Interview: Dave Gilbert, the man who brought Pixels back in fashion
How did you get started on designing adventure games? When and how did Wadjet Eye come into being?
You write what you know, and you write what you like. I both know and like adventure games, but never really thought about writing one until the World Trade Center went down in September of 2001. I live in New York, so you can imagine it was a pretty emotional time. I was also unemployed, so that made things even worse. I desperately needed something creative to get my mind off things, and when I discovered Adventure Game Studio I figured adventure games were as good a genre as any! I wrote a small game in a weekend and uploaded it. People seemed to like it, so I kept doing it.
Five years later, I found myself unemployed again. This time, I had money saved up. I figured it was now or never and leapt into designing games full time. I didn't think it would really go anywhere, but here I am ten years later.
In one of our reviews we called Wadjet Eye "King of the indies". Do you feel this is accurate?
Hahahahahaha. No. Not at all. Not that you have to stop calling me that or anything.
Your latest release is Shardlight, designed by your friend Francisco Gonzalez. Could you tell as a few words about this game?
It's a post-apocalyptic adventure where you play a young woman named Amy who has contracted a deadly plague. In the search for a cure, she gets embroiled in political intrigue, creepy cults, and hallucinogenic drugs.
An infamous question that you have probably had to answer quite frequently: Wadjet Eye is known for distinctive and vividly atmospheric pixelated graphics. Several indies have attempted to imitate your style, when they realized that there is a market for pixel graphics. What do you see in the future regarding pixel graphics? Do you think there is room for further evolvement of this style?
I am not sure if others could be considered "imitating" our style since we are using a style that's been around since the early 90s. :) But I will say that as we've done more and more of these games, we have learned what works well with this style and what doesn't. Dystopian futures like the ones in Primordia, Technobabylon and Gemini rue work really well with pixel art. Sunny art-deco Florida in Golden Wake did... not. So since we're sticking to pixel art, we are going to stick with games that are enhanced by the style rather than harmed by it.
Again in regards to pixel graphics, many gamers mistakenly believe that the AGS engine is limited to 320x200 pixels graphics.Some love the style, others seem to hate it with a passion. What is your personal experience with the gamers stance regarding this style and how do you expect their attitude to evolve in the future?
Complaining about our games using pixel art is like complaining that an RPG has stats. It's just what we do. It's a decision that's forced by budget and time as well as tradition.
Have you ever considered designing an adventure game with a more 'modern' high-res, 2.5 or 3D graphic style? Is there any such possibility in the future?
We are going to be doubling our resolution for our next game, so hopefully the pixels won't bother people as much! Going HD or 3D doesn't seem worth it. It would increase the time, money and effort we spend by at least 300-400%, and I don't believe that the game will earn enough extra to cover that.
Quality voice-acting is very prominent in your adventure games. In all your games you are known to be personally involved in the recording of the dialogue lines and the amount of effort put in the choice of actors and the audio aspect is quite evident. Did this emphasis on voice acting come about gradually over the years or have you always been interested in 'voice directing'?
When I made the Shivah in 2006, it didn't look very different from your average freeware title. So I had to make it stand out somehow, and voice acting was the obvious thing. I *love* working with the voice actors. I'm not a professional studio or anything, but I've personally casted, directed and edited 16 games worth of voiceover. So I've learned quite a bit. It's my favorite part of the process
Which is worse? An adventure game with poor graphics but excellent voice-acting or an adventure with stunning graphics but low-quality acting?
A good game is a good game, whether or not the voice acting is quality or not. If the voice acting is poor you can always turn it off! :)
Story-telling vs puzzles: is there an ideal balance? What’s your opinion about interactive movies? How do you feel about the recent shift by some adventure game developers to exclusively make this type of games?
What a lot of adventure developers need to remember is that the Internet exists now. You don't have to be stuck unless you really want to. Back in the late 80s, I happily spent weeks trying to defeat that bastard wizard in King's Quest 3. Today? I'd last about five minutes before reaching for Google. Modern developers understand this. So the focus has moved away from puzzles and more towards immersion and "fun." If you have to leave my game in order to enjoy it (e.g., going to google) then you aren't really having fun and I consider that a failure.
You have played a great many adventure games over the years. Is there a puzzle that you still remember with affection or admiration?
I loved loved loved Discworld Noir. It's really dated now, but it was the first game I played where I thought "I want to make a game just like this." In terms of puzzles I will always remember the time travel puzzle in Infocom's Sorcerer, which dates me horribly.
Which adventure game protagonist from the 'golden' era of the 80s and the 90s would you have liked to have created yourself?
I try not to think about the "golden era" too much. It's that kind of backward thinking and over-reliance on nostalgia that holds adventure games back. I'm happy with what I've created myself.
Among the adventure games of recent years made by other companies, is there one you wish you had developed it yourself? Is there a game designer you dream about working with?
See the above. :)
Do you have any plans in the near future for writing and designing a game yourself?
Yep! For the last six months or so I've been designing an Urban Fantasy game called "Unavowed." Darker and grittier than Blackwell, with a more branching narrative. It's best described as "Dresden Files meets Dragon Age Origins."
You have participated in several conferences regarding game development. What would be your first piece of advice to an indie developer who is trying to design his/her own game without publisher financing?
START SMALL. There's a reason why my first game is about an hour long and took one month to make. I wanted to test the waters and make my mistakes early, so I could bounce back from them and keep going. I'm in this for the long haul. I'm not just worried about the next game, but the next 3-4 games after that.
Finally a parent to parent question. What do you prefer: Dora the Explorer or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse?
Swiper no swiping. Swiper no swiping!
Thank you for your time and the great interview you gave us. Long live adventures!
You are welcome! :)