Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
Sure, My name’s John Green, and I live in Brooklyn, NY, USA, with my fiance. I primarily work as a freelance comics consultant for Disney Adventures Magazine. As such, I write, color, letter and produce comics based on various Disney properties such as Kim Possible, Finding Nemo, and the like. I also do occasional work for Nickelodeon, Scholastic, and other publications. In addition, I co-create the comic books Jax Epoch and the Quicken Forbidden and Teen Boat
The fact that you create your own freeware adventure game shows that you are a fan of the genre. Could you mention some of your favourite adventure games?
My all time favorite would probably be Curse of Monkey Island. Most of the LucasArts classics are high up on my list of faves. Maniac Mansion, Sam & Max, Monkey Island 1 and 2, Fate of Atlantis, Full Throttle... they’ve all been great experiences. I have to admit, I haven’t played Day of the Tentacle yet, and I never spent much time on Grim Fandango. I’ll have to give the latter a second chance some time. When it first came out I just couldn’t get used to the interface. I did manage to get all the way through Escape of Monkey Island, though. An other game that I have fond memories of is Neuromancer for the Commodore 64. I also really liked the Bladerunner game, and I do recall I played some Sierra games way back, like Quest for Glory and Police Quest.
Is Nearly Departed a one-man job? We know that you are co-operating with Pinhead Games for the coding of the game…but what about the rest of the development sectors? Did you write the story and are you going to create the music for the game or are there other people that do that for you?
Nearly Departed is a one-man job, for the most part. Pinhead Games isn’t actually helping with the coding, they are helping with sound (voices, music, sound effects) as well as promotion and distribution. I wrote the story based on an idea for a comic book I had a few years ago that I never got around to drawing. I’m handling all the graphics and animation, plus the scripting into the LASSIE engine. Greg MacWilliam, the creator of LASSIE, has been a big help. Thanfully, Mark Darin from Pinhead approached me about the game and was interesting in helping out with sound, because as much as I’d love to be entirely a one-man operation, I’m no musician or sound engineer.
In what way are you going to co-operate with Pinhead Games?
As mentioned previously, it will primarily be on sound. Pinhead Games has put out some games with great sound and music, so I’m really fortunate they’re going to help out on that end. Plus, I’m always open to suggestion, so as I send versions of the game in progress to Mark, I’ll gladly accept his input and impression on some of the puzzles and sequences. Pinhead Games will also be helping out with promotion and distribution, which is a big help since I don’t really have the resources to take care of that.
Could you talk a bit about the game’s plot?
Basically it’s a case of missing identity/murder/zombification. It might seem cliche in an adventure game that you play a character who has amnesia and can’t remember who you are, but look, you’re a zombie. You’ve got half your brain exposed. How many zombies do you know who can remember who they are, much less have an intelligible conversation? Very early in the game you deduce that your demise was due to foul play. Or maybe it was foul chicken? Foul fowl, so to speak. No, I made that up. It’s pretty obvious from the game’s onset that you were killed, but by whom and why is one of the big mysteries. Your identity is a tiny mystery that you’ll discover pretty quickly, at least your name. It won’t take long to piece together who you are and what your daily routine was, and it’s within your daily routine that you’ll discover who and why you were murdered. Why you managed to get turned into a zombie and rise from the grave is yet another mystery. And why you’re not the typical zombie is another mystery. Why can you talk, other than just saying things like “BRAINS”? Why do you still have reasoning ability? And why does the thought of turning other people into zombies give you the heebie jeebies? Like every adventure game it’ll all ultimately lead up to some big giant showdown between GOOD and EVIL. Heh heh.
What kind of characters are we going to meet in Nearly Departed? Could you describe some of them for us?
I wouldn’t want to give away too much, as eating the characters is the fun part of the game. I mean, MEETING the characters... heh. Well, basically, as most of the plot revolves around figuring out your daily routine and what led you to being murdered and zombified, a lot of the characters you’ll meet are the kind you’d see on an average day. A bum on a street, a subway attendant, a security guard, a kid working at a fast-food restaurant. But as the mystery unfolds you’ll run into some more unsavory characters, perhaps even other zombies.
What inspired you to start working on a black comedy?
I never really thought of it as a black comedy until you mentioned it, but you’re right. I’d really have to say the LucasArts games, when you think about it. Maniac Mansion was in some ways a black comedy. There were rooms with blood on the walls, a mad scientist, a crazy lady with a knife... It was very much an experience that was funny and thrilling at the same time. And when I got it in my head to make an adventure game, I had this old idea for a comic with a zombie, and it just seemed to fit.
