Adventure Gamers Interview

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In 2004, Emily Morganti from adventuregamers.com interviewed The Brothers Chaps and Jonathan Howe to learn about Peasant's Quest.

[edit] Transcript

Peasant's Quest caught us all by surprise. In July, what appeared to be a promo for a new adventure game started floating around the Internet. The 90-second ad showed screens reminiscent of the old Sierra AGI games and ended with a promise: This game would be released in August, 2004. Was this just a gag, or the real thing? Sure enough, a few weeks later Peasant's Quest appeared on Homestarrunner.com. For those of us with a weakness for text-parsers, mono-speaker sound, and heroes in short pants, Peasant's Quest was the most exciting release of the summer. Who are the masterminds behind this blast from the past? Read on and find out.

EMILY MORGANTI: Please introduce yourselves and explain your roles in the Peasant's Quest project.

MIKE CHAPMAN: I am called Mike Chapman. I did most of the background graphics and helped come up with the storyline.

MATT CHAPMAN: I'm Matt Chapman and I co-wrote Peasant's Quest and "drew" and animated most of the characters, monsters, animals and "sprites" if you will.

JONATHAN HOWE: I'm Jonathan Howe and I wrote most of what Matt didn't, and did all the Flash programming. It was also my responsibility to second-guess Matt's jokes as spelling or grammar mistakes.

EMILY MORGANTI: A lot of our readers had never visited your website before the release of Peasant's Quest. Could you tell us a bit about the site and how it got started?

MIKE CHAPMAN: Homestarrunner.com has been alive and sometimes kicking since January of 2000. It features lots of cartoons and not quite as many games. It is made mostly entirely by brothers Matt and Mike Chapman. Their pal Jonathan Howe helps make the games.

EMILY MORGANTI: Most adventure gamers are very nostalgic about the "good old days." Do you remember the first adventure game you ever played? Any fond memories you'd like to share?

MIKE CHAPMAN: King's Quest 1. King's Quest 2 was already out when I was introduced to the Sierra games in 1986(?) maybe, so after we won King's Quest 1, we jumped right into King's Quest 2. Then I think we played Black Cauldron. Man, those were some good games.

MATT CHAPMAN: Outside of text adventures, the first adventure game I ever played on PC was King's Quest 1. It taught me the word 'crotchety.' Later, when we played King's Quest 2, I remember being legitimately terrified while inside Dracula's castle. Like, I had nightmares in 16 color EGA.

JONATHAN HOWE: I remember Space Quest a lot because the humor was really important. Unfortunately I was a little too young to appreciate Maniac Mansion, lacking the essential patience for something that wasn't Yie Ar Kung-Fu. I think the first adventure game that really had me going was Indiana Jones—that it so closely followed the movie plot was, like, mind-blowingly cool. And I have black and white nightmares of Matt having nightmares.

EMILY MORGANTI: Peasant's Quest is obviously rooted in the tradition of the old Sierra games. Do you have a favorite Sierra game?

MATT CHAPMAN: I think Space Quest 2 is my all-time favorite. And I have a soft spot for Hero's Quest 2 a.k.a. Quest for Glory 2.

MIKE CHAPMAN: I liked Space Quest 1 best. I liked the room with the 3 big shiny red buttons on the floor. I don't know if they were buttons... maybe just lights. Anyway, they were some good graphics.

EMILY MORGANTI: The gaming industry is very different now than it was in the "golden days" when Sierra and LucasArts were turning out several adventures a year. Do you play modern adventure games? Do you have any feelings about the direction the industry has taken?

MIKE CHAPMAN: I play Zelda games. Do they count as adventure games? I miss the aforementioned "golden days." I never did finish Zak McKracken.

MATT CHAPMAN: I don't play a lot of PC games anymore except for old ones and classic games on emulator. I s'pose the Legend of Zelda games are the closest thing I play to adventure games these days, though those lean closer to the RPG side of things. I miss adventure games a lot. I wish they would use all this fancy new technology to make games that are more in the vein of Grim Fandango, Sam and Max, Full Throttle, Day of the Tentacle. I feel like that's back when LucasArts took the reins from Sierra. King's Quest 5 and 6 were okay, and I really liked Space Quest 4, but LucasArts really nailed the point-and-click interface back then. I wish LucasArts would make a 3D cel-shaded point-and-click adventure sequel to Zak McKracken in 2005. That would be hilarious. So anyways, if you know of any modern adventure games, lemme know cause I'd like to play 'em. I just don't see anything that even remotely resembles what I used to define as an "adventure game" anymore.

