An Interview With A Vampyre Story’s Bill Tiller

I can’t believe it. It’s finally coming out. After years of waiting, it appears that A Vampyre Story will be coming out December 2nd. Since I first heard about this game, I have been grinning like a madman. Why? Because I miss Lucasarts’ adventure game division so very much. Sure we have Telltale games with their Sam and Max and Strong Bad episodic games, but to be honest, none of those have thrilled me like the classics. Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine and Grim Fandango. These, my friends, are some of the best adventure games ever made, and they were all done by a single studio.

So what does that have to do with A Vampyre Story? EVERYTHING. Autumn Moon Entertainment’ founder and the creator of A Vampyre Story is Bill Tiller. Not only is Bill an ex employee of Lucasarts, but 15 different Lucasarts employees worked on the development of this game. Bill has worked on so many games I’ve loved in the past. The Curse of Monkey Island, The Suffering, Infernal Machine and more. With a full length point and click game finally coming out from the remnants of the Lucasarts’ stable, we might finally see a worthy successor to their legacy. Just the mere existence of this game has Adventure game fans and Lucasarts nostalgics ready to pencil in AVC as a Game of the Year nominee, and it hasn’t even come out yet. I got the opportunity to ask Bill Tiller some questions about his upcoming game and about what it is like to run a small independent adventure company in this era of large gaming corporations.

DHGF: I’ve actually been watching the progression for A Vampyre Story since, wow…2004-2005 now. It’s been an interesting journey to be sure. Can you share the backstory of the development side of things from concept to now? I think our readers would be really interested in hearing about all that has happened with this title.

BT: The story was created way back in the summer of 1995, but the idea to make it a game didn’t happen until around 2002. It started off as a bunch of drawings in a sketch book, Mona and Froderick being two of them, and then a story grew from there. Originally it was planned as maybe a TV show or even a comic book. But the idea of a woman who doesn’t want to be a vampire seemed like it would work really well as an adventure game.

After working on Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine I decided to make a demo and pitch it around to game companies. For the next three years I worked on the demo in my spare time. I even took ten months off to work on it after The Two Towers game. We got a lot of interest from various publishers and finally signed a contract with Crimson Cow in the summer of 2006 to start production for the game. So it was almost a decade from the time I came up with the idea for A Vampyre Story to when we got a publishing deal to make the game.

DHGF: You currently have two publishers for A Vampyre Story. Crimson Cow in Europe, and The Adventure Company in North America. What is it like for a relatively small independent game studio to secure a publisher?

BT: We actually have a lot more publishers than that! Focus is our publisher in France, Akella is our publisher in Russia, and there are many more. While Crimson Cow has the worldwide rights, they make sure to team up with the right publisher for every country. To get back to your question, I think the process gets easier once you have released a game. It’s harder when you’re unproven. But it also depends on the type of game you are making. Adventure games are a smaller market so there’s a limit to the number of publishers and developers for that market. But I think that adventure games are making a come back. If we provide the content and quality that fans will enjoy, then we can continue making these games.

DHGF: Can you tell our readers about the basic plot of A Vampyre Story and the characters that they will encounter?

BT: The game takes place in Europe around the 1890’s during the Victorian era. A young French opera star becomes the object of obsession for a deranged vampire. She is captured by him and turned into a vampire. She must escape his castle and return to Paris to realize her dream of becoming a famous opera star. This is a comedy – make no mistake about that. Mona really doesn’t want to be evil, and she is no more evil than most people.

We have a fun and assorted cast of characters including Monsignor Calvin, the vampire hunter. He sounds just like Sean Connery. Then there’s the Jersey Lady, Gina Martinelli who was inspired by a character in the television show The Sopranos. And Madame Strigoi, the gypsy fortune teller. You’ve got to have a gypsy fortune teller in this type of game! Basically, we created characters that we thought would be fun and entertaining, regardless of whether they are authentic to 1890’s Europe.

DHGF: It’s rare to see a video game featuring a vampire as either a protagonist or antagonist that isn’t very dark, angst-ridden, or gloomy. What was the impetus to make a comedic vampire game?

