Bill Tiller Interview

Bill Tiller at Autumn Moon Entertainment, 2007 Tim Schafer, Ron Gilbert, and Telltale

"And bring me more SLAW!"

[Around this time we decided to go get lunch. It was a beautiful day, and a beautiful town. Whilst we’re walking, Bill says how he keeps nagging LucasArts to bring the old classics out on the Nintendo DS. “I really wish they’d do that,” he said. I also learnt that he’d been to Europe twice; once to Britain and once to Germany. He’s going back to Germany this summer, for some business related event – I forget what. The trees were blossoming. Birds were singing. “I usually eat here,” said Bill, opening the door to an old fashioned diner. “Looks lovely,” I said.]

[We sat down and studied our menus. “I’m always tempted to get eggs, in a place like this,” I said. “Good food for students, eggs – very cheap and easy to make.” “I had a meal-plan,” replies Bill. In the end I had fried egg and toast, and Bill had a tuna melt on sourdough bread (“It’s gotta be sourdough if it’s tuna”)]

Did you like college?

Sure, I loved it. I went to the California Institute of Arts, which was founded by Walt Disney, and they let me in on my art-work, which was good, because my grades weren’t too hot. I aced tests – it was homework that was always the problem with me.

It must be lovely to live here.

Yeah, it’s very nice, very quiet---

[All of a sudden, a man burst through the door and started shouting at the waitresses. Bill looked alarmed, muttered, “time to phone the police!” and readied his cell phone. Luckily, everything blew over, and the man left without the need for law enforcement. I attempted to avoid an awkward silence by talking about my love for baked beans. “And crisps,” says Bill. “You have salt and vinegar crisps, in the UK. They’re my favourite flavour.”]

Random question, but here we go: why the games industry?

Ooh, that’s a good one... I actually ask myself that, sometimes. I have contemplated leaving, but it’s difficult to switch careers at this point– I’m 39 – and I have all my contacts in the games industry. I could go into book illustration, or animation; it’s possible. I wish Tim Schafer would direct a film. He’d make a great director.

Mm, or an actor. I saw him at an awards evening.

I wanted to go to that, but I had to get the kids to bed...

Thumb Tim Schafer: good with the jokes.

Tim was very funny.

Yeah, he’s very good with the jokes... he’s always been like that. I’m only like that when I’m drunk. I remember one time when he was taking a CD and the guy whose CD it was came in, and Tim froze in position with the CD in his hand, and said: “if we’re really still then maybe he won’t see us!” Another time I burst into his office to take some art for something, and I saw him there, so I said: “is it okay if I come in?” and he said: “sure.” Then when I was getting the art, he was saying: “so it turns out I have colon cancer… of the spleen.” I got the message to get out right then.

The thing is, Tim can use that humour against you, so I wouldn’t want to be on his bad side. He’s like... a nice little dog; good to pet, but I wouldn’t want him to bite me.

He could do clay animation. I like clay animation.

Me too... Burton, Wallace & Grommit... I didn’t like the latest one, though… Flushed Away...

I didn’t see it.

You didn’t miss anything.

[The food arrives, and is delicious. Bill drinks an ice-tea. Good choice.]

Are you voicing the game yet?

Yep. Most of our budget is being spent on the German version, because that’s our biggest market, but I believe that there are more good actors out there than there are roles, so it should be no problem to find good people for the English version as well. My wife's an actress; we have contacts.

Frederick will be like Robin Williams, but less annoying. Mona will be French, but not too French. We were actually advised to tone down her Frenchiness. People might have had trouble with the accent.

Will there be lots of reference humour? I guess you can’t do Star Wars jokes...

Oh, I think we can. I don’t care about that – they can’t stop me. We’ve generally kept away from humour that would date the game, though. Like, uh... an example joke would be: Mona seeing some hay, and saying “it’s a stack of hay,” and then Frederick comes in and says, “no, it’s scarecrow entrails.” Wait, that wasn’t very good...

Generally, we’re aiming for universal humour, stuff that will go for different cultures, and won’t date. That’s not something we did so much in Monkey Island, but we did do it a little – like we wanted to make fun of American football, but we changed that to just make fun of every sport instead.

The office is nice. It’s a nice little group.

Right, yeah, it’s good. I’m happy with the team size and budget – though I would like a wee bit more money. Ron Gilbert’s the same with group size – he probably won’t have a big team for his new game, as it can very sprawling and political. I was helping him out with his game a little, advice and so on. He’s trying to meld RPGs and adventure games together – but I really am sworn to secrecy about that. All I will say is that the concept is very very funny.

Would you like to make an RPG?

