Bill Tiller Chat '07 Pirates and Monkeys and friendly banter... oh my!
The following is a severely cleaned up version of a chat event we had with Bill Tiller, the man behind Autumn Moon Entertainment, and the lead background artist on The Curse of Monkey Island, as well as other LucasArts games. Autumn Moon itself contains many ex-LucasArts employees, and looks to continue making the adventure games that made LucasArts famous in the days of Yore. The chat event took place in #monkey-island (irc.gamesurge.net) on December the 30th, 2007. A big thanks to Bill for giving us so much of his time (and for typing so much!) Comments have been reordered and edited to help with reading. The original, unedited version can be read here.
<Gabez> I was wondering if you see Ron Gilbert much at all?
<Gabez> Because I know that Ron and Dave Grossman have regular poker nights!
<Bill Tiller> I have about a 6 months ago
<Bill Tiller> We had lunch and he gave me some adventure game advice
<Bill Tiller> I'm not as close to Ron as Dave is
<Bill Tiller> But we chat on email a lot and have very similar idea and tatses
<Bill Tiller> I was suprised by that actually
<Bill Tiller> I'm trying to help him get his game funded but so far no luck
<neon_git> I'm dissapponited you don't all live in a house together
<Gabez> What about Larry Ahern?
<Gabez> Now he's on Insecticide?
<Bill Tiller> I talk to him once in a while
<Bill Tiller> but he is super busy right now trying to get that game done
<Bill Tiller> so we don't talk as much right now
<Bill Tiller> but afterwards we will
<Bill Tiller> to exchange notes and thoughts about our game development
<Skyfox> Heya Bill! Have you used any of the advice given by Ron?
<Bill Tiller> Yes, but really it was advice I already knew but he just reconfirmed it. What I got from him really was how he thinks about humor, story and certain aspects of game design
<Bill Tiller> He likes more silliness in his games and is not a big fan of long FMVs or cut scenes
<Udvarnoky> Bill, do you know what month AVS will be released?
<Bill Tiller> No final month has been planned
<Bill Tiller> but the programming will be done end of february - not sure how long test will be
<Bill Tiller> all the animation is done, all the final main backgrounds are done
<Bill Tiller> we have a handful of close ups to paint and about 6 objects that need texturing, then the rest is bug fixes
<Bill Tiller> right now I m getting ready to do our final voice recording at Studio Jory with Bay Area Sound
<Bill Tiller> I have to do one more pass at all the dialog to make sure it is correct and isn't to PG-3
<neon_git> it's cool that it's all coming together now, I'm dead excited
<Skyfox> dead excited? was that pun intentional? ;p
<neon_git> sorry no, that was an accident
<neon_git> I apologise
<Bill Tiller> no problem
<Udvarnoky> What about console ports? Has that been discussed?
<Bill Tiller> No not yet on the console ports
<Bill Tiller> I think Crimson Cow [The game's publisher] will see how it does on PC then see if there is a market for DS or Wii
<neon_git> so are you planning to take a break after it's all wrapped up?
<Bill Tiller> Nope
<Bill Tiller> we jump on to AVS right away, in fact we have already started some work on it - rig fixes and few model fixes and some new characters designs
<Gabez> No rest for the wicked :~
<Bill Tiller> and we are talking with three other publishers about a new game so if we sign a second game I will be even more busy
<ZombieAtPlay> Bill, Do you have any more new ip [Intelectual Property] in the pipeline?
<Bill Tiller> Yes we have three that we are talking to publishers about
<Bill Tiller> I hope to have some offical news about that in a few months but nothing is concrete
<Bill Tiller> but that is the nature of the game business - you must always be looking to sign the next gig so you don't have a lull or have to lay anyone off
<Bill Tiller> we are also interested in doing one Liscenced game and will be pitching that after AVS is out
<Bill Tiller> it is easier to pitch a game once the first game comes out
<Bill Tiller> yes if we are lucky *knock on wood* we may get to do two games, but not exactly concurrently but close. AVS has officially started, but we still have a few months work on AVS, so we sort of split time between AVS stuff, and starting on AVS
<salty-horse> will AVS have a song sequence?
