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    Halloween 2
    Wednesday, October 31, 2007

    Now the official A Vampyre Story site has also joined in on the festivities, with a tiny picture (the tiny picture is now gone) here, of which you can find a larger version at Adventure-Treff. Also new on the site is a blog post by Dave Harris, who managed to escape imprisonment long enough to write a thing or two about the Leipzig Games Convention... and about AVS, of course! So go and read it already.


    Today is the day when angry kids plaster your windows with eggs nice children, all dressed up, ask you for candy - Halloween. And of course, AME can't let that day pass up without giving us some interesting stuff to ponder. There's a new blog post, written by Bill Tiller, over at the AME blog. It includes an awesome Halloween card in the style of an old movie poster, so be sure to check that out. Also, Bill has created his own pumpkin in the Double Fine Action Forums pumpkin carving contest, which you should also check out, because it contains some pretty cool stuff. And if you enter, you're guaranteed to get a DVD, apparently. Bill also says we should check out Tim Schafer's new game, Brütal Legend.

    But let's get back to A Vampyre Story, which is why you're all here. The blog post also mentions: "We are about a month away from finishing the art for A Vampyre Story, and will start on A Vampyre Story Two this December. After the art is done we have three more months of scripting and engine programming, and our big voice recording session. Then we will be done!" So that certainly sounds like good news! We also get some more story details - AVS will be a trilogy, like LOTR or Star Wars, and the first two parts of that trilogy will be about Mona and Froderick escaping Draxsylvania, while the third game will take place in Paris. That all sounds great, so I'm sure you are all as impatient as I am!

    Q&A: Will Holland
    Tuesday, October 23, 2007

    Welcome to the second Q&A at The Pumpkin Post! This time the interviewee is Will Holland, a programmer at Autumn Moon Entertainment, who does scripting and engine programming. Will is a very funny guy, so you'll want to drink that yummy glass of milk after reading this. Like last time, I have added links to things you might not know about. If any of those are insulting to your intelligence, I apologize beforehand. Right, let's get to reading this, and I should not forget to thank Will: thanks, Will!

    First of all, could you please tell us something about yourself?

    Sure! I'm a student at the University of Massachusetts where I study English and Computer Science. I'm out here in California working for Autumn Moon through a co-op agreement between AME and U-Mass, which is a wonderful opportunity that I am absolutely thrilled about. When I'm not in front of my monitors clacking away on the keyboard, I'm either falling off my skateboard or running Dungeons and Dragons games for my friends. I got hooked on video games by my grandmother when she bought an NES and a copy of The Legend of Zelda to help keep her arthritis at bay (which has been quite effective, she reports). Ever since, making games has been my dream.

    Musicians, artists, and writers often have inspirational people they look up to. Would you say that you, being a programmer, also have people you look up to, or is programming not really an art?

    Well, it's certainly considered more of a science than an art, but there are brilliant programmers out there whose source code I'd love to read. An elegant chunk of code or a well designed class object can be a beautiful thing, but you won't find us sitting around oooh-ing and aaah-ing a buncha text the same way we coo over Bill's paintings. My inspirations actually tend to come from areas other than computer science, since games were my first love, and programming was just the most natural way for me to get involved. Ray Winninger is one of my idols, although he's a DnD guy who specializes in world-building, and I have no idea what he's up to these days. Warren Spector is another game-guru that has floated between pen and paper role-playing games and their video counterparts. I owe a lot of my game-education to Mark Overmars, whose simple tools for creating retro arcade games got me started on this challenging career path. Of course, Miyamoto has always been king of the designers in my mind, and someday I hope to shake that man's hand and thank him for all the times my television has transported me to Hyrule. As far as actual programming goes - the people at Google are forces of great good in our lives and I respect that very much. And finally, my Uncle Len is not really a famous programmer, but he's been there to answer my stupid questions and lay out the fundamentals back in my newbie days (thanks Len!).

    Do you ever play a game and think to yourself, 'hey, I wonder how they programmed this or that'?

    All the time! Those kind of questions depend on so many factors, and there are soo many ways to get this or that working, that I usually end up getting fragged, fall down a hole or forget to heal at the right time if I let my attention wander among the possibilities for too long. These days I settle for 'hey, I bet I could program that this way', and then scan my radar to make sure I didn't get surrounded while distracted.

    How is programming a game different from programming other software?

    Well, since I've only ever programmed games, I'm not too sure. The core principles of object oriented programming apply equally to all sorts of software, so there's really no difference there. What sets games apart for me personally is: games are fun! I guess I could be working on some sort of office application or web utility, but- why would I want to do that when I could work on A Vampyre Story instead!?

