A long time after the release of his Adventure 'A Vampyre Story' Bill Tiller has finally started his Kickstarter for the Prequel 'A Vampyre Story: Year One'. We took the chance to talk with him about this new adventure game, Chances for 'A Vampyre Story 2' and his time at LucasArts before he founded his company Autumn Moon Entertainment.
Adventure Corner (AC): Hello and thanks for taking the time to do this interview.
Bill Tiller (BT): Hello to you too, and thanks for asking me to do it.
AC: First I’d like to take a look back at your past. Please give us an overview of your activities at Lucas Arts. How did you get there?
BT: I always liked animated movies from Disney and I wanted to be a professional animator already when I graduated from high school. The best school for that was called CalArts, which sat on hill overlooking a generic suburban paradise called Valencia. It was the inspiration for Tim Burton’s 'Edward Scissorhands'. During high school and junior college I worked hard to create a portfolio that would get me into CalArts and its traditional character animation program. I really wanted to get into that because it was taught by working Disney artists and animators.
A lot of my fellow students at CalArts would later graduate and go on to become animators and directors at Pixar. So I got a great education there, focusing on visual storytelling and animated filmmaking, as well as the use of PCs for creating animated films. Then Collette Michaud, head of the art department at LucasArts, came down to look for animators to work on 'The Dig'. She saw my portfolio and liked it because it had a lot of 2D computer animation on it, all done with 'Deluxe Paint Animation' which was the program LucasArts used at the time.
|Bill Tiller started his work at LucasArts as animator for The Dig|
So I started as an animator on Stephen Spielberg's 'The Dig'. It was designed by Brian Moriarty and the art director was Bill Eaken. Then, when that was put on hold because Brian left the company, I worked on a few Super Nintendo games. One was 'Super Return of the Jedi' and the other was 'Indiana Jones Greatest Adventures'. Then I did a stint on the game 'Rebel Assault'. What was interesting about that project was that I got to film 'Star Wars' footage. I believe I was the first one since George Lucas’ last 'Star Wars' TV special to shoot new 'Star Wars' footage, at least for a game, thus it was like fulfilling a lifelong dream.
When Sean Clark took over 'The Dig' I was promoted to art director for that iteration of the game. I worked on that until 1995. After that game I was working with Larry Ahern to do the background art and GUI for 'Curse of Monkey Island', until 1997. Then along came 'Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine' with Hal Barwood. I worked on that till 1999. Then Larry Ahern and I teamed up again to help develop a sequel for 'Full Throttle' on the PlayStation 2. But after about a year that game was put on hold. Then I did couple of concept art pieces for 'Star Wars Bounty Hunter' some of which ended up being used in the 'Star Wars - The Old Republic' game.
AC: Later you worked on an all-time-favorite game for many Adventure-game-players: 'The Curse of Monkey Island'. Ron Gilbert had already left the company back in the days. What are your memories of CMI?
BT: My first memory of even talking about a sequel to 'Monkey Island' was when I was talking with some of 'The Dig' programmers and mentioned how much fun it would be to do a sequel to 'Monkey Island 2: Le Chuck’s Revenge'. I was sort of laughed at by a few of them. They said it would never get made because the last 'Monkey island' game didn’t sell well enough to make a sequel, and Ron Gilbert wouldn’t do it now that he was no longer been working at Lucas Arts.
So that crushed my dream. But after 'The Dig' was finished there was talk of doing a Monkey sequel with Jonathan Ackley and Larry Ahern. But Jonathan didn’t initially want me to work on it because we had clashed a bit while working on The Dig. So I had to work hard to prove myself. I eventually won him over and got the job as background art director. Before that I went on vacation to the Bahamas and Disneyworld. There I took a lot of reference pictures of the Caribbean and the Pirates from the Caribbean ride at Disneyworld because 'Monkey Island' was a bit of a spoof of that ride. I also did some sketching while on the cruise ship, which is when I first sketched Mona and Froderick.
The CMI crew did not like the ending of 'Monkey Island 2' - not too many people did. To come up with a logical explanation for it they brainstormed a lot of interesting ideas. The one they ultimately settled on was the idea that Le Chuck had turned Guybrush into a kid at the end, but somehow the spell had worn off and so Guybrush escaped. The game picks up just after that. The plot was that LeChuck wanted to lure pirates to his Big Whoop amusement park. Then they would go through a ride that would turn them into skeleton ghost pirates under his control.
