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Talking Indie Game Design With the Creator of The Blackwell Epiphany

While at PAX East this year I had the chance to interview Dave Gilbert, who is the creator of Wadjeteye Games, and its Blackwell series of adventure-based video games. His latest creation is the conclusion to the Blackwell series, which is called The Blackwell Epiphany.

The Blackwell Epiphany is a throw back to old school adventure games complete with charming pixel art, and plenty of point-and-click gameplay. It mixes the visual style of games from the past with the highly addictive story driven mechanics from Telltale’s line of narrative-based titles. Gamers who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s will surely wax nostalgic at the visual style of this game, but those gamers that prefer a deep story and adventure will also be pleased by what The Blackwell Epiphany has to offer.

Marvel at Blackwell's retro style
Marvel at Blackwell’s retro style

Head on down below to find out from Dave Gilbert himself about what it’s like to be an indie game developer in today’s market, as well as what his Blackwell series of games are all about. If you find yourself interested in the series you can purchase the individual Blackwell games from the Wadjeteye website. There’s also a gameplay trailer to behold after the interview.

EB: First off, thanks for taking the time to meet with Entertainment Buddha Dave! So The Blackwell Epiphany is the latest game you’re working on. I checked out some of the screen shots for it and it definitely has an old school charm to it. Is that what you were shooting for?

Dave: Yes and no. I mean I started out doing the pixel art because it was all I really could afford. A good artist can make pixel art look great, and it’s cheaper than hi-res art, you can do a lot more with it, and it’s quicker to produce. You can just do a lot of great things with the pixel art style. It was never my intention to make the game look retro, it (pixel art) was just all that was available to me.

EB: So you are a one man show then, you do everything?

Dave: I don’t do the art, I hire that out, but pixel art is cheaper, which is why a lot of indies use it, and you can do a lot more with pixel art now than you could way back when, so I don’t like to think of it as retro anymore. It’s sort of a genre now I guess.

The only piece of the game that Dave doesn't do himself is the art
The only piece of the game that Dave doesn’t do himself is the art

EB: That’s an interesting way to put it, but that aesthetic is definitely making a comeback thanks to the indie movement and developers like yourself. I read that you took inspiration from Telltale’s games, and maybe Secret of Monkey Island, is there truth to that, or are those claims just PR rhetoric?

Dave: The Blackwell Epiphany is more in the same vein as those titles. It’s a series, but we don’t do episodic games, they’re point-and-click adventure games, which is what Telltale does, so I wouldn’t say I’m inspired by Telltale, but I love what Telltale does. It’s hard to say who I’m inspired by now, because I’m mostly inspired by books and movies, but of course I loved Monkey Island, I love Gabriel Nite. You know, the old Broken Sword, Kings Quest, and all of those games, so my love for those titles definitely goes into what I make now.

I like to think of my games as being something new. I don’t like to think of them as throwbacks, even though they have the retro pixel art, but I think they’re more modern in terms of execution and story, and what you can do with them there.

EB: Is The Blackwell Epiphany PC only?

Dave: For now. I’m using an engine that’s designed for PC, but it was made open source a few years ago, so we made some headway in porting some of our back catalogue, and we’re slowly going through the rest, because it takes time because we’re a small team.

EB: Interesting, so what engine is it?

Dave: Adventure Game Studio

EB: So right now it’s just on Steam? Is that how someone would download it?

Dave: Well it’s on PC right now, but we’re going to port it to iOS, Android, Mac and Linux.

EB: It does seem like it would work well with touchscreen devices.

Dave: It’d work really well. We’ve ported two of our games so far, technically five. We ported the first three Blackwell games, but they’re not available yet. We have ported them, and they work really well, and the controls feel natural.

EB: Let’s get to the gameplay of The Blackwell Epiphany. Does it mainly entail going around and investigating and reading things?

Dave: The gimmick of Blackwell is that you’re a medium and a spirit guide. The medium, Rosa Blackwell, hence the name, she’s your typical adventure game protagonist. She goes around and talks to people to pick up stuff and use stuff.

