First posted on 03 September 2008. Last updated on 29 July 2012.
William R. Fisher may not be a name instantly recognizable by adventure game fans—his initials, however, may be. He is founder of WRF Studios, a small game company named after his own initials, and an independent adventure game developer working more or less in solo on his own games. He is the author of Last Half of Darkness: Shadows of the Servant (2005) and Last Half of Darkness: Beyond the Spirit's Eye (2007). Some fans may recall the series' name from elsewhere—an earlier game simply called Last Half of Darkness, first released back in 1989 by his company known then as SoftLab Laboratories. The game gained popularity and wide distribution as shareware through BBS (Bulletin Board System), a precursor to the Internet as we know it today.
To make an adventure game more advanced than a simple Flash derivative is quite impressive. To make a graphically heavy adventure game in solo such as Last Half of Darkness is beyond many gamers' comprehension. His games are not short technical demos either, but are full-fledged complete adventures. These games also reflect Fisher's taste as a great fan of horror. The fact that he has been developing games since the 1980s is proof of his commitment and his enjoyment as a video game developer.
We are honored to have an opportunity to learn more from William R. Fisher, who prefers to be called Bill Fisher, about his career and his games. In the interview, Fisher shares his thoughts on the challenges of being an indie game developer, the inspiration behind his own games, what gamers can expect from the latest Last Half of Darkness sequel, and what more to be expected from him in the future.
- Knowing that the original Last Half of Darkness predated most early horror adventure games such as Alone in the Dark or The 7th Guest, what past games, if any, inspired you to create Last Half of Darkness? What were the other inspirations?
- It was a very long time ago... but if I remember correctly... "Uninvited" was the very first graphic horror adventure game I played. Although it only used 4 colors, it was still fun. I think it was inspiration for the creation of Last Half of Darkness... it's been so long... I forget.... Other influences I'm sure were horror movies, TV, etc.
- Did you develop Last Half of Darkness to be episodic? What was the connecting theme between each installment in the series?
- Episodic? No... not really. But new chapters seem to pop up to unveil the stories from additional characters and locations from far away. From its unknown origin the darkness has spread throughout many towns and touched many lives. Each chapter in the series shows a different side of the darkness.
- As a developer working (more or less) in solo, how difficult had it been keeping schedules during development? How had your workflow changed between successive projects?
- I keep a pretty loose schedule... when it is good and I am happy with it... then I release it. I also try to keep any early release dates open too. Say "Releases in Fall, Summer, etc." Workflow changed? A little... I really rushed and worked day and night to get "Shadows of the Servants" done. But now I work a little slower and take my time.
- What development tools, resources, and assets did you use to create Last Half of Darkness?
- Proprietary game engine, with 3D modeling program, Adobe photoshop.
- Like any good game designer, you were probably more critical of your own work than your fans. Looking back, what might you have done differently, from conceptualization to distribution, when you were developing your games?
- From the original "Last Half of Darkness" - I would of liked to have been the first to invent the "smart" cursor and got rid of the open, examine, go, etc. commands and added more "mechanical puzzle-type" games. Possibly more characters with dialog trees too. As far as the newer chapters... I'm learning with every new game, but primarily I am happy with each release. Any new features or ideas I simply put into a new chapter.
- The story of Last Half of Darkness is decisively fanciful, particularly in Shadows of the Servants. How do you balance the whimsical story and the creepy atmosphere of the series? How do you inject gameplay without ruining this delicate balance?
- Yes.. this is a delicate balance... since I don't want to make it too crazy. However I want to make it interesting, imaginative and take advantage of the special effects computer graphics offer. I am not really trying to create a realistic environment but do want to make sure the gameplay works within the atmosphere and logic of the story.
- How long were Shadows of the Servants and Beyond the Spirit's Eye in development? Which part of the development cycle was most time consuming? In retrospect, did the implementation go more or less as planned?
- "Shadows of the Servants" took about 9 months and "Beyond the Spirit's Eye" took about 1 year. The graphics and cut scenes usually take the longest to complete. Yes... I think the implementation went as planned.
- In a novel, the author can change the order of events in the narrative as it fits into the story. In a game, however, the order of events is dictated by what action the player may take (often unpredictably). Given the open design of Last Half of Darkness, especially in Beyond the Spirit's Eye, how do you ensure that the player is exposed to a sensible structure in the narrative so to make sense of the story? How do you ensure the player will not be trapped in a dead-end in the gameplay?
- The short answer... many hours of playing around with the different aspects; story, puzzles, locations, etc. - making adjustments to make it all work. One thing I know (being an adventure game player too) is... don't underestimate the player. They expect everything to make sense and have no dead ends. Good beta testers help too.
- With giving any spoiler, is the story of Beyond the Spirit's Eye connected in any way to Shadows of the Servants? Will any of the characters from Shadows of the Servants make a return or cameo appearance in Beyond the Spirit's Eye? In brief, what is the back story in Beyond the Spirit's Eye?
- "Shadows of the Servants" was a story about a doctor who brought back an infected monkey to her New Orleans estate. The monkey contained the "darkness" when it was bitten by creatures of an ancient temple in a section of uncharted rainforest.
The very same "darkness" also infected an entire town in "Beyond the Spirit's Eye" when an explorer, Captain Marcos, brought back a rare jewel amidst his bounty. This time the game tells a different side of the story as the guardians of the jewel followed the Captain back to Shadowcrest and unleashed its curse upon the townsfolk.
"Tomb of Zojir" reveals yet another chapter of "darkness" and its path through the Island of the Dead, where the lives and secrets of strange characters unveil an ancient story.
- What improvements can your fans expect in Beyond the Spirit's Eye over Shadows of the Servants?
- It comes on two CD's with better graphics and more cut scenes. More objects, puzzles and a larger game world too.
- What is the style of gameplay in Beyond the Spirit's Eye? Will there be any timed element? What types of puzzles are in the game?
- The style is simply a first person - "point and click" interface with no timed puzzles. There are various mechanical, poetic, inventory-type puzzles. Players of "Shadows of the Servants" should feel right at home with the same interface.
- The packaging for Beyond the Spirit's Eye (and Shadows of the Servants) is reminiscent of the feelies included in old Infocom games. Is this a deliberate homage to the classics? How do you actually make these feelies?
- I was a big fan of Infocom adventures back in the day. I always like to create adventures that I would like to play and I always thought it was cool to open up the package and find something extra. It's nice to give a little taste of the game environment with added extras before the player even places the CD into the drive.
- Which game companies (active or defunct) would you be most curious to work at, if you had not become an indie developer? Why? Alternatively, which games (current or past) would you be most interested to be involved in the development, if you had not created your own games? Why?
- Blizzard... (although not adventure game developers ) I enjoy their games and I think I could learn a few things from that company. A particular game? Probably World of Warcraft. I just have so much respect for the large environment of that game. I would love to have that engine to make an adventure game.
- What tips and advices do you have for aspiring independent game developers to be successful commercially?
- Listen to comments from your players and make games you enjoy and would like to play.
- What future projects are expected from WRF Studios? What holds in the future for you and your company?
- "Last Half of Darkness: Tomb of Zojir"