For many Players the Name Bill Tiller is connected to Monkey Island 3
The cinematics had to be written and storyboarded next. So four of us locked ourselves in a small office and brainstormed all the ideas for the cut scenes. And that was a lot of fun. I had brought a lot of souvenirs from my vacation to Disneyworld - all pirate and skeleton themed - and we decorated the office with it. One souvenir in particular I think heavily influenced the game, a screaming skull that shrieked at anyone who walked by the office. I placed it in the hall just outside to scare anyone who walked by. We had a great laugh the first few times, but then the guys got annoyed with me because I kept doing it and it went off too often and was interrupting our work. So we had to bring him back into the office much to my great sadness. But I think the screeching skull was the influence for Murray. I still have the skull in my Halloween decorations box.
While that was going on Larry were working on the art direction for the look of the game. Larry wanted something new and kind of avant-garde. Whereas Jonathan wanted the looks to be something very much like Disney or N.C. Wyeth. So I tried to combine both of their viewpoints into a new style, combining a lot of the things that I liked into it, just like the style of the Brothers Hildebrandt, Peter de Sève and Tim Burton. After about two months we came up with a style that everybody seemed happy with and we thought fans would like too. We hoped this new art direction would also help revitalize the franchise. This was only possible because we more than doubled the resolution of the graphics. Larry also was working very closely with the animators to come up with a look for the character designs that was both easy to animate and yet also unique. The animators were trained in a more traditional animation and art style but again Larry wanted a more avant-garde look. So they compromised and came up with the final look for the characters that I think combined nicely both styles
One thing that really stands out in my mind about working on 'Curse of Monkey Island' was that the SCUMM engine was clearly already working really well with only a few minor additions. So the scripters had already programmed the entire game before any of the final assets were ever created. This meant all the money from the budget was focused on the game creation and not on any engine programming. So with this extra money we could raise the quality of the art and animation, music and voice, writing and game design, and increase the size of the game. It seems to me anytime you create a new game engine you can add 50% to your budget and add 1 to 2 years to your production time. We were fortunate that we didn’t have to do that.
AC: Why did you choose to leave the company? Did you already want to found your own company and make your own games?
BT: I left Lucas Arts because I didn't care for some of the new managers that took over my company, though I really, really liked our new president Simon Jeffery. Larry Ahern and I were working on a sequel to Tim Schafer’s 'Full Throttle'. But the man we reported to clearly had never played the first game and he was very, very difficult to work with - we lost a lot of respect for him. Plus there were no alternative games for us to work on because at that time the company was focusing only on games that supported the 'Star Wars' prequels. And we all know how those turned out right? So if the old strategy of doing 'Star Wars' games and original games was not going to be the strategy of the future LucasArts, we felt we needed to move on and find a place that better fits our skills and experience. I was already thinking about forming my own company but I didn't know how to do it and I wanted to team up with other people. So for a while I just tried to find a job that I felt comfortable in.
More and more Star Wars for LucasArts - but not for Bill
My first job after 9 years LucasArts was at Arena.Net, the makers of 'Guild Wars'. But I didn't care for Seattle and they weren't quite ready to start creating game assets yet because they did not have their engine done, nor did they have any game design done. Then I was asked to help art direct a game at Stormfront Studios down in California. It was the 'Lord of the Rings' game published by EA, called 'The Two Towers'. I did that for a year but it wasn't as fun and EA was very demanding and a bit overbearing. Near the end of that project is when I decided I would try and make a job for myself and form my own company. That is when I started focusing on 'A Vampyre Story'.
AC: Please give us an overview about your company Autumn Moon Entertainment. How many people are currently working there? Did you make any plans to hire more people for creation of Year One?
Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island - anonter Ghost Pirates Game from Bill
BT: I founded Autumn Moon entertainment in Petaluma California and we had an office there for about three years. But then the great recession hit us and no one wanted to fund adventure games at that time. So we put the company on hold until the economy got better. Now to save money on overhead our company is a virtual studio - that is until we raise enough money through Kickstarter, and then we will open up another office, albeit a small one. In the meantime we just work in our own home offices.
