Mark Crowe, Scott Murphy
Guys From Andromeda
|Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy (left to right), better known as the Two Guys from Andromeda, are co-creators of Space Quest and SpaceVenture.|
SpaceVenture is an adventure game project announced by Crowe & Murphy in April 2012 that is to be developed by their new game development company Guys From Andromedra.
For more information, visit The Two Guys from Andromeda.
For fans of Space Quest, Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy need no introduction. Better known as the Two Guys from Andromeda, Crowe and Murphy are the co-creators of Space Quest—an adventure game series that features the spacefaring and bumbling adventures of a sanitation engineer (in other words, janitor) named Roger Wilco. Spanning over 6 games from 1986 to 1995, the series has gained a loyal fan following after its initial release, despite the eventual departure of both Crowe and Murphy from Sierra On-Line where they have worked on their games. Now, 17 years since Roger's last call to active duty, Crowe and Murphy have decided to rekindle their working partnership and formed their own game development company, aptly named Guys From Andromeda. Their first game project, SpaceVenture, is to be a new adventure game and spiritual successor to the original Space Quest. They are launching the project at Kickstarter, in order to seek funding for their new game.
We are extremely privileged to have an opportunity to interview Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy. In this candid interview, they speak on the history of the Space Quest series, the triumph and turmoil of their working partnership, the personal hardship that they have experienced (especially of Murphy) since leaving Sierra On-Line, their motivation to reunite to launch SpaceVenture, and most importantly, what fans can expect from them and their new game in the near future.
- It has been 17 years since Roger Wilco's last call to duty. Where is Roger now?
- Scott Murphy: We can't really say. Space Quest was taken from us and is under the control of someone else. We wish we could say, but we really can't. Believe me when I say it kills both of us to know our 'baby' is gone.
- What happened to The Two Guys in Space Quest? After settling in with Sierra in Space Quest III, how did they end up in Galaxy Galleria in Space Quest XII?
- Scott Murphy: As you know, if you played the games SQ's 3 and 4, the 'Two Guys' were signing autographs for the Sierra games they created after their rescue from ScumSoft in Space Quest 3 by Roger Wilco.
- What happened to The Two Guys in real life? What had both of you been doing since you parted ways after the collapse of Sierra?
- Mark Crowe: Well, in 1991 my wife and I decided to move our young family to beautiful, green Oregon. A place where we spent many family summer vacations traveling to and dreamed of living some day. When the opportunity presented itself, I transferred to Dynamix (which was owned by Sierra). Basically, we were ready for a change and to get away from the oppressive summer climate. Then there was the lure of doing some really cool stuff with Dynamix's new adventure game technology (Rise of the Dragon, Heat of China, etc.) which, unfortunately, didn't happen. But after SQ 5, I had a lot of fun working on something new and different, the EarthSiege Mech battle games. My first crack at working on simulation games. I'm really proud of those titles. So after all that, in 1999. I got caught up in a big layoff (as precursor to "chainsaw Monday" in Oakhurst I believe). I basically took a year off to dabble in various hobbies and do some traveling. It was an awesome time of reconnecting with family. Then in 2000 I joined the newly formed Pipeworks Software as creative director and we landed our first console title project Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters for Atari. That was a lot of fun because I loved going to see all the "big G" movies as a kid. Godzilla spawned two sequel games on Xbox and Wii. Then I worked on re-imagining the arcade classic Rampage for Gamecube, PS2 and Wii. In fact it was a Wii launch title that we sold over a million units of. It was a real hands-on project that I enjoyed greatly. I had a hand in countless other projects at Pipeworks as their studio design director but there was always a tug to get back into adventure games. And now, here we are. That's the glossed-over version anyway. :)
