We caught up with Benjamin "Trisk" Johnson - which is the developer of Prodigal and soon also Prodigal 2. Prodigal is an adventure point and click game that we host and which I (ed: Chroelle) enjoyed as one of my favourites in here.
Benjamin Johnsons site is here.
The story in this game has to be seen and played so we wont be revealing anything in this interview. You need to experience this one yourselves. :)
Here is a little info on Prodigal:
An epic horror/thriller game with a story that spans centuries, Prodigal is the tale of two estranged brothers thrown into a world of darkness and deceit beyond anything they could have ever conceived. Will they reconcile their shadowed and twisted past and survive the night?
Prodigal features in-engine FMV, a first for an AGS game! It also features a soundtrack containing a wide range of music from horror beats, to classic blues, to the featured goth music band "Shadowplay." It also features a wide range of beautiful character art created in the Sierra style, drawn by the endlessly talented Edgar Rocha.
You can find Prodigal here.
The interview begins:
Q: Tell us more about yourself - how old are you, where do you live,
what do you do for a living? (one of these basic interview questions)
A: I'm 29, I live in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, US, and I do phone support for a local wireless broadband company.
Q: When did you start playing games? Do you have any fond memories of those times and did you decide to make a game of your own because of some of them?
A: I started playing...geeze, I wasn't even 5 years old. My Dad would take the family to his office some weekends so we could play on the computers there. He knew that computers were going to run the country and he wanted us to be familiar with them from the ground up. When I was 8, we got our first brand-spanking new 286 with a 15inch VGA monitor and Dos 4.1! Of course, our first game was Space Quest 2, and I was hooked...
Q: Were you a big fan of a particular game that might have put you on to making this game or did you just like games in general?
A: Well, I am a fan of psychological horror. The blood and guts stuff doesn't scare me in the least, but what really gets my heart going is the unknown. A couple of my all time favorite games are "Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within" and "Realms of the Haunting." If Prodigal is an homage to anything, it would be those two games.
Q: Did you ever have a crisis where you almost decided to make commercial games instead of freeware?
A: On the development of Prodigal, no. The entire game was done on a budget of about 100 bucks. I bought a little voice recorder from Radio Shack for my sound, and then a USB memory key to back the game up on. The rest was just my therapy. :) I did it for fun, always with a mind for a free release.
Q: What made you decide that you wanted to make freeware instead of commercial games?
A: Well, Prodigal was done in 9 months. I was out of work sick for most of that time. I needed something to keep my mind off the pain I was in, and I happened across AGS. I just decided to have a little fun with it, and I never dreamed about it getting to be a commercial product. I don't think it is up to that level of quality.
Q: Have you considered making commercial games?
Yes, unfortunately Prodigal 2 is going to be commercial, in one form or another. For the sequel, I wanted everything to look WAY better and sound WAY better. To achieve the next level of graphics and sound I had to spend a lot of money out of pocket on some professional equipment. The bottom line is I need to recoup that loss. I think the finished quality will be worth it for fans, though. I'm hoping to release it for about $15 US, so folks can just skip eating out a time or two to afford it.
Q: If you were to make a commercial game (however cheap or expensive) what kind of game would you make? And inspired by what?
A: Why, Prodigal 2, of course!
THE GAMEMAKING PROCESS:
Q: Prodigal has a rather slow upstart which I believe might make some quit the game and hence not get to the amazingly well made and well written part of the game which the game truly oozes of in the last half. (The first half is good, but the second half is brilliant). Was there a reason for doing the start in another way? The graphics really get a tune up in the second half.
A: Ha! That's a very good question! When I started, I just wanted to make "A spooky game." I really wasn't expecting to make anything even to release. I had a bunch of old Serious Sam levels that I'd never released of this cabin in the woods. I took a couple of screenshots and started making a game. After a few days and it was looking good, so I said to my brother, "Hey, do you think you can think up a story to go along with these areas?"
He came back with this huge complex story about portals to other worlds that was just awesome. He'd written the entire thing around the few levels I had, but I said "We could take this a lot farther!" So we started dreaming up other locations and such.
The cabin stayed in, however. The reason it looks worse compared to the later game is because it was meant to be run in real-time in a 3D shooter, not be backgrounds for an adventure game. Of course, there's also the fact that I built it out of my own head, not from reference material...Prodigal 2 looks WAYYY better. Go check out the screenshots on the website! :)
Q: Prodigal really has a surprise ending - without revealing anything - was it meant to be a built up for a sequel?
A: Oh yes! Once my brother and I started to hash out the story it was obvious we wouldn't get it all fit into one game. He wrote the story for both at that point.
Q: Will we see the storyline of Prodigal continue with the same characters ever again?
A: Absolutely! I'm working hard on it right now as I type this! We're working on 3D modeling today...
Q: Where did you get the inspiration for Prodigal's amazing story?
A: I'll let Nathan answer that.
"First of all, I was inspired by the really creepy cabin location that Ben had created. Jacob was investigating this, and so I asked myself, what is he looking for? I decided it would be much more compelling if he was looking for his brother, someone he cared about, than any other mystery. Then, why was he looking for Mike? What was the problem? I scribbled a bunch of different ideas down in Ben's Prodigal notebook, and we discussed them and decided which were the best. I was just kind of brainstorming, coming up with various possibilities. At that point, we were hashing out what we thought was cool, and I circled the ideas we thought were best. Then, I developed the core of what we thought were the best ideas into a more complete story. It really evolved as time went on, and sometimes Ben would make cool-looking areas and then I would come up with things that could happen there. Of course, the story for Prodigal 2 is much more set up now that there was a first one, but I still write in a lot the same way."
