The first chapter of adventure game series The Journey Down
was released as a freeware download back in 2010, and quickly gathered praise thanks to its engaging story and gameplay that harked back to point-and-clickers of old.
The game managed to capture a real 1990s LucasArts adventure game feel, from simply left-clicking to guide characters Bwana and Kito around, to combining inventory items to further the story, and was developed entirely by one man, developer Theodor Waern.
However, instead of continuing on with the story, Waern had other plans. Nearly two years later, he has re-released the first chapter along with his Sweden-based team SkyGoblin. This time around the title has HD visuals, full voice-acting and more content -- plus a price tag.
"During the entire production of the low-res version of The Journey Down
, I had a gnawing feeling that I wasn't really doing the artwork justice by squeezing it down to the low resolution I did, but I didn't really have a choice," explains Waern to Gamasutra.
"Making it low-res to begin with was an incredibly convenient way of shrinking the scope of the project, and also added a nice retro-appeal that I knew would cater well to the genre's hard-core audience. So going low-res to start with was really the only realistic alternative for a one man team."
The completion of development on the original release was followed by a twist for Waern. "I was so relieved that I wound up getting my fiance pregnant," he laughs. "POFF
- all my free-time for working on The Journey Down
went up in smoke."
The only way that he could see development on the series continuing was if he made it his day job. Hence, he turned to his partners in crime at SkyGoblin.
"I've been running SkyGoblin with my three other colleagues for well over five years now, so we've got a well honed work flow and process that was just waiting to be used for some new cool project," he notes. "My obvious choice was to pitch the project to the rest of the SkyGoblin team, and to ask them to take it on as our next major title. Somehow I convinced them, and here we are today, happily chomping away at Chapter Two of The Journey Down
The original release was built using the popular Adventure Game Studio -- however, when it came to The Journey Down HD
, Waern quickly realized that the engine's limitations would be an issue.
"The toolkit is primarily designed for games of lower resolutions and also currently only supports compiling to PC," he tells us. "We did some own patching up of the AGS engine to begin with and added support for higher resolutions but we wound up realizing that there was still too much voodoo going on behind the curtains that we couldn't control."
Hence, the team built its own toolkit from scratch. GobEd, as it's known, runs in the studio's own Gobby engine, which was built for one specific purpose -- to make The Journey Down HD
work on as many platforms as possible. Chapter 1 is currently available on PC, Max and Linux, with iOS and Android versions on the way later this year.
"This would never have been possible with the current version of AGS," notes Waern, adding, "Another great thing with building our own tech is that we have been able to streamline the engine performance-wise and the editor, workflow wise for our specific TJD
purposes. This has made working with the game an incredibly smooth and easy experience. Good streamlined tools make all the difference."
In the meantime, SkyGoblin has decided to keep the free version of Chapter 1 up for download. In fact, it even has its own tab on the official website for the game. Why is the studio keeping it up for grabs when it features much of the same game they're trying to sell?
"Most of all because we love it and want to share it with as many people as possible," answers Waern. "Frankly, it's a great game, and I never intended to make any money off of it. I want anyone to have a chance to check it out."
He admits, "In the beginning we were a little skeptical about having it around, thinking some people may simply only play the free low-res original and then wait for chapter two, instead of actually purchasing our HD Chapter One. We believe now though that we've added enough new neat stuff to the first chapter to warrant a purchase even by those who have already taken the first journey, albeit in low-res."
He adds, "I like to think that people will want to support the development and pay up for Chapter One, even though they've already played it once, for free."
Turning to the recent re-emergence of point-and-click adventure games -- with such upcoming titles as Resonance
and Double Fine Adventure
-- Waern is wary of being a small fry in a sea full of big names.
"There's certainly a market for all big names with a previous point and click track-record, the past few months have certainly shown us that," he says. "Is there a market for a point and click game from a newcomer underdog? I really can't tell."
"We drown among all the Jensens, Schafers and Gilberts that are now dominating the adventure game spotlight," he continues. "People are throwing so much money on these guys it's insane. Is anyone going to part with their cash on some unknown newcomer instead of playing it safe and going with veterans of yore?"