Superheroes are most definitely not the typical stuff point-and-click adventures are made of. However with their game 'Supreme League of Patriots' No Bull Intentions makes an exception and offers a quite subversive adventure trip while parodying popular subjects like Reality-TV, superheroes and American culture. We had the opportunity to chat with Phil Ings (the founder of this small studio from England) about his upcoming adventure and the vision behind it.
Adventure Corner: Hi Phil! Thanks for taking time for tbis interview! First of all, can you tell our readers a bit more about the story of 'Supreme League of Patriots'?
Phil Ings (founder of No Bull Intentions): The story is about an out-of-work actor called Kyle who decides to enter a TV talent show for superheroes, because he thinks it'll help him win a part in a Hollywood superhero movie. Kyle creates a character called The Purple Patriot, who has all the qualities Kyle thinks a patriotic superhero would have. In other words, he's an ultra-conservative, xenophobic, hippy-hating barbarian. Unfortunately, during the auditions Kyle suffers some kind of mental breakdown and ends up believing that he really is The Purple Patriot and that his real self is just an alter-ego he created. From then on, you join The Purple Patriot as he battles supervillains - and his own prejudices -while trying to find a way to turn him back into Kyle again.
"if superheroes were real they would surely
have their own TV talent show these days"
Adventure Corner: So in a way 'Supreme League of Patriots' mixes talent shows and superheroes and plays with American patriotism. What was your idea behind all that?
Phil: I started writing the story with a single question. "What would a superhero who was driven by pure patriotism really be like?" You get patriotic superheroes in comic books, but it always struck me that they were idealised versions of how that character would be in reality. My notion was that a truly patriotic superhero would be a violent, woman-hating, homophobic brute who was as likely to battle his own personal pet peeves as fight crime. So The Purple Patriot became an exaggerated version of that idea.
I also wanted to lampoon current affairs and modern culture, and reality TV seemed to be a perfect target. It seemed to me that - if superheroes were real - they would surely have their own TV talent show these days. I quickly realised that a TV talent audition had the potential for some really outrageous puzzles. Reality TV makes a great target for parody because it's literally impossible to come up with an idea for a show that's any worse than the ones they've actually already made.
"superheroes represent old-fashioned values
that we don't see as much in society as we used to"
Adventure Corner: During the 21st century superheroes are more present in the American culture than ever. Why do you think that is the case?
Phil: I think superheroes represent old-fashioned values that we don't see as much in society as we used to. Big institutions like banks, governments and the newspapers, who we used to believe we could trust, have been tainted by scandals and corruption. Superheroes are the incorruptible guardians of our morals and personal safety. Fictional detectives and folk heroes age pretty quickly, but superheroes don't really change. The superheroes of the 1930's and 1940's are very similar to the superheroes of today. So even though the threats people face today are completely different, superheroes are still equipped to protect us from them. That's why it's so much fun to subvert that assumption that superheroes are always good. The Purple Patriot is broadly on the side of good, but he's much less interested in helping you if you're a woman or not American.
Adventure Corner: Judging from the official website and the trailer the humor of your game reminds me of TV-shows like for example 'American Dad' or 'Family Guy'. Was that an inspiration and if so in what way?
Phil: Believe it or not, I've never actually watched an episode of 'Family Guy'. I've watched a few episodes of 'American Dad', because people kept telling me that the humour in my game reminded them of 'American Dad'. Seth MacFarlane has a view of the world that I can definitely relate to. He's also pretty fearless in his comedy, and I hope I'm the same way. I certainly try to be. I'm very flattered by the comparison, when people make it.
"Satire is the main focus"
Adventure Corner: How would you describe the humor of 'Supreme League of Patriots'?
Phil: It always struck me that games have the ability to combine more types of humour than almost any other medium, because they combine sights, sounds, words and interactivity. There are just more possible ways to make people laugh in a game. Satire is the main focus, inevitably, but there's also a lot of parody of subjects like reality TV, comic books, and elements of American culture. I've always been fascinated by American culture, and I think it's something which fascinates people from all over the world. I've also tried to ensure that there are sight gags and sound gags. Essentially, if I can find a way to make people laugh, I'll use it.
