Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

So, 2010 comes to a close and it's time for the usual Looking Back post.  It's been an interesting year!  Many changes, many lessons learned, and many things to look forward to.

Let's get the only "down" out of the way.  It came early and was over with quickly, with our publisher dropping our in-the-works project due to it not being casual enough.  While disappointing, it has proved to be a blessing in disguise. We are focusing more on the games we and our customers like, instead of what someone else says is popular.  While the security of having a publisher with deep pockets is missed, we're enjoying the freedom much more. We might work with a publisher again, but only if their goals coincide more directly with ours

2010 has also been the first year I can safely say "we" instead of "I" without sounding pretentious, since my wife Janet has joined me full time.  Our long-term project is something we're both very excited about.  It's something completely different from what we've been doing so far, but it's also a natural progression.  You'll probably hear more about that mid-late 2011.

2010 has marked our first release as a publisher, with Erin Robinson's Puzzle Bots. It's proved to be a  critical success, rocketing Erin to indie stardom.  I am extraordinarily proud of her, and am pleased to have had a small part in getting her there.  The game also secured a place on the Steam service, making it our first internally developed game to be accepted by them.

I've learned to accept my major weakness: PR and outreach.  In a nutshell, I suck at it.   So I bit the bullet and hired someone to help me with that.  Emily Morganti, former PR manager at Telltale and now working freelance, is helping us out and has become practically indispensable.

As for what's next?  We've got another game coming out in February, which we should be announcing in a few weeks.  Like Puzzle Bots, it was developed by somebody else and we were asked to sell it on their behalf.  We've spent the last several months adding voice acting and adding a few graphical improvements here and there.  It's a gorgeous piece of work, and it will probably be the biggest game we've released to date. 

Also coming in April is the fourth Blackwell game, which I've called Blackwell Deception.  I haven't announced it officially yet because I want the focus to be on the game we're publishing first.  Once that's released, you will be hearing lots more about Blackwell.

And after that?  Wait and see!  All-in-all, 2011 is already shaping up to be a very exciting year.  And it will mark our fifth year in business.

I couldn't have made it this far without any of you .  To those of you who followed me since my freeware days, to the loyal customers old and new, to my friends and family (and my sister's unborn twins!!), to all my colleagues in the biz - a big sloppy thank you.



Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday sale!

In case you missed it on Twitter, on the official website, or on facebook (yeesh when did I become a social networking hound?), we're having a holiday sale!  Until January 1st you can nab all three Blackwell games for $9.99.  Here's the official press release:

Wadjet Eye Games Announces Holiday Sale on Blackwell Mystery Game Series
Through Jaunary 1, get three great indie adventures for just $9.99 from

NEW YORK, December 20, 2010 – Independent developer and publisher Wadjet Eye Games is announcing a special holiday price for their Blackwell adventure game series. Now through January 1, the 3-game bundle is on sale for only $9.99—a 60% discount on the usual $24.99 price. The downloadable PC bundle, which contains The Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell Unbound, and The Blackwell Convergence, can be purchased from

The Blackwell games are atmospheric mystery games reminiscent of the “golden age” adventures from Sierra and LucasArts. When Rosa Blackwell’s only relative dies after languishing in a coma for twenty years, Rosa thinks the worst is over. Then Joey Mallone, a sardonic ghost from the 1930s, blows into her life and reveals that she is a spirit medium. As much as Rosa wants to turn her back on her family legacy, it’s now up to this unlikely pair to assist tortured souls and cure New York City’s supernatural ills, whether they like it or not.

The Blackwell games were created by a small indie team led by Wadjet Eye Games founder Dave Gilbert. Features include retro cartoon graphics, a point and click interface, voice acting, a fully orchestrated soundtrack, and unlockable extras such as concept art and voiceover blooper reels. The story-driven gameplay focuses on investigation, character interaction, and puzzle solving. Throughout each game, the playable character alternates between medium and spirit, with each character possessing unique abilities.

Since its debut in 2007, the Blackwell series has developed a cult following among adventure and casual gamers. This year The Blackwell Convergence won an “Aggie” award for Best Dramatic Writing. A fourth game, Blackwell Deception, will release in 2011.

To learn more about the Blackwell games, view screenshots and trailers, or purchase the bundle at the $9.99 holiday price, visit the Wadjet Eye Games website at

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Sorry for the delay between posts.  Been crunching on a project and there hasn't been a lot to talk about aside from "Woke up.  Turned on the computer.  Worked for 12 hours. Went to bed." 

I've entered the world of publishing a second time and am going to be publishing another developer's game, a la Puzzle Bots.  We'll be announcing it in January, so stay tuned.  It's looking pretty sweet.

But, to tide you over here's an old picture of me with pens in my ears:


Monday, November 8, 2010

Playing cupid

In one of my first entries on this blog, I wrote that I have become an expert on the location of every electrical outlet in all the cafes within a five block radius of my apartment.  As laptopping in cafes becomes more and more common (these days there are more cafe people with laptops than without), this knowledge is necessary for survival.  There's no worse feeling than lugging your laptop to a cafe, waiting in line, and then turning around with your drink to see that all the tables by the outlets are taken by other people.  Seats by the outlets are coveted positions, and nothing brings out the worst in people when others are doing the coveting.

Several months ago, I went into a local Starbucks and gleefully nabbed the last table by an outlet.  I ordered a coffee and bagel, set up my gear, plugged myself in and got to work.  Five minutes later, I heard an angry "Hey! Excuse me!" from in front of me.  I looked up, and there was a pert blonde lady in her late-twenties, looking down at me with daggers in her eyes. 

"I reserved that table," she said through a deepening frown. "It's mine."

I blinked and removed my headphones.  "Reserved?" I asked, genuinely confused.  "How?"  Could you actually do that?

"I put my jacket on the chair," she said.

I looked behind me and saw nothing.  "I don't see a jacket," I told her truthfully.

