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Age of Kings Heaven » Forums » News Discussion » Revived Community Spotlight III: Bassi
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Topic Subject:Revived Community Spotlight III: Bassi
Mash
Huskarl
(id: Mashek)
posted 03-09-18 03:27 AM CT (US)         

This article has been written and submitted by Cataphract. For the purpose of this interview, the interviewer will be in bold while the interviewee will remain normal.

Welcome back to the Community Spotlight series, where we examine notable members of the community who have made a significant impact upon the website. Today's guest is a new-but-old member known as Bassi who you may know from the campaign section on the blacksmith where he has netted three 4.8 reviews and most recently a 5.0 review from yours truly. This designer is a veteran of the German AoC website AgeArena, dating his career back to 2003. However he has only registered in 2017 here on AoKH and its high time the community learn more about this excellent designer. I had a chance to catch up with him over the week and make some inquiries into his design career. Lets get things started!


Hi Bassi, thanks for giving me some of your valuable time for this interview. How are you?

Hello Cata! I am fine and I am very happy that the "Community Spotlight" is being revived. I have always enjoyed reading and learning more about other designers and I am pleased that you have chosen me to answer a few questions about myself and my work.

Over the last year you have released a long list of top notch materiel that has established you as a major player in the english-speaking design community. AoKH forummers may potentially mistake you for a newcomer, but you have been designing for many years over on AgeArena. Who are you and where do you hail from?

In regards to AoK Heaven, that's true. Here I am a "freshman" indeed, because I did not register in the forum until 2017. But in said year I just had to, since I wanted to participate in the Historic Design Contest. That was a good decision, after all, since I won the competition. Hahaha! But I have followed the events here for a very long time. At least since 2005. My actual custom design "career" began two years earlier: In 2003, I started releasing my first campaigns and scenarios. I was still a young teenager back then, so all my scenarios were in German (my mother tongue, I'm from northern Germany, today I live in Berlin).

Tell me about your introduction to AoC. Many like myself were introduced to the game by a father or other family member. It seems likely that you developed a stronger interest in the game by developing friends at AgeArena as well.

I come from a very media-critical family. My parents did not let me and my siblings watch a lot of TV and did not want us to spend much time playing computer games. Instead, I read a lot, I even developed a great ambition to read as much as possible, and I otherwise played with classic toys, hardly any computer or console games. Today I am very grateful for that, as it has greatly promoted my imagination and creativity. Both are resources that are very important when designing campaigns in my opinion. I came into contact with the Age of Empires series when I was 10 or 11 years old. My brother and I loved to play "The Settlers II: Veni, Vidi, Vici" at that time. We did not play much on the computer, as I said, and rather spent our days on the football field, but if we did, it was strategy games. Other genres did not really interest us anyway.

One day, my brother brought a copy of Age of Kings home, he had borrowed the game from a classmate. I was blown away immediately. It was love at first sight. Unfortunately, we only had the game on loan, so we had to return it after some weeks. That was quite a bummer. But then my brother got the game a little later for his birthday. One summer later, we bought the add-on "The Conquerors" immediately (upon the day it was released in Germany). Well, "we" means my brother bought it. And I spent a good amount of time watching and him play random maps. Of course I did not hesitate to comment his strategies with all wisdom an 11 year old has. While my brother enjoyed playing the different game modes, I was fascinated by the campaigns. But even then, the scenario editor had an even greater appeal for me, the actual game much less. That has not changed until today. When I was about 14 years old, a German computer game magazine published a special issue, which was accompanied by a DVD featuring mods for all sorts of games. There were also a lot of custom campaigns for AoC included. Many were junk, but some were just fine and some even excellent. In the aftermath text of one of the better scenarios, a link to the AgeAreana was inserted. And so everything started rolling for me. The German Age of Empires scene was quite huge at that time, yet very familiar. It was ideal conditions to familiarize yourself with the possibilities of the game. Simultaneously with me, many other young designers started to engage with the editor and so we learned together how to design reasonably usable campaigns (from today's point of view, they are not very good of course, but we all start somewhere). In the end, we were a bunch of teenagers, "looked after" by experienced and award-winning designers like Andreas Marscheider (aMa), who was the founder and main admin of the AgeArena at that time.

What scenarios over the years have inspired you the most, or had a formative effect on your growth as a designer?