<Bill Tiller> like song and dance number? Hmmm not like an offical one but Mona does sing twice, but not a full song
<salty-horse> will the second game use the same engine you already have?
<Bill Tiller> yes AVS and any other game we do this year will use the sam eengien that we we can share engien development costs bewteen them
<Bill Tiller> but I think after this round of games we may look to get a new engine
<Bill Tiller> I think a newer engien dveleoped by Bear Technology group will be more streamline and powerful and have less restrictions and more features
<emmarr> Bill, what games have been an inspiration to you? Do you draw inspiration from just graphic adventures or other genre of games too?
<Bill Tiller> I get inspiration from a lot of sources - movies, novels, illustarations. But like many people I am most influnced by what I enjoyed as child.
<salty-horse> will AVS be minimally playable on lower-end machines? (i.e my .5Ghz machine)
<Bill Tiller> Well we haven't done compatibility tests yet but that is the idea
<Bill Tiller> I think you will need at leats 5 megs of RAM though.
<salty-horse> that's covered :)
<Bill Tiller> for technical reasons
<Skyfox> Who does the voice of Mona?
<Gabez> Some French woman isn'tit?
<Haggis> Rebecca Schweitzer
<Bill Tiller> Rebbecca is Mona
<Bill Tiller> She is a GREAT Mona
<Udvarnoky> Based on the trailer my favorite voice is defnitely the Monsignor.
<Bill Tiller> yes he was awesome
<Bill Tiller> I want to do a spin off of AVS just staring Monsignor called Monsignor - Vampire Hunter
<Bill Tiller> Just to hear his voice throughout the game
<Gabez> I'd play that
<ZombieAtPlay> me too
<Bill Tiller> We do wnat to do spin offs of AVS so I hope AVS is popular enough to warrant spinoffs - I just love some of the minor characters and would love to give them their own games
<Haggis> will there be AVS merchandise? toys, perhaps?
<Bill Tiller> Yes there will be at least a Mona and a Froderick toy- I have seen them. Froderick is great, but that Mona toy needs some work
<Udvarnoky> So Bill based on the screenshots it looks like the 3d models blend quite well with the 2d backgrounds. How were you able to accomplish that? Lighting, mostly?
<Bill Tiller> Yes lighting and textures help us blend the 2d and 3d
<Bill Tiller> the biggest issue there is the edges of the models are sharper than the edges of the background art and to fix that you need good antialiasing and blooming effects to soften it
<Bill Tiller> and lighting is key too if the lights on the models match the lighting in the room then should blend just fine- so far I think it looks good- not perfect but pretty good
<queztone> omg is this THE bill tiller!? The man with 4 l's O
<Bill Tiller> lol yes I do have four LL so does my daughet Lily Tiller [Note: it seems that Queztone had just stumbled in without realising that this was THE Bill Tiller chat.]
<nn4m3> what kind of limitations you have in the engine that makes you want to change to another one after AVS?
<Bill Tiller> if and when get a new engine it will make the programing easier and faster, and we will have better and easier tools wich will translate in to faster development times
<Bill Tiller> that way we spend less time fixing bugs and more time on creating vast lands making bigger and better game
<Skyfox> is the antialiasing supported in game or do you have to enable it via drivers?
<Bill Tiller> it is supported in the game but I think it varies form card to card
<Bill Tiller> right now it works but isn't exactly where I want it yet, that still needs to be gone over more by the Bear Technology guys- Randy and Geoff- our lead programmers
<Gabez> Is Max [the Rabbit from the Sam & Max comics and games] going to appear in A Vampyre Story at all?