"Yeah, it's over there." She answered, and then pointed to a jacket - which was hanging off the chair of an entirely different table.  "See? It's right there." 

"Um," I replied, talking slowly and trying to find the right words. "That's not this table.  That's another table."

"Well, I *meant* it to be this one."  She retorted, as if it was obvious.  "So could you get up?"

I debated for maybe half a second. I looked around at the crowded cafe, where every table (bar the one with her jacket) was taken.
"Sorry," I said.  "If you wanted this table you should have put your jacket on this table."

Her eyes narrowed into slits. "You are SUCH a gentleman," she huffed. Then stormed over to the empty table to collect her jacket.  Just then a guy at another table waved at her and said "Hey, there's an outlet here.  I'm not using it. You can share this table with me, if you want." She looked at him, looked at her stuff, huffed again, and then reluctantly agreed.

Normally the story would end there, but today I went to the same cafe and I saw her again.  Not only that, but she was with the same guy!  They didn't recognize me (why would they?) but for some reason I recognized them.  I couldn't tell if they were a couple or not, but I'd like to think that they were.  That on that fateful day, they shared a table and made a connection.  That he hesitantly asked her out and she agreed, and after a short time love bloomed. 

Maybe they'll get married one day, and decades from now they'll tell their grandchildren about that jerk who enabled them to meet by not giving up his table.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Blackwell Guide to NYC

It is no coincidence that many of the Blackwell locations are places that I visit quite frequently, or places that I enjoy.   

Blackwell Legacy had Washington Square Park, which is a park very close to my apartment.  I pass through there almost every morning while walking the dog:

The dog in the image also looks suspiciously like my own.

Blackwell Unbound had Roosevelt Island.  I used to take walks there quite often, as the tram going over there was close to an improv club I used to go to. The improv club moved, so I don't make it over to Roosevelt Island as much as I used to.

This is my wife Janet, who is not in the game.

 And Blackwell Convergence had this awesome tree in Central Park, by the Gothic Bridge:

A few months ago, my wife and I took a walk on the High Line, an old elevated train track that was recently converted into a park.  It's become one of my favorite places to go, so it was inevitable that it would end up in Blackwell Deception:

Maybe I should write a Blackwell Tourist Guide.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Café people: Creepy sleeping guy

There were times - especially back before I was married - when my schedule was thrown hideously out of whack. I'd wake up at 3am, full of vim and vigor, strangely itching to work but not wanting to hang around the apartment.  So I'd walk the ten minutes to Union Square and enter a 24 hour Starbucks.  Late at night, it's like a different world.  I'd see drug addicts, drunks, late-night partiers just coming out of the nightclubs or bars, and yes - a homeless guy or two.  The staff would crank up the music to ridiculous levels in order to prevent patrons from falling asleep (which they did, often). 

My schedule is pretty normal these days, but if you ever play Blackwell Legacy or Blackwell Unbound, you can play them knowing that a good chunk was programmed while some frazzled drunk was at the next table, squinting at my screen and wondering what the heck I was doing.

Anyway, I was reminded of those carefree days when I entered one of my usual cafés this morning.  It was a Cosi's, one of several that are scattered downtown.  I went to this one because it is close to home and it was absolutely pouring rain outside.  The staff know me (I go a lot) and it has a wall-length window that gives an awesome view of the street.  The only problem is that there is only one decent electrical outlet.  If the table is free, it's a sweet spot to work.  It's tucked away in the corner and nobody bothers you.  For some reason, this table is usually free in the mornings when I show up.

So this morning I enter the cafe, drenched from the rain, and see that the table is free.  I make my way over, but then notice one small niggle.  The outlet was partially blocked by a chair - one of those big, faux leather things.  Normally not a big deal, as I'd just maneuver my electrical cord around the chair.  The problem was what was IN the chair - an overstuffed, scruffy, middle-aged guy in dirty clothes who was snoring away with his head slumped on his chest.  Next to him was a small coffee - evidentially purchased to justify his staying there - but he wasn't planning on drinking it any time soon.  The staff at the place were looking at him with distain, but were saying and doing nothing about it.  I asked one of the staff ladies, and she said that the "Manager said it was OK, since he bought a drink."  Like it or not, the guy was staying.

So, I had a choice.  One - I could go to the table and start working without plugging in my laptop, hoping the creepy guy would get up and leave before my battery ran dry. Two - I could actually WAKE the guy so I could move his chair and plug my cord in. Or Three - go back out into the torrential rain and go somewhere else. 

I took another look at the guy. He was starting to drool. My mind made up, I chose the third option.  I walked out into the drenching downpour and made my way to another place.  So I began my day significantly wetter, but significantly less creeped out.

What would you have done in this situation?


Saturday, September 11, 2010

From programmer art to final art

Hey, who remembers this?

One month ago, I showed off this lovely piece of programmer art for Blackwell Deception.  I drew it myself, using such high-tech drawing tools as a white piece of printer paper and a ballpoint pen.  I then scanned it into my computer and incorporated it into the game so I could program the basics of the location.  I made sure to add the words "This is a yacht" for the benefit of anyone unlucky enough to actually try it out. 

Eventually, Pepe (the background artist) took pity and did a preliminary sketch of the room:

It actually looks like a boat now!  Kinda.  You can faintly see Chelsea Piers in the background, which is where the boat is docked before setting off.   I greedily incorporated this sketch into the game so I wouldn't have to look at my own artwork.  Eventually, after several bouts of going back back and forth with the coloring, the final product emerged:

Overall, I am very happy with this.  It's the very first scene in the game, so I wanted to make a good impression.  There are clouds that drift by and a water reflection that shifts around.  When the boat starts moving there's a nice image of the George Washington Bridge that scrolls in the background.  Simple effects, but they do the job nicely.

