For our third and final off-season special, we complete our trilogy of prodding well-known adventure game people to give their take on the state of the adventure game industry. This episode, we light some poultry butts on fire and address several elephants of varying colors in the room with Katie Hallahan, co-founder and PR director of Phoenix Online Studios.
Phoenix Online Studios rose to prominence by being the studio to channel Jane Jensen’s post-Sierra game design career into products such as Moebius and Gabriel Knight: 20th Anniversary Edition. They also published that other horror game that Fred will not shut up about — the one that’s not Amnesia — and they did a King’s Quest fan game, which I assume is a rite of passage for any serious game development studio that isn’t Wadjet Eye.
Well, after our troubles last time, we didn’t learn our lesson.
What we did learn is that Dave Gilbert listened to our special episode with Infamous Adventures’ co-founder Shawn Mills about the problems they had recently gone through. And he offered to have a chat about the state of the business from the Wadjet Eye perspective. Which was jolly nice of him.
It’s the surprise special you didn’t know you wanted! Actually, you probably didn’t want it, but cut me some slack, will you? It’s been a while.
It was, however, a surprise that I wanted when we decided to reconvene for a special off-season episode last month. We’re still working out what exactly season 4 of this show will be, and Troels is busy with the Space Quest Historian podcast, to which Gareth and I are also contributing. And once we get all of that out of the way, we will presumably come out of near-hibernation to pester your auditory organs on a weekly basis.
The reason for getting together for this special was more depressing, though. Mid-July, Steven Alexander of Infamous Quests (“Quest for Infamy”, “Order of the Thorne”) announced in a blog post that the company will cease to exist following the release of the two games they currently have in production. It was a bit of a kick in the guts. Not only because we consider many of the Infamous Quests developers to be good friends of ours, but also because as fans of the adventure game genre, we had genuinely hoped this labour of love would succeed. When something like that happens, the first question to form in the back of your mind is something akin to “What the fuck is going on?”
Why come up with an original idea when you can slap a new coat of paint on an old one?
OK, perhaps that’s a bit cynical. It’s not as if this is a new thing. Even Oul Ken Williams knew that remakes were a way to make a quick buck. And Oul Ken Williams was a flawless genius.
And besides. There’s actually good examples of remastered games that have brought the classics to new audiences. (Or, at the very least, allowed us to play those creaky old games on new systems.) And let’s spare a thought for the detailed fan remakes, that add new technologies while keeping all the things that made us love those games in the first place.
Gareth is off doing something more important today, so he has left me in charge of announcing this week’s episode. At least, that’s the reason he claimed. It’s quite fortuitous that I am able to comply, actually, having recently dodged a chance to check into Club 27. If you ever find yourself in Denmark, never allow anyone to treat you to “snaps”.
But my birthday is not what the episode is about. It’s about the birthday of a stallion much more magnificent than me: Man ‘o War!
However, it’s also about adventure game elements that have crept into other game genres over the years. Games like “Strife”, “Half-Life”, “Mass Effect”, “Don’t Starve”, etc. that have appropriated various design elements outside of their genre that they arguably owe to adventure games. You get the idea.
Obviously, the first thing you’ll notice about this week’s episode is that it’s a day late. And you have every right to be angry. Furious, even. I know I speak on behalf of all of the Back Seat Designers in sharing your frustration. But, please, put the gun down. I know we can talk about this.
Ah. Now that that volatile situation has been defused, perhaps we can go into discussing the show on our hands. It’s about games based on true stories, and, no, the fact that it’s coming out on Easter is just pure coincidence; you’ll notice both Jesus and chocolate bunnies are entirely absent from this episo– oh, for god’s sake, I said put that gun down!
We were actually finding it quite hard coming up with real-life examples of games that are based on real historical events. Sure, it’s not like there aren’t any at all. But, really, does Custer’s Revenge or JFK: Reloaded shout “well-researched depiction of historical events” to you? Really?! Well, they don’t to us, god damn it!
The back seat designers are about to start throwing stones up in this bitch.
We love adventure games, and the beautiful people that make them. But sometimes they have some really annoying habits. Yeah, we know. There are all sorts of constraints that designers and engineers have to labour under. Limited funds. Limited time. The need to collaborate between writers, artists, coders and publishers. Technological limits. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
Even so. We sometimes feel that you could have done something different. And three drunk Europeans are going to tell you exactly what you shoulda done.
It’s Sunday, and while most major religions has that day down as a “sit around and twiddle your thumbs”-sort of affair, that means that we are hocking another golden loogie of
bullshit wisdom into the ether for you to gag on.
This week’s subject is unlikeable protagonists in adventure games. Many of us are familiar with the antics of unlikeable protagonists and anti-heroes in other media. But which adventure games featured protagonists with an unethical streak, if not more (no, we aren’t blind to the irony here), and what did that do to the adventure game experience? Furthermore, how do you define an unlikeable protagonist? That’s what we’re here to find out.
Imagine if half way through The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo shot a storm trooper, turned to the camera and said:
Right. Wanna see if we get off this cloud base? Here. Complete this sudoku.
It would sort of break the flow, right? Even if the sudoku were Star Wars themed…
Christ, those things actually exist. A lesson here, folks – never make a lame joke and then Google it.
Anyway, this week the three amigos sit down and discuss puzzle design. What is it that makes a puzzle not quite fit? Is it one that is impossible to solve because the game doesn’t give you enough hints? Is it something that seems completely out of sync with the rest of the plot? Is it just something that takes eight hours to complete with no discernible pay off?
Well, we all know what they say:
But, actually, you can do good things with an adaptation. Or “adaption,” which Fred insists on calling it, because he speaks much better English than the rest of us.
So we take the rounds and talk about some of our favorite movie/tv show/novel/comic book-to-game adaptations, and vice versa. How do you go from a linear storytelling medium to an interactive one? We reach into our bag of tricks and pull out a couple of examples of good — and not so good — adaptations.