Day One - Pendulo Studios interview

Day One
Day One

Almost a decade ago, Runaway: A Road Adventure was cited as one of the games that helped catapult the genre back into an era of relative prominence.  Its slick visuals, offbeat humour, and unapologetically traditional point-and-click gameplay felt like an ideal blend of old-school genre conventions and modern-age production values, and its worldwide popularity blazed a trail for others to do the same.  We no longer had LucasArts, Infocom, Legend, or Sierra, but with up-and-coming international developers like Pendulo Studios emerging on the scene, the sky once again seemed the limit.  

Indeed, the genre prospered and thrived to an extent in the years to come, and Pendulo itself became a mainstay, releasing two Runaway sequels and a re-imagining of its Spanish-only Hollywood Monsters (The Next BIG Thing) before moving in a darker, bolder direction with the gritty thriller Yesterday.  There seemed to be no stopping Pendulo, but as we've seen many times already, not even a successful track record and a skilled development team offers any guarantees for tomorrow.  In tough economic times, publishers are even less willing to finance new adventures, particularly high-risk original IPs, and when Pendulo went looking for partners for Day One, they came away empty-handed. Once a beacon of new hope, Pendulo became the latest in a depressing line of studios to face an uncertain future without investors.

Or maybe not so depressing, just with a different type of investor.  Like several other high-profile developers of late, Pendulo has turned to crowd-funding to finance their edgy, satirical thriller about a man facing his last day alive.  Requesting €300,000 by September 7th through Gamesplanet Lab, the campaign still has a fair way to go to reach its goal.  But we're intrigued by what we've seen, so we nabbed Pendulo's art director Rafael Latiegui to discuss both the game and the challenges facing adventure developers today. (And stay tuned after the interview for some exclusive pics from past Pendulo titles!)

Pendulo Studios - 18 years of adventure


Adventure Gamers: You've managed to make five games in English and several more in Spanish either on your own or with publisher funding before now.  So I guess the obvious question is: why do you suddenly need crowd-funding to develop your next adventure?

Rafael Latiegui: Simply because we didn’t have any other choice. The global crisis and piracy have had quite an impact on sales, and therefore publishers are not able to put up the same amount of money for a game as they could a few years ago, so that means the budgets of our previous games have grown smaller and smaller. At the moment, we just couldn’t find a publisher that wanted to get involved in a new game, so we had to knock on the last door available: crowdfunding.

AG: Your fundraising campaign jokes (or maybe doesn't joke) that publishers wouldn't be interested in Day One because its subject matter would "scare the kids".  But the adventure genre isn't really a children's genre anyway, the demographic generally skewing much older than that.  Is that really a legitimate concern?

Rafael: It’s not only a joke, but a sad truth. Most commercial adventures depend on family friendly retail shops, like Wal-Mart or Carrefour. They don’t have any problem having a gory AAA title, but not a small adult game… and unluckily, adventures these days are small games from a commercial point of view. With crowdfunding, though, we do not need to depend on those sellers: the only people who can decide what the game will be like are Pendulo and our crowdcreators (in other words, the people who raise funds for the game).

AG: Whether it scares the kids or not, Day One seems to be at least as dark as Yesterday, if not more so.  Is this trend towards grittier, more mature games something we can expect to see continue from Pendulo? 

Rafael: The truth is Day One will not really be that dark… More adult and deeper perhaps… but not as dark as Yesterday. Using Hitchcock as an example, Yesterday is more like Psycho, while Day One will resemble The Man Who Knew Too Much more.

AG: It seems like lots of comedy actors tire of simply being funny, or think they can earn more respect with serious roles.  Is that basically true of Pendulo as a studio?  Why the shift away from the more blatantly comic-style games like Runaway

Rafael Latiegui

Rafael: We want to make both comic and adult games. We love comedy and we’ve proved that we are able to provide good comedies to the adventure scene for 18 years. But ever since the third Runaway, we’ve been wanting to try a thriller and more adult topics. That’s what we did with Yesterday and we’ve had such a good time that we want to stay on that path.