Of course, though it would obviously have to be an entirely different engine. We’d have to learn how to make a different kind of game, as well. I had to partly teach programmers how to work on an adventure game; one guy had Mona always carrying the objects she picked up, but you know, in an adventure game, when you pick something up, it disappears in your inventory. Someone else spent a while animating a running horse, even though it’ll mostly be still.

Thumb A horse: probably not rideable.

A horse? Will we be able to ride it?

Hmm... probably not. You will have vampire powers, though. The interface will be similar to Curse of Monkey Island, with the verb coin, except in this it’ll be a cross, and there’ll be four options... hands, eye, mouth and vampire power. We haven’t quite settled on how that’s going to work. Either you’ll have more options to chose the power, or it’ll change depending on the context. So using it with a window will turn you into a bat; using it on a person will make you suck their blood, and so on.

Powers can be a design problem, so we have to limit them. They can be a bit like giving a character a gun. It would be no fun if you could just hypnotise people to get out of every situation. More powers may be given in sequels, if we make them.

Will there be mini-games or arcade elements?

There are some planned, but they won’t necessarily be in the final game. Some ideas and puzzles have been left over for a sequel. We were going to have a few more mini-games in Monkey Island. At one point we wanted to have Guybrush make his own custom pirate flag, and that was going to be a puzzle. But in Vampyre Story, we won’t be doing anything too radical. We aren’t reinventing the wheel here. Hopefully, adventure games will get a bigger market, and our game will add to that a wee bit – but that’s all we’re hoping for in the grand scheme of things.

One thing, though... I’d love to get Max in there, somewhere. But they probably wouldn’t let me...

Telltale would! They’ve very nice.

Yeah. Maybe.

People are really looking forward to the game, anyway.

That’s good. I hope we can deliver. I get a little nervous...

Well the art-style is one reason by it’s so anticipated—

--yeah, I’m not too worried about the art. That should be good. Oh, did you hear about the Steve Purcell art being sold?

Yes. It went for a lot.

I don’t think so. It’s a piece of gaming history. I bid up nearly to 4,000 on it... I was just beaten by this other guy. It was probably a good thing, because Amy – my wife – would have killed me. I planned to put it on the plastic and pay it off over the next ten years...

[At this point we went back to the office, and Bill showed me some concept art he did for the cancelled Full Throttle sequel: Payback.]

The basic plot was... a corporation was getting rid of the roads, and instead people had to drive hover vehicles, which they would buy off the corporation. The story was about reclaiming the wheel. Ben was framed for the murder of Maureen, and was hounded by paparazzi, though one of the paparazzi was going to be friendly, and would help out a wee bit. There were also different gangs fighting. One called The Dragons, and they had flames coming out of the front of their bikes.

[Bill then turned around and said to one of his co-workers: “was that the same plot as in your version?” The woman’s face clouded over, as she tried to recall her own work on the other cancelled sequel. “I honestly can’t remember,” she said at last. “I must have blocked that whole episode from my life.” Bill turned back to the computer screen and brought up a picture of a huge bike, with little bikes attached to its side. “These were called leeches,” he said “The side-cars could break off and do their own thing.” Then he showed me some black and white maps of small areas.]

Here, you would have to jump across these barrels in the toxic waste, and scale that wall to get to the door there... so some basic puzzle-solving, along with the action.

Coyote Spit, Abandoned Mining Town. Coyote Spit: "One of the first ones I did. I tried to match the style as close as possible."
The Hardtail Bar Hardtail bar: "FT had the kickstand... we had to have our own bar as well."
Map A map, showing the location of the reports and the Dragon's hideout.

Here ends my notes. I think I got everything down more or less accurately. I changed the order of a few things, and let one or two details out because I couldn’t remember them exactly, but generally, everything from my visit is here. Bill told me that Autumn Moon were very busy, so it would unfortunately have to be a short visit, but in the end I stayed for about three hours, and he didn’t act like he wanted me to leave. “I wish I could have showed you the game,” he sighed. There was some reason behind why he couldn’t – something about Crimson Cow handling all the press – but it didn’t matter anyway; I had a fantastic time talking to Bill, and meeting the dedicated team behind A Vampyre Story.

Bill reminded me a lot of Bill Bryson. Perhaps it was just the first name – or the beard. I think they both share a similar sense of humour, though, and they’re both clever and funny, without being intimidating. Like a kindly professor, who takes your hand one day, and says: “this is how to draw curly clouds.”

A big thanks to Bill Tiller and Autumn Moon Entertainment for allowing me to disrupt their office for far too long! Also, Bill paid for my lunch (after I embarrassed myself: I made too much of a show of saying “No no, I *insist!* I *have* to!” to the point of causing a scene in the restaurant. “You *have* to? What, for a religious reason?” asked Bill. “Well, no,” I said – and that was that.

So thanks Bill for paying as well as giving me so much of his time – and the best of luck to Autumn Moon in making A Vampyre Story.