For me it was scenarios from the German scene that influenced me the most: aMa's "Geachtet", David Laeske's "Hernan Cortez", Gunter Zengerle's ''Carthago'' and ''Nibelungen'', and everything released by Andi Wagner. When it comes to AoKH, the ones that had a huge impact on me are the following; Stoker's Tamerlane, Ingo van Thiel's "The Quest", "The King's Best Men", "Gyda's Challenge" and of course "Ulio" which I would say is the best campaign ever done for the original game. Lord Basse is another designer I have to mention, and though his scenarios did not influence my own work, I enjoyed a lot of his scenarios very, very much. Same goes for most scenarios by Mash. So, if I'd be forced to live on an island and were allowed to take only three campaigns with me, it would be "Ulio", "Tamerlane" and "Relics of Athalen".

You have had quite a productive career with consistent releases over a decade and a half. What can you tell me about this experience, and your perspective on your journey with AoC over this long time?

When it comes to my design career, I would divide it into two phases. The first phase covers the years 2003-2016, the Arena Years. Since 2016 I design for AoE 2 HD only, let's call it the Steam Years. The Arena Years were altogether much more familiar. A committed community, very friendly contacts. There may have been a bit of argument two or three times in the forum over all those years, but otherwise it was a completely harmonious parallel world. The AgeArena was just a place to feel at home. After a while I was one of the better designers; in the years 2007 and 2009 I won the Game of the Year award of the German AoC Community. But I certainly did not count myself among the best. Gunter Zengerle was still active at that time, certainly one of the most gifted designers. And there was Andi Wagner, who set new standards in storytelling. These were definitely two designers I looked up to. I myself have always been fixated on the Build & Destroy genre, but I have always admired other designers for their ability to combine good storytelling with engaging game design. This is a high art that, not mastered by many. As already mentioned, I switched to the HD version in 2016 and have therefore mainly published via the steam workshop. The opportunities offered by the new DLCs have moved me to this step. Since then, my output has increased significantly. That was not a deliberate decision, it just happened after my scenarios suddenly received much more attention. You reach way more people if you publish on steam, which is clearly reflected in the downloads. But it lacks the close community feeling. That's the downside.

During 2017 you went on an unprecedented mapping rampage, releasing four full size campaigns with half a dozen single scenario releases sprinkled in. I can attest to the high quality of every entry, which is remarkable in of itself; both quantity and quality. Your interest in designing seems to have been brought to life by the feedback and acclaim you received on the steam workshop. Can anything stop the Bassi Machine now?

As mentioned, I did not plan to create so many scenarios at all. That just happened somehow and the reasons are manifold, sometimes completely banal. For example, I only designed the first scenario of the "Kings of Destruction" campaign because I wanted to use all the new terrain textures that were available since the "African Kingdoms" DLC. With these textures steppe landscapes could be designed way more effectively than before, and that's what I wanted to try. Meanwhile, the Indian civ got their own building design and I thought it was quite pretty, so I wanted to work with it. So it came to the second scenario in which the Indians appear as opponents. Then the DLC "Rise of the Rajas" was released and suddenly there were all these great rainforest textures. That's why I wanted to try jungle scenarios - and all of sudden it was a whole series. It just happened because while working on a scenario, there were always new ideas for more scenarios. But I do not think I'll design as many campaigns as I did in 2017 in the near future. I'm working on a new scenario series though and I think it will be my best work so far. But at the moment I have definitively other obligations.

Ive been quite impressed with your work ethic. Many times I saw you in-game on steam before I jumped into the editor for a design session until I became tired and called it quits for the day, yet you were still plugging away for hours after! What is your motivating factor?

The impression may be deceptive. Often AoE 2 HD runs only in the background and is minimized, while I do something totally different. Nevertheless, you will then be still displayed as "ingame". But I have a fairly high work ethic, I can not deny that. Often long sessions happen when I design the landscape of the map I'm working on. This is mainly because I do not appreciate that part of the design process. I always just want to get over with that, so that I can implement the actual ideas, for which the designed landscape is just the frame. The trigger and AI work is much, much more fun for me. I think for most designers it's the other way around ... I also enjoy the research before the actual design work very much. Most of my scenarios deal with real historical events. It's fun to read about those in advance and then to think about if that or that historic event could make a good campaign, like: How can I implement this as an enjoyable and playable scenario? What events do I have to omit because they can not be carried out with the means of the game? Where do I have to move away from the actual course of events? I think that's what motivates me: making history playable. To inspire others for something that fascinated me so much, that it tickled my fancy. And if that works and players from all over the world tell you how much they enjoy your campaigns, it motivates you all the more. I get feedback from all around the globe, that's just great!

What advice would you give to new up and coming designers who have yet to finish a map?