The choice of the game engine is interesting. Why did you choose the LASSIE engine instead of some other adventure development engine like AGS or Wintermute?
Simple. It runs on a Mac and the final product is cross-platform. I’ve managed to play a few AGS games since there is a player application for Mac, though the games that work on it is pretty limiting. The AGS engine seems very diverse, and I’d love to be able to make something with it sometime. But aside from just running on a Mac, LASSIE is also a very diverse engine. You can output stand-alone games, or with LassieAS make games that will run in a web browser. The scripting is very easy to learn, and it was designed specifically to make adventure games in the vein of Curse of Monkey Island, which was kind of what I was looking for.
Could you talk to us a bit about the graphics style and the graphics engine of Nearly Departed?
The simplest way to describe the graphics would be “cartoony.” I like bold colors for characters, moody colors for backgrounds. I also use a skewed perspective mostly because it’s a heck of a lot easier to do. Everything in initially hand-drawn and then scanned into computer. The backgrounds are inked by hand and colored in Photoshop, the characters are sketched, then scanned, and drawn over in Illustrator. Frames are then exported to Flash, and a Flash movie of the animations are made. LASSIE doesn’t so much have a graphics engine as it has graphics support. It accepts SWF, BMP, PNG, JPG, GIF... Most animation needs to be done in Flash, though animated GIFs can be used. LassieAS (AS for Action Script), which exports a Flash-native game, can only use JPG and SWF, but you can import most graphic file types into Flash and export them as a SWF and it’s all good.
Will there be voice-overs in Nearly Departed?
Yes, thanks to Pinhead Games.
What kind of music will there be in the game?
Hopefully a kind of moody/quirky type. Music will be Pinhead’s domain, but ideally something Danny Elfman-ish, before he got all big and did music for every movie ever.
How is the interface going to work?
It will use a “verb coin” interface, similar to Curse of Monkey Island. You roll the cursor over an object you can interact with, the name of the object appears at the bottom of the screen in a text bar. Clicking and holding the mouse over the object pops up a circle with three graphics: a mouth, an eyeball and a hand. Of course these graphics are appropriately “zombie-ish”. The mouth is for all mouth-related activities: talk, lick, bite; the eyeball for all sight-related activities: look, read, examine; and the hand is for all physical activities: take, push, open, and so on. The inventory will pop up by rolling the cursor over the text bar at the bottom of the screen. You can activate the verb coin over inventory items as well. Clicking on an item will turn it into the cursor, and then it can be used on other inventory items or anything on the screen.
What kind of challenges will the players have to face? Could you give us an example?
There will be some standards found in adventure games, like getting past a locked door. I’m sorry, but these puzzles are quite useful. Not every puzzle in a game needs to be a mind bender, some can just be easy puzzles that at least the player will get some feeling of accomplishment out of achieving. Plus, familiar puzzles can be a good way of easing people into the game play mechanics. But that’s not to say there won’t be any original puzzles, which hopefully people will find unique and challenging and worth being challenging. For the most part some will seem logical, though there will be some that require you to think “out of the box” (sorry, I LOVE the “monkey wrench” puzzle from Monkey Island 2.) Some puzzles will also have multiple solutions. There might be times when you’re only way out of a situation is to turn someone else into a zombie, but doing so when you had an alternative could have consequences down the line.
An issue that indie developers have to face often is the lack of time. Most freeware adventure games are quite short due to the vast amount of time it takes to develop a game. How long do you think it will take someone to complete Nearly Departed?
That’s something that is a little hard to determine. It partly depends on how much interacting with the world the player does. Just going from puzzle to puzzle will make the game much shorter. Ideally I’d hope even the faster player gets a couple hours enjoyment out of it. When the games further along in development I’ll have a more accurate estimate.
Is Nearly Departed going to be an easy or a difficult game in general?
I’d love to be able to make two versions, easy and hard, not unlike the option for Mega-Monkey puzzles in CMI. But it’ll just be one version that’s somewhere around medium difficulty. There will probably be some really easy puzzles and some really hard ones, but hopefully it will all feel balanced.
When did you start working on Nearly Departed and what is the estimated release date?
I started in October of 2005 I think? About then. An estimated release date is probably too early to make. With luck there will be some version of a playable demo soon, though.
