Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Interview Part 15: Get Journey-Down on It!

Today we feature a very amazing person that requires no introduction, so I'll skip it and save you some of your valuable time to waste on the interview.

1) What is your favorite AGS and/or non-AGS game?


I really enjoyed part two of Technobabylon, and am currently playing part three and liking it a lot. I loved Snakes because of its mad originality, and I really, really enjoyed Shifter's box. I've liked more or less all Ben's games to be honest. What really amazes me with him is the incredible speed of his development. I envy the skill he has to chop a game down to it's most important parts and then simply excel at making those parts tick nicely together in virtually zero development time. It's sort of the opposite of what I do, heh. Apart from AGS games I obviously am a huge GF fanboy, though I definitely like GF more for it's ambiance than for its puzzles/gameplay, that to be fair weren't always that clever. To me GF could just as well have been a movie. (Yes, I have seen Casablanca, and I love it.)

2) Since you are new (relatively) to the forums, tell us how you got here, and how do you like it so far.

I have no idea when I first stumbled on AGS to be honest, I have known of it's existence for almost ten years I feel, that I'd wind up here some day and make games with AGS I suppose was sort of inevitable.

I think the AGS forums, like most other forums I've spent time on tend to suck you into a million different stupid threads that quite frankly are nothing but a big waste of a developer's time. I intentionally did not join the forums until TJD was almost finished, knowing I'd just end up blabbering my time away instead of actually doing any real development. That said, I think the forums DO offer a great place for people to discuss the ins and outs of game making and I've seen many a gameplay / technical issue be resolved by people willing to help developers in need. It's heartwarming to see the masses wanting to help each other release as polished titles as possible. One thing that has struck me as odd is that people do virtually no asslicking on these forums, this really has me impressed. I remember hanging around the conceptart.org forum, seeing that 95% of the posts were fanboy's licking successful artists bums. Had this been conceptart.org, A person like, say Dave Gilbert would be stalked by airheads, following his every move swamping his every post with agreeing nods and words of sugar coated love. I'm glad the AGS forums do not suffer from this lame stagnant disease. It halts production and makes people only post because they want their d1ck stroked and don't actually expect any real critique, it's incredibly counter-productive. What I'm trying to say is that the AGS crowd is incredibly honest, and I respect and appreciate that a lot.


3) You've won eleven awards on one night, which is something unprecedented. Comment on that.

What can I say, I figured TJD would win a couple of awards seeing I had received so much positive feedback from the community, but I had no idea it would end up winning so many awards. I was expecting that the technobabylon games would win a lot more of them. If they were one single game I'm guessing their odds would have been a lot better. Seeing they split their votes in two, it's difficult competition- not totally fair to be honest. I'm sure history will give the technobabylon series the cred they deserve one way or other anyhow, so no harm done there I'm sure. Anyhow, I like to think that the amount of awards won, is directly connected to the amount of time I've spent working on the game. I have no doubt that technobabylon, snakes and eternally us were all large projects in their own rights, but the sheer amount of man hours I've put into the development of the Journey Down can't be ignored, and I am confident that they are central to the fact that the game came off as polished as it did.

4) A lot of people praise TJD for its very lucas-artsy style and atmosphere. Was this intended? Is there a game that affected the process and that TJD is based /inspired on?

I never intended the game to feel like a Lucasarts game, that it ended up doing so however, is hardly a surprise to me given my primary sources of inspiration. The cartoony art style I've developed for TJD has a deep base in my love for classic lucasarts adventure games. Primarily MI2, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango. If you combine these styles with my earlier flair for dramatically lit sci-fi environments and my love for African art, what you get is The Journey Down. To be more specific, MI2 inspired my quirky environments, GF inspired my characters, and FT inspired my cinematic storytelling. What amazingly beautiful games they are.


