First posted on 24 July 2010. Last updated on 06 April 2012.
|Andrew Goulding is the founder of Brawsome and the creator of Jolly Rover.|
|The Brawsome office is where the magic of game creation happens.|
For more information, visit Brawsome!.
Jolly Rover is the debut adventure game from indie developer Andrew Goulding and his company Brawsome. Goulding is no stranger to the games industry, having worked for years as a game tester, programmer, and producer. Although comedy pirate adventures are certainly not unique to the genre, Jolly Rover seems to have taken on a new twist to an old theme by casting all of the game's main characters as canines. Indeed, it is this unique design choice that makes Goulding's game different from the competition. While the game is technically an indie title (and available only through digital distribution so far), Jolly Rover is a full length (and full price) commercial project from the newcomer developer.
We are therefore privileged to have an opportunity to interview Andrew Goulding about Jolly Rover. In the interview, Andrew speaks about his experience in the industry, the joys and pains of essentially being an one-man developer, and why dogs and pirates go together so well!
Check out our exclusive gallery of previously unpublished concept art from Jolly Rover!
- What inspired you to create Jolly Rover? What literal influences, if any, did you draw from when you were developing this game?
- The initial seed for Jolly Rover was planted about 6 years ago when I really wanted to play a new comedic adventure game. There were adventure games around, but these seemed to be more serious, revolving around crime, thriller, horror or sci-fi genres. There were some good offerings coming out of the indie community, but I felt they could go a bit further to really push the comedy. I had many ideas for different adventures, but one of the things that made me lean towards the pirate idea was the recent Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
There were games made from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but these were action-adventures, and I was craving a more casual point and click adventure. When developing Jolly Rover, barring the fact that they were dogs, I wanted to create an authentic pirate experience. I read a lot of pirate history books and also checked out Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, On Stranger Tides and even the Swiss Family Robinson and Muppet Treasure Island. Okay, so the last of those aren't really authentic pirate tales, but you can still get ideas from here and there about what people might think makes pirates fun and interesting.
- What game development experience did you have prior to Jolly Rover? To what extent had you always planned this game as a commercial release?
- Prior to starting my company – Brawsome, I had five years experience in the games industry as a tester, programmer and producer. I was always restless, and moved around a lot, working at four different companies in Australia and the UK. I started Brawsome during my fifth year in the games industry, which provided contract programming support on a number of games including Emerald City Confidential, and Avenue Flo. Six months into quitting my full time job and running Brawsome full time I developed the idea for Jolly Rover, but it wasn't until another six months later that I was able to get enough funding to begin development of the game.
There were plenty of indie adventures around, but I wanted to do a commercial quality release. I also have a family to support and lacked the finances to pay professionals to work on the game, or even support myself for the duration of development. I tried to get funding from casual publishers, but Jolly Rover wasn't deemed 'casual' enough, or a good fit for their audience. I eventually ended getting investment from a local animation company (Viskatoons), and finally a local government organization (Film Victoria) mainly involved in funding indie films, but recently moving into some game funding. I took on quite a lot of roles in Jolly Rover out of necessity, for much of development I was burning the candle at both ends. Not only did I take on my desired roles of designer and writer, but did all production, programming, voice casting and direction and marketing, as well as the many little business things you've just got to do.
- When did the development of Jolly Rover begin? How long was the game in development?
- If we're talking about actual proper development, that began in August 2009. I was working part time on other projects during development up until March, when the major project running alongside Jolly Rover was cancelled and I was forced to work on Jolly Rover full time in order to finish by June so I could continue to make ends meet. As soon as the game was released I was out looking for work, which was much less plentiful than it was a year ago due to a number of factors including the global financial crisis and a massive drop in the prices of digitally distributed games.
- The game was developed using PlayFirst's PlayGround SDK. Why did you choose to develop on this platform? How big was the learning curve for this SDK? What were some of the challenges, such as coding and asset management, that you had encountered using this framework in the development of Jolly Rover?
- I used the PlayGround SDK because I was familiar with it, after working on Emerald City Confidential and Avenue Flo. There was a framework built on top of this called MyQuest, which is specifically designed for building adventure games. I license this off the creator – Dan Filner. Though I could also have used Adventure Game Studio, which I was familiar with, PlayGround had Mac compatibility as well and I though being able to get the game on Mac, as well as PC, was a good idea.
Though I'm a programmer, and have made my living this way, I'm not really interested in programming, but rather what you can accomplish through programming. If I didn't need to know programming to make my own games, I wouldn't bother with it. I try to find existing engines I can use to achieve what I need to, only developing my own technology when really necessary.
I suppose the only issue I had with PlayGround was during development their engine was going through a massive overhaul as they went from version 4.0 to 5.0. My understanding for the change was to make it compatible with Windows 7, which I wanted the game to be compatible with, obviously. But unfortunately the Mac side of the engine had received little testing as I was going towards release of the game, with some critical bugs fixed mere days before release. Working with an engine that you can't open and tinker with always leaves you at the mercy of the engine creators, but I've developed a good relationship with the guys at PlayFirst, and they've been very helpful in understanding and fixing any issues I've had.