SSF - Small, simple, fun. It makes absolutely no sense to draft a huge, epic campaign as your debut. Even Ingo van Thiel released "The Quest" before putting more wood on the fire by designing the epic "The King's Best Men" campaign. When a new, inexperienced designer tells you something about the massive "Sandbox Open World" he's planning to work on, you already know that said map will never ever see the light of day. I therefore recommend working on small maps and designing a manageable story. What I always find quite remarkable is that above all many newcomers are very fixated on the RPG genre. But Age of Empires is not RPG-themed and you have to be a very good storyteller to make a roleplay scenario entertaining enough. The probability is almost 100 percent that you will be overchallenged with such a project, simply because of the lack of experience. The possibilities the editor offers are limited and when you're a newbie it's complete madness to design something like that. So try to design a rather classic scenario, maybe with a little twist. And then you will soon be able to answer the following questions: Do I even have the patience that is required? Can I handle frustration? If so: good! Maybe you can already aim for a bigger project next time then. Sometimes I talk to people who claim they would like to design scenarios "like you, bro!!1 XD", but I often realize that many are not interested in the actual art, but only in the status they hope for. If it's only all about having the best possible download rates, that's not a good motivation either. And it will never lead to success anyway.

Some may be quite surprised to hear you do not enjoy map design, despite your enormous mapping talent! Personally that is the most enjoyable part by far, and in order to make progress in my scenarios I forbid myself when indulging in it until the game is mostly finished. What would you say is the most challenging or difficult part of scenario design for you?

I find designing scenario landscapes monotonous and rather exhausting. It used to be more fun for me, but at some point you develop a fairly strong routine. And then it gets boring. But that's not so bad. I nowadays just enjoy working on the triggers and scripting the AIs much more, also because I got much better in both of that fields, since I learned a lot in the last two years. In the past, especially my AIs were very amateurish. It took a while for me to understand that AI writing is not rocket science. When you're testing your own AI and it acts reasonably in trial run - that's quite satisfying. Seeing the in-game results, and then you gradually improve the script step by step - that's a lot of fun. Much more exciting than designing landscapes. Still - I am far from being an AI expert. But that's a good thing, so there is still something to learn and a field in which to improve.

You once established claim to the title "Best Mapper in the World". To some this may seem an arrogant and presumptuous notion, but I found the idea of striving to live up to such a title an ennobling concept. By striving to maintain such an ideal, you put yourself in a position of needing to deliver spectacular works, which could serve as a driving force for excellence. Have you moved on from this claim, or is this something you dream of achieving on AoKH? I could name some strong competitors to be overcome in order to establish legitimacy to this title...

Hahaha, alas, that's just a form of primeval German megalomania, I'd say! But seriously, it was just a stupid joke years ago to make a splash in the AgeArena forum. That was never meant seriously. I have never really considered myself one of the best mapdesigners and I do not do that today. There are much better ones. Look, I've never been ahead of the time. But the really outstanding designers were. Especially of course Ingo, whom I consider the best ever, followed by Lord Basse (at least since the release of "Relics of Athalen"). But at the end of the day, it's not important at all to be the best or one of the best. That's childish nonsense. The fun must be in the foreground and the desire to deliver good work. But mild competition has to be - of course! That's "the salt in the soup", as we Germans say (meaning ~ "that's what gives it that extra something").

The competition between peers for success can be highly beneficial for all parties involved - I would point out the friendly rivalries in the PTC giving us many awesome scenarios over the years!

The majority of your maps seem to be set in the jungle. Does this come from some inspiration that struck you as a child, and that has stuck with you till now?

It is tragic that there is hardly any written legacy of indigenous American peoples. But for a scenario designer, on the other hand, it's a goldmine. You can develop much more imaginative stories, since you hardly have to stick to historical facts, since hardly any are handed down. That's why I enjoy designing scenarios for a pre-Columbian setting. I like the adventurous and mysterious feeling those scenarios have. It reminds me of the great atmosphere of Age of Empires 1. The conquest of the "New World" is an exciting topic as well, yet a very tragic event. Still the conquistador is certainly one of my favorite units and it works best in an American setting. I guess from these aspects my preference for this geographical area arises. I think the fact that I pay little attention to Europe has to do with the fact that I am European myself. It is much more exciting for me to immerse myself in the history of other continents than to stay in my own cultural space.

You are said to be a prolific reader of history books. What are you reading now, and what are some of your favorites? You once suggested I read "Vanished Kingdoms" which turned out to be an enjoyable title, which looked at some kingdoms which didn't manage to create modern nation states like France or Castille did.

If I ever start my own professional game design studio, I should call it "Vanished Kingdoms", but somehow that sounds familiar, no clue what it reminds me of ... I must have ... forgotten. Currently I am reading Marozzi, Justin: "Tamerlane - The Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World". A very interesting and, above all, entertaining book. I would recommend it to anyone who, like me, is fascinated by the Mongols and their successor states. Shortly before, I also read an exciting book about the Golden Horde by a Russian historian named Fedorow-Davydow. The structure of the book is completely chaotic, but that made this gem even more lovable. The author I most appreciate is a German publicist named Sebastian Haffner, who was not only a brilliant mind but also an outstanding writer. He has written little about the Middle Ages though, but if you are interested in modern history as well and if you want to learn something especially about German history, read a book by Sebastian Haffner and you surely have come to the right place. I can wholeheartedly recommend everything he has written.