5) You're into the making of a HD version of TJD. Would you like to talk a bit about that? (Tell us about the goal, the team, the game)

The HD version of JD came about when I started getting down and dirty implementing stuff on chapter two. I felt that I was truly killing my art when squishing it down to 320x240 and it really hurt seeing all my juicy details disappear in a blur. I decided I wanted to make chapter two higher res. When I started doing that, I realized that what I had really looked like a commercial product that could actually have some kind of market value. I understood however that there's no point making a hugely detailed chapter two, if chapter one doesn't capture enough players to actually be interested enough to find and pay for the second episode. Hence, I decided that a polished commercial release of part one would be a better starting point for the series. Not that I necessarily believe high-res is a huge selling point. (Just look at all the niche love Gemini Rue is getting!) But I do believe that higher res, voice acting, and some additional gameplay might just be what the game needs to truly click with a larger audience. JD is way more casual than rue and quite honestly has a different target crowd, though they're both geared toward adventure game fanatics, JD at least in theory also has the possibility to appeal to the newer, casual game crowd. They will prefer high res. I think?

The goal is to release chapter one HD q4 2011 on as many platforms as possible. What that means specifically is still very vague and depends on many, many factors. One of them being if our lusting passion for jumping into the source code of the AGS game engine will be fulfilled. After the first chapter's release we hope to release one chapter every six months, once we get the steam going properly. Pun not intended:P

The core team is me, my animator colleague Henrik, both programmers at SLX, Markus and Mathias (who both contributed to the original JD, by the way) and the musician Simon D'souza who simply works by contract from the UK. Other than that we now have a huge and awesome voice team, spread out allover the world. I intend to introduce team members as time goes by over at the devblog (www.slxgames.com), so keep your eyes peeled there for more info about us gaming junkies behind the scenes!


6) Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do besides storming the awards?
I live in Gothenburg, Sweden, me and my fiancée just moved to a tiny little cottage by the coast and are just about to have our first mini-human together. Lots of things going on there. Other than that I work with games for a living. As mentioned above, me and three other guys run a small company named SLX Games, where we primarily work with our online game on www.nordgame.com. I mostly do art there but as we are a rather small company we all tend to do a little bit of everything on most projects, including crummy administrative tasks and general community bantering. Other than that we do advergames and other media and code consulting junk, and more importantly for this interview, we recently started dedicating a slice of our time to the HD version of TJD. I have no "Free" time, really. When I'm off work and not cuddling with my ultra-pregnant fiancée, I'm still painting, sketching and drawing on TJD. That's all I ever do, and I love it:)


7) You've said many times that Jack (from Snakes of Avalon) should have won, is there something you'd like to comment on that? (Why are you saying it, why do you like Jack, something you'd like to tell to Igor via this interview)

There's nothing in an adventure game that bothers me more than having a grouchy player character that just whines and moans about anything and doesn't want to do any real adventuring. It's negative feedback before a player even tries anything. Bwana, to me, is a comfortable player character, he's always happy and positive and usually glad to try any stupid thing the player throws at him. Jack is in the same way never denying the player anything. Though his mad drunkenness and his somewhat hostile environment and moose/fish ego keep stopping him, but that's a different story. Also I always like to think that if a person is constantly drunk and obnoxious, there's a reason and likely a tragic story behind that. we get to explore that with Jack and I find that to be an incredibly powerful story device, I'd love to see it pushed even further. All in all it makes Jack a very funny yet layered character to explore, I like that a lot. Bwana, to be frank, is fun to play, but not very dynamic. (Yet, at least.)


8) Where did you learn to draw like that? Is there a secret ingredient? (You can tell me!)

Heh, I've just always been drawing. It's all I ever do. That way you learn:) I've also been doing a lot of work with 3D so through that I learned a lot about lighting and color theory, which really has helped me a lot. My tip to anyone who is insecure when drawing is to do one thing at a time. Professionals do everything at once, but when learning, ONE THING AT A TIME is a very, very good idea. Learning perspective theory WHILE learning Light theory WHILE learning anatomy WHILE learning composition will result in nothing but a jumble. Hit one challenge at a time and you'll have an easier time identifying what's wrong with your picture. That's what it's all about really, finding your image's faults, and understanding why or how to remedy them.

