Bill Tiller at Autumn Moon Entertainment, 2010 Back stories, sequels, and looking to the future

You’ve repeatedly stressed that AVS was always intended to be a saga with multiple installments. Do you have similar plans for the Ghost Pirates universe, or are you more inclined to pursue new ideas? Or is it dependent on the game’s financial success?

Yes I do, and the first game sets up the second one. But a lot of things have to happen before a sequel can get made. The first game would have to sell well, then DTP would have to decide whether or not to do a sequel, or we’ll have to find another publisher. So we are crossing our fingers.

The English version of Ghost Pirates was recently announced to be published by Mamba Games, at least in the UK. For the English voices, can we expect Bay Area Sound’s usual high caliber work?

Unfortunately, no. I tried hard to get Julian Kwasneski and his team on the project, but ultimately Audio Godz, a much respected sound company, got the contract from DTP. It was a decision DTP made and out of my hands. Having said that, I think we got very talented actors to do our voices and I am very happy with the results. Lani Minella and her team did a great job working under some tough deadlines.

Thumb “If all goes well, AVS2 will be out in 2010.”

The soundtrack to A Vampyre Story was excellent, and from what I can tell Ghost Pirates’ music will be of a similar level of quality. Is there any chance that the AVS album that came packaged with the limited edition of the game in Germany might see a US release or availability as a digital purchase?

I wish! You’d have to ask Crimson Cow that question since they own all the rights to the game. I own the rights to do TV, books and movies with AVS, but they own all the game rights including the sound track. It is excellent and hats off to Pedro Camacho and his team for doing a great job with the music on both games. Pedro is really great to work with. I highly recommend him.

When Ghost Pirates was suddenly announced, all went quiet on the AVS2 front – not too surprising, given that you guys can probably only focus on one game at a time. However, the announcement of A Bat’s Tale at the beginning of the year included the indication that Autumn Moon was looking for a publisher for the game. What happened to Crimson Cow? Is there a story there? Do fans have anything to worry about?

There is some movement on that front but I can’t give any details on AVS2 just yet, except to say if all goes well, AVS2 will be out in 2010.

Similarly, is there a status update for AVS2 that you’re at liberty to share?

We got about 40% of it done and it needs about six to eight more months of work to be finished, faster than last time because we have our core engine that we used in AVS 1 on AVS2. We’re moving in a hopeful direction, but I’m not at liberty to go into detail at the moment.

The early reception to Ghost Pirates seems to be positive, and AVS was also well received. To what would you credit Autumn Moon’s success most?

Well I’m not sure we are successful yet. True, our average reviews in the US were in the mid 70’s and reviews in Europe were about ten percent higher. But my goal is to twofold, to make sure our games are profitable, and they get 85-95%in the reviews. So far we haven’t quite reached that goal but we may due to the fact adventure games have a long shelf life. I figured I would make mistakes in the beginning since it’s my first attempt at running my own company and making my own original game. I knew my first games weren’t going to be as good as the Lucas Arts games I worked on. It’s tough to match those games in today’s adventure game market. Lucas Arts had a lot of mainstream console games to support a great infrastructure. Independent studios have a hard time matching that kind of well funded organization. And a lot of mainstream reviews look askance at adventure games and would never give and adventure game a high review just due to its genre.

But the success we have achieved so far is due to three things: a good team, a good story, and good art. The team part is critical, especially in programming. It took us a while to find the right team to program our game, but we did it eventually with Nick Pavis and the guys at Munky Fun and our crack team of scripters: Zeno Gerakin, Jeremiah Grant, and Gene Mocsy. Once you have a good foundation like that it makes game development a lot easier. I have been a storyteller for a long time, since I was kid playing with my toys in the basement, making up adventure stories. I was the game master in countless role playing games. I even wrote a 100 page novel and a ton of short stories. Being a voracious reader helped too. And then I started making live action student films and animated films at Cal Arts. I got great story training from professionals in the animation and TV industries while I was there. And I learned a lot at Lucas Arts under Hal Barwood, Sean Clark, Larry Ahern and Jonathan Ackley, as well from others in the company like Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer. So my stories aren’t perfect for sure, but I think I have a solid grasp on them, and all that experience really helped.

I think our art has been hit our miss depending on the area. I feel for the most part I’ve had good artists, but on occasion we have failed, like in the area of special effects. I never felt we nailed those down perfectly yet. In most areas I think we have done well, especially the art done by Jean-Louis Sirois, Paul Mica, Marc Brownlow, and Jimmy Almeida. At Lucas Arts, if art was not up to snuff we’d redo it till it was good. But with our current limited budget, if some bad art gets in its real tough to come up with the money fix it. So it is critical you have the right people in the right position across the board, because we just don’t have the time or money to take a second polish pass at everything like we did at Lucas Arts.

What’s next for Autumn Moon?