Scott Murphy: After leaving Sierra - well, I was actually laid off while working on Space Quest 7 when they changed their 'business model' - I took some time off, actually the better part of a year. I didn't realize how burned-out I was and being free of that weight was actually amazingly liberating. I moved to Chicago where I was born and worked at our family's business which my grandfather had started but could no longer run due to his age. It was a nice change of pace after all that time at Sierra. Very pressure free. I'd also gone through a rough divorce, so Chicago was a good place to be for a while. After about four years there I had the longing to return to the west coast, my adopted home and where I have lived the majority of my life, to go specifically to the North West where my friends are. I was across the Sound from Seattle and working on getting settled into the area there when first, my step dad died of cancer and then several months later Hurricane Ivan hit the area he and my mother had moved to when they retired, which is in lower Alabama, a place I'd never, ever imagined myself moving to. Family obligations can change everything though. My mom owns a house here and she didn't want to leave - then. Her house was spared for the most part but this area was devastated. You honestly can't understand the magnitude of the devastation in this part of the country unless you've actually seen it with your own eyes, not to mention innumerable flat tire repairs because of all the roofing nails and sheet metal screws that were liberated and generously distributed everywhere. Anyway, I talked to her as soon as I was able to get through to her. Immediately after that call I started loading my truck with everything I could haul and was here the next weekend. Things were so bad the local McDonald's didn't get a new sign for almost a year. My mom's health deteriorated greatly in the first year I was here and there have been four surgeries since – with complications, and more to come. The practice of medicine here isn't what it is in other parts of the country. (I'm saying that as nicely as I can.) I wish I could name the butcher that 'worked' on my mom. I've had to stay here working local jobs and being my mom's caregiver. I look forward to when I can get her moved to a better area with NO hurricanes and a LOT less humidity and competent doctors. After having had to board up all the windows on the house and riding out a few hurricanes, including the edge of Katrina, I actually miss earthquakes. I can't wait to get back there.
- Looking back, to what extent had the management changes within Sierra dampened your creative juices during your last years at the company? How did this affect the development of the rumored Space Quest sequel?
- Mark Crowe: Hmm, I can't really say that "management changes" dampened my creativity at all. If we're talking about my time at Oakhurst. I think it was just a case of burnout and shifting priorities in my life with the birth of our second son (Justin), and a desire to try my hand at something new.
Scott Murphy: I remained at Sierra-Oakhurst longer than Mark by several years. That is, I was in Oakhurst where Sierra had long been headquartered. As Mark said, he had moved and was in Eugene at Dynamix, a company Sierra had acquired as Ken Williams grew the company. As I understand it, they were a little less affected by what happened at what had been Sierra-proper, which was all about adventure games for the most part. Dynamix was more diverse in its product genre spectrum. Still, they suffered the ax too. In Oakhurst, we had a revolving door where management was concerned. They'd sign on for a hefty sum, get stock options, hang around a while and then leave for a higher paying job elsewhere. Few had entertainment software backgrounds. The environment and knee-jerk changes for change's sake was less than ideal for creativity. Although we haven't talked about it at length, I don't think Ken knew very much about what was happening in Oakhurst based on communications we've had since. He seemed pretty out of the loop then as he had relocated to the new headquarters near Seattle. The company had gotten too big. But in his defense, I have since learned that he was dealing with some VERY difficult investors and a hostile board. It was apparently a very tough exit for him. I don't like to speak for Mark but I think he'd agree that we have a reasonable amount of that feeling after losing Space Quest and Roger. I could be wrong but I REALLY don't think Ken would have allowed all the great Sierra assets to be sold off if he'd had the choice. Sierra was a baby Ken and Roberta created. That would have been tough. I hope I'm right in my assumption based on how I know them.
- The story of your long-term estrangement from each other is well publicized. After so many years apart, what has prompted the union? Why is there a sudden desire now to collaborate again to make a new adventure game (perhaps even a new Space Quest game)?
- Mark Crowe: I guess it was maybe 15 years ago that Scott and I actually talked about the possibility of joining forces to try and resurrect Space Quest when there was a swell of fan support online. But back then there was the insurmountable wall of getting a publisher interested in making a 2D point-n-click adventure game. So the idea died very quickly, and we went on with our busy lives as everyone does. There were several times since that I thought of contacting Scott to try again to resurrect SQ. Especially when all the fan made stuff was coming out, indicating we still had an audience for our games. But, again, life and work took priority.
But, obviously, the advent of fan-funded projects and the apparent demand for our style of games made the lightbulb go on for us both. What? You mean we can make our own game, the way WE want it and sell directly to our core audience without messing with publishers? COUNT US IN! This is a dream come true for us, believe me.