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Get the Journey Down, by clicking here, or somewhere, it's not like it's pixel perfect
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Who let the source out?

Who, who, who?

Well, me and CJ, that's who.

  1. CJ has released the AGS Engine (to add to the already released Editor) source code.
  2. I released the walkcycle generator source code.
Darn CJ for overshadowing my own release... I haven't looked at the walkcycle generator for nigh on 3 years, so apologies if its broken or rubbish! Please give Steve McRea and myself acknowledgment if you use the code at all.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Late news

Yes, OK, it was nearly 3 weeks ago, but AGS 3.2.1 was released! Here's the change list, including who made the changes including the person who did the coding, now that AGS is opened up:

  • Added Find/Replace In All Files capability (Tzach Shabtay)
  • Added GUI control snapping, alignment, grouping and locking to GUI editor (Steven Poulton)
  • Added loop cut/copy/paste, Flip All Frames and Import From Sprite Folder options to Views in editor, to access this right-click to the right of the loop (Tzach Shabtay)
  • Added RGB colour selector to the various colour properties (ProgZmax)
  • Added Characters option to room editor to show all characters set to start in that room (ProgZmax)
  • Added Find All Usages right-click option to script editor (Tzach Shabtay)
  • Added current co-ordinates display while dragging objects/characters in room editor (Steven Poulton)
  • Added syntax colouring to dialog scripts (Steven Poulton)
  • Added Dialog.ShowTextParser script property (CJ)
  • Upgraded to latest version of LEC template (abstauber)
  • Middle mouse button now activates the "Copy co-ordinates to clipboard" option in all the room editor modes (ProgZmax)
  • Fixed D3D tints not working properly (3.2 regression) (Nefasto)
  • Fixed crash drawing GUIs with no background (3.2 regression) (CJ)
  • Fixed crash restoring/restarting depending on state of crossfading (CJ)
  • Fixed intermittent crash moving objects and using the Ctrl+A debug option (CJ)
  • Fixed "crossfade buffer null attempting transition" if you restored a save game that had a different current transition type to the current game position (CJ)
  • Fixed script editor tooltips getting stuck if they appeared over the tab bar at the top of the editor (Tzach Shabtay)
  • Fixed editor error if you deleted a room that a character was set to start in (CJ)
  • Fixed co-ordinates displayed in room editor not reflecting Low-Res Co-ordinates setting (ProgZmax)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Gutter Comfort: How Snakes of Avalon became the flawed hero of indie games

Dear reader,
I won't presume your reaction to these accusations, but I remain presumptuous in making them. You're an indie game fan, of course - but it's even more likely that you're one of a few hundred folks who considers yourself an indie developer. You make games, right? That's my best guess. Here's why that's worth remarking on, before we even talk about Snakes of Avalon: we have to agree on our shared context. INDIE GAMING's most salient grounding points are rooted in the notion that compromises in quality are necessary, because hey - You're on a budget (if you even have a budget) and you can't afford to rent a warehouse, let alone stock and staff it with expert light riggers, composite engineers, or a legal team. But, still, you somehow persist. The potential contribution of your Indie Game is greater than that of those so-called “AAA” games, which are inseparably bound to test audience consensus, board meeting red tape, and aggressive, ROI-minded streamlining. Your game would get watered down pretty fast in that world, and the bracing impact would be lost.

To them, your game wouldn't be worth making. To them, "indie games" are just a double-standard that grants freedoms and permits poor craftsmanship. But, still, you somehow persist. Because your story couldn't be told any other way. Because the greatest symphonies and poetry and novels and paintings weren't accomplished through market research and endured no sub-committees worth remembering - our great cultural inheritance is studded with masterpieces typically made by single individuals barfing their smelly guts out in either high-tone bravura or gritty greyscale, shown to anyone who will look. Now, to be worthy of this artistic inheritance and to make your contribution, you must persist without compromise. Indie Games are small, defiant stories told to anyone who will listen.

