At this year's GDC, I sat down with two guys from Hothead Games, developer of Penny Arcade's Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, to take a look at the game and talk about the resurgence of the adventure genre.
I stumbled upon Hothead serendipitously. A friend of mine mentioned the guys doing the Penny Arcade game were at the show and were keeping a relatively low profile, sequestered away in the Canadian game developer booth, flanked by an army of PR professionals from the varying provinces. I first rebounded off their atmosphere because I spoke to a nice lady from Alberta, who didn't have the authority to introduce me to the Vancouver, British Columbia-based developer, but on a second approach I managed to get a hold of Carolyn Carnes, who squeezed me into Hothead's quickly filling schedule.
Inside I met Joel DeYoung, Hothead's chief operating officer, and Ron Gilbert of LucasArts adventure fame. Gilbert worked on The Secret of Monkey Island, Sam & Max Hit the Road and Full Throttle in the past, and Hothead brought him onto the team as creative director.
RSPD is an adventure game set in an alternate version of the 1920s, where H.P. Lovecraft's writing was nonfiction and giant, animatronic appliances terrorize the surroundings. Gabe and Tycho, the comic's principal characters, are paranormal investigators with a Sam Spade vibe. They join the main character early in the game and help along in the plot.
DeYoung opened up a plain-looking laptop and showed me the game's opening. Players, who can customize their characters using Penny Arcade-themed features, begin the game in a very Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy way: sitting in their house, which gets trampled by a giant, Cthulhu-inspired Fruit Fucker 2000. DeYoung told me Mike "Gabe" Krahulik worked closely with the team to ensure the game stayed close to its aesthetic roots, and it shows. Everything looks like a 3-D version of the comic would, brightly colored with its trademark severe curves and close-ups.
As the camera pans around your neighborhood, the narrator chimes in, all Lovecraftian doom and gloom, and very much in Jerry "Tycho" Holkins' logophilic style. The narrator sounds like the guy who did the opening to the Conan movie, and he sets the game's humorous yet horrific tone perfectly.
"The story was all Mike and Jerry," DeYoung said. "They're in charge of the story; they're in charge of the art direction. We're in charge of gameplay and everything else. But when you're making an adventure game, gameplay and story are very tightly integrated, so there was a lot of back and forth, and Ron was very helpful with a lot of that."
I asked Gilbert if working so closely with guys who weren't veteran game developers was more difficult than creating a game would normally be. "I don't know that it really was," he said. "Mike and Jerry are both very creative people. After a half hour of explaining to them how an adventure game was structured, they just got it. ... It was just a lot of really great brainstorming after that."
"In terms of education, I think the biggest learning curve for them was how much iteration a game goes through," DeYoung said, "how it looks half-way through. But we were all really happy."