AG: It’s pretty clear that Wadjet Eye has assumed control of the voice acting, but how are the responsibilities split apart from that? Are they pretty hands-off in letting you finish the game as you envisioned?
Vic: I appreciate the question because, somewhat surprisingly, a lot of the coverage we’ve gotten describes Wadjet Eye as the developer, even crediting it with the art and story, which is frustrating for a new indie developer trying to win a reputation! Basically, the original concept, story, writing, art design, graphics and game mechanics, and to a large extent also the music, sound and voiceover direction, is Wormwood Studios.
Being an electronic musician myself, I had naturally wanted to produce the soundtrack for Primordia, but Dave insisted we needed someone who specialized in music, which is how Nathaniel Chambers was brought on board. Mark and I spent a lot of time working with Nathaniel, and I also composed a lot of music for Nathaniel to use as references and convey how I wanted Primordia to sound. To his credit, I think Nathaniel did a bloody fantastic job, despite my overbearing direction in that arena. As for the voice acting, Dave and I had some disagreements over the cast initially, and while I might do things a little differently if I could make Primordia over again, his guys ended up doing an awesome job there too.
That said, Wadjet Eye did bring a lot to the table during the latter half of production, and I daresay Primordia might not be the polished game it is today if it weren’t for Dave cracking the whip and urging us on to greatness. (I'll leave it to the players to decide whether we came close though.)
Mark: On top of the voice acting, you can’t forget—or discount—the significance of Nathaniel, the composer that Wadjet Eye brought on board. He’s done superb work, not just with the music but also with the ambient and active sound effects. But aside from the audio, I don’t think Wadjet Eye really had that much direct effect on the game. The testers had more of an influence, and we should thank Wadjet Eye for putting them together as well. Mostly Dave worked as a facilitator, and did a lot of good work there.
To be sure, there were a few areas where he asked for changes, but when you work as part of a team, you have to accept quite a large amount of compromise. The biggest compromises were between me and Vic. By comparison, Dave asked for very little.
AG: I couldn’t help but notice that the game is rather... what’s the word… oh, right, “brown”. It certainly conveys a devastated, lifeless wasteland effectively, but it’s all so… BROWN. Will the look diversify at all in later stages, or is brown the new red, blue, and yellow? Any fear that people will find the game too depressing visually?
Mark: I do think that games have become too brown, particularly shooters. But when you’re making a game about an inorganic, desolate world, browns, grays, and reds are inherently going to be your palette. And, if anything, I’d say Primordia is more red than brown.
Vic: I don’t really care about current gaming trends very much; I didn't decide on a visual style for Primordia based on what I thought might be popular. I see a lot of games these days with dreadful faded brown dystopian landscapes, perhaps it’s a trend, I've no idea. To me it just feels like they’re bleeding the color from things, and I don’t think that’s really how my art is. I love sepia tones and subtle changes in hue, and use them to draw attention to, or perhaps accentuate the shape and design of my art. It’s been that way for many years, long before I made any video game art. That said, the color palette in Primordia does make some significant shifts as the journey through the game progresses.
I can understand people not liking my graphics, which is perfectly understandable as my art certainly isn't for everyone, but as for depressing? I tend to think even the darkest and most eldritch artwork ever created can never be depressing; if it is done skillfully and shows you something fascinating you’ve never seen before. But that’s just me.
AG: How would you characterize Primordia’s gameplay? As old school as its design, or are there any special “upgrades” (in keeping with the game’s robotic themes) to help set the game apart?
Mark: I would say the gamplay is quite a bit different from old school adventure games. Consistent with how LucasArts changed the genre, we don’t have deaths or dead ends. But unlike LucasArts, we’ve tried to have multiple solutions—of varying success—for most of the puzzles in the game. So you can “fail” a puzzle without dying or cutting yourself off from winning the game. How the game plays out, particularly in the endings, is driven by how well you solved puzzles and the choices you made along the way.
In terms of particular features, there are three I want to mention, the first two relating to the datapouch. Almost immediately in the game, Horatio recovers his datapouch, which lets him fast-travel to locations he’s already discovered. I put this in place because I hate the way adventure games pad their length with tedious backtracking. We had already minimized backtracking for its own sake, but by making it possible for the player to quickly return to old locations, we made it easier to explore and try out different ideas. The datapouch also takes notes for the player. But this isn’t like a quest-log that tells you exactly what to do. Instead, we’ve tried to mimic the things that a player would write down on a notepad (and, indeed, originally the player had to type things in himself). So the notes are full of small details, red herrings, things like that. They act as both a record of your journey and a means of ensuring that we can have puzzles that require information you gathered earlier without creating dead-end scenarios.
The last major feature is the integrated hint system. As a designer, I dread walkthroughs. Once a player loads a walkthrough, he’ll keep going back to it every time he’s stuck. And every time he does that, he’s pulled out of the mood you’ve worked so hard to create. But if you set the difficulty too low, to keep the player from using a walkthrough, you rob the game of its essential character. Our solution was to have Crispin nudge the player if he’s stuck at a particular spot for too long. You can turn these hints off, of course. But because the hints start off fairly gently, I don’t think they deprive the game of challenge. Rather, they just keep the player from banging his head against the wall for too long. (You can also get hints immediately by clicking on Crispin.) Creating this system was a huge amount of trouble from a writing, coding, and testing standpoint, but it winds up reinforcing Crispin’s personality and usefulness and (hopefully) stopping people from using a walkthrough. (It also wound up making Jim hate me, but c’est la vie.)
AG: What’s the status of the game now? Still on track for a December release?
Mark: We’re just doing the final testing and polishing now. Barring a second hurricane hitting New York [where Wadjet Eye is located], we’re still on track for December 5.
AG: Well, I know we’ve got lots of sci-fi lovers here, so don’t let us slow you down any further. Good luck with the home stretch, and thanks very much for taking time to share your thoughts about the game.