- What were the biggest challenges, both creatively and logistically, you faced during the development of Jolly Rover?
- Creatively, Jolly Rover was my first attempt at writing for a commercial game. I'd written for indie titles and contributed words for games here and there, but never written the entire dialog for a commercial length game. At the same time it was my first time designing for a commercial length game. Though I had written many design prototypes and helped out on design before, I had never been entirely responsible for the design. Though I thought I could develop good dialog, characters, story and design, I had no actual proof that this was the case.
Logistically, I think I see what you're getting at. Jolly Rover was developed remotely. There was no studio as such, all art and audio was contracted out, and each one of the six voice actors worked individually from their studios. While most of the people working on the game were in Australia, the voice actors were scattered all over the world, so there were time differences there, sometimes quite large. The only way to manage this is through excellent written communication, that is both clear and to the point. When working with people remotely, a good deal of time can, and should, be spent just communicating otherwise it falls in a heap. It's not one way though, finding good people that work well remotely is also difficult, so when you find those people you tend to hang on to their contact details.
Working remotely is nothing new for me; when I started Brawsome, all my clients were in the US. Part of me really enjoys working remotely, I don't have to commute (which I hate), and I get to control my own setup, play my own music, and basically don't have to put up with people bugging me. But I have experienced the value of having a bunch of bright people in the same room moving towards a common goal, and that's really what produces the best games, but until I can afford to make that happen, working remotely isn't so bad.
- How did you create the artworks for Jolly Rover? To what extent were they first hand drawn and then digitally recreated and colored?
- For all the main characters I created quite detailed written descriptions about what clothing they would wear, their sizes, mannerisms, features, breed, quirks and backed it up with a lot of images pulled from Google Images as well as a Pirates of the Caribbean art book. Though there was still a lot of back and forth between the artists as they sent me rough sketches and I provided notes.
I did the same thing for the backgrounds; however, I was also called upon to draw layouts for all the background scenes. I'm no artist, so I found this quite challenging, and it was the cause of slight annoyance as I expected this would be done by the artists through a series of rough sketches that I would provide feedback on. Similarly with the UI I created the visual style for everything, including the title screen. I would have loved to have had more help defining this, and was happy to leave this up to an artist to get creative with, but was called upon to set the style myself.
- Why did you choose canines as the main breed of character in Jolly Rover?
- I like dogs, people like dogs. If you've heard more than a few pirate insults you'll no doubt have heard the word 'dog' thrown in. The pirate theme fits dogs better than any other animal. I could have decided to throw in cats, rats, pigs or whatever, but I felt there was enough variation between the different breeds of dog to make an interesting game. Also, I didn't want to make the characters too generic, there have been plenty of books, movies, tv shows and games about pirate humans, but none to my knowledge about pirate dogs. The characters being dogs also helps to create unique silhouettes of characters. Something I wanted from the start was to define characters that would have the potential to be instantly recognizable.
- Pirate comedy is a popular theme in adventure games. How is Jolly Rover different from other pirate themed adventure games?
- For a start, the main character doesn't want to be a pirate; he wants to be a clown. He's a reluctant adventurer who's chasing a dream, but isn't quite clear on his own motives towards this dream, possibly on some level he's trying to replace his father who he lost quite young.
Voodoo plays a large part in this pirate adventure, and not just finding items and putting them together but manually performing the actions of the spell. Due to the particular Voodoo mechanic, spells can be learned by observation, in one case from a monkey, and in another from a hidden carving. The combination of the 'Voodoo Cheatsheet' and 'Voodoo Recipe' makes for some interesting puzzles and adds a dynamic element to solving them.
Linking with Voodoo recipes is the theme of cooking which plays a large part in the first part of the game -- cooking being one of the few practical skills of the protagonist, as well as being an accomplished juggler, and snappy dresser.
The integrated hint system, in the form of a deranged parrot is also unique to the game; this links in with one of the collectables of the game – crackers. The parrot will give you a cryptic hint for whatever task you're on, and if plied with crackers, it is likely to eventually give you the outright answer.
The collectables in the game are crackers, pieces of eight and pirate flags. Only the pirate flags are true collectables though, which just unlock Pirate Captain Bio's in the Log but are quite difficult to find. The crackers have practical use for the parrot, and pieces of eight can actually buy your way past certain puzzles. Both the crackers and pieces of eight additionally unlock concept art and music tracks in the log screen. For the most part these items are not found via any hidden object mechanic, but through general exploration of the world, some via dialog and some via interesting uses of inventory items and Voodoo. It was important that these collectables be integrated tightly with the world, and not seem like something I threw in at the last minute as a gimmick.
