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Making of Flight of the Amazon Queen - A 20th Anniversary Retrospective

An insight into how the classic point and click graphic adventure Flight of the Amazon Queen was made 20 years after its release. Originally published on http://passfieldgames.blogspot.com.au

This year is the 20th Anniversary of Flight of the Amazon Queen.

I began work on Flight of the Amazon Queen 24 years ago in 1991. It took almost four years to make the game and release it to market in 1995. 

That journey taught me how to build an adventure game - I coded a game engine, wrote scripts, built editors and designed puzzles. When Amazon Queen finally came out the sense of relief and achievement was tempered with the feeling that I had taken far longer than the folks at LucasFilm to create a graphic adventure. 

Amazon Queen was made by 3 people with a minuscule budget - myself, Steve Stamatiadis with Tony Ball who ported the game from the Amiga to the PC, translating my AMOS code to C, line by line. 

Looking back on it all, I think we did okay with what we had. 

We also had help from some amazing people. 

The folks at publisher Renegade - Eric Matthews, Tom Watson, Abby Hains, Dan Thompson and our producer Graeme Boxall, believed in us and gave us the chance to show the world what we could do. 

The game was also enhanced by the amazing music of the late Richard Joseph and the voice direction of Ben Baird - as well as the great cast including Penelope Keith, Enn Reitel, Tom Hill, Debbie Arnold, Lisa Valdez and the late Bill Hootkins and Brad Lavelle. 

In the Beginning

As a kid I was a computer nerd. I had made games when I was in high school during the eighties and managed to sell two of them - a clone of the classic Sega arcade game Pengo that I naively called Chilly Willy, and an original platform shooter inspired by Ghostbusters that I called Halloween Harry. Being an Australian and selling into the local market, fortunes were not made, so I went to university and got a computer science degree.

After graduation I started work at a telecommunications company as a programmer and hated it. The work was so mind numbingly boring that it destroyed my love for computers and I sought solace in writing and drawing comics.

It was at the local comic shop run by my good friend John Barry that I was introduced to a comic artist who loved computers. Steve Stamatiadis had an Amiga computer and ambitions to make a game. When he learned about the games I had made in high school he suggested we remake Halloween Harry.

I had fallen out of love with computers and resisted the idea, but seeing the Amiga rekindled my love. 

To be brief, I bought an Amiga, we started to make a game, I quit my job and our first company, Interactive Binary Illusions, was born! 

 

Halloween Harry, released in 1993.

Published as Alien Carnage by Apogee.

Ron Gilbert’s Monkey Island

While we were busy working on Halloween Harry, my friend John Barry introduced me to yet another thing that would have an impact on my life. This time it was a computer game by Ron Gilbert at Lucasfilm Games called The Secret of Monkey Island.

I was a huge fan of text adventures as a kid - in fact an encounter with the original Colossal Cave Adventure had set me on the path of making computer games. Here was Monkey Island, a game that combined my love of adventure with that of storytelling and comic books. I was mesmerized.

When Steve and I played the game we knew we had to make one of our own. So, being naive game developers with a game already in production we did what we had to. We decided to make an action platform game AND a point and click graphic adventure at the same time!

Luckily for Steve and I we met two other local game developers, Robert Crane and Tony Ball, and teamed up with them to take on the programming duties for Halloween Harry. So until 1993 and the release of Halloween Harry, we split our time between the two games.

During this time I was keeping a visual diary (which I called a doodle diary) that I drew and wrote in - it was here that I wrote about the beginnings of the game.

 

"Just did some Amazon Queen stuff. Actually - 
designed the JASPAR Graphic Adventure Interface. Works pretty cool!"

 

Coming Up With An Idea

Steve and I had made our minds up to make our very own graphic adventure, now we had to decide what it would be about.

We were both huge fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark and felt that an Indiana Jones inspired game would make the perfect adventure.  Ironically, even though The Last Crusade had come out around the same time as Monkey Island, that Indiana Jones adventure game wasn’t really a source of inspiration - instead we drew inspiration from the movies. Although it was a fun game, I think we may have unfairly dismissed The Last Crusade as just a movie-tie-in. 

So, with a genre agreed upon, we needed characters, story and settings. To differentiate ourselves from Indy, we decided to ground our game in a 1950‘s world inspired by science fiction. Indiana Jones dealt with the occult, so our hero would deal with dinosaurs, robots and aliens. Little did we know that many years later the Indiana Jones movies would enter the same territory with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

We also wanted to make a funny game so we created our hero, Joe King, a pilot for hire and came up with the most ridiculous plot we could - a mad scientist and his plan to take over the world with an army of dinosaur women using ancient alien technology.

As well as Indiana Jones, we took inspiration from many other sources - US and British TV, Monty Python, classic fifties monster movies, Japanese Kaiju films, the Commander Cody serials and The Rocketeer and films like Star Wars, The Seventh Seal, The African Queen and Amazon Women on the Moon.

 

Before Indiana Jones came across a Crystal Skull, 
Joe King was on a quest to find one and save the world!

A Cast of Characters

Joe King, Pilot for Hire
The hero of our game is Joe King, a pilot for hire inspired by Jake Cutter from the US TV series Tales of the Gold Monkey. Many UK reviews referred to our hero’s groan-worthy name; Joe King (joking, for those who missed the obvious pun!).

