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Bill Tiller Interview

Bill Tiller at Autumn Moon Entertainment, 2007 Stories, art, and vampires

Latin name: Basileuterus coronatus Basileuterus coronatus coronatus

I guess back-story’s very important for character. Do you have a lot in A Vampyre Story?

Sure, yeah, I know all the back-story for all the characters, and sometimes I might dip into that. The characters are mostly flawed, which is important for people to relate to them. It also causes conflicts – so you gotta have flaws, as well as past and motivation. Once you have that, the story writes itself.

Has the story changed much?

Not really... just how long it is: the details have been altered, but the main story is the same as ever. The precise details will probably keep changing until the very last minute. You generally overwrite and then cut back with these things.

That’s what my professors tell me to do. They also tell me to have ‘character development.’ I wrote a story that had no development, and they didn’t like it.

I’d probably disagree with your teacher, there. It’s not always important. Mona does have a character-arc, but it won’t be really developed until the sequel, and not resolved until the third game – if we make them.

Basically, Mona doesn’t care to wit about magic or monsters. She’s in denial about being a vampire. She just wants to ignore the problem and move forward – she wants to be an opera singer and wear pretty clothes instead, but that’s hard for a vampire, and then she finds that she needs to suck blood to stay alive… that’s a little hard for her to come to terms with.

It’s good to have unresolved character issues... Guybrush’s story seemed too resolved when he married Elaine.

I think they didn’t expand on the problems and difficulties of marriage – and there are many of those. I had a plot idea for Monkey Island 4. It had Elaine as the breadwinner, doing all the great piratey stuff, getting all the money, whilst Guybrush is left at home looking after the kids. He wants to recapture the old days... it was actually, basically, the plot for The Incredibles. It would have ended in a similar way, too: saying that you can have the old glories, but you need to rework them into your new life.

Thumb Odysseus: disappointed.

That sounds a bit like the poem Ulysses, by Tennyson. It’s about Odysseus coming back from the Trojan wars and pining for the old days again.

But he really wanted to get home! That’s what the Iliad's all about!

Yes, but once he gets home it’s pretty disappointing. His wife has grown old and his son has turned into an accountant.

Haha. That’s funny. I like that.

What will be the ‘look’ for A Vampyre Story?

Oh, pretty similar to CMI, though we won’t be using an outline. Since the characters had outlines in CMI, the backgrounds had to as well, but that isn’t the case in Vampyre Story as it’ll be 3D. The trick is to get the characters and the background to match.

At the moment you can pan left and right. We’re investigating moving in and out with the camera, though we’d have to re-res the backgrounds. Maybe for the next game. Usually the first game takes a wee bit longer – a lot longer, actually.

How long will the game be?

That’s changed – it had to be cut back a wee bit. As it is now, it’ll be around 15 hours, which is roughly half of CMI. About the length of Full Throttle.

When will it be out?

The plan is Fall this year, depending on the country. It might change, if the publishers want us to spend more time on it, but no-one here wants to still be working on the game in 2008...

Why Vampires?

Because I love them. I’m a big fan of traditional gothic horror, and have read lots of vampire books. I’m also a big fan of Halloween.

What’s better: vampires of pirates?

I dunno, they’re both pretty neat. Vampires, probably. I would still love to make a pirate game in the future. Something bright and swashbuckling – I don’t care about LucasArts. It’s not like they control all pirate games.

What do you think about LucasArts?

It’s a bit of a bummer that they aren’t doing some creative, non action games – but I was mostly disappointed with Full Throttle, both that it was cancelled, and that it wasn’t looking very good...

Yeah, some of the later screenshots looked good, but the early ones were shocking. I wonder why that was.

I believe the art directing wasn’t organised – the guy who did it had his strengths in animation, not in the visuals. We had our Full Throttle: Payback, and Simon Jeffery got Larry to do that. There was six months of creative differences, then Larry got lured away to Microsoft and Sean Clark got on it. I got tired of all the politics, in the end.

Hey, I wonder if... [He got up and walked back into the office. I heard muffled laughter behind the door.]

Hah, no, she doesn’t want to talk about it – too much pressure. LucasArts won’t let her; she signed something. [I forget who “she” was because my memory sucks, but this nice woman who works at Autumn Moon also worked on Hell on Wheels]. But I didn’t sign anything, so I can talk about Payback...

Did you hear about LucasArts suing Digg.com?

Haha yeah... I’m thinking: why do they even care about this old game? I can only imagine that they’re setting a precedent for other cases. They don’t mind fan-games, though...

They did cancel two, back in the day. Fate of Monkey Island and Legends of LeChuck.

Oh, but they haven’t said anything about the Indiana Jones one, right?

Fountain of Youth? No, they missed that one.

Good, because I really loved that. I’d like to help out more with those games, except I don’t have much time, what with the kids and work. I would like to do something like this... [he shows me an art book with step-by-step guides for drawing]

Inspiration! De Seve: inspiration.

That picture looks very Monkey Island [I said, pointing to a drawing]

Yeah, that’s Peter De Seve. He was another one of our inspirations for Monkey Island. It’s good to copy artists, as you can learn the fundamentals that way. You’ll then develop your own technique naturally.

But you were also over the top with Monkey Island, and then toned the style down, right?

Yeah, I was very O.T.T at the start. The danger is that people think you’re only capable of doing that, and you can’t be more realistic. Larry Ahren wanted something a bit more over the top, whilst John Ackley wanted something a wee bit more realistic, like Disney, so in the end we compromised.

I never have the patience with art.

I know what you mean – some of it can be a little tedious. Usually, for the mundane stuff, I listen to audio books. The funny thing is, I can tell what I was listening to at the time just by looking at a part of the picture… so this bit would be Harry Potter, this bit Sherlock Holmes, and so on. Sometimes, I’ll listen to something depressing, it will make my art sad.

Why do you think adventure games are more popular in Europe?

I dunno... they’re much more popular, though. Even at LucasArts, Europe was more than half of our revenue. Hmm. Why do you think it is?

Perhaps the society is less violent... but that’s a huge generalisation.

It might be that, it might be. People around seem to be worried about getting attacked, whilst I’m just worried about paying the bills, and global warming. Politicians have created a climate of fear. I don’t think games make you violent, however. I mean, I’m very non-violent; I haven’t been in a fight since, um, high-school...

Oh? What happened?

Hmm... I think... someone was reading a love letter I’d set to a girlfriend, and I got mad in class. I was 17. You know what teenagers are like.

Well, I’m nineteen, so...

There you go then. You know exactly what it’s like.

Do your kids play games?

Yeah. My daughter likes fashion/creative stuff. She likes to make characters in MMOs without actually playing the game. My son likes Harry Potter on the Xbox, and shooters. It’s hard to find one not too violent. That’s one of my life-goals, actually: to make an FPS that wasn’t violent. We got him a robot game in the end.