Bill Tiller - A Vampyre Story interview

"I'm hoping A Vampyre Story will prove that you can pay a decent budget for a cartoon adventure with higher quality, and it'll still make money. In fact, it helps it make more money."


Bill Tiller was in a good mood at the Games Convention in Germany, despite just having faced a bit of a setback. He was happy to finally be able to show off his pet project A Vampyre Story, which left us with only positive impressions. Unfortunately, Bill lost his luggage at the airport after his flight from San Francisco to Leipzig, and if that wasn't bad enough, it had his prized LucasArts jacket inside. Publisher Crimson Cow had asked him to bring the jacket along for A Vampyre Story's first big showing to the press, given the game's firm rooting in the LucasArts tradition of adventure game design, but now it's lost somewhere, and Tiller is wearing a shirt from a German store.

It's an entirely ridiculous yet oddly appropriate metaphor for the journey that his project has taken. Tiller worked for many years at the company that used to be synonymous with adventure games, providing art direction and occasional game design to such titles as The Dig, Rebel Assault and The Curse of Monkey Island. When it came time to start his own project, however, LucasArts lost interest in adventure games as their eye turned towards the luscious udders of the Star Wars cash cow. Several years later, Tiller's A Vampyre Story ends up getting funded and published by a company in Germany, where the adventure genre is once again thriving.

The game is now a couple of months away from being finished, targeting an early 2008 release for most territories. Since development of A Vampyre Story started, developer Autumn Moon's ambitions have grown from creating just one game to creating a trilogy. With Sam & Max's recent episodic return in mind, I was curious why Tiller opted to already plan for two sequels...

(For the basic gist on A Vampyre Story, as well as first our impressions, be sure to check out my preview posted earlier.)

Since you just said that A Vampyre Story is the first of three chapters, I'm wondering: if you had complete freedom to choose, would you prefer to make one really big game or multiple smaller games?

Well, we designed so much of the game and then the story became so big that we realized we are probably going to have to make three games to tell the whole story. The budget and the time we have are also much shorter than we had at LucasArts, so we have to do it that way. It isn't episodic like the Bone or Sam & Max games. I think A Vampyre Story is probably a good size, about Full Throttle size. And it'll feel more like how The Lord of the Rings had been divided up into three books, or like Star Wars. It's an epic story so it just makes more sense to tell it in three games. But preference-wise? I don't know. Either one is probably fine. But if we did a bigger game I would want a bigger crew. Ten people for a medium-size game is about right, but you really need about twenty people if you are going to make a Curse of Monkey Island size game.

You are working together with other artists on A Vampyre Story now, right?

It's mostly me and Bill Eaken, who is known for doing the artwork in Fate of Atlantis and The Dig, and he did the 256 conversion of The Secret of Monkey Island. He's a friend of mine and he did a lot of the drawing and also some of painting, like the bridge that you saw, the stable, the monastery and the castle. He's really good, and he's learned to adopt my style.

Yeah, that was exactly what I was going to ask about. It must be easier to work with him given he worked at LucasArts as well.

Yes, and he also worked on The Curse of Monkey Island. He did some of the cutscene backgrounds in a pinch, when we needed another hand. The only difference between he and I is that his art tends to be more painterly with a lot of paint strokes in it, and mine tend to be a little more sharp. I can't really see too many paint strokes, so my work is a little sharper. When his work is a little too painted I go in and tighten it up a little bit, so that it all kind of looks similar. I create the color palette too, and we've got basically the same art style, so it's easy for him to do. Then we have two other artists who come in once in a while in a pinch to help with cutscene backgrounds.

In your presentation you mentioned that the villain will be actively involved in the story. Can you elaborate on that? In Monkey Island, there was always the "meanwhile, at LeChuck's secret lair..." going on.

It's not exactly like that. What happens is that the vampire hunters are actively trying to hunt down Mona. They know there's another vampire in the castle and they're in the castle for a reason, which I won't reveal. They kind of make it difficult for Mona, they ruin some of the stuff that she needs. That's one way they get involved. Second, there's another villain, which is Shrowdy the vampire, who is so obsessed with Mona that even after he's killed, he's still obsessed with her. So he comes back in the form of a ghost. He's constantly spying on her and trying to thwart her at every stage, as well as kind of annoying and thwarting other people who are helping Mona out. So that's how another villain is sort of monitoring what's going on and staying involved.

Is Froderick (the sidekick character) going to be present at all times like Max in Sam & Max, or is he going in and out of different scenes?

He's going to be on Mona's shoulder all the time. It's been a real pain in the ass to program it, but we finally got it down. He kind of pops around sometimes so we still have to fix that. At one point we went "oh, let's just put him on her arm" and I went "no way, he has to be on the shoulder". One of the negative aspects of him being on her shoulder is that he has to be kind of small. We're going to have to cut to a lot of close-ups so that you can see him. Also, his eyes are black and it's kind of a dark game so we've had to put permanent lights on his eyes for it to read.

Originally we programmed it the way you would any SCUMM game, but sometimes we take it to a close-up. We'll take a section of the background and blow it up and then sharpen it and paint it, which usually takes three or four hours to the point where it looks really good. I think what I discovered is that in a long shot there's so many little details that take a whole week to paint, but if you cut to a closeup there's usually a wall and a few other elements and painting it turns out to be really quick. So it's not just taking it and blowing it up in Photoshop, but it's blowing it up and painting it again to put all the detail back in that got lost.

You know, you might as well do close-ups. It's 3D and you can zoom in and if painting the background doesn't take too much time, why not do it?

It does make it more dynamic.

Yeah, and that's really the goal. We've all grown up with movies and TV so we know the language of film, and that language really needs to be adapted into games.

Continued on the next page...

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ATMachine ATMachine
Oct 5, 2007

Interesting dirt on Moriarty’s Dig here. No wonder the Lucas management was so perturbed about the number of puzzles involving science.

I am rather concerned that AVS is only the first part of a series. Plenty of games in the past (and not just adventures) have had sequels planned that fail to materialize due to lack of profit on the first installment.

Kasper F. Nielsen Kasper F. Nielsen
Oct 5, 2007

Excellent enterview, this was most definetly a good read. I am certainly going to buy A Vampyre Story, if this is just half as good as some of the good ol’ Lucas Arts games then it is worth every penny.

Steve Ince Steve Ince
Oct 6, 2007

Bill has definitely been a huge influence on many games - he has such a wonderful eye and a fabulous sense of colour.  I used his colour palettes as an inspiration for the few screens I created for Sapphire Claw.

Jón Kristinsson Jón Kristinsson
Oct 6, 2007

Jesus, those screenshots look awesome.  The trailer did disappoint me a little bit, but these screenshots absolutely make up for it.

Georg Hach
Oct 9, 2007

Glad the tape could be salvaged, Marek!

There’s one slight misunderstanding I would like to clarify: I told Bill to bring a coat, because the weather in Germany is usually not any better than that in Draxsylvania. I didn’t even know he had a LucasArts coat Smile

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