Like with Convergence, I plan on releasing a free stand-alone demo to show off the game.  You should see this background (along with a few others) incorporated in that demo a month or two before release.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The iPhone question

In case you haven't heard, iPhone and Facebook games are, like, huge.  And whenever I am interviewed for an article or a website, or I get into a design discussion with a fellow gamedev, the question inevitably gets asked: "Dude, why don't you port your games to the iPhone or iPad or Facebook?" 

It's a reasonable question.  iPhone and iPad games are earning bagazillions of dollars.  For some, anyway.   But me?  I have no intention on going there.  At least not yet.  There are several reasons for this, which essentially boil down to:

1 - I am not a programmer by trade.  I muddle through by using middleware tools that are specifically geared to make my types of games (point-and-click adventure games) on the PC. There are no middleware tools for making these games on the iPhone.

2 - So there's no middleware.  Why don't I go and make some?  Well, yeah.  I guess I could, but that would cost quite a bit of time, effort and money. Not only that, but once the tools are made we'd have to completely program the games from scratch, which would also take quite a bit of time, effort and money.

3 - Even assuming I could manage #2, I would have to sell the game for 99 cents after spending all that time, effort and money. Which is absurd.

4 - As I said a few posts ago, I am a coward.  Even though I sell PC games, I earn enough to live on. It's asking a lot to risk everything for such an untested (for me ) market.  I like being able to pay my mortgage and eat.  I'd rather spend all that time, effort and money on something that's proven, rather than something I have no experience with.

5 - Couldn't I just make a small game to test the waters?  See #1 and #2.

So that's the gist of it. It seems perfectly logical to me, but whenever I voice these reasons I am met with skeptical looks.  Apparently I am crazy for not jumping on the bandwagon.  Do iPhone games mean instant success?  Certainly not.  Unless you are Apple, or a major developer, or extremely (extremely!) lucky, it's a gamble like everything else.

True, the PC market has been neglected while major developers move onto greener pastures, but it certainly isn't dead.  It's just hungry, and indies like us are in a good position to feed them.  The iPhone market doesn't need our help.  It is well-fed enough. 


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Context is everything

One of the great things about creating programmer art is that I can indulge my narcissistic desire to post screenshots without revealing anything at all of substance. 

What is this?  A wedge of cheese?  A network of caves?  A bad attempt at juggling?  There's no way to tell!

What is Joey so impressed by?  A blank wall?  The back of Rosa's head? Or something else?  What the heck is this room anyway? Thanks to my amazing art, THE MYSTERY REMAINS.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Coming up short?

Once in a while, a big indie game comes out to fantastic reviews but ends up being criticized for one specific something.  Then I take that specific something and talk about how it applies to my own work.  Last January I wrote about VVVVVV and how it was criticized for being $14.99, which led to my own thoughts about indie game pricing.

If you follow indie games, you might have heard of Limbo, a recent platform game available now on Xbox Live Arcade. It is deliciously atmospheric - you play a lonely little boy jumping his way through a minimalist black and white world that manages to be hauntingly beautiful without being pretentious.  Limbo has been universally praised by reviewers, but there has been one universal criticism: it's a little on the short side.

Like VVVVVV, this is a criticism that has been leveled at my own games more than once.  "The game is great - but it's too darn short!" the critics say.   To which I can only respond... "Well, you're right."  There's no denying it.  A typical Blackwell game can take you from 2-4 hours to complete if you are a hardcore adventure gamer.  Maybe 6-8 if you are more casual.  There are those who even play with a walkthrough handy on their first go-round, and they zip through it in no time at all - often faster than me!

So yeah, my internal games tend to be on the short side.  Why is that?  There are a lot of good reasons for short games - they don't overstay their welcome, people don't have as much time to play games these days, or simply because the game is better served by being a smaller experience (Portal is the game that is usually used as the best example of this).

But for me, the reason is simpler than that.  I am a trembling abject coward.

Read any indie developer blog and you'll often hear that they are "one flop away from going out of business."  As an indie developer, and an indie adventure game developer at that, I don't like those odds.  Adventure games are a tough sell even for mainstream AAA companies, and they have bigger marketing budgets than I do.  If I spend a year or more on just one game, spending lots of money and man-hours on it, only to have it sell poorly... well, that would be the last you hear of me. 

So... I tread carefully.  To make a game, a developer can spend money to pay someone to do the work, or spend time doing it him/herself.  If I spend more money, I will have to earn that money back.  If I spend more time, it's time that the game is not earning any money (which I will still have to earn back).  As a result, I tend to keep my games tight and lean - making them deep instead of broad.  So if I screw up and the game bombs, then it won't be too much of a financial burden for my little studio to bear.  I can just make another game and move on.

This is not to say that my games can't be long, epic works of grandeur..  It's just that they won't be long, epic works of grandeur yet.  As I've gained more customers and fans I have slowly increased the length of my games.  Convergence was easily longer than Unbound or Legacy, and the upcoming Deception is shaping up to be significantly longer than Convergence.  Baby steps, kids. Baby steps.

So to answer the question of "Why are my games on the short side?"  The simple answer for me is because I want to keep making games.  I love making these games. And, for some strange reason that I am eternally thankful for, enough people like them enough to spend their money on them so I can continue to do this full time and make more (even during these crazy economic times).  It's a great way to live, but there is always that little ever-present fear that it could all end if I am not smart.  I'd have to - gulp - get a real job.  And we can't have that.


This blog post is one in a series of posts for what we've called "Size Doesn't Matter Day."  For other blog posts on this topic, check out:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Placeholder art

The first placeholder art screen is a go!

Yes, this is a yacht.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Deception Design Diary #1: Where I try to expose a phony psychic

Those of you who follow my Facebook or Twitter feed probably already know that the next game in the Blackwell series - entitled Blackwell Deception - is underway.  Things are moving a bit slowly while I get the last few design issues sorted out, but I envision things to start taking off very soon.  I am aiming to get it done before Christmas, but I'm not going to officially announce a release date until I am sure.  This has been the first time in a long while that I've been able to design and produce something completely in-house without any distractions from a publisher, so it's very exciting.  I feel like I've got my indie cred back.  Anyway, I thought I'd start a design diary to talk about the ups and downs of making it. 

