The good old adventure game isn't nearly as popular as it used to be, which is odd considering so many people name numerous classic LucasArts adventures among their favourite games of all time. There's hope though, in the shape of A Vampyre Story from Autumn Moon Entertainment. Founded by Bill Tiller, who previously worked at LucasArts, and with staff mainly comprised of ex LucasArts employees, Autumn Moon could be the studio to bring the classic adventure game back. We spoke to Bill to get the latest on A Vampyre Story and to find out how the team got together.
Pro-G: For point-and-click fans the fact you have a development team made wholly of ex LucasArts staff is very exciting. Was it a challenge to bring all these people together?
Bill Tiller: Well it was wholly ex LucasArts, now it is about 80% ex LucasArts. Back when I started it was easy to get people to work on the game because people liked the concept, but it was hard to get them to work on it for long before we got funding. I had to pay them out of my own pocket (and I'm not rich) or promise to pay them back at a later point. So they were willing but they could only work so long for free. I have a lot of favours I need pay back when the game is done.
Some people I wanted to work on my game couldn't because they had good paying jobs, and house payments and families to support. So I couldn't get everyone I wanted but I got quite a few and I am very happy about that.
Pro-G: What point-and-click games have your team members previously worked on?
BT: Wow. That is a long list. Might be easier to say which ones they didn't work on. Anyway, some titles they worked on: Space Quest 4, The secret of Monkey Island, Sam n max Hit the Road, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Day of the Tentacle, Curse of Monkey island, Escape from Monkey Island, Bone, Sam n Max Episodes, and several versions of The Dig.
Pro-G: On the game's website it mentions A Vampyre Story's interactive story. What is meant by this?
BT: Well, in all stories the protagonist has to overcome a series of obstacles, and we just watch passively. Obviously in adventure games we, the player, choose when and which obstacles we will deal with first, and we get to choose what the main characters say and when and to whom, and we choose what they explore, and it all fits into a linear story. The end result is the same, but the action doesn't progress and doesn't unfold until the player interacts with the story and moves it forward. That is basically what I mean when I say interactive story.
Pro-G: What can we expect from A Vampyre Story, beyond the usual mix of puzzles and exploration?
BT: Well you should expect beautiful and fun environments, funny dialogue, interesting characters, good animation, beautiful music and an interesting story. Since Mona is a vampire she will have to overcome puzzles that humans wouldn't have to, like crossing running water, or getting near a crucifix, or drinking blood. So expect puzzles that deal with Mona's vampire nature.
Pro-G: Can you tell us something about the storyline and characters featured in the game?
BT: I had a fan email one time complaining that the story of a vampire woman on quest to Paris and freedom was boring. And I pointed out to him that the greatest odyssey in Western literature was about a man commuting home from work so he can see he wife and family. It is the journey and the obstacles he has to overcome that make the odyssey great. And that is what A Vampyre Story is; a comedic odyssey about a normal young woman thrown into an epic adventure involving forces and powers she has no control over. And she uses her wits and determination to get what she wants out of life or, in this case, 'un-life'.
The game starts off with Mona pining for her old life after being cursed by her vampire captive, a snivelling vampire with a major Oedipus complex. Though sad, she is determined to escape, with the help of her bat companion Froderick. But fate is kind to her when two vampire hunters kill her captive, inadvertently freeing Mona from the magical control the vampire had over her. The game starts with Mona trapped in the haunted castle trying to find a way across the lake that surrounds the keep. Later she learns how to deal with her vampire curse and what she needs to survive.
The story is epic in length and will span over several games. I'd love to squeeze the story into one game but that would be too difficult to do and we think the story needs time to develop, just like a lot of books and movies.
Pro-G: Point-and-click adventures have almost always courted comedy script writing. Can we expect some laughs from A Vampyre Story?
BT: Yes. Well I hope and we are trying to make it funny. Dialogue choices seem to have no point unless they are funny. So comedy just seems like a perfect venue for interactive dialogue. Also I have always loved traditional animation and that style of art just seems perfect for comedy too. So yes, we are most definitely trying to make a comedy, and hopefully one that is funny and comedic.
Pro-G: It seems Edward Gorey and Tim Burton have both had some influence over the look of the game. Can you tell us a little about how you arrived at your game's distinct visual style?