Rosa must interact with NPCs and the environment to help solve the case
Rosa must interact with NPCs and the environment to help solve the case

Joey is a ghost, so he can’t do any of that, but he can go through doors, and can look around rooms that Rosa can’t get into, so many of the puzzles involve that mechanic. Rosa can’t get into a place, but Joey can, but he can’t actually do anything, so the puzzles tend to use those two characters in different ways.

EB: Ok, so every puzzle or clue needs to be solved using both players.

Dave: Yes, exactly.

EB: Now is it old school in a sense of its point-and-click mechanics, meaning that there’s a bunch of text to read?

Dave: There’s a lot of dialogue and conversations in the story, so yeah there’s a fair amount of text.

EB: Does the game sort of hold the player’s hand through tips and objectives to give them some sort of direction?

Dave: Well, yes and no. I think a game can be easy without being handholdy. I guess two great examples of each style from Telltale would be Back to the Future, which was easy but it felt like the developers thought you were a moron. If there was an object used for a puzzle they would call your attention to it. Every character would stare at it going, “Hmm I wonder what that thing is”, the camera would focus on it, I mean the game thought you were an idiot.

The Sam and Max games on the other hand had easy puzzles, but the developers respected your ability to solve them. I mean they’d give a little clue, but they just let you try and figure it out. Even though the puzzles were easy I think there needs to be a mix between the two styles. The problem with an adventure game is that people are going to get stuck. You can’t stop that from happening, so devs should try to make the experience a little more pleasant. My thought is that if you have to leave my game to enjoy it, like go to Google or whatever, then I fail. You shouldn’t have to leave my game in order to enjoy it.

The game's puzzles shouldn't leave you frustrated
The game’s puzzles shouldn’t leave you frustrated

EB: I like that philosophy, because there are games out there that people won’t know what to do, so they have to hit up message boards and tip searches, effectively removing themselves from the game world.

Dave: Yeah people are going to do that anyway. I mean, you always try to make the first puzzle of the game the absolute butt easiest puzzle. There will still always be somebody who can’t figure things out though. They’re not dumb, it’s just that for some reason the puzzle didn’t just click.

EB: Is The Blackwell Epiphany episodic in nature?

Dave: Kind of yes, but not really. It’s more of a series. Each entry has a definite beginning, middle, and end. There’s kind of an overarching story that is coming to a close, so it’s more of a game with sequels than episodic.

EB: So how much does the game cost, and where can gamers get it?

Dave: It costs $14.99, and you can get it at my website wadjeteyegames.com, or you could just go to rosablackwell.com, and it will forward you to the right place.

EB: Does the $14.99 unlock any type of future content?

Dave: There is no DLC, so it’s just for the game.

EB: When is it available?

Dave: The pre-order is available now, and if you order the pre-order you get a bunch of extra stuff. There will be interviews with the cast. I’m doing a mini-documentary about the Blackwell locations, because it takes place in New York, and I live in New York, and there’s a lot of locations that I’ve used in the game, so I’m going to talk about those. You get the soundtrack, and some other stuff, so if people buy it now they’ll get all of that content.

EB: How did you get the funding to do this? Was it crowd funding, or self funded?

Dave: It’s self funded. I started off with no money, and if you look at the earlier games it’s obvious. As time went on I just got a little more ambitious, had more money to spend, so I just did it that way. It’s old school, I know. I mean who does that now?

EB: Once again Dave thanks for taking the time to talk about The Blackwell Epiphany with us.

Dave: Oh thank you!

 

To learn more about The Blackwell Epiphany and Dave’s other titles head on over to the official Wadjeteye Games website. You can also check out the launch trailer for it below.

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Tags : Indie DevsPixelatedRetro Gaming
Matt Heywood

The author Matt Heywood

Matt Heywood is the founder and EIC of EntertainmentBuddha.com where he strives to make you a better geek, one post at a time! When he’s not scouring the Internet for interesting nuggets of awesomeness he can be found in his secret lair enjoying the latest and greatest video games, taking pictures of toys, or talking Star Wars on EB’s Star Wars Time podcast show.