Right now there are five people working on our game: one writer and scripter, one scripter and art tech, one full-time animator, one modeler/ texture artist for characters and props, and myself. Pedro Camacho will be doing our music, and Bay Area Sound will be doing voice overs and sound effects. We will be using the same actors we did last time if they are available except for Mona, who will be played by a new actress, and this was a decision we made due to the outcry we heard against Mona’s high pitched voice in the last game.
AC: After a rather long time of waiting we can finally pledge for 'A Vampyre Story: Year One'. Why did it take so long to start the campaign after you first mention it back in April 2012?
BT: I did not have the funds to work on the game full time back in April. So I made a mistake in announcing it back then. I had to make money so I took a job at Monkey Fun so I could pay the bills and I was hoping to talk them into making the game with me. But they said it did not fit into their business plan. So after about a year I left and now I only work there part time so that I may focus on this game.
We decided that a Kickstarter live action video of us talking would be maybe not that interesting possibly even boring. We thought it would be more fun to put together an animated video of Mona and Frederick talking to the backers. That may have been not the right move but that is why it added to the time to start the Kickstarter. It takes a long time to make an animated movie even a short three minute one like the one we made. Sorry for this long answer but that pretty much is the full reason why it took so long. I sometimes announced things too soon and I do apologize for that. I should have waited till the animation was done before I announced it.
AC: What do you love about 'A Vampyre Story'? From your own point of view, what makes your game special and worth waiting for?
A (still unfinished) Vampyre Story
BT: I love the movie 'Young Frankenstein' because it combines two of my favorite things: Gothic horror movies and comedy. I like 'A Vampyre Story' for the same reasons, and additionally because it is animated. I am big fan of feature quality animated movies, especially the classic Disney moves such as 'Peter Pan', 'Jungle Book', and '101 Dalmatians'. Plus Draxsylvania, the land the 'A Vampyre Story' takes place is a place I would really like to live. I think 'A Vampyre Story' has a good plot and very interesting characters that people can relate to and fun - you really want to see them succeed. It connects with the players in an emotional way. Also I hope people think it is a beautiful game and has a wonderful atmosphere and ambience.
AC: Because of the so far never fully concluded 'A Vampyre Story 1' and also since there most likely will be a longer time between each episode we have to ask: Will there be a cliffhanger at the end of each episode or will these episodes be able to standalone?
BT: When I first conceived of 'A Vampyre Story' it was going to have 3 to 4 chapters and I was hoping we could raise enough money from publishers to do the whole game without cutting anything out of the story. When we started 'A Vampyre Story' we were not sure what the budget was going to be like but we hoped that it could possibly be enough to do the whole thing. But later we found out that that was not the case and we were not going to get the budget we had hoped for. So we were going to have to cut out about 60% of what we had designed and what we had already started working on.
So I made the decision to split the game into three separate games covering the whole story, similar to how 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Star Wars' was done. We had not anticipated the great recession - 'A Vampyre Story' came out just as the economy was tanking and unemployment was in double digits everywhere in the world. So publishers and our current publisher were not able to fund the other chapters at that time. And because we are making a new engine it was very difficult to stay under budget when tackling such a huge and complicated task. Those two things together were too much to overcome.
But with all the excitement over this prequel I think the chances of 'A Vampyre Story' getting funded have greatly increased and I am looking forward to finishing it for the fans and for the publisher, Crimson Cow. This prequel is sort of like one episode of a sitcom so it has no cliffhanger the characters just go through one tiny adventure from beginning to end, but there could be future episodes with different stories based on the characters we meet in this first episode. But it will not have a cliffhanger.
AC: These days it seems like it's getting more difficult for games on Kickstarter than it used to be about a year ago. Backers tend to get more picky and careful with their money. From your own experience, what do you think about crowd funding so far?
BT: I agree crowdfunding nowadays seems tougher than it was but I still think it's a good model for fans to decide what they want to spend their money on and what they do not, They do not have to rely on what the business executives at publishers think it is worth making or not. It's very democratic and I am all for it!
AC: Will your Kickstarter for each episode go for the same amount of money? What's your master plan here?
AVS: Year One will not have a cliffhanger.
