Bill Tiller - A Vampyre Story: Year One interview

Bill Tiller - A Vampyre Story: Year One
Bill Tiller - A Vampyre Story: Year One

You might not recognize Bill Tiller if you met him on the street, but many adventure fans can instantly identify the work of this highly acclaimed artist behind LucasArts classics The Dig and The Curse of Monkey Island. Since forming his own company, Autumn Moon Entertainment, Tiller has brought his distinctive visual style to another pair of adventures, A Vampyre Story and Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island. But what's next? Over a year has passed since Bill first tweeted about a Kickstarter campaign for A Vampyre Story: Year One, and finally, after plenty of delays, the campaign has started (and could use more support). This provided the perfect opportunity for an in-depth chat with the father of Mona and Froderick to discuss AVS, Kickstarter, and the recently-defunct LucasArts.

Ingmar Böke: Welcome, Bill. I appreciate you taking time to talk to me during these busy days, having just launched a crowdfunding campaign for A Vampyre Story: Year One. You first tweeted about a possible Kickstarter campaign in April of 2012. What took you so long?

Bill Tiller: I tend to announce things a bit too early I am afraid. Sorry about that everybody. I’m new to the art of PR and I am always too optimistic. But the simple answer is money; I had to make some in order to pay my bills and as we all know that takes up a lot of time.

So I worked at Munky Fun for eighteen months and couldn’t do any outside projects at the same time. Though I did do some color consulting on my friends' games: Gene Moscy’s 1954 Alcatraz and Alex Schwartz’s iOS game Jack Lumber. Before that I did the art for Snuggle Truck on iOS with Owlchemy Labs. I like to help my friends when I can.

At Monky Fun, I was focused 100% on Bounty Bots, which is an iOS cartoon shooter that was fun because it is the kind of game I wanted to make for a long time: a non-gory, kid-friendly, cartoon action game. It’s a free game so people should check it out.

I tried to figure out a way to work on AVS Year 1 and work for Munky Fun. I wanted Munky Fun to help me with it but they weren’t interested. Eventually, after Bounty Bots I only worked there part time, then full time at home as a freelance artist. That allowed me time to work on this Kickstarter campaign.

I am not super comfortable in front of the camera, so I had the idea that Mona and Froderick should star in the KS pitch video. Since they are animated characters, I needed help from Romero Alves, Animation Director on Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island. And I got Jeremy Koerner, the English voice of Froderick, and his lovely wife Mary Nitcshke to do the voices and write the script with me. I got Ed Brilliant, my lead artist on Power Gig, to do the props, and now Pedro Camacho is doing the music and sound FX. I painted the backgrounds, helped write it, sketched story boards, and did the 3D lighting. So we basically made a three-and-a-half minute movie in our spare time. That is why it took so long, kind of like this explanation. 

Ingmar: Obviously A Vampyre Story: Year One is a prequel to the original game. Give us an idea of the story and how it leads up to the plot of the original AVS.

Bill: This was an idea I had for a long time, to do a short prequel to AVS that focused on the events a year before the story in that game. Prequels are pretty popular lately, probably because we want to know the origins of the characters. Just look at all the prequels that are coming out or have come out lately: Bates Motel, Prometheus, The Hobbit, Hannibal, Oz the Great and Powerful. I could go on. When we latch onto a cool character or milieu we want to know more about it. So that is what we are going to explore here. This prequel will also tie in well with A Vampyre Story 2: A Bat’s Tale.

The story is about how Mona and Froderick met, and how Froderick ended up at Castle Warg in the first place. We get to see some characters that we heard about in AVS1 and we'll get to see them again in AVS2, particularly the Belfry Boyz – a gang of hoodlum bats who have it in for Froderick.

A few reviewers were annoyed at all the extra backstory for the characters and Draxsylvania in the first game. But I wanted to start planting the seeds for other stories that took place in Draxsylvania, so when players of AVS hear about a town or character they never see in one game, it will be nice – when we do more prequels, sequels or spinoffs – to finally see and visit things that were only referred to before. I’m trying to get the whole Draxsylvania milieu to feel more real and established.

Ingmar: If you compare Year One with the original game in terms of gameplay and mechanics, how much has changed in comparison?

Bill: The gameplay will be pretty much be the same, except Mona at first has no vampire powers, but she will be forced to learn at least one at a crucial point in the game. But the GUI and style will be the same. Unless someone makes a compelling argument that we need to change it (I’d listen – I'm easy!) the plan is to keep it the same. If we make a mobile version of the game, then yes, the GUI will change.

Ingmar: You first announced Year One in October of 2010. This suggests you've already invested quite a bit of work into the project. What is the current status of development?