The Inspiration

A few years ago, I got a call from a friend.  She needed a favor, but was embarrassed to ask it.  To respect her privacy, I'm going to use a fake name and call her Cindy.  For around six months or so, Cindy had been seeing a psychic.  One of those storefront psychics that you see on every other block in this city.  At the time, she had been drifting a bit aimlessly, unsure about her career choices and her place in life, and the psychic totally took advantage of that.  The psychic told Cindy that her aura needed energy work, which cost about $200.  After Cindy paid this amount, the psychic said that she would immediately buy a special candle and meditate on it.  From there, Cindy just went deeper.  By the time Cindy wised up, she was about $5,000 in hock to the psychic.  Angry at herself, she decided that she was going to expose the scam and prevent the same thing from happening to others.

So, she called a news network.

The news network was interested, and they wanted someone to go in with a hidden camera and get footage of her defrauding someone.  Did Cindy know anyone who'd be willing to do that?  Yes, it turns out, Cindy did.  I had just finished the first Blackwell game and she knew I was interested in that kind of thing.  "I figured you'd think it was cool," I remember her saying.  She was right.

I met up with Cindy and the news crew and they affixed a button camera to my shirt.  It was pretty slick, even though it was a slightly different color than the other buttons.  "Don't worry," the news lady said. "You just look like a guy who doesn't care about his appearance."  Fair enough. 

So I went into the psychic's office to get defrauded.  She asked me a bunch of questions about my personal life and did something with tarot cards.  Sure enough, the psychic eventually told me that I needed energy work and it would cost $200.  I told her I'd think about it, and I left feeling proud of myself for getting it all on camera.  Unfortunately, my life as a spy was a short-lived one.  I had aimed the button camera one inch too far to the left, and ended up with 20 minutes footage of her wall.  James Bond I am not.

In the end the network decided not to pursue the story, but the experience opened my eyes to a subculture in New York that not many know about.  Cindy's story is not an isolated one.  Fortunately for her, she got out before any major damage was done.  She's now kicking butt and taking names in the self-esteem department. Others... are not so lucky.

The inspiration becomes a Blackwell story

In the years since this happened, it's stuck with me.  I would walk around the city and I would see one of those psychic storefronts and I'd flash back to what happened to Cindy and what the psychic attempted to do to me.  I have read reports of victims who got totally brainwashed by these psychics; giving over their life savings and breaking off from their families, simply because their psychics told them to.  They attract the kind of people who are confused or lost, and then milk them for all they are worth untill they are dry.

I knew there was a Blackwell story in this somewhere, and as I've seen more and more of these storefronts my imagination began to wander.  It's weird, I'd say to myself, there sure are a lot of them.  I know of four psychic storefronts in my neighborhood alone.  Move up towards midtown and you'll see them even more frequently.  They've all been in place for as long as I have lived here.  Even in this economy, they are still around.  How come major bars, restaurants, and shops - which have been in existence for 50 years or more! - are all going out of business left and right while all these parasitic phony psychics remain open?

Surely, I felt, they must be organized.  There must be some kind of unifying power behind them.   Something beyond the mere storefront.  Something even more sinister behind the scenes.  But what could it be?

I think Rosa and Joey are about to find out.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cafe Pick Me Up

Several months ago, someone suggested I do reports of the cafes I go to and rate them based on their "laptop friendliness".  I'm not sure if this is a good idea or not, but I can't think of a better place to start than this place.

As I wrote in my last entry, I tend to wander around more now that I just have to carry my notebook and pen.  And since I wander around quite a bit, I discover lots of new places around my neighborhood.  Usually I walk west towards Greenwich Village, but lately my feet have been pushing me east toward Alphabet City.

Most people are familiar with the number grid system of NYC.  If you hear the phrase "8th street between 5th Avenue and Broadway", something about it sounds very New York.  But there's a section of the city where the Avenues are given letters instead of numbers.  It's a small stretch of city in the far East Village, north of Houston and south of 14th street. It starts at Avenue A and goes to Avenue D.  Hence, Alphabet City.  I love wandering through there, as it's grungy and dirty and still has an old New York vibe despite the gentrification.

Anyway, last week I found myself checking out a cafe in Alphabet City.  It was a little indie place, which is unusual.  It had huge wall-length windows that were wide open, and several ceiling fans, so it was nice and ventilated despite the scorching heat.  I got a coffee and sat down and whipped out my notebook, where I whiled away an hour or two.

Normally I wouldn't mention this place at all, but I decided to go back the next day and I stupidly didn't have any cash on me.  They didn't take credit cards, so I asked where the nearest ATM was.  The woman at the register said "Eh, don't worry about it.  You were here yesterday.  I trust you."

So, yeah.  That's never happened before, and certainly not on my second visit.  Since they gave me a free cup of coffee, the least I can do is give the place a mention on this blog.  I've gone back several times since then and the place is definitely worth visiting.  It's called "Cafe Pick Me Up" and it's on the corner of Avenue A and 9th street.  It's laid-back and unpretentious, the staff is super friendly, and it's got a great view of the street.  As a bonus, the iced coffee is really tasty and comes in an actual glass, plus they've got an Italian menu that's even better (and wicked cheap!).  The gnocci is especially good. 

Anyway, to bring this blog post back on topic, they are very "laptop developer friendly", as they've got plenty of electrical outlets and will happily let you stay there for several hours as long as you order something. Their internet isn't free, but if you're looking to sit and work and not get distracted by web surfing, it's a great place to be.

So... who thinks this cafe review thing is a good idea?


Monday, July 19, 2010

Design mobility

So I'm in the midst of what I call the "design phase" of development.  For me, this is the most fun and also the most challenging part of the process.

