Friday, 30 November 2012

What's Your Story? - Zenic Reverie

It just seems fitting that while Chet and I share our experiences of playing through Hero's Quest at the same time, that the new What's Your Story post celebrates yet another chronoblogger (did I make that up or is it already in use?). Zenic Reverie is not only an active part of the Adventure Gamer community, he also has his own blog called The RPG Consoler. It's time to find out more about the man and what drives him to do this crazy thing we do...

My home country is… USA, the California part.

My age is… 31ish

The first adventure game I played was… probably a text adventure: Adventure, Quest, or Zork; whatever my dad was playing at the time, I suspect I banged on the keyboard enough to enter a command or two myself. I think the first adventure game I played on my own was Space Quest, but I didn't get very far.

I played Zork for the first time a couple of years back. Still enjoyable today!

When I’m not playing games I like to… play games ;)... board games, card games, whatever games. Life is a game. I like many things, but mostly games, puzzles, and learning. I like learning so much that I often forget things just to learn them all over again. ;)

I like my games in (a box, digital format)… I prefer to have a manual to read while I'm away from the game, or to look up a quick reference while my game is paused. For the game itself I don't mind if I have a physical copy or not.

My favourite adventure game is… Simon the Sorcerer for its ability to bring such joy to me and my siblings. A lot of the jokes from that game became inside jokes between us. My sister will probably never see this, but LANTBUNZ! (Rot13+mirrored for Trickster's'll know it when you get there).

Lantbunz!!!! Hahahahaha!!!

The thing I miss about old games is… What's there to miss? Most of them are readily available. Probably the thing I miss most is the time to play them. Something about playing old games back when they were new gave the impression of having all the time in the world to enjoy them.

The best thing about modern games is… I'm not sure. I don't play many modern games. I don't think I have a good comment here.

The one TV show I never miss is… How I Met Your Mother. I like a dose of levity to go with life.

I hear about this show a lot, but tend to avoid sitcoms. What makes this one different? Is that Willow?

If I could see any band live it would be… The Beatles. Closest I ever got was watching The Yellow Submarine.

My favourite movie is… hard to pick, but here's a few I could stand to re-watch: Memento, Frailty, American Psycho, Se7en, and the Usual Suspects... I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting.

Frailty: It seems we have similar taste in movies Zenic. I'm also attracted to the dark and the disturbing.

One interesting thing about me is… I'm deranged enough to think I can play through all console RPGs ;). I had the idea of playing through all console RPGs prior to learning of Chet and Trickster, but their dedication strengthened my resolve to catalog my efforts. Maybe I'll do something interesting someday.

If anyone else wants to send their answers and get 20 CAPs, please send them to

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Game 26: Hero's Quest - Magical Memorable Moments...and Meeps

The Trickster Journal Entry 3: "I have not yet managed to solve any further quests, but I have met many strange characters and explored to the very edges of this land. I'm not sure I have ever met someone like 'Enry the 'Ermit, but he was certainly a friendly and accomodating fellow, if a little smelly. And who would have thought little colourful creatures that live underground could be so damn happy!? I haven't found much use for the meeps yet, but spending time with them was still a rewarding experience. Oh, and then there's the Dryad, whom I came across after following a beautiful white stage. I can't help but want to help that nature loving being, but the glowing they offered as a reward is extra motivation. This is a magical land indeed, and a perfect place to become a Hero!"


With Chet screaming towards the end of the game already, I’m afraid I’ve just had to accept that I’ll be playing Hero’s Quest for at least a week after he’s done with it. What this little experiment has proved once and for all is that Chet is a much more natural writer than me, able to crank out posts quickly after putting in numerous hours of play. I’d be very interested to hear from him about what he considers his play to post time ratio to be, as I often find myself putting about three hours work into a post that covers as little as one hour playtime. I guess my occasional non-game related ramblings (like this one right here) don’t help, so I’d best get on with the show. Right, where were we? That’s right! I’d just returned the healer’s ring to her, completing my first job from the Guild Hall in the process. With that done, it was time to continue exploring the map.

One quest down, five to go!

The next location of significance was the Baron’s castle, which turned out to be quite close to Spielburg. On arrival, I immediately set about asking the guard at the castle gates about all the jobs on the bulletin board. The first one I asked about was the missing girl Elsa, and he told me about the day a large winged creature flew over the castle walls and took her. Many searched for her, but she was never found. The Baron even sent troops to Baba Yaga’s hut, thinking she was somehow involved, but their heads now sit atop her fence. Apparently Elsa would now be eighteen years old and was renowned for being very beautiful, which makes her a prime candidate for Heroic rescuing! (5 points)

Eighteen you say! Can you describe her again for me?

The next subject I questioned the guard on was the Brigand Warlock, but he didn’t seem to know much about him. All he had to say was that “he seems to use more magic potions and powders than spells”. He was a little more forthcoming about the Brigand Leader, who he described as a good strategist that has led many raids, resulting in much treasure and little loss on the part of the brigands. Finally, I asked the guard about the Baronet Barnard von Spielburg, and was informed that the Baronet rode off one morning, and that his horse returned riderless with large claw wounds. None of this information gave me much clue as to what my next move should be, apart from the mention of Baba Yaga, yet there was no certainty that she did indeed have anything to do with Elsa’s disappearance.

I truly hope they do not flee. That would merely extend their lives by a matter of hours.

At this stage I hadn’t even considered entering the castle grounds, and assumed I would be required to prove myself in some way before being permitted entry. I thought I would just try typing “open gates” before I left though, and was surprised when the guard simply allowed me through (1 point). Once inside, I began checking out the grounds, starting with the stables. The description of the stables suggested that they “could use some cleaning up”, and remembering a comment made by Ilmari recently about cleaning the stables in Hero’s Quest, I tried doing it. The stable master gave me a rake, and I then watched as my character cleaned up at high speed, occasionally stopping to catch his breath. Once it was complete, I was rewarded with five silvers and sent on my way (5 points). I didn’t appear to be able to enter either the barracks or the castle proper (both were guarded), so I left the castle for now and ventured forth into the forest.

Surely this is not what being a Hero is all about!? Is it!?

To give you an idea of how fun Hero’s Quest is to play, between the castle and the next major location, I came across two completely useless yet entertaining occurrences. Firstly, I stumbled upon a large empty log, which looked exactly like the sort of log that would definitely contain an item of importance in a King’s Quest game. When I typed “look in log” though, I was the told that “The hollow log looks somberly back with it’s single giant eye and you know at once that nothing is to be gained by investigating this gaunt relic of a more vertical past.” It’s silly stuff indeed, but it’s the sort of self-parodying humour that I really enjoy. The next screen south had a nicely reflective body of water (1 point), and while I was looking around to see if there was anything to interact with, a submarine periscope slowly drifted towards me. I looked at it and was told that “It must be your imagination. What would a submarine be doing in a fantasy adventure? Perhaps you’d rather be playing ‘Code Name: Iceman – it has a submarine.” Ironically, I enjoyed this piece of advertising more than the entirety of the game it was promoting!

Please don't remind me of Codena...I can't even say it yet. It's too soon!