Sparky
Sparky, Joe’s best friend and mechanic was also inspired by Tales of the Gold Monkey. In the TV show Jake’s friend was named Corky. For our game we gave him a comic book fixation (inspired by our own love of comic books) and used this as a way to introduce the Commander Rocket character that played a role in the final puzzle of how to enter the Valley of the Mists.

Faye Russel
Faye was inspired by Fay Ray and was an amalgam of the stereotypical Hollywood starlet of the day. Although we resorted to the cliche of rescuing the princess (Azura) we wanted to have Faye rescue Joe.

Dr. Frank Ironstein
Frank was originally named Einstein. He was also a Nazi. Did I mention we were young and naive? We had no idea that this was a bad idea. For a long time during production the Nazis were the bad guys, but luckily our publisher Renegade suggested we change them. We renamed them to a James Bond like evil agency called Floda - and poor Steve had to go back over every Nazi character and redraw them with new blue jump suits...

Trader Bob
Trader Bob was inspired by a mutual friend of ours who ran the local comic book shop. 

The Crystal Robot / The Most Powerful Device on the Face of the Earth
Steve loved manga and anime and there was no way he was going to make a game that didn’t feature some sort of giant robot. So we worked one in to the climax of the game where the Crystal Robot, as the guardian of the Valley of the Mists, grows in size to fight the mutated Dr. Ironstein.

Many other characters were inspired by pop culture and real people we knew.

The gorilla dressed in a costume that you have to convince doesn’t exist was inspired by a UK Variety Show character called Mr. Blobby. We also threw in some  Monty Python and Douglas Adams for good measure.

The bellboy at the start of the game was based on an Electronic Arts executive who was incredibly rude to us when we showed him our game.

Jimmy and Mary-Lou Cook were inspired by TV evangelist Jim Baker and his wife Tammy.

Big Hugh took his name from Hugh Fleming, our friend and comic book artist responsible for the awesome Star Wars Rocks posters and the Dark Horse Star Wars Episode 1 comic covers.

Wedgewood the parrot was based on Steve’s own stuffed toy parrot of the same name.

 

The original cast of characters - from left to right - Dr. Frank Ironstein, The Crystal Robot, Joe King, Faye Russel, Sparky, Princess Azura and Trader Bob.

 

 

The final cast of characters that made it into the game!

Making The Game

Deluxe Paint IV

AMOS for the Amiga

Our development tools were fairly simple.

I had an Amiga 500 computer and used AMOS, a BASIC like programming language to build the game engine and editors. Steve also had an Amiga and used Deluxe Paint to create the art.

Like our tools, our game development process was also simple.

We nutted out the overall plot of the game, listing out locations, puzzles and characters, sketched those on paper then began to implement them into in the editor.

 

One of the first designs for the opening hotel location.
 Puzzles changed over time.

 

Engine and Editors

I had read all I could about how Lucasfilm made their adventure games, but took a different approach to implementing our game engine to them. While Lucasfilm used a scripting system called SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) I chose an editor based system with drop down menus. Like Lucasfilm, we also gave our editors and engines silly names too…

JASPAR (John And Steve’s Programmable Adventure Resource)
This was the game engine that the player interacted with. In my mind an adventure game is merely a collection of objects that the player could turn on or off, so I designed the engine and editor around this simple idea.

Actors, inventory items and scenery props were all the same - they could either be on screen, or in the player inventory, animating or static. The player could select a verb to use on an object, or use an inventory object on another object - the result of which would trigger a limited set of actions if optional game states were true. These actions were very basic and included playing an animation, hiding or showing an object, triggering a cut scene or dialogue, or changing more game states. 

With these simple set of options we managed to create an entire graphic adventure.

JOKER (JASPAR Object Kernel Editor Resource)
Okay, we were stretching it trying to make this acronym work. Joker was where the real bulk of the game design was done. 

DOGS (Dialogue Object Generation System)
This was a simple editor that allowed me to create a dialogue tree. Again, this was shamelessly influenced by Lucasfilm. The bulk of the game’s writing was done in this editor.

SPAMS
These were SPecial AniMationS that Steve made for actors and props that would play when a puzzle was solved or when a dialogue option was chosen. Joe tying the two sheets together at the start of the game was a SPAM.

CUTS (Cut Scenes)
While basic cut scenes were loaded from simple files containing actor movement positions and text to speak, other more complicated scenes were hard coded as functions in the game. It was easier to do this then to extend the editor. Cut scenes could also be trigger from dialogues.

Game States

This was my non-sophisticated way to keep track of where the player was in the game.  It was literally an array called Gamestate that was indexed by each number in this list.  If Gamestate(5) was zero then the piranhas hadn’t been feed. When the player used the Beef Jerky on the piranhas then Gamestate(5) was set to 1.

 

 

Dialogues

Interactive dialogue trees were a staple of graphic adventures in the nineties, and Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer were the masters of the form.

Before making Amazon Queen my writing was limited to the odd story at school and some cartoon strips that I sold to earn money to fund making games.

Each character had a number of unique dialogues associated with them. The dialogues were fairly simple branching trees of dialogue player choices and character responses, with options being able to test for gamestates before being shown and to set gamestates if selected.

Dialogue choices could be gobbled up if selected, or set to always display. With this simple system surprisingly complex dialogue structures could be created. Again, my design philosophy was to try and adhere to the limitations of the system - the player didn’t miss what they didn’t know couldn’t be done.

Even though I was the sole user of the editors I made, I took the time to write user manuals for them. Here are some sample pages for your enjoyment.

 

 

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