At the turn of the century it was undeniable that the golden age of Point and Click Adventure games was well and truly over. With its core audience getting older, new gamers gravitating towards the dominating Playstation and not a touchscreen device in sight. The once steady flow of point and click games from studios like Sierra Online and LucasArts, that gave both me and countless others hours of enjoyment, had gradually dried up.
Fastforward fifteen or so years, and we have titles like ‘The Walking Dead’ winning game of the year awards, indie developers springing up left right and centre and people can’t seem to get enough of anything remotely retro. From full on remakes- as in Monkey Island, to the irrepressible Tim Schafer and Double Fine bringing brand new Point and Click games to market. The genre that has clearly influenced some of the best games of the last fifteen years is most definitely in resurgence.
I mention the Walking Dead because for a whole generation of gamers that’s probably as close to a Point and Click Adventure that they have got. But the diversity of games that have a common thread of DNA from these gaming relics is endless, pretty much anything Bioware has done and even games like Tomb Raider and Uncharted can all be traced back to the likes of Monkey Island, The Dig, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Loom, Police Quest, the list is endless.
And so we come to The Breakout. A new Point and Click Adventure game currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, which has also just been Greenlit on Steam. The game clearly harks back to the good old days but has both its feet firmly planted in the here and now.
I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to have a chat with Adam Jeffcoat, the games director, animator and artist. Turns out he’s rather a nice chap, extremely engaging and very passionate about the game, that for him, has been brewing at the back of his mind since 1986.
PL: So were here to chat about the game; The Breakout. Do you want to start by just telling us a little bit about it?
AJ: I remember playing Oceans version of The Great Escape on my friends Spectrum ZX when I was about 8 years old. It was just a little, and looking back very basic, isometric game that involved walking round the camp.
I was absolutely fascinated by the idea that you could sneak around this place, against the rules and concoct this escape plan without the guards knowing about it. There was something about it that just hooked me and stayed in the back of my mind.
And now all these years later, having done animation in TV and film I felt like I wanted to get into games as a way of telling a story essentially, and the story is The Breakout.
PL: So its kind of like an extension of what you’ve already been doing in animation, just a different medium for you?
AJ: I would so say yes. Just the fact that you get to play the main character, and obviously games like The Secret of Monkey Island did that so well, it just pulls you into this captivating world by telling a film type story within the game.
I got to the stage where I thought I’ve got the skills and the know-how, to at least attempt a point and click type adventure game and it felt like the perfect time to take that little seed The Great Escape planted in my mind and see if I can make it work.
PL: So its definitely a case that idea for the game came first and you set up the studio last year with this particular game in mind?
AJ: That’s right I met Vincent Kamp, who’s now the Creative Producer at Pixel Trip Studios, It turned out we both had similar ideas about wanting to create projects that we were into and hopefully our audience would be to. So we got chatting and Vince said this Great Escape game sounds right up my street so he wanted to put some funding in to get the pitch for the game together.
Our intention is to try and tell really captivating stories through games, and the point and click genre felt like the perfect starting point.
PL: Going back to point and click games, in the 80’s and 90’s they were everywhere. In the last 10 or so years they haven’t really been around. There are a lot of games out there that whilst not strictly point and click, they do share a lot of ideas, such as TellTale Games Walking Dead. Are games like this a good way to get people interested in the genre?
AJ: Yes I would say so. There are also a couple of games out there, especially on the iPad that work really well, it helps being able to click and press on the screen. A game I played recently called Machinarium which did a great job recreating that point and click feel. I was certainly aware going into this, it could potentially be a niche market. On one hand there was going to be a group of fans, similar in age to me who grew up with point and click games.
PL: Your Monkey Islands, Loom, Sam & Max. Games like that?
AJ: Exactly, everyone remembers those games fondly. But we looked at what had changed to see why the genre dropped off. With modern technology these days no one wants to wait around for more than 5 seconds for things to load. The point and click scenario where you have these puzzles that can take a while to work out, you then have to potentially walk all the way back across a few levels to pick something up that you might have forgotten and then come all the way back to use it. Peoples patience just won’t stand for it anymore.
PL: People are wanting more immediate reaction to what they do then?
AJ: Yes, a lot of games nowadays are all about insane action and shooting. It feels like the pacing of those older click and point games are part of the problem. One of the things we’ve set out to do with The Breakout is to try and create a sense of urgency within the gameplay. There is always going to be a guard around the corner who could catch you. Moving spotlights that will catch you if you don’t get a move on. We are trying to take the genre and update and modernise it by giving giving a bit of urgency to whatever you’re doing.
