GOG.com Interview: Dave Gilbert (Wadjet Eye Games)
This week marks the culmination of one of the longest-running indie adventure game series. With the release of The Blackwell Epiphany, the fifth and final point-and-click title in Wadjet Eye Games maethaphysical murder-mystery series, the story of the medium detective, Rosa Blackwell, and her spirit associate, Joey Mallone, is now complete. All four previous adventures can be found in the package we call The Blackwell Bundle. Dave Gilbert, the founder of Wadjet Eye games, creator of Rosa and Joey, and the writer for the whole series joined us to answer some questions from GDoc, GOG.com blogger-in-chief.
GDoc: It seems that adventure games are in bloom, nowadays. But it also looks like that most developers took to reinventing and mutating the genre. You’ve got Telltale Games with their tremendously successful narrative-driven episodic series that offer only the most basic of puzzles and limited interaction compared to the adventures of old. You’ve got the recent Double Fine title, which keeps much of the classic point-and-click appeal, but also simplifies interaction. There’s the new Jane Jensen game that takes some punches from users and critics alike for poor art direction that falls far from the pixelated delight of Gabriel Knight. Even the fifth Broken Sword, deemed as true to its heritage, didn’t make a full return to 2D graphics and took on episodic form. How do you feel about all those directions that “your” genre of games has taken recently?
Dave: Honestly, I think it’s silly to pigeonhole adventure games as being one specific thing. An adventure game is - at its heart - just another way of telling a story. Saying that the genre has mutated and been reinvented is like saying films have mutated. Or books. Or plays. Or television. None of those things have to made in a specific way to be “right”, and neither do adventure games. There are many different ways to tell a story, and there are many different ways to make an adventure game. The problem comes when you begin innovating for innovation’s sake. If you want a 3D game, you need to USE that 3D in favor of the story. Not the other way around.
GDoc: Against this modern adventure gaming landscape, Wadjet Eye Games look like a conservative bastion of point-and-click tradition. Is this a conscious choice on your part, or is it just something that comes with the limitations of your medium of choice (AGS)? Do you sometimes feel like the guardian of the classic adventure game spirit?
Dave: It’s funny that people think my games are so true to the “classic” style. True, you’ve got the pixel art, but that is more of a budget thing then anything else! But aside from the pixel art, I try to be as modern as possible. And by which I mean that I can’t pretend that the internet doesn’t exist, and there’s no such thing as getting “stuck” in an adventure game if you don’t want to be. Back in the day, I happily spent months trying to defeat that evil wizard in King’s Quest three. Today? I might last five minutes before booting up Google. I can’t pretend that the majority of players don’t do this as well. My philosophy has always been that if you have to LEAVE my game to enjoy it, then I have failed. So I put less effort into the puzzles and more emphasis on exploration and immersion. I want the experience of playing it to be enjoyable.
GDoc: Here, at GOG.com we make a point of giving our users as much bonus content as possible with every release, while keeping the price of the game at standard tier, not the amount you’d normally paid for an “extended”, “collector’s”, or “gold” edition. So far, Wadjet Eye Games had a perfect track record in that department, with every single title released on GOG.com with at least a full bonus soundtrack. While The Blackwell Epiphany has been received extremely well by our community and it’s getting all the due acclaim for its great story and presentation, the release itself has been deemed a little lacking. You’ve seem to have taken the path many other indie devs are taking and kept all of the goodies as exclusive content for those, who chose to pre-order the game. It’s cool - we don’t judge. But could you elaborate on your motivation?
Dave: I was honestly surprised at some of the reactions to the pre-order offer. The folks who buy my games early are the hardest of the hardcore fans, so why not give them something extra that they can enjoy? It seemed the very least I could do. Plus the extras were fun to make! I don’t see a problem with it, but perhaps I am misunderstanding the situation.
GDoc: The story of Rosa Blackwell is the only game series in Wadjet Eye’s stable. All of the other titles were one-shots—including The Shivah, which you wrote yourself—and it doesn’t look like any of them is up in line for a sequel (or am I mistaken?). Rosa and Joey must have been a recurring part of your daily train of thought for at least eight years. Did you always know how their story is going to end? Did you develop an emotional bond with them, that would affect the way you wrote the conclusion?
Dave: I always knew how it was going to end! There were many plot points and situations that veered off from my original design, but I am very proud of the fact that I was always working towards the same ending. And yes, I definitely developed an emotional bond with them. Rosa and Joey have been a part of my brain and thoughts for almost a decade now. It’s very weird (and difficult) to let that go. I probably could have dragged it on forever if I wanted to (a “spook of the week” serial, type of thing) but it was definitely time.
GDoc: All of the Blackwell games are fully voiced, and are often praised for the quality of the voice work. You’ve spent a long time working with Rebecca Whittaker and Abe Goldfarb, the two fantastic talents that gave their voices to Rosa Blackwell and her opacity-challenged partner (I had to use that pun one last time!), Joey Mallone. Did pieces of their personality, their quirks, habits, likes, or dislikes had some influence on the development of the in-game characters?
Dave: Abe is Joey. Always has been! Abe and I have been friends since we were kids, and having his voice in my head definitely colored how I wrote him, since I know him so well. Rebecca, however, could NOT be more different from Rosa. Rebecca is 100x more confident for one, and has the filthiest sense of humor you will ever encounter. Pretty much everything Rosa is not. Plus I didn’t know her terribly well when she started voicing the character. It took a bit of time for both of us to grow into it. As Rebecca grew more comfortable with voicing Rosa, it became much easier for me to WRITE for her since I had a better understanding of the character’s voice. It was very synergistic.
GDoc: With The Blackwell Epiphany out the door, and the two upcoming games in Wadjet Eye’s pipeline being written by someone else, do you plan to get back in action right away, or do you plan on some well deserved vacation? With the name your label made for itself you could surely do well for some time just publishing games. So, some time off for Dave, or another story already floating around your head? A series even, maybe?
Dave: Some time off, definitely! I never turn off completely - there are always a dozen ideas or so in my head - but I am quite drained from Blackwell Epiphany and I am happy to spend some time producing some other developers’ games for awhile! But eventually I will start to feel “the bug” and be chomping at the bit to work on my own stuff again. You could say it’s a cycle.
GDoc: There’s also this one thing I like to ask all of our guests, here at GOG.com Blog. Apart from Wadjet Eye’s homepage (and, of course, GOG.com ;-) ), what is the most exciting place in the internet for you right now? Something that’s new, something that’s happening, something that makes you tick—please share with our readers!
Dave: Does it make me sound really out-of-touch if I say I just discovered Tumblr? Well… I just discovered Tumblr. Make of that what you will.