Scott Murphy: As we quickly learned, neither of us lost the desire to make games. Sierra just had us cranking them out at a burn-out rate. We weren't just designers. We were also the programmer and artist. No other game team did things the way we did. I can't imagine having only one of those tasks to complete on a project. Truth be told though, by being a game programmer I was able to add a LOT of stuff as it occurred to me. That was great for the games. Then, life interceded, especially in Mark's case as he was raising a new family. It was amazing to me when I was in Eugene a few weeks back to see the once spitting-up little baby Justin a grown man and already such an awesome videographer, as you can see in our videos. We had a serious lack of communication during the time Mark and Sandy were starting their family. It's a rather overwhelming time in a couple's life. We've shared and understand what each other was going through then and now, that's water WAY under the bridge and out to sea. Once we talked, inside a half hour we'd patched wounds, realized how well we'd worked together even through the burn-out times, and then the gears were unfrozen and they snapped right back in place once again. And as Mark explains, the new game publishing infrastructure thanks to fan funding gives us so much more freedom. Now we have a chance to do again what we love and that fans have never let us forget.
- Despite the critical success of Space Quest, you have repeatedly expressed regrets for so-called bad design decisions made in the series. In hindsight, what do you most regret about the series?
- Mark Crowe: The last thing we wanted to do is piss off gamers with impossible puzzles or sequences that completely block their progress and enjoyment of the game. Unfortunately there were a few of these in our games. The most egregious one that comes to mind is the infamous Sequel Police at the Galaxy Galeria. That was just plan dumb how that got by us and Sierra's QA department. No excuse. It's something that could have been remedied so easily. We are truly sorry and embarrassed to this day about that. I'm sure there are several other irks that the fans would love to pummel us about. Here's your chance everybody! So we don't make the same mistakes on our next game.
Scott Murphy: Mark makes a good point there. As well, we made mistakes in not making sure that if something happened to you in a given region of the game that you didn't have to totally work your way back from a region you'd already conquered. Just as I'm guessing you've written an article or two you'd like to have back for a few details, at least you had the opportunity to go to journalism school. There was no adventure game design school. We've learned things the hard way. Now we know about those fundamental errors. Some were made because of the pressure to meet a ship date and others were because of legitimate mistakes on our part. Ignorance is not bliss because it will eventually bite you in the ass. We know that all too well. We feel truly bad about any unreasonable frustrations we've caused players. We want to make the best games possible. We'll never be totally satisfied but we have to accept that were only huma..., er, Andromedan.
- You have just announced SpaceVenture. What can fans expect from this new project? Who will be the protagonist for the new game? Another bumbling hero unfit for duty? The Two Guys themselves?
- Mark Crowe: Excellent question! We have announced our direction and characters. This is something we want to hear what the fans opinions on.
Scott Murphy: It's true. As much as you want a long answer on this there is much to be decided. We're WAY early on in the process. As we've said before in interviews, we pick a starting point, an ending point and do seat-of-the-pants free-styling from there. It's a recipe that's worked very well for us and we aren't going to mess with it. That wouldn't be wise. Just know that anything out there that needs parodying is not safe from us. And as Mark said, fan input will indeed be gladly considered. Without fans, we're nothing.
- You have spoken publicly about the tremendous outpouring of support from fans about SpaceVenture and have announced that the new game will, at least in part, be funded through Kickstarter. What specific fan reactions have you received so far? How confident are you that you can command enough support to succeed in securing funding for your project? What plans, if any, do you have to acquire the IP rights to Space Quest?
- Mark Crowe: We are growing in confidence daily that our Kickstarter will be successful based on the continued(and growing) expressions of support by fans and the caliber of talent that has been drawn to the project. The pool of talent that has rallied to support our cause has been amazing to us. It just blows our minds, and we can't wait to share what we have under wraps.
Scott and I know that what the fans would really love is a new Space Quest sequel. Well, we approached the IP holder about licensing and were kindly turned down, but with their blessing to do our own original space adventure. There's more to it that which we're not at liberty to discuss but suffice to say: never say never.