Snakes of Avalon is, in fact, a small defiant story told to anyone who will listen. We watch the storyteller barf his smelly guts out in the lowest of slapstick pathetia, but we're compelled by him. He's eager to glimpse the true, silently rumbling pulse of all meaning, but is interceded by his bouncing full bladder while respectable strangers look away with shame. Our protagonist is a failed man, once capable of greatness, who drowns his guilty blinking sorrow in a dive bar full of strangers. The more he drinks, the more he forgets, and it becomes easier for him to smile and for us to laugh along. Not a space marine or sexy gun-toting hero, but a drunken citizen, tearfully trying to remember a once shining truth and finding only watery beer - what can we do but laugh along as he stumbles. He's talking to a mounted fish, now! But still, he somehow persists.

If you've never been drunk and if you've never been a failure, Snakes probably isn't for you, indie developer. (Of course, that's no compliment to either this game or drinking. Or failing. Although I do recommend all three.) Because if you're going to create art, there are stern lessons to be found in this game - and though the vibrant punchlines are told boldly, they reveal the embarrassingly common thread of our ultimate ineptitude in the face of that true, silently rumbling pulse of all meaning. So, unless you've been a drunken failure at least once, you won't get the inside jokes. Also, get off the internet and work on your game, you unsoiled teetotaler. You've got a failure to finish.

Regarding the indie game double-standard I mentioned before, the game's creators Igor Hardy & Alex van der Wijst are getting by on charm. The main reason to play this game, the main reason to play any game, is for the story - which, in the case of Snakes, is as finely conceived and well-told as any other game I've played in years. The screenplay accomplishes its goals with warbling flourish - to further elaborate would necessitate the dissection of dialogue from character. Is that what video game reviews do? Or is it only done when the reviewer doesn't enjoy the game? Either way, if the writing IS the character who IS the art, then our gameplay experience is derived wholly from the blurry sensations of our melodramatic drunk; his ability to witness his immediate surroundings, his inability to do so, his desire to escape them, and his urgency to remember the greater truth of How did I get here, after all?

That being said, and as a small footnote to all of this, I should admit to being kind of curious about what these authors could make with a team of artists and animators? The "talking" animations were charming and, visually, Snakes is cohesive and self-reliant, but here's the deal. Double standard or no, developers (like yourself) are always at risk of losing the respect of their audience. Even though Hardy & van der Wijst have waltzed a wavy and deliberate line into risky stylistic territory, I can't help but feel that it's the finer production aspects that might prevent a wider audience from appreciating their great story. Voice acting is limited only to the cutscenes, and the recording quality of the spoken dialogue introduces those same old questions about developer resources and indie games and blah blah blah. The beneficial double-standard begins to deteriorate.

But, what if they had money to hire voice actors and a sound engineer... Or a team of animators? Or a 3D modeling engine? Who knows to what great heights this game might climb? Or yours! Just imagine how great your contribution could be, if only we lived in a world where profoundly written indie games have the staffs and budgets of those laser-sharp FPS cinemagasms that cost seventy five bucks to play. But it's only a dream, and one not worth sharing. I think we all know that it's better this way, and the joy of playing a game like Snakes of Avalon (or others like it) is that we're privileged to witness the creative process on its own terms. To play an independent game is to watch artists persist. In rare cases like this one, we get the chance to witness art being made. (I'd advise you to play worse games if you don't understand the difference.)

So, I propose we all drink a toast to Igor, Alex, and their man, Jack. Here's to cutting your own ragged path toward the truth. A toast to our shared circumstance - a huge, world-wide dive bar where indie developers like you and me can whisper our small, defiant stories and people will listen, all persisting into a night full of puns and sorrow, free drinks and infinite continues.

Richard Hofmeier is closest to glimpsing the unspeakable truth when speaking puns to empty streets at night. You can contact him through his website: richardhofmeier.com