I couldn’t find anything to do at the water, but I did notice that there was a doorway in the cliff face in the distance. I made my way north and then east until I was standing in front of the door, and had memories of trying to reach it as a kid. There was no ladder or stairs up to the doorway, and since I had no climbing skill, I was really struggling to see how I could possibly get there. Since the solutions to most problems involving climbing so far have involved throwing rocks, I thought I would try to “throw rock at door”. It worked, and the rock made a large thud as it bounced off the wooden door. Nothing happened though, so I did it again, and then again. After the third rock hit the door, a voice called out from inside. “Is someone there?” I answered “yes”, after which a strange hairy creature emerged from within. “Oh, ‘ello. Come right up. Just climb the ladder.” Ladder? What ladder? Shortly after the hairy dude walked back inside, the image of a ladder appeared briefly in the centre of the cliff face, so I climbed it.

Don't mind if I do!!

Feeling pretty good about myself, I knocked on the door and waited to be let in. The door flung open and knocked me off the ledge, meaning I had to make my way back up there. This time I knocked, quickly got myself out of the way (1 point), and then entered (5 points). As expected, the home within the cliff was a dark and dingy abode, but the creature living there didn’t seem to mind. He enthusiastically introduced himself as “Enry the ‘ermit”, and explained that he was the last in a long line of hermits. He then just stopped talking to me, so I began asking him questions about the various characters I was trying to find. He had nothing to say about the majority of them, but he did respond to my questions about the Brigand Warlock. “E’s not so bad. Got a good sense o’ ‘umor, ‘e ‘as. I get the giggles just to think of ‘im. ‘E’s come by at times to chat. Borrowed the mirror wot I borrowed from Erasmus ‘e did.”

Just as well! No-one likes a hermit that hasn't earned his position!

A mirror you say! I asked for more information about the mirror and got “A magic mirror of reflection, it was. If you use it, when a nasty spell was cast at you, it was wot sent it back at the one wot cast it. Do un to others, I sez.” The mirror sure sounds like something I should get my hands on, but I’m guessing I need to find the Warlock first. I then asked Enry about Erasmus and found out they were friends. Nothing much else he said about the wizard or his rat Fenrus seemed all that valuable, but he did conclude by stating “’E loves to play ‘is games, ‘e do.” I began wondering whether my way to get Erasmus to actually talk to me was to play some sort of game with him, but I couldn’t think of anything I’d seen so far that would assist on that front. Finally, Enry suggested he had a scroll containing the trigger spell he used on his uninviting door trap, but he wouldn’t give it to me due to me “’avin too little magic for it to be any use to you.”

Another fantastically memorable character is ol' Enry!

It was getting reasonably late in the day by this stage, so I had a sleep on Enry’s hay before leaving the next morning. Apparently it was quite uncomfortable, so I didn’t regain all of my health and stamina points. Still, I set out to continue my lengthy exploration of the land surrounding Spielburg, shortly afterwards coming across a target leaning against a wall. I have memories of throwing daggers at the target, but since I didn’t have any daggers on me, I couldn’t think of anything else to do with it. I tried throwing rocks at it, but they didn’t go anywhere near it, suggesting that wasn’t its purpose. A couple of screens later I was confronted by an Antwerp. I was unable to talk to it or interact with it in any way that I could see, and I died as soon as I touched it, so I restored and decided to come back to it later. This is just another case of where I clearly remember a particular scene in the game, but I have no recollection of what I’m supposed to do there.

I can't for the life of me remember what the antwerp has to do with anything.

That wasn’t the case when I came across a white stag that wandered away as soon as I approached it. I distinctly recalled following the stag to some special location, so that’s exactly what I did. A couple of screens later we appeared in front of a large tree, with the game suggested “there is something special about this place.” As I studied the oak, a figure suddenly emerged from it, announcing the following: “I am the Dryad, keeper of the woods. Are you one with the woods?” I could only answer “yes”, as replying in the negative didn’t seem to be the right answer. “Then you shall aid me, and I shall aid you in your quest. Bring me a seed from the Spore Spitting Spirea of the North that I may plant it elsewhere in order to preserve these rare and magical plants. Thus will you become a true friend of the forest.” (1 point) The Dryad then reconnected with the tree, leaving me to ponder how I was going to get that seed!

The Dryad scene is yet another example of Lori's ability to create memorable, beautiful scenes. Love it!

I felt like I was getting close to fully mapping out the play area, so I pushed on. The next noteworthy occurrence was a ring of mushrooms I found in a clearing. The healer had mentioned that she would pay me for magic mushrooms, so I collected some on my way through (3 points). I then hit the left side of the map, and found myself in the Meeps’ Peep! How could anyone forget these cute and colourful little critters!? They popped up and down from their holes like those puppets you have to hit with hammers at fairgrounds. I talked to them (1 point), at which stage they disappeared beneath the ground for a while to have a conversation. Eventually one popped back up and said “Hiya, hiya. Pleased to meetcha. We are happy Meeps, living in our happy holes. Don’t worry. Be happy!” I asked the meep about all sorts of topics, but it was only when I asked about magic that he responded with “Oh, you want a magic spell scroll? I think I have a magic spell scroll somewhere around here.” Strangely though, he didn’t seem to be able to find it, leaving me wondering whether he didn’t give it to me because of my lack of magic, or whether I need to try again later.

Can I share some of your stash? It must be really good!

The next interesting location also brought back memories! When I walked into a fairly innocuous patch of greenery, I soon began noticing movement in numerous parts of the screen. A helmet was showing above some rocks and then a bush started moving on its own, with some horns sticking out the top. Soon afterwards goblins started moving around in all the places that I wasn’t standing, yet none of them seemed to be all that interested in me. I saved my game and then chased after one of the buggers, entering the combat screen when I caught it. As usual, I lost over half of my hit points defeating him, but I was treated to a rather humorous heroic bow after I flung his dead body upon the wall of stones. I recall piling up quite a few goblin bodies on that wall when I was younger, but I don’t know whether that actually achieved anything. For now, since I simply wouldn’t survive multiple battles, even if they were with pesky goblins, I moved on.

You ain't seen nothin' yet!

There were two further places that I visited to complete my map, with the first one being the hut of Baba Yaga! There’s no forgetting the house that has chicken legs behind a fence covered in glowing eyed skulls, particularly with the eerie music that accompanies it. I’m pretty sure I remember the phrase that will make the house sit down, but since I can’t possibly know it yet in this game, I’ve not said it. I also assume that the glowing gem that Brauggi the giant has will be used with the skull, but I’m not completely confident about that. Last of all I paid a visit to the local graveyard. The obvious focus on the screen was the red root sticking out of the ground, but when I picked it up, the game informed me that I was going about it the wrong way. I can only think that I need to collect the root at night, and will test that theory during my next session.

Who came up with this? A crazy, crazy idea!

Right, I’ve finally finished mapping out and then describing the entire game area of Hero’s Quest. All that’s left to do now is to try to solve the game's puzzles and therefore complete the numerous quests assigned to me. I expect things to move quite quickly now, unless I get really stuck somewhere. Probably the most obvious things that I can do next are to give lots of apples to Brauggi to retrieve the gem, and then try to get the seed from the spitting plants to take to the Dryad. I’ll pay another visit to Spielburg too and see if I can purchase anything that might assist me with any of the puzzles at hand. I’m really excited to get moving, so I’ll finish up here and report back my progress in a few days time. I hope you’ll join me!


