Wadjet Eye Games, an independent (indie) adventure game company is well known for its wildly popular games including the Blackwell Series, The Shivah and Gemini Rue. So, I sat down with Wadjet Eye’s very own Dave and Janet Gilbert to ask them about video games, starting a company and the challenges that they’ve faced.
Literally, Darling: What made you want to get into video games?
JANET: I’ve done this all my career really so for a long time now, when I graduated from university I applied for a job, I’ve been in video games ever since. I did meet Dave at the game developer’s conference in 2007 completely by chance we sat down at lunch together and were both made some awkward conversation. Then we kept in email touch and kind of got together and then I moved here. So I’m working for Dave because we’re in the same business and it’s honestly a lot more fun than working for “The Man.”
DAVE: I went to school for broadcasting but I always wanted to make games. I discovered some freeware engine tools back in 2001. I had been laid off from this horrible office job that I had and I was kinda looking for things to take my mind off of what was going on so I found Adventure Games Studio (AGS) and I just started making games for fun and I made a game, put it up on the forums I’m like “Hi guys, here’s my game!” And I got some feedback, people seemed to like it, so I kept making them just for a hobby. Then in 2006 I was unemployed again but I had a lot of savings so I thought “Well, it’s now or never.” I had been making free games for about six years by that point so I thought “I’ll give it a try” and I did and here I am. I kinda joke that I was doing it as a way to avoid getting a real job.
JANET: This has always been my real job.
LD: Why make point and click style adventure games?
DAVE: It was just the type of thing that I’d always played and I always liked writing and so it was the kind of medium that I was drawn to and […] I found a way to make them using AGS, I just sort of found I was good at it and I just kept doing it. So that’s sort of what drew me to it, was that it was something, it’s a way of writing, it’s a way of telling stories that are very familiar and it’s comfortable because I played a lot of them as a kid. It’s like you read a lot of books as a kid, you want to write, I played a lot of adventure games so I wanted to make adventure games.
LD: What was the hardest part of starting the company?
DAVE: Right now everything’s indie but back then I didn’t know what indie meant, it wasn’t really a buzzword in 2006. It was maybe a year or two later that it became huge but I guess the hardest part was being taken seriously, a few other AGS developers made games and released them commercially and they didn’t really do very well. For a lot of people this was just a hobby so to get artists and things like that I really had to push and convince people, “Come on, no, this is something serious.” It never really felt like anything real to a lot of people but for me this is what I wanted to do and that was the biggest challenge. Also getting things done and on time, because I knew that I couldn’t take three years to make one big epic game, I could maybe take three or four months because I didn’t have any income coming in so I knew that I needed to get things out earning money soon as possible. So getting things done fast was maybe a bit overkill, but it was the only way to do it. When I first got “Blackwell Legacy” out it took me four months and I nearly killed myself getting it out in four months. I went without sleep for several months, I would not recommend this to anyone.
LD: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced since starting the company?
DAVE: Once you reach a certain level there’s a lot more to lose and when I first started I didn’t really have much so there was not a lot at stake even though I was working myself to death because this is what I wanted to do, but I kind of didn’t expect it to go anywhere in the back of my head. But the biggest source of stress now I guess is “Alright, we’re doing well, now let’s keep that going and how do we keep it at this level?”
JANET: We can’t work 24 hours a day anymore.
DAVE: We’re investing our success, we had a really good couple of years 2011, 2012 amazing years, and we’re sort of coasting off of that. We’re also trying to work a little smarter—like we hired full-time artist, I’ve got a part-time person to help me answer emails, that kind of thing. We’re trying to work a little smarter and so we don’t have to work 24 hours a day like we used to. Janet would work on Resonance like two in the morning, I’d go to bed and she’d be still working on it. I’d wake up in the middle of the night I’d see her still working.
JANET: You just can’t do that anymore.
LD: What’s it like working with different artists and voice actors?
DAVE: It’s fun, the voice acting is my favorite part. It’s just the first time it really feels real. And I don’t like editing afterwards that just takes forever, it’s long and tedious but it’s one of those things you’ve gotta do. Once it’s in the game it’s like it’s real. […] Working with the different artists is always interesting because everyone’s got a different way of working and you kinda get a feel for their style and what they can do, what they can’t do, what they’re willing to do, that kind of thing. So that’s always interesting. Now we’ve got a full time artist someone I’ve been working with almost exclusively for almost two years now […] It’s interesting, every artist is different.
LD: How much has NYC had an influence on your games?
DAVE: You write what you know, I mean […] it’s no coincidence that the locations in “Blackwell” are things that are near and dear to me. So yeah you write what you know but I also think a lot of the stories are very unique to New York because I guess of the urban isolation and what that does to people, how it affects people in different ways. It affected me certainly when I first moved here and I see it affecting other people and a lot of the characters you meet in the games are offshoots of those. And it’s sort of a way for me to explore that through the games.
LD: What advice do you have for starting a company/video game company?
DAVE: I don’t know, aside from run away?
JANET: Don’t take out business loans.
DAVE: I think that’s one thing I really, I like being independent and I work harder than I need to in order to stay independent, ‘cause ask any boss I’ve ever had, I hate working for other people. I don’t like anyone telling me what to do even if it’s completely reasonable […] I just never liked working for people so getting a business loan or getting a partner or anything like that and having to answer to someone else just makes me feel all stressed out inside. I’m glad I never did that and I would recommend, that’s one thing I’m glad because we’re as flexible as we want to be. ‘Cause you don’t have anyone else to answer to. As for advice, try to be smart about it I mean have a little bit of a safety net, when I started I had six months of savings, I should’ve had more, things take longer than you think they’re gonna take. I was very lucky. […] Also, you will fail. The first couple of attempts, they’re not gonna be your successes or if they are they’re gonna be small successes. […] The best advice I can give is don’t start with the big idea, start with the smaller ideas first because then you can learn from them and you can do better on your next project. I think now, eight years in, I’m ready to tackle the big epic project that I’ve always had in my head. […] I made so many mistakes with my first game, it was a small game, it was tiny, took four months to make and I made all these mistakes while producing it, and if I had banked everything– if I had banked like three years worth of my life and money into that project and I hadn’t learned those lessons, that would’ve been bad. You definitely need to pay your dues and learn. Learn from your mistakes so you can make room for more mistakes.
For more Wadjet Eye, check out their website: http://www.wadjeteyegames.com/
Look out for their next game, “Blackwell Epiphany,” being released for PC this spring!