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Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Friday Interview: Dan Marshall of 'Ben There, Dan That'

When we look back to the 1980’s where personal computers were only just starting to make their way into the majority of households, you see that the genres of games that held the most shelf-space were Adventure and Platformers. Platformers were extremely popular due to the fact that most arcade games were and gamers wanted to recreate that experience at home. Adventure gaming on the other hand came about mostly because of the lack of computing power available in the machine. There were no 3D-Rendering capable PC’s so text adventures became extremely popular.
In the early 90’s, adventure gaming was still right at the top of the charts but instead of just text, it had evolved into point-and-click adventures like ‘Day of the Tentacle’ and ‘Sam and Max’ but as 3D-capable computers started being the norm and ID released classics like ‘Doom’ and ‘Quake’, it was fairly swiftly brushed off the shelf. I spoke to Dan Marshall of ‘Ben There, Dan That’ and ‘Time Gentlemen Please’ who has helped bring Adventure gaming back to the spotlight again with his hilariously rude and comedic point-and-clicks.
Bob: What was your first experience of adventure gaming?
Dan: My first was probably the original Monkey Island, which I played on an old black-and-white laptop. I remember not really understanding what was going on, though. Probably my first real experience with that sort of game was the original Sam and Max, moving on through DoTT and Full Throttle etc.
Bob: What do you think is so special about adventure games?
Dan: Adventure games are fairly unique – they’re almost entirely puzzle-based, for one, and importantly, they’re one of the few genres where you can’t die. You can’t lose. Just take it at your own pace, and have fun putting together the different pieces of a mystery. What’s not to like
Bob: How long does it take to create one?
Dan: Depends how long the game is! Using something like AGS is a blessing since all the groundwork’s been laid for you – you just need to concentrate on the fun stuff like who says what and which inventory items you’re going to have.
But yeah, I could make an adventure game in a week. It wouldn’t be a very long or good-looking adventure game, but it’d be playable. I could also take a year over something. How long’s a piece of string?
Bob: Where do you get inspiration from to write comedy adventures?
Dan: All over the place really. Old sitcoms, conversations in pubs... actually mainly conversations in pubs. Pubs is the answer to this question, definitely.
Bob: How many separate text messages are in your games?
Dan: Thousands upon thousands! There’s a unique response for almost everything in ‘Ben There, Dan That!’ and ‘Time Gentlemen, Please!’, so there’s loads of writing. There’s also probably jokes and text in there it’s impossible to see – because it’s impossible to use item X in room Y, but we wrote it anyway since that was quicker than working out it it’d ever be seen!
Bob: Are you pleased with the reception that your games have received?
Dan: Yeah, they’ve gone down WAY better than I ever imagined. They were just a sort of silly in-joke at first, but other people seemed to get it, and as such they proved much more popular that I’d accounted for.
Bob: Would you class adventure gaming as Niche?
Dan: Hmmmm probably not. I’d class Point and Click games as pretty niche, but adventure games themselves have sort of survived in other genres – bits of dialogue tree puzzles and inventory combining scattered through RPGs, and classic adventure plots in loads of games, like Uncharted or Batman.
Bob: Do you think the text adventure will ever make a significant comeback?
Dan: Aw, they never left. You just need to know where to look. Indies are making some amazing adventures, like Dave Gilbert’s Blackwell Games, Gemini Rue or Erin Robinson’s stuff.
Bob: What is the future of point-and-click adventures?
Dan: The indie scene for one. I can’t imagine big publishers putting money into point and clicks.
I’m also holding out hope that Tim Schafer will do a Double Fine point and click for iOS or something. I can’t imagine that’d be anything other than amazing. Have to hope, eh?
Bob: If you could change one thing in Ben There Dan That or Time Gentlemen Please! what would it be?
Dan: I’d love to change the graphics. I know they’re supposed to be a bit shitty, and they were done like that because they were done in the spare time around my real job, but as a result it means they’re a pretty hard sell. Some people won’t play them on looks alone, and I think that’s a shame.
It’d be great if I had the time and resources to get an artist to do proper swishy graphics for them.
Bob: Have you got plans for a third game?
Dan: There is a third game sort of in development, but I’m not 100% sure it’ll see the light of day, yet. I’m making sure it’s good, first.
You can purchase Dan’s games from Steam or from their website.