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Q&A: Bill Tiller
Friday, October 05, 2007
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
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.
Nice interview! There quite a lot of Tiller Q&As at the moment, but that guy seems to have enough to say to fill a dozen of them ;)
, at Saturday, October 06, 2007 5:24:00 pm
Nice read, Haggis!
And I absolutely love the story about the women in the kitchen.
, at Monday, October 08, 2007 1:51:00 am
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