    Working on A Vampyre Story has been different from other projects because of the 2.5-d perspective. On the art side, it's an ideal situation for our team because we have a lot of talent in both 3-d character animation and the 2-d environments. For the programmers however, it's quite a pain! Always projecting from 3-d world coordinates to 2-d screen coordinates, tweaking strange perspective and scaling issues, or whatever. As Froderick says: "It's tough bein a 3D model in a 2D world". Concerned fans needn't fret though, this game's gonna look amazing, and we're gonna type til our fingers bleed and debug til our eyes pop out to make sure of that!

    How did you get involved with Autumn Moon Entertainment?

    It's kind of a convoluted story, but ok here we go: Back at Umass I was very involved in 'Hi-Score' (www.hsgamedev.org), a student group for people that are interested in learning about the game industry. We caught wind of a rumor that a grad student in the comp-sci department used to work for Monolith and was the creative mind behind Sanity: Aiken's Artifact. Naturally, we barged in and convinced him to come to our meetings and tell us about it. That's how I met Aaron St. John. Years later, I ran into him again at a multimedia showcase where I was demonstrating a small indie game I made that had some sophisticated camera code for a 2-player, Zelda-ish 2D action adventure. Aaron was impressed, and recognized me from the old club meetings, so he revealed to me that he had started his own company and was looking for young talent to do some contract work. Four months later he had teamed up with AME to serve as lead programmer for a Vampyre Story, and they needed a junior programmer. "Oo Oo! Pick me! Pick me!" ... And they did, so here I am. Bill was pleased to find that I knew more about game programming than they expected, so I moved from part-time out-of-house junior programmer to full-time in-house programmer. It's been a wild ride, and it ain't over yet.

    What does a typical day at work look like for you?

    One thing that keeps me going is that every day is always a little different. Sometimes I'm writing up feature requirements, translating artist speak into programmer speak. Sometimes I'm filling in missing character dialog, adding new engine features, or fixing technical discrepancies in our 3d models, but most of the time I'm scripting out the in-game events that happen when the player interacts with the environment.

    The time I arrive in the morning is directly proportional to how late I stayed in the office the night before. Some mornings, usually early in the week, Bill calls a team meeting, and we all gather to coordinate our efforts, review design changes or new pipeline issues, discuss problems, and make fun of each others moms. Then I get on the emailer with the external programming team and tell them about any bugs they need to fix. They respond by sending me computer viruses that make fun of my mom, and then give me my priorities for the day. Then I sync my repository and get down to business. Around lunchtime people wander off into the market across the street for grub, or sometimes we go out for Chinese or Mexican food. Usually we just eat at our desks while Bill cracks a bullwhip over heads, shouting "Mush". If I'm hot on the trail of a new feature or elusive bug, I usually elect to stay late and work the vampire's hours, since I too am a creature of the night...Some of these things I'm kidding about, but not that last one. That's true.

    What is the best thing about working at Autumn Moon Entertainment?

    Working on a fresh new IP for really talented people in a genre that laughs in the face of today's action-dominated market. I may get in trouble for saying this...but: $%^#! YOU HALO 3. I'M SICK OF SHOOTING BUGS. If you wanna shoot bugs, buy Halo 3. If you want something new, yet tried and true, that'll stimulate your brain cells and tickle your funny bone, buy our game. Better yet, if you want both the action packed bug busting experience and a humorous romp in Draxsylvania, buy both! I don't mean to knock Halo, I just am a little frustrated with the way popular games force every subsequent game to be either a sequel or some sorta knock-off. This in turn drives creative geniuses that make great games out of the industry and somewhere else less stifling. I think it's wonderful that Crimson Cow has placed their trust in us to help 'reanimate' a unique genre that anybody can play and enjoy, regardless of your reaction speed, eye-hand coordination, or available gaming time. Few people in the industry these days actually get to make the game that they want to make, so it's really inspiring to help turn Bill's own game idea into the real thing.

    What are some of the challenges involved in building an engine from scratch?

    The proprietary scripting language has been a particularly exciting challenge, and I hope that future AME employees will find it powerful enough to do what they want, yet simple to learn and use. Another aspect that I have been working on for the past months is the asset pipeline, which was still needing a lot of work when I became involved in it. Whenever you take on a new task in programming, you have to adapt very quickly to meet that challenge.

    Do you think the AVS engine would be useful for other companies as well?