Session Time: 1 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've written a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Game 26: Hero's Quest - Mapping Out the Path to Heroism

The Trickster Journal Entry 2: “I have explored much of this foreign land, making friends and fighting monsters on the way. I have gained more questions than answers so far, but have managed to solve the first quest on the bulletin board in the Guild Hall. I returned the healer’s ring to her, which I discovered just metres away from her home, in a nest in her oak tree. I’m yet to come across the castle gates to get more information about the remaining quests, but it’s sure to be around here somewhere. How hard can it be to find a castle!? Oh, and I beat my first goblin today! It was harder than I expected, which is a bit concerning for future battles with dragons and the like, but maybe this goblin was just a particularly good fighter. must be that!”

The Trickster panicked as soon as he left the town gates, remaining frozen for over 24 hours

I’ve been putting in quite a bit of thought around how best to post about Hero’s Quest. The game is extremely open, and by that I mean that a lot of it can be solved in any order you choose to attack it. The layout of screens is also quite large when compared to other open games that I’ve played so far. To give you an idea of just how big, I have already mapped out 63 screens, and that’s not including the town of Spielburg. However, many of these screens contain nothing more than forest, which is just as well, as it gives the player the feeling that they are traversing a fairly large area of land. What I don’t want to end up doing though is writing a post that repeatedly describes my position on the map (“I then travelled east two screens then north three”. Since the position of locations is fairly irrelevant, I have decided to focus on the locations that I came across in the order I came across them, regardless of how I got there.

No, I don't expect you to read this. Just admire its beauty!

At the end of my last post, I’d just passed through the town gates into the world at large. I had some pretty strong memories of some of the places that I would come across, but I had no idea which direction any of them were, so I just started walking. The first screen of interest that I came across was a snow-filled area, where a very large man (named Brauggi) was waving an axe around. “Find me some fruit for to mellow my mead horn, gift I will give of a gem that now glows. Jewel from Jotunheim, flare of the frost flame, fetch to me fruit that will fill up my fists!” I so happened to have ten apples that I’d purchased from town, but they were hardly enough to fill Brauggi’s huge hands. Chances are the solution was to go back to town and buy more apples, but I left that task for when I’d mapped out the other locations.

You know what they say about big hands! Big axe!

The next location of interest that I came across was a pathway leading to “Magic Mountain”. Signs kept appearing out of nowhere as I walked towards the path, with the last one announcing that “trespassers will be toad”. Well that certainly didn’t suggest that whoever lived in the pink house on the mountain was particularly accommodating. I couldn’t at all remember who lived up there, so I saved my game and wandered up. At the top of the climb was the pink house, and there was an ugly gargoyle overlooking the entrance. “He who would the wizard see, first must answer questions three.” this seemed familiar! The first question was one that no-one should get wrong. “What is your name?”

Trick or Treating at Magic Mountain often resulted in hardcore drugs

I answered “The Trickster”, and without any sign of whether that was right or wrong, the gargoyle spat out a second question. “What is your quest?” Well I had numerous quests to fulfil that I’d found on the bulletin board in the Guild Hall, but I figured my real quest was to become a Hero. I typed “hero” and hoped for the best. “Whose spell protects the town?” Now this last one probably would have had me stumped if I hadn’t played the game all those years ago. Whenever I’ve thought about the game in the past couple of decades, one of the scenes that had come to mind was Erana’s Peace, with its beautiful scenery and music. Somehow I recalled that it was Erana’s spell protecting the town, and I got the correct spelling from a screenshot of my visit to the magic shop, where Zara had mentioned “the secret of Erana’s Peace”.


After I answered the third question with “Erana”, the gargoyle told me that “the wizard will now see you”, and I walked inside (3 points). Within I found an eclectic mix of colourful oddities, but since the gargoyle had very specifically told me to go straight upstairs, that’s exactly what I did. Upstairs I found the wizard Erasmus sitting at a table drinking tea, and his magical rat Fenrus perched on a shelf eating cheese. I spent a good five to ten minutes trying to talk to both characters, but got very little out of them. They refused to respond to pretty much anything I asked, apart from “ask about warlock”, to which Erasmus responded “the only thing I’ve seen the brigand warlock cast is sneezing powder.” (1 point) Once I’d asked too many questions, Erasmus cast a spell that teleported me back to the bottom of the mountain. I decided to restore back to just before I climbed up, in case I’d done something wrong in the house, then continued exploring.

Common sense please!

A couple of screens later, I arrived at Erana’s Peace! It was just as I’d remembered it, with really pleasant music and a lovely backdrop of snowy mountains. The tree had shimmering colourful fruit on the branches, and there was a large stone on the ground with some writing carved into it. “If thy Will is Magic, so shall I share. Open this Stone and claim what is there.” Given my character class and skills, it doesn’t seem very likely that I’m going to be able to open the stone. I tried typing “open stone”, but the response was “no amount of physical effort will be able to move this stone.” I can’t remember what’s in there, which concerns me a bit. Perhaps I will find another way to open it later? I wasn’t able to pick up the fruit either, as it was too soft and juicy, so I just ate a bit instead (2 points).

If thy will is Combat, so shall I share. Smash open this Stone and take what is there. No?

I checked what time of day it was and discovered it was nearly dark, so I lay down to sleep beneath the tree, awakening refreshed the next morning. Sleeping recovers valuable health and stamina points, and night-time is also a pretty dangerous time to wander out in the forest. Speaking of dangerous, the next screen of note that I came across contained an extremely repulsive pink ogre coming at me at speed. I tried running around him to avoid combat, but wasn’t able to. So it was that I had my first battle in Hero’s Quest, and it just happened to be with a huge, impossible enemy. Not the best way to describe the fighting mechanics of the game, but I guess the outcome of the fight is irrelevant.

Aaaaagggghhhh!!!!! What the hell is that? Aaaaaaagggghhhh!!!!! No, seriously dude, what is that!!!!???

The fighting screen is pretty straight-forward really. The player has hit points and stamina points displayed on the left, and the enemy has hit points on the right. The player can block hits with the shield by hitting the down arrow, dodge from side to side with the left and right arrow keys, and stab with the up key. Sound simple? Well I’m not sure if it’s my characters low skill or my own personal lack of skill, but I’ve found defeating all but the weakest of enemies to be next to impossible so far. Dodging and blocking is a matter of lucky timing, and my attacks do so little damage compared to my enemies, meaning the game over screen appears before I can cause any significant flesh wounds. I’ve been a bit reluctant to slow the speed of the game right down, but if I continue to get crushed time and time again, I’ll revert to cheating. As you’ve probably figured by now, the ogre killed me in a matter of seconds, and I restored back to waking up at Erana’s Peace, vowing to find out what was hidden in the ogre’s cave at a later time.

Come on! Can't I practice with some rats or something first? At least some goblins or kobolds!

I didn’t have to wait much longer to practice my combat skills, as a few screens later I was set upon by a wandering goblin. I managed to recover some pride by defeating him (1 point), but even he managed to take most of my hit points in the process. Searching the body revealed 6 silver coins, which I pocketed, before moving on. Shortly afterwards I came across some “unusual plants growing out of the side of the cliffs”. They were “spitting” some sort of seed from plant to plant, and I distinctly recalled climbing up the rocks to intercept the seed when I played the game in my youth. That wasn’t going to be an option this time around due to my lack of climbing skill, so I put some thought into how else I might be able to get to it. I couldn’t think of anything to try apart from throwing rocks (which are available to pick up anywhere) at the seed. I threw about ten rocks unsuccessfully before running out of stamina, so I decided to come back to the plants when I had more skill.