PL: The older point and click games were very linear, puzzles could only be solved a certain ways. I’m guessing that with The Breakout being about escaping the camp, there will be different ways you can achieve this goal?
AJ: We didn’t want to just create a linear storyline. Some of the older games did provide multiple ways of solving puzzles but the outcome was always the same. We thought about what would bring people back to the game, straight away we thought of the idea that you can escape in more than one way. We researched real life escapes we found that there was a whole wikipedia section about it. Some of the things we found were quite amazing, we could use them directly in the game and not have to sort of ‘Hollywood’ them up.
The plan is that you can team up with the other prisoners in the camp, depending on their skill set, that will dictate what kind of escape attempt you will make. So if you did manage to escape you can go back and try with one of the other prisoners and see how it changes. It was important to add replay value, you can potentially scrap a breakout attempt halfway through if you’re finding a particular puzzle tough and try it a completely different way.
PL: So what happens if you get caught? Is it game over and you have to restart or do you have to come up with a new plan?
AJ: We really liked the mechanic in the original Great Escape game, when you got caught by the guards all of your equipment would be confiscated and you would basically be thrown into the cooler, just like in the movies. It seems like the perfect way to punish the player for getting caught without restarting from the beginning. So instead of starting from scratch the player has to steal his equipment back, then crack on with his escape plan.
PL: On the Kickstarter you describe The Breakout as a click and point game for adults with a captivating story and real consequences. In the animation demo reels there is clearly a lot of humour too. How are you going to balance these things?
AJ: That comes from the way the movie The Great Escape was approached. Its almost like a black comedy in a way. The subject matter was very real and in real life the prisoners were treated very harshly in the POW camps. But it felt like there needed to be a little bit of comedy to sort of keep the morale up. The last thing we wanted to do was to create a game that was depressing.
PL: Nazi’s and the supernatural seem to go hand in hand, the Kickstarter drops hints of the occult, can you go into it in any more depth?
AJ: I don’t want to give away any spoilers but another big influence for me was Raiders of the Lost Ark, if we were being completely factual about POW camps it could be too realistic. The Nazis obsession with the occult lets us bring a bit of the supernatural into the game and a real twist story wise.
PL: Clearly point and click games aren’t about speed-running, but how many hours of gameplay can we expect from The Breakout?
AJ: The plan is that if you play the game from start to finish it will leave you as satisfied as if you’ve watched a full length film. Two to three hours of pure gameplay, but with working out puzzles it will amount to a lot longer than that.
PL: Your stretch goals on Kickstarter focus solely on improving the game, and you decided against offering physical rewards such as posters or dog tags. Why is that?
AJ: On a previous project I did, we offered physical books of artwork and things like that. Logistically it creates a huge amount of work, essentially you have to create the rewards, ship them out and just the man hours alone is a huge drain on our resources. With this project we aimed to try and keep everything digital, which means we can focus entirely on the game.
PL: Its down for release on Windows, Mac and Linux. You spoke earlier about how point and click works well with touch screens, have you got any plans to aim for other platforms?
AJ: Our plan is to push for those three platforms to start, it would be relatively easy to port it to iOS and Android, I think it would fit well on tablets. I personally play more on consoles than PC, so as a buyer I’d love to see it on a console. If we hit our Kickstarter targets we’d look at these as potential stretch goals.
PL: There’s a gameplay video up on your Kickstarter page, there’s also mention that you want to try and get a playable demo out before the Kickstarter ends. Any Idea on when this might be available?
AJ: The plan was to have it ready near to the launch of the Kickstarter, its been a bit more work than we originally thought as we basically have to make a small game. We are hoping to get it out towards the end of April so there will still be a couple of weeks to run on the Kickstarter. Trailers are all well and good to peak interest but having a demo is the best way to convince people of your product.
I’m really rather excited about The Breakout, its an immediate throw back to some of my favourite childhood games, but with modern ideas. Its looks fantastic and sounds equally as good. I’m hopeful that games like this can introduce a whole new generation to Point and Click Adventures.
The story lends itself to tense and nail biting moments that the developer- Pixel Trip Studios are clearly aiming for. But lets face it, no Point and Click game would be complete without a healthy sprinkling of humour, which is amply supplied by both the good guys and the dreaded prison guards.
It’s helped along by a fantastic hand-drawn art style which is clearly playing to the teams experience in animation.
The characters really do have a personality all of their own, the demo reel animations hint at the light-hearted nature that’s needed in such a bleak environment, it’s a good match between the soberness of the situation the prisoners find themselves in and the morale that keeps them going. Add a cracking soundtrack which really captures the atmosphere, and The Breakout is shaping up to be one of my most anticipated games this year.
Check out the KickStarter here
Viva la Breakout!