Being a giant, beloved video game site has its downsides. For example, we sometimes neglect to give independent developers our coverage love (or loverage, if you will) as we get caught up in AAA, AAAA or the rare quintuple-A titles. To remedy that, we're giving indies the chance to create their own loverage and sell you, the fans, on their studios and products. This week we talk with creator Theodor Waern about his adventure game The Journey Down.
First of all, who is your daddy and what does he do?
Contrary to common belief, my daddy is not Arnold Schwarzenegger. My daddy is most definitely my ego. It owns me and controls me in a way only a proud, loving, demanding, worried parent can do.
He pushes me to the very edge of my capabilities, watches me balance on the precipice and then laughs manically as he sees me tumble and fall to my doom. Then lovingly he picks me up in his fatherly arms and places me back on safe ground again, pats me on the head, and convinces me to do it all over again.
(On a less metaphorical note however, my father is a landscape architect and quite the entrepreneur, I owe much of my own ambitions to his, and my mother's personal undertakings.)
To get serious: what's your game called and what's it about?
The full title of the first chapter in my story is titled: The Journey Down: Over the Edge. "Over the Edge" follows our brave pilot hero Bwana and his sidekick Kito as they, while trying to scrape up some cash to pay their debts, end up getting thrown into a twisting plot of corruption and adventure.
Why go with an adventure game? Was it easier to make? Is it a genre you favor?
I draw stuff, it's what I do. I've always looked for ways to make my art more interesting. One day when I was sadly uninspired I stumbled upon a picture from Grim Fandango, and WHAM I was back in the GF world all over again. That's when I realized it; the ultimate way to add depth and character to an image, is to wrap it inside a huge emotional story arc. So that's exactly what I did. When people see my concept and background art for the game, I want them to feel more than you can feel from a single image, I want them to feel the whole range of emotions that comes with an entire story, such as the one in The Journey Down.
To answer your second question, yes. For me an adventure game was easier to make. TJD was built in Adventure Game Studio (AGS). This is the perfect tool for someone with basic scripting skills and a desire to build adventure games. I recommend it from the bottom of my heart: www.bigbluecup.com
The genre is certainly one I favor. I've always been a sucker for games that let me truly "live" them, where I can bond with characters and fall in love with the environments. There's something about the way we follow our protagonist and the way new environments unfold in point n click games that simply can't be matched in any other form or medium.
How did you get started in game development? Was it just you who created The Journey Down?
I've been sketching, drawing, building prototyping games as long as I can remember. There's no real defined place in time where I actually started making them. The Journey Down has been an ongoing free-time project that I've been working on on and off for roughly five years. No way can I take full credit for it myself though.
While starting up the project I received much help from my colleague Mathias Johansson at SLX Games. He helped me get going with AGS and also was a big help in writing the first draft of chapter one's puzzles. Apart from that my other colleague Markus Larsson played an important part in helping me simplify and streamline the plot to make it the sleek experience it is now.
The biggest load of work however that wasn't done by me was definitely the soundtrack. Somehow I magically managed to convince Jazzmaster Simon D'Souza to write an all original reggae/jazz soundtrack perfectly tailored to fit the game's mood and rhythm. The successful ambiance set in the game is without a doubt largely thanks to his awesome soundtrack.
Why did you want to make games?
No medium can stand a chance against games.
Why go independent? Did you ever pursue employment at a game studio?
I am the co-owner of SLX Games, a small, independent Gothenburg, Sweden based game studio. We are four guys, this means zero bureaucracy and an amazing churn-rate. Our main project is an online game called Nord. (Have a look at www.nordgame.com) We can come up with a feature in the morning, implement it during the day and launch it in the evening. If it doesn't work, we throw it out. If it works, we keep it.
This "all rock and no BS" approach to development is something I'm sure I'll never find at a larger game studio, and I dread the day I end up having to work at one. Hopefully our various projects such as Nord and The Journey Down will help us stay clear of these stagnated corporate beasts, but who knows?
Do you feel like you've made the game you always wanted to play? What was the end goal with The Journey Down, other than vast sums of money?
Actually, yes, this is a game I made for myself. The Journey Down is in many ways a tribute to the "golden days" of the point 'n click genre, but it is also my way of trying to remove all those painstaking elements that more or less stopped the genre from becoming really big in the first place. Back then games could afford having clumsy controls and unforgiving gameplay, since once you finally got the game running you were hellbent on completing it. In these modern times, where games are in abundance and take no effort to get running, immediate gratification and constant positive feedback are requirements to keep the player interested.
Also, in my book, there's nothing in a game that can ruin immersion as effectively as being stuck on a puzzle and having to alt+tab for a walkthrough. This has really pushed me to make sure the game has a nice uninterrupted flow. Something that I sadly believe many of the golden day classics never really worried about.
How would you pitch your game? Why should somebody play it?
It's point 'n click at its finest, featuring all the good stuff from the golden days of the adventure game genre and none of those that almost had it killed. If you're new to adventure games this is a great way to start. If you're a hardcore fan of the genre, you're in for a treat that no doubt will bring you back to the golden age. Either way, chapter one of The Journey Down is completely free, you've got nothing to lose!
What's next for you? Another adventure game?
Chapter two: "Into the Mist" is my main project right now. I'm also looking into making a high-res version of chapter one with some added puzzles and polished animations, I might even try charging people for downloading it, who knows. Either way, the current low-res version of chapter one will remain a free download till the end of time. Keep your eyes on skygoblin.com!