Hey Space Quest gamers!
In the following, you'll read an interview Michael Ecke and I did with none other than Scott Murphy these days. The purpose of it is to promote the SpaceVenture kickstarter campaign. And as long as you'll link it to tgakick.com and credit Michael and me for doing it, you can take it and post it at any site you want for free. It IS its purpose to promote the campaign, so feel free to use it for that. Please. Thanks guys! Enjoy the interview!
AN INTERVIEW WITH SCOTT MURPHY
by Michael Ecke and Christian Giegerich
It’s been seventeen years since we last saw them together: Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe, known by their loyal fans as THE TWO GUYS FROM ANDROMEDA. With the six-part Sci Fi Parody saga Space Quest for the legendary adventure software company Sierra they’ve written no less than computer gaming history between 1986 and 1995. Then, things go quiet around the two designers and their adorable semi-hero, space janitor Roger Wilco.
Now, at last Murphy and Crowe are back – with SpaceVenture, a new graphic adventure in the vein of the Space Quest series. But the comeback isn’t safe yet, for the Kickstarter campaign www.tgakick.com concerning the new game has still a few hours left and the amount hasn’t been reached yet. The future of SpaceVenture is in your hands. If you need any reasons for supporting SpaceVenture with a massive part of your pansion funds, have no fear. The following interview with Scott Murphy has them all.
First of all, what's it with you and janitors or craftsmen in general? What makes you turn to characters like Roger Wilco or Ace Hardway for your games instead of picking a more common science fiction protagonist?
Scott: Because they aren’t common. They are closer to everyman charcaters, and that lends itself more to humor, which is a very important element of our games. You aren’t a noble knight or prince or warrior. When we started Space Quest that was what all games were based on, and we wanted to make games that were the oppostite of the norm.
In SQ3, the Two Guys were abducted by the CEO of ScumSoft, a video game company where employees are being held captive in cubicles by whip-wielding slavers and forced to be creative. Was there any particular inspiration in the industry back then for this part of the story? What would ScumSoft look like if you had to rewrite it to fit the video game business today?
Scott: With all due respect to Ken Williams, who’s been so supportive of us, Sierra did inspire us to some degree. We just amped it up by a power of 50. We were packed into the metal building - or the Lube-N-Go as we called it – pretty tightly then. The company had grown quite a bit and we were like sardines in there, and his henchman Rick was more the inspiration for the catwalk trodding, whip-cracking character. In reality, he’d sneak in the door and hide behind the partitions and listen for anybody talking badly about management or complaining about anything else. He was truly a jerk. One of our co-workers knew when he’d be there and would carefully utter a codeword so we’d know, and we’d make things up or just shut up totally to mess with his ridiculous tactics. He made working there a lot less fun.
We added Ken because it was pretty much a tradition for us since SQ1. In some games you never saw him unless you typed the correct command into the parser. Oddly, both Ken and Rick brought visitors and sales people into my cubicle for me to show them that part of the game while it was still in development. Who’d be proud of that – other than Mark and I, of course?
Was Astro Chicken the original Angry Bird? What would Angry Birds Space look like if it had been made by ScumSoft?
Scott: I think you could say that. I know that bird made a lot of people angry, but many players have fond memories of Astro Chicken. We hear a lot about it. We’ve introduced Cluck Y’Egger for SpaceVenture and were getting a LOT of positive response from him – him being a rooster in this case.
And actually, Astro Chicken WAS made by ScumSoft when the Two Guys from Andromeda were unwillingly employed by them. That’s where the code was hidden for someone to hopefully find and rescue them.
What comes first when you work on a comedy game? Story or parody?
Scott: That’s a tough one. We had both in mind. I think it was story closely followed by the parodies. Mark and I did a lot of seat-of-the-pants design. That is to say that we’d pick a beginning and an ending acheivment for Roger. Then we’d come up with chunks of the in-between parts and work on them when we got bored and/or stumped in a design session. Mark would go to his computer to make graphics for what we’d come up with most recently and then start passing the art to me for programming. Once we got started the work would spawn more ideas. It was an unorthodoxed method that worked for us.
During the time you both created games together, you never had a fight. Scott, you said you never had a better partner than Mark. There's a distinct chemistry between you guys and it feels like you were born to work with each other. The way things took its course, however, SQ5 was made by Mark at Dynamix and SQ6 was finished up by Scott. Were there major problems you faced when you were creating games separately?
Scott: That’s true. Since we’d never had partners in that manner before Spae Quest we didn’t realize how special our work relationship was. When one was down the opther would pick things up. We never had serious disagreements. The worst would be me suggesting something that might have been a little too far out there and him laughing and saying, ’’No, I don’t thinkso!“ And the same for me with him. And we always agreed when management would complain about something. Ultimately we’d have to bend to their whims or just ignore them and hope they’d forget, which did happen, but we always supported each other. We were able to communicate a lot with many less words than other partners might need.
