NEW AGE GAMING
Explain a bit about Nearly Departed. You play a reluctant zombie, in a
It's very much a story of "missing identity", something that's of course very common in adventure games, but the whole "being a zombie" aspect adds a new twist to it. The game begins with you as a zombie, and you need to figure out who you are and how you became what you are, and in the meantime try not to zombify the entire city. It's not a violent game, though there is some dark humor and cartoon gore. There's also very tongue-in-cheek, full of puns, and general wackiness. It's very much inspired by the old SCUMM games like Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island, and the "verb coin" interface Nearly Departed uses is very much like the one from Curse of Monkey Island.
What is your background, prior to Nearly Departed?
I'm a "comic book professional" by trade. I have a BFA in Graphic Design and immediately got a job in the comics field. I eventually landed at Disney Adventures, a digest-sized magazine that has a comics section every month. There I handle production of various comics based on Disney properties. I write, color, letter, and layout comics like Kim Possible and Finding Nemo. I also illustrate the comics Jax Epoch and the Quicken Forbidden and Teen Boat, which I co-publish with the writer, Dave Roman.
Are you working on Nearly Departed full-time, or as a side project?
I’m a freelancer, so almost everything I’m working on is a side project, as I have to devote some of my time to all the projects I have going on at once. But Nearly Departed is a non-paying gig–a hobby, really–and so while I’d love to devote more time to it during the day it’s just not financially responsible. I do think about it constantly and usually at least jot down one idea or puzzle everyday.
Where did the idea behind Nearly Departed come from?
Nearly Departed started years ago as an idea for a comic book that I’d write and draw. I’ve got countless ideas for comics floating around in my head, as well as floating around on little post-it notes all over my apartment. When I got the impulse to make an adventure game, Nearly Departed was just one of those ideas that seemed perfectly suited for it.
What was your first encounter with the scripting engine, Lassie? How
did you find out about it?
I had gotten back into playing those old LucasArts games sometime last Fall and started doing web searches for games similar to them. I had come across various adventure game forums and eventually AGS, where I found lots of classic LucasArts and Sierra style adventure games being made. Unfortunately, those games are primarily for PC and a fairly small handful of them can be played on a Mac. It’s even harder to find a game engine for Mac that’s designed specifically for making games in the vein of Curse of Monkey Island, but that was when I found LASSIE, which was cross-platform compatible. There hadn’t been any games made with it yet, but there was a demo, and it seemed perfect for what I had in mind.
Is it just you working on Nearly Departed?
Primarily just me in terms of writing, art, animation, and scripting, but Greg MacWilliam, the creator of LASSIE, has been a really big help, and Mark Darin from Pinhead Games will be producing the voices and music, as well as handling distribution and promotion.
How did you get involved with Pinhead games?
In my search for adventure games that could be played on a Mac, I found their website and played their Nick Bounty games. They were a lot of fun and very much like the kind of thing I’d like to make. I noticed they had another game in development, Nelly the Wonderdog, and they were looking for artists. I “auditioned” to be a character artist and got the gig. Shortly after that I started working on Nearly Departed and Mark was curious what I had planned for it. Pinhead Games has more resources at their fingertips than I do when it comes to sound, so we pretty much agreed to make Nearly Departed a co-production, as we’ll both benefit from it being the best game we can make.
Is Nearly Departed your first foray into game development?
Not entirely. I used to make games for the Commodore 64 back in the late 80’s, early 90’s. I had put out a few games, but none were adventure games. The last game I was working on was a film noir style adventure game, and I had done some art and programming for it, but I can’t recall any of it and I’m not sure where the disks with it are anymore. I’m sure they’re in my parents’ attic collecting dust. I did start working on another adventure game a number of years ago but gave up because the engine wasn’t cross-platform compatible and when MacOs upgraded to OSX, it didn’t quite perform the same. Nearly Departed is definitely my first game in a long time, though.
How has support for Nearly Departed been going? The online culture
seems quite excited.
Support has been great. I’m genuinely flattered by all the attention it’s getting and all the excitement people have about it. I just hope I can get the game done before all the anticipation for it goes away.
What would you consider your biggest learning experience while making
My biggest learning experience is coming from the various adventure game forums out there. Reading about what people love about adventure games, hate about them, would like to see, have seen too much, and so on, has been a big help in the development of the game.
What advice can you give anyone out there who is thinking of going
into Indie game development?
As an independent comic book publisher, I’ve realized that this advice is true for any independent industry: don’t try to be too ambitious, and don’t expect to strike it rich or make it big. Do what you’re doing because it’s what you love. Do it because it’s something you can’t NOT do. Fame and fortune should not be your goal. They’re a nice bonus, though.
