Bill Tiller, Gene Mocsy interview 2017
Bill Tiller, Gene Mocsy interview 2017

Bill Tiller, Gene Mocsy - Duke Grabowski: Mighty Swashbuckler! interview

Ingmar: The Kickstarter campaign only covered one episode. However, some new things have happened since in the meantime. Please give us an update.

Bill: We worked on this ourselves for about a year before we started talking to our publisher. We asked for the money we needed on Kickstarter to pay other people to do work for us, because we were gonna work for free, you know, being true indie developers. So we had enough money to pay people who did animations, music, effects, character design, models, voicing and that kind of stuff. We put together a pretty decent demo, but things were rather slow going.

Then Matt Sughrue – a friend of mine who works at Alliance Digital Media – heard about the game and saw the demo, so they signed us. They’re rather small and just expanding out into doing bigger games. I told them that this was actually designed so that it could possibly be a series of five episodes for the full character arc and story. It was designed in a way, though, that episode one will work perfectly fine if you only play that one episode. Duke has a quest and he fulfills that quest, so there won’t be any cliffhangers, but the character still has a lot of growth and a lot of things to learn, so that’s where the other episodes come in. I talked to Matt about that, and he was like “great, we want to do all five episodes”, so I wrote out the basic rough stories for all five episodes, and designed puzzles for a few of them. Digital Media Alliance loved that stuff too, so five episodes are the current plan.

Ingmar What can you say about the release timeframe of the next episodes?

Bill: We’re trying to get them out every 5-6 months, but we’ve got to see how that goes as this is the first time we’re doing an episodic game.

Gene: Who can say. This is still in the future. I’m working on the Razer port of episode one right now, so we’ve got a lot of things going on.

Ingmar: In the first episode, Duke has to “seaduce” three women. Can you tease some of his future quests?

Bill: Sure! I’ve just got to be careful that I don’t say too much. Let’s just say that – since Duke is pretty slow – it takes him a while to figure out he’s being used. So he’s still gonna be sent on a lot of wild goose chases. But he doesn’t realize until later that all these goose chases are garnering him a lot of good will with the people he’s interacting with. In the beginning he really wants a lot of respect and acceptance among his peers, but he doesn’t quite realize that his peers are a bunch of jerks in the first place, so he still wants them to approve him. He doesn’t necessarily want to be captain, he just wants to win this popularity contest, so he can feel less insecure.

You know, throughout his entire life people made fun of him for being slow and big, and Duke’s grown sensitive to it. We’re hoping to tell a story about a character who realizes what he originally wanted may not necessarily be what’s best for him. But also, it’s a pirate game, so there’s a lot of pirate plots and intrigues. There’s also a secret intriguing storyline that is interweaved into Duke’s quests and a few other sub-plots that are related and have been set up in the first episode. They also hint at what’s going to happen in Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island, so I would say this is kind of a prequel to Ghost Pirates, and occasionally some of those characters will make cameos. So, yeah, there’s a lot more going on throughout the series: there’s the character arc, a bigger plot that goes through all five episodes and climaxes in episode five, and then there’s a little bit more of a world-building story as well.

Concept art for Slew Face

Gene: Slew Face [one of the other pirates] is still the villain, and I think as he is putting up all these barriers against Duke, and sends him on all these wild goose chases, Slew Face doesn’t realize that Duke is learning to become a swashbuckling hero. So, Slew Face is actually creating the hero he never really wanted of Duke.

Bill: That’s a good point, Gene! Gene makes good points!

Ingmar: The first episode was released an while ago now. What can you tell me about the early reception?

Bill: I haven’t read all the articles in detail as we’ve been very busy. I have gone through our publisher’s database, though, which features a synopsis of what people have been saying. The synopsis has been pretty good so far, and I’m very happy about that. Basically, they said what you said. They like the characters, the plot, the interactions and the idea of this huge slow-brained character. The only negatives were that they wanted more jokes and they wanted it to look a little more polished, which is exactly what we want. You know, with this first episode we’re pretty much learning how to do things on the fly, so hopefully we can take that experience and improve on it in future episodes.

Gene: It’s important for me that the Kickstarter backers are happy with the game, and it seems like most of them are. A lot of them have been sending us compliments, and feel like Duke Grabowski is a spiritual successor to Monkey Island, which is great as this is what our target was. People are happy with the money they pledged to us, and they believed in the game when it was just a couple of line-drawings, so I’m very happy that they’re happy!

Ingmar: For someone like me who grew up with all the graphic adventure classics, it’s easy to tell that this game is a labor of love from people who have a lot of respect for those classics.

Bill: Yeah, I played a lot of the Apple II Plus adventures in the early ‘80s, but my mind really got blown back in 1992 when I saw Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and Monkey Island 2. When LucasArts wanted to hire another animator for the second version of the endless The Dig project, I ended up at the company I enjoyed playing games from, which was great fun. And so I ended up going through their archive, and played all their other games. You know, I was able to watch Day of the Tentacle getting developed, and I would go over to the test room pit once in a while and played the game there as I couldn’t get it running on my computer. I remember when they finally put the voices in and I was just like, “Oh my god. This game is just SO great and funny!”

So yeah, I guess I’m always trying to recreate that feeling that I had when I first started playing games like Monkey Island 2 or Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. They were just a lot of fun. I felt like I was there, and you know, that sense of adventure to me was just really strong. I want to kind of recreate that feeling if I can, and get better and better at it with each game.

Continued on the next page...

Duke Grabowski available at:

Affiliate Links

Related Games

Duke Grabowski

Platform(s): Mac, PC

An episodic comic series from Bill Tiller and Gene Mocsy.

About the Author
Ingmar's avatar
Ingmar Böke
Staff Writer


Mr Underhill Mr Underhill
Mar 19, 2017

Always a treat to have insights like this into game production. Huge fan of mr. Tiller’s work, he’s an inspiration.

Post a comment

You need to be logged in to post comments. Not a member? Register now!