On the one hand, I've got a lot of creative freedom.  I let my mind go nuts and my pen follows suit.  If what I come up with sucks or doesn't work, I just cross it out and start again.  It's quick, it's dirty, and it's very satisfying.  I think I have about a dozen notebooks of cross-outs and scribbles on my shelf.

On the other hand, I rarely feel like I'm accomplishing anything substantial.  During proper production, you have a list of tasks you need to accomplish and you get the satisfaction of ticking them off one by one.  You have a large goal that is broken up into smaller goals, and it's much easier to digest.

The design (or pre-production) stage isn't like that for me. I can't break up the game into smaller chunks, because I have no idea what the game is going to be.  It's some nebulous, insubstatial, raw thing that's floating out there in the ether.  So there are days where I feel great that I get to be all artsy and creative (this is fun), but there are days when I pound my head in frustration when I see that a whole day has gone by and I've only designed half-a-puzzle that I may or may not keep (this is not fun). Time is money, and all that.

But the biggest perk to the design phase?  I don't need my laptop.  No longer do I have to lug that thing around.  I just grab a working pen (usually two, just in case) and a notebook and off I go.  A laptop gives you great mobility, but a pen and notebook is even more so. 

In the last week, I've done design in the following places:

- on the subway
- Washington Square Park, while a live jazz band played
- on a bench overlooking the east river
- a park overlooking the Hudson river
- the back seat of a taxi
- the bathtub

So yeah, the design phase can get frustrating but it certainly has its moments.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Game talk

There's an interesting thread over on the Adventure Game Studio forum about how to handle large dialogs in adventure games.  The question is whether conversations that give lots of background detail on a character or event is important enough to include, even if it's optional.  Does it bloat the game?  Or does it enrich the game?

Dialog is something I have always struggled with.  Writing it comes easy enough for me, but should I?  I've found myself growing incessantly impatient with long dialogs in games, and unless the characters are engaging enough I simply skip through it.

Adventure games have it tough, especially indie ones.  If a company like Bioware wants to have a longish conversation in one of their games, they can usually get away with it.  They have production values, so we get all sorts of funky camera angles while the characters talk.  We get wide shots, close-ups, even pans and zooms.  The characters move. They gesture.  We can see their eyes and expressions, and so we get drawn deeper into what they are saying.  The fact that the conversations are usually well-written and engaging are just a bonus. 

Alas, little games like mine don't have this luxury.  Usually you have one screen and two characters standing there.  They talk.  And that's all you see.  The camera doesn't move.  The characters barely move.  Nothing happens, except the dialog.  Even if the conversation is an interesting one, it is bound to get boring for many players.

As I've written more games, I've found myself writing less and less dialog.  Or rather, each individual dialog exchange has gotten shorter and shorter.  It's very tempting to give your character gobs of words to say, especially if you think they are interesting.  And since the characters are interesting, obviously the player will want to spend some time listening to them talk and get to know them, right?

Meh... sort of.  It's taken me several games to learn this, but less is definitely more.  Games are all about interacting with the world.  Yes, you want to talk to the characters, but you also want to explore  and get on with the game (and meet more characters).   Yes, allow the player to chat with your characters, but try and keep it short. 

I am very guilty of this sin.  Inspired by the Adventure Game Studio thread, I went and skimmed through the dialog of The Blackwell Legacy.  And man, can those characters talk.  Here's a particularly evil example of what I'm talking about.  It's a long section of dialog which is made worse by the fact that Rosa is on the screen by herself.  She's on the phone talking to her boss:

Boss: Rosangelina. Hi.
Rosa: Hi Bob.
Boss: Thanks SO much for submitting your last review on time. For once.
Rosa: Yeah.
Boss: I got a little assignment for you today.
Rosa: Assignment?
Rosa: I just review books, Bob.
Boss: Well, today you're not.
Boss: Human interest, Blackwell. And it's RIGHT in your neighborhood.
Rosa: Human interest?
Boss: Yep. College girl. Suicide.
Rosa: Someone killed herself?
Boss: Yep. Some girl named... JoAnn.
Rosa: That's-
Boss: You know the Britany House? The NYU dorm?
Rosa: Yes, but-
Boss: Great! Head over to the dorm and get a few statements.
Rosa: But-
Boss: Speak to some people on her floor. Get a word in with the roommate.
Rosa: Listen-
Boss: Speak to the R.A., too. And hey, if you can score a picture of the girl, that would be a real coup.
Rosa: But I don't do that stuff!
Boss: Like I said, today you ARE.
Boss: Jared's over at city hall covering that strike.
Boss: So you're it.
Rosa: Today is not the best-
Boss: Not hearing you.
Boss: Write it up for tomorrow's edition.
Boss: Pressures of college life, etc.
Boss: It practically writes itself.
Rosa: Wait-
Boss: I'm SO looking forward to reading it, Blackwell.
Boss: Ciao!

(hangs up)

Rosa: I hate him so much.
Rosa: Is freelancing for that stupid paper even worth it?
Rosa: I guess it keeps me writing, but...
Rosa: Oh, whatever.
Rosa: I'll just go over there and get it done.
Rosa: It's not like I don't have enough death in my life right now.
So hm.  Let's count those lines, shall we?  1..2...3... 41 lines!  41 lines to tell the player they need to go to a location and ask some questions about a girl, and to grab a picture while there.  41 lines of zero player interactivity.  41 lines of Rosa standing there on the screen with a phone to her ear. 

I'm not knocking the dialog.  I like the dialog.  But hey, I'm a bit biased.  However, I can't deny that it could have been much shorter.  So as a little writing exercise, I decided to see if I could edit it down:
Boss: Rosangelina. Hi.
Rosa: Hi Bob.
Boss: I got a little assignment for you today.
Rosa: Assignment?
Boss: Human interest, Blackwell. Suicide. A college girl named JoAnn Sherman.
Rosa: That's awful, but-
Boss: You know the Britany House? The NYU dorm?
Rosa: Yes, but-
Boss: Great! Head over to the dorm and get a few statements.
Rosa: But-
Boss: Speak to some people on her floor. Get a word in with the roommate.
Rosa: Listen-
Boss: Speak to the R.A., too. And hey, see if you can score a picture of the girl.
Rosa: But I don't do that stuff! I write book reviews.
Boss: Versatility, Blackwell. That's you make it in this biz.
Boss: Get cracking.

