Where Are They Now: Richard 'Levelord' Gray

This regular feature will take a look back at some of the developers that we followed back when Shacknews was still young to find out what they are doing now. First up: Levelord, aka Richard Gray, formerly of 3D Realms and Ritual.

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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.
Contributing Editor

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From The Chatty

  • reply
    August 18, 2012 8:00 PM

    John Keefer posted a new article, Where Are They Now: Richard 'Levelord' Gray.

    This regular feature will take a look back at some of the developers that we followed back when Shacknews was still young to find out what they are doing now. First up: Levelord, aka Richard Gray, formerly of 3D Realms and Ritual.

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      August 20, 2012 9:13 AM

      Nice article. More of this please.

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        August 20, 2012 10:53 AM

        Yeah, these articles are interesting, keep them coming, Shacknews!

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      August 20, 2012 9:47 AM

      He sounds.... bitter?

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        August 20, 2012 10:02 AM

        He sounds.... amazing.

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        August 20, 2012 10:51 AM

        I don't think he does, no. Sounds like he's happy to be retired and keeps busy doing non-gaming things. Happy for him.

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          August 20, 2012 11:21 AM

          Yeah I guess so, it just seemed in a couple of places like he's amazed why a video game website would ask why a former video game icon would stop doing anything with video games. But oh well, I'm glad he's happy.

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          August 20, 2012 11:43 AM

          Yeah. Being retired at 54 must be pretty awesome too!

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        August 21, 2012 7:22 AM

        Not bitter, but uninterested. Like he is "past" that period of his life.

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      August 20, 2012 10:07 AM

      A friend of mine learned from him at SMU Guildhall. He says Levelord is a really great teacher.

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      August 20, 2012 10:29 AM

      I will read every single one of these "Where Are They Now" articles. Great stuff.

      • rms
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        August 20, 2012 10:32 AM

        Yeah, I liked this one

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        August 20, 2012 11:42 AM

        Yeah it definitely has cool potential but something I'd also be interested to see if there's time and capacity is more obscure people and covering more obscure companies. Like, we all know Levelord but what about the guy who worked at Ion Storm, got laid off when they shut down, went to go work at Ritual, got laid off when they shut down, went to go work at Ensemble, got laid off when they shut down, went to go work at 3D Realms, got laid off when they shut down, and now he works a regular software job and writes iOS apps in the evenings.

        The other day I was talking to someone and somehow the topic of Third Law Interactive came up. This was the developer that was formed when 8-9 people staged a walkout at Ion Storm. They went down the street (literally, I'm told) and formed Third Law and got the KISS: Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child. A while later they did an expansion pack for Alien Vs. Predator 2, and apparently some budget WW2 shooters. And then they just disappeared. I'm sure that their demise was mundane compared to Ion Storm or 3D Realms but I'm still curious how it all went down. These guys don't even have a Wikipedia page.

        Anyways great idea, keep up the good work.

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        August 20, 2012 6:53 PM

        I hope they eventually do some with adventure games designers like Al Lowe or some people from Infocom

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          August 21, 2012 5:34 PM

          On the adv. game note, anyone from 'Sanctuary Woods'. 'The Journeyman Project - Buried in Time' is a complete classic... and I can't find peep about them.

          Sidenote: if anyone knows anyone who worked at 'Woods, I've been meaning to thank them ever since I was eleven or twelve and they replaced all my 'Buried in Time' CDs for me. Even signed them in Gold pen, too. My 'thank you' is about sixteen years too late. :x

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      August 20, 2012 10:57 AM

      Nice short piece Keef, I'm looking forward to more!

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      August 20, 2012 11:00 AM

      so glad he's alright. his last post on his website made it seem like he was having heart issues.

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      August 20, 2012 11:04 AM

      This was a good read, thanks

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      August 20, 2012 12:05 PM

      Worked with LL for a time. hehe.. he's very 'colorful'. Think he was already ready to retire when I knew him then. Think the last thing he had published might have been the LL collection for Reaxxion by MumboJumbo.

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      August 20, 2012 1:03 PM

      Very nice work, keep em coming!

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      August 20, 2012 2:09 PM

      Back during QuakeCon 97 I ran a Scourge of Armagon server and for hours and hours played HIPDM1 against other folks. It was great fun getting the hammer and empathy shield and going nuts on everyone. Thanks for the good memories Levelord and hope you're enjoying retirement.

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      August 20, 2012 3:23 PM

      hipdm1 was so awesome, the map blew me away when it came out. in fact, the whole mission pack was fantastic. it did things with my favorite game that I didn't think was possible. good times

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      August 20, 2012 6:55 PM

      Eh. It's great to see Levelord being *alive*, but a brief email exchange I held with him a few years ago was the first time I've had an industry person actually say 'no - I won't sign your boxed copy of a game, which you'd like to send to us - because you love us.'

      Bitter? Me? Nah.

      /looks at sealed copy of SiN and the PC Gamer magazine where it was the cover-page - then sheds a tear.

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        August 21, 2012 1:24 AM

        After reading the interview, your story is no surprise.

        "I'm ready for studding on the Back 40, son."

        Based on my limited research (the Shacknews about page and LinkedIn), John Keefer is at least in his mid-to-late 40s. So Levelord was calling some guy who might as well be the same age as him "son." Classy.

        Keefer: If I am way wrong about your age, please accept my apologies. The article was a enjoyable.

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          August 21, 2012 8:40 AM

          Levelord and I are almost the same age. I'm 54.

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            August 21, 2012 8:44 AM

            He turns 55 this year. He is about 8 months older than me.

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      August 20, 2012 7:48 PM

      Nice.

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      August 20, 2012 8:10 PM

      awesome.

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      August 20, 2012 10:37 PM

      I enjoy this feature!

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      August 21, 2012 4:36 AM

      Cool feature!

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      August 21, 2012 6:46 AM

      I was just going to suggest paul steed, googled and found out he died last week.. fuck.

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      August 21, 2012 7:21 AM

      Nice, I am glad you started this series! I find it a bit sad though, that a person has no passion left for what made him rich and semi famous. It suggests that it always was just a job to him, making games. Romero, by comparison, still burns with inspiration when talking about games even though he is stuck making them for facebook.

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      August 21, 2012 7:56 AM

      Great article, more, interview others such as duke guys, id ...etc

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      August 21, 2012 8:40 AM

      I've never seen a guy who is as outspokenly happy to be retired as Levelord :) Good for him lol

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      August 21, 2012 12:47 PM

      that seemed to end.. briefly?