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Archive for the ‘Publicity’ Category

'Rattlesnake' Jake

One of my favorite indie gaming blogs,  A Hardy Developer’s Journal, has just published a new interview with me focusing on the development history (and future!) of Rise of the Hidden Sun. Among the topics covered:

  • How the project has evolved from 2002 to present
  • The major game and film inspirations behind ‘Rattlesnake’ Jake
  • What being an indie developer means to me
  • My thoughts on the adventure genre in general
  • How interactive storytelling differs from traditional storytelling

I didn’t do all the talking, though. Mr. Hardy himself had some really nice things to say about Rise of the Hidden Sun, calling it “the most legendary title that’s ever been in development using Adventure Game Studio” and “maybe even the most awaited freeware adventure in existance.” High praise!

To read the interview, head on over to A Hardy Developer’s Journal.

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Every few weeks I get an email from someone hoping for news about Rise of the Hidden Sun. As far as I know, though, this is the first time someone has blogged about me.

I just stumbled over a blog post by Josh Roberts, multi-talented writer/producer/designer of the excellent independent adventure game Rise of the Hidden Sun … It’s a very ambitious freeware project that suffers a bit from an on-again, off-again progress. After a long hiatus, development on the game resumed in 2007 and the artists in Josh’s team churned out some really impressive artwork, but now according to his blog post production seems to have ground to a halt again…

Josh is obviously very determined to see the game of his dreams realized. He’s also a talented writer with a kick-ass concept for a game. Yet even he has problems in finding and maintaining the help that is necessary to create this mammoth project, at least with the kind of quality he aspires to. I’ve been there myself a few years ago …  Anyway, I hope Josh will find a way to keep his project going. Rise of the Hidden Sun is a game I’m very much looking forward to.

It’s pretty flattering to know there are people out there who I’ve never met who are looking forward to this game. ‘Course, most of them will have lost interest by the time I actually do get something done. But still, flattering! And it does make me want to dig in and keep trying.

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Awesome, right?

We’re on the cover of this month’s edition of The Inventory, an adventure game magazine published by Dimitris Manos and hosted by Just Adventure! The new promotional image was created exclusively for the magazine by our own Dan Lee.

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This is the transcript of an interview I just completed with the folks at Phoenix Software Insider.  Enjoy!



Thank you for taking the time to have this interview with us. Tell us a bit about yourself?

Thanks for asking me to do this interview. It’s really quite flattering to see that people are taking an interest in Rise of the Hidden Sun. A little about me? Let’s see, I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I’m 29 years old, and I’m married to my high school sweetheart. I grew up in the heyday of adventure gaming during the mid ‘80s, when every year it seemed there was a new King’s Quest or Monkey Island game coming out, and that really shaped my interest in becoming a game designer.

Unfortunately, by the time I got to college and was old enough to apply for a job at Sierra or LucasArts, those companies had pretty much given up on the adventure genre altogether. So eventually I decided to turn my attention to creating a game on my own.

Tell us a bit about your past, and what happened when your company first started?

I’ve been fortunate to have quite a few interesting jobs in my life, starting right after college with an editorial position at Marvel Comics in New York City. Later I become an entertainment/pop culture writer for not one but two now-defunct websites. Currently, I do some travel writing, and am the managing editor of a travel website in Boston.

I started Chapter 11 Studios about two years ago with the idea of forming a completely not-for-profit, independent adventure game design studio that I could use to create the kinds of adventure games that I always enjoyed playing, and making those games available to a wide audience by making them free to download and play.

Two years later, Chapter 11 now boasts a team of contributors from as far away as eastern Europe and as close to home as the next town over from me. The unifying theme is that everyone on the team genuinely believes in what we’re doing.

Tell us a bit about your first title: Rise of the Hidden Sun?

