Part three of the Twelve Interviews series focuses on the subject of episodic games. The interviewee of this installment is Francisco “Grundislav” Gonzalez, creator of the extremely popular freeware adventure series, Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator.
The first five games in the series have met considerable praise and adoration. You can download them from Francisco’s site at GrundislavGames.com.
On to the interview:
First of all, tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Francisco Gonzalez, I’m 24 years old, and I live in Miami, Florida. I like travelling, and hope to save up enough money to see lots of places before I get too old.
You were the host of the long-running and wildly popular AGS Podquest, why do all good things have to come to such a sudden and unexpected end? Why?!
In all honesty, Zoot and I just got tired of it. It was getting increasingly difficult to come up with discussion topics, contests, interviews, so we decided to go out while we were still bearable. We’re still going to try and do special edition podquests from AGS gatherings and things like that, so it’s not completely dead.
In your spare time, what kinds of games do you play? Any recent favorites?
I like playing adventure games, even though there are so few of them around. I recently played Dreamfall, which I enjoyed quite a bit, so right now it’s my favorite. I enjoy a little Half-Life 2 and Counter Strike every now and then, and I like God of War for PS2.
What made you want to make games?
It all started when I was a young lad of about 10…
In reality I played Hugo’s House of Horrors and was fascinated by the concept of adventure games. Previously I’d just played platformers and arcade type games, you see. Anyway, once I played some more I decided that making my own would be
Were your first attempts as good as your latest games?
A difficult question to answer, as I don’t really think of my games as “good” or “bad.” I make games I myself would like to play, so to me they’re more or less enjoyable. The first AGS games I made were the Carver Island games, which I’ve taken down due to embarrassment, so I guess the answer to the question would be “no.”
What inspired you to make a game centering around a paranormal investigator?
It’s kind of a complicated story. Originally I replayed Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and that inspired me to make a game about travelling the world. So I started planning a game about an AGS newbie who meets Chris Jones, [Editor's Note: Chris is the creator of the popular AGS] then goes on a worldwide search for the stolen AGS source code. Then I realized how silly that game would have been, so I stopped working on it.
After that, I still had the idea of world travel bouncing around in my head, and eventually I decided to make a game about a guy who goes around investigating local legends and folklore related to the paranormal. Rather than have your typical cliched paranormal investigator who deals with werewolves and vampires and “classic” hollywood monsters, I wanted to mix it up a little bit and have him look into stuff that was based on reality.
When you made the first game, did you know that you were going to make more in the series?
Yes and no. I knew I wanted to make more games, but at the very beginning I still wasn’t sure about how many games I wanted to make, or what the overall series story was going to be. I think it’s evident from Case 1 that I was just excited to be starting a new series. However, I will let the cat out of the bag and announce that I am working on Ben Jordan Case 1 Deluxe, which will be a re-working of Case 1, with better graphics, expanded story, and generally a better introduction to the series.
What made you decide to attempt an episodic series?
Practicality. I knew that if I focused on small games and not big ones, I’d be more likely to actually get them done and not give up on them. Also it was the fun of variety. You can keep the same character, but have him go different places, yet still keep the same overall feel.
You’ve hinted repeatedly that the series has an over-arching plot line that will soon become more evident. How much of the rest of the series do you have planned?
As of right now, I have the rest of the series planned. I know how it’s going to end, who’s going to live, who’s going to die, who the main villain is, etc etc.
Sometimes I think I haven’t really made the over-arching plotline very apparent, which in a way is good, because it means nobody suspects what is going to happen. However, people do ask me questions every now and then, so I guess someone knows something is going on.
Did you have this over-arching plot planned out from Case 1, or did you think it up further along?
When I did Cases 1 and 2, I hadn’t really thought about the rest of the series yet, so that’s why they might seem a little “detached” from Cases 3, 4, and 5. However, once I release Case 1 Deluxe, I think that will hopefully change.
It wasn’t really until I started on Case 3 that I decided to sit down and start writing out the rest of the major events of the series. I allowed myself flexibility with the individual cases and their locations, which actually changed quite a few times. There were originally going to be 9 games, but I decided that one of them was going to be very stupid, so I got rid of it, merged some plot lines, and condensed it down to 8.
Finishing five quality games at all is impressive, but to finish five in a series? Do you find it difficult to continue working on this series and not stray off to work on something fresh and new?
First of all, thanks for saying they’re all quality games. I don’t know if I agree completely with you, but it’s nice to get compliments.
No, I don’t find it difficult, because to me each game is different. The only game so far that has made me a little tired is Case 5. For some reason I just lost interest in it towards the end, and I think it shows a little in the finished product. However, for the last 3 cases, I’m very excited to work on them for completely different reasons. Case 6 is exciting because of the location and the chance to improve my art, Case 7 for the story, and Case 8
because it’s the big finale.
How do you stay motivated?
I have fun when I make games, and also because I have all these ideas in my head and I want to get them out there and see how people react. I’m really excited about releasing Case 7 because I think that’s when I’m going to start getting hate mail.
You’ve gained a sizable online fan-base. What’s that like?
It has it’s ups and downs. It’s a great feeling to get emails saying how much people liked the games. I even had someone donate money! On the other hand, it can get a little annoying when people start asking repeatedly when the next game is going to be released, although with Case 5 I have nobody to blame for that but myself.
What have you learned from creating this episodic game series?
I’ve learned that episodic games are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they’re easier to do, require less work, and can be made faster than full-length games. On the other hand, they can be completed fairly quickly, and then the anxiety for the next one begins.
There’s also the fact that some people get into it from the most recently released game, then play the series out of order, which makes the story a little hard to follow.
What advice would you give to others trying to start up their own series of games?
Six words: Don’t announce a release date EVER.
Other than that, go for it.
What’s your favorite Ben Jordan game and why?
That’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. At the moment, however, my favorite is Case 6. As for the ones I’ve released, I think I like Case 4 a little more than the rest. But don’t tell them that, please.
Once you’re finished with the BJ series, what’s next for you?
Assuming I still have as much free time as I do now, I’m going to keep right on making games. I already have an idea bouncing around in my head for a historical adventure that I don’t think anyone has done before. We’ll see what happens.
Finally, say something clever and/or profound to finish the interview.
Something clever and/or profound.