    Well, I don't know how many companies other than us and Tell Tale who are doing the point and click adventure these days (and they are already off and running), but hey, that doesn't mean things won't change. It's not the kinda format that your typical twitch-gamer is gonna pounce on, but that's ok. A lot of people still remember the golden age of video games - how good a 2D backdrop can look, how rewarding it is to solve a diabolical puzzle, and how absolutely refreshing it is to play a game that gives you a nice full belly laugh instead of blisters on your thumbs. Right now, American publishers and developers don't seem to value these things, but I think that if Crimson Cow can move our game onto shelves and into enough homes in Europe, it'll turn some heads. I know that there are plenty of gamers in America that remember Monkey Island and smile. With the right exposure this game could sell just as well here, and if that happens, I bet other companies would find it useful. Just let us finish it first!

    As a programmer, how much influence do you have on the game, for instance on the story or the characters?

    Well, programmers have to make design decisions too, but they're not the kinds of game defining features that are decided on in pre-production. It's things that usually have more of an impact on the way the other team members work on the game, rather than the way the player plays the game. Typically, all the story and characters are pretty much set in stone by the time a programmer sits down at a keyboard to start. However - I get to write extra dialog when it's needed, as well as direct the character's actions as they deliver the dialog that Dave Harris writes. So, the overarching storyline, the critical path and so on are out of my control, but I'm the one that actually puts it all together; stuff like, 'right here, Mona's gonna roll her eyes at Froderick', or 'ok, now she looks pissed, and is about to suck that dude's blood, so her lips curl back like... this, and she crouches a little like... this' and so on.

    Bill's always open to his employees' suggestions and concerns, so all of us have a say when new content is needed, or we happen to have a particular concern. For example, I was concerned that the player doesn't get to bite enough people during the game ("C'mon Bill, It's a vampire game! people are gonna want to suck blood!"). As time went by, he found ways to add more 'necking' to chapter 2 to address my concern.

    Finally, do you wish to get anything else off your chest?

    I've noticed that fans are concerned about the size of AVS1, but the game is still about the size of Full Throttle and nowhere near an episodic format. The original design doc was massive, boasting of something like 72 locations. The market wouldn't support an adventure game that would be immensely bigger than Curse of Monkey Island right now. It's better to make a shorter but sweet and fun-packed high quality game, and leave you wondering what happens next than put out a long but thin, and low quality game.

    Adventure gaming fans should go check out Tell Tale's new episodes of Sam & Max while they wait for Mona & Froderick's big debut (season two is out soon!), or Crimson Cow's The Abbey which should be out soon too. And I just want to say to everyone that's been waiting so very long to play this game: We're almost done!

    Thanks for maintaining the blog :-)

    This blog looks a little better now
    Saturday, October 13, 2007

    Pumpkin Post reader Andrej noticed that the background of this blog tiled a bit awkwardly, with an intrusive horizontal line showing every so often. But he did more than just notice it, he remedied it by photoshopping and sending me a new background, which I've implemented right away, as you can probably see. Thanks, Andrej!

    AG interviews Bill Tiller
    Friday, October 05, 2007

    Adventure Gamers happened to talk to Bill Tiller at the Leipzig Games Convention, which resulted in this interview. Be sure to read it, and don't forget to scroll down to the blog post below to read The Pumpkin Post's Q&A with Bill Tiller!

    Q&A: Bill Tiller

    It's been some time since the last blog post, but I'm sure you all will enjoy this one. I had the chance to send a couple of questions over to Bill Tiller, and he sent some answers back, along with a brand new screen shot of A Vampyre Story! I have also added some links to the interview, so you can just click on something to learn more about it. Enjoy the ride read!

    How did you come up with the idea for A Vampyre Story? Was it always supposed to be a trilogy?
    Back in 1995, we got a nice bonus at work. With that money my wife Amy, who is our office manager and producer at AME, decided to take a vacation to the Bahamas and Disneyworld in Florida. I had just finished The Dig and had some time in October to take the trip before starting to work on The Curse of Monkey Island. So I thought I'd make it a vacation and research trip for the game. While on the deck of our cruise ship, I doodled up some characters I thought would be kind of in the style of Edward Gorey. But I wanted to do it a little cartooney too. So that is when I came up with the characters of Mona and her companion Froderick, as well as a few others. I then started thinking up the story. I had just read a cool gothic Batman comic where he explores a haunted monastery that was half sunk in a lake and that inspired me to have the castle where Mona lived in the middle of a lake. Then I thought, "What if some vampire hunters sailed to her castle following up on a rumor that a vampire lived there?" But that is about as far as I got before my vacation ended and it was time to think about pirates instead of vampires, which was OK because I love pirates as much as vampires anyway. After CMI I wanted to do my own game and I wrote up a proposal and had Larry Ahern, Jonathan Ackley, and Hal Barwood take a look at it. They all three thought it was a great idea, but I balked at submitting it officially at LucasArts. So one Christmas I announced to everyone, I think it was in 1997, that I was going to start my own company. My family sort of nodded their heads and replied with lukewarm enthusiasm, "Yeah, sounds great." and "You do that, Bill." SO that is when I started in earnest on the idea. Around 1999, after Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine was done, I found a programmer and we started doing a 2D demo.