Rise of the Hidden Sun is the first title from Chapter 11 Studios. I think of it as my shot at writing an Indiana Jones adventure, only set in the 1860s and with the freedom to add as much off-the-wall humor as I can cram into it. For adventure gamers out there, think of it as Indiana Jones meets Monkey Island, with a dash of Broken Sword thrown in for good measure.

It’s crammed with just about everything I’ve ever loved about those stories: Lost treasures, secret societies, ancient myths, nonstop adventure, and a very healthy dose of comedy. In short, it’s everything I would want in an adventure game. I’m really making this game for myself and all of the other fans out there who I know enjoy this kind of stuff as well.

Any chance of getting a look at the GUI that is going to be used in the game?

Since we’re using Chris Jones’s Adventure Game Studio (AGS) engine to build the game, we have a tremendous amount of freedom from programming the smaller details, and that provides us with a lot of flexibility for design and GUI. (And as an aside, I simply can’t say enough about Chris or the entire AGS community, which has been extraordinarily helpful over the past few years. And without the AGS engine, I never would have even attempted to create something of this scale.)

But back to the GUI, or general user interface. We’re using an icon-based point ‘n’ click system established by Sierra in the early ‘90s for actions, and the SCUMM-like dialogue system originated by LucasArts in games like Monkey Island and The Dig.

Judging by the work already produced, Rise of the Hidden Sun has legendary backgrounds, such high quality. Please explain the process of making these backgrounds?

Well, first off, thanks for the compliment. When I came up with the idea of Rise of the Hidden Sun, I knew from the start that I wanted it to be something special. I also wanted the game to have a sort of organic look to it, so I stayed away from purely computer-generated images, which are easier to create but lose a little of the grittiness I wanted to establish for this beat-up, dusty old Wild West world I was creating.

Instead, I roughly sketch out an area of the game and break it down into a number of screens to give the real artists a sense of what I’m trying to get at with the scenario. Then another artist will take my light pencil sketch and redraw it, creating a darker, more solid screen that’s pretty close to the final layout. Finally, we scan in the pencil work and then use Photoshop to digitally paint the screens, letting the original pencil lines show through a bit to give it an organic look that I think works really well for the game’s setting.

Any chance of getting a peek at the other locations that will feature in Rise of the Hidden Sun? And also some details on the location?

The game follows the story of a down-on-his-luck cowboy turned treasure hunter named ‘Rattlesnake’ Jake Dawson. His adventures take him all across the Wild West, into dusty old desert towns, haunted mines, Indian temples, a strange Stonehenge-like rock formation, ancient Indian cliff dwellings—he even ends up smack dab in the middle of a train robbery. I pretty much emptied out every Wild West and treasure hunt scenario I could think of for this game, and put it right there in the storyline to make it come to life.

Do you have a release date you can tell us?

What’s the standard response for these kinds of projects… when it’s done? Seriously, it’s hard to say, since so many of us working on the game are doing so on nights and weekends between other jobs that actually pay the bills. That said, we’ll be releasing the game in four serialized episodes—all of which will be completely free to download and play—with an eye toward completing the first episode by summer 2005. And when all four parts are done, we’re planning on a special edition CD with some cool bonus features and a sneak peek at a possible sequel, tentatively titled Curse of the Hidden Sun.

What are the future plans for Chapter 11 Studios?

Games, games, and more games! Far from being exhausted by this massive undertaking, I’m actually stoked to start making more games. I have a notebook full of ideas for different settings, characters, adventures, etc., that I’d love to get to someday. Not to mention the fact that, like all great adventures, Rise of the Hidden Sun will almost certainly have a sequel somewhere down the line, though probably not immediately. There’s a different story I want to tell first, once this game is done.

From a business standpoint, I’m interested in the possibility of turning Chapter 11 into a for-profit adventure game development studio down the road. It’s a lot of work making these things—much more than I anticipated, and I anticipated a lot—so it would be nice to someday be compensated for all of the hard work. But as for Rise of the Hidden Sun, I went into this project promising that it would be free for everyone, and I’m going to stick to that promise. Think of this as a really cool, really long, really fun demo reel for something even more ambitious down the line.