I ain't touching anyone's seed!

The next screen of significance contained a centaur, who turned out to be the father of the female centaur in the market. He was tending to the crops that would eventually end up in her store, and I couldn’t get anything out of him apart from information about his fruit (1 point). I left him behind and soon came across a small house with a garden of herbs out front. It brought back clear memories of trying to get the nest out of the tree just in front of it. Before I made any attempt however, I entered the house to speak to the healer that I knew would be within. I asked her about the spell components mentioned on the bulletin board, and she told me I would be paid well for any Cheetaur claws, Troll beard, magic mushrooms, and flowers from Erana’s peace that I could bring her (2 points).

It's time to throw shit again!

After getting more details about each of the items she needed, I then asked her about her lost ring, to which she responded “it is shaped like a braid of the herb Althelas with entwined leaves”. I then asked the healer about the strange winged creature sitting on the top of a cupboard. “Oh, that’s my pet, Pterry, the pterosaur. He has a girlfriend, Pteresa, who has a nest in the oak outside my door.” Reminded of the nest in the tree, I went back outside and began throwing rocks at it (once again I assume those with climbing skill would just climb the tree). It didn’t take long to knock the nest off the branch, and I discovered a glinting object in the remains on the ground. It was the ring (3 points)! Taking the ring back inside, the healer rewarded me with six gold coins, two healing potions, and a big sloppy kiss (10 points). I left before she could show any further appreciation!

I signed up for beautiful damsels, not creepy old healers!

Well, that’s about half of the map I’ve drawn (in excel as usual) covered, but I’ll have to cover the other half in a separate post before really getting down to solving puzzles. I'll try to get that next post out quickly, as I’m super keen to get back to playing the game, mostly because all the exploration is complete, yet the real action is yet to come. It’s probably a good idea to put a screenshot of my character stats at the end of each post. As you can see, the majority of my attributes have gone up, particularly the fighting specific ones. The only skill that has gone up is the throwing one (unsurprisingly), and both my health and stamina maximums have increased also. I’m well on my way to becoming a strong and powerful Hero!

Is the red showing what has increased since I started or just since I last looked? I started with 10 Luck and now there's 15. Hmmmm...

Session Time: 1 hours 00 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 00 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've written a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Game 26: Hero's Quest - With Great Power Comes Great Agility

The Trickster Journal Entry 1: "I have made my way to Spielburg and have registered in the Adventurer’s Guild Hall as a Hero. A good thing I arrived when I did too, as the only entrance to the surrounding area has now been blocked off by snow. I couldn’t leave now even if I wanted to, so I may as well become the Hero I have always wanted to be. Thankfully, there seems to be a real lack of heroism in Spielburg, leaving the Guild Hall bulletin board with numerous jobs for me to sink my teeth into. There’s some true adventuring to be had, including a damsel in distress and an evil villain! There's also some serious coin to be earned, which certainly wouldn't hurt."

I fear nothing! Not even dinosaurs can stop my quest for fame and fortune!

And so the adventure begins! As I suggested in my introduction post, I decided to play Hero’s Quest as a fighter. None of this hybrid bizzo that others speak of! A sword wielding, combat focussed, fighter! Why? I can’t really say exactly why, but I’ve generally always been attracted to the fighter classes, rather than thief or magic user based classes. I guess I just find it much easier to role play a character with a double handed sword in their hands than a lock pick or a staff. Anyway, since this blog makes it all but impossible for me to scratch my RPG itch, it seemed silly to not take the opportunity to put on the armour while I have the chance. Of course choosing the class wasn’t the only decision I had to make. The character creation screen of Hero’s Quest allows the player to tinker with numerous skills and abilities.

I can grin stupidy if I want to. I have a very big sword!

After giving my character a name, I then had fifty points to spend on the above-mentioned stats. I decided to ignore all non-fighter stats, and instead spent the available points to bulk up combat skills and abilities. I added 10 points to Strength, Agility and Vitality, leaving Intelligence and Luck at 10. I then increased Weapon Use from 20 to 30, Parry from 15 to 20, and Dodge from 10 to 15. I left throwing at 10, and Stealth, Pick Locks, Climbing and Magic at 0. Leaving any stat at 0 means you simply cannot use that skill during the entire game, so doing it this way is really going to force me to role play my fighter character. It does concern me that I won’t be able to climb anything though, as I seem to recall using this skill on numerous occasions when I played the game as a kid.  We’ll see if I come to regret my specialisation!

I should be able to take down even the nastiest of foes. Stairs could be a problem though!

With my character created, I entered Spielburg (1 point)! The nostalgia kicked in immediately as I found myself chatting with the town Sheriff (Sheriff Schultz Meistersson) who was seated in front of his office. The Sheriff informed me that the path back up the mountains from whence I had come was now blocked by snow, so any second thoughts about entering this part of the world seeking fame and fortune should be set aside. He also mentioned that monsters were likely trapped this side of the mountains too, so the town could really do with a Hero. Determined to fit that description, I began my exploration of Spielburg! I couldn’t get much more information out of the Sheriff, and any attempts to communicate with his assistant Otto Von Goon were met with “Otto only expresses himself physically”. I moved on...

Hah...danger is my middle name! The...Danger...Trickster!

The first place I checked out was the Hero’s Tale Inn, just to the left of the Sheriff’s office. The Middle Eastern flavoured music and the cat-like character that greeted my entrance were incredibly familiar to me, despite not having played the game for close to twenty years. I promise not to bang on about it constantly, but I’ve found myself pondering how amazing the human brain is a few times already while playing Hero’s Quest. I recognise so much of the environment and music, and while I can’t remember what actually happens over the course of the game, I imagine I’m going to "instinctually" find solutions based on some distant, hazy memory from my youth. Who knows...maybe my choice of character will require me to think about things a different way this time around (I can’t remember what I played as the first time, but I could definitely climb). Anyway, other than sitting down for a meal or getting a room, I couldn’t find anything else to do in the Inn at this stage.

As soon as I figure out what it is that I seek, I shall return here post haste.

I exited and made my way east past the Sheriff’s office, reading the note on the door of the barber shop to find he was out for lunch. As I left the screen, the Sheriff suggested I “don’t drink the Dragon’s Breath” as “not even Otto can drink it”. The next screen was a Market street, containing a dry goods store, a pink house, and a Farmer’s Mart run by a female centaur. I purchased ten apples for a silver piece (3 points), and then entered the dry goods store. Within was a man completely absorbed by a book, and behind him were shelves of items such as canned goods, honey jars and sewing items. I distracted the store owner from his reading, and picking me for the adventurer I am, he mentioned that he had some equipment behind the counter that might be of interest to me (1 point). He had daggers and chain armor for sale, as well as some food and empty flasks.

They be some fine apples you have there m'lady.

