INTERVIEW:

FRANCISCO GONZALES

of GRUNDISLAV GAMES

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In 2004 there was an internet-famous Old Man Murray article
about 'The Death of Adventure Games', in which he posited
that the genre committed suicide via moon logic. In re-
releasing a 1989 essay on 'Why Adventure Games Suck', Ron
Gilbert paired this argument with his own hatred of 
illogical deaths and save game scumming. Lamplight City, a
point-and-click adventure released in 2018, avoids both
these pitfalls and proves that, done properly, the genre
can still create wonderful and memorable experiences. I
spoke to the creator of Lamplight City and founder of 
Grundislav Games, Francisco Gonzales, to find out how and
why someone would spend so much time making a point-and-
click adventure game in today's world.
                                   
                               

Christopher J. Teuton:

Alrighty. So, to get the most obvious question out of the way first, how did the idea for Lamplight City come about and how long did it take you to finish? The game has a large amount of very detailed artwork and an impressive amount of locations and backgrounds.

Francisco Gonzales:

I got the idea probably around the end of 2015, while I was still working on Shardlight. I had been thinking about making a detective game that didn't hold your hand and push you towards the right solution for a while, and things just sort of came together. I also got excited about the idea of setting it in a moody 19th century. Production started in early 2016, and it took about 2 1/2 years of development before release.

Christopher J. Teuton:

With the 19th century setting and pseudo-Victorian era, there was obvious racial tensions that existed at the times. Instead of ignoring that or treating it as if it didn't exist, what was the decision behind facing those views head-on?

Francisco Gonzales:

I felt it would be a tremendous disservice to just gloss over that or say "hey, it's alternate history, racism and prejudice magically don't exist!" It was definitely something I wanted to address, but also not be preachy or make it the main focus of the game. I actually toned it down a bit based on some early tester feedback, and used the steampunk-ish ideas to serve as another window into tensions between classes and races.

Christopher J. Teuton:

Speaking of steampunk, there's a number of references in the game to a subject called 'aethertricity' that is defined by different characters as either magic or science, and there seems to be even more alternate history hidden in the game's bonus content. How much more of this universe has been fleshed out, in your mind? Did you have a definite idea of what aethertricity is?

Francisco Gonzales:

Yes, that was an idea that I developed when I decided to go a bit more in a steampunky direction. For a few days, "Aethericity" was even the game's title! But I decided it wasn't something that was really in the game enough to justify calling it that. In any case, yes I definitely wrote about it in my design document, but also wanted to keep it subdued enough that it was something you saw glimpses of and made the world unique, but wasn't something that immediately placed it in the realm of "magic exists in this world."

Christopher J. Teuton:

As far as design goes, the game has no, or at least very little, real 'inventory puzzles' that usually comprises the bulk of adventure games. In fact, I think I collected more items in L.A. Noire than I did in Lamplight City. Was it hard to find ways to create puzzles and interactivity without leaning on inventory items?

Francisco Gonzales:

It was definitely an interesting challenge! I took a lot of inspiration from the Blade Runner adventure game, which also had no inventory puzzles. The decision was made mainly because I felt that tonally, it wouldn't make sense to have inventory combination puzzles of the types usually seen in more traditional adventure games. In my opinion, a detective investigating a crime wouldn't waste time making a fishing rod out of string and a magnet, he'd call in someone to help him bypass or remove the obstacle. Aside from that, the idea of streamlining puzzles involving using collected items on the environment via context sensitive cursors or dialogue menus seemed to work well.

Christopher J. Teuton:

It seems like that idea bled into the story as well, with Miles utilizing his wife's job as a hairdresser to obtain information where he couldn't.

Francisco Gonzales:

Yes, I wanted to have Adelaide help out, and very early on I felt that would be a fun way to do it. There was another scene where she got information from one of her clients, but I ultimately cut it because I felt it was too similar to the one already in the game.

Christopher J. Teuton:

Also along those lines, many games of this type can get bogged down in expository dialog when examining locations and items in the world, but instead of having the main character say "It's a chair" when examining a chair you have someone else describing it to him. Can you talk a little about the decision behind having what is, in a sense, a second narrator and how that affected the gameplay?

Francisco Gonzales:

It was interesting to play with the usual mechanic. In most adventure games, either the main character speaks/thinks their comments when examining things, or an invisible omniscient narrator describes things. This sort of thing has been used for comedic effect in games like Space Quest 6 or Leisure Suit Larry 7, where the main character breaks the fourth wall and has a dialogue with the narrator voice. In Lamplight City's case, it was fun to have the disembodied voice actually be a disembodied voice that the main character hears. It made the dynamic between Miles and Bill fun to explore, and also used the player/narrator dialogues for drama instead of comedy.

