Ivo: I noticed there was quite a lot of playtesting being done at events, like the one in Dublin at State of Play where I ran into Paul. Were there any specific changes that came out of those sessions or things that really surprised you?
Paul: There were certain things we discussed where people were solving things too quickly, or they’d be stuck because something wasn’t as obvious. It helped make these things visible. As much as you test it yourself, there’s only so much you can do. You become sort of blind to certain aspects.
So it was always very useful to get it into the public, to get a reaction for it. We even get very honest reactions, that they find things boring or really awesome. I don’t think there’s too much that caused much surprise to us. We did learn a lot about how to fill those empty spaces, mostly through interaction, how to make things a little more obvious.
Ivo: You already touched on the case structure; right now there are six cases to complete. Was the idea around individual cases that we can expect more in the future? Are you already thinking of that?
Dave: We definitely have certain ideas that can be turned into fun cases; we talked about a format like a TV show from day one. Conversation was 'do we make one big game or do we do a pilot and make it episodes?' We quickly decided we were going to make it episodic. Each game is a season; in the early days we planned out the first three seasons. We know lot of themes/ideas for the seasons. We definitely have the content and ideas to do more stuff.
We all know and grew up with point-and-click, but we all now have families and jobs. It’s just hard... I used to love RPGs, but I just can’t put a hundred hours into a game anymore. Even twelve hours can seem a bit daunting nowadays. We can make this thing where you can play a case that you can complete in one comfortable sitting. I quite enjoyed Telltale’s first season of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. I could carve out a two-hour block every week or two to play a game. I like that; I thought if it’s just once in a while I can make that time.
We felt that if we could make the cases the right length, you can play one during a commute or after getting your kid down to bed. That half hour or 40 minutes you get to yourself in the evening. They had to be these bite-sized things. The art style is all ‘80s and ‘90s; a lot of our core are people in their 30s and 40s that played these games as kids. We know the time they have available is limited. We kind of created these small, fun, 'I can sit and play and enjoy the story' experiences. 'It’s not too taxing, I had a tiring day; I can either watch one episode on Netflix or play one case of a game.'
Paul: We felt it had to be a victory every time you sit down to play the game; you finish and you’re satisfied, so you can move on. You can come back in two weeks and simply start fresh, rather having to remember what you were doing.
Dave: There are so many games that you’ve got halfway through, you get back to it after three weeks and you don’t remember the story, what you were doing or looking for, and they end up being the type of games that end up in the 'another game I’ll never finish' pile. Or it’s these episodes that only come out every two years; by the time you get to that fourth or fifth one the game doesn’t touch you in the same way. It’s sometimes like a friendship they’re trying to force to work, because so much time has passed, you’re so different and the game is so different. We’re building the game we genuinely would want to play. We want to sit down and play a game that’s fun and rewarding, not taxing; I don’t have to jump back and read a walkthrough and all this kind of stuff.
Ivo: In the beginning you mentioned that you always wanted to do an adventure game, Paul. Now as you’ve just described, adventure games have evolved right along with us, for instance Telltale doing more interactive stories. But there are a lot of traditional adventure games coming out nowadays as well. Can you talk about why you always wanted to make adventure games and what made you guys feel like this was the period to actually do that?
Paul: I worked on one adventure game before, called Mystery Mania. It was an old Java game, strictly on mobile. I liked building that; there was something very pleasant about building all these different scenes. But it wasn’t quite the kind of game I wanted to work on. When I started experimenting with pixel art again, it directly brought me back to the 16-bit console days. Adventure games on PC as well. I was just really eager to build cute little interesting scenes; there’s a certain comfort in it.
Chris, with whom I worked on the demo – we’re both just big time adventure gamers. It kind of felt like this was the right thing to do. If we’re going spend this time on a game jam, we might as well do that right now. Also, an adventure game in game jam terms is less taxing to build than other games. Normally you have to do a lot of character animations, AI, logic of scrolling backgrounds and that type of thing, so for a jam doing an adventure game really fit better into that. But mainly, adventure games really are fun; they are like the stories for our generation. That’s what I think anyway. Adults before us having not really been able to experience stories like that, it feels like its own sub-culture if you will.
Ivo: I can relate to that very well, being around the same age as you both. The adventure game scene has evolved a bit, this year being one of the busiest for new releases in quite a while. Those are interesting developments, with even bigger games coming out from the likes of Ron Gilbert with Thimbleweed Park. A few years ago when you started down this path, you couldn’t have predicted that adventure games would be in this upwards trend again, but how do you view this now?
Paul: It’s kind of hard to tell – every other week there seems to be someone shouting it’s the death of adventure games. It’s like a zombie genre. For Thimbleweed Park, it was around the time we launched our demo for the game that Ron Gilbert announced the Kickstarter for his game. Which was kind of terrifying for us at the time. It had thematic scenes and likenesses to our game with paranormal activities and these detectives in a sort of X-Files/Twin Peaks world. We felt they were still very different themes, but we looked at it thinking some users could think we copied them, even though we were actually in development before them. Had we had the budget, we would have been out a year before Thimbleweed Park.
Dave: The interest in the genre can just help and benefit us and other developers. With Thimbleweed Park, because it was such an homage by the original developers that they started shaking the tree of adventure game players that have fallen out and are now interested in finding more.
It’s nice for the genre. It seems to be growing in popularity; we hopefully can deliver more Darkside.Continued on the next page...