The dagger would cost me 20 silvers and the armor would set me back 500. I realised I had no idea how much coin I had in my possession, nor had I even looked at my inventory yet. I found that I was carrying 5 food rations, a broadsword, some leather armor and a shield, as well as the 10 apples I’d purchased outside. I also had 4 gold and 9 silver coins on me, yet I had no idea how many silvers each gold coin was worth. I saved my game and purchased the dagger, simply to confirm my assumption that 1 gold coin equals 10 silver, before restoring. I had no need for the dagger, since I had a sword, and any attempt to purchase the armor were met with “you realise you don’t have enough to purchase this particular item”. I decided not to purchase anything else for now, saving my pennies until needs arose.

500 silvers you say. Well I guess it would be nice to have some...hang on a second! Did you say 500 silvers!?

I’d only visited about four screens so far, but already I was starting to understand why Hero’s Quest is so highly regarded. The descriptions of locations, people and items are entertaining and vivid, and the game has a very polished feel to it. There are stacks of little details, and the parser is capable of responding logically to most reasonable commands. Each character has distinctive and memorable traits, and the conversations are both funny and informative. The creators even appear to have gone to great lengths to make sure the dialogue bubbles don’t cover the important parts of the screen, such as the person you’re talking to. After having forced my way through Codename: ICEMAN in recent weeks, which felt rushed and consistently annoying, Hero’s Quest was already a complete joy to play. I began thinking about which of the next week’s appointments could be cancelled in the back of my mind while I was playing!

Finally! Some enjoyable and charmingly descriptive writing. Thank you Lori!

After exiting the store, I briefly considered entering the pink house. However, examining it revealed that it was likely the Sheriff’s house, and since breaking in wasn’t in character for my fighter, I left it alone. The northwest corner of town contained quite a few doorways, including a Butcher’s Shop, a Bakery, a workshop, and a Tavern, yet both the butcher and the baker appeared to be out fishing. There was also a dark alley to investigate, but I entered the tavern to see if I could garner any information from the patrons within. Within the tavern were two guys playing cards (who were clearly the baker and butcher), a rather ugly man sitting on a chair atop a trapdoor, and a patron sitting at the counter. My attention was drawn to an item sitting beneath one of the stools, so I took a closer look. It turned out to be a piece of paper containing the message “B. – He’s starting to act suspicious. Better save this drop for emergencies. – B.” (2 points)

No true Hero would allow such a blatant example of littering to go unpunished. I demand to know who dropped this!

The message didn’t mean much to me, nor did it trigger any memories. The two B’s could be the butcher and the baker, but I certainly couldn’t recall them playing an important role in the game. I tried talking with the patron, the goon and the gamblers without much success, so I sat at the counter and ordered a drink. None of the drinks on offer sounded appetizing, but since the Sheriff had told me not to have the Dragon’s Breath, I simply had to find out what would happen if I drank it. After saving my game, I purchased one and sank it, smiling as my tough guy character literally dissolved into ashes on the stool. I couldn’t see any way of taking the deadly concoction with me, so I left the tavern for now.

Well as a matter of fact I did, but thanks for caring about my well being.

I wasn’t able to enter the warehouse, so I saved my game and wandered into the dark alleyway. I expected to be attacked by brigands or something, but instead found only a beggar requesting alms for the poor. I gave him a silver coin (1 point) and he gave me some rather obvious advice (don’t take up begging and don’t go out at night). With nothing else to see in this part of Spielburg, I made my way back around past the Sheriff’s office and onto the next screen to the west. Once again there were three buildings of interest on this screen, being the Guild Hall, the Magic Shop, and a house belonging to a little old lady that was asleep in her chair in the front yard. The magic shop had a large eye above the entrance that followed me as I walked around, and while I had no intention of playing around with magic during the game, I entered the shop anyway.

You mean other than the woman sitting right there in front of me?

Inside the Magic Shop were shelves and shelves of magical items, including a toaster oven (electricity hadn’t been invented yet), tinsel and chaff to avoid radar, and numerous other completely useless but humorous things. When I approached the counter, a woman named Zara appeared out of nowhere, introducing herself and her companion Damiano (a winged demon like creature on the shelf). She told me that she had very little for those uninitiated in the ways of magic, but that she did have some spell learning scrolls and enchanted potions that might be of interest. I asked about the scrolls and the potions (1 point), and found that I could purchase Flame Dart, Fetch and Open scrolls, as well as healing, vigor and power potions. None of them were cheap though, so I was going to have to save my pennies if I was going to do business with Zara.

I suppose this spell is off-limits to someone as muscular and handsome as I?

Leaving the Magic Shop for now, I decided it was time to enter the Adventurer’s Guild Hall, trying unsuccessfully to interact with the sleeping old lady in her chair on the way past. The Guild Hall was just as I remembered it, with stuffed monster heads adorning the walls and the Guild Master asleep in front of the fire. I woke him up and began asking him about all the monsters, trying to collect any information from his stories of battle victory that might be useful later (1 point). Most humorously, the Antwerp was slain by two unusual strangers, who on further questioning turned out to be the Two Guys from Andromeda of Space Quest fame. Having got as much out of him as it appeared I was going to get, I walked over to the registration book.

Those guys are like Predators. Travelling from planet to planet, looking for a good fight.

Reading the last entry in the book (4 points) revealed that “Baronet Barnard Von Spielburg killed a Troll near the Flying Falls on this 23 day of Octember” several years ago. Obviously Spielburg has been lacking in the Hero department for quite some time! I registered myself as a Hero in the book (1 point) and moved onto the bulletin board. Looking at the board (6 points) revealed six jobs that needed doing, with a variety of tasks and rewards on offer. I took screenshots of all the jobs, which included finding a missing ring and spell components for the healer, the discovery of a missing girl called Elsa von Spielburg and a missing man called Baronet Barnard von Spielburg, and the capture of the Brigand Warlock and the Brigand Leader. To get more information for the first two jobs, I would need to visit the healer, whereas the guard at the castle gates would offer information about the latter four.

I love getting quests to complete! I have to admit that playing Hero's Quest reminds me of my natural affinity with RPG's.

I asked the Guild Master about all the mentioned jobs and people, gaining snippets of information without anything that seemed crucial.  So, I’ve now given the town of Spielburg a quick once over and have a bunch of jobs to go off and try to complete. I can think of nothing else to do within the walls, so it’s time to venture into the awaiting forest outside (1 point). I have a genuine sense of excitement about what I will find there. It has become clear that I recall little in the way of details after a couple of decades, yet so far the game is living up to the lofty expectations I have for it. I realise I didn’t cover a heck of a lot of ground in this first gameplay post, but as always, the initial posts for each game include much more technical detail than the proceeding ones. We’ll move more quickly from here, and I expect to have the second post up within a day or two.

It's just me and the monsters baby. Be afraid. Be very afraid!

Session Time: 1 hours 00 minutes
Total Time: 1 hours 00 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've written a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Interview: Mark Yohalem and Victor Pflug - Primordia

There have been many things that have caught me by surprise since I started this blog. One of them is that people in the adventure game industry sporadically get in touch with me. I’ve had to ignore (or lightly brush off) some of these connections as I simply don’t have the time or inclination to support every project out there. I’m also conscious of not letting The Adventure Gamer lose its focus, which is to form a cohesive commentary on the chronological history of the genre. However, occasionally my interest is captured, and I can’t help but get on board. That’s the case with Primordia, which is an indie game that celebrates the retro point and click adventure style that we all love here.

