I have a bit of a soft spot for old school point-and-click adventure games, because they were the games that got me into gaming in the first place. I still have so many fond memories of hunting down (and running terrified from) the zombie ghost pirate LeChuck, saving Daventry as King Graham and even venturing into deep space as everybody’s favorite space janitor, Roger Wilco. So when I heard that there was a South African studio working on an old school point-and-click adventure game called Jengo I just had to find out more.
The first thing that struck me when I saw Jengo‘s visuals were the striking art design and, of course, all the little easter eggs I found tucked away in the background of each screenshot. This already made me want to find out more about the protagonist Jeff and the world of Jengo.
Jengo is being developed by an indie game studio called Robot Wizard, which currently consists of two individuals, Louis Du Pisani and Graeme Selvan, two guys with a passion for gaming and an even bigger passion for classic point-and-click adventure games. I was lucky enough to get the chance to ask these two some questions about Jengo and their experience with developing their first game.
For those who have not been following Robot Wizard and the development of Jengo, could you give us a quick summary of what exactly the game is about?
L: Jengo is the story of Jeff, a real life gamer who’s warped into a broken game world filled with discarded and forgotten game characters whose universe is falling apart. That part may sound like ‘Game Nerd in Oz’ (and it is), but the real magic is where we as players who grew up with the ‘Point ‘n Click’ adventure genre and old school games, in general, can now apply the same thinking as (slightly more) adult gamers to Jengo.
G: Louis pretty much covered it all. I think, personally, the world itself will be incredibly exciting for gamers to explore. We have spent a long time crafting out the story of our game too. We want gamers to walk away at the end of it all reflecting on their past and how the game touched on special things they remember when they were kids. We can’t wait for gamers to set off on their journey in Jengo!
In terms of story inspiration, the basic concept of Jengo came from reading a book called “Ready Player One – Ernest Cline”. From that, the idea of having our player land up in a world of player 3 characters was born. Months later our story has been fleshed out into a deep, comical journey.
Seeing as developing a game is not a task for the faint-hearted, what made you decide or inspired you to take on the gaming industry?
L: For me personally, I don’t really feel any need to take on the gaming industry. I’ve just always wanted to make a game. When Graeme and I started talking about this we both shared a love for the old P’nC genre so we got right on it… 6 years later.
G: Making this game is a pure passion project. I have been a gamer my whole life and it’s thanks to video games that got me into programming in the first place. I have always wanted to make a game but have never had the time over work and playing games, in general, to actually make one. I decided a few months ago that it was time to actually do something instead of talk about it.
What challenges have been the most difficult to overcome so far?
L: Time I’d say, and learning all the new tools. You could be months down the line with a task and then you’ll be forced to rethink how you do things. I have a frame by frame animated version of Jeff that we shelved because we updated some of our methods.
G: Time is a big issue for me too. I recently had a son, so instead of spending time with my wife when free time shows its lovely head I spend it coding and building out the world of Jengo.
How many people are currently part of the team working on Jengo and are you doing everything in-house?
L: Two, and yes, all in-house. We have an external sound team who’ve done some work for us during the initial phase and when we have our world completed we will rope them back in. But in regards to creating the game, it’s Graeme and me.
Lately, point-and-click adventure games have been making a return, thanks in part to Double Fine and Sierra. How did you end up deciding on a point and click adventure game as your first project?
L: I think I’ve mentioned before that it’s the game that Graeme and I wanted to make. Also, in this climate where the gaming experiences are becoming very skill based and most games have migrated to mass player interactions, we wanted to bring it back to the player enjoying the game at their own pace. Suck it all in. You don’t need amazing APM to enjoy an adventure game. You just need to enjoy figuring it out.
G: To add to what Louis said, we really want to tell a great story and create fun and interesting characters. I personally feel the best way to tell our story is through a PNC title. I have a few interesting ideas for other games lined up but this is a game I have wanted to make from my childhood. I firmly believe creating something you are passionate about goes a long way.
While on the subject of point and click adventure games, which of the games in this genre have inspired you the most?
L: For me, Full Throttle, Day of the Tentacle and Sam ‘n Max. I found the original Maniac Mansion on a computer at my primary school and fell in love with it. Everyone else was playing California games. Good work LucasArts.
