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Q&A With Tall Story Games

Whilst once again scouring Kickstarter for more new video game prospects. I came across a couple of games in a genre that generally speaking, I don’t spend enough time covering, but this game captured my attention in a way that few that others do. Lucy Dreaming is a point-and-click adventure game made as a love letter to the works of LucasArts, including Day of the Tentacle, the Monkey Island series, and Full Throttle. Developed by Tall Story Games based in the English West Midlands, it centers around a young girl named Lucy, who must travel between dreams and reality to discover a disturbing truth about Lucy’s sub-conscience. Eager to know more, I contacted the game’s lead developer Ton Hardwidge to pose some questions in regards to not only the game but also in regards to the point-and-click adventure genre itself, as I was curious to get an indie developer’s perspective in regards to how well the genre is represented compared to the likes of the 2D Sidescroller, Metroidvania or 3D platforming genres. So that being said, here’s what Tom Hardwidge of Tall Story games had to say about Lucy Dreaming:

 

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What were the influences behind your game?

It’s fairly obvious to anyone looking at the pixel-artwork or user interface of Lucy Dreaming that the LucasArts adventure classics from the 1990s are a huge inspiration for the game. I’ve made no effort to hide this fact, and I am proud to call it a love letter to all of the titles that gave me so much joy growing up. Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle made a huge impression on me and I never, even in my wildest dreams, thought it would be possible to create my own point & click adventure games.

The initial concept for the game came from the fact that our house is littered with children’s books. We have a six-year-old son who loves reading and often dreams about characters and scenarios in his books. I was already trying to think of a concept that would provide flexibility in terms of scenes, characters, and artwork, and dreams were the perfect candidate. I won’t divulge too much about the mechanics of the full game, but books play an important part.

 

What has the developmental process been like?

This is our first full-length title, so we knew it was going to need a bit more planning than some of our previous, shorter games. That said, a lot of the puzzle development in the game is organic. I have a narrative plan mapped out which contains all of the important milestones and plot points along the way, but in terms of the puzzles themselves, a lot of them are created in situ. I will design a scene and start cramming it with random objects. I hate large areas of empty space, so I always want to put a picture on the wall, or stuff the shelves to help add interest to the scene and support the wider story of the game. Once I have filled up a scene with bits of random crap, I then look at the task in hand and think to myself “If I were in this scene, what would I do next?” or “I wonder what’s in that cupboard over there.” As I oversee the story, artwork, and development I can change anything on a whim if I think I can make it work better, or there’s an opportunity for a gag.

 

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

We’re aiming to have a finished game within 12 months of the Kickstarter campaign ends. I have a tendency to get carried away and over-deliver, so although we have proposed 8-10 hours of playtime, it may well be a bit over that. The version of the demo available to play on Steam and Itch.io is actually the second one that we’ve produced. The first one was finished at the end of 2020 but, when tested, had an average playtime of over two hours. We felt this gave away a bit too much of the full game’s mechanics and story, so made the decision to “bank” it as the first two hours of the full game instead and create an entirely new demo prequel that had unique puzzles not found in the full game.

For anyone backing the game on Kickstarter, we will be involving them in discussions about the game on our VIP Discord channel too, so they can help to shape the game they have supported.

 

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What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

As I’m doing the whole lot, it’s very hard to separate them into different aspects. It’s all a single, intertwined process. If I had to pick one element, it would probably be the puzzle design itself as it involves a little bit of everything. Sometimes a puzzle will be purely visual,

sometimes it relies heavily on the dialogue and other little clues. Honing a puzzle so that it’s just the right level of difficulty is so much fun, I’ll watch testers and streamers play through a puzzle and try to spot where they get frustrated, bored, or delighted – I can then tweak the whole experience to make it as smooth as possible without handing them the answer on a plate.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

Without a doubt, it’s been the publishing of the game to the various app platforms (namely Steam and the Google Play Store). As a first-timer to the process, I can honestly say that it’s been one of the most confusing and frustrating things I’ve had to deal with. It’s like a badly designed adventure game puzzle in itself. The clues poorly signposted and the dialogue is unhelpful but, as an adventure game puzzle, there is immense satisfaction in finally figuring it out on your own.

