Sep 23, 2010

The Dave Gilbert / Wadjet Eye Interview

Dave Gilbert, a master of all things AGS, is the man behind indie adventure game publisher/developer Wadjet Eye Games and the designer responsible for such point-and-click gems as The Blackwell Legacy and The Shivah. What follows is -quite apparently- an interview with him.

1. Most know you as a designer, programmer and even publisher of indie adventure games, so, beside that, what are your gaming and non-gaming interests?

Gaming? Hm! I’m a big RPG nut. I’ve recently replayed Arcanum and I’ve just started the latest Final Fantasy, which should probably keep me busy for awhile. I have yet to finish any installment in that series, so let’s see if this is the exception.

As for non-gaming, I’m pretty low key. I love to travel, read, and wander aimlessly around NYC looking for places to go.

2. And how exactly did you first decide that playing via a keyboard and some chips was a good idea?

It’s all my mother’s fault. I was 11 years old and she bought me a copy of Infocom’s Wishbringer. After that, my fate was forevermore sealed.

3. From enjoying to creating; how and when did you decide to start coming up with your very own digital bits of interactive entertainment?

It all started during a time in my life when I was looking for some distractions. The year was 2001 and it was September and I live in New York, so you can imagine what I needed distracting from. I searched the web for freeware adventure games and I ended up discovering the Reality on the Norm project. The idea behind it was basically a shared universe. All the assets – characters, backgrounds, even the world itself – were shared by the community, and anyone could come along and make a game in that world and add to its story. The idea appealed to me. After playing a couple of them I decided to make one, so I took a week or two and made a little game called “The Repossesser.” People seemed to like it, so I kept making more.

4. What about Wadjet Eye Games? A bold step.

Maybe! At the time I was between jobs, having just come home after spending a year abroad teaching English in Asia. My apartment was being rented out so I was staying with my parents. They were both retired, and it was a bit embarrassing to be hanging around their apartment all day when I didn’t have a job either, so I took my laptop to a nearby cafĂ©. For a month, I tinkered around with making a game for 7-8 hours a day and I told myself I was working. Completely self-defeating, but The Shivah was the end result. I had so much fun making it that I realized I didn’t want to do anything else. I had about nine months worth of savings in my bank account, so I figured it was “now or never” and just dived right in. So it wasn’t a “bold step” so much as putting off getting a real job. You could say that I’m kind of still doing that.

5. And you've already been around for almost 5 years. Quite a feat that. How did you manage?

If I do anything on purpose it’s that I make a point of keeping my games a bit on the short and manageable side. It’s a lot easier to recover from a commercial failure if the time and money you put into it is minimal. There’s always that temptation to throw more and more money and time at a project to make it super awesome, but there’s always the fear that the game will bomb and you’ll lose it all. I’ve learned to treat every dollar I put into a game as a potential loss, and I’ve become very careful. While it does occasionally force me to cut some corners, it does force me to be very creative in how I do things. If I screw up, I can bounce back much faster.

6. What are your ambitions for Wadjet Eye? To create an absolute classic? Turn into the next EA?

Future plans, eh? Yeesh. I don’t even know if I’ll have matching socks tomorrow! Well, my wife and I have eventual plans to take a break from adventure games and work on a cRPG in the vein of Fallout. Unlike with adventure games, there is no middleware available for that kind of thing so we are making the engine ourselves. Or rather, my wife is, since she’s an actual programmer. It will take a long time to make, so in the meantime I am content working on point and clicks like Blackwell. Honestly, our only ambition is to keep things the way they are. I love that we can live this way. As long as we can still make games and enough people are still willing to buy them, I will have no complaints.

7. So, what does the (more or less) immediate future hold?

Right now I’m working on the fourth game in the Blackwell series, called “Blackwell Deception.” It’s fully designed and I’m in the midst of getting art and writing the dialog.

8. If it isn't too much to ask of you, could you suggest a couple titles (and describe them a bit) that would help our readers understand what's unique about your point-and-clickers?