<Bill Tiller> Yes he is but in an unusual way
<Bill Tiller> you won't be able to miss him
<Skyfox> scoop! ;p
<joshi> that's handy, wouldn't be a decent adventure game without him
<queztone> he'll be a watermark on the whole screen during the entirety of the game ;D
<Udvarnoky> Bill, was Autumn Moon really in existence as early as 2002?
<Bill Tiller> I started Autumn moon back in 2000 but I was the only employee
<Bill Tiller> we started paying other people and were officially regsreterd in July 2006
<Bill Tiller> our office opend in September of 2006 at keller street suite 100 petaluma, ca 94952
<Bill Tiller> and if you walk by you can look through the window and see me at my deask and get a sneak peek at AVS and AVS 2
<emmarr> You'll just have us all turn up at your offices now at some point or another. ;)
<Bill Tiller> Our office is bit small, three rooms in an old cottage, we have the porch, living room, and dinign room
<Bill Tiller> Leo Laprote the tech guys uses the two bedrooms up stairs
<Bill Tiller> The porch is our break room/ conference room/ and kitchen
<Bill Tiller> but it has no heating so in the winter we avoid it as much as possible
<Skyfox> how many employees now?
<Bill Tiller> 6 in house and 6 out of house so about 12
<Bill Tiller> if we do two games that will be more like 12 in house and 6 out of house
<Bill Tiller> I out source some character rigging, some concpet art and some background painting , and character modeling
<Bill Tiller> and music
<Bill Tiller> we work with peopel form Australia, Canada, France, Britain, and Portugal
<Udvarnoky> Oh, who is doing the music?
<emmarr> My band. (No)
<Bill Tiller> LOL
<Haggis> Pedro Macedo Camacho! D
<Bill Tiller> Pedro and he is great and great to work with
<Bill Tiller> I'm reall happy he is doing our music
<joshi> would we have heard this his music elsewhere?
<Haggis> he did the music for Fury
<Bill Tiller> Right Fury- he worked on that
<Bill Tiller> trust me his music is real good
<Bill Tiller> I listen to it all the time
<Bill Tiller> he is very talented
<Bill Tiller> it isn't like Michael lands, but it sound more like a sound track from a harry potter movie, it is real nice
<Gabez> Is the music "done" yet?
<Bill Tiller> all the in game music is done
<Bill Tiller> pedro is now doing the FMV music
<Udvarnoky> I can remember a long time ago you had a fellow named Zach Quarles doing test music. Any of his stuff wound up in the final game?
<Bill Tiller> Zach's music was great and we'd love to work with him again, but his style doesn't mesh with Pedros so I don't think we will use it
<Bill Tiller> but I'd love to work with Zach in the future but he is employed at a studio in Chicago so he can only do music for them
<Bill Tiller> all the in game music is done
<Udvarnoky> You should burn his work to a CD and sell it on ebay as "The Lost Soundtrack" and make thousands off of people like us.
<Bill Tiller> Yes we will do a CD of AVS music, and that is a good idea to add Zach's music
<nn4m3> since the art on AVS is done, could you make us a simple postmortem (maybe it's a bit early for that but oh well, if you could just comment on the art part it would be nice ))
<nn4m3> or maybe a postmortem of CMI ;)
<Bill Tiller> yes as soon as I have time I will do some sort of making of article and history of development and the like
<Bill Tiller> I think it will be intersteing... well I hope
<joshi> are there many fmv sequences?
<Bill Tiller> yes
<Bill Tiller> if you count the credits
<Bill Tiller> This is where Ron and I differ a bit
<Bill Tiller> he wants FMVs to be short as possible
<Bill Tiller> but I think they need to be the right size to tell the story and to set up the game play
<Bill Tiller> I view FMV as reward for solving long and difficult puzzles and to help set up the next goal.
<Haggis> are the cutscenes about CMI-length?
<Bill Tiller> yes I think so
<Bill Tiller> maybe a bit short but about the same
<Bill Tiller> FMV animation is actually easier than in game animation
<Bill Tiller> so in 3d it is actually easier to do more FMV than in the CMI days
<Bill Tiller> so on CMI we hade seven full time animators, we have two sometimes three here
<joshi> thanks for the answer :)
<neon_git> how long does it take to do, say, a minute of FMV for you?