JONATHAN HOWE: I played through the demo of Longest Journey and I have to say I was a little disappointed that there wasn't much evolution. Then again, I played the Monkey Island port for PS2 and was rapt. I have a copy of the latest Broken Sword, but I am really good at getting games and then not opening 'em. I think it must feel better to acquire them than play them—I have a problem.

EMILY MORGANTI: Your site has a ton of cartoons, arcade games, and other time-wasters. Is Peasant's Quest your first adventure game?

MATT CHAPMAN: Technically, no. We have a text adventure called Thy Dungeonman 2 on our sister site www.videlectrix.com. It's a bit on the short side but pretty full-featured as text adventures go. So there's that. Oh, and Mike and I made an adventure game called Cave Quest when we were little that had gorgeous low-res Apple ][ C+ graphics.

JONATHAN HOWE: Please don't forget the seminal Thy Dungeonman which had over five rooms! (Six.)

EMILY MORGANTI: How did you come up with the idea for this game? I know that Trogdor starred in his own arcade-style game. Did you have plans all along to write an adventure game based in his world? Or did the idea for Peasant's Quest come later?

MIKE CHAPMAN: I don't remember exactly when the idea was hatched, but I can guarantee it wasn't something we had planned. We don't do much planning. The world of Trogdor and peasants and thatched-roof cottages just made sense for an adventure game.

MATT CHAPMAN: It mostly stemmed from a long-time want to make an AGI inspired game (in fact, there was an attempt to mimic the AGI style way back in the day on our games menu, you can see it here in our site museum). Then Jonathan did such a great job with the text-engine he wrote for Thy Dungeonman that we had to ask how hard it would be to couple that with graphics and animation. He said, "no problem." Though that became a bit of an understatement for all 3 of us as we got deeper into the project.

EMILY MORGANTI:Even before the game was released, the Peasant's Quest promo was making its rounds… and cracking a lot of people up. The promo was very 1980s. Was it modeled after anything in particular? Did you have to do any research to get the promo to feel right, or was it just based on what you remember of promos at the time?

MATT CHAPMAN: Our oldest brother Donnie used to read us ads and game promos from PC magazines back in like '82 and '83. There was definitely some of that in there. That was back before there were any marketing people involved in software whatsoever and it was so obvious it was just the same nerds who programmed the game pulling double duty writing game promos. So no research was needed, we're just lucky enough to have a backlog of cheesy video game advertisements in our head. That, and we watch a lot of reruns of Starcade.

JONATHAN HOWE: I still have uncomfortable flashbacks about that awful Starcade rap that one contestant did. Both Matt and Mike have it TiVo'd and they'll play it several times in a row if you bring it up. I shudder.

MIKE CHAPMAN: People seemed to like the promo so much, I was afraid they might be disappointed by the game. I don't think they were. Well, maybe one guy.

EMILY MORGANTI: The interface in Peasant's Quest is very similar to Sierra's AGI games, but it's browser-based. Did you use or modify any of the existing AGI tools (like AGI Studio) or was Peasant's Quest programmed from scratch?

MIKE CHAPMAN: Jonathan is the man. Programmed the whole thing from scratch. It was funny; about 3/4 of the way through the project, a fan sent us a Homestar-related adventure game they had made using one of those AGI thingies, which I had never heard of. I don't think any of us had. Anyway, we had a brief moment where we wondered if we had gone about this all the wrong way, but I think we ended up okay. I think being able to play it online was key for us.

JONATHAN HOWE: We knew about AGI Studio when we started and we talked about using it but it became a very high priority for us to not require any downloads or installation. Writing an engine in Flash allowed me to cheat a few things—I don't know how easily the climbing or archery mini-games would have been in AGI. Also, if you look carefully you'll note that we were not sticklers about preserving the original screen resolution and color palettes. Flash was great because it allowed us freedom to do what we wanted and I don't think the retro-parody suffered. Writing the engine was a little more involved than I had planned, though.

EMILY MORGANTI: Knowing that there are fans making AGI games, would you consider releasing the Peasant's Quest engine as open source?

