Wadjet Eye’s Dave Gilbert and Francisco Gonzalez Talk Adventure

A bunch of older and more experienced developers have gotten back into the game, as it were. Through Kickstarter we’ve seen Al Lowe, Jane Jensen, and Chris Jones – on top of Tim Schafer and Charles Cecil, of course – all pick up the gauntlet again. What do you think of that?

[Francisco] Uh oh. This is another question that’s gonna get me in trouble. I think it’s great that they’re coming back, but I don’t think it’s great that they don’t seem to have evolved. I think it’s kind of sad in a way that they haven’t grown, but I guess understandable too. Broken Sword 5 I enjoyed, but there were some puzzles that literally made me swear out loud in confusion, because I didn’t understand how they could make it into the game. I didn’t play Moebius, but I watched a let’s play and I heard a lot of commentary about it.

I played Moebius

[Francisco] Yeah, I’m sorry. There were a few things in Moebius that I heard a lot about and were not well-received. As for Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded – the behind-the-scenes drama of that project aside, as a game itself it didn’t make much of an impact from what I recall. It seems like these veteran designers are coming back – with probably the only exception being Tim Schafer, who has still been active all these years – it seems like they’re coming back, and they’re still in the mind-frame of the “golden age” for a lack of a better term.

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It was a new medium, so they didn’t know what worked and didn’t, necessarily. They’re still kind of shackled by these old design tropes that aren’t as tolerated in the current world. All these buzzwords that I’m throwing out aside, it seems like the kind of need to move beyond that. We as players have moved on, and I think they need to move on as well.

[Dave] and as players, we kind of know the things that frustrate us about these games. As much as I love those old games there’s a lot of really inane things that bug me about them, so when I make my own games I try not to do those things. I try to find better ways of doing those things. So the old guard coming back and doing those things again is kind of frustrating for people like us. We look to them for inspiration – I always have – and I want them to continue to be that.

I haven’t really played many of the new Kickstarter games myself. I mean, the Tex Murphy game, I felt horrible because I was so looking forward to it – I LOVED Tex Murphy. And then I was on vacation when it came out and thought “oh man, I gotta wait a week,” and then I got home, and I downloaded it, and a few days later I forgot I even had the game on my hard drive, I was so bored. I got to a point where I just gave up, because it was just so boring. All of the horrible tropes from the 90s are back in full force, almost on purpose, and it upsets me. To be fair, I think it’s great that there was such attention being placed on point and click adventure games. Everyone was talking about them after the Double Fine Kickstarter, and that can only be good for people like me. I’m in that business as well, so when a spotlight is on the genre, people wanna talk to me. From a purely personal perspective, it can only be a good thing. I just wish the games were a little better.  And I feel horrible saying that.

[Francisco] On the other hand it’s frustrating, because we’ve worked so hard on bringing the genre back, and trying to get people interested in it again. Everyone always talks about how it died, and then you get all the old people back, and they make these games and you think “well, I kinda see why it died. You’re doing it again. Stop that.”

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Moebius made me see why people would quit the genre forever.

[Francisco] When I heard there was a maze in it that you had to go through three times… that’s just inexcusable.

[Dave] I do think it’s unfair to put a whole genre on one game’s shoulders. I remember back in 99 when The Longest Journey came out, people were saying “this could be the game that brings adventure games back.” Or Gabriel Knight 3 came out and people were saying “this could bring adventure games back.” There were all these games and sequels where it was like “this’ll bring adventure games back. We promise this time.” Even if the game does well… a game is a game. It’s not a genre.

I once got an email from someone who was trying to get me to invest in his project, and the financial information he gave me was all about how well adventure games were doing. And I think “alright, this is all about adventure games. What is it that makes your game so special?” It’s like saying you’re making a movie about kids in a clubhouse because “movies are doing really well.” It’s really a whole medium, not just a genre. If you don’t like Science Fiction, you’re not gonna like Gemini Rue. If you don’t like westerns you’re not gonna like Al Emmo or Freddy Pharkas. You can’t really put a whole genre on one game’s shoulders, because all adventure games are different, all stories are different, and different stories appeal to different kinds of people. I think that’s where a lot of the problems in hardcore adventure communities come from – they’re all lumped into “adventure games.”  I think that’s a very harmful way to look at it. They’re games, they’re stories, and that’s how I always approach it. That’s how I think they should be approached.