Bill: We have the walk through already done and the gameplay is roughly working just fine right now. So the skeleton is done, we just need to now put the ‘meat’ on the skeleton, and dress it up nice. What that means in practical terms is we need to upgrade the engine and do all the fun creative stuff: final art, music, voice, visual FX and the like. We have most of the models made, most rigged, 20% of the backgrounds are painted, all are designed, and the puzzles are all done. We may add more to the game if we raise more than we are asking for. 

Ingmar: In your last interview with AG, you stated that AVS2 was 40% done back then and you were looking for a publisher at the time, which obviously didn’t happen. If your Kickstarter campaign is a success, how likely is it that we will see the original story continue? What's the license situation of A Bat’s Tale, and might there be a potential problem with Crimson Cow?

Bill: No problems with Crimson Cow. They own the distribution rights to that game and want to get AVS 2 done as much as we do. It’s just tough to get publishers and investors interested in graphic adventures, very tough. We are in talks about possibly doing a new deal with Crimson Cow, but it depends on how well this Kickstarter campaign goes. So let’s get AVS Year 1 ‘crowd sourced’ first and get the game directly to the fans. I think this is great new model to get non-mainstream games developed.

Ingmar: We will get back to AVS soon, but for the moment I’d like to go back to the beginning and have a look at your time at LucasArts. How did you get involved with the company and what were you doing prior to that point?

Bill Tiller

Bill: I loved Disney animated movies and computer games so I studied both in high school and in junior college. I made a few of my own movies and a few badly programmed BASIC games on my Apple II+. I quickly gave up on programming.

Then I applied to the California Institute of the Arts Character Animation program. I got a great education there; met a lot of lifelong friends and it's where I met my wife, Amy.

And then around 1992 Steve Purcell’s wife, Collet Michaud, head of the LucasArts art department at the time, came down to Cal Arts’ portfolio days. She saw that I had a lot of 2D computer animation experience and that I was very familiar with DPaint Animator. They needed an animator for Brian Moriarty’s version of The Dig. I said I’d be thrilled to work on a cool project like that, so Collet invited me up for an animation test.

But before I went to San Rafael for the test I wanted to do some LucasArts research. I hadn’t played a LucasArts game since Ballblazer, Rescue on Fractalus and HMS Pegasus. My brother and I ran out to the local Egg Head game store and asked for a copy of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. But it was six months late. I was a bit annoyed, but the guy behind the counter said there was this other LucasArts game called Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. The cover was really well done and I loved the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. So we bought it.

At first I thought it was an RPG game but then I realized it was like a graphic version of Zork the text adventure. I had played that quite a bit in high school. I was blown away by MI2! I loved it – laughed my butt off and just fell in love with the art and story. The Fate of Atlantis came out a week later and I was blown away by that game too, especially how cinematic it was. See, for four years of college I didn’t play any video games because I couldn’t afford a new computer and we weren’t allowed to add games to the Amigas in the Character Animation computer labs. So I had missed out on all the games from 1987-1992.

I came up to B Building for my test. It was on the corner of Kerner and Bellum in San Rafael, (Remember Colonel Kerner in Fate of Atlantis?) and I did a rotoscoping test, which I thought had nothing to do with my animation skills at all! I was mightily puzzled. In my head I was thinking “A trained monkey could do rotoscoping. Got a real character animation test to challenge me with?” I just traced over Brian Moriarty walking on a treadmill for six hours. I found out later Brian wanted The Dig to have rotoscoped walk cycles just like the original Prince of Persia game had.

I finished the two day test early, so I then spent the rest of my time animating a small fat dragon trying to take flight but he was just too heavy to get off the ground – I figured he had just gorged himself on broiled birds from a tree he had burned down. Larry Ahern told me later that if I hadn’t done that dragon animation I wouldn’t have gotten the job. Good thing I was fast at animating back then.

LucasArts was my first real job. Before that in high school I worked at Disneyland, Crown Books and as a movie theatre manager for Edwards Theatres in Huntington Beach.

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I really hope this campaign succeeds! We MUST have another Vampyre Story! The original game was definitely one of my favorites in recent years!

diego diego
Jun 8, 2013

Then perhaps you’d like to give your thoughts in the AVS Community Playthrough that has just started Grin

Dag Dag
Jun 9, 2013

Great interview! I’m a huge fan of Bills work, and he also seems like a genuinly nice guy. He is without a doubt my favourite adventure game artist, so for me the this a kickstarter of great importance. Bill needs our help, pledging only $8 will get you a DRM free download of the game once it’s released, so I hope everyone will consider giving him a helping hand.

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