I knew nothing about SQ5 being done at Dynamix until a set of working disks showed up in the office of one of the producers in Oakhurst where I was working.
With SQ6, I was supposed to design it but while I was programming on another project that ran way late, it was given to someone else unbeknownst to me until it was well under way. When the original designer left in the middle of SQ6 I was handed the project to finish. It wasn’t fun or anyway near the same as doing the work with Mark. It sucked in many ways to have to finish someone else’s work, but there was a great team of artists and programmers in place fortunately, and that made things easier and a little more fun than it might have been.
Space Quest was probably at its strongest when you created a somewhat dark setting and then balanced it out with humour. Things that come to mind are pulling the plug on Vohaul’s life support system in SQ2 or the survival horror of being chased around Phleebhut by a killer cyborg in SQ3. Is a serious base necessary for comedy to work, much like Walt Disney’s creed “For every laugh there should be a tear”?
Scott: Exactly what we learned through the evolution of our games. You can be totally silly but it seems the contrast of dark and funny is more vivid and memorable. Establishing a mood or foundation and then havng fun on top of it can work very well. We tried to bring more of that with SQ4. Roger had a chance to face his future and that seemed to have a profound affect on players. In our survey, SQ4 came in just above SQ3 for their favorite of the series. Total slapstick, for instance, can be funny but bringing in human emotion really ups the impact of the gaming experience.
Considering the popularity of movie- and game-inspired animated gifs on social networks like tumblr, spoofing appears to be more popular and wide-spread than ever today. In modern games, however, comedy and parody in particular are very rarely seen, partly because companies are afraid of legal consequences. Do you feel that the industry has lost the ability to comment on itself?
Scott: Honestly, I don’t recall the industry ever having fun at its own expense that I can recall. I could be wrong about that. I took a bit of a break. One of the things we intended from day one was to not take ourselves seriously and to have fun at everyone’s expense, including our own. We intend to resume that. There is a lot of latitude and legal protection in parody. We never intended to portray the things we parodied in a bad manner, just to have some fun with them. We never used any specific intellectual property to sell our games, so we never tried to cash in on the success of what others had created. We just wanted to have fun, and fans responded positively from the first game.
One great thing you said you’re planning to bring back if your Kickstarter campaign succeeds is the parser. The new game will be a combination of point and click, but it will also be possible to enter commands directly using the keyboard. What's the main reason for you guys to bring it back?
Scott: When I was writing for the parser I had lots of things I could bury in it and people would have to be adventurous to find them. Some of it was kind of ’blue’ but if people didn’t have that sort of mind they’d never see it. You can’t do that with point-n-click, Having a hybrid where you can use the parser in specific situations gives me a chance to bury more fun responses again, something I miss greatly.
The Sierra brand of adventure games was a direct evolution of text adventures in the sense that they relied heavily on a charismatic narrator to fully flesh out each scene and event where technical limitations didn't allow for a more graphical approach to storytelling. To me, most Sierra games had more of a literary taste to them, while Lucasarts provided a more theatrical experience. What do you feel are the advantages of putting the narrator at the centre of the narrative? Are you planning on mixing these two approaches to storytelling, and if so, how?
Scott: Excellent points. To me, the narrator brings another brand of humor, another comic voice to the games. The hero has a limited pespective of his or her world. The narrator can speak to things the main character is oblivious of, or to have fun at the character’s expense. Interestingly, when I wrote narrator lines, just as with any dialogue I write, I have to have a voice in my head to speak them. Gary Owens was ALWAYS the narrator voice in my head from the first lines in SQ1. Yes, I always have voices in my head. J When we were fortunate enough to engage him for SQ’s 4 and 6 I was amazed, and it worked perfectly. Gary is amazing! We fully intend to do the same thing in SpaceVenture. The fans have spoken about their preference to this approach so we see no reason at least with this game to do anything differently. In the future we may take another approach with another style of adventure but this is our signature style for sci-fi comedy, and this is what current backers want. We want to give them that.
Lastly, what can the public expect from an all new SpaceVenture? What are your main targets for parody?
Scott: They can expect fun, travel and find all new ’people’ to meet! The main character is no hero, as usual, but he’s no Roger Wilco either. He works for himself and dreams of bigger things. Roger just wanted to take the path of least resistance. Ace Hardway is a private contractor. He has his own ship systems repair business and his own ship to travel in. He dreams a lot and has a more positive and assertive attitude about life. He also has a little sidekick, a robotic dog named Rooter, who also functions as a walking toolbox. We’ve already gotten great responses from the fans who’ve seen Mark’s awesome artwork so far.
We intend to have fun with a lot of recent and current sci-fi works, but we’ll also be respectful for the most part. No one is safe, but none of them will be hurt either. We have a great track record for treating the works of others with respect. We were far harder on Sierra and ourselves then anyone or anything else.
SpaceVenture Interview catalogue Ecke Giegerich ANSWERS.rtf