(hangs up)
Rosa: I hate him so much.

Count 'em.  It's now 17 lines instead of the previous 41. It's shorter, snappier, and gives you the exact same information.  I probably could have cut it down further by removing all of Rosa's interjections of "But!" and "Listen!", but they show Rosa's reluctance nicely and made the dialog flow a lot more naturally. This is how I probably would've written this exchange today. 

I have no plans on releasing a "cut down dialog" edition of Blackwell Legacy, but it begs the question.  How do you feel about long dialogs in games?  Do you enjoy them?  Skip through them?  Did you play Blackwell Legacy and ever cry out "God, do these people ever shut up?"  Please comment and let me know.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Wi-fi is everywhere

Cafes and laptops go well together.  There's something about tapping away on a sleek little machine while sipping a drink in the intellectual surroundings of a cafe that appeals to a lot of people.  You only have to peek into a Starbucks or a Cosi's or a Think to see that thousands of others feel the same.  Which is why many cafes offer free wi-fi in order to bring people in.

Wi-fi in cafes I understand.  Wi-fi in some other places... well, it just baffles me.

About six months ago, a burger joint opened up around the corner from me.  I've eaten there.  It's pretty good.  Eating a burger in a burger joint makes sense.  What doesn't make sense is the sign in their window that proudly displays the words "FREE WI-FI!"  I read this and was instantly baffled.  Surfing the web while drinking a double mocha latte?  Sure!  Surfing while munching on a burger?  How does that work?  Wouldn't you get grease everywhere?

I've noticed free wi-fi being offered in bars and diners, too.  I guess it makes a kind of sense, although I have yet to see many people taking advantage of it.  Maybe I should try working in one of those places one day.  In the name of research.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

More programmer art

You might have noticed the programmer art I posted yesterday.  It happens that Ron Gilbert (no relation) of LucasArts fame also posted some programmer art on his blog.  So in the interests of keeping up with my fellow Gilberts, here are some more of my attempts at programmer art from my previous games.

The Minetta in Blackwell Convergence:

At one point looked like this:

And the construction site in Blackwell Unbound:

Looked a little something like this:

And let's not forget my first attempts at Rosa and Joey:

Maybe I should have kept Joey's original design. Who wouldn't want a ghost slug as a sidekick?


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Post release philosophy

With all the twittering and Facebooking I do, it's hard to come up with interesting things to write about.  Puzzle Bots came out a few weeks ago.  And in case you haven't heard, it's awesome and stuff.  So you should check it out.

And as I often do after a release, I tend to get a little philosophical.  This is the sixth game that we've completed since we started this studio in 2006, and man have things changed.  And by "changed" I don't mean myself.  When I started, there were very few people doing this kind of thing.  But now?  The entire indie gaming scene has taken off like a howitzer blitz.  Everyone's talking about it.  Mainstream gaming websites and media outlets now dedicate a good chunk of their time to indie games.  The IGF has become a force to be reckoned with.  Game conventions normally reserved for the biggest high-budget console titles (like E3 and PAX) now have indie game booths and they are packed to the gills and swarmed with press.  There are major websites and web TV programs (including the fabulous Bytejacker) dedicated to the subject.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  I could go on, but you get the idea.  It's pretty darn amazing.

As for me?  I'm still that guy in the cafe.  Drinking coffee, plinking away at a laptop keyboard, and somehow ending up with a game at the end of it.  The way I work hasn't changed all that much.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.

So what's next for us?  Janet and I are working on a new project, but there's very little to show so we're keeping mum about it for now.  It's very much a "back to our roots" kind of thing, but it's also something very new.  I DO have some truly epic programmer art, done by me, which you can see right here:

I wonder if the game would sell more if it looked like this.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

I approve...

... of Matt Smith as Doctor Who.

(and I'll have a real update soon)

Monday, March 1, 2010

My life in limerick form

Hi all!  I'm desperately trying to get Puzzle Bots to beta before the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.  In lieu of a normal update, I thought I'd share a silly limerick I wrote several years ago about my life as a game developer:

Here’s how my time is spent.
While I’m in development.
I seek out inspiration
and maintain motivation
and just hope that it pays the rent.

It starts with writing a doc
That’s solid and tight as a rock
All items common and rare
They are all written there
‘lest anarchy come by and knock

Once the design is complete and computed
The team members must be recruited
For if it were all done by me
Nasty things you would see
‘cuz it would all come out convoluted

Then we all get right down to work
We do our jobs and we’ll never shirk
Pixels are dutifully slammed
The game’s mostly programmed
And hopefully no one’s a jerk

After ages of blood, tears and sweat
It’s complete, but it’s not over yet!
Heed the words I am telling
For now starts the selling
Lots of money we hope we shall get

The PR work is never much fun
But on its shoulders a business is run
Marketing Rosa or Stone
Is a whole different poem
So I that believe this ditty… is done!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

So what the heck is a "wadjet" anyway?

Several months ago, I sought the advice of marketing and PR people since I know virtually nothing about the subject myself.  A common thread among their advice was that I should give serious consideration to changing the name of my company.

I have to admit, this is something that I've considered more than once.  "Wadjet Eye Games" was not the best of choices.  It's hard to spell, hard to pronounce, and it has nothing to do with games.  It should have been obvious that the name was iffy when I was nominated for a Game Developer's Choice award in 2007 and the committee completely butchered the name at the award's ceremony.

So why did I give my company this name in the first place?

When I was a kid, I had a brief obsession with Egyptian myths.  I read as many as I could get my hands on, and in doing so I came across the symbol of the wadjet eye.  I thought it was the coolest looking thing ever, and I knew that if I ever needed a logo for anything I would use the wadjet eye.

