Throughout the late 80′s and 90′s, point and click adventure games defined PC gaming. While modern genre saturation has classified these well written puzzle solvers as considerably more niche, there was a time when they weren’t just a popular way to play, they were THE way to play. In 1984, Sierra Entertainment released King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown, the first in a point and click adventure series that dominated more than an decade of the genre.
All good things have to come to an end, though, and 1998′s King’s Quest VIII: The Mask of Eternity was the series’ final title to date. As PC gaming evolved there was fear that these classic gems may get left behind. Fortunately, the good people at AGD Interactive (Anonymous Game Developers), a non-profit group founded in 2001 by Britney Brimhall and Christopher Warren, set out to release enhanced versions of the King’s Quest games along with several other titles from that era. After publishing several successful remakes, the organization moved into commercial territory, forming their own shop, Himalaya Studios. After the successful release of their first original title, Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman’s Mine, and it’s sequel/spinoff, Postcards from Arizona, the studio moved on to an even more ambitious project.
Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements looks to not only continue the tradition of the point and click adventure game, but breath new life into the genre. Designed and written by Daniel Stacey, also of Himalaya, it thrusts you into the role of D’Arc, a young initiate with an inquisitive knack for magic. Summoned by four master mages, he must complete three tasks in order to earn the respect of his peers. These tasks, however, will not be easy.
Now entering the late stages of development, Himalaya has created a Kickstarter with the goal of enhancing Mage’s Initiation in as many ways as possible. After just two weeks, they’ve exceeded their $65,000 goal with over 1,850 backers and added a host of great stretch goals.
Last week, despite a 15.5 hour time difference, Stacey was good enough to sit down with me for a chat about what it’s like to work on a game like this.
How did you first get involved in game writing/design?
It had to do with my association with Himalaya back in the days before it was AGDI. They were doing a King’s Quest I remake and I threw my name in the hat to be a beta tester. While I was doing that, I reckoned that if they did King’s Quest II I could do something with that. I started putting ideas forward to them and it snowballed from there.
What do you think is the most challenging aspect of creating a game like Mage’s Initiation in the classic point and click style?
I was having a conversation with Chris [Warren] about this. We support the theory that good game design is 80% familiarity and 20% innovation. So it’s about balancing that, doing things people expect to see but also putting your own mark on it. That’s a good challenge. Constantly trying to find that balance is really important.
That was actually another question I wanted to ask you. Is there a tension between pushing the boundaries and staying true to the genre? Or have you found that there’s a middle ground?
I definitely think there’s a middle ground, and like I said it’s about finding a sweet spot between the two. You have to also weigh in the fact that people’s expectations change over time. You’re talking about the fans back then, who were playing these games as kids. Now they’re adults and maybe they expect a little more maturity in their stories, not that the old games weren’t mature in their own right – but perspectives have changed.
On a more general note, what was the goal with the transition from AGDI to Himalaya? Was it just meant to be a studio where you could produce original properties?
Yeah, basically. We wanted to create a commercial arm of AGDI where we could be recognized separately from the remakes we were doing. That seemed the most logical thing to do, to rebrand ourselves so we could focus on the commercial stuff. That’s really what we’re focused on now, too. I wouldn’t expect to see any more AGDI stuff in the future.
What’s different between the work you did on Himalaya’s previous title, Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman’ Mine, and what you’re doing now with Mage’s Initiation?
With Al Emmo, I didn’t create the story, but I wrote all of the text and dialogue. Mage’s Initiation is my baby. I’m a bit more protective about it as it all came out of my head.
Were there any big lessons you leaned during the process of developing both games?
Oh, a lot. Al Emmo was a very different game in that it was entirely comedy driven, which was an interesting experience. I prefer the way I’m doing things now, just using humor for comic relief and lightening tension and that sort of thing. The big lessons, I guess, come from pacing. With Al Emmo you can actually see us learning lessons as we were going with that. By the final act, it’s a really tight and well paced story. We came into Mage’s Initiation with the headset that things need to trundle along at a good rate.
Mage’s Initiation is Himalaya’s first Kickstarter project, what was the expectation when you set it up? Anxiety? Excitement? Both?
Oh definitely both. We came into Kickstarter with a lot of planning and preparation, looking at what other projects had done, what worked and didn’t work, and trying to capitalize on others’ experiences. So there was a huge level of excitement, but also stress and anticipation. Trying to get the timing right was a big deal for us. We have our fingers crossed, really.
Is there any particular aspect of Mage’s Initiation that you’re most proud of?
There are a number of things I’m really proud of. The way we’ve integrated the RPG components into the gameplay for one, and the fact that you don’t have to grind stats to get through the game. I think we’re doing something unique by having the four classes you can choose from still be mages. That’s sort of a self-serving thing. Every game I like to play a mage character, so I thought it couldn’t be more perfect if you could choose between a mage, a mage, a mage, and a mage. We’ve also used the elements, which isn’t a new concept, in a unique way as well.
I like the fact that the story, even though it works as a stand alone, is the first in a number of installments. There are a few planned sequels. It inspired me to keep writing more and more. I’m also really proud of how everything is coming together with the art and animation. It’s a real privilege to work with so many talented people.
Would you say that most of the gaming you do is in the classic point and click style? Or are there other types of games that you’re interested in and enjoy playing?
When I was growing up it was a lot of adventure games. I think that’s probably true of most of the fanbase. These days I enjoy RPGs including the odd massively multiplayer type, not so much now though. I’m really just interested in games that have good stories and are engaging and stuff like that. I’ve never really been interested in first person shooters or anything like that, but there are a few games outside of the adventure genre I’ve played just because they have really good stories. I think I went through the original Starcraft just because I was caught up in the narrative, not that I’m particularly good at RTS games.
I do try to keep up to date with all the latest adventure games that have come out, just to try to see what’s happening with the evolution of the design of the games. It’s interesting to see that, in a lot of ways, the old way of doing things is among the best ways of doing things.
Obviously you guys are pretty caught up in the Mage’s Initiation Kickstarter, but is there anything else that’s big on the horizon for you or Himalaya?
We’re in a conversation with Jim Walls [of the Police Quest series] at the moment because he’s toying with the idea of returning to adventure games with his own police-themed story. I think he’s sort of nutting things out on his end, figuring out the best direction. He’s considering us as an option to pursue that with.
I’d also certainly love to do a Mage’s Initiation sequel if the first one is well received. I’m quite looking forward to that. Beyond that, we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Where can people find out more about your work and Himalaya?
Thanks a lot, if your readers want to know more they can check out the following: