From the vault: The Majestic Conspiracy

One morning in 2004 or so, I got up and decided I wanted to make a video game.

I was about 15 or 16, I had just finished Broken Sword, and went in search of a program that could let me make an adventure game myself. I tried a few different ones, and eventually settled on Adventure Game Studio. With it I started my first game, based on a 44-page comic I had drawn the years before. It was called The Majestic Conspiracy.

It even had a dvd case sleeve ready to go.

For the next ten years I worked on it off and on, through several iterations of the script and the art style, through multiple versions of AGS, four years of game design college and an internship. It was the classic too-ambitious-to-finish first project. So today I thought I’d write about it, to honor its demise.

TMC was a celebration of all the 90s cop stories I loved – Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Rush Hour, Turner & Hooch, 48 hrs, Max Payne, and even some special agent fiction like Mission Impossible and Metal Gear Solid. The protagonist was the default wavy-haired, leather-jacketed badass detective, with the double-crossing partner and the gorgeous female colleague. It told of a grand conspiracy by a shadow organisation, led by a white-haired man with a scar over his eye, trying to take over New York. Why and how exactly changed many times over the years. It was basically every trope ever.

Cutscenes based on the original comic, an idea borrowed from Max Payne

an early dialogue tree in-engine

The big bad was based on Majestic 12, a secret government agency I had learned about in Deus Ex. After I was working on it for a while I saw that there was another game about a shadowy organisation called Majestic. I cursed a little under my breath. But back then I wasn’t too serious in thinking about marketing and things like that. The game was going to be free anyway, so I kept going. I was mainly making it for myself.

old and new versions of the three main characters

When I started out, I used a mix of photo paintovers for the backgrounds with pixel art characters at a resolution of 640×480. Over the years I started to understand how spaces and geometry worked and so the art became more and more hand-crafted. When a new version of AGS came out that supported widescreen I decided to completely change the look to my signature comic-like style I had grown into by then. It definitely looked better, but by that time I was almost graduated and I had so much other stuff to do. There was no way I was going to rebuild an entire full-length adventure game AGAIN. And so the folder has been collecting dust in my dropbox ever since.

all those walkcycles...

Maybe someday I will revisit this universe, see how things are going with Adam, Jennifer and Frank.

old and new versions of Adam and Frank's office

The evolution of the NYPD bullpen

lights off, lights on

But as big failed projects usually go, I learned a lot from it. About puzzle design, compositioning, game assets and resolution, writing, dialogue trees, and mostly about programming. When I started I knew nothing of game development or coding in C#. By the end I was writing my own editor extentions, and pushing the boundaries of the engine with my graduation project. Even today that knowledge enables me to make the games I want to make in Unity.

So whatever you’re working on, if it doesn’t pan out, don’t fret; you probably learned something that will make your next game much better.

You can still visit the old TMC website here, including a handful of screenshots from its pixel art days.

Black Feather Forest update

Well, cat’s out of the bag – Black Feather Forest appeared on Warpdoor, a curated site for interesting indie games run by smart guys from indiegames.com and killscreen. So if you want to check out what I’ve been (mainly) doing for the past month or two, grab the demo and let me know what you think.

The demo is a rough early version with some features missing or partly implemented, but any feedback or suggestions are appreciated; bug reports too, either here or in my email.

And now seems like a good a time as any to tell you about the website for Black Feather Forest. There’s not a lot there yet but it’s a nice place to go, a sign that it exists for real at least. The mainly useful thing about it now is that it links to the presskit, which I am excited about!

Presskit() (pronounced as “do presskit”) is a nifty invention by fellow indie Rami Ismael of Vlambeer fame, to help indie gamedevs and journalists alike to gather up the most salient info about a studio and their games for easy publicitimations. It’s included in my portfolio site now, or if you want the direct route head here.

It’s weird when something ends up in the ether outside of your own involvement (I only posted to a forum for feedback), but at the same time it’s somehow reassuring when it gets picked up, that you’re on the right track with what you’re doing. I wasn’t going to drop the demo publically until I polished it up to my satisfaction, coinciding with an upcoming showcase at a festival, but I realize that when you are making things you always want to hold onto it until it is ‘just right’. There’s always something more to polish, to improve, to add, to tweak. So heck, let this be the way that I get over that and let you guys in on what I’m making here. I hope you dig it.