I suppose if you have to start somewhere, you can’t go wrong with the Blackwell series. They games star a medium named Rosa Blackwell and her sardonic spirit guide Joey Malone, who are tasked to seek out lost and confused spirits and help them move on. Usually this is done by looking into the spirit’s past and using that knowledge to help them confront their death. So the games are one part mystery, one part detective story, and one part character study. They are also designed, written and programmed completely from within various cafes in the east village of Manhattan. So by supporting Blackwell you are also supporting the New York coffee industry.

9. You really seem to enjoy life in NYC. Care to tell us how you incorporate it in your -decidedly urban- games?

You look at a magnificent skyscraper, and it’s hard to imagine that it was something made by people. And a whole city of those things? It’s kind of overwhelming. As cities grow over the centuries (or millennia, in some cases) they develop a personality and history of their own. But New York is kind of special. It’s so prevalent in media – you see New York in movies, television and books all the time – that it’s touched everyone in the world in some way or another. You could live all your life in some isolated little town, but step into New York and it’s like you’ve been there before. I like being in the center of all of that. It’s a kind of energy that inspires me, and that’s obviously reflected in the games I make.

10. Ever thought of being creative in the cafes of other major cities? Berlin and Paris do sound different enough I'd say.

Not a bad idea! Although I don’t think I meet the minimum requirement of intellectual pretentiousness. Plus I look stupid in a beret.

11. Care to briefly describe the (usual/average) way to a Wadjet Eye game release?

It varies! Typically I get a notebook and scribble down ideas until something forms. Then I take those notes and compile a working design document so anyone else involved will know what to work on. For myself, I often try to make a schedule, with a day-to-day list of tasks that I intend to complete by a certain time. But then Things Happen and there are delays or I get inspired to work on something other than what I am scheduled to do that day, and it becomes a free for all. There is really no rhyme or reason to the way I work, but I’ve still managed to get six games out the door in four years so I figure I must be doing something right.

12. After publishing Puzzle Bots, do you think you might care to try something similar again? Oh, and how was working with Erin as an experience?

Puzzle Bots was an interesting experience! I had never worked on a game quite like it before, and we really stretched the limits of what AGS could do. At the time I had lofty goals of becoming a publisher for other indie adventure titles, but I soon discovered that publishing someone else’s game requires just as much time and attention as publishing your own. Over the course of making Puzzle Bots, I was also involved in several other projects (Emerald City Confidential, Blackwell Convergence, and another game for PlayFirst) which forced us to delay Puzzle Bots much longer than any of us would have liked. It turns out that I’m not one of nature’s best multi-taskers! Would I do it again? Yes. Sort of. I’m in the midst of publishing another game designed by somebody else, but rather than funding and developing it from scratch, the game has come to me 95% complete and I’m helping to push it the rest of the way. You’ll hear more about that in a month or so. It’s a project I’m really excited about.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:


  1. hey there sir, was wondering what site of yours is your official site. They are all pretty good. But I would like to link your site to Pacroid, if that is ok.

    Like shearing views and thoughts on games even if they don't agree sometimes, that's what makes for a variety of games.

  2. Why hello kind sir Blake. I'd say this is my main site and will be linking to Pacroid asap.

  3. BAAAHHHHAHAH, I'm an idiot. I already have you on the pacroid. Forgive the stupidity, me brainage worked not gooder sometime.

    You are still a part of alot of good sites. Shared are they with friends maybe. Pacroid is like that, I have Josh and Rowan post on their every once in awhile.

  4. And now I've finally linked Gnome's Lair to Pacroid!

  5. Catching up on your stuff Gnome.

    I am also trying out that German Oblivion mod Nehrim.

    (It takes Oblivion and mixes in Gothic and Diablo game elements)

  6. Sounds quite intriguing that Nehrim mod dear Caleb. Lovely seeing you around these places again.