it. At the moment it drives like a combination between Highway101 and The Summit, but visually it is vastly different from either track. Like Highway 101, this track is aimed at creating an entirely new set of textures for a fully original feel. It should be released soon.
<Oliver Pieper> I'm happy to see that MTM is still alive after all this time. I would like to thank all the track makers and truck makers who helped keeping the game alive. I've been playing it for more than a year, and though it has lost its initial fascination, it is still fun to play and will stay on my hard drive for a long time.
I've heard rumors that there will be a MTM2 by TRI/Microsoft. Let's hope they are true and MTM2 will bring as much fun as MTM already has.
The Zone wants to thank these fine Monster Truck Madness
gamers for participating in the interview, and for helping to create the
community based around this off-road driving game.