Q: Did you work alone or with more people?
A: Well, I did most things. Nathan, my brother, wrote the story, and there wouldn't be a Prodigal without him. Shadowplay allowed me to use one of their songs for the credits, and I had Peter Thomas do the drums in the cliff dwellings for me, as well as the weird sound piece that plays as Jacob and Mike talk at the close of the game. Edgar Rocha did all the comic style cutscene art, and a bunch of the monsters and their animations. I had one lady come in, offer to help, do one sprite sequence, and disappear...but it looked good, so it stayed in!
Pretty much everything else was me. Sound, sprites, 3D backgrounds, text, coding, puzzles...
(If with other people)
Q: Being the leader of a group of volunteers can be frustrating as you can't really demand anything from them, since they are there of their own free will. How do you motivate the people making the game?
A: Well, it is hard. Ultimately though, since it was a free project and I had only volunteers, I just let the door swing both ways. I knew it would happen from having read about other people's problems making free games. So I didn't sweat it if somebody left. If I was paying, I could demand something from them, but I wasn't. Ultimately, only Edgar Rocha and Andrew Edmark, my webmaster, stayed with me once they joined the team. The others lost interest and left, which is fine by me. Their contributions are still in the game and I still appreciate their help while they were with me!
I would have been in trouble if Edgar had left, though...he was irreplaceable. Those comic cutscenes were awesome!
Q: Was the game ever in danger of not being published? Why? And at what state?
A: Not really! I was having fun with it the whole time! Towards the end I stalled and quit working for a couple of weeks to take a break, but I never even considered quitting!
Q: What specific tech side of making a game is the hardest (to find people for)? (Music, Graphics, storyline, translation, etc.)
A: Hmmm...Well, for me it was definitely coding. I'm not much of a coder, and I do NOT write elegant code. I got stuck several times on the GUI and on some complex room logic. It was hard finding someone to help with it, because all the GOOD coders are off making their own games!
Q: Did any sacrifices have to be made with the content?
A: Yeah. I had to compress the audio a lot more than I would have liked to save space on the download. I also cut a few puzzles due to complexity (or laziness, depending on how you look at it.) I gave up on some more complex sprite interactions because I was no good at it, too. I wanted Jacob to crawl into some ducts at one point, for instance.
Q: Where did you find the will to power through this consuming job? Did the fans help or was it just sheer willpower?
A: I had a small following on the AGS website, and a few people that latched on and gave me encouragement. Ultimately though, it was a lot of fun so I didn't really feel like I was working on it.
Q: Will you keep working on the game or have we seen the last version of it?
A: For now there are no plans for a remake, I'm too busy with the sequel. I would sure like to redo the first game up to the quality of the second though...
Q: What will be your next game/remake?
A: Prodigal 2! Coming sometime when it's done!
Q: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now regarding gamemaking?
A: Hopefully not still working on Prodigal 2! :) Like most gamers, I'd love to get hired into a company, but failing that I hope I can carve out a niche for myself in the admittedly underground world of Adventure Games.
Q: Any words for other freeware game developers?
A: If you know you can't write a story, get someone to help you! All the mad programming and art skills in the world can't make up for a lousy story! Too many freeware adventure games' stories are SOOO pathetic.
Q: Any favourite freeware games we should know about?
A: Bungie has released all three Marathon games as freeware. They are a lot of fun and it is great to see where the house that Halo built started. Especially since they are talking that their next game will be another Marathon...
I also am playing Linley's Dungeon Crawl, with tile graphics. Great for those who love ancient RPGs from the days before graphics, when a dragon was a "D" walking around your screen! Doom Roguelike is a blast too.
Finally, Mythos is a fun Diablo style action RPG that is in beta and is free to play...
Q: If you were to mention a GOD of freeware, who would that be?
A: Ooo. Hmm. Well, I play Doom Roguelike a ton, so I guess I'd say Kornel Kisielewicz.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: Prodigal 2! We're cranking through tons of graphics content right now. Sprites, monsters, backgrounds, etc.
Q: Have you ever heard of CWF's developer help project?
A: Yes! I checked it out.
Q: CWF's dev help project aims to be a 'bridge' between freeware developers and people interested in participating creating freeware games. If you needed more helpers, would you consider opening a thread in CWF, telling which kind of help you need?
A: Certainly! It's a great idea. The challenge will be getting folks to volunteer on it.
Q: If you could choose to do a freeware game with any game developer (freeware or commercial) who would it be?
A: Ken Levine formerly of Irrational Games! If anybody says games aren't art, I point them to Bioshock!
Q: What kind of game would you make? (Related to the question before this one).
A: A remake of either System Shock or Realms of the Haunting. Both games were early pioneers in telling a mature, thrilling story through the medium of games. Both had a lot of adventure elements injected into their play style, too.
If this game wont gross you out or freak you out then you have no terror threshold. This game will throw you twists right and left, leaving you with little grasp of what is really going on. If you have a friend that utters the words "I saw the end coming a mile off" then do not consider him your friend. If he has not had knowledge of the end before playing the game, then he is simply lying to you. The game has awesome cutscene-experiences, and... (read more)
CWF Crew rating:
(2 of 6)