AG: What's the public reaction been to this change in tone?  Or is the fact that you're now campaigning for funds an answer in itself? 

Rafael: As far as we know, players like this shift, and reviewers do, too. What Adventure Gamers wrote in your review is a very good example, and it shows a common opinion: Pendulo is not restricted to comedy anymore, and people want more. Unfortunately, people and funds are not always synonymous…

AG: So tell us about Day One.  We know that Ethan Grant has one day to live, but gets a stay of execution (so to speak) by a mysterious benefactor who wants him to go to Paris. Clearly he's a pawn (or about to become one) in someone's scheme, which is an intriguing premise that could lead anywhere.  So where does the story go from there?

Rafael: As you’ve said, Day One will play to the “pawn in someone’s scheme” topic… but there’s a bit more to it that I can’t tell just now… We can’t start spoiling the game before it’s even made! On the one hand, we’ll have this noir plot about Ethan trying to solve a riddle in order to save his life… if he even can. On the other, there will be this plot that talks about crisis. What happens when you realize that the life you’ve led has been absolutely pointless? That the dreams that you had are not true at all? That your life is nothing but a lie?

AG: Your games have traditionally involved lead characters that are a bit edgy, if not downright unlikeable.  Is that true of Ethan as well?  I could see how finding out you have only a day to live would put a person in a bad mood.

Ethan Grant

Rafael: Yes, but actually, it can be the other way round. Let’s say that Ethan is not what you’d call a good person. Well, the events in Day One may offer him the chance to redeem himself… or not. That will be a very interesting path to investigate, not only for us as developers, but also for players. The duality between Ethan, the hard-nosed guy used to winning, and Ethan, the dead man walking, can lead to many complicated decisions.

AG: Why do you favour these rough-around-the-edges sorts of protagonists for your games? 

Rafael: Some of the best characters around have an edgy aspect, even in the adventure genre. For example, you have Guybrush from the Monkey Island series, Al Lowe’s Larry or Deponia’s Rufus… If they were real people, we wouldn’t be their friends at all… they’d be insufferable!!! Funny, yes, but from a distance!

AG: Your games have also been known for some wacky puzzle solutions.  That can work well with pure comedy games, but typically not so well with more serious games.  Has your design philosophy changed along with your storylines?

Rafael: Yes, and that’s something that you can already see in Yesterday. Day One will be similar, though this time we will ask our crowdcreators (the game’s fundraisers) if they want more difficult puzzles or even different difficulty levels. This time, they’ll decide (or should I say “you”?)

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Aug 17, 2012

Hmmm looks like it’s going to be very similar to Yesterday. Hated a lot about that game… the art direction, the voice acting, the silent descriptions. The whole game bored me to tears and I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I cant even remember what happened in the end, very forgettable. Bring back more what we liked about the Runaway series.

Asentra Asentra
Aug 17, 2012

I don’t agree with You. Yesterday had its weak points(short gameplay and not the most logical solutions of all), but alltogether the main concept and the change in the ambience was somewhat refreshing. What I absolutely love about Pendulo games is the graphics and the construction of the characters’ physique and their psychology (which was best shown in Yesterday). When I first heard about Day One I was baffled, but now I think it’s absolutely genius to have an idea like this and to make adventure games more serious and dealing with real human problems, still not losing a litlle bit of humor here and there. It’s just the real life, but more ‘playable’;)

Aug 17, 2012

I think it’d be a very interesting game, and I’d like to see what Pendulo is able to do with some freedom in the development. The last time this guys had some freedom and a decent budget, they did Runaway, so I don´t know what are you still doing here, they need our help!