Tell me about some of your favorite foods. Perhaps pork knuckle and sauerkraut with a beer after? Or did you burst into laughter upon hearing a such a cliche suggestion? ;-)

Haha, actually sauerkraut is one of my favorites, not kidding! I like how putting sauerkraut on a hot dog seems to be a thing in the US. I saw that when visiting Washington DC and NYC - and what can I say? It's indeed a great combination. Besides that, I enjoy all kind of foods, but when it comes to dinner I'm not very exotic. I quite like traditional German meals. When it comes to beer we have a high standard in Germany, but it's a bit boring since they all taste quite good, but often very, very similar. Incidentally, American beer is better than its reputation. I even found the Pabst Blue Ribbon quite drinkable.

Now that I think of it, sauerkraut is actually incredibly widespread here being a staple restaurant sidedish. Never tried it myself.

Some Quickfire questions to conclude:

NFL or Soccer? *snicker*

Football

Would you rather build a wall or tear one down?

I prefer to build castles

Red vs Blue?

Blue

Half full or half empty?

Half empty

Thanks again for agreeing to the interview! You have been a great guest and given some very interesting material to think about with your insights from a German designers perspective.

Thanks for having me, it was a pleasure.

[This message has been edited by Mash (edited 03-09-2018 @ 05:02 PM).]

AuthorReplies:
Mash
Huskarl
(id: Mashek)
posted 03-09-18 03:30 AM CT (US)     1 / 6       
A huge thanks goes to Cataphract for taking the initiative to organise and submit this article. This is a well-written and enjoyable read.
Cataphract887
Squire
posted 03-09-18 03:53 AM CT (US)     2 / 6       
Thanks Mash Most of the credit has to go to Bassi, though, for giving highly entertaining answers It was a fun discussion for me as well.

"Excellent could be any map that has the quality of a ES random map or ES scenario. AoK is an excellent, award winning game. That's where I'd start." -AnastasiaKafka

"Hard work is evil. Bitmaps are stupid. Working on a scenario for more than one afternoon is stupid. Triggers are stupid. Testing your own scenario is stupid. The world is stupid. You are the Greatest." -Ingo Van Thiel

[This message has been edited by Cataphract887 (edited 03-09-2018 @ 05:34 PM).]

GL252
Squire
posted 03-09-18 12:44 PM CT (US)     3 / 6       
When a new, inexperienced designer tells you something about the massive "Sandbox Open World" he's planning to work on, you already know that said map will never ever see the light of day. I therefore recommend working on small maps and designing a manageable story. What I always find quite remarkable is that above all many newcomers are very fixated on the RPG genre. But Age of Empires is not RPG-themed and you have to be a very good storyteller to make a roleplay scenario entertaining enough. The probability is almost 100 percent that you will be overchallenged with such a project, simply because of the lack of experience. The possibilities the editor offers are limited and when you're a newbie it's complete madness to design something like that.
Challenge accepted. No really, I fully intend to finish my ambitious RPG project. I'm used to overchallenge as most of my intelligence is experiential. Also, patience is key.

Nice read, interesting to see how designers evolved and it makes me go back to the drawing board and plan my designs better

Check me out on Steam: GL252 I'm very slowly building a scenario and eyecandy map portfolio.
sirkurt
Squire
posted 03-13-18 02:15 PM CT (US)     4 / 6       
Excellent read, thanks a lot to both of you.
Long live to AoE and this incredible community!
Cataphract887
Squire
posted 03-13-18 02:29 PM CT (US)     5 / 6       
@sirkurt: Wow, first post yet registered since 2007. Thanks!

"Excellent could be any map that has the quality of a ES random map or ES scenario. AoK is an excellent, award winning game. That's where I'd start." -AnastasiaKafka

"Hard work is evil. Bitmaps are stupid. Working on a scenario for more than one afternoon is stupid. Triggers are stupid. Testing your own scenario is stupid. The world is stupid. You are the Greatest." -Ingo Van Thiel
Bassi
Squire
posted 03-13-18 06:36 PM CT (US)     6 / 6       
Challenge accepted. No really, I fully intend to finish my ambitious RPG project.
Good luck then! Please do not take any of my comments from the interview personally. I do not want to discourage anyone working on his ambitious project, I just wanted to suggest that it must not always be a super epic scenario as a debut.

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