Do you think you'll develop any other games once Nearly Departed
I sure hope so. I’ve got all those ideas on post-it notes that I’d like to do something with.
Here you go. I ended up writing an essay. Feel free to trim it down, or use my "short" answer I put at the end of the e-mail. Thanks again for the interview!
What are your thoughts on the current game industry?
The game industry, in a manner very similar to the comic book industry, and even the film industry (specifically Hollywood), follows its own trends. Whatever is a success defines what we're going to get next. On the surface, this is a fairly innocuous problem. If a movie is a success, then it obviously found an audience, and that audience will want to see a sequel. If a game is a success, then its audience will likely want to play more games like it. In general, this means the audience gets what they want, which is a good thing. But the audience isn't getting what they need, and that's bad. Take the American comic book industry. Any lay person on the street will tell you that comics are nothing but male fantasy super hero stories, and in a way they're right. Decades ago the industry ended up on a downward spiral: super hero comics had become very popular, and their sales skyrocketed while the sci-fi, western, romance and horror genre comics sales didn't (horror comics even got banned, after it was determined that comic books are only for children and they should not contain any material inappropriate for that audience. We're seeing things very similar to that in the game industry.). This isn't to say those genres didn't have an audience, they did, but comic publishers kind of came to this conclusion that just making super hero comics was enough. Why put out a book that sells 200,000 when for the same cost they can produce a book that will sell 6,000,000? So, over the years, comic books got this stigma that they were just about super heros and they were just for children and any time a comic publisher tried to put out a comic in another genre it was considered a failure because it didn't sell in the numbers the super hero comics did. Publishers then deduced that no one wants to read comics OTHER than super hero comics, never mind the fact that no effort was made to find the right audience. If the public at large only knows comics as being "about super heros and for kids", how are the going to know there might be comics out there they'd like if the only place publishers advertise them are in other comic books and in comic shops? This isn't to say there aren't different types of comics out there, and I'm not saying super hero comics are bad, just that the industry is saturated with them. Anyway, this has become a bit of a rant on comics, so let me try to bring it back to the game industry real quick: the game industry is on a very similar downward spiral. Ever since DOOM, the game industry has been putting more and more focus on first person shooters and multiplayer. The FPSs are the super heros of the game industry. That's what sells, and so why should big game companies produce games that don't sell as well? Sales do not always mean quality, and vice versa. Look at how many great movies come out every year that don't do well at the box office but take home award after award. But bringing home awards does not make producers say "we need to make more of those." Lots of smaller, indie games win industry awards, but it takes a lot of that kind of prestige to translate into better sales. There are occasional hits that break away from the FPS mold, like Katamari Damacy, and again, like super hero comics, I'm not saying all FPS games are bad, just that they are "the norm" for the industry and define how the public at large perceive video games. If the big players in the game industry (ie, the publishers backed by enormous corporations) don't realize this, the industry will end up in a similar slump that the comic industry is just barely getting itself out of (a super hero comic used to sell in the millions, now a comic that sells 100,000 copies is a runaway hit.) Publishers need to realize that the audience for other types of games is there, but they won't hang around forever. Eventually, when they've had enough of there not being any real games for them, they'll leave, and when the FPS audience finally says "hey, I've played this enough, what other types of game are there?" and there's nothing there, the game industry will crash. OK, sorry for the essay, there really are a lot more complex factors to it, and I was just trying to make an analogy between games and comics and movies and I guess went a little overboard.
Do you play any
of the current set of games yourself?
I haven't played many recent adventure games, as the majority of them are available for PC and I work on a Mac, but that's not the only genre of game I like. I do have a Nintendo Gamecube, a GBA and a DS, and I spend a decent amount of time playing them. I know I'll get criticized for this, but I love licensed games. Like games based on movies or comics and stuff–Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Spider-Man, X-men... I know these aren't typically the BEST games. The publishers figure the popularity of the license will make the game sell itself, so they don't have to put all their effort into making it the best game. But I like these games for the "extension of the fantasy." They're worlds and characters and stories I'm familiar with and I just like to play in those worlds and meet those characters and live out those stories. That's something a lot of games don't give you the chance to do. Sure, RPGs can have very defined characters and worlds and stories, but I just can't get into many of them. I just can't play them for twenty minutes and have my fill. One will say you don't play an adventure game for twenty minutes either, and that's true, but there's a world of difference between RPGs and traditional point-and-click adventure games.
What are your thoughts on the current game industry?
Here's my short answer: I could go on about how the game industry is on a very similar downward spiral that the comics industry had been on decades ago, but that'd take up half your magazine. Let me just say I think the industry does put out some great games, and I hope it continues to grow in terms of producing a variety of types of games for a variety of audiences.