August 18, 2013 10:33 PM | Staff
Remember when many were ready to pronounce the adventure game genre dead, with point-and-click experiences in particular seemingly on their last legs? What a world of difference a few years can make.
You could take Telltale's The Walking Dead as proof that there's still plenty of life left in adventure games, or perhaps you'd turn to Wadjet Eye Games and its recent unmissable string of adventure game successes like Gemini Rue, Resonance and the Blackwell series to make your case.
But beyond those standout examples that distill the essence of what made old-school point-and-click adventures so enjoyable, there are other adventure game stalwarts who are shaking up the genre's formula.
Anyone who closely follows the adventure game scene will no doubt be aware of both Ben Chandler and Francisco Gonzalez. Chandler, best known as Ben304, has been making exciting adventure games for several years now with titles that include Eternally Us, Shifter's Box and I Fought the Law, and the Law One. He also provides the backgrounds and sprites for the Blackwell series, and has a hand in plenty of other adventure titles that you'll on doubt have clicked all over.
Gonzalez has been around even longer, first with his popular Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator series, and later with hilariously compelling games like Back Door Man -- the tale of a male escort who has a rather rough night.
The pair regularly bounce ideas off of each other, throw feedback back and forth, and generally talk on a daily basis. In fact, it's rather surprising that only now the duo are finally working on a game together for the first time.
Pair upThe Rebirth and The Reaper are two short stories that you can download and play now for free, one from Chandler and one from Gonzalez. They act as an intro to a much larger game that the pair are currently creating together, in which the world has gone to pot, and we're treated to both the moment that it happens, and the aftermath.
"It's a single game that we're designing together, and sharing roles between us," Chandler tells me. "We're both working on story, both working on design, have both contributed to the graphics - it really is a joint effort."
He's not kidding. Essentially, Gonzalez paints the base figure for each sprite and character in his own style, and then Chandler goes over what Gonzalez has done, and performs his own palette tweaks and modifications. What comes out of the other end is a unique blend of both of their styles combined, and one that the pair believes looks better than their own individual efforts alone.
Gonzalez adds, "The story hasn't been fully fleshed out yet, but we've done quite a bit of brainstorming. Earlier this year I visited Ben and some other friends in Australia for three weeks, and a good chunk of that time was spent writing down ideas for the game in a notebook, which makes for probably the nerdiest vacation ever, but it was really a lot of fun."
Into the fireThose who follow both Chandler and Gonzalez will know that their output is always freeware. This will be a full-length commercial game, and they've even taken part in preliminary talks with a publisher.
"I actually spent three months of last year working on PISS, a commercial game of my own," Chandler tells me. "But the money I made from that wasn't nearly enough to be a sustainable income."
"I've been working as a freelance illustrator/animator on indie games for several years now - currently doing some great projects such as The Blackwell Epiphany with Wadjet Eye Games and Sepulchre with Owl Cave - and make a bit of money from that," he adds. "I also have a part time job, and play in a band every now and then. The more freelancing work I get, the more I'm considering going into game development full time."
As for Gonzalez, he hasn't really considered going commercial before now, "mainly because I didn't feel I could handle self-publishing, or even that my games were particularly commercially viable."
"I had been working full-time as a Spanish interpreter for the past four years, but recently quit and went freelance," Gonzalez notes. "I'm moving to New York this August, where I plan to continue doing that to support myself, but also trying to transition into making games for a living, since there's a way better scene up there than in Miami, where I currently live."
Alive and kickingChandler and Gonzalez's first jaunt into the world of commercial adventure games couldn't really come at a better time.
"I look at the Wadjet Eye catalogue from the last few years, the Telltale catalogue, what the Daedalic guys have been doing, and a ton of adventure projects that have been funded on Kickstarter, and I can't help but feel that the scene is amazingly strong at the moment," Chandler notes.
He adds, "Touchscreens suit the genre perfectly, and everybody is suddenly playing games on touchscreens and not so focused on dual analogue controllers. I love all genres, and it's awesome to see people caring about adventure games!"
Gonzalez is similarly excited about where the adventure game scene is currently headed.
"It absolutely is going places," he says. "If you'd asked this same question five years ago, the answer would have been less optimistic, but I think adventure games are coming around again."
The Walking Dead was a real turning point in Gonzalez's eyes, and even more mainstream titles like Heavy Rain are helping to swing the adventure game genre back into the good books of mainstream players.
"It seems like every developer who made a game in the 80s and 90s has come out of the woodwork and done a Kickstarter for a new game," he adds. "We've come a long way from the 'current market place realities' that cancelled Sam and Max in 2004."
Having said that, the adventure game dev is wary of getting ahead of ourselves -- the genre still has a lot of growing up to do, he reasons.
"I'm excited by what Telltale did with choice and branching narrative in The Walking Dead," he says. "More adventures need to do that, rather than keeping the obscure puzzles and 'punishing the player' designs of the old classics, which I worry all the old designers might still think are a good thing."
Make sure you grab a copy of both The Rebirth and The Reaper to get an idea of what to expect from this pair in the coming year.
[Mike Rose wrote this article for sister site Gamasutra]