Dave Gilbert prouds himself on always giving the first talk at Adventure X and this year he also made time for a short interview with us. We’ve got a lot of great insights into his experiences with past projects and a small glimpse of what he plans to do next. Dave talked to us about his decision to discontinue the Blackwell series, about the replay value of Unavowed, his method of crafting the relationships between the characters and his recent experience with 3D and how that will influence the new game he’s working on
Read on or watch the video to see what we found out!
Articy: Dave, thanks for joining us today, for people who are not yet familiar with your work, can you tell us about yourself and Wadjet Eye Games?
Dave: I’m Dave Gilbert and I’ve been running Wadjet Eye since 2006 so almost 14 years which is insane. We do point and click adventures and narrative based games mostly using adventure games studio where we’ve developed inhouse games like Shivah, the Blackwell series, Unavowed, Shardlight and we’ve published several games like Technobabylon, Gemeni Rue, Resonance and there’s a whole bunch more that I’m forgetting I’m sure.
Articy: You’ve mentioned Blackwell, that was a 5 games series and it was quite successful at the time when you decided to stop and start working on Unavowed. And I’m wondering because a lot of our users are struggling with the same question – when do you know it’s a good time to stop – what made you decide to stop the Blackwell series that was still successful and start with a blank slate for Unavowed.
Dave: Well you’d say that and the interesting thing about it is that it was successful, it did pretty well but the thing is Blackwell Legacy I wrote at the beginning of my career in 2006 and by the time Blackwell Epiphany came out in 2014 I felt I was a much stronger designer and a much stronger developer, I knew a lot more. It was so hard for me to look at Blackwell Legacy, I noticed that the sales drop off. The number of folks who bought Blackwell Legacy was here, then there would be a significant drop off for the rest. But for the rest it stayed pretty consistent so for those who stay past the second game they usually play the rest but I couldn’t deny that that first game it just wasn’t strong and no matter how good Blackwell Epiphany was or any potential future Blackwell game could be and I thought Blackwell Epiphany was pretty good but most likely someone new would start with the first game and bounce off of it because it has a lot of flaws at least compared to my current standards. It was very hard for me to muster up the motivation to continue with Blackwell knowing that any Blackwell game I made will be held back because it was tied to that first game made almost a decade earlier where I wasn’t that strong as a developer. And I figured that was a good reason as much as any to tie a bow on the series and end it and move on to something else that was just completely free of all expectations of previous games and things like that. Unavowed has some references to Blackwell, it takes place in the same world but you don’t need to have played Blackwell to get it, I think that was a smart move.
Articy: Talking about Unavowed, it’s a party point and click adventure, that’s something we don’t see very often
Dave: Not in our particular field, no.
Articy: Exactly, so with the player combination there are multiple ways that you can play every mission and can play the game and that’s a tremendous amount of effort. Do you feel that the effort is transparent to the players and do you have any data on whether there are a lot of players who have come back and played with a different character?
Dave: I do think it was worth it because the one thing I really wanted mostly because I don’t want to blame streaming culture, but this was because of the streaming culture that with games like ours if you watch it on stream you’ve basically experienced the whole game and I kind of wanted to work around that so I wanted a game that you can play multiple times and get something new out of it every single time. And I often replay those mid-era bioware games : knights of the old republic up until like the first Dragon Age or Mass Effect before EA took over, I replay those games all the time and I really wanted that similar kind of experience. I wanted to foster discussion cuz usually you’ve got forums and chat channels and things like that, but after the game’s been out for a while there’s nothing new to talk about and I was very satisfied to see people talking about the choices they’ve made. Like oh I chose Actor so I got this scene. I took the bartender and I saw Logan. Oh really, I’ve got to try that. And I thought that was really neat. “I took Mandana to Walstreet and I got this funny scene where she’s drunk”. And I just found that really rewarding that people compared their experiences so I think that was worth it.
Articy: That’s a good thing to have when people are talking about their different experiences about the same game.
You mentioned in one of your previous many talks that for Unavowed you wrote the dialogue for the characters to kind of tease out the relationships between them. How does that method help you and do you have any shortcomings with this method?
Dave: I think it worked for me. Everyone works differently. I found myself really discovering bits about the world just by having the characters talk to each other. That talk you mentioned I was giving the example a few years ago of “Mandana talking to Eli and I had this snarky conversation where she’s like “why are you tapping your staff and it’s annoying “and he was like “Yes that’s why I’m doing it, ha ha ha” and it was horrible but then I started thinking about ok, why does it bother her? And why is he doing it? And I thought well ok maybe mages have this history of going insane and that’s interesting maybe he had an ancestor who went insane and from there his whole backstory kind of formed. I found that just by basing, keeping the foundation on the characters and extrapolating from there, cuz I always keep the focus on the characters, every world building story element was extrapolated from something to do with the characters cuz that’s how I tend to relate to a lot of stories – through the characters involved. So it definitely helped me because that’s how I personally like to work and experience stories. I don’t know if it would work for everybody but that’s how it worked for me.
Articy: After Unavowed you’ve experimented with 3D. Did you get a lot of that experimentation that you can now bring back into 2D?
Dave: In some cases. The thing about the 3D game that I was making, was that I wanted to get that old Bioware feeling of you walking around and your friends chatting around you. And I mentioned in the talk that I tried to do that with Unavowed and it didn’t quite succeed because it’s just a static screen so even if you’re walking around the screen you’re not really exploring and while the characters are talking you still have to stand still and listen to them. And the thing about a lot of the 3d games that I was trying to make, I was trying to avoid doing that and just have the player constantly be moving and doing things and I’m trying to take that philosophy and put it into the 2d world. It’s a little more challenging because of the kind of game it is, but that’s what I’m trying to do. How I end up doing that, we’ll see. I’ve only just started working on it about a month and a half ago. But I know that every moment I design a scene and I always sort of extrapolate it out – How can I make it more interesting? – and I go from there. So I don’t really have an answer yet cuz I’m still figuring it out so we’ll see but I know that Ben the artist, he did a lot of 3d work and he’s taking a lot of these techniques and putting it into his 2D work. He’s modelling everything in 3D and then painting over them so he’s creating these smooth wonderful animations and he wouldn’t have been able to do that if he didn’t have that background working in 3D. So it’s helped the art end and it’s looking interesting, it’s a new look for us, we’re going 1080p by 1920 it’s crazy, it’s huge. 3 times the resolution of Unavowed so that’s exciting. Still can’t quite say what the game is yet but we know what it’s going to look like and that’s the important thing.
Articy: If you were to give one single piece of advice to someone that’s just now starting their carreer in the games industry, what would that be?
Dave: This is hard because all my advice and all the things I learned are 13 years out of date. Things are so different now. How I started is I started very small and I grew very organically and I see a lot of people trying to make a big epic project for their first time and they bet the farm and even if the game does well it does not do nearly enough to justify the time and money and effort they spent on it. I will always say: if you’re just starting out keep your expectations and your project manageable. Obviously you know it’s good to pursue your dreams and if you have a dream project definitely pursue it but don’t work outside your means, don’t spend more than you can afford, don’t destroy yourself. Think to the future as well, don’t think of your current project, think of 2 or 3 projects beyond that. Don’t put everything into one project because you want to keep doing this for a long time so you’ve got to adjust your work accordingly.