 

How well has the game been received so far?

So far it’s been received really well, and anything that has been picked up in terms of bugs or potential improvements to the puzzles has been sorted in subsequent releases. I’ve watched a lot of gamers playing the demo since it launched, and so far it seems to have been universally enjoyed. A few people apparently find a northern British accent inherently annoying, but they are vastly outweighed by the number of players who love Lucy and the voice actor’s sassy northern lilt (which is just as well, because it’s my wife and business partner, Emma!)

There’s nothing more satisfying than watching people laugh out loud at the jokes, and there are hundreds in there if you like exploring. The demo alone contains over 1,100 unique responses and dialogue, if you really want to suffer an onslaught of bad puns and “dad jokes” try talking to all the objects in each scene, you might discover a few hidden references and Easter eggs too.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

The game engine that I’m using is called Visionaire Studio, it’s purpose-built for point & click adventure games and supports a huge number of platforms. For the basic level of funding on Kickstarter, I am promising releases for Windows, macOS, and Linux, but there’s also a stretch goal for iOS and Android (the demo is already available to download from the Google Play Store). Point & click games with a traditional SCUMM-style interface really lend themselves to touchscreens. I would absolutely love to release Lucy Dreaming on Nintendo Switch too, but publishing a game for Nintendo is a bit of an unknown for me, even though the game engine supports it from a technical point of view.

 

Can you tell us anything about the pending stretch goals planned for the Kickstarter campaign?

Since the campaign launched, a lot of people have reached out to me to ask about support for different platforms and languages, so in the name of transparency, I have actually taken the decision to publish the initial plan for stretch goals. At the time of writing we haven’t fully funded, although we did manage to reach 50% of our goal in the first 11 hours of the campaign, and were handpicked as a Kickstarter “Project We Love”, so we’re hopeful!

 

Have there been any ideas at this stage of development that has since been scrapped or reworked?

Probably more than I think! If I got back and check my original notes there will undoubtedly be things that I’ve forgotten or moved away from since I started this project 12 months ago. The main thing that has changed is the name of the game itself. We originally called the game “Lucid Adventure”, which we subsequently had to scrap a couple of months into the project. I had failed to do my research properly and completely missed the fact that there was already a game with the same name. After a quick brainstorming session with other indie developers and game industry professionals, we settled on “Lucy Dreaming” which is a play on “Lucid Dreaming”, the key concept behind the full game.

 

Do you believe the point-and-click adventure genre has been adequately represented throughout the indie community?

Absolutely, the indie game community is keeping the genre alive, and there are some spectacular new titles being produced all the time.

I am relatively new to the whole indie game dev scene. I started by making a browser-based point-and-click adventure for The Roman Baths in 2019, programming the whole thing from scratch in HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Then, a year later I used the same “engine” to build another game to raise money for charity Women’s Aid during the first UK lockdown. After this was well-received by adventure game fans online, I looked into game development in more detail and discovered a whole world of professional game engines, and the most welcoming, creative, and supportive community it’s ever been my pleasure to be a part of. A year later, here I am, constantly rubbing my eyes in disbelief and immensely proud to call them my friends.

 

How instrumental has player feedback in terms of shaping the course of the project been?

Feedback from players, other devs, publishers, friends, and everyone around me is a huge factor when producing a game like this. There’s no room for arrogance, if players falter and don’t have a smooth, enjoyable experience, it’s my fault.

At the beginning of the project I went back and forth for a long time just working out which verbs to include in my SCUMM UI, there are strong opinions in both the “I want all of Ron Gilbert’s original verbs” and “No verbs, just a left, and right-click!” camps and I wanted to strike a balance between the two. It seemed like a huge deal in the early stages of the development, but not that the demo has been honed and polished, no one playing the game has had any cause to complain or even mention the UI. That for me is the greatest compliment, as it means it is doing its job perfectly. I still welcome feedback on all platforms and on all subjects. I am new to this industry, and if I don’t listen to my peers and my audience, I’m going to fall at the first hurdle.