Scott Murphy: It's really humbling to see what fans are doing on our behalf to make this fan-funded game a reality. They're out there supporting us on chat sites and fan boards, not to mention, committing funds! We have the best fans in the world. I'm absolutely convinced of that. We're incredibly fortunate.
I spoke to the issue of securing Space Quest in a previous question. Right now it doesn't look good necessarily but as Mark said, never say never! We were thinking it was never for another adventure game and look what's happened there.
- Space Quest started out with low-res 16-color EGA and ended with high-res 256-color SVGA graphics. What was the graphical style that you originally had in mind for the series? More like a graphic novel? More like a cartoon?
- Mark Crowe: Graphically, I don't recall having a grand vision for a "style" in the early EGA days. It was enough of a challenge just to get something to look decent with the primitive and frustrating-to-use vector graphics tools. Did I say frustrating? I meant "challenging". And it did become a personal challenge to try and make scenes look interesting. I didn't consider myself to be a fantastic artist by any stretch but I did have an eye for detail like lighting and shadowing and really tried to bring some of that into the scenes to create some sense of 3D. And of course with higher resolution and more colors I was challenged even more to push the envelope as much as possible. Doug McNeil the artist who created the original King's Quest backgrounds and animation taught me everything while working on King's Quest 2. It wasn't until Space Quest 2 that I had finally reached the level of his quality. And from that point on we kind of had a friendly competition going to outdo each other (in my mind anyway). I still look at his Gold Rush scenes with awe knowing how painstaking the process was to make those vector backgrounds.
So then VGA comes around and I was like a kid in a candy store. But it also meant having to step up my game as an artist. The visual bar had been raised. But the visual target had definitely become an animated graphic novel with lots of cinematic moments.
Scott Murphy: Mark's WAY too modest. He did so much more with a few pixels than anyone else ever did, and he just kept getting better and better. There's a video on YouTube that shows his step by step drawing of the Junk Freighter cockpit in SQ3. And that was a vector drawn background. What he managed in far less pixels for animated pieces was even more impressive.
- How has the working dynamic changed, if any, between The Two Guys over the years?
- Mark Crowe: I can tell you that we've gotten better about communicating our feelings about stuff. Ha! Chock that up to maturity I guess. The "virtual office" arrangement is nice too. We each have our own offices but can collaborate anytime on Skype. It's fantastic. The only thing missing is being able to throw pencils into the ceiling tiles. So if anyone out there wants to create a pencil dart game app we'd appreciate it. Heck, it might even make it into our adventure game. But seriously, it's very strange how we've just clicked back into creative mode after all these years. it's kinda scary really.
Scott Murphy: Like I said earlier, we clicked again like the old days, but with more knowledge and time and a longing to do it again. We're hungry, we respect each other's contributions and we know we can do it again, but even better thanks to that whole maturity thing, although Mark may have benefited more from that than me. If I got TOO mature it might mess with my style.
- You have previously said that you do not read fan stories or play fan games of your works. Why have you avoided these fan works? To what extent do you plan to allow fan inputs in the development of SpaceVenture and future projects from The Two Guys?
- Mark Crowe: Speaking for myself here... Space Quest was our "baby" so to speak and is very dear to our hearts. We will always consider it "OURS" no matter who claims ownership of a "license". No one can take that from us. That said, I'm very flattered by all the fan made games out there and have in fact played a few of them.
Scott Murphy: What Mark said is absolutely true. We appreciate the hell out the fan games and fiction. That they would do all the work they do and go to such lengths is humbling. Having said that, Space Quest is our baby regardless of who now owns it. Along with that, for me there is the fear of unintentional plagiarism. I want every word I write or every design idea I have to truly be mine. Sure, everyone is inspired by something or someone, especially when we're doing parodies, but I don't want to worry about ripping off someone else's work. And, I don't want to see someone else's treatment of our baby. I hope people can understand that and not take it in any way as a slight. It's in NO way meant as such.
- If you were a sandwich, what type of mustard would you be?
- Scott Murphy: Grey Poupon, with an extra helping of horseradish and habanero!
Mark Crowe: Well, I wouldn't be a mustard, you see, because, as you said, I would be a sandwich instead. ;) Unless you meant what type of mustard would I have slathered all over me as a sandwich, in which case I would hold the mustard.