Cast your minds back to the very bitter last months of 2011 and you should recall that a freeware game was released that took the indie game world by storm, somewhat. That would be the aptly named Treasure Adventure Game (TAG), released by Stephen Orlando (going by the name Robit Studios) after three years of hard work. The game was a labor of love – it was the type of NES-flavored adventure that Stephen had always enjoyed and wanted to create himself for a long time. He even taught himself how to code during the development process, such was his passion. Determined as he was, he never expected his first game to be quite the hit it became and found himself overwhelmed by the fanfare that was struck up on its release. And deservingly so, I would add.
“I’m really happy with how the art has turned out,” Stephen tells me as we begin to talk. The art is the biggest change that Treasure Adventure World (TAW), the HD commercial remake of his previous freeware effort, boasts. Surprisingly, the job of switching out pixels for the smooth cartoon-like art assets is being handled by one “insane, super fast” artist from Chucklefish, Christine Crossley. She worked on the concept art for Starbound and has since transferred to scribbling as fast as her hands will allow her for TAW, which is apparently at a very productive rate. Stephen is most pleased with the amount of character her art brings to the world he created, and knew upon seeing her initial mock-ups back in July 2012 that her style would be perfect.
The plan wasn’t always to work on a remake of TAG. Stephen was actually burnt out on the project after the three year development time, understandably, but having seen how many people enjoyed TAG, he was eager to continue down the rocky road of game development. It was actually Tiyuri (the mastermind behind Chucklefish and their debut game Starbound) that brought about the change in heart and initiated the first actions towards Treasure Adventure World’s development:
“I started a project called NovaraX, an Asteroids style shooter, and it was actually going really well, so hopefully I’ll get to continue working on that some day. But Tiy discovered TAG and approached me about doing a remake with high-resolution art for a commercial release. Even though I was hesitant to start another huge project like the one I had just spent three years working on, it seemed like if I was going to make a successful commercial game, then having someone like Tiy on your side was a smart move.”
Since then, the entire Chucklefish team has been at Stephen’s disposal, being under instruction to help him out whenever he needed it. Stephen called it a “collaboration”, as he had all the autonomy he wanted, but the team would play test early builds, make suggestions and lend their skills – Stephen Alexander of Chucklefish put together the trailer for TAW, for example. The Chucklefish name will also be very helpful for promotion and building interest in the game, according to Stephen, which is true, but the fan base he’s already accrued for himself should also help out with that, I like to think.
“I’m putting my future career as a game designer into this project.”
Though Stephen has had the support of Chucklefish, he’s been funding the game and paying his bills by himself. While working on TAW, he’s been working a full time job as well, not that he isn’t used to it after working on TAG by himself for three years. He feels “guilty” if he comes home in the evening and does something social rather than working on a game; it’s a habit that’s become hard to shake, and Stephen admits it’s less of a hobby and more of a second job now. He’s hoping it won’t always be this way, though.
“I’m putting my future career as a game designer into this project. If it makes enough money for me to quit my job and bank-roll another game, I’ll be ecstatic. And if that happens, I hope I can continue working with the people involved with this project.”
As TAG was Stephen’s first game project, he admits that the code is an absolute mess, as you can probably expect from an amateur coder learning game design in Multimedia Fusion 2 (MMF2). Due to that, he began to look around at other languages and found that Scirra’s Construct development tool was much more robust that MMF2, so when Tiy approached him with the idea to do the HD remake of TAG, he already knew that he would start from scratch using Construct. This doesn’t mean that the game is going to be changed dramatically in any way, but the game will run smoother, and now having a few years of development behind him, Stephen says he’ll be able to do a few more things that he was limited from doing before due to his “sloppy programming”.
“The most major change in the game is going to be the visuals. That said, the rest is not exactly 1:1. Some things are being tweaked and removed, and there are also things being added. Some puzzles are going to be different. Enemies may behave differently. But overall it will be a familiar experience for people who played the original game. I want to improve a couple of the boss fights. In particular the final fight. There will also be a more focused story line and more multiple endings.”
Of course, after hearing all of that, I just had to investigate on a more specific level and asked, firstly, how he would go about making the story more focused. The idea, I’m told, is to ensure that the story of the main character – his forgotten past and the relationship with the parrot – are brought to the fore through changes in the dialogue and some new/different cutscenes. In doing this, some of the superfluous parts of the of the game’s lore and world will be pushed further back. The main villain will also be a more prominent focus from early on in the game, and then you have those multiple endings, but who really wants those spoiled? Not I!
“Some puzzles are going to be different. Enemies may behave differently. But overall it will be a familiar experience for people who played the original game.”
Remembering that a number of people had complained about the cutscenes in TAG, especially in the game’s beginning, I brought that to Steven’s attention and asked how he would justify more of an emphasis on these:
“I think it’s unfair to force people to watch cutscenes (especially if they’ve already seen them). And I know there was a lot of that in TAG. This time, impatient people should be a little happier. That said, I’m hoping to make all the scenes engaging enough so that you won’t want to skip them.”
Another important factor that helped to nail the good memories of playing TAG to our brains was the music, so you should be pleased to hear that the original composer, Robert Ellis, is on board once again and will be providing some new tracks and remixes of the older ones for TAW. Some of the original music will make it back in untouched, more than likely, too.
There’s still plenty of work to do on Treasure Adventure World, but with the mechanics being close to finished, and a fifth of the levels redesigned and functioning (and things speeding up due to re-using art assets and being code complete), progression is certainly on schedule.
“As you can see in the trailer, we’re aiming for a 2013 release. Can’t get any more specific than that (simply because I don’t think I can predict when we’ll be done). I don’t want to talk price yet, but it will be reasonable for a game of this type (think other large indie games).”
That’s all I could wean from Stephen, who even managed to keep his lips pursed tight when I asked about where the game might be released – what stores in particular. For all my best torture methods, I could only get him to say that the goal is to get the game on “popular digital distribution platforms”. Bummer. However, it’s worth mentioning that Chucklefish have some power in high places and, as such, were able to get Wanderlust: Rebirth on to Steam last year. When I brought this up in my conversation with Stephen, he quite sheepishly said, “Well, that is a fact – can’t argue with that.” So, if I were you, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same fate for Treasure Adventure World when it’s released at a later date in 2013.