Words of Magic
Aug 17, 2012

I’m a big fan of Pendulo and I really loved Yesterday too, even though it was obvious that they would have needed a development budget twice as big in order to achieve their true vision of the game. By the way, the silent descriptions were a decision of the publisher. Some localization (German and Russian I think) are fully voiced.
I really think the adventure game community needs to show more support for this project. It’s the first ambitious European crowdfunding project, it would be a shame for it to fail. Plus the game shows a lot of promises.

gray pierce gray pierce
Aug 18, 2012

I very much fear this crowdfunding thing will fail which is a shame because Pendulo makes quite decent games and I’d hate to see them disappear. Hopefully they can find a publisher so they can continue making these AGs rather than other types of games.

Aug 20, 2012

As I said in other post, I am very surprised gamers are not supporting Pendulo. Their game looks very interesting and it will be very sad to see a company like that vanish.

Dag Dag
Aug 20, 2012

Indeed, they need our support! What are you waiting for? Not supporting this project equals helping to bury one of the best adventure games studios currently in existence. What a shame…

Necrosis Thanatos
Aug 20, 2012

My heart goes out to these guys, but after giving over $1000 to Pinkerton Road, SpaceVenture, Project Fedora, Quest for Infamy, and Dead State, I just can’t give any more right now.  Kickstarter fatigue has really set in for me.

Words of Magic
Aug 21, 2012

It’s not the amount of money that counts, it’s the number of backers. If everyone reading this could participate for €25 or €50, I’m sure things would look far better for this project. And remember that registering for Gamesplanet Lab takes less than 30 seconds. And there will be more great adventure game funded through this site if this campaign is a success!

paddy pantsdown paddy pantsdown
Aug 21, 2012

I backed this project on one of the lower tiers (£10-20) and that’s all I’m prepared to give. I sincerely hope Pendulo reach their target as they make some great games, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

Over the past few months I’ve already pledged many £s (for me) to Double Fine, Pinkerton, Fedora etc. The crowdfunding adventure game ‘market’ is surely beyond saturation point right now?

Words of Magic
Aug 22, 2012

After years of complaining that there weren’t enough adventure games, we now have too many, how ironic.
Still, participating at a low tier is better than nothing (the €25 tier is incredibly good value for money). I’m so sad that, out of all the adventure games community, less than 1000 people are willing to pay at least €12 for this project.

tsampikos tsampikos
Aug 22, 2012

I have also backed for the $25 Price. It’s just worth it!  Pendulo Studios has always given good Adventure games.

Niclas Niclas
Aug 23, 2012

It is a shame that this game is not even near the funding required!!! Frown I believe that Pendulo has failed to reach their audience. It is too bad that they were not able to use Kickstarter for funding the game, that would probably been a lot better. Fingers crossed that this game will be made anyway, looks pretty solid.

Aug 24, 2012

Charles Cecil and his new Broken Sword game in Kickstarter only confirms that Pendulo chose the wrong platform for Day One. I don’t think that Broken Sword games are much better than Runaway or Yesterday, however Revolution have so much fans pledging that makes you think why Pendulo don’t.

lewuz lewuz
Sep 29, 2012

I loved Runaway trilogy. I would have liked to see Day One one day. Good interview. But their lack of public relations shaped my image of Pendulo years ago.

Dag Dag
Oct 4, 2012

A real shame that it didn’t get funded. I was really looking forward to a brand new Pendulo adventure, as some of Pendulos earlier titles are, in my opinion, the best in the genre (of modern adventures).

There was a lot of things that could have been done to improve the campaign though. Not only did they settle with a virtually unknown platform for their project, but from the outside, it looked as if Pendulo thought the campaign would run itself. There was little to no interaction with the community, very few updates, and the few they provided were mostly about previous games rather than the new one. The comments section was 90% spanish (including the few comments made by Pendulo themselves), and certainly must have alienated many of those who doesn’t understand it.

Whereas some of the kickstarter adventures I’ve followed have been a joyride of daily entertainment, checking in to Pendulo’s campaign felt like standing in a queue outside a nightclub that would only let you in if you were Spanish. If only they were half as good at building a thriving community (that streches beyond Spain) as they are at art-design, they could probably run a smooth fundraiser, but they would most certainly need to rethink their strategy if they plan on running another, which I really hope they do.

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