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Twelve Interviews #1: Rebecca Clements

May 8th, 2006 @ 11:36 am
by Vince Twelve

As an active member of the AGS community, I wanted to create something that could help share knowledge among the many people who, like me, are game making hobbyists. So I decided to conduct interviews with people who would have some experience or knowledge to share with the community. I am going to republish the first two interviews here this week and then begin posting new interviews next week.

The first two may seem more specific to AGS games, but I hope the new interviews will have a broader scope.

So, without further achoo… I present my interview with Rebecca “Kinoko” Clements, originally published June 22, 2005.

Kinoko, who is constantly being mistaken on the forums for a man (How’s that for an introduction?), made a splash in the AGS community with her first game, Cirque De Zale. It was nominated for several AGS awards and Inventory awards, and won the Inventory award for Best Indie Adventure. She is currently hard at work on her next game, an action RPG in the style of the old SNES classics, titled Gift of Aldora.

I was fortunate enough to sit down around a few pints of grog (and an internet browser) with Kinoko to chat a bit with her about herself, games, and herself making games. The following is a transcript of our discussion:

First off, tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Kinoko?

I’m a 22 year old Aussie girl who was brought up spoilt with video games galore. I love cats, noodles and rugby league.

Tell us one strange fact about yourself that we don’t know.

Popsticks scare me (seriously).

This August [Editor’s Note: Last August], you’re packing your bags and moving to Shizuoka, Japan. When did you decide to apply to teach English in Japan?

Probably around October last year. I’d always known about JET and I was nearing graduation from uni, so I had to do something with my life. I needed to get to Japan somehow to complete my study of the language and JET came highly recommended. I’m now thrilled I was accepted.

What kinds of games and genres do you play? What are you playing now?

Right now, almost literally right now because I WILL be playing the game as soon as I’m done with this, I’m playing Zelda – Minish Cap. I wasn’t to thrilled about the game when I got it months ago but I’ve recently picked it up again and now I’m hooked. I’m also playing Harvest Moon – Friends of Mineral Town on GBA. I recently got married, and my wife is pregnant now! [Interviewer’s side note: Ok, I totally did a double take at that. It took me a second to realize you were talking about a game…]I do play a bit of D&D with some friends every now and again but I almost never play PC games these days (besides AGS games). I used to be big into PC gaming when I had an amiga and C64, but these days I’m all about console gaming. It’s what I was brought up on. I play all sorts of things, I love anything that’s genuinely unique or just plain well-made and fun, but my real love is for RPGs.

How often do you play games that come out of the AGS community?

It varies. I guess it depends on how often something that really grabs my attention comes out. I dont play everything released, just the things that strike a chord with me, particularly when I can see real effort put in.

Any favorites?

I’m a bit of a Yahtzee whore, I love 5 Days, 7 Days and O.K. Noone can go past Pleurghburg, and I adore the Apprentice. More recently, Saturday School had been the best thing I’d played in ages.

When playing other AGS games, what common mistake do you see repeating itself over and over again and how can developers avoid making it?

I’ve always thought one of the biggest mistakes is believing that graphics don’t matter. Adventure games tend to be lovers of “old school” graphics and simplicity, and we’re always saying that graphics don’t matter when you have a great story and game in general, but too many people take that to mean that graphics can be completely… scat-house. It works in joke games, but when you’re putting a lot of effort into story and programming, I think the graphics, as simplistic as they may be, should at least show effort and care. It’ll make the player care more about your game to know that you did. The other big one is not enough beta-testing. One scripting error can be enough to turn you right off a game. While I’m on the subject, spelling and grammar, people! Fixing up all these things can really make your game seem like a great piece of work.

With a lot of developers, the initial concept is a difficult one, and Cirque had a very unique concept. How did you come up with it? Where did the inspiration come from?

I’d love to tell a charming story, or a clever one, but I honestly just sat down with a notebook and thought about what would “sell”. I knew I wanted to make it in the style of early Lucasarts games, and I knew I wanted a main character with a lot of personality, I just had to think of a theme. I thought about what had been done in adventure games so far (pirates, magicians, royalty and whatnot) and thought that a circus would serve the purpose.

Take me through the process of making your first game. Did you meticulously plan everything out, wing it as you went along, or somewhere in between?

I planned the basic elements I wanted in the game, and a couple of specific jokes I wanted to work in. Then I planned the whole game from start to finish, story and puzzle wise. After that, I drew sketches of my backgrounds and the “map”, Alexander’s sprite and basically started from there. I didn’t have everything planned from the start, I added and changed things as I went along, but the bulk of the game was planned out before I started. I think you have to do that, really. Plan, plan and plan and have everything sorted but be flexible and open to change as you work on the game.

In this process, what went right and what went wrong?

