John Green Art Interview
03 May 2006
1) First things first: Could you briefly introduce yourself John? Your age, job status and gaming history, for instance. Are you an avid gamer or purely a dabbling developer?
I’m 31 years old and my job would most simply be summed up as “freelance comic writer/artist.” I primarily do a lot of work for Disney Adventures Magazine, writing, coloring, lettering, and handling various production chores on comics based on properties like Kim Possible and The Incredibles. I also occasionally do some comic work for Nickelodeon Magazine and other publishers like Scholastic. In addition to all that I also co-publish and illustrate the comics “Jax Epoch and the Quicken Forbidden” and “Teen Boat”, with my friend and writer Dave Roman. As far as my gaming history goes, my first system was an Atari 2600, but really I grew up on a Commodore 64. In the early 90’s I started playing some games on PC, but I never had another console system until the N64. Since then I’ve had a PS1, Dreamcast, and Gamecube, as well as just about every incarnation of Gameboy. I’ve played on just about every system as friends always had the ones I didn’t, but I wouldn’t really say I’m an avid gamer. I love video games and sometimes wish I had more time and money to play some of the ones out there, but so many of them can be life-consuming. Sometimes I just gotta resist temptation and not buy that new game or system, otherwise I’d never get anything done. And since college I’ve been a Mac person, so that kinda limits some of the games I can play as well.
2) What games have you worked on prior to Nearly Departed, if any? Is this your first project, or what?
Nearly Departed isn’t my first project, though it’s the first one to get any attention, and the first one for quite some time. I released a few games for Commodore 64 in the early 90’s: Castle of Kraizar, an RPG, Melee, a battle board game akin to Battle Chess, and Gunrunner, a space trading/combat strategy game. You can actually find them online and play them with the C=64 emulators out there. Sometime after college I started making a game for Mac, an adventure game called Inhuman Gain. I had developed it to the point of a short demo but pretty much abandoned it because of the limitations of the engine I was using.
3) Will Nearly Departed be distributed commercially, or as a freeware product? At any rate, how are you planning on releasing this charming adventure to the masses?
It is currently planned to be freeware. The precise method of distribution hasn’t been worked out yet as a lot depends on the final size of the game, but hopefully people will be able to play it online in their browser. There should also be a version available for download, and a deluxe version for sale that would include extra bells and whistles like a comic book, production art, a “making of” presentation, and so on. Pinhead Games (www.pinheadgames.com) will be heading up distribution and promotion among some other aspects of the development.
4) And now, to the crux of the matter. We know Nearly Departed is shaping up to be an old-skool point-and-clicker, but is it more than that? Tell us about the game, how long it has been in development and when you’re planning on unleashing the finished article?
I wouldn’t say it’s “more” than a traditional point-and-click adventure in terms of bringing anything new or revolutionary to the style of game play, but I don’t think that’s entirely necessary for something to be a good game. There are plenty of examples of games that relied on tried and true formulas and turned out to be amazing gaming experiences, and there are others that have changed game play to something new and different and just weren’t good games. Whether a game aspires to be revolutionary or not shouldn’t be reason to praise or condemn it, but I will admit that a game that tries to redefine game play within a certain genre does deserve, at least, an “A for effort” kind of acknowledgment. I didn’t set out to make anything revolutionary with Nearly Departed, I just want to tell an entertaining story in a style of game that I don’t think we really see enough of anymore. The game hasn’t been in development too long, since about October of 2005, but I did come up with the original character and concept a number of years ago. It started as just an idea for a comic book that I never got around to making, and when I got it in my head to make an adventure game, this idea just seemed to fit. Hopefully it’ll be done by the end of the year, but there is still quite a bit of work to do.
5) Describe the engine being used to power the game?
The game is being made with LASSIE, which stands for the Lingo Adventure Scripting System and Interactivity Engine, which was developed by Greg MacWilliam. It was designed specifically to create LucasArts-style adventure games akin to The Curse of Monkey Island. There are actually two versions of LASSIE: the original and the still-in-development LassieAS. The Nearly Departed demo was made using the original LASSIE, which can compile games into stand-alone applications, though with some limitations. The final game will be developed with LassieAS, which can create Flash-native games, and is just a much more versatile engine overall. Also, either version of LASSIE can create cross-platform compatible games, which for me, being a Mac person, was pretty important.
6) How long is Nearly Departed intended to be? Or is it a more impromptu project, where you simply add randomly to the existing product, mix and match and stay contented? Additionally, is it fair to lump your work-in-progress with other freeware adventures, or are you inclined to believe it’s a rather more professional project?
I’m horrible at estimating the length of a game in terms of how many hours of game play someone will get out of it. The entire game is fairly planned out, so I know how many rooms/screen/characters/etc. will be in it, but if you take the demo, for example, I know some people completed it in 15 minutes, and others it took an hour. The final game could then take someone anywhere between 2 1/2 to 10 hours. As far as “is it fair to lump in with other freewares adventures” goes, that’s kind of a loaded question, isn’t it? Looking at it subjectively, “freeware adventure” is terminology that could describe a game’s quality, and many people would jump to the conclusion that it means the quality isn’t that good. Objectively it just means it’s an independent game that you’re not going to find in any stores and you’ll just have to play it and judge its quality for yourself. There are a lot of quality games out there that are distributed for free and I think it’s unfair that the term “freeware” have any stigma applied to it. There are a lot of poor games commercially distributed–just because they were developed by a team with a corporate budget and published worldwide isn’t a mark of quality. But people do work within the resources they have available, so having more time and money at one’s disposal is almost guaranteed to make the end result look slicker. I just want to be proud of the game I’ve made when it’s done, regardless of it being an amateur or professional endeavor.
7) What’s your view of fangame adventures currently; or do you steer clear of such titles?
Why, do fan games have some sort of communicable disease? I actually think it’s great that there’s a fan game community, and I include original amateur games with games based on existing properties in that statement. I come from an industry where most people get employed the same way, by either just going out and doing something of their own or by doing something with somebody else’s characters. If you want to get a job as an artist on Batman or Spider-Man, you’ve got to draw those characters and show DC or Marvel that you’ve got what it takes. Now I know not everyone making a Monkey Island fan game is doing so to get a job at LucasArts, but making fan games is at least a valid way of honing one’s game design skills. You don’t have to be an excellent artist or animator to be able to design a good game. I don’t really see it being too different from people who make FPS games and get their graphics from “content/art packs” because they don’t know how to make a 3D model of a tree or a crate. And, to steer this back to what the original question was, I’ve come across some great fan/amateur games and I just wish I could play more of them on my Mac.
8) Lastly, any more games in the pipeline?
I don’t currently have any other games in development, though I do have plenty of games in mind. I would like to dig up Inhuman Gain at some point and redesign and complete that, not sure if it will be the next game I do, though. I just want to focus on making Nearly Departed as good as I can and I’ll figure out where I go next when it’s done.
Thanks for the interview!
Thanks for your time, John.