Saturday, January 15, 2011

Interview Part 13: Snascovel of Abaron

Tonight, we host two great fellows. Igor Hardy, or Ascovel, (famous for some blog about something, can't remember now... and won a best demo AGS award for 2009) and of course the ultimate AGSer, Baron, or Alex Van Wijst (famous for Mittens 2007, Besieged, Charlie Foxtrot and of course the Winter Rose!

However they combined their forces together, and along with the complementary awesomeness of Thomas Regin in the music department, originally for the MAGS I hosted and set the theme for, they created SNAKES OF AVALON.
If you absolutely have no clue, check the game here.
And if you want my opinion on it, check the review here.

1) First, let's go by the book. What is your favorite videogame? Is there an AGS one you particularly like?

Baron: My all-time favourite video game is Dr. Mario -now you know. My favourite adventure game is SQIII, so it should be no surprise that I'm a huge fan of the equally zany sci-fi AGS-made games like Time Gentlemen Please and the Barn Runner series.

My favorite game of all time would be Grim Fandango.

As for AGS games, I'm fond of way too many to list and I fear the recent onslaught of Oceanspirit Dennis productions has been spoiling my taste ;), but I’d like to mention 3 titles that are particularly important to me: Nelly Cootalot, The Winter Rose (made by some brilliant guy I know nothing about) and Infinity String.

The reason why I have a special fondness for those 3 is that I consider them to be the first utterly delightful and must-play amateur adventure games I’ve played (despite the fact I did try out quite a few before). It meant a lot to me to see that adventure games fans can treat their work this seriously, and yet… succeed at completing such top quality projects.

2) How hard is to go back and improve what's already been done? (referring to you improving Snakes of Avalon)

Baron: It had been a massive effort to complete the MAGS version by the contest deadline, and after that we just crashed. We determined that after a month's rest we would take a week to fill in the gaps and add an extra scene that was cut in the original due to time constraints. Based on our productivity in the three weeks leading up to the MAGS release this seemed very feasible, but in fact it took us several months to finally complete the game.

For various reasons our ambitions had grown far beyond the earlier plans - definitely the main reason behind us pushing the release date back several times. My estimate is that, instead of the expected week, adding the new content took us at least 1,5 month in total (broken up by a long period of holidays, renovations and computer crashes in July/August).

Nevertheless, to the very end we were extremely efficient every time we did sit down to work. We made good decisions and implemented new ideas really fast. Also, no concept we came up with, nor any animation, piece of code, or piece of music was ever wasted or proved to be out of place. So we were able to avoid any major mistakes and take advantage of 99% of what we created for Snakes in the final version of the game.

3) What was the reason behind the improvement of Snakes?

Igor: The MAGS Snakes came together so well that we didn’t want to leave it as an unpolished 1 month production. For example, having a main menu seemed useless during MAGS, but for a serious production it felt like a must. Similarly, the interface in the original needed a few fixes and many dialogs seemed rushed (non-interactive and missing important beats for the story and characters).

Then there was the opportunity to work with Thomas Regin on the soundtrack –an aspect which even on its own would make the updated game a fresh, new experience.

And finally, we invented that huge nightmare segment. It came out of our discussions about the meaning of the game’s story and I feel in the end gave it much more depth and resonance.

4) Lots of people found the game having lots of references to Hitchcock's cinematic style. Mostly his film Vertigo. Comment on that.

I’m not sure how people really feel about it (as far as I know, only the Vertigo poster reference was discussed by players), but I certainly used Hitchcock’s name in almost every description of what the game is about – my great marketing ploy. I was long wondering how to explain the genre of fiction the story belongs too. It had murder, it had mystery, but it wasn’t really a “murder mystery”. It was some sort of trippy, pulpy, suspenseful thriller with both creepy bits as well as humor in it, and so I thought Hitchcock’s name is possibly the only 1-word label that can bring to mind all of those qualities.

And there actually are many vintage Hitchcockian themes and gimmicks in Snakes: the hero spying on people, a “man who knew too much”, the hero passing out in a stressful situation, family issues, murder in domestic environment, scary scenes featuring bathrooms, dark silhouettes, and dramatic stings in the musical score.

Additionally, we tried to make the scenes feel as dynamic and cinematic as possible, so there are many close-ups, unexpected cuts, jumps in time etc. I’m particularly fond of the real-time abrupt focus changes, like the weird, static cuts between the two parts of the bar – I think they are unusual, rough, but work well

5) Can you tell us a bit about the team. Introduce us to the members and comment on each person's work and work-flow.

Baron: I have been a member in good-standing at the AGS forums for seven years now. I've started many projects, but only finished 5 adventure games to date. I like to experiment with different genres, so it would be hard to identify a consistent theme to my games outside of humour. I really do have fun making adventure games and I want people to have fun playing them.