Scripting went wrong most of the time, seeing as I was learning the problem as I made the game. Also, I fell into a lot of the same traps most people fall into when making their first game, such as only having one style of puzzle, a very linear storyline (not always a bad thing) and things like that. I’d say one of the things that went right is that the dialogue I pretty much wrote on the spot was pretty well-received, and things I thought would seem corny/obvious/lame because I’d seen it so often and in such detail were, again, well received by people who hadn’t been working on the game for 3 months ^_^

What made you decide to make an RPG as your next big project?

Adventure games and RPGs were always my “Big Two” in gaming. I’d done one, it was time for the other. I think I was also replaying Terranigma at the time (greatest game ever) and felt like I wanted to carry on the flame a little. Very few RPGs these days really excite me the way they did ‘back in the day’.

Cirque is widely loved for its excellent writing and humor, great art and animation, and entertaining puzzles and gameplay. It grabbed me because playing it for the first time evoked a sense of nostalgia, as if it was a long lost LucasArts game. It nailed everything that made classic adventure games classic. In doing this (and at no expense to the game’s quality, may I add) Cirque never attempted any new gameplay innovations, instead opting for the tried and true LucasArts verb-based gamplay. You’ve stated that the gameplay of Gift of Aldora is based on the Illusion of Gaia/Terranigma series and The Secret of Mana. Will GoA be playing by the rules and sticking closely to the action-RPG formula laid out by these series or will you be adding some interesting gameplay elements of your own?

It’s hard to say, since it is still in development and I do keep scribbling new ideas all the time. For the most part, it will be made up of ‘tried and true’ methods from various games. Don’t expect anything terribly revolutionary, but I hope the game will invoke a feeling of uniqueness simply because it isn’t just a tribute-style game like Cirque was. The main motivation behind this game, however, IS that I want to relive my old SNES console RPG days. I guess I hope will simply feel like something worthy enough to be placed at the feet but among those old games I love.

For you, what’s the best (most enjoyable) part of making these games? The design, the art, the coding, the vast amounts of money that you make…?

The vast amounts of money I make… gee, I wish that was it. Given that I’ve spent the last 10 years calling myself an artist, it’s probably weird that I consider one of the funnest parts of game-making to be programming. I find it incredibly satisfying, and you don’t have to wait for things to dry or scan a thousand pages. It’s easy (physically so, that is) and just like problem solving. I think the winner would have to be conception though (not the baby kind). It’s so utterly fun coming up with characters and ideas and trying to mush them together in a story.

What’s the worst (least enjoyable) part?

Animating. It’s satisfying when it’s done, but sitting there trying to animate a little sprite, moving pixel by pixel and then testing and testing… I find really tedious.

Building an adventure game, as we all know, is a huge undertaking. It requires a lot of time and work. So many games get announced, gain a lot of attention, and then fade into oblivion (only to have their “in production” threads dug up by a guest, invoking the wrath of the Mandarb). You’ve recently started the “Release Something!” thread, which aims to jump-start some of those ailing games. Since you’ve taken it upon yourself to help those poor dust-collecting game projects and since you’ve proved that you can finish a game (and a quality one at that), do you have any tips for developers to help them be able to follow through with their projects?

Work on it every single day. The biggest problem comes from taking “breaks” (which I’m very guilty of). It’s too easy to forget about your own game when it isn’t in your every day life. that said, don’t spend 24 hours 7 days a week on it either. It needs to be a part of your life, not your whole life. If you do that, it’ll eventually wear you down and you’ll stop out of spite for the game.

Thus far, you’ve been flying solo, creating the graphics, code, music and everything in between for your games by yourself. Lets say you were given the freedom and funding to assemble a dream-team of people from the AGS forums to work on a new and exciting game. Based on the work you’ve seen on the boards, who would you choose? What roles would they fill? What role would you fill? Or would you prefer to continue working on your own?

I think I’ll always prefer working on my own, because I’m incredibly picky and bossy. I wouldn’t mind some help with scripting sometimes, and an animator. Still, if I were gonna be working with other people, I’d need to do it face to face because I’m a control freak and it’s too easy for people to get away from you online. There are all sorts of people on the boards I’d love to do a project with though. No names :) [Interviewer’s side note: Wuss…]

And finally, the sarcastic titular character of Circue de Zale endeared himself to players by insulting people. Insult me, thereby endearing yourself to the masses.

Oh, Vince, but I LOVE you! *hugs and cuddles*

Oh please… you’re not going to endear yourself to anybody like that…

I’d like to thank Kinoko for her time and for sharing some of her wisdom with the community. Before we say goodbye, do you have anything clever and profound to say to finish the interview?

One of my favourite quotes and very applicable to me – “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”.

Kinoko, thank you so much. We look forward to your next game.

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