You have a lot of experience from the comics world, and now you are creating your own adventure game. Do you see any similarities between those two media, comics and adventure games? Do you think that those two could benefit each other in some way?
As a matter of fact, I think there are many similarities between comics and adventure games, which is probably why adventures are my favorite gaming genre. Many computer/video games “have a story” but usually it’s a flimsy plot stretched thin so that they can work plenty of levels for you to run around, climb, jump, shoot, kill, what-have-you. The story is not the primary focus, it’s just a framework for the game play. With adventure games, the whole point of the game is to tell a story. Many adventure games, if you were to make them play themselves some way, would be entertaining stories to watch unfold. Comics, in general, have the same goal: to tell an entertaining story. They’re also both very visual media, obviously, and both involve certain amounts of control by the reader or player. In adventure games, you of course control a character or characters, and the story unfolds as you work your way through the game. In many early adventures where there were no voiceovers, the player also had control over how each character sounded, and how each character delivered their lines. As the player you also had control of how much time you spent lingering in an area, taking in all the details. It’s very similar with comics. The reader is in control of just how much time they spend looking at a panel, looking at the artwork, taking in the details, and the reader is in control of how the characters in the comic sound. Granted, many games have voiceover now, but this is still different than just watching a movie, where the viewer has no control over how fast a scene goes by. As far as how one media could benefit the other, it varies. Some games have implemented a “comic style” to greater effect than others, and some comics lend themselves toward being adapted to adventures games better than others. A comic like Bone I think was a great choice to make into an adventure game, though I have not had the chance to play it. At least making it an adventure game made more sense than trying to make an action game out of it. I don’t know if any financial benefit has resulted, meaning I don’t know if putting the game out has sold more comics, or basing it on a comic has sold more games. But either way, “brand recognition” is of course the true goal when crossing over a property into a new media, be it toys, comics, games, movies, cartoons, and so on.
Do you think that the adventure games that are released nowadays lack some of the spirit that the adventures of the 80s and the 90s used to have?
That’s hard for me to judge, really, as I haven’t played too many conventional adventure games that were released in recent years. But as a generalization I’d have to say all games from all genres have a very different spirit then they did in the 80’s and 90’s. Part of that has to do with technological advances. Back in the day, when it came to graphics, adventure games were always the most beautiful games you could find. Why? Because they usually had fairly static screens with only one or two sprites running around. The computer didn’t have to make a million computations a second to keep track of sprites like enemies and bullets and explosions and scrolling background graphics. So, game designers could spend almost all the memory a computer had on making the game look nice, while action games or platform games were pretty simple in a graphic sense. With graphics and RAM and processor speed and power what they are today, ANY game can look beautiful. Adventures no longer have that unique feature. But it’s not just technology, a lot of it does have to do with “what sells.” Game publishers look at what’s hot and then try to emulate that. Nowadays, what with multiplayer being such a huge part of gaming, it’s no wonder single player adventure games aren’t getting as much focus. With an adventure game, one person could buy it, play it, then loan it out to a half-dozen friends one at a time, or trade it in to get a new game. Adventure games are hard to add replay value to. But with action games, like first person shooters, when that one person buys that game he tells his half dozen friends how cool it would be for them to play over wifi, so then each of his friends go buy that game, and now the company’s sold six times as many, and they can release downloadable levels and updates and charge a few dollars for them and the game will continue producing revenue. But that’s what the market is right now. Things can change, though. I don’t think the audience for conventional adventure games is gone, they’re still out there. If LucasArts was to come out with Monkey Island Online, a Massive Multiplayer Adventure Game (not RPG) that had ongoing quests and adventures, then maybe the adventure game would find a whole new audience, and the game publishers would realize there is still a market for it.
What is going to happen after you are done with Nearly Departed? Do you see yourself creating more adventure games in the future? And is it possible that we could see Nearly Departed 2 at some point in the future?
I definitely see myself creating more games. I’ve got plenty of ideas that I’d love to make into adventure games, so hopefully Nearly Departed will be well received. As for Nearly Departed 2, I hadn’t thought about a sequel, but there’s nothing ruling it out, I guess. It wouldn’t be my next game, though, I’m sure when I’m done I’d need a break and want to work on something a little different.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Not that I can think of. Just to check my website and the Pinhead Games website now and then for updates on Nearly Departed. And thanks for the interview, it was my pleasure.