Like any good adventure game there simply must be some humour. Tell us what we would expect?

Oh boy. Um, probably some of the worst jokes you’ve ever heard. Really high on the groan meter, I’d say. Lots of puns and wordplay. If I had to compare this game to some that your readers might be more familiar with, let’s say Monkey Island and Quest for Glory. Jokes so bad that you’ll probably shake your head, but you’ll have a smile while you’re doing it. Oh, and you can also expect a lot of Easter egg jokes referring back to classic adventures. So be ready for anything!

Can you mention some names that are on the team? Writers? Artists? Programmers? Musicians? Animators? Others?

I’m glad you asked. These guys and gals are just absolutely amazing, and Rise of the Hidden Sun quite literally would not be possible without them. So let me give a great big shout out to the heart and soul of this project: Dan Lee, our lead animator and colorist; Marc Fortin, Hazel Mitchell, Paul Schmalenberg, and Frankie Washington, pencil artists extraordinaire; and Eric Joyner, Sarah Yoo, and Jane Stroud, superstar colorists. Jane Stroud, by the way, was one of the lead colorists on another little project you may have heard of—Revolution Software’s Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars.

The game’s plot, story, setting, and puzzles were written entirely by me, and I’m currently buried up to my neck in dialogue for episode one right now. I may bring in a few more writers to help polish off the dialogue as well, since there are still several thousand lines to conversation yet to go.

I notice you have lots of merchandise up to buy. Tell us a bit about the products and the quality?

The products are provided by CafePress, and there are a good number of T-shirts, posters, lunch boxes and the like for sale with our logo or promotional material from the game. As I mentioned earlier, the game will be completely free, but we certainly won’t turn away any money or publicity we get from merchandising, however small. It helps offset some of the incidental costs. Also helps pay for the occasional cup of coffee on those nights when inspiration strikes at three in the morning.

Will your backgrounds feature night and day modes?

It’s a fairly linear storyline that takes places over the course of a predetermined period of time. Some scenes do take place at night, but we didn’t see a need to invest the resources into creating different night and day settings for most locations, since the story doesn’t specifically require it. That said, there are a few places the player will need to visit at night to understand their significance.

Was Chapter 11 Studios ever associated with any other company? Or has it been independent ever since?

Chapter 11 is completely independent and always has been. I did work briefly for a subsidiary of GT Interactive a few years back, though, and a few of our artists and animators have worked on other games, including—as I mentioned—Jane Stroud’s involvement with Revolution Software’s Broken Sword series. But as for an official affiliation with any big companies out there, nada. I don’t like the corporate game design environment much, anyway. They make you design games they think will sell, rather than games you know in your heart are more creatively satisfying. And I think the love one puts into a game shows through for those who play it.

Any word of advice for the game developers of the world?

I think I’ll steal Nike’s slogan and say, “Just do it.” (Waiting for the lawyers to descend upon me now.) But seriously, programs like Adventure Game Studio have made it possible for just about anyone to make a game if they set their mind to it. It’s a lot of hard work, and despite the way it looks it’s not always fun, but it is worth it.

Don’t jump into it unprepared, though. Start with a story and characters—these are the two most important parts of game, far more than the flashy stuff like graphics and animation. And don’t start recruiting a team until you actually have stuff for them to do. From what I’ve seen elsewhere, nothing will kill a game faster than bad project management.

The advice I got when I was starting out was to start small, but it would probably be hypocritical of me to suggest that since my first attempt is—as Tolkien would say—a tale that grew in the telling. Now it’s simply monstrous in size and scope, but that also makes it even more worthwhile for me to work on.

Any last words?

Last words? Uh oh, what are you going to do to me at the end of this interview? Oh, oh, you mean last words about the game, right? Phew. Yes, in that case, I’d like to say thank you very much for requesting this interview.

Thank you for your time to do this interview, greatly appreciated.

It’s been my pleasure.

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