Interview with Herculean Effort

EZINE: Tell us a bit more about yourselves – what you work/study; what you like doing etc etc.

IAN: We do most of our adventure development work during summer and winter break, especially now that Gregor is attending college, too. By the end of this spring semester I will (hopefully) have my degree in advertising. In addition to drawing, painting, writing, and designing adventure games, I enjoy weightlifting and varsity fencing.

GREG: My life could be summarized in one simple word: music. Scripting games, my other job at Herculean Effort Productions, isn’t the most fun thing I could imagine, but when it comes the making music for adventure games, I have a blast. I wish I could do the music for each and every AGS game in production, but time happens to be a barrier. Hobbies of mine include 3D graphics, learning Chinese, and voice acting.

EZINE: Which were the first adventure games that you played(both commercial and freeware)?

IAN: When my dad bought our first Pentium computer for home use about ten years ago, it came with a lot of bundled software, including several Lucasarts adventure games.

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EZINE: So I guess the first proper adventure game I played (or at least the one that influenced my memory) was the talkie version of Fate of Atlantis. Although the very next day I started on Day of the Tentacle.

GREG: Those are the first adventure games I’ve ever played, too. I also remember a few years later we got Teen Agent. Although some of the puzzles were illogical, I enjoyed it a lot.

EZINE: When did you first want to make a game yourselves?

IAN: Oh, man, a long time ago. I guess after playing the original Commander Keen series, I knew I wanted to make games. We had Autodesk Animator Pro back then, and I used to draw my games (a bit like a mock-up), and animate them like an arcade demo would run.

GREG: I think we’ve just about always wanted to make games, there just weren’t the tools available to make that possible. It was mainly the programming side on which we were lacking. I mean, we had QBASIC, but it’s hard to program a good game in it. At least, for me.

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EZINE: Which of the older adventure games are your favourite?

IAN: For its excellent quality and nostalgia factor, I’m going to have to go with DOTT. I think every once in a while, a team project just clicks, and every element harmonizes. I have yet to play a better point-and-click-adventure.

GREG: Those funny Lucasarts games are the best. I like Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle the most.

EZINE: And of the newer ones (1997-8 onwards)?

IAN: You know, I really haven’t liked many recent adventure games. I tried The Longest Journey a little bit, but I think it lacked a certain sparkle. If Grim Fandango can qualify as a recent adventure, then it wins hands down.

GREG: I really like Monkey Island 3. It’s just about my favorite adventure game ever. Grim Fandango was also most excellent, but the interface was hard to get used to.

EZINE: How long did the first Apprentice take to finish? And the second?

IAN: I started making puzzles and backgrounds for the original Apprentice during spring 2001, but I worked very sporadically on it. It wasn’t until summertime that Gregor and I ironed it out. I had most of the plot for the second Apprentice figured out before that Christmas, and I finished all the backgrounds and started on the animation by the time I went home again for summer again. For both games, about 90% of the work got accomplished during the summer.

EZINE: How many hours per week do you spend working on your games?

GREG: When I make music, I can easily spend an entire afternoon on a single song. But no more. I have this little problem with music: it’s extremely difficult for me to make a song over several days. Sleeping and eating really breaks up my train of thought, so I can’t really continue where I left off every day. To answer your question, I probably spend about 28 hours per week on music. Same goes for scripting, except for the last few weeks, when I worked a lot harder. A lot of times I would get back from a gig or rehearsal with a band and then work on the game until 1:00 in the morning. It was pretty tiring, but I think it was worth it.

IAN: There were definitely some late nights involved, but I’d say we average a few hours per day each when we’re feeling in prime condition.

To put that into numbers, I’d say we spent a combined average time of 30 hours per week working on the games.

EZINE: Where did you come up with the idea for the Apprentice trilogy?

GREG: That was Ian’s idea. He had a really cool idea for a game, with an equally cool storyline. We knew that it’d be tough to make the whole game in one piece, so we split it up. That had a good side and bad side. The good side was that we were able to get the game out on AGS in not very much time. The bad side is that the continuity of the storyline was broken. Apprentice has a really great storyline, and splitting it up into pieces really seemed to make it look ordinary.

IAN: Believe it or not, Terry Pratchett had nothing to do with it. I’ve only played the demo of the first Discworld game, and I haven’t really read any of his books until recently. I guess I just wanted to work on a completely fanciful game world, when we took a break from the first The Find demo (which still totally sucks, don’t you dare download it). Actually, the whole idea of the wizard and the apprentice came from me drawing over the Sam and Max sprites. The game grew from there.


app4.gif EZINE: Which will come next – The Find or Apprentice II: Checkmate? When, approximately?

IAN: Definitely expect us to make The Find first. I know I left Apprentice 2 at a bit of a cliffhanger, but I need to take a break from animating Pib. We’re even debating over whether or not to make the third Apprentice high-res. We’ll probably stick with low-res just to make the series consistent, in case we ever want to release talkie versions of the three games on CD or something.

GREG: Making The Find first is going to be a good break for us anyways, and I think you guys will like the game a lot.

EZINE: Since the quality of your games is top-notch, have you been approached for a job in the gaming industry?

IAN: Wow, thanks for the compliment there. You know, maybe our games would’ve been good for the mid-nineties, but I understand they’re a bit out of date in today’s full 3D, FPS world. I would love to have a job designing games, but I doubt it will happen in this lifetime. I can’t see myself selling out to garner a mass market appeal.

GREG: I haven’t been contacted either. But then again, maybe my spam filter is getting a bit enthusiastic.

EZINE: What is your inspiration for working on freeware games?

IAN: I really want to get our name out and build a reputation, because eventually I’d like to sell a game. Once people realize that we know how to make something decent, I think selling a game will become much easier. Deep down inside, I really miss the old school feel the Lucasarts adventures give me. Ultimately, if our games give people goosebumps, we’ve succeeded.

GREG: Lucasarts stopped making the good old adventure games, so now someone else has to. Apocalyptic things could happen otherwise. My inspiration comes from memories of playing those adventure games for the first time, not knowing what was going to happen next, solving the puzzles, etc. It’s cool making games for other people knowing that’s what they’ll experience when playing our games.

EZINE: Is there a possibility that you’ll be
selling your future games?

IAN: Yes, definitely. It’s too early to give anything away, but I think we might have something big on our hands.

GREG: You know, one thing I’ve noticed when we make games, is that I never feel like I’ve got something back for the work I put in. That’s the hard part about making free games, you obviously can’t expect anything in return besides compliments. I mean, compliments are good, and I like to know that someone enjoyed playing our games, but it doesn’t make up for hours and hours of hard work. To the topic, I’d like to eventually sell games, but there’s some legal issues that need to be sorted out first. We need to research it first.

And by “research”, I don’t mean our usual definition: playing dozens of rounds of King of Fighters.

EZINE: Which adventure games are you looking forward to most(both commercial and freeware)?

IAN: As far as professional projects go, I can’t wait to play Vampyre and Psychonauts. For the amateur productions, I think The Fountain of Youth, Kinky Island (both of which I’m doing some sprite work and animation for), Roger Foodbelly, and Bad Timing will end up being awesome games.

GREG: Of the commercial games, I’m most looking forward to A Vampyre Story — it has a lot of promise. To do with the freeware games, I’m looking forward to (off the top of my head) Guard Duty and MIA.

EZINE: Thanks for your time.

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