The game is developed by Wormwood Studios and will be released by WadjetEye (the company behind other recent adventure games like Gemini Rue and Resonance) in December. The game’s writer, Mark Yohalem, got in touch with me recently to see if I might be interested in playing a media preview of their game. Given how busy I’ve been with Codename: ICEMAN and now Hero’s Quest, I’ve not yet had a chance to play it, but I liked the idea of interviewing Mark and his artistic partner in crime Victor. Mark agreed, not only to answer my questions, but also to answer any questions you guys might have about the game and development in general. Below is the result of that interview (it's long, but offers many insights that I'm sure you guys will appreciate), and it coincides very nicely with Primordia appearing on GOG for pre-order in the last couple of days.

A brief story outline from the website: "What happened to the humans? Set in a post-apocalyptic world strewn with cast-off machines, Primordia tells the story of Horatio Nullbuilt, a stoic robot who values his solitude and independence. Horatio spends his days studying the Book of Man, sparring with his droid companion Crispin, and tinkering with the airship they call home — a peaceful existence that becomes threatened when a rogue robot steals the energy source that the pair needs to survive. When Horatio and Crispin’s search for energy brings them to the dazzling city of Metropol, the simple quest to recover their stolen power core leads to unexpected discoveries about Horatio’s origins and a new understanding of the legendary humans who walked the earth before him."

THE TRICKSTER: What better way to start than finding out who the minds are behind Primordia? Can you reveal a little bit about yourself (and Victor if he’s handy)?

MARK: Like Daredevil, I'm an attorney by day.  By night, I write stories for computer games.  Before Primordia, I worked as a freelancer, primarily for large companies (Bioware, S2 Games, and TimeGate).  I'm a Californian, and I'm married with kids.

VIC: I'm an Australian artist/electronic musician. I'm also into circuit bending. I spent the last ten years practicing illustration and concept art, and I was really into aerosol art before that. My life as an artist feels, at this point, like it was all practice for Primordia.

Daredevil: Mark's alter ego

THE TRICKSTER: Most of the readers of this blog (not all of them of course) are thirty something year old men who have fond memories of growing up playing adventure games. Can you tell us a little bit about the experiences that led to you making a retro point and click adventure game?

MARK: I fall within your "most of the readers" category.  One of my earlier memories is playing King's Quest II with a friend -- or watching him play, anyway.  I remember the perplexity I felt as the parser rejected our repeated efforts to identify the thing on top of the mantelpiece in the elf's house.  (It was porridge, right?)  I also remember utter confusion when the Batmobile came out of the cave.
It wasn't until much later -- when I was about 12 -- that I played Loom and fell in love with adventure games.  One of the things that is staggering about Loom is the scope of the universe relative to the scope of the game.  The manual has all this history of these Guilds that not only don't appear in the game, but don't matter to the game at all.  And you have all these great spells (or weaves, I guess they were called) that never came into play, either.  And the version I had came with this tape-recorded narration that added yet another level of world-building.  At the same time, the game drew upon these deep cultural roots we have -- ones that I didn't even really know, but which still resonated with me as a kid: the Swan Maiden myth; the Greek Fates; Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty; the Emerald City from Oz; and, obviously, Tchaikovsky's  Swan Lake. The game simultaneously feels like an organic extension of the Western mythological canon and a full-formed universe unto itself.

"I played Loom and fell in love with adventure games"

So Loom more or less hooked me, and after that I played lots of point-and-clicks, as well as the parser version of Hero's Quest (now Quest for Glory), which I see is next up on your list. More or less contemporaneously with that, a friend of mine -- who's now a well-regarded professor of machine learning and natural language processing -- introduced me to the awful but awesome Hugo Whodunnit game.  (Does anyone else remember the actual red herring?  We have a shout-out to that in Primordia!)  We beat the game together, and then made a terrible text adventure game called Quentin Questor.  Having knocked out QQ1, we decided to make a graphical sequel that was, I think, set in the Wild West.  We got our moms to take us to the library and got a bunch of books with reference images, traced a few of them, and then gave up a few weeks later.  Ever since then, though, I really wanted to make a graphical adventure game.  It only took me twenty years!  (One of the items in Primordia is a "Quentin Questron LCD monitor" in homage to my misspent youth.)

VIC:  Some of my fondest childhood memories are of playing point and click adventure games with my brother. So yeah, I guess there's a certain nostalgic draw to those games for me. Plus, as an artist, retro adventure games just seem to give me a lot more freedom with the kind of graphics I can make for them, different perspectives for the backgrounds, more diverse animation, low resolution that's a bit faster to produce but still looks good and has a nostalgic draw. I'll take low res over high any day. It just looks pretty to me.

"A friend of mine introduced me to the awful but awesome Hugo Whodunnit game."

THE TRICKSTER: How did Wormwood Studios come about and how did you catch the attention of WadjetEye Games? Have you and Victor known each other for a long time?

MARK: Vic and I met when I answered a random post of his asking for help from a writer.  So we've known each other almost exactly as long as Primordia has been in development: 29 months.  In that time we've exchanged tens of thousands of emails and IMs, but I don't think we've ever actually spoken, owing largely to the time zone difference but also just to the weird nature of Internet collaborations.

Wadjet Eye Games got involved when Dave Gilbert -- i.e., Mr. WEG -- saw the development thread Vic had started on the Adventure Game Studios forums.  Based on the success WEG had with publishing Gemini Rue, Dave was fishing for additional games to publish.  He contacted Vic, and the rest is history!

Gemini Rue really seems to have fueled an adventure game resurgence

THE TRICKSTER: I notice the game is “co-developed” by the two companies. What does that really mean? How much involvement do they have in the design aspects of Primordia?

MARK: I think it's inaccurate to say the game is "co-developed" by Wadjet Eye Games.  More or less, WEG is publishing Primordia and Wormwood is developing it.  WEG's only real development role is finding and coordinating voice actors and the composer, Nathaniel Chambers.  But Nathaniel and the actors are not actually part of WEG; WEG is really just Dave Gilbert and his wife.  That's not to say that WEG hasn't been extremely helpful in coordinating that stuff, manging QA and publicity, and cheerleading us over the finish line.  But in terms of the core development aspects -- concept, art, code, writing, design -- that's all Wormwood's doing.  It's nice to be able to focus on that while Dave does all the dirty work!

Primordia looks really dark, in a good way!

THE TRICKSTER: New games (not necessarily adventure games) are often criticised for valuing explosions over intelligence. Do you think players expect better stories from indie games because the focus isn’t on the shiny for budgetary reasons?

MARK: This question is awesome because, as best I can tell, in order to make the trailers for the game, WEG took every single explosion in Primordia and strung them together into a long animation.  Since WEG knows more about marketing indie games than I do, I guess the inference is that indie players also want explosions?