My reason for entering the MAGS competition was to implement a new experimental animation process I'd been developing to cut down on production time. I made this very clear from the outset to Igor, who graciously gave me free reign in the character design and animation department. We had a very loose design document outlining and prioritizing some 60 animations, but usually Igor would PM me what animations he'd need that day and I would do my best to pound them out that evening.

The team for the original version from April was just Alex and me. And qptain Nemo beta-tested our creation when it was ready. After MAGS, we were joined by Thomas Regin who composed Snakes’ original music. The occasional cutscene voice-overs were provided by family members, friends and Alex himself. However, Jack’s voice was provided by Drew Wellman (ddq). At the very end of development, we had additional beta-testing help from Leon.

So the core team is just the 3 of us - Thomas, me and Alex…

Thomas is best known for his soundtracks to Wadjet Eye’s games, including the beloved Blackwell series, but he also composed for dozens of commercial game titles. He is a master of many genres – a versatility which we were most happy to exploit for the whimsical (or even grotesque) nature of the game as it alternates between suspense, humor, jazz and even plain horror.

Based on our collaboration I can say Thomas works quickly and with passion and is a shameless perfectionist. Sadly I don’t know any of his true work-flow secrets I could spread around.

As for me, I love creating games and stories that are at least a bit unconventional. I feel great doing prototypes and experimenting with design while scripting rather than in theory. Consequently, I hate overly detailed design documents and I wouldn’t feel like I’m truly designing a game if the complete design would came first and implementation only at the very end.

My personal work flow is a combination of laziness, perfectionism and millions of how-to-make-this-feature-several-times-better-with-minimal-additional-effort-but-it-turns-out-later-it-wasn’t-so-easy ideas.

6) How was Snakes of Avalon initially born?

Baron: I was interested in partnering with someone for the April MAGS competition so I could share the predictable humiliation of being bested by Ben304 and Leafshade -er...., I mean experiment with animation techniques. I posted in the RAT thread and received a PM from Igor pitching this intriguing concept of a drunk who overhears a murder plot in the bar that he never leaves. Considering the MAGS rules that month dictated “one room”, I thought it a brilliant setting: not only does a bar lend itself to all sorts of shenanigans, but the drunken perceptions of the lead protagonist create almost infinite possibilities in terms of puzzles and gameplay. Four weeks of intensive and enthusiastic labour saw Igor's vision actualized as the original Snakes.

Yep, that’s how I would describe it too. But it’s worth adding that I originally had a rather modest and crude game in mind - so that we wouldn’t have problems finishing it in a month. It’s Alex who insisted that we go so crazy with hallucinations, animations and the like and once we started in that direction soon there was no sanity left for us.

7) Are there any plans for a sequel? Or what can we expect from you guys in the future (any projects you're into) ?

I'm amazed at the number of people interested in seeing a spin-off featuring “Bathroom Man”. But seriously, there is no planned sequel. I may or may not be working on a secret fantasy adventure game though.

I feel we used up Snakes of Avalon themes to their full potential. The story is complete. The characters ended up like they were supposed to. So any new Avalon game would feel like a forced add-on that would only weaken the impact of the original. I have to admit though that it would be nice to have a peek inside Avalon’s toilet and enter Avalon’s smelly kitchen.

As for my next game I’m working on a short-to-medium length adventure game project that will be really experimental in terms of interface and gameplay. This
game will be different from Snakes in many ways – e.g. grounded in a consistent, mundane reality (no surreal touches at all).

After that I’m planning to finish off my original game - Frantic Franko - which is a crazy, surreal game quite akin to Snakes. I treat it as a “designer’s playground” - it will be full of strange, hairy, half-baked gameplay concepts gone wild and showing obscene gestures to innocent bystanders. I’m planning to have it ready for fall 2011.

8) What do you guys do beside the game-making industry. I'm referring to your real life.

I am a full-time parent who occasionally works as a substitute teacher to pay the bills. I play a lot of hockey, am an amateur but very enthusiastic carpenter, manage websites for various community groups I am involved with, and play with AGS to avoid working on my novel (the true secret to my productivity is revealed!).

For a living I’m doing freelance video-editing and occasionally translating work (just Polish-English, English-Polish).

Some strange journalistic passions make me take care of the indie adventure games blog A Hardy Developer’s Journal, and occasionally write for gaming websites like Adventure Classic Gaming.

I also try to secure some time for learning and perfecting various languages (non-programming kind), watching films, reading fiction and philosophy. A few times a week I like to break up my mostly sedentary life with sports – preferably tennis and long-distance running.

9) Is there an AGS game in production you're very excited about?
Expectation is the root of all heartache! Where is Herman Toothrot's Monkey Island when you need it?

I’m really looking forward to Shattenrayze, Gemini Rue and The Cat Lady. I expect them to be nothing less than mindblowing.

Also, I’m eagerly expecting new installments of all those cool series I’m following - from Blackwell, through Ben & Dan to Death Wore Some Feathers and Second Face.

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