Flash forward twenty years later.  It was October of 2006 and I wanted to announce my first game.  I was on the internet, fingers poised over a keyboard, the screen locked onto the domain registration page of  In order to announce the game, I needed a website.  And in order to register a website, I needed a name for my company.  I had been thinking and wrecking my brain for several weeks, but nothing was coming.  I had to choose something and now. 

Then, it struck me.  I always knew that I would use the wadjet eye symbol as my company's logo, so why not just use that for the company name?  The decision made, I typed "" into the registration field, entered my credit card info, hit "confirm", and bam.

Four years later, marketing professionals are telling me that I should change the name.  I thought about it long and hard.  I even posted a thread on about it, asking what other folks thought.  But, really, the point is moot. 

Would changing it now magically make me super successful?  Probably not.  I've already developed five games (soon to be six!) under the Wadjet Eye Games banner, so there's little point in changing it now. It would do me much more harm than good.  And honestly? I like the name.

So the name is here to stay! But if you could spread the word that it's spelled with a "J" and not a "G", my google searches would be eternally grateful.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

10 things I've learned from working in cafes:

As I've posted before, I've been doing the laptop cafe thing for awhile.  Here are a few little bits of wisdom I've picked up.  Use them wisely.

10 - It's impossible to sound masculine when ordering a latte.

9 - If you have to answer a call of nature, bring your laptop with you.  If you ask someone to watch it for you, they will always say yes before promptly forgetting about it.

8 - The girl smiling and cooing at her computer screen is talking to her boyfriend on skype.

7 - Get there before 9:30 AM if you want any hope of getting a table near an outlet.

6 - You can coast in a cafe all day on one cup of coffee, but it won't make you well-liked by the staff.

5 - People might look like they are doing important things on their laptops, but half of them are just updating their facebook status.

4 - Free wifi sounds like mana from heaven, but in a crowded cafe (with dozens of laptops) you might as well be on 300 baud dialup.

3 - The people you think are weird are thinking that you are just as weird.

2 - Nobody actually cares what you are doing on your laptop, no matter how interesting you think it is.

1 - Rainy days + warm cafe + sweet jazz music = best work environment ever.

Friday, January 29, 2010

My thoughts on indie game pricing

So, there's been some interesting news in the Indie game scene lately.  The controversy, such as it is, got kickstarted with the release of a game by Distractionware entitled VVVVVV (that's 6 V's, all in a row).  The game looks unabashedly old-skool with blocky Atari 2600-like graphics.  The game mechanic is interesting (you get around by flipping gravity), the levels are very challenging, and the soundtrack is this awesome pumping techno music that puts you just in the right mood.  It's hecka fun.  The issue?  The game is made in Flash, it lasts around 3-4 hours, and costs $15.

Nobody is denying that the game is interesting, but there are wildly differing opinions on the price.  An article on the Escapist says that it's way too expensive, and an on-the-spot sarcastic comic offers tips on how to afford it.  The argument seems to be that Distractionware is hurting themselves by pricing the game too high, and that a lot more people would buy the game if it were $5 instead of $15. The opposing argument is that $15 is not really that much and indie games are too cheap in general.

As someone who has been on the brunt-end of this argument before, I thought I'd offer my perspective. I've always had a lot of difficulty knowing what to charge.  With a film, it's easy.  It could be a multi-million dollar blockbuster or a ten-thousand dollar indie film, but you'll still plunk down the same amount of cash to see both in the cinema (FYI: movies cost $12 in New York) .  Games are different.  There are so many different kinds of games that no set price could ever be agreed on.

So, I experimented.  My first game, The Shivah, was only $5.  My second game, Blackwell Legacy, was $15.  When I released Blackwell Unbound, I decided to sell it for $10.  Mostly I was just experimenting to see what worked, but some thought also went into how much money I spent producing them (Unbound cost significantly less to make than Legacy).  When the time came to set the price for Convergence, I took a look at how well my previous games sold at certain prices and tried to reach some conclusions.

The argument about cheaper prices is usually that "if the game is cheaper, more people will buy it."  This is definitely true.  Unbound definitely sold more than Legacy.  But while Unbound cost 1/3 less, it certainly did not sell 1/3 more in order to make up for the drop in price.  The lower price was earning me less money.  So based on that, I decided that $15 was the "sweet spot" for my new games, and $10 was a good price for the older ones.

Of course, I don't know much about business and I could be completely wrong.  There are probably many factors I have not considered, but it's been working out pretty well so far. As for VVVVVV (and other games like it), if $15 works well for you, then resist lowering it by all means!  We want you to stay fed and happy so you can make more awesome games.

Anyone else have their own thoughts on this issue?  Agree? Disagree?  Comment and let me know!

Till next time,


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Single player games as a social activity?

A few years ago, my friend Brandon and I were chatting about games.  More specifically, games that took place in New York.  I remembered hearing about a game called "True Crime: Streets of New York" for the original XBOX.  It was a GTA-like urban sandbox game, where you played a cop who went on various missions around the city.  It had been out for awhile, and it was reviewed very poorly, but from what I read it was very faithful in re-creating the streets of Manhattan in virtual form.  Sure enough, a week later, Brandon found a copy of the game in a bargain bin for 5 bucks and brought it over to my apartment.

After getting through the tutorial, our avatar was walking through a last-gen version of Times Square.  Without wasting a minute, we nabbed a car and drove our character downtown through Union Square and into the East Village.  Soon enough, we were walking through my neighborhood, looking at my apartment building as depicted in the game.  There was something very zen about the experience, but that didn't stop Brandon from selecting grenades from the character's inventory and start fire-bombing my apartment building. 

A few hours later the novelty of wandering through (and blowing up various pieces of) virtual New York had worn off.  The game was as buggy and rough as the reviews said it was, but it still remains one of the more memorable experiences in gaming for me.  Why?  Because for the first time in my life I was playing a game with another person.  Brandon and I both remember that moment and laugh. 

