We rented Forgetting Sarah Marshall over the weekend. I don’t usually get too excited for Judd Apatow movies, but this one was written by and starred Jason Segal of How I Met Your Mother, and I was interested to see how it turned out. The verdict: Hilarious. Definitely worth renting. Highlights: Mila Kunis and Russell Brand. Lowlight: Jason Segal’s private parts in full-frontal HD. I’m going to have nightmares for weeks.
Other than the movie, we spent the bulk of the weekend raking and mulching several tons of wet leaves from our back yard. Note to future homeowners: A big yard is not necessarily a good thing. I learn this the hard way year after year after year.
I’m thisclose to buying a new computer, partly because my laptop is giving me hints that its days are numbered and partly because that same laptop won’t run any of the new adventure games I want to play (e.g., A Vampyre Story, Chronicles of Mystery: The Scorpio Ritual, Sinking Island, and The Abbey).
The only problem is that I hate and fear Windows Vista, because it won’t let me play any of my favorite old adventure games that I’ve spent entire weekends getting to run on XP. Sigh.
Every once in a while I stumble across a little gem of an adventure game that reminds me of the genre’s golden age (circa 1988-1994), when 2-D point ’n’ click adventures like King’s Quest and The Secret of Monkey Island ruled the gaming charts.
As regular readers of this blog probably know, I’ve always wanted to make just such a game myself: one with retro-cartoonish graphics and wacky puzzles that require a slightly outside-the-box approach to solve. While my game remains on hold until I finish the first draft of my Coven Hill manuscript, I did take a little time this week to play someone else’s—and I really enjoyed it.
Developer: BugFactory Games
My thoughts: You play as Tombrant Driftwood, a fisherman’s son on a mission to rescue the princess from an evil wizard and his henchman. If that sounds clichéd, don’t worry: Like the classic adventure games it emulates, Tales of Bingwood takes these genre conventions and winks knowingly at the audience as our hero completes the various elements of his quest in totally irreverent fashion.
It’s pleasantly Monkey Island-esque without being completely derivitive. The old-school graphics reminded me that 320×200 pixels can still look gorgeous with the right art design, and the puzzles are clever but fair (only a few really stumped me for more than a few minutes). Oh, and the quest itself is just plain fun.
I finished the game in just under three hours, so it’s not a huge time commitment, but it still feels “big enough” to justify the relatively cheap $10 price tag. Download the free demo here.
The latest (and I do mean that literally) installment of my formerly monthly adventure game design column, Adventure Architect, is now up at Adventure Gamers. It’s likely to be the last thing I’ll be posting about Rise of the Hidden Sun for quite a while, so head on over and read the update if you’re interested.
After six months of hard work and anticipation, another era in the production of my would-be adventure game opus, Rise of the Hidden Sun, has come to a disappointing end.
First, though, some background. Buckle up ’cause this may take a while.
Rise of the Hidden Sun is a 2-D point ‘n’ click adventure game in the tradition of old computer classics like King’s Quest and The Secret of Monkey Island. I was practically raised on those games in the ’80s and ’90s and I’ve wanted to make one of my own for as long as I can remember. As a kid I designed countless text adventures using the programming language BASIC, and I always thought that some day I’d move to California and go work for Sierra On-line, which at the time was the definitive adventure game publisher.
Unfortunately, Sierra stopped making adventures at basically the same time that I graduated from college—so there was to be no “Adventure Game Designer” job title in my future. That is, until I discovered Adventure Game Studio, a do-it-yourself game design program that was both free and easy to use.
So back in 2003 I decided to put my spare time into the creation of my own game, and I settled on a Wild West setting, an epic treasure hunt, and a largely comedic backdrop. I spent about eight months hammering out the plot, the dialogue, the characters, and the puzzles in what is to this day probably the best and most polished work of creative writing I’ve ever completed.
This game wasn’t going to look like a one-person job. No, no. This was going to have professional production values from the writing and music to the background art and animation. And for a while, everything went according to plan. I was able to recruit some top-notch talent from the amateur adventure game design community. I served as the project coordinator and de facto art director, making sure that everything met a certain very high standard of production and had a consistent “feel” to it from artist to artist.
My biggest problem since this all began, though, has been attrition. Simply put, people who volunteer their time on projects like this—particularly people who you only know through the Internet—just don’t stick around to finish what they’ve started. They’re usually good for about three months of work before they just drop off the face of the planet, never to be heard from again.
So, about two years ago I made the decision to start paying people to work on my game. I couldn’t pay much, of course—I had always planned on Rise of the Hidden Sun being a freeware game—and it basically came down to how quickly I could sell stuff on eBay to pay for the work-for-hire artists I needed to create the professional quality artwork I wanted. This was a bad business model, obviously, but that’s why this whole thing is called Chapter 11 Studios. I knew I’d go broke doing it this way, but I was determined to make Rise of the Hidden Sun the best damn freeware adventure game ever made.
I’ve had pretty good luck with background artists who draw and/or digitally color the game environments. My track record with animators isn’t so good, though. But I thought I’d finally solved the problem for good back in June of this year when I began working with a professionally trained animator named Jim Peebles.
Not only was Jim willing to work for very short money—again, I could afford him just by selling my old comic books on eBay—but his work was good. Damn good. He was fast, willing to listen to my suggestions, and responsive to my emails. Together we made more progress on the animation front in two months than I had in the previous two years. It was a revelation. The characters in Rise of the Hidden Sun were coming to life before my very eyes. After years of searching, I’d found my animator!
Because Jim, like each and every one of my would-be animators before him, eventually stopped producing. Progress updates became less and less frequent. The quality of the animations dropped significantly when he did get around to sending me something.
And then this past weekend came the final straw. He emailed me probably the two worst character animations I’ve ever seen. Sloppy, careless, and clearly very rushed. They looked nothing like the amazing work he’d done for me just months earlier. It left me with no choice: Jim’s time on Rise of the Hidden Sun was over.
Thus, I have no animator, and I don’t even know if I can use the good stuff Jim created because every animator has a different style and it’s hard to combine the work of different artists without the discrepency between their styles being obvious.
It’s left me to once again question my plan to make Rise of the Hidden Sun a freeware game. If I really want it to be professional quality, it seems, I’m going to have to take a professional approach—and that means a for-profit model that would make this an actual business. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, I could embrace the do-it-all-myself approach and be the game’s chief artist/animator, which would ensure that it would get done—but at a significantly reduced level of quality.
So here I am, back at the drawing board again… literally. I’m standing at a crossroads in the game’s development, and I have no idea which road to take.