Wadjet Eye’s Dave Gilbert and Francisco Gonzalez Talk Adventure

Of the other AGS projects – outside your own bodies of work – what most impresses you?

[Francisco] I’ll be the first to admit – and I have a feeling that Dave is probably in the same boat as me here – I used to hang out on the AGS forums a lot, and I used to play every single game that came out, and I was really into it. And then it just got to a point where I ran out of time to do it. I haven’t played an AGS game in a really long time, and I feel terrible about it, but I just haven’t had the time. There’s a game sitting on my desktop right now called Donna: Avenger of Blood

[Dave] That’s really good, actually. I did manage to play that one and it’s really, REALLY good.

[Francisco] Yeah, I haven’t played it. I know the developer, and he was working on it for like ten years, and he finally released it, and I still haven’t played it. I’m looking at the folder right now and thinking “why don’t I play it?” That one was really impressive, on all fronts. There’s plenty of AGS games that were really impressive. I’ll think of some. Dave, say something while I think.

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[Dave] I’m sort of in the same situation. It’s not so much that I don’t have time to play them, it’s that when I have time to sit down and play a game, the last thing I wanna play is another friggin adventure game. I spend all day making them and thinking about them, so when I play one it’s hard for me to let go of that. I see too much “behind the curtain” and it’s hard for me to distance myself from that. So I prefer to play on the Xbox or Playstation, because – and this is the other issue – I spend all day working on my laptop making games, so the last place I want to relax and play a game is on that same damn laptop. Most adventure games are on the PC, so, like Francisco, I just don’t play many.

Although I was very impressed with Donna – that was good. I played Heroine’s Quest earlier this year – that was REALLY good. Technically it was an amazing achievement. It really did feel like playing the old quest for glory games – for better and for worse. One thing I forgot is how annoying those games were to play at times. It took all of that, warts and all, and overall it was just amazing. But I haven’t played many, sadly.

[Francisco] There’s one thing the AGS community does every year that I always think is fun, which is the One Room, One Week Competition. You sign up and you have one week to create a game. The rules have kind of changed over the years. They used to be very strict that it could only be set in one room, but now the definition of “room” has kind of expanded. So now it can still be the same room but it’s several screens, where you have a close-up or something. Those games are usually pretty interesting. Some people make traditional adventure games – one person made an entire dungeon crawler in it, which was impressive too. It’s called a competition, but no one wins anything, other than bragging rights. But it’s cool because you get to see some really interesting stuff come out of that.

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So are there any other recent AGS games you’ve missed out on?

[Dave] Well I’ve still yet to play any of Francisco’s Ben Jordan games, so there’s that.

[Francisco] You’re not missing out on anything there. I learned a lot with those games, but like any creator when I look back at my old games I kind of cringe a bit. It’s not anything I’m ashamed of though.

[Dave] I can’t stand the original Blackwell Legacy. I’m a little harder on it than maybe I should be, but I’m glad I can finally move on with the series. I’ll always be shackled to that very first game, as long as I keep making Blackwell games, so it’s nice to have a clean break from it all.

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What do you think of the new style of cinematic adventure games being pioneered by Telltale and Quantic Dream?

[Dave] I like Telltale’s stuff. That’s actually the first thing I play when I travel. I load up my iPad with whatever Telltale game I haven’t played yet. I went through all of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us on a recent trip, and I love them. The problem you run into, I think, is that the whole choice and consequence thing in The Walking Dead is amazing, The Wolf Among Us… not so much. When that ended, I never felt like I really made a difference in the same way I did with The Walking Dead. There’s something about the way that series is written, where it just takes it so far, and you feel the immediacy of “whatever I choose now will have huge consequences.”

And it’s so linear. I read a really interesting article recently talking about how all games want to give you freedom – it’s all about freedom. Well Telltale started making The Walking Dead and basically said “well screw your freedom, you’ll just do stupid stuff with it. We’re gonna make you have feelings!” And they do a great job. I really enjoy it.

[Francisco] I’m kind of on the fence about that particular style of game. I think Telltale does a pretty good job of it. If we can say it’s a stylistic choice to put dialogue and choice over traditional puzzles, and put in quick time events and stuff like that. I think Telltale implements it well. To a degree I think Quantic Dream does too. The only thing is that I think Telltale games are much better-written than Quantic Dream’s games.

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I agree with you, but that kinda talk can get you shanked around the HG offices.

[Francisco] Oh yeah, believe me. I’ve been, very, very vocal on other platforms about my opinion of Quantic Dream’s games. I think that – and I probably should stay quiet to keep out of trouble – I think an adventure game is a perfect way to make a cinematic experience, because they’re more about story than anything else. But I think of you move too far away from gameplay, you essentially just have a giant click-fest (or button-mashing-fest), choose-your-own-adventure game. Which some people like, but a lot of people don’t.

