Where Are They Now: Richard 'Levelord' Gray

Shacknews was founded in 1996 back when PC gaming, especially the first-person shooter, was just a toddler. By the late '90s and early '00s, Shackers were following .plan files to keep up with their favorite developers and studios. Unfortunately, for every id, Valve, Firaxis, BioWare and Blizzard success story, there were twice as many Ion Storms, Rituals, 3D Realms, Origins, and Cavedogs that made great games, but couldn't survive. As the companies passed on or got gobbled up by publishers, the big name developers that Shackers followed moved on, worked on new games or went on to other careers. This regular feature will take a brief look at some of the names that we followed back then to find out what they are doing now. First up: Levelord, Richard Gray, the popular level designer from 3D Realms (see picture above) and later Ritual Entertainment. His floating platform deathmatch map, Edge of Oblivion (aka HIPDM1), and the Behind Zee Bookcase Spry level from SiN are still regarded as classics. Gray is now 54 and still lives in Dallas.

Richard 'Levelord' Gray

Shacknews: In keeping with the theme of the feature, what are you doing now, besides tending your garden in Dallas on a regular basis? Levelord: That's ALL I'm doing! I haven't "worked" for over a year now. What was that quote from Office Space? "I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything I thought it could be!" I finished the first two episodes of Becky Brogan and was 60 percent through with the third when my Mom got sick. I spent eight months last year in Florida with her, came back in January and have done absolutely nothing ... and it's been wonderful. Shacknews: Do you miss the development scene at all? I know you've done some speaking at the SMU Guildhall. Levelord: Nope, not in the least. I haven't played a single game, or been to a single game-related web site. I even catch myself hitting the channel changer on my remote when a game commercial comes on. I am in full-blown retirement! Shacknews: Do you think you are enjoying retirement so much because of burnout? Ritual and 3D Realms were known for a somewhat crazy culture back then. Levelord: Burn out? I'm 54 years old! My first experiences with a computer were with FORTRAN 77 on a computer that didn't even have a dump monitor. Debugging meant reading register lights and praying for something usable being fed out of the printer. Punch cards and hoppers, the changes I've seen! Learning and re-learning, and re-learning ... and then came the gaming industry, where the cutting edge made sure everything would be changed on a yearly basis. I'm ready for studding on the Back 40, son.

Tom Hall, John Romero and Levelord in 2001

Shacknews: You've posted a lot of pictures recently on Facebook from your time at Ritual and 3D Realms. What do you miss most about those times? What was your favorite memory? Levelord: I miss the people and the parties, but that's about all. I now believe Ritual, or rather, that building, was cursed. Despite some of the most talented and dedicated people in the industry, we kept getting screwed left and right. Shacknews: How so? Levelord: I'm not sure there's one reason or another. I could blame publishers or external "producers" or unrealistic milestones, but it seemed to be much more than that. Example, we were about 60 percent into Elite Forces II with a storyline that could easily be construed as a terroristic attack, and Lo! 9/11, and we had to backtrack on four months' worth of rewrites and redesigns. Shacknews: For the longest time, you only went by Levelord. Did the Quake map HIPDM1 help spawn the nickname? Levelord: No, that name started way back in 1994 when I was working with Nick Newhard and Q Studios. I had a regular job and I was making levels for their game BLOOD on the side. I think I signed one or two emails "Level Lord," but soon combined the two words. Shacknews: Out of all the work you've done, what are you most proud of? Levelord: HIPDM1 and Spry, definitely! Both were "they said it couldn't be done" items -- because of frame rate -- but they were wrong, weren't they? Thanks for your time, Richard.
If there are developers that you want to know Where Are They Now, let us know.