Like I said, there is some movement in the AVS2 area that I can’t talk publicly about, but I feel confident in saying that AVS2 will be out in stores in the next year, maybe a year and a half. I hope there will be an announcement about it soon. The other thing we are always working on is new game ideas, and proposals, as well as production strategies that will help us stay in budget, get done on time AND stay high quality. The past three years have taught me a lot about what to do and what not to do. So I want take those lessons and apply them to future products. I am driven to perfect our production so we can make a great game for the fans, and make money for my publisher and my company.

Thumb “You can put in 16 hour days at a job and be drained and miserable if you don’t like the project you’re working on. But if you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t seem like work.”

What are the most challenging and the most rewarding thing about running a company that makes graphic adventure games?

The budget is the most challenging aspect. Adventure games aren’t enormous money makers so a lot of things have to go very well during production if you’re going to make a profit. They tend to be strong, steady income over the long run though. Any problems or delays can be devastating on a small project like this. I think developers of this genre would do better to have long term investment capital to give the kind of foundation and stability the company needs before having to become profitable. It’s always costly to get a company going and build it from the ground up, especially if you’re creating new technology on top of that.

As for the rewarding part, the creative freedom and working on stories and characters I love is by far the best reward. I’ve also had the good fortune to work with some wonderful people too. And it’s always great to work on something that is creatively satisfying. You can put in 16 hour days at a job and be drained and miserable if you don’t like the project you’re working on. But if you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t seem like work (most of the time!).

Would you like to add anything else?

Yes. Some people have posted on line that the setting and back-story were a bit confusing, and this is due to the fact we had a very limited cut scene budget. We tried to in those stories, give out all the back story and exposition as would could, but as quickly as we could, but it might not have been enough for people. So before any of your readers buys the game I wanted to give a quick back story here for Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island. The game takes place on an alternate world very much like ours back in the 1600's, the golden age of pirates. Similar to our own world, the bucolic Azurbbean Sea has been colonized by foreign powers seek to pillage the land and enslave the native peoples. Pirates raided these colonial ships, but one pirate in particular, Capitan Tiberius Flint, much like Robin Hood, decide to rob from the rich galleons and give it back to the poor inhabitants that it originally belonged to. Other pirates were motivated only by greed, and Captain Flint opposed them, fought them, but ultimately united them under his rule becoming Pirate King of the Azurbbean, with the help of High Voodoo Priest Papa Doc Mystère, and his chief of spies, Captain Jane Starling. The colonial powers hated Flint but were not powerful enough to defeat him, so the bargained with him instead: they could trade with the natives of the Azurbbean, but had to follow his rules and pay a heavy tax. Their collective pride chaffed under this arrangement but there was nothing they could do.

Many pirates also were not happy having to follow this new Pirate King, some openly rebelled, while other like Captain Greenbeard, kept their thoughts and plots secret. The game starts on Vooju Island, a creepy looking island shaped like a skull and cross bones. It is Home to a school of Vooju run by Papa Doc and his young wife, Queen Zimbi. Papa Doc is retired from pirate life and now runs the Vooju Temple where young Vooju followers can learn about the mysterious religion, but Papa Doc is on this island for another reason: he has been given a secret and very dangerous charge to keep. Only he, Captain Flint, Queen Zimbi and Flint's original crew knows what it is all about. Captain Jane Starling on the other hand, suspects that Greenbeard, one of Captain Flint's seemingly most trusted men, may be plotting against the Pirate King. Having been rescued by Captain Flint as a teen from colonial slavers, Captain Jane Starling is tremendously devoted to her liege, and will do anything to protect him. She is also secretly in love with him, a secret Captain Greenbeard had discovered, and may have use for his own foul ends. Blue Belly, a friendly easy going cook who really just wants to be a chef, has been forced by his dad to join Captain Greenbeard's crew in order to earn enough money for his little sisters braces, a luxury his family can't afford, He hates Greenbeard and his crew and can't wait till his term on board the Verdigris Queen is done and he can return back to his beloved Island of Merry Cay.

All the above information and story and more are spread throughout the game, but I thought it would be good to get this basic back story collected in one place. Hopefully this will help any players who might need it. I think it is fun plot and scenario that is inspired by Monkey Island but as you can see isn't very much like it. I hope it give player that old Monkey Island feel yet gives them a new plot, characters and scenario that they'll find fun and entertaining. I really enjoyed working on the game and I am looking forward to making more games in the Ghost Pirates series.

Thanks so much for your time, Bill. We can’t wait to play Ghost Pirates, AVS2, and whatever else is on the horizon from Autumn Moon.

Well, hope you guys enjoyed reading the interview and that it has made you as excited as we are about Autumn Moon's line-up! Be on the lookout for the English version of Ghost Pirates to be released next month, and don't forget to grab A Vampyre Story if for some unjustifiable reason you haven't already. And you would also do well to keep up with the happenings at Autumn Moon by regularly visiting their official site and blog.