<Bill Tiller> well I don't animate in 3d
<Bill Tiller> and it is hard to say because it realy depends on the shot
<Bill Tiller> but if there is a lot of elements like tentacles or lots of hair or capes and two or three people interacting, then it could tale a while, maybe 3 seconds in a week
<Bill Tiller> if it is a simple scene then much, much faster
<emmarr> Do you prefer working in 3D to 2D? Do you feel the quality of animations/drawings/whatever in games are being compromised by a push to 'go forward' with 3D over 2D?
<Bill Tiller> 2d is better for background with our budget, and 3d is much better for animation due to the speed and we don't need to draw, ink, scan, and cell paint, and with 3d lighting the characters blend in better
<Bill Tiller> I like the control 2d gives me and how fast it takes, and I like the look and results with 2d
<salty-horse> have you experimented with cel shading the models?
<Bill Tiller> no cell shading
<Bill Tiller> really no need for it
<Bill Tiller> since Mona is an object in the world she doesn't need flat lighting nor an outline
<Bill Tiller> other objects in the world don't have outlines and are not flat lit so I think Mona needed to look like part of the world, and if she were cell shaded I feel she wouln't because nothing else in the world is cell shaded
<Bill Tiller> but if I used black oulines like I did on CMI then for sure we would cell shade for the same reason- to make the character blend in and fit into the world
<SlimG> Is there a chance that any of your future projects will be available for any other desktop platforms than Windows?
<Bill Tiller> On the platform thing it is really up to each publisher we sign with
<Bill Tiller> if they want to lay done the money for DS development or Wii development then we will do it
<Udvarnoky> What games are you looking forward to right now?
<Bill Tiller> You know I no longer look forward to games because I haven't had time to play any
<Bill Tiller> it's weird but ever since I had kids and started my own game company I haven't had time to play all the games I want- I still buy them
<Bill Tiller> but I have stack of unopened games in my office begging to be played and I don't have time now
<Udvarnoky> I think a lot of people suffer the problem of buying games and not playing them.
<Gabez> Sometimes I think half the fun is just buying the game
* +Skyfox agrees with Gab
<Bill Tiller> the only games I have played recently are World of Warcraft and BIO Shock, and the occasional SIMS pets, but I want to play Tim's game [Brutal Legend] and Larry and Mikes game [Insecticide] and I can't wait to play Ron's game if he can get that funded [Death Spank]
<emmarr> Neverwinter Nights is good.
<Bill Tiller> Yeah I bought NWN and started it but never got past character creation
<Bill Tiller> no time
<Bill Tiller> I am bummed but I have so much to do and I don't wnat to miss my kids growing up that I havn't kept up with all the games out there
<Bill Tiller> actually I have been playing a lot of Mario Carts racing with my kids- they love it even though it has old graphic, but thay play that more then the Xbox 360
<manny_c44> Have you played telltale's games?
<Bill Tiller> I played a bit of Bone and one episode of Sam N Max season one and part of ep one season 2 but again I don't have time to play things very long- it is a shame really
<neon_git> And yet you find the time to talk to us ... what's wrong with you?
<Bill Tiller> TRUST me my wife wants me off A.S.A.P!
<Bill Tiller> she has groceries to get
<emmarr> What are we like?
<Skyfox> thank you for letting us have him Mrs Tiller!!
<Bill Tiller> and my kids want me off so they can play Ottomatic, a robot 3rd perosn shooter that is not too violent for a 5 year old but still fun
<Udvarnoky> Oh! Will you be doing the box art for AVS?
<Bill Tiller> I think we will modle it in 3d and then give that to Bill Eaken to paint- I want a painted cover but Bill likes having a modle to work with
<Bill Tiller> so it will be 2d
<Bill Tiller> painted