Achievements are another thing I haven't seen in any other pirate adventures, this game rewards you with a series of achievements just for getting through the game, and several bonus ones for playing the game a certain way, i.e. playing without giving any crackers to your parrot will get you an 'Adventure Gamer' achievement.
In addition to this I've brought back the concept of score in adventure games, a throwback to old Sierra titles, which plays a short jingle every time you receive score. Score is given for progress inducing actions in the game, but also linked to crackers and pieces of eight, which is another reason to hold on to them rather than 'spending' them.
Also, this pirate adventure includes a damsel who's grateful for being saved.
Finally, I would have liked to mention that Jolly Rover includes developer commentary, but it appears that the re-released Monkey Island 2 now also includes that. But Jolly Rover does include the original auditions from all the voice actors, which are unlocked when you finish the game.
- What kinds of puzzles can gamers expect in Jolly Rover? Approximately how many hours of gameplay will the game offer?
- Puzzles in Jolly Rover mainly consist of finding particular items and using them on other items to progress past certain obstacles. The puzzle, and sometimes its solution can be gleaned from dialog between characters in the game and observations by the character about objects in the scenes. Many of the puzzles revolve around the core Voodoo mechanic, and acquiring the ingredients, in the right conditions and performing the correct actions to successfully execute the spell.
There are some puzzles that require navigating through a maze, solving puzzles along the way and one that involves working out the combination to a lock using various different sets of information.
A couple of puzzles in the game require the player to observe and repeat a timed knock sequence, which can be skipped by giving the parrot crackers of course. There are also a couple of straight logic puzzles, such as making one unit of water using a three and five unit jug.
I thought the game would have between 4-8 hours gameplay, but some reviewers have commented that it can take between 9-10 hours to get through.
- The game is fully voice acted, a rarity for an indie production. Who are the voice actors in Jolly Rover? What is the process of casting and adding vocals to the game?
- The voice actors are people I casted through a site called voice123. I initially tried to get local (Australian) voice actors, but couldn't find anyone with the right skills, for the right price. Voice123 far surpassed my expectations; for one character I received over 50 auditions in a week!
I posted jobs on voice123 for 6 different characters in the game, with a view that these 6 characters would have the range to voice the remaining 19 characters. For each role I posted how many lines the character had, a description of the character, a sample of lines, and my budget for that character. Actors would then apply by either reading the lines or sending in a character demo. I would select a short list, then give additional lines to these actors to read and eventually select my star.
When it came to recording, I posted all the actors' lines online in a spreadsheet using Google Docs. For each line I gave the actor brief direction on how it should be read. The actor would perform the lines, mark them done and upload the files to my online repository. I would then listen to the lines, approve those I could use, and provide direction on the lines I needed redone. It was a slightly tedious process, but also quite fun. It's a surreal experience to hear your dialog read out loud by professional actors!
Before the lines were final though, my audio guy (Lamaic) would process them so they were all at an appropriate level and quality. All actors record in their own studios, so the lines come in all sounding slightly different, this post-processing step is crucial for this to be a success. An audio file for each line is named according to the line ID, which I could add directly to the games VO folder for them to be played in game when the appropriate line was read.
There are 3500+ lines of dialog in the game by the way, all of which are fully voiced by professional voice actors. And that's actually pretty light for an adventure game of this size.
- The game is distributed digitally on a number of major gaming portals, including STEAM and Direct2Drive. As an indie game developer, what lessons have you learned about the process of successfully submitting the game to these distributors?
- That's a tricky question, there's no hard and fast rule. Some distributors you send emails to over the course of months and you never hear back, some get back to you right away, some even approach you.
The best thing you can do is get your game out there, tell people what you're doing, create a buzz about the game. Don't develop your game in a closet for nine months then try to get distribution. When you go to a distributor, you want to be able to point them to the online community you've built, which includes game website, twitter feed, facebook fanpage, forum, screenshots, videos, blog, reviews, interviews, awards. All of these things contribute to them thinking your game is going to sell, and sometimes mean you'll approached by distributors rather than the other way around.
The whole marketing side of game development was new to me, you just look around at what other successful indies are doing and try to copy that, talk to people, go to conferences, read articles. I learned most of what I know about game marketing sitting in my chair in front of the computer; that's not to say that's all I did; you've got to get out there and meet people too, so the internet said.
- What can we look forward to from yourself and Brawsome over the next 5 years?
- I've been pondering my direction myself lately. Funnily enough, it's interviews just like this that have been forcing me to think about my direction and putting my life in perspective. I'm happy to say that I have an answer for you. Some game companies focus on horror, some on hard boiled detective stories, some on thrillers. Brawsome's direction is to focus on exploring comedy in games.
This may be through point and click adventure, or some evolution of the genre mechanics. I want to keep honing the mechanics and delivery (distribution) of point and click adventure, I think Telltale have an interesting distribution model, but find sometimes that the mechanics of their games are unfriendly, especially looking at the latest Tales of Monkey Island series. The bottom line is I want to deliver comedy in games, through an accessible interactive medium.