Joe Pearce interview
I was ecstatic this summer to receive an e-mail from Joe Pearce, informing me that his company Wyrmkeep Entertainment had re-released the classic adventure game Inherit the Earth. Being one of this game's biggest fans, I had always thought it was sad how it seemed to fly under everyone's radar. Thankfully, it's been given a second chance, and Joe Pearce was kind enough to sit down with me and answer some questions.
What role exactly did you play in the production of the original Inherit the Earth, and when roughly was it released?
I was one of the founders of the game's development company, The Dreamers Guild Inc. Robert McNally (another founder) and I came up with the basic premise of creating an adventure game involving anthropomorphic animals set in a post-human world. I also provided some general design ideas and programming support, but through most of the Inherit the Earth development I was working on a port of The Legend of Kyrandia to the Macintosh. (The Dreamers Guild started out as a porting house.)
Inherit the Earth was released in 1994, first on floppies for DOS, then on CD-ROM for DOS (with voice-overs), and finally on CD-ROM for 68K Macintosh. There was also a German language release for DOS and the Amiga produced independently of The Dreamers Guild, but I don't have much information on those versions.
Was Inherit the Earth the first adventure game you were involved with the development of?
That depends on whether one considers The Faery Tale Adventure to be an adventure game or an RPG. I suggested some of the design changes that were made for the Sega Genesis release of The Faery Tale Adventure. Inherit the Earth would be the first "Sierra-style" adventure game I helped develop.
Was the story for Inherit the Earth inspired by the fiction of Brian Jacques, or any other writers, or was the idea to use animals a completely original thought?
Brian Jacques, no. I don't know if any of the other designers of the game might have read Redwall. From what I have read from interviews of Brian Jacques, I would say that I and the other designers of ITE where inspired by the same literature as him. Books like Wind in the Willows, Chronicles of Narnia, etc
Were there any adventure games you were especially a fan of that you were trying to emulate in Inherit the Earth?
The King's Quest series. One of the ITE designers worked on King's Quest 4.
Describe the commercial viability of an adventure game at the time you began development of Inherit the Earth. Was designing an adventure game an easy decision at that point, or was it against conventional wisdom?
Adventure games were still fairly common when we started development in 1992, so it wasn't a risky decision at that time. And The Dreamers Guild was involved in develop two other adventure games after ITE: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream and Dinotopia. And although I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream won some awards, it didn't sell really well; and I'm sure the downturn in viability of adventure games contributed to the lack of sales.
Was there difficulty in selling Inherit the Earth to a publisher?
Most of the publishers we talked to liked the idea, but most were concerned that they couldn't market it properly. New World Computing's association with Broderbund made them seem like a good choice as a publisher. Unfortunately, by the time the game shipped, NWC had changed affiliation to Electronic Arts, and EA had been one of those publishers that told us they thought they couldn't market the game!
How commercially successful was Inherit the Earth?
Not very. If NWC had stayed with Broderbund things might have turned out better, but you can never know.
When all was said and done, did you feel like you told the entire story you had wanted to tell in Inherit the Earth?
The primary story got told and all the basic themes are in the game, but the tone may have lost something of its edge as the game became more tailored for a younger audience.
Can you give any examples of how the game was modified from the original design to be tailored towards a younger audience?
It has been so long that I am unable to pinpoint any particular change, and I no longer have the material that was written early in the project to compare against. I just remember some of the original material being a little grittier, and that others that worked on the game have made similar comments.
Had the slightly more edgy tone that you referenced been maintained, would the game really be a completely different game? Or would it just be a series of minor modifications?
It would have been similar enough as many of the themes would have been the same.
Was Inherit the Earth written with the idea for possible sequels in mind?
Yes. There are obviously a lot of unexplained things in the game that would be revealed in sequels: What happened to humanity? Did the villain survive his fate in the ending? Will the Boar-Elk hostility escalate? The one thing I don't personally like is the last scene about the Orb of Storms. I really don't what the sequel to be "Quest for the Orb II" -- been there, done that.
In retrospect, are there any major aspects of Inherit the Earth that you wish you could have changed?