One weird thing about it – and I say this a lot – there’s this weird narrative about how “adventure games are dying, and now here’s a studio that’s bringing them back.” Every review of every one of my games says that. You never see that about any other genre in the same situation. Take Roguelikes, for example, or old-school JRPGs, or SHMUPs. Those also theoretically died for a decade or more and are coming back, but you don’t hear that same kind of narrative. For some reason people are obsessed with the idea that point and click adventure games were dead and developers are bringing them back. I don’t think there’s any need for that.

[Francisco] I think it just makes a good by-line.

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Speaking of JRPGs, people are using RPG Maker to make games now.

[Dave] Commercially! I remember – this is kind of what inspired me to push AGS game – Aveyond, Amanda Finch’s game. She took this engine that was used by hobbyists to make little incomplete games that no one took seriously –even though the community was huge. And she said “I’m gonna spend a lot of time on this one game and I’m gonna sell it for 20 bucks.” And she basically created a business empire out of it. She’s basically the “Steam” of RPG Maker – you wanna sell an RPG Maker game, you sell it on her website. It’s amazing. It’s kind of grown beyond her – it almost runs by itself. And no one’s ever heard of her, but she’s doing so well.

So you wanted to be the “Steam” of AGS?

[Dave] Not the “Steam” exactly, but I had these lofty goals that I wanted to be a publisher of these games. That turned out to be exactly what I’m doing. Not exactly how I envisioned it happening, but I’ve certainly done what I wanted to do.

Well Francisco’s game feels very much like a Wadjet Eye game.

[Dave] It’s interesting that people say that about most of the games that we publish – that they all feel like they came from the same wheelhouse with one or two exceptions. I think it has a lot to do with the low-res art and the – I don’t want to say noir-ish atmosphere, because it’s not noir, but it does have a kind of “urban mystery” vibe to it which I think fits very well with everything else we’ve done.

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So on the subject of RPG Maker, a lot of adventure games – like To the Moon – have been made in RPG maker recently. What do you think of those?

[Dave] I’ve tinkered around with it – it’s very easy to pick up and use, just like AGS. I think anything that enables people to create and get their stuff out there and earn a living from it is great. I haven’t played many RPG maker games – it’s kind of even worse than AGS when it comes to portability and running on modern systems – but I think it’s great.

A lot of the games aren’t my cup of tea. The sad thing about a lot of RPG Maker games is that even if you make your own art from scratch it’ll still look like every other RPG Maker game, and that’s sort of why I shied away from it myself. That’s one thing I don’t like about it, that you’re kind of stuck to this one template of how a game is made, and how a game looks. But a lot of people have done amazing things with it. The main reason I don’t play a lot of those games is because they take so damn long to play, but I think it’s great.

What are your personal favorite adventure games?

[Dave] This is always so hard because I haven’t played any recent ones. One of the biggest inspirations for me – it’s probably really dated now, but I loved Discworld Noir back in 99. I loved everything about it – the atmosphere, the detective, the notebook-combining interface – I just really enjoyed it all. It really took all the dark aspects of Discworld and rolled with them. It was this homage to old noir movies.  I really wanted to make something like it, which is where I kind of went with the whole “Oz Noir” thing. If I had to pick a favorite, that would be it.

[Francisco] I love so many games, but I’d say probably my biggest inspiration would be Gabriel Knight – The first Gabriel Knight, Sins of the Fathers – just because of the blend of historical fiction and real world setting. When I made the Ben Jordan game, I was basically just doing an homage-slash-ripoff of Gabriel Knight in the sense that I wanted to investigate real-life legends and folklore. I’m taking that into A Golden Wake also with its heavy Historical Fiction and whatnot.

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[Dave] I did the same with Blackwell, actually.

[Francisco] And yes, it’s dated also, and there’s some iffy puzzles in it too, but it still holds up, I think.

Are you excited for the remake?

[Francisco, in an insistent deadpan voice] What remake?