    How would you describe the game? As a comedy game, a horror game, or somewhere in between?
    Comedy for sure! At least, I hope it is a comedy and not a tragedy. We think it's funny. Nothing in this game should scare anyone. Sorry. Go play System Shock 2 or Bio Shock for that.

    The game features characters from different European cultures. Was this a deliberate decision to appeal to a diverse range of people, or was it more because of they are stereotypes in vampire stories?
    Some are stereotypes for sure, like the gypsy seer, Madame Strigoi. But Mona is French because I was inspired by an Edward Gorey book called the Gilded Bat, which tells the sad but glamorous life of a ballet star. So I changed it to opera and made her a vampire. I'm not sure why Froderick is American. I guess I just pictured him being a wise ass from the streets of New York, like one of the kids from the Little Rascals or the Bowery Boys. Monsignor is based on a Hammer horror movie character named Father Sandor from "Dracula: Prince of Darkness", played by Scottish actor Andrew Keir. Shrowdy wasn't really inspired by anything in his vampire form - maybe Dracula meets Peter Lorre. So I didn't intend to appeal to all sorts of ethnicities or nationalities. I just got inspired by things I saw or came up with it on my own. I liked the mix and thought there could be a lot of tension between these character types which would make for a good plot and story.

    How hard was it to cast the voice characters?
    Well, we haven't cast them all yet but I would say it was hard for Mona but super easy for Froderick and Monsignor. Froderick was always written for a professional actor friend of mine, Jeremy Koerner, who just had a really smart ass, wise cracking personality that fit perfectly with Froderick’s character. Mona was tough. We went through quite a few before we found Rebecca Schweitzer. She did an even better job in the studio than she did in her audition, and she has a young, coquettish, fun personality that just fit perfectly with Mona. We did our initial recording for the full motion videos back in May using Bay Area Sound and Studio Jory in Fairfax, California. We'll do our final recording probably in early December.

    Since working on The Curse of Monkey Island, a game that has backgrounds similar in style to those of A Vampyre Story, what has changed that better enables you to create backgrounds?
    Well, the biggest change is 16 million colors versus 249 colors. The advancement in resolution allows for more detail as well. We now make the games with 3D planes, so that allows us to create real depth. Plus I have gotten much better at Photoshop since 1995-97 and I think I have improved as an artist, too. Other than that, I do things the same way now as I did back then. I sketch out thumb nails, then do a rough blue pencil drawing, then do a tight final pencil drawing, scan it in and paint it in layers in Photoshop. Pretty much the same.

    What would you say is the hardest part of working on A Vampyre Story?
    Getting a publisher was hard - finding one that believed in the product. Then trying to find a programmer. I went through three before I found the right ones: Randy Culley and his team at Bear Tech, and Will Holland. They have been terrific in dealing with this new engine and all the problems that developing a new engine entail. On the art side, I would have to say integrating the 3D animation and objects into the game so that they look right has been the toughest. I don't think we have perfected that on AVS 1 but I think by AVS 2 and other games we will.

    And what is the most fun to do?
    Brain storming, drawing the scenes, story boarding and working with my team. For two weeks Bill Eaken, Dave Harris, and I brainstormed ideas, puzzles, and jokes for the game and came up with so many we basically designed the sequel. That was a blast. I always love researching my subject matter through books or on the internet or going on field trips and then cobbling it all together into my composition and final drawing. Painting is fun too but it takes about a week to paint a background so near the end I started to get bored. Whereas the drawing takes about a day, so there’s not much chance of getting bored with that.
    And though I am not the best figure artist in the world, I do love storyboarding the full motion video scenes a lot, then cutting together the story reel and doing the scratch track voices. I do a great Madame Strigoi! The whole process reminds me of my student days back at Cal Arts putting together story reels for my student films.
    And I work with a bunch of people who have really good senses of humor, and who are nice and work hard. It took a while to get the team chemistry working, but I really like it now, because we know how to work hard, long hours and have fun at the same time. There are times we want kill each other and grumble but we get over it really quickly. We all know we mean well and any problem can be solved.