G: My major inspiration is the Monkey Island adventures, especially the Curse of Monkey Island. Full throttle, Indiana Jones – Fate of Atlantis, Grim Fandango, and Toon Struck are all honorable mentions that helped shape my love for this genre.
I still have nightmares about some of the puzzles in classic point and click adventure games. How have you decided to approach the puzzles in Jengo in order to keep players from getting frustrated or stuck?
L: Pixel hunting we’ll definitely avoid. We’re also keeping the inventory items trim and we’ll keep the dialogue tree healthy to keep the player thinking versus guessing. There is some ‘gamer logic’ involved – so some solutions should come naturally to players who know the tropes of old school gaming (not as in cliche solutions, but rather the quirk of certain character types). But essentially, dialogue is where the hard work to make the game flow will be undertaken.
G: I can think of nothing worse than putting a player in a spot where a puzzle does not make sense. I don’t want the player dragging every item onto something to see if it works. The puzzles will make sense with some thought. Our game will also span over 5 episodes so I want our audience to experience the entire story of Jengo and not be put off playing by getting stuck on a pesky puzzle in the start of the game.
What will you be doing differently in Jengo in order to bring the genre into the 21st century?
L: We’re making it in the 21st Century… does that count? We have better tools of course, but coming from a musical background, I preferred the way things sounded pre-21st century. We’re appealing to the folk who love old school games (and young people who appreciate it), so I suppose the appeal is seeing how we’ve all grown up and where we are now.
G: The game will run in 1080p at 30 FPS! That’s totally 21st century, right? Aside from that our dialogue and visuals are very modern. It will have a nice 21st-century coat of paint with the roar of an 80’s muscle car under the hood.
Are there any South African or African elements to explore in the game?
L: The South African element will be used as flavor versus content, we’re not looking far for ‘foreign’ sounding dialect.
Except for the obvious puzzle element in the game, the UI also plays an important role in most point and click adventure games. How have you gone about developing the UI for Jengo and what lessons have you learned regarding this?
L: We’re still debating this. We have a pretty classic looking UI in the current build. I feel there should be a little more thought put into a puzzle than just right clicking on an object or dragging and dropping. We’ll learn our lessons during play-testing I suppose.
G: We are old(ish) men, so at current we feel our UI design works. When you click on an item we have a circular wheel that pops up with 4 elements (Look, Pickup, Use and Talk). We have spent a fair amount of time in healthy debate thinking of a design to best suit the game so things could still change dramatically in the future.
What are your thoughts on the South African gaming industry and game development locally?
L: It seems nice, but that’s because I know very little about it. Graeme will be better suited to answer this one. I have, however, noticed a trend by certain ‘press personalities’ who spend more time being outraged by content than playing said content. There are other ways to become relevant as a gaming ‘celeb’ besides trying to break the backs of the people actually breaking their backs just to publicly show that you have a ‘point of view’. Try playing some games instead – perhaps then they’ll understand that content has context. No industry needs to be moderated by bloggers, rather it’s audience. It’s fiction. It gets rated. If it’s reprehensible it won’t move product. Some people have gone after Graeme for things I’ve created in the game because Graeme is a much more ‘worthy target’ in the local gaming industry. That being said, other developers have been super cool to us, local and abroad.
G: From a development point of view people have been incredibly accommodating. So many people want to get involved with games, it’s incredibly humbling. But like Louis stated, some people have not liked our visuals and have threatened to take us down.
What advice would you have for aspiring South African game developers?
L: Don’t forget to bring a towel.
G: Be hungry and ready to give up all your free time. You have a lot of learning to do and remain dedicated even when you feel like giving up!
Lastly, I have to ask, as Jengo isn’t your everyday name, where did the idea for the name come from?
L: I’ll try and keep a very long story short. We were passively searching for a name for some time. When we realized how important the lore aspect of our game was becoming I started looking towards folklore. I’ve always enjoyed Spanish folklore, so we poked around there for a bit. ‘Game’ in Spanish is ‘Juego’, so we played with some variations of it landed on Jengo. Jeff is the Jengo.
Jengo looks and sounds very promising and as an old school point-and-click adventure fan has me excited to see more of it. The visuals are striking and the world sounds fascinating. Be sure to check out more of Jengo on Robot Wizard’s website and follow them on Facebook. I will be keeping my eye on this promising game and studio, and you should too.
Below are some videos showcasing the game’s animation and visuals to get you excited.