Christopher J. Teuton:

The tagline for Lamplight City, as you said in your GDC speech, was a detective game where it's okay to fail. You can fail nearly every case in this game and still complete it. How did you decide how much failure was acceptable to keep the story moving forward and how much notice you should give the player when they were about to enter a point of no return?

Francisco Gonzales:

I mainly wanted to have things come back to haunt you in other cases, whether that was a reaction to accusing a particular suspect (for better or worse) or meeting a character again after insulting them. But I made sure that each case's optimal solution could only be locked out by decisions made in that case. The non-optimal solutions can be affected by decisions made in prior cases, however. Also, with respect to the premature ending, I felt that declaring two of the four initial cases unsolvable seemed like a fair number to end the game early and not allow access to the final case. My intent was not to actively encourage players to fail, but to let them know that the game wasn't just going to be on autopilot to the correct solution (and also to give enough unique content who players who wanted to purposely play badly)

Also, every instance where you can screw up with a character by asking them about something sensitive or flat out insulting them has a warning or option to back out.

Christopher J. Teuton:

Personally, I found the location-changing autosave function helpful in those situations.

Francisco Gonzales:

That too

Christopher J. Teuton:

The game hits a lot of classic adventure game tropes and has a very Gabriel Knight-ish feeling about it, but I was hoping for one really hard and obtusely controlled out of place action sequence. What's next for Grundislav Games, and are you going to go full Sierra and have Miles take a murder case at your own game offices?

Francisco Gonzales:

Haha I learned my lesson about action sequences

With regards to what's next: I already have an idea and have started doing some preliminary art tests, but I still want to keep the main details under wraps. What I will say is that it's not a sequel to Lamplight City, although it is set in the same world. Also, it will be still be 2d pixel art, but 720p (1280x720)

Christopher J. Teuton:

Hmm, probably somewhere mentioned in one of those concept arts that people have to beat the game to unlock. Intriguing. People will like guessing about that. Will that be using AGS again? I was squinting through the first few hours of Lamplight City trying to determine whether it was or not, which is a testament to your familiarity with the program.

Francisco Gonzales:

It will!

It's funny, I was having a conversation recently about how people can tell an AGS game. I think it's mainly the lower resolutions and the use of the Sierra-like UI

Christopher J. Teuton:

For me it was the character text font during exploration. But the modified UI and no inventory was throwing me.

It's nice that AGS is still around and still so well supported.

Francisco Gonzales:

It really is. I'm excited to try out the upcoming update which adds camera zoom. Might be a cool thing to play with.

Christopher J. Teuton:

Dramatic jump scares in horror games, here we come.

When not designing games, what sort of games do you enjoy playing?

Francisco Gonzales:

I mostly enjoy action/adventure titles and open world games. This year I played and loved God of War and Spider-Man, and I've always been a big fan of the Assassin's Creed series (although I still have Origins and Odyssey to get through)

Christopher J. Teuton:

Being an avid AGS designer since 2001, how do you think the audience for adventure games changed over the past 17 years? 

Francisco Gonzales:

I don't think the audience itself has changed a whole lot, although maybe it's grown up a bit and accepts games with deeper stories and characters than the ones we grew up playing. When I first started designing games in the early 2000s, I was definitely thinking up puzzles that made no sense to anyone but me, and didn't really consider character personalities or motivations. 

Christopher J. Teuton:

Why are you personally drawn to point-and-click adventures as your chosen medium?

Francisco Gonzales:

I find the mechanics of them interesting, and I like being able to tell interactive stories and experiment with the medium by trying out a few new things here and there. They're also the genre of game I played the most growing up, so they have a special place in my heart.

Christopher J. Teuton:

If you could change one thing about the videogame industry today, what would it be?

Francisco Gonzales:

The saturation of the market. It's become incredibly difficult to get your game noticed, even if you have an established audience. People have been talking about the so-called Indiepocalypse for years, but it's definitely a reality we all have to face.

Christopher J. Teuton:

Well that's about all I have here. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I really enjoyed Lamplight City and I'll be looking forward to whatever comes next.

Francisco Gonzales:

Great, thanks for the interview

And I'm happy to hear you enjoyed LC

A discussion on one of the best indie games of last year.


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