Also, I'm not sure that indie games necessarily have better stories than corporate games.  In fact, the best game writing I can think of is all from fairly large companies (Lucas Arts, Black Isle, Obsidian, Double Fine, etc.).  The only comparable caliber in indie games that I can think of is in interactive fiction, where writers like Andrew Plotkin, Emily Short, Michael Gentry, and Adam Cadre (to name just a few) have done really excellent work.  But interactive fiction lends itself more easily to virtuoso writing than other games do.  When you look outside that genre, my sense is that indie writing actually tends to be either (a) actually less creative than the best corprate writing or (b) offputtingly arsty-for-art's-sake.  In either case, I think it tends also to be mechanically inferior in terms of the cinematic aspect of writing (timing, brevity, things like that) as well as just basic grammar, punctuation, crap like that.

There's no way that background could be anything but hand-drawn. A dedicated art that gives real depth to the environment.

Now, having been a self-loathing contrarian jerk, let me walk that back a little bit.  I think indie games (and, by this, I mean small-team indie games) -- at least the good ones, obviously there is an endless amount of terrible stuff, much more than with corporate games because anyone with free time and a free engine can make an indie game -- do tend to be better than corporate games in terms of having a "vision."  That's because you have less publisher pressure, less market pressure, and less management pressure, and fewer members of the development team.  Ultimately, Vic and I really only had to compromise to each other.  That means that what you see visually is more or less the vision and execution of one person (Vic) and what you read in the story is more or less the vision and execution of one person (me).  Obviously, Vic and I inspired each other -- his art and ideas affect my writing and vice versa -- but it wasn't like I was trying to manage a team or writers while satisfying a nagging boss or something.

What that means, practically, is that every line of Primordia's story (more or less) and every pixel of its art (more or less) is advancing the core themes of the game.  With a larger team, there's only so much direction you can provide because much of the thematic content of a work of art arise subconsciously.  There's no way I could raise another writer up to have all the same influences and experiences I have, no way Vic could do that for another artist.  If you press us, I can probably explain to you the reasoning behind ever word choice in the script and Vic an probably explain to you the reasoning behind every color choice in every sprite.  But I am 100% sure that I could not have directed another writer to write the lines the way I did because -- in most instances -- it wasn't until I wrote them that I knew what the line had to say.  For me, at least, writing works kind of like John Rawls's "reflective equilibrium": there's a deliberative thematic effort but also a wild creative one, and each one has to be adjusted and checked by the other one.

Anyway, I think "auteurial coherence" (wow, what an obnoxious way of putting it) is why even indie games with relatively minimalist stories -- like, say, Spelunky or Cave Story or Mount & Blade -- nevertheless have a narrative strength to them.  It's imbued in them by the creative process of having a small or even one-person team.

Horatio and his sidekick droid Crispin

THE TRICKSTER: Can Vic give us some insight into how the graphics development process works? Are “hand drawn” backgrounds exactly what they sound like? Does using an engine like AGS make it a reasonably straight forward process, allowing you to focus on art rather than technical challenges?

VIC: Almost all the graphics for Primordia, backgrounds and sprites, start out with a pencil sketch. I scan this and then paint it up using a Wacom tablet and graphical software, so yeah, I think it's pretty much as close as you can get to hand drawn without using entirely traditional mediums. One reason for this method is that I just feel most comfortable sketching and illustrating with pencil on paper. Graphical software is used to colour the scanned linework, as using acrylic or gouache to paint it (as was the case for games like Beneath a Steel Sky) would really take far too long to make it feasible for me. When I paint with traditional mediums, I tends to spend weeks on a single painting, so it just made a lot of sense to meet somewhere in between.

I find AGS is great for giving me a very smooth workflow. I can go from a thumbnail sketch, to pencilled lineart, to a finished and animated background within a day sometimes. That is, if I skip lunch and ignore the telephone. In fact, while working on Primordia, I also made a small game solo using AGS, called Beacon. I made that entire (albeit very small) game in under ten days as a distraction to shake up my creativity a bit. So yeah, the process of making adventure games in AGS can be a very fluid and rewarding process for the relatively technically unskilled, like myself. The beauty of AGS is it allows one to make games that are really only as complex as one would want them to be.

Beneath a Steel Sky - A big influence and a worthy one at that

THE TRICKSTER: I believe the game has voice acting by Logan Cunningham, who also worked on WadjetEye’s Resonance. Are there other voice actors involved and how exactly does the actor selection process work for this sort of thing? Is it simply a matter of saying “I need a deep, commanding voice” and then choosing from a database of hopefuls?

MARK: Lots of other voice actors.  Dozens, I think.  Basically Vic and I would describe the character and try to describe how the voice would sound, and Dave at WEG would offer up possible choices.  We'd pick from those.  Logan was really a serendipitous find because I was having a damned hard time explaining how Horatio (whom he voices) should sound.  I'm not even sure I knew how.  Logan basically just fell into the role.

Logan Cunningham

THE TRICKSTER: You mentioned in your email to me that Gobliiins was an influence on your design. I haven’t played the game personally, but it looks to have a very puzzle-based approach with a high level of teamwork involved in the solutions. Could the same be said for Primordia? What other games do you feel influenced the design?

MARK: The main thing from Gobliiins is the idea of having a "party" of heroes in an adventure game, each with a specific ability that is useful for overcoming certain obstacles.  (I could alternatively have mentioned Zack McKracken for that point, but I think I'd already mentioned that game elsewhere, and I was trying to establish my encyclopedic adventure-game-nerd credentials.)  Primordia is definitely less puzzle-oriented, and even less teamwork-oriented than Gobliiins, but utilizing the various characters' skills is an important part of the game.

The larger influences for me would be Loom, Grim Fandango, and Monkey Island (from an adventure game standpoint) and Planescape: Torment and Fallout (from an RPG standpoint).  Mostly I knew I wanted to tell a story that's not about saving the world, but about achieving the protagonist's personal goal; I wanted it to have a mythical quality to it; I wanted humor; I wanted the sense of a game world that was much larger than the game itself; and, on a brass tacks level, I wanted to have a small set of reused inventory items that functioned similarly to the "drafts" in Loom: so Horatio has a set of tools he gathers throughout the game akin to the drafts in Loom, but without the annoying memorization aspect.

Planescape: Torment: Stupendously awesome game!

THE TRICKSTER: A lot of adventure games these days have very linear progression, whereas retro games from the early days were often more open, giving the player choice on where they go first and in what order they attack things. What end of the spectrum have you taken and do you feel really effective storytelling and open puzzle progression can co-exist?

MARK: While I'd love for Primordia to be more non-linear, the truth is that I think we fall far short of the classic games.  At most, I would say we might have four or five puzzles triggered simultaneously.  It's almost never just one.  But if you look at games like King's Quest I through V -- there you could basically go anywhere in this huge world, and there must have been dozens of active puzzles.  You couldn't always advance in them, but they were there.

For several reasons, we can't reach that level.  One reason is just a resources issue.  As prodigious as Vic's talent is, one artist doing painterly scenes simply cannot create the amount of content that a classic Sierra or Lucas Arts game has.  When there is less geographic space, linearity is more likely to occur simply because there is an upper limit to the amount of puzzle density you can have.  Another reason is that I believe we have a stronger narrative component than the King's Quest games, which really were pretty much a series of thematically and narratively disconnected puzzle episodes.  A third reason is a judgment call, but I think gamers -- myself included -- simply don't have the constitution to play really open games like that anymore, except for sandbox-type games.  For example, I just read a negative review of the second Deponia game on Rock Paper Shotgun, a site that I consider pretty hardcore in terms of liking classical game design, that criticized it for having too much openess and freedom.  Having been corrupted by more directed games, I lack the willpower to design a more open one!