BT: I’m a big fan of horror movies but I also like a lot of classic comedies. And there were some great movies that combined both, like Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, and Young Frankenstein (one of my all time favorites). So, those movies were definitely an influence and inspiration to A Vampyre Story. AVS is an homage to many of those classic movies of the 30’s and 40’s. We wanted the comedic feel of Monkey Island but combined with the classic format of those old horror movies.

DHGF: The art for the game has a Monkey Island meets Edward Gorey feel to it. What was the inspiration for the style and characters?

BT: Well that’s definitely an accurate description. I love Edward Gorey and originally thought about going with an all black and white look in A Vampyre Story. But one of my strong points as an artist is my sense of color. So, it seemed better to take advantage of that. And the art style has a whimsical quality much like Monkey Island. The characters of Mona and Froderick have that back and forth comedic banter, similar to Abbott and Costello. Mona’s the heroine and Froderick is her wise-ass sidekick providing much of the comedy.

DHGF: A Vampyre Story is going to be a classic three act Adventure game. Is there anything new or out of the ordinary that will be added to the standard point n’ click gameplay?

BT: The gameplay is basically the same, except for the addition of the idea icon. This was something that we discussed using for The Dig but decided not to. It’s a way for a character to possess a large object without having to figure out how to carry it around everywhere. The character can examine an object, get an idea icon for that object, and the idea icon will remain in their inventory until they use it.

DHGF: What about the Adventure genre draws you to it as developers?

BT: It’s a type of game that is very driven by story and character. With my background in animation and film, I very much enjoy creating games that focus on those qualities.

It’s the most movie like of game genres. It combines three things I really like, art, movies and gameplay into one genre. I think it’s the best genre for a lot of IPs. Many companies make action games based on book and movie licenses but I think the Adventure genre would work much better with certain licenses. For instance, I think Happy Feet would have made a better adventure game.

DHGF: What part of the game was hardest to transfer from concept into the actual (mostly) finished product?

BT: Shrowdy’s Ghost. Originally, we wanted him to be a cloudy, vaporous gas but couldn’t find a way to achieve that in real time 3d with our current engine. So we had to go with making him a 3D character model. Some of the special effects have been hard but I’m happy with the final result.

DHGF: A good portion of the staff that worked on A Vampyre Story used to work for LucasArts’s Adventure game division. What is the difference between working for a large studio like that and an independent studio like Autumn Moon, especially now that LucasArts appears to have turned its back on the genre that won them critical acclaim in the first place?

BT: The good thing is I can do what I want creatively. But the bad thing is not having the gigantic army of resources that LucasArts provided. Their budgets are much more robust. But we have managed to assemble a very talented and experienced team to work on A Vampyre Story so I feel that’s gone much better than anticipated.

DHGF: Comedic Adventure games, or rather comedic games in general seem to have fallen to the wayside for almost a decade. Now here in 2008, we see the Adventure genre bringing it back with games like Sam and Max Season One, Harvey Birdman, and now A Vampyre Story. What do you think has caused this mini-resurgence with games not having to take themselves so bloody seriously all the time?

BT: There’s always been a demand for them. But I think developers and publishers are finally getting around to fulfilling that demand. Comedy adventure games are a lot of fun to make and are more entertaining, in my opinion, than serious adventure games. If you examine an object in a serious game, you’re not going to get much of an entertaining reply. But if you examine it in a comedic game, it’s an opportunity for the character to say something funny that will hopefully entertain the player.

DHGF: Although Adventure games were once incredibly popular in the US, the support for these titles seem to have dwindled down to where it is a niche market. On the other hand, the genre remains quite popular in Europe. Why do you think that is?

BT: Adventure games have always had a stronger fan base in Europe, even back in the early LucasArts days. I don’t know why that is, but I’m very happy to find fans around the world that still enjoy this type of game and show as much loyalty as they have to the genre. My guess is it will become more popular again in the U.S. but won’t be the dominate genre here.

Thanks so much!

DHGF: My pleasure, Bill.

A Vampyre Story has a release date of December 2nd and if for the PC. You can learn more about the game by visiting its official website here. You can also learn more about AVS’ publisher, The Adventure Company by visiting their website. Expect a full in depth review of A Vampyre Story from us around its release date.

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