"I adored all of the LucasArts comedy adventure games"
Adventure Corner: What other games, films, or TV-shows inspired you and how?
Phil: I adored all of the LucasArts comedy adventure games, and I think Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert have definitely been a huge inspiration. They have an incredible understanding of why people play adventure games, and that's why they continue to make fantastically entertaining games. I think it's very important to have heroes outside of the games industry, and many of mine are writers or comedians. I tend to write a lot of snappy dialogue and banter between the main characters, and I think Quentin Tarantino and Joss Whedon are the kings of witty banter. Comedians George Carlin and Bill Hicks had a big influence on the way I look at the world too. I like to drop in a few references and homages to my heroes, so if you're a fan of any of those guys, you'll surely spot a few.
Adventure Corner: Speaking of LucasArts and the old classics, what's your favorite adventure game and why?
Phil: That's a really tough question because I'm a huge adventure game fan, and I go right back to the early LucasArts and Sierra On-Line games, and even the Scott Adams text adventures. I think 'Day of the Tentacle' is my absolute favourite. I loved the art style, and it still amazes me what they were able to achieve on the hardware that was available at that time. The time-travel puzzle mechanics worked really well, and the characters were as good as any of the LucasArts games. I guess I've always been interested in American history and culture, because the founding fathers part of the story was my favourite element. I know a lot of adventure game fans prefer 'Grim Fandango' or 'Monkey Island', but 'Day of the Tentacle' just gets everything spot on for me. It's like they sat down and made a list of all the things I like best and made it into a game.
Adventure Corner: Normally a superhero game would likely end up being something like an action game or an action-adventure. Why did you decide to make this game an adventure game?
Phil: You're absolutely right, and one of the biggest hurdles we're going to face is that expectation that superheroes and action go together. I guess part of the reason I knew this had to be an adventure game is precisely because I wanted to turn that expectation on its head. Throwing the audience's expectations out from the start gives you a lot of creative freedom, and I have a very personal style of writing, so that was important. The other part of it is simply that superheroes and comics are an absolutely perfect setting for an adventure game. Superheroes - with the exception of Deadpool and one or two others - take themselves so seriously. Anyone who takes themselves that seriously is a great target for parody.
Adventure Corner: Is it your first adventure game?
Phil: I was the lead programmer on Imagineer's 'Shades of Violet' for a while, so I've got experience on the coding side of adventure games. This will be my first published adventure game as a designer or writer though. I've been writing design documents and stories for adventure games since I was at school, but I never expected I would be in a position to actually produce one of my ideas. When the opportunity arose, it was too good to turn down. Now I just have to make sure that people enjoy it enough that it's not my last!
"One of my pet hates is adventure games
where the puzzles feel forced and take me out of the story"
Adventure Corner: Because traditional adventures are usually a lot about puzzles: How are typical puzzles going to look like in your game? Can you give us examples?
Phil: I feel very strongly that true adventure games have their puzzles properly integrated into the story. One of my pet hates is adventure games where the puzzles feel forced and take me out of the story. Level 5 get away with that in the 'Professor Layton' series but I'm not Level 5. So all of my puzzles are properly integrated into the story.
In the first episode, your main task is to help Kyle win through a talent contest. In order to do that, you have to prove to the judges that he has superspeed, superstrength and incredible bravery. Unfortunately, Kyle doesn't have any of those qualities, so you have to lie, cheat, beg, steal and borrow in order to get past them. I've noticed that adventure games let you get away with a lot of immoral behaviour, and that's something I parody a little bit in SLoP.
Adventure Corner: How challenging can we expect 'Supreme League of Patriots' to be?
Phil: I've tried to ensure that the game presents a good challenge while at the same time minimising frustrations. There are two different help modes available, and you can use either one or both at the same time. I know that a lot of people enjoy adventure games for the story, the characters and the humour, so I want to make sure that people like that have fun with the game and don't get frustrated by that one puzzle they can't get past. A lot of adventure game fans now are middle-aged men and women with jobs and families, and they just don't have the time to spend hours fighting with a particularly difficult puzzle. I want to ensure that those people can still have a lot of fun with the game, without affecting the people like me who are determined to play it through fair and square, defeating every puzzle.