BT: Tim Burton not so much, but Edward Gorey very much. Tim Burton is just a mix of Dr. Seuss and Edward Gorey, so we have similar influences and like the same things - Halloween, Christmas, old movies, etc. My main influences are the Brothers Hildebrandt, Chuck Jones cartoons, and Edward Gorey. The Hildebrandt influence is how I paint light and use colour. Edward Gorey influenced my character designs and mood, while the crazy cartoons done by Chuck Jones at Warner Bros. Studio influenced how I draw shapes and environments. Peter De Seve, a great illustrator for New Yorker magazine is an influence on me as well. The AVS style is just the next step from the style Larry Ahern and I developed for The Curse of Monkey Island, but here in this game I have the freedom to do what I want, to paint in a more realistic style; though I really love the wacky shapes and cartoony look from CMI.
Pro-G: Inexplicably, point-and-click adventures have faded out of popularity in recent years. Why do you think this is?
BT: Well the PC tech allows for more variety in games. Before you really had only a few choices. Now you have RTS, FPS, MMO, RPG, simulations, etc. Like independent films, adventure games are still popular but they are not the only meal on the menu. Plus I think adventure games suffered from a talent and tech drain. I think a lot of the talented people who would have been working on adventures games moved on to the bigger genres. Like all the people who worked on those old adventure games at LucasArts. They all loved adventure games, but they got lured away by bigger budgets and careers in movies or wanted to try new game genres. Tim Schafer created Psychonauts; Peter Chan works on movies; Sean Clark on casual games; Hal Barwood made two actions games; Paul Mica, Anson Jew and Steve Purcell are all in movies. Even I was dragged into making action games for about eight years, but I wasn't happy working on Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings or Guild Wars. They were all cool projects but I like cartoon animation, comedy and I like games, so making adventure games pretty much suites me perfectly.
Pro-G: What do you think of other recent adventure games, like the episodic Sam and Max or Bone? Are you a fan?
BT: Yes and no. I love the fact they are making comedic adventure games and they are doing a great job of promotion. But I wish the games were hand painted or like the ones Peter Chan, Bill Eaken, Steve Purcell and I did, or fully rendered like Grim Fandango was. I like that better than real time 3D environments. Their engine has really neat capabilities too.
But the games themselves are fun and funny from what I have played of them. I haven't played them all because of how busy I am currently and plus I want to buy them all at once when they come out on CD. I prefer CD software to downloadable software. Bone the comic I am not fan of, though I have read a few, but the Sam and Max comics are some of the funniest I have ever read. So I look forward to playing them once production on my game is done.
Pro-G: A Vampyre Story mixes both 2D and 3D visuals. Isn't it time the adventure game just went to 3D?
BT: Yes and no. There is no need to do real-time 3D environments that I can think of. I think the way of Grim Fandango, Syberia, and Runaway is the best way to do it. The only reason to have real-time 3D environments is to have action oriented gameplay. I have to be honest, I hate driving my character around in a real-time environment, like in Grim Fandago. I appreciate Tim Schafer's attempt to get rid of the interface and use Manny Calavera as the interface, but I spent too much of my time just trying to navigate in that game and not enough time solving puzzles. Point and click is the only way to go in my opinion. Real-time 3D is really unnecessary.
We went with 3D animation and character to take advantage of what 3D can do such as particle effects, parallaxing, real-time lighting, UV scrolling. Why not take advantage of that 3D card sitting in everyone's PC to make the games look better? But also at the same time keep what made the games look great in the past: good 2D art whether painted or pre-rendered like Syberia or Grim Fandango.
Don't get me wrong, I love real-time 3D games, but only for first person shooters and RPGs, not pure adventure games.
Pro-G: With the Wii's perfect interface for the genre, are there any plans to bring A Vampyre Story to any console formats?
BT: I would love to see AVS on the Wii. Crimson Cow has the right to do it, so it is up to them. I am sure they would do it if they thought it made financial sense and enough Wii owners wanted it. So I am hopeful.
Pro-G: Do you have a release date for A Vampyre Story yet?
BT: Again, that would be a question for Crimson Cow. I would love it to be around this Christmas, but game production is a very complex process so I hate to make promises. Plus some territories have different release dates so I can't say for sure. But we are aiming to get it done this year, late autumn.
Pro-G: Thanks for your time.