There was a time when Adventure Games were far and few between on the market, apparently considered to be out of favour with the market and dated in design. Now they’re back with a vengeance.
This latest effort from Arrogant Pixel – The Tale of Doris and the Dragon – has adopted a retro aesthetic but also the episodic format made famous by Telltale and DontNod. It’s got a quirky, Monty Python esque humor, an elderly protagonist, and a dragon. What more could you possibly want?
We interviewed Ben Simpson – founder at Arrogant Pixel – to get his thoughts on the game.
What were your main adventure game influences while making Tale of Doris and the Dragon?
My main influences for adventure games have always been mainly of the 1990’s Lucasarts variety. I think this shows in the graphical style of the game. I was also hugely influenced by the few Discworld adventure games that were released. I always loved the way Terry Pratchett created an incredibly whimsical world but was always able to poke fun at pop culture within it and it was always something I wanted to create for myself.
What’s the decision behind making the games episodic? Is this purely a development decision, or has this always been the plan? Do you feel the episodic model suits the adventure game mould and is the best way to experience them nowadays?
The decision was exclusively based on time and budgetary restraints in the beginning as I was working alone, but as time has gone on we have realised this format really works for games where the narrative is the main focus or driving point. I watch a lot of anime and one thing that is always a huge focus is the end of episode cliff-hanger, it always made me want to catch up with the next episode as soon as possible. This has been adopted by western shows in recent years with things like Game of Thrones constantly leaving you on the edge until next week or next year. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, I will always wait to see what happens as long as the narrative seems to be moving in the right direction.
Another great thing about doing things episodically is that we are self-funding the entire project. We haven’t asked for any money via Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding method as we wanted to make a game that we loved and not be tied in to any prior expectation from backers. The episodic format allows us to make small chunks of money that we can put straight back into making the second and third games even better, without asking people for money for a product that in so many cases never ends up being made. At least with pre-orders people know they are getting a the game they paid for at the end of it.
You’ve opted to drive the game’s narrative through the guise of an elderly protagonist which is something almost unheard of along with a dragon. What – if any – development challenges did this produce? Did this present any unique opportunities?
It really didn’t provide any challenges, I think the adventure game format is always great for having a very unlikely hero as they never have to actually ‘fight’ anything and in a lot of adventure games there is no death mechanic so as soon as I decided that’s what I was going for, I started writing the story and characters around it. I think it’s the same with any form of writing, you just really have to know your format.
Of course the elderly protagonist has provided many great opportunities to capitalise on her situation and character and I think that makes the story even more unique in many ways.
Why did you decide to go for a retro aesthetic with voice over? That actually makes the game quite unique as most games with a similar look – like old Sierra titles – didn’t have the fortune of that years back.
I went for the retro aesthetic because in the beginning it was just me developing the title. When you are designing, coding, writing, illustrating, animating and bug testing everything by yourself you have to accept it’s going to take you a very long time to produce anything of a higher quality. Which is the main reason the early release of the first episode had no voice acting.
As soon as the BETA for Doris Ep -1 was released people were finally able to see what I was able to produce alone and wanted to come and help me out. So I ended up with a new audio guy who recorded the voice acting and a new artist who has been helping out with the promo material and is taking on the bulk of the artwork for the second and third games (which means the second and third games are going to look AMAZING, trust me, I’ve seen the work). The voice acting decision was made and based solely on the early port of games from floppy disk to CD. Lucasarts went through a phase where they released a few of their games on floppy without voice acting and then released a more expensive version on CD with voice acting, so in that regard I didn’t think the idea was all that out of the ordinary.
A lot of people got to play this last year. What big improvements have you made since then and what have you learned that will help with the development of the next two episodes?
As far as the first game goes there have been major improvements to the speed and pacing of the game, major improvements to dialogue, a complete overhaul of the engine, shader effects implemented, 1000+ lines of voice acted dialogue, some puzzles have been re-designed to be more intuitive and new animations have been added for a lot of the characters. We have been very busy over the last year making sure that the first game would be something worth paying for and right now I really think it is.
For the rest of the series, artwork. The artwork for the second game is going to blow people away. It’s still keeping to the retro vibe but the pixel art is of much higher quality than anything I could ever produce alone. Safiya Khan (the new artist) is a very talented illustrator and animator and she is making my job a LOT easier, as well as giving me time to focus more on puzzle design and writing. So in that regard those three things will be way more polished in the second and third games. As everyone seems to love the music in the first game, the music will be just as good. We still have the same composer we used for the first game and with the money earned from the episodic release he should be able to spend a lot more time on the project.
Tales of Doris and the Dragon is available right now on the AppStore, Google Play, and PC.