    Do you have any anecdotes to tell about things that happened during game development, perhaps?
    Sure. Leo Laporte is a famous radio talk show host here in the United States and he does his show right above us in the same cottage. One Sunday when I was working, it was all quiet upstairs when I heard this huge bang that scared the… stuffing out of me! I jumped right out my seat and yelled, "That’s too loud!" I thought some guys were moving furniture around upstairs because that is what is sounded like. Anyway, it turned out that Leo was doing his show and was sitting on a big exercise ball and it popped, sending him crashing to floor while he was broadcasting on the air! And all his listeners heard me shout. I felt very embarrassed for being so scared and later I heard the pod cast. Leo thankfully edited me out. I was so embarrassed. Leo, if you are reading this, I apologize! Next time I hear a huge bang upstairs, I'll know what it is.
    Also sharing the cottage with us is a new age beauty salon. We have the dining room and the living room of the house, and they have the kitchen. But only a thin door separates us. So while Dave Harris, Bill Eaken and I were brain storming in the dining room, the woman next door was trying to create a relaxing, mellow atmosphere. The conversation they heard going on in our office included statements like, "and then the gushing blood can hit the boulder" and "the demon then resurrects the vampire who kills Mona, then the zombie eats their flesh but pukes it back up so you have to use the stomach acid with the holy wafers." There were other nauseating but hilarious (to us) comments. On our way to lunch, we passed these women who looked at us funny and crossed to the other side of the street.

    What are your plans for the future? Do you already have ideas on games you want to make after the AVS trilogy?
    Well AVS may be more than a trilogy, ultimately, but I don't know for sure yet. But yes, I didn't stop coming up with game ideas after A Vampyre Story. Before I even started on AVS I had ten other adventure game ideas written down, some even with a lot of concept art. They range from sci fi, to detective, to AVS spin offs, a jungle adventure, pulp fiction, film noir, holiday specials, westerns, to some serious fantasy ideas. I like a lot of story genres, so for each genre out there that I like I have a good idea for it. And I will be trying to get them funded or fund them myself in the coming years. We want to expand a bit so that we can afford better benefits, get bigger and better facilities, and hire full time people who are part time now. There are many advantages to developing multiple projects at the same time or leapfrogging game productions. It adds to the company security and helps us retain our experienced crew. So I hope to have more than one project in development after AVS. But it isn't easy. Publishers don’t want to risk money, even the small amount it takes to make an adventure game. Many won't even return the NDA for a game if it isn't partially funded. I have tons of companies dying to publish AVS because it is almost finished. But if I pitch a new game idea .... (insert sound of crickets)...even from publishers I have friends at can't take a big risk on a new IP. Which doesn’t make much sense to me. I came up the idea for AVS, wrote it, art directed and designed it, and it seems pretty popular, but for some publishers it isn't enough. So really, to do something new you almost have to self fund.

    Finally, do you have anything else to say?
    Just in case all of the above wasn't enough I would like to let you know what a great experience it has been so far working on my own game. I know it has been a long time since we initially went public with the idea for the game, but it just takes an average of 16 to 18 months to make a game, especially if it involves a new engine. And we didn't start full production until July of 2006. Before that we didn't have funding so the game was progressing at a snail’s pace until we got a publisher to fund it. Currently, the schedule calls for art and animation to be done in November and programming in February.
    The reason we went public before we had a publisher was to attract an actual publisher. I figure if the fans were into the game, publishers would take notice. And it worked. It just took a year and half longer to find the right one, thus the delay. The guys at Irrational Games (now 2K Boston/ 2K Australia) told me they did the same thing with Bio Shock. They could not get a publisher interested. Let me repeat that: the company that made System Shock 2, SWAT, Freedom Force 1 and 2, Unreal Tournament, couldn't get a publisher interested in Bio Shock, a game that may be one of the best PC games ever!
    So they did the same thing I did. Made a demo and screen shots, then called up a friend at a magazine who wrote up an article in a big PC game publication about it. The same week the issue hit the stands, Irrational got tons of calls from publishers, even some who had turned them down just months earlier. Crazy!
    That is just the reality of trying to get a new idea made into a game. You have to jump through major hoops to get published, and jumping through hoops takes time. So if people wonder why it has been so long getting the game done that is it. We could never get VC (venture capital) funding because we didn't have a known license like from a TV show, movie, or a comic book, and we weren't a publisher.
    So I just wanted to assure people we are working our butts off (my kids don't know who I am) and doing our best to get a game out that is high quality and funny, and yet fits within today's adventure game budget. And hopefully you will like it. We are pretty convinced it will be worth the wait, but the fans are the final judges. I'm crossing my fingers.