JONATHAN HOWE: I can appreciate the reasoning behind open source, but I'm conflicted—quite frankly I would want to spend some time to clean it up and improve it before unleashing it on the masses; both from a pride-in-my-work perspective and a taking-responsibilities-for-messy-things-you've-done-that-theoretically-hurt-no-one-but-yourself vantage. And this takes time that right now would be better spent on making another game. Maybe I'll keep that more in mind the next time we make an adventure game.

EMILY MORGANTI: As far as I can tell, there's no standalone version of Peasant's Quest available for download. Was there any particular reason for this?

MATT CHAPMAN: Mostly just because of platform issues. More testing would have to go into making sure it would work on all machines and OSes. But in a browser, there's a lot less variables. Plus, Jonathan figured out how to let folks save their game so we figured we just keep it in the browser.

JONATHAN HOWE: If you have Netscape/Mozilla, it's pretty easy to deduce the swf name and do a "save as." So those who feel strongly about it can certainly save it to their machines, and the savegame stuff should still work.

EMILY MORGANTI: Your site had a loyal following long before this game came out. How has the response to the game been? Do you get the impression that most of your regular visitors "get" Peasant's Quest?

MIKE CHAPMAN: As far as I know people really liked it. I think most of the site's viewers have an appreciation/nostalgia for old video games.

MATT CHAPMAN: It's gotten a great response so far which has made us all feel pretty awesome. We definitely know that fans our age (late 20s early 30s) "get it." But it's cool to see that younger kids just plain like it. I think retro gaming is so prevalent and mainstream these days that younger kids have a better appreciation for this type of game.

JONATHAN HOWE: I love that as a frequent visitor of GameFaqs that there are a bunch of reviews and walkthroughs for Peasant's Quest up there. Another cool thing is that people will quote responses to particularly obscure commands like "dance" or "dan" with a bemused tone. I'll read the quote and think "that's pretty funny... did I write that or did Matt?" Matt can't remember either.

EMILY MORGANTI: According to your website, you support yourselves through sales of t-shirts and other merchandise. When can we expect some Rather Dashing toys?

MATT CHAPMAN: I wish. I'd want him to look just like he does in the game, a little pixelized action figure. I s'pose you could make your own out of Legos pretty easily. Unfortunately, the turnaround on toys is a bit long and pretty expensive. Peasant's Quest 8 would be out before any toys got made. A Rather Dashing or 'Scalding Lake' t-shirt isn't too far-fetched though. Man, now I really wanna go make me a Lego Rather Dashing.

MIKE CHAPMAN: I don't know about toys. Maybe a t-shirt. Who knows.

EMILY MORGANTI: In the weeks since Peasant's Quest came out, posts on various message boards suggest that most aspects of the game have been figured out… except for two things. What's the story with the naked guy? And can that second-to-last inventory slot EVER be filled?

MIKE CHAPMAN: The naked guy is just in there to give people something to talk about after they've won. I don't know what the deal with that empty slot is. I hear tell of it, but as far as I knew all the slots got filled. Maybe something disappears after it's used? I don't know.

JONATHAN HOWE: I'm too lazy to check but I think the penultimate slot is the map. There are no points for the map, so it's possible to get a perfect score without that slot filled, which is perhaps the confusion. The map turned out to be hard to find, I guess. Too bad, because it's kind of cool and you can even print it. Re: Naked guy: we wrote a detailed backstory, which we do for all of the game characters. We have it all on disc and we're going to license it to Bantam/Spectra for novelization by some ghost writers. It'll be awesome.

EMILY MORGANTI: Do you have any plans to do another adventure game? Maybe a Peasant's Quest sequel?

MIKE CHAPMAN: I hope so. Jonathan's the one to ask. It was a big project. I don't know if it'll be a Peasant's Quest sequel, or maybe set in another part of the Homestar world.

MATT CHAPMAN: We'll definitely make another adventure game someday. Probably not in the Peasant's Quest/Trogdor universe, though. We'll pick another genre or maybe make it featuring characters from our site. This game took us 6 months to complete though, so it'll be a while. Look for more arcadey type games in the meantime.

JONATHAN HOWE: I'm really excited about our next project; we have some other genres to exploit/sully before we return to the graphic adventure. But we'll be back.

EMILY MORGANTI: Our sincere thanks to the guys at homestarrunner.com for taking the time to answer our questions. If you haven't already, be sure you go play Peasant's Quest today!

© 1998-2005 AdventureGamers.com. Reprinted with permission.

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