Chris Jones

Adventure Game Studio

Posted by Jonathan Yalon.
First posted on 10 January 2008. Last updated on 13 December 2009.
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Chris Jones
AGS, developed by Chris Jones, is a popular game generator for creating adventure games.

This article is courtesy of HebrewQuest © 2007.

About the author

Jonathan Yalon is the editor-in-chief of the Hebrew adventure game site HebrewQuest and the co-creator of the Israeli adventure game Boundless Osher.

For more information on Yalon, visit HebrewQuest.

For more information on AGS, visit Adventure Game Studio.

Adventure Game Studio or AGS is a popular game generator used by many indie game designers to create graphical adventure games. It is relatively easy to use and enables developers who have little or no experience in programming to manage all phrases of development of their game projects. A number of games created with AGS have been sold commercially, but most are free to download. AGS is available for download from the author and is free for both non-commercial and commercial use (the latter with some licensing restrictions).

Although AGS continues to grow in popularity among the indie game development community, its author has chosen to keep a much lower profile for himself in public. We are, therefore, privileged to have an opportunity to interview AGS creator Chris Jones (not to be confused with game designer Chris Jones of Access Software, creator of Tex Murphy), who has been developing the program since age 14. In this rare interview, Jones speaks of his own inspiration to create AGS, his thoughts on the growing popularity of his engine, and what holds in the future for his work.

How old are you, where do you live and what are you doing in your life besides AGS?

Well, I'm in my mid twenties, I live in the UK and when I'm not tending to my ostrich farm, sadly enough I work as a professional programmer.

What are your favourite adventure games?

I've always had a soft spot for Space Quest 4 because it was the game that really got me into the genre, and I also loved Quest For Glory I (or Hero's Quest as it was called back then); I must've wasted countless hours as a kid playing and re-playing that game!

How did you come up with the idea of developing an adventure games creation engine?

Well, after getting into the genre in the early 90's and playing loads of the games, I decided that I wanted to make one myself. Of course, back then there was no internet so there was no way of knowing if someone had already made a game creation kit; so I gave it a go myself.

The result was Adventure Creator v1.00, which I finished in 1995. At that point, I realised I didn't have the artistic or design skills necessary to actually make a game, so I gave up and AC 1.00 sat on my computer for a couple of years gathering dust.

Why did you choose to release it and to put so much time and effort into such a non-profitable project?

In the first year or so, I think that just the feedback that people were using it and liking it gave me the motivation to develop it. And then, once games started being produced and I played through them and found out how fun many of them were to play, I felt that if I continued to develop AGS for free, the chances are that it would lead to more great games being made.

Why did you choose the blue cup symbol as the program's logo (and the website's domain)?

AGS includes some default graphics, and a pixilated blue cup was the first of these. Because of its ‘default sprite' status, when people made a mistake and forgot to assign a sprite to their objects, they'd get the blue cup popping up instead.

I never made a conscious decision to have the blue cup as the AGS logo; it just sort of happened as it gained almost a 'cult status' in the AGS community.

Have you personally participated in any of the productions of AGS games?

I made the original Demo Game that was distributed with older versions of AGS, but since then no. I keep meaning to enter one of the short game competitions that run on the AGS forums from time to time, but I never seem to have the time to actually make the commitment to making the game. I have done some scripting work for various games, but nothing significant.

How many AGS games have you actually played? This is possibly a "non-politically correct" question, but which ones are your favourites?

In the early days of AGS, I played them all; these days I don't have the time to do that, but I do try to play as many as I can. I can't really say what my favourites are, but if you're after some recommendations then look up the AGS Awards -- the games that have won and been nominated there are usually very worthy.

Since the "golden era" of Sierra and LucasArts, it seems that the adventure genre has lost a great deal of popularity. How do you explain the enormous number of independent adventure games created in recent years with AGS and other engines?

Generally, games companies don't see adventure games as profitable any more. In order to release one commercially you tend to have to have a very high standard of artwork, sound and music which costs a lot to produce. Also, in general adventure games don't have a very high replay value which can also dent their appeal.

I think that because of the lack of commercial releases, it has lead people to fill in the void by creating their own games. The availability of tools like AGS these days means that people now have the opportunity to do this without having to know computer programming, which means that making a game yourself is actually a viable thing to do.

As far as you know, how many AGS games have been released to date? Do you know mainly from which countries in the world?

Well, the AGS Games database on the website currently lists over 750 games, varying in length from short one-room games to proper full-length adventures. I don't really track what nationality people are, but I think we've certainly covered all six continents; and several games have been made by multi-national teams of people collaborating over the internet.

It seems that many projects are becoming "never-ending productions" or getting canceled. What advice would you give to someone who just downloaded AGS and started to work on his own game?

My advice would definitely be: Start Small. Don't download AGS and then immediately try to make a full-length game; if you try that, you'll get frustrated as you're trying to add all sorts of fancy features whilst just learning the basics of how to make a game.

Make a small game first, that allows you to get to grips with how things work; and then, once you're comfortable, start on your main game. But never underestimate how long it takes to make a game; artwork and scripting can be particularly tiresome, so make sure you know what you're letting yourself in for.

Many of the AGS games are remakes or games heavily-inspired by Sierra and LucasArts' adventure classics. Though they are very popular (Maniac Mansion Deluxe was downloaded more than 250,000 times, and the 2 King's Quest remakes were downloaded about 200,000 times each), don't you think that the independent teams that work on them should have focused on bringing to the world something new?

Fan games give people a pre-existing storyline and characters to work with, so they're a good way of getting started with game development since there's less that you have to come up with yourself. But once you're comfortable with making games, it's always good to carve out a name for yourself – and not have to worry about any potential legal action!

Lately, several AGS games have gone commercial: "The Adventures of Fatman" (which was the first), "Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine", "The Shivah", and more recently, "The Blackwell Legacy" and "Super Jazz Man". What is your opinion of that phenomenon? Do you think this harms the "freeware vision" of AGS?

I think it's great that people have got enough confidence in the quality of their games to make them commercial. Whilst there will always be people who'll want to get the games for free, if adventure gaming becomes commercially viable once more, then that can only be good for the genre.

And while there are now some games going commercial, don't forget that the vast majority of AGS games released are freeware, so there's always something to play without paying.

What the future holds for AGS? Do you plan major changes, like enabling 3D support?

AGS 3.0 is due to be released in early 2008, which includes a complete re-write of the editor, and the addition of Hardware Acceleration to the game engine. This has been a major project but it should significantly improve the game-making experience and improve the engine performance for more resource-intensive games.

Finally, what are your thoughts about the future of the adventure genre?

There can be little doubt that the genre is not what it once was; it seems to be moving towards a more "niche" market than the mainstream. But with a world of 6 billion people, that niche should remain large enough to keep the genre going for a long time yet!

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