The first hint mode has your friend, Mel, give you a little reminder of what you should be doing next if you take no action for a period of time. The second hint mode is for more specific advice on puzzles. You can ask Mel about any particularly difficult puzzles and he'll give you hints and tips on how to solve them. Sometimes, he'll give you smaller hints at first and bigger hints if you ask him again. Both of these hint modes can be disabled, and if you're a true adventure game fan, you'll probably want to do that. Because I know that players always have those hints available if they want them, I can afford to make the puzzles challenging. If you decide to play without any hints enabled, you can definitely expect a real challenge.
Adventure Corner: But where does the budget come from?
Phil: I funded the game entirely from my own savings. I was working as a contract programmer in the games industry for a few years, and I began writing the script for SLoP part-time while I worked on other people's games. At the same time, I was putting money to one side, hoping that I would get the chance to put the game into production at some point. Making three episodes at once is incredibly expensive, and I've invested about $150,000 into the game at this point. I wasn't wealthy when I started and I'm certainly not now, but I really believed in the game. Even so, it's still pretty scary when I stop and think about it. It was the right time to do it though, and I knew it was now or never. I would always have regretted it if I hadn't given it a try.
Adventure Corner: As you mentioned before, 'Supreme League of Patriots' is an episodic adventure. Was that the plan all along or were you forced to do so for some reason?
Phil: Initially, I just had some characters and a story that I wanted to tell, and I wrote the whole thing out as a screenplay. By the time I'd finished, I realised that there were three distinct stories within that script. Even though they were separate stories, they felt as though they belonged together. They represent a journey for the main character. Plus, I had to have one of those crazy cliffhanger moments at the end of each episode like they used to do on the Adam West Batman TV series. I found a brilliant voice actor to make those cliffhangers particularly funny.
"Each episode is a separate self-contained story"
Adventure Corner: So it's a series concept with crazy cliffhangers?
Phil: Yes, it's a series. Each episode is a separate self-contained story. Many of the characters are the same, and there are ongoing themes and arcs, but each episode has its own story to tell. You can play a single episode and ignore the rest, and you'll still get closure on the story. If you choose to play all three episodes, you'll just see a few more jokes, a few more references, and you'll see the characters developing.
Adventure Corner: And how long is each episode going to be?
Phil: I expect the average player to take three to four hours to play through each episode. So the full three-episode season would be in the range of 10-12 hours, which is about the same as a lot of full-length adventures. Even if you buy all three episodes, though, I aim to sell for less than most full-length adventures. This will be the studio's first release, so I want as many people as possible to play it, and I want the price to encourage people.
Adventure Corner: When can we expect to play the first one?
Phil: At the moment, I'm aiming to have the first episode out in July, with episodes two and three coming before the end of the year.
Adventure Corner: Perhaps one of the biggest issues with episodic adventures is that players usually have to wait for several months (and more) until the next episode finally arrives. How are you planning to handle that problem?
Phil: Without a doubt, that's always been the biggest problem with episodic games, even for mid-sized developers. I've bought into a number of adventure games which have been left hanging after one or two episodes, and it really spoils the story for me. By the time the next episode finally comes, you don't remember the story well enough to be ready for the next part, but you remember it too well to want to replay the last part. I was determined from the very beginning that this would not be an issue for SLoP. The only person in the development team who thinks of this as three separate games is me. All of the artists, animators, voice actors, etc. were hired to work on all three episodes at once. There's about three months left before we intend to release episode one, but all of the dialogue, puzzles, voice acting, animation, characters and environments have been completed for all three episodes.
The whole development has been scheduled so that we can keep to a schedule of releasing episodes no more than two months apart. If development falls behind schedule before the release of episode one, then I'll make the decision to delay release of episode one to ensure that people don't have a long wait between episodes. At the moment, though, development is proceeding according to schedule and I'm hopeful of getting them all out on time.
Adventure Corner: Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
Phil: I hope you will enjoy our game! We've just launched our Steam Greenlight campaign, and we would very much appreciate the support of your readers to help us get the game on Steam before July. You can give us your vote here.
Adventure Corner: Good luck with Greenlight and thanks a lot for answering all our questions!
Phil: Thanks for the opportunity to do this interview.