 

Do you find that taking such a self-reflective approach to make this game through your own blog posts has improved your personal developmental skills?

I think it’s helped me retain my humility. I don’t plan my blog posts, I just open up a blank screen and let my brain spew out all over it. It’s hugely cathartic and the blogging process has helped me to understand how I feel at each stage in the process. If I’m happy, frustrated, or confused, I let it all out and it somehow solidifies into something I can reflect on. I’ll read them back and think “Oh, so THAT’s why I’m so annoyed.” Or “Tom, you’re being a nob, just listen to your critics.” It’s also great to have a record of all my transient thoughts and feelings throughout the project. I’m sure if I read some of my early posts now I would have forgotten nearly everything I wrote at the time.

 

If you had the opportunity to develop a game with any company or for any franchise, which would it be, and why?

Ooh, that’s a tricky one. I’ve been running my own design agency for over a decade, and I’m not used to being told what to do. I’m also not very good at managing other people, so if I was going to develop something for another company, it would probably have to be a client/agency relationship as opposed to working within a larger games studio. Under these circumstances, I think I’d probably like to work on a point & click adventure for a book like Luke Pearson’s Hilda. The characters and settings are an absolute wonder, and if I had similar freedom to expand and build on the world he’s created – as Netflix has done – then that would be truly magical. Of course, it would need to be a pixel-art interpretation, which is probably sacrilege but, hey, this is my fantasy!

 

It’s also mentioned on the Kickstarter page that your young son Robin has made unintentional contributions to the game too. Do you see a lot of your own creative side in your son from his early age, and would you like him to possibly follow in your footsteps as a developer?

I will be delighted with whatever he decides to do as long as he’s happy. At the moment I am loving collaborating with him as we walk over a mile to school every morning. We play a game called “puzzles” where we take it in turns to make up a puzzle that needs solving, then look around us and solve it with whatever comes to hand. This has created some incredible ideas that I would have never thought of, and I write them all down. From a penny-farthing skateboard to a woodpecker-on-a-stick for digging holes. The little chap is a veritable goldmine!

He also draws, and writes, a lot! I have a whole stack of Lucy Dreaming “fan-art” on my desk created by Robin, and I hope that his delight in creativity stays with him.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?

Get involved in the indie dev community. Anything and everything can be learned from the best, and nicest people in the industry. Don’t be daunted by the prospect either, you’ll assume that everyone knows more than you do, but your thoughts and feelings are valid too. Have confidence in your own ability and don’t forget to have fun. I mean, that’s why you’re doing it, right? Getting involved in a wider community gives you a sounding board for ideas, collaborators for the future, constructive criticism when you don’t think you need it, and tremendous support when you do.

 

Where on the Internet can people find you?

I’m on Twitter mainly, but we also have spots in all the usual haunts. Facebook, Discord, Instagram, Steam, YouTube, Itch.io, our website … take your pick!

https://twitter.com/tallstorygames

https://www.facebook.com/tallstorygames

https://www.instagram.com/tallstorygames/

https://lucy-dreaming.com/

https://discord.gg/aExm5ZhtdE

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCByVD7k0-JiLw5Cv80mS8kA

https://store.steampowered.com/search/?publisher=Tall%20Story%20Games

https://tallstorygames.itch.io/

 

Do you have anything else to add?

I love what I am doing and am always happy to talk (at length) about it, so if anyone has any questions, or just wants to say “hello” you know where to find me!

Oh, and back Lucy Dreaming on Kickstarter now!

 

I’d just lastly like to thank Tom for taking the time out of development to answer my questions in regards to this exciting title. It was quite interesting to get his take on this game, as well as the point-and-click- adventure game in general. It looks like the genre has a brighter future than what I’d realized and I’m looking forward to this title, as well as any more upcoming games within it that may be coming out soon in addition. If you like the look of Lucy Dreaming and want to see the project brought to life, you can back the Kickstarter campaign via this link:

Kickstarter Page

But in the meantime, I hope you’re looking forward to this game and enjoyed learning more about it from Tom as much as I did.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

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