Depois de termos ficado maravilhados com a surpresa que foi Midnight at the Celestial Palace na semana passada, urgia uma conversa com o seu criador, Justin Parker, que dirige o estúdio Orerry Games. Agradecemos desde já a sua disponibilidade e simpatia.
Ricardo Correia: You obviously love old school graphic adventures as much as we do. In this sense of revivalism that we live in, why did you decide on an aesthetic that’s simultaneously retro, but at the same time feels contemporary?
Justin Parker: I do love the feel of pixelated graphics. There’s something just cozy about them, kind of like an old book. As far as the contemporary feel, that came about almost by accident. I was original working with the Adventure Game Studio engine, back when I was the sole designer of the game. After I asked our background artist, Jan, if he’d like to co-design the game, we had discussions on whether or not AGS was the right choice for what we were trying to do.
AGS felt constricted in a lot of ways, particularly its inability to do wide screen resolutions. We ultimately switched to Visionaire Studio. At that point, a fair amount of work had been done on the background art and character designs, and we decided to just widen the backgrounds in order to fit widescreen displays. So the result was kind of a high-definition pixel-art aesthetic, which we immediately took a liking to. After that we adopted a sort of “one foot in the past, one in the modern” mentality towards the game which I think worked out well.
RC: Midnight at the Celestial Palace is so unique that i’m compelled to ask a question I never asked before to any dev: what are you references in terms of musicals composers and which plays do you regard as the best ones?
JP: I have my favorite composers like Schubert or Brahms, but musicals weren’t something I had specifically studied back in University. My class had a chance to work with the theater department creating one-act operas at one point. I had gotten well into writing it when the opportunity kind of fell apart. I was pretty disappointed, but it did put an interest of musical theater in my head that wasn’t there before. But to more directly answer your question, Disney animated films were a big influence. Beauty and the Beast comes to mind, as well as Pinocchio. I didn’t look over scores for those movies or anything, but the feeling of the songs in those movies was always in the back of my head.
RC: Fortunately there is a resurrected interest in genres that were thought long dead. How do you see this second wind that the graphic adventures genre is living nowadays?
JP:I think it’s great. It feels like the old days, only perhaps a bit better in some ways. These days, adventure games seem to exist in their own comfortable corner of the indie game scene, and are being made by people who truly love the genre. These are tough games to make. The amount of content you have to create just for a few minutes of game play is massive compared to, say, a 2D platformer. In those games, you can reuse a lot of assets. For an adventure game, you might spend an entire work day creating an animation that will be played once, on one screen, for about 2 seconds. It just goes to show how dedicated to this genre people are that they are willing to do such grueling work. There’s a lot of love in the adventure game community today. It feels like a family where everyone supports each other.
Ricardo Correia: I’ve asked this to a personal idol of mine, Charles Cecil, and last week to Dave McCabe, but do you feel the graphic adventure genre is stuck with our generations? Making it hard to appeal to younger audiences?
JP: Funny you ask that, because in a way, Midnight at the Celestial Palace was made to be a sort of a bridge between generations. It has plenty for long-time fans of the genre, and perhaps a few jokes that will go over the heads of younger players, but it was intentionally made to be family friendly. I wanted it to be a game that us aging adventure players could enjoy on our own, but also play along side our children, who will hopefully grow up to appreciate these games as much as we do. There are many adventure games these days that are designed to be mainly enjoyed by adults, with darker themes, dystopian futures, etc. I’m glad those games exist and thoroughly enjoy playing them. But I think family friendly games shouldn’t be overlooked or neglected, especially now.
RC: I had the argument with several major companies (like Sony and Nintendo) about how the actual Youtubers or New Opinion Makers actually steal sales instead of boosting them. On linear games is that an acquired fact? Do you prefer to rely on traditional media/critics?
JP: I like to keep a positive view when it comes to Youtubers and Streamers and adventure games. It’s easy to be pessimistic when looking at the situation and see just lost sales. But what I’d like to think is that these viewers are gamers first, and know that it’s a medium best experienced when you participate rather than watch, even with adventure games. There have been a couple instances where I’ve watched a little of a Let’s Play and purchased the game rather than watched it in it’s entirety, and I hope many if not most people do the same. And if not, well, it’s still exposure.
Viewers of a Let’s Play can still recommend the game to others, still get a conversation going on a forum or on social media, which surely helps out. I’d say I still prefer a good review or article, though, if only because it’s the kind of coverage I am used to and find most value in. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for many adventure games, ours included, to get attention from those publications. I sent out more preview keys to Midnight than I can remember, yet I can count the number of reviews we got out of it on one hand.
Also, none of those reviews were published until weeks after the game had launched.
RC: In two hours I finished this first chapter and could “see” almost every solution apart of the ones I had to rely on Mr. Squiggles and I wasn’t expecting that. Is the game easy to appeal a wider audience, or do we share same influences and therefore we can understand the train of thought from everything we’ve played?
JP: We did our best to present the puzzles clearly, make them as logical as possible, and to avoid the design pitfalls that many adventure games often have (presenting solutions before problems, getting players into situations where they’re just randomly clicking inventory items on everything, etc.) I think it is an easier game as a result, yet goal wasn’t to appeal to a wider audience, but rather just to keep a good pace going.
I play adventure games mainly for the narrative, the characters, and the overall feeling of discovery, and I think the puzzles in Midnight are more geared to supporting those things rather than to exercise mental muscles. Not to say that games with harder puzzles can’t have good pacing and all those other things, but I think we got the formula right for the kind of game Midnight is. It’s a lighthearted romp through a dreamland, after all. I don’t think heavy thinking and complicated puzzles would have been a good fit.
RC: Was the decision of intertwining graphic adventure with musical the genesis of Midnight at the Celestial Palace concept, or including the musical acts was a consequence of the actual development?
JP: Midnight had the song aspect to it from the beginning. I already mentioned that I had caught the musical theater bug while at University studying composition, but at the time, I was also very interested in what more could be done with music in games in respect to interactivity. I applied for a research grant to explore this one year, which I almost received. After graduating, I forgot about it all for some time. I did freelance composition jobs for a few games, and got a night-shift desk clerk job at a hotel. There was a lot of down time at that job, and I soon found myself working with Adventure Game Studio to fill the hours.
I made a small game called The Eternal Night in about three months which, oddly enough, had no music. Afterwards, I started considering making a larger game, and I thought about all I wanted to do when I was at University and what I was doing now. Making an adventure game with interactive musical numbers just made sense, and it truly was an exciting idea for me. The setting, characters, and tone of the game came to me fairly easily after that.
RC: Midnight at the Celestial Palace Chapter 1 felt short, and I wanted not to last forever but at least to last a week of my life. When can we expect the rest of the story of Dreamania and their quirky and memorable characters?
JP: Making Chapter 1 took some time, and was not an easy road. My dear friend and co-designer Jan Wilberg passed away during development, and getting the game together without him was an incredibly challenging task. We managed to do it, though, and I am very proud of the results. It’s taking some effort to regroup and learn how best to move forward without him, so we’re not quite comfortable enough to give an approximate date as of yet. What I can say for certain is that you shouldn’t expect Chapter 2 to come out this year. I’m very eager for people to find out what happens to Greg and Squiggles next, but I want to ensure that the next game meets, or exceeds, their expectations.
I want to thank everyone who bought and played the game so far. The response has been extremely encouraging and, well, heartwarming. We’re glad you enjoyed it!
RC: And we want to thank you for your time and congratulate you and your team on what you achieved with Midnight at the Celestial Castle.