Adventure Gamers last spoke with Jonathan Boakes back in 2003, when he was finishing up work on his second game, Dark Fall II: Lights Out. Since then he’s gone on to create the Aggie Award-winning The Lost Crown: A Ghost-hunting Adventure, which proved to be another cult hit among his growing following of horror fans. But there’s something about the Dark Fall universe that seems to draw Boakes back, and Adventure Gamers right along with him, as the acclaimed indie designer is returning to the series this year with Dark Fall: Lost Souls. With work on the new game well along in production, we knew it was high time to flag Jonathan down again for a little chat… or as it turned out to everyone’s benefit, quite a lengthy and insightful one.
Adventure Gamers: First of all, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions. Before getting into details about your latest work, can you give us a brief history about yourself, and how you got started developing adventure games?
Jonathan Boakes: Hello, this is Jonathan Boakes, of Darkling Room, here in Cornwall. It's nice to be here, chatting to you. First off, I have to admit that I hadn't actually played that many adventure games when I first got started. The UK game scene is much smaller than, say, the USA or Europe, so many titles released in those areas failed to materialise in this country. But, I did get to play a few marvelous titles, which left me wanting more, and inspired me to give game development a go of my own. The first game, The Displacement, was a small photographic game, with lots of puzzles and a simple story written around the full eclipse of 2000. I keep meaning to get that game online, as a free download, but the time just goes....! Those who did play it, which was mostly friends and family, really enjoyed the title, and got quite competitive with each other. I was getting phone calls in the early hours from people begging for clues... so they could finish first, and brag that information around town. Funny times.
After the fun, and minor success, of The Displacement, I decided to tackle a larger project. Point and Click adventure games had all but disappeared in 2000. I can't think of many that stood out, or grabbed attention like a few years previous, so I was very aware that I was creating a 'homage' or tribute to a long lost genre or style. I was studying Digital Arts at the time, which took in all forms of the creative process, so I pleaded with my tutor to allow me to make a full game for my final piece. He thought I was mad, making something purposely archaic for my big graduation project. I had to explain why I liked the genre, and why it had failed and disappeared. Of course, I was hopelessly wrong, which was a wonderful twist to the story. It was only after launching a small website, and writing a few 'making of' articles that the US and EU gamers got wind of what I was producing, and got in contact. I was truly amazed to find a massive online community out there... somewhere... desperate for new titles. The spooky, haunted house sub-genre was a popular one, so I was dead excited to be producing something that people would actually pay for, and enjoy. It was the start of a marvelous adventure for me!
AG: What were some of the games you mentioned that really inspired you?
Jonathan: I had to make an almost impossible decision, just the other day, on the Facebook social networking site. I had to pick my Top Five games of ALL time (with no genre restrictions). Problem was, I found myself torn between several games, which had, without doubt, thrilled me and influenced what I think games actually are. In that Top 5 you'll find 3 of the games are adventures, which is a great sign. It's proof that those games really made an impression. The 2 non-adventure titles are No One Lives Forever 2 and System Shock 2 (something about 2's obviously!). I have a sneaking suspicion that quite a few readers of this very website have also played and loved those games, but for the sake of the genre, I'll talk about the other three:
Riven: What can I say that hasn't already been said? Not much, I am sure. But it's so damn pretty and involving, it just springs to mind when I think about why I like the genre. There's rarely a week that goes past when I don't think about that game, or reminisce about the look, tone and... yes... the 'feel' of the thing. I guess it was the first fully realised 'photographic' game that I played... long before Morrowind and the other RPG's came along to conquer the (mise-en-)scene.
Titanic: Hmm, that's a bit of an 'out-there' choice, as so many people absolutely despise the game. I love it. It's one of the few games that I lend out to newbie gamers to get them interested. The characters, the puzzles, the Titanic! What's not to love? It's as camp as the Mona Lisa, but I find each playtime differs from the last, depending on my actions and interests, so it's proven to be great value. The technique used to animate the people looks rather bizarre; it did upon release, but I find it so endearing and strange. They are mad, mostly comedic grotesques, which definitely influenced me, when thinking up spooks for the abandoned hotel in Dark Fall.
Zork: Nemesis: Huge in scale, with lots of twists and fabulous locations. The Conservatory Concert Hall and Dorms seems to be the favourite with fans, and what a great choice. I re-played Zork the other day with a fellow developer, and he too loved the thing; the music, the tone, the puzzles and the atmosphere. Nemesis was the first game I paid a lot of money for, being £40. That would be $70 now! It was back before I'd joined the internet and discovered the naughty perks of the walkthrough, so the game took an absolute age to finish. Frustrating in places, but such good fun.
There were other games, of course, but I'd say those three had the biggest effect on me, and what I think of as 'adventure games'.Continued on the next page...