[Dave] The key thing I say whenever I design is not so much “what kind of puzzles can I add to this area?” but rather “how can I make this more immersive and satisfying to play through?” If you’re a thief sneaking through someone’s house, you want to have that thrill of looking through their stuff, so provide that. The thing about Wolf Among Us that really disappointed me is that you’re a detective – Bigby Wolf – and you’re a detective going around investigating a murder scene, and there’s just one hotspot, and that’s it. You click on that and it solves the case for you. “Oh, there’s a matchbook from this bar. That was easy.” I couldn’t really explore the murder scene. I wanted to be a detective and look around, but it wouldn’t let me do that. It just pushed me down the path.

Like Francisco said, if you go too far in that narrative direction without remembering that it’s a game at the end of the day, and it’s supposed to be interactive, I think that’s where the problem lies. The weird thing about the David Cage style is that it’s cool to actually do the actions in the game, but they have no meaning. “Press X to brush your teeth.” Alright, I’m brushing my teeth, but there’s no context for it. Why am I doing this?

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Some monumental adventure games have come out over the last few years. Have either of you played Broken Age?

[Dave] I’m waiting for the second half to be released

[Francisco] Me too. I’ve just gotten really sick of cliffhangers, on a personal level. I have cliffhanger fatigue.

[Dave] Games being split in two is a bit of a pet peeve of mine as well. I get a lot of emails from people saying they have an idea for a game, but they don’t have the budget or whatever so they’re going episodic instead. I think that’s a horrendously bad idea. Tim Schafer and Double Fine are obviously a whole different ball game, but I think that customer faith in episodic games really isn’t there – unless you’re Telltale.

There are exceptions, like Phoenix Online with cognition – I was as skeptical as anyone else but they pulled it off. But in general the faith just isn’t there. I don’t really want to get invested in something that might never be finished. When I hear “we ran over-budget so we’re splitting it in half,” it seems like such a newbie mistake, and it drives me crazy. It seems to be working for some people, and I don’t like that it’s working. I think it’s a bad trend for games. “Oh we’re running out of money, slice it in half.” I don’t like that trend.

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That was a big problem with Broken Sword 5, actually.

[Francisco] That game would have benefitted a lot from being the complete experience as opposed to being cut in two. I still enjoyed it, but I really feel like I’d have enjoyed it a lot more if I’d played it all in one shot. Even Telltale games – like I said, I have cliffhanger fatigue. I’ve been playing Telltale games since the beginning, and I’ve played them all as they happened – with the exception of Jurassic Park, which I didn’t play. I waited for all of them, and I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t want to anymore. I haven’t played Season 2 of The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us because I’ve been waiting. I want to just binge-play them like I do with TV shows now.

[At this point Dave and I get into a bit of a debate about The Walking Dead Season 2 and The Wolf Among Us, which I’ve omitted for the sake of length.]

[Dave] It’s all so subjective, which I think is really cool! There was this discussion on the Adventure Gamers forum recently, where they were talking about The Adventure Company, from back in the early 00s. They came out with a lot of very samey, boring adventure games, like they were too afraid to take risks. They were trying to please everyone and ended up pleasing no one. And I like that Telltale doesn’t do that. They are taking risks – for some people it works, and for some it doesn’t, but there’s always going to be something that someone likes throughout the entire thing. I give them Kudos for that. I’m interested to see where the company is going, because it’s changed a lot since they first came on the scene. They’re no longer this scrappy little company. They’re really big and they have lots of money for licenses. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes, but I’m so glad they exist.

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Speaking of licenses – obviously the Wizard of Oz is public domain – but what was different about working on Emerald City Confidential?

It was really different. Rather than paying to make a game I was paid to make a game, which was nice. It was different for a lot of reasons. Playfirst is a casual company – they did stuff like Diner Dash and Chocolatier – It was an audience that I was very unfamiliar with, and they weren’t very familiar with adventure games. But since they were paying me I kind of followed their lead in terms of direction. You know, it’s their money and their audience, and I wanted to gear it toward that. I think they were expecting more of me as well.

The issue was we ended up making a game that was way too casual for adventure gamers, and too difficult and impenetrable for casual gamers. We ended up making a game that didn’t appeal to anyone. I’m really proud of the story and production values and things like that. I’d never have been able to make a game like that on my own – I still couldn’t. It was nice having a budget to work with. Though I quickly learned that even if a budget seems big, it’s not infinite. I had to budget carefully.

But it was an interesting experience. I worked with some amazing artists, some amazing voice actors. I worked with a lot of Telltale’s crew, which was great. I’m very proud of it. I’m sad it didn’t do as well as we all would have hoped. But it was a great experience, for sure.

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