I've been playing video games since the Atari 2600 lumbered its' way out of the primordial ooze and heaved itself onto store shelves.  It's a hobby I've enjoyed all of my life, but there's one thing about it that you can't deny.  It's a very solitary one.  Sure, there are two player games, but most mainstream console games are made with a single player in mind.  Even social MMOs like World of Warcraft require that the player be sitting by him/herself at the keyboard.

Lately, I've discovered the joy of playing games with other people.  I recently went to a gaming meetup, where every month a group of people play through "Shadow of the Colossus".  I went to it wondering how it was going to be handled.  Do we take turns?  Do we each take down one Colossus (there are 16 in the game)?  In actuality, it was a very laid-back and loose affair, where people who wanted to play would play and the rest of us would just watch and make funny comments.  It was a total social thing, and I had a great time.  Something I never thought I would experience while playing a single-player game.

Honestly, I'm not sure of the point I'm trying to make here.  I just think it's great that video gaming - once considered the past-time of pale shut-ins, has become much more widely accepted.  Does anyone else have memorable moments like these?  Do share 'em!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Cafe people: Angry phone lady

One of my regular cafés is a place called "Cosi's".  There are quite a few Cosi's in New York, but they seem to concentrate downtown where you get a lot of students.  I like Cosi's because you can order food and they bring it to your table like you are in a real restaurant.

If you go to a place often enough you begin to recognize certain people.  Some are just faces, while others are a bit more... eccentric.

Whenever I enter this café, I always see the same woman.  A middle-aged, heavy-set, black woman with a permanent scowl.  She stomps in carting a massive suitcase on wheels and maneuvers her way to a booth in the corner.  Once there, she heaves the suitcase onto the seat opposite her and sits down.  She grabs a coffee and then proceeds to mumble angrily into a headset phone.  For the entire day.

And when I say the entire day, I mean the entire day.

Now, there are days when I get to the café at 9am and don't leave until the late afternoon.  There are days when I don't leave until six or seven.  But this woman?  She's still there.  She's still talking into her headset phone, she's still looking angry, and that massive suitcase is still on the seat next to her.  I first thought she was some kind of homeless lady, but her clothes always look clean and she's not dirty or anything.  I've seen enough sleeping weirdos in cafés to tell the difference.

After three years of seeing her in action, I still wonder.  What the heck is she doing?  And why does she need so much stuff to do it with?  I suppose I could just walk up and ask her, but hey.  This is New York. You don't do that kind of thing.  Perhaps one day she'll end up in one of my games.  If so, you heard it here first.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

The cafe lifestyle

I mentioned in my first post how I generally write my games from various cafés in New York.  This practice started with in 2006 and continues now.

At the time, I did it because I was between jobs and I wanted to feel like I was really working, so I'd pack up the laptop and bring it to a café in Tribeca (an area of NYC which is short for "triangle below Canal").  I'd plop down, order a latte, boot up the laptop, and then type type away on The Shivah.  For a solid month, I'd be there by 9am and leave sometime in the later afternoon.  The place had food, so I was able to nab lunch when I wanted it.  When I finished the game I figured it was a neat way to work, so I kept doing it.

In the four years since then, I've worked on games in all sorts of different coffee joints.  Most are your average Starbucks, others are New York based chains, and some are unique privately owned indie cafés (which there are less and less of, lately).  I tend to choose different cafés depending what my needs and mood are that day.  They all have something different to offer. Some have food, others have free wifi, and others have more convenient electrical outlets. I've actually become an expert on the location of every electrical outlet in every café with a five block radius of my apartment.  

Lately, more and more people have adapted to this café lifestyle.  I used to be the only nerd in a Starbucks with a laptop, but now it's hard to find a café-goer without one.  I see people writing papers, working on resumes, updating spreadsheets, or just surfing the internet.  I've seen a group of men in suits gathered around a café table, hunched over their laptops, discussing what appeared to be a high-powered business stuff.  I once saw a dentist examining 3D models of his patients' teeth!  The sheer amount of productivity that goes on in these places is mindboggling.

Earlier this year, the crowds temporarily drove me out of the cafés and I actually rented a cubicle in an office.  I gave it up in a few months.  Despite the crowds, the café lifestyle suits me.


Friday, January 1, 2010

A new year, a new decade, and a new blog!

Hello and happy new year!  Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Dave Gilbert, and I've been running a small indie game studio for almost four years now.  My studio is basically a laptop, which I lug around to various cafes in New York City.  Most of the games you'll see from me have been written and programmed from cafes, from the zero budget Shivah to the higher-budgeted Emerald City Confidential

I am not all that new to the blog scene, as I used to write ad nasuem about my life on my old personal website, but maintaining the wordpress software became too much of a bother.  You've got to keep it updated or it gets attacked by spyware, and it was too easy to let it slide.  So I've decided to move house and set up camp here on Blogspot.  The Blogspot site is hosting my stuff and the system gets updated automatically, so I don't have to bother doing it myself!  Delegation, baby. That's the key to success.

Anyway, back on track. It's been said that indies like me are bottom feeders, taking the crumbs that the big developers miss.  And while a few games like World of Goo and Braid have reached major mainstream success, there is some truth to that analogy.  We don't do this for the buckets of cash, but because we love it.  Myself, I count myself as one of the lucky "bottom feeders" who have managed to eek out a living doing this full time.  I'm not rich by any means, but I've somehow managed to keep this company going even during these Dark Economic Times, so apparently I'm doing something right.

Like most indie developers I have many opinions on games, game development, and anything in between.  As time goes on I plan on talking about the New York game scene, funny things that occur while working in cafes, and my own thoughts about the games I (and others) make.  I also hope to offer some insight or tips for fans or other aspiring indie game developers.  I'm a total moron, so if I can do it anybody can.

Thanks for reading this far!