I dislike the fact that the game becomes more linear after the encounter with Prince. I would prefer that there to have been more choices of things to do later in the game.
(Turn the page for more!)
I've always thought the voices in ITE are very well-done: were any sort of professional voice actors used, or is it in-house work?
I believe they were all professional actors or voice actors. I can't say for sure because all the recording was done at New World Computing's offices. I do occasionally hear the same actors doing voices in cartoons, etc.
It seems to me that foxes are generally portrayed as villains in stories with anthropomorphic characters. Why the decision to make the hero a fox?
Talin wanted to give each tribe in the game a stereotype, and then have individuals that refute those stereotype. For example, foxes are seen by other tribes as cunning thiefs, but Rif isn't a thief (but he is cunning). The various wild cat tribes tribes are considered blood-thirsty barbarians, by the cheetah huntress is actually a vegaterian.
Who is this Talin?
David "Talin" Joiner was another founder of the Dreamers Guild, the director and co-designer of Inherit the Earth, creator of the hit Amiga game "The Faery Tale Adventure", and generally an interesting person. He is still in the game biz, and his web site is https://www.sylvantech.com/~talin.
What was the eventual fate of Dreamers Guild?
Even thought the Dreamers Guild ported or created 16 published titles, the company was always living hand-to-mouth. Delays in finishing the online titles the company was developing led to the company filing for chapter 11 in late 1996, and the company closed and was converted to a chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1997. I was able to acquire various rights from the company after the bankruptcy case was closed.
Have you personally worked on any adventure games since your time with Inherit the Earth?
Nope. Mainly shooters with resource management.
What company are you currently involved with, and what projects are you working on?
I'm an employee of Taldren, and I'm working on their action-RPG game Black 9. For my side company, Wyrmkeep Entertainment, I am evaluating whether to do a Mac OS X port of Inherit the Earth. I am also looking into reviving another underrated adventure game, but I can't reveal which one at this time.
It's been quite a while since the original release of Inherit the Earth; what were the circumstances that led to its rerelease?
I just wanted to give the game a second chance and lay the groundwork for a sequel. I would have done it sooner but I only acquired the rights in 2002.
The commercial prospects of a re-released early 1990's adventure game seem fairly small in this era; is this re-release a financial risk for Wyrmkeep or were the costs associated fairly low?
The costs were relatively low and the financial risk is minor. The only "risk" is that the sales won't be high enough to make a sequel viable.
So there definitely is the possibility of a sequel being entertained?
Yes. The first actual document relating to the sequel was written last weekend. But it may be awhile before a sequel goes into production, if ever.
I was pleasantly surprised how well Inherit the Earth ran on my P4 2.4 with XP; was it a difficult process to make the game compatible with modern systems?
It was actually rather easy. One advantage of porting a game from DOS is that DOS isn't much of an OS, so almost all the code is generic C. The biggest challenges were the audio and all the little tweaks needed to make the game a "proper" Windows application.
Is the re-released version of Inherit the Earth a perfect port of the CD-ROM original, or were there any changes made in design or dialogue?
It is identical to the original except for a couple of bugs fixes, the changes to the music scores for Windows, and the credits.
Living in the fantasy realm for a moment, what one adventure game that you haven't been involved with would you love to develop a sequel to?
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or The Jetsons (only released on the Amiga). I guess I like science fiction comedies. If you asked me what property I would most like to make an adventure game from is the British comedy SF series Red Dwarf. I'm not aware of any game based on that series.
Commercial adventures have made a bit of a rebound in recent years with The Longest Journey and Syberia. What do you see as the future for commercial adventure games?
Adventure games are going to continue to be a niche market until there is some leap in design that makes it more compelling (i.e., addictive) to the average gamer and/or the casual gamer. What we are seeing now is the integration of 3D, but that's only the first step.
What do you hope to be doing with your life in five years, and what do you hope to have accomplished by then?
I would still like to be in the game industry in five years, hopefully as the leader or co-leader of a significant game company, whether it be an expanded Wyrmkeep, my employer Taldren, or some future venture. Or win the lotto.
For more information, please visit the Wyrmkeep website where you can purchase the re-released Inherit the Earth. Thanks again to Joe for taking time to answer these questions!