All that said, Primordia's not a game on rails like, say, Dreamfall.  There is never a point in the game where there is just one thing for you to do, except right as you approach the three chokepoints in the game (like the chapter ends in Grim Fandango, though there is no comparable break in the action). I do think that a certain kind of story-telling can fit with open puzzle progression: a story that is about environmental discovery (like Myst) or one that is very focused on the protagonist without much regard for the world around him.  For example, you could have an open-puzzle adventure game based on a Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or The Fly scenario, where the player can pursue any number of avenues trying to cure his condition.  The drama of the story comes from the protagonist himself, so it doesn't matter what order he approaches the puzzles.

Clarity: Do I sense some Giger influence Vic?

THE TRICKSTER: The story presses a lot of buttons for me, being a tale of friendship in a post-apocalyptic world, filled with very dark imagery. Beneath a Steel Sky and WALL-E both come to mind, which is a mix I’m willing to go with. Is the story something you’ve been toying with for a while or did it all come together to match Vic’s visual style?

MARK: A little of both, really.  I'm a mass consumer of influences, and the influences from Primordia were already churning inside me before Vic brought me on board.  The book The Road, a poem called "The Inheritors," Planescape: Torment, WALL-E -- all these things, along with projects I'd mulled but never developed -- were in place before I saw a brushstroke of Vic's artwork.  But once I saw his art, everything became filtered through that.  Vic also had a basic framework for the game already in place, and I more or less stuck to that.  (Two robots who live in a crashed airship going to a big city.)

WALL-E: So much more than a kids movie

What's pretty remarkable is that I threw out an outline of the themes and basic plot of the story maybe a week into our collaboration, and the game came together almost exactly as planned (from a narrative standpoint).  It's very rare for me to have an idea emerge so completely so quickly, which makes me think that Primordia's key story elements had been building inside me for a while.  Also, working with a really good artist helps give concrete form to your ideas in a way that writing words on paper never can (at least for me).

One thing I'd urge on people trying to design games is to look outside of games for inspiration.  (I wrote an Escapist article called "A Childhood in Hyrule" about this, under a nom de plume.)  My own view is that games, at their best, remind us not of other games but of experiences we wish we had because of things other than games.  A space-opera game that captures the feeling of, say, Star Wars is worth more to me than one that recreates the feel of Star Control II, even though Star Control II is one of my all-time favorite games.

Editor's Choice no less Mr...ahem...O'Hale

THE TRICKSTER: Can you give the readers some insight into the world of making an indie game? How many man hours do you have to throw at it? What are some of the biggest challenges those interested would likely face?

VIC: I can't really answer for anyone but myself here, but I found there was a pretty steep cost to make a game of the calibre and length of Primordia. A lot of the asset creation was a blast for me, as I love painting, but there were many, many hours of hard work involved that were just that: hard work. I'm not sure what challenges others may face when making a game, but for me the greatest challenge was to stay true to my vision for Primordia.

MARK: As I mentioned, it's been 29 months since we started.  About six or seven months in, James Spanos, the coder, jumped on board too.  I don't think any of us worked "full time" (i.e., eight hours a day, five days a week) for any prolonged stretch, but I would say that we were all putting in at least four hours a day of serious work every day of the week.  (I'm really just speaking for myself; Vic may say otherwise!)  So I would conservatively estimate that we're looking at something like 9,000 man hours for a game that probably will take well less than 9 hours to play through, even if you're very diligent.  And that's not including the time Nathaniel Chambers (the composer and audio guy) spent, or that Dave at WEG spent inserting voice over, or that the voice actors spent recording lines.

The fact is, any game that relies on hand-made content will take a very long time.  It doesn't matter if it's a text adventure, a run 'n gun, or a jRPG.  And the amount of time it takes will be something like five times what you expect.

The darkness gives great opportunity for cool lighting effects

The biggest challenge, other than the sheer amount of time and work involved, is psychological.  Precisely because it takes so much time and work, by the time you're halfway through a medium-length project, you're much better at game design, writing, art, whatever, than you were when you started.  It's hard not to be somewhat disappointed by, if not disgusted with, your prior work.  And it's hard to look forward to the finish line because it's so far ahead.  It seems easier to throw everything out and start over or just give up.  And even if you get over that hurdle, as you get close to the end, there's another terrible moment when you realize that you will never be able to get the game quite right -- there's no time, the technology you're using is inadequate, too much effort was invested already in approaches that cannot possibly yield your dream game.  There, again, it's easy to lose spirit.

I guess the main lesson I've learned is that you have to finish things.  For a long time I just tried to make big games, and never finished them.  I got in a habit of abandoning projects, and -- for me -- habits are hard to kick.  Eventually I switched to just writing fiction, particularly short stories.  But even then I kept not finishing them.  Then I started finishing, and kept finishing, and even if most of those stories are terrible, they're done.  And the habit of finishing bad stories gave me the will to finish better ones.

It really must be amazing to see your story play out onscreen.

THE TRICKSTER: If you don’t mind me asking, is there any serious money to be made creating old school point and click adventures, or is it really just a labour of love?

VIC: For me, it's a labour of love that I hope makes enough money to allow me to keep making full-length games.

MARK: I think there is money to be made if, but only if, you are exploiting someone else!  (I say this only half in jest.)  As I said above, Wormwood sunk something like seven man-years into Primordia (which is just about the same as for Resonance).  Based on my crude estimates, I think the best we can hope for is a yield of about $28,500 per person per year, which is just about the average personal income in the United States.  It's also less than the average entry-level designer, artist, or coder makes at a game company.  A more realistic estimate is probably something less than $10,000 per person per year, well below the poverty line.

Now, if you have a team where the royalties’ distribution is really uneven -- like the team leader gets 80% and the rest of the team splits 20% -- or you're talking about a publisher or portal, then somebody might be making decent money.  But only because other people are working for an unreasonably low price!  So, ultimately, the system only works if game-making is primarily a labor of love for at least some of the folks in the production line.

That said, two things could make it more profitable.  First, if we kept making adventure games, I suspect we could shorten our development cycle.  Probably we could get it down to something like five man-years a game.  Second, if we could sell to portable devices (something that I think is plausible in the near future), I think we might be able to grow the revenue stream.  Between these, maybe we could double profits?  But, candidly, I can't say that I'd enjoy working full-time to endlessly churn out point-and-click adventures, even if it yielded $50,000 a year.  I'm not sure I could generate creatively satisfying projects fast enough to keep myself busy, and I'd rather dip my toe into other genres.

We helped get Hero-U across the line on Kickstarter. Lets help Mark and Victor get Primordia greenlit on Steam!

THE TRICKSTER: You must be very excited at the prospect of your game being released in under a month. Is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers before we hand over to them to ask you questions of their own?

MARK: This is utterly shameless, but if you're interested in Primordia, please vote for us on Steam Greenlight ( and consider pre-ordering the game (  This is a labor of love, but I wouldn't mind an extra-large Christmas turkey.

VIC: Excited, yes. Anything more to say, no, but I'd be happy to answer some of your readers’ questions should they have any for me.

Got anything you want to ask Mark or Vic? The microphone is yours!