BT: We are asking for USD $200,000 in order to pay for the first episode. 50k USD of that will go to upgrading the engine that we use so that it works with Windows 7 and Windows 8, and that we get to add new features to the engine that will improve the look and playability of the game. Hundred thousand US dollars of that money will go toward creating the assets and scripting of the game. And 50K USD will go toward getting the backer rewards to the people who pledged money in support of the project. As a stretch-goal, if we raised enough money, we would like to port the game for Mac and Linux and possibly mobile devices. And as another stretch-goal, again if we raised enough money, we would love to add more episodes and make the game longer. We decided to make a smaller episode game because we did not want to ask for too much money on our first Kickstarter campaign. But that may have been a mistake. Maybe people would rather have a full game in place of a smaller game. We plan to have each episode be about one third the size of the first 'A Vampyre Story'.
AC: How about a Mac-Port and other Systems?
BT: My programmer is confident that once we make the upgrades to our engine it'll be fairly easy to port to the Mac and to Linux. But we won’t know for sure until we get started on it.
AC: During the campaign you've already told us about German subtitles for 'Year One'. Who will do the localization for the Episodes?
BT: We haven't made that decision yet, though there are plenty of people we are looking at and talking to. I think we will make a decision once the Kickstarter campaign is finished.
AC: These days more and more adventure-developers take the puzzle-design a more casual direction. What's your plan for 'Year One'?
BT: I would prefer to keep the puzzles about as difficult as they were in the classic Lucas Arts adventure games - though I don’t always succeed - so I prefer not too difficult but also not too easy as well. I'd like to balance it out, which is a hard thing to do. But what really helps is to have as many people as possible beta test the game and give feedback so that we can it.
AC: Did you follow or back any other Kickstarter-Projects from other Adventure-Developers like Tim Schafer, Charles Cecil or Al Lowe?
BT: I do follow other developers and their Kickstarter projects and I try and learn from them and see how they do or don't succeed. I try and learn from them and occasionally I ask them questions but my situation is different from theirs, so a lot I have to learn on my own because my situation is unique.
AC: Have you talked to them about your Plans?
BT: Yes I have talked to a few of them. Especially Tim Schafer is giving me some good advice and has inspired me to follow this path of raising funds through Kickstarter and crowdfunding. He has been very nice to me in the past and I appreciate all his help.
AC: Do you see any Chances for 'A Vampyre Story' Part 2? As far as we know the Distribution-Rights are owned by Crimson Cow. Did you talked to them about Part 2 or the Prequel? What did they think about it?
BT: Yes, now with a lot of the attention that we're getting for doing this prequel I think 'A Vampyre Story 2: A Bat’s Tale' has a much better chance of being completed than in any time in the past! I talk to Crimson Cow on a regular basis and we are working together to figure out a way to get this game done.
AC: What's your idea of a perfect Adventure-Game?
BT: The perfect adventure game I think would be too expensive to make currently. But I would like the visuals to be created by people who create high quality animated movies like they do at Pixar, Dreamworks and Blue Sky. That way the games look just as good as any movie.
I would like professional scriptwriters from television and movies to write the dialogues for these games as well, or people Like Tim Schafer and Chuck Jordan who have the equivalent writing talent. But I would leave the game design up to traditional gamers because people who do not play games are not very good at making games themselves as we've seen in the past. So I would like the game industry and the movie industry to work together to create high-quality visual storytelling and a great game playing experience.
As far as the gameplay goes I think a game should be customizable to the player who plays it and their skill level. So if a player doesn't like tough puzzles he or she can set the game so that it's much easier then for someone who prefers tough puzzles. Besides any good adventure game should have a compelling story and characters that motivate the player to guide these characters toward the conclusion of the story. I think the setting should also be one that players find very appealing and interesting. Games are escapism so I feel that they should make sure that this is their number one goal: to create the perfect venue for escaping life's weary ups and downs
AC: And one more question: What's the last Adventure-Game you've played so far?
BT: The special edition of 'The Secret of Monkey Island' with my kids on the Apple TV synced to my iPad. It was a lot of fun to experience it all over again with my kids. They laughed and enjoyed it a lot.
AC: Good luck with your campaign and thanks again for your time!
BT: Thanks and thanks for letting me do this interview.