Making Something Unreal: An Interview with Rachel Cordone

Rachel Cordone has been using the Unreal Engine for various projects from simulation contracts to her very own mod conceptions.  Last year, Rachel received 4th place in the Grand Finals of the Make Something Unreal Contest with her mod Prometheus.    As Rachel is a great example of how persistence, hard work, being self taught and learning the full potential of your tool can produce great unique projects, Take Initiative caught up with Rachel to see if she would share her experiences with us.

Take Initiaitive: What is your name and your profession?

Rachel Cordone: Rachel Cordone, mainly a Game Designer but I’ve worked as a 3D Artist, Level Designer and Programmer as well.

TI: How did you first start programming/design?

RC: I actually started with Half Life 1, when I found out that it came with the level design tools I went out, bought it and started working with the tools that night.  My joke has always been that the software I buy are level editors that come with a free game.  Two years later I bought Unreal Tournament and have been working with UnrealEd ever since.

TI: What made you choose a combination of programming and design?

RC: I started teaching myself programming with Unreal Tournament 2003 when the designs I came up with couldn’t be done in the level editor alone.  I started with simple weapon mods, but started integrating programming and design with levels like Phase Shift and Sub Rosa.  I knew I eventually wanted to get into Game Design so I figured it would be easier and faster if I knew how to do the programming myself.

TI: How long have you been using the Unreal Engine?

RC: I’ve been using it since Unreal Tournament came out, so coming up on 11 years now!

TI: What are your opinions of the Engine for beginners?

RC: It can be overwhelming at first, but if you take it in small steps and not try to jump right into making a full mod then you won’t get frustrated.  There are tutorials everywhere, DVD’s, even books on the Unreal Engine, so there’s definitely a lot of help for beginners.

TI: What did you use to learn Unreal?

RC: At the time the internet was pretty primitive (this was before Google was a major search engine!) so I didn’t know there was an online community, and I wouldn’t have been able to browse it much since I was in the Navy at the time.  I learned how to use UnrealEd through trial and error, mostly error.

TI: What new concepts do you see in games in the next 10 years?

RC: Hopefully 3D technology will continue to get better.  I want to play in a holodeck before I die!

TI: What unique game concepts have you noticed in the last 10 years in games?

RC: 10 years is a long time in gaming!  I always love it when developers try new things, but you still have to make sure the overall experience is still entertaining and fun.  Anything that challenges your perception of three dimensional space like Prey or Portal especially.  I’m a huge Escher fan.

TI: Tell us about the Prometheus project.   How did you come up with the concept?   Did anything inspire you whilst creating this mod?   How long did it take you to complete the project from concept to release?

RC: Prometheus is a first person puzzle game, like Portal crossed with Mirror’s Edge.  The gameplay has you dividing up into several Quantum States and cooperating with your past and future selves to solve puzzles.  It’s similar to some flash games like Cursor*10 and Chronotron, but I’d never seen the concept done in an FPS so I wanted to see where I could go with it.  Certain parts of the design flowed naturally from the concept, like the Fast Forward button and the Quantum State menu that shows mini videos of what you did before.  The first release took about two months, and was just myself, a character artist, sound guy, voice actor and two testers.  The team grew to include five artists, another designer, a musician and two more voice actors by the end of the mod version a year and a half later.

TI: What made you enter the Make Something Unreal contest with Prometheus?

RC: I entered the Make Something Unreal Contest mainly to prove to myself that I could lead a team to complete a game.  It’s always been a dream of mine to own my own studio.

TI: What are you doing with Prometheus now?   How many people are working on the current Prometheus project?

RC: Right now there are 5 people on the project, and we’re working to release a commercial version soon.  If we’re not able to find funding or get a publishing deal then I will continue to work on it until I’m able to publish it myself on Steam.

TI: Any additional tips/recommendations for aspiring level designers, game designers or programmers? i.e. tools to use, methods for designing unique gameplay etc

RC: Don’t just sit around playing games your whole life.  Get out there and do stuff.  Personally I love hiking and exploring, and I spend a lot of time traveling to out of the way places nearby.  You never know where inspiration will come from.  Reconstruct was inspired by a Cher video of all things.

TI: Do you recommend others aspiring into similar roles to enter the Make Something Unreal contest?

RC: If there’s ever another one, definitely!  Don’t wait around for it though.  Epic has released the UDK for free, so if you’re looking to get a job in the industry or make your own games, that’s a great way to do it.

Since this win Rachel has been working with a small team to release a commercial version of the game using the Unreal Development Kit whilst still working full-time contracts to fund her dream studio.  If you haven’t already downloaded the Prometheus mod, do it now*!  To follow Rachel’s current work, please visit her website.

For those who cannot view the above youtube clip, click here.

*Please be wary of any link that asks you to download a file.  Take Initiative is not responsible for any links that lead to illegal or unsuitable content.

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