Point and Click Adventure games have always been near and dear to our hearts here at Gaming Irresponsibly. We were overjoyed when word got out the the unofficial resolution to the King’s Quest series was finally going to be released in episodic content by it’s creators at Phoenix Online Studios. Needless to say we were honored to have an opportunity to have a conversation with Cesar Bittar, Director and Designer of The Silver Lining and CEO of Phoenix Online.
Can you give us a brief history of Phoenix Online Studios?
CB: Phoenix Online first formed as Phoenix Freeware in 2002. By 2004, we dropped the “Freeware,” legally registered the company, and became Phoenix Online Studios. It was formed by a group of fans who were unhappy after learning that the Sierra we knew and loved had dissolved and that there were no plans for a new entry in the King’s Quest franchise. Through the years, people from every corner of the world, including the Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, the UK, Brazil, Venezuela, Canada, and the US among others, have become part of the team and have given their all to The Silver Lining.
These days, we often just go by Phoenix Online, and we are in the middle of a big transition as we become a fully functional and commercial company.
What inspired you to give the KQ series a fitting end?
CB: We just simply couldn’t let go of our childhood dreams, and, when we learned that there would be no more King’s Quest, we decided to take matters into our own hands and do a final chapter. We wanted the series to go out with a bang. We felt it so deserved it. We had been together with this family for so many years and we felt that if we were to say goodbye to our heroes, it needed to be in a big way, a grand way, fitting of a Daventrian adventure.
What do you feel has been the greatest achievement in the production of TSL?
CB: I feel the fact that we’ve somehow been able to coordinate hundreds of people remotely to put together something so cohesive, all this while working in a volunteer way, it’s an amazing achievement in itself. At times, I don’t know how we’ve done it, and while it’s true that it took us a long while to get there, we’ve learned so much in the process that we’ve managed to now responsibly meet our own goals. For example, in the past, the new material we put in Episode 3 would have taken years to put together, but we did it in the best part of 5 months. And all this while we recruited the people to do it, so, I’m sure that now we are ready to take on real productions and work full time on it. That is the value of our achievements: we now can make professional games as we move forward.
What influences (outside of the KQ series) have helped to shape TSL into the game it has become?
CB: I found The Longest Journey very influential when it came down to give me the crazy idea of making King’s Quest very epic. Around the time we wrote the original script, Lord of the Rings was popular as the movies were just coming out, and I has been loving Final Fantasy for a few years. So there’s where I drew most of my inspiration to say “OK, if I’m going to be spending the next I don’t know many years of my life working on a project like this, it’ll better be something that I’ll fully enjoy, and to me, I’ve been aching for a more mature rendition of King’s Quest, so, let’s have at it!” In the end, we are making the game we want to make, and we are very happy with it.
What made you decide to go with episodic content, as compared to a full game release?
CB: Having worked at Telltale for a period of time, I learned that the episodic content was not only a great way to market a game, but also an amazing way to keep production focused on chunks of work at a time (as opposed to the full game). Things become easier and more manageable. From a marketing point, your game stays in the news for the whole duration of the production. And from a customer perspective, it gives us a chance to be able to listen to what the fans want and include these changes as we update the build and release the following episode. So it’s a win-win situation in every way you see it.
The remaining episodes seem to be slated to release this year – what are your plans after wrapping up TSL?
CB: Right now, we have so many windows open and so many possibilities that is a little too premature to say what comes next, but I can tell you that it’s going to be big. Having been at GDC this year gave us the opportunity to connect with many people in the industry who’d seen or heard of what we are doing, and there’s a lot of interest going around for what we can cook next. So, like I said, we are still juggling things and deciding on our next step while we work on a few prototypes for different games, but a lot is happening internally!
On a personal level, what games are you playing right now?
CB: I actually caught a whiff of nostalgia, so I was playing the Legend of Kyrandia 1 and 2. Other than that, I have a huge piles of games I always want to play — I’m a very hardcore gamer. I’ve been trying to play Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2 for years now, but I never seem to have the time now to play such immersive games. I do better with DS games these days — I was playing some Mega-Nan games recently, or adventure games. I recently played Gray Matter, by the incredible mind of Jane Jensen, and was so excited to experience a new game from the woman that brought to me my favorite series ever, the Gabriel Knight games.
What are your favorite moments in KQ history? I’d have to go with the zombie house in KQ IV.
CB: King’s Quest 7 as a whole reminds me of Christmas. But as for special moments, I remember curing the dragon in King’s Quest 7 was very cool, and the whole chase scene from the ending of King’s Quest 6 as you went up the stairs was amazing. Also, flying on Nightmare to the lands of the dead was very cool!
After creating a title, do you still have a good time playing it?
CB: Yes! I like to sit back and enjoy these titles as a final creation, and experience all the details that went into finalizing them. I sometimes will also replay Episode 1 just for kicks. It keeps me grounded and reminds me of what we are capable of doing.
Are there any shout-outs or special mentions that you would like to make? Any sites you would like to bring attention to?
CB: We’d like to thank everyone who’s been so supportive of our project throughout the years. Not everyone can say that they’ve gone out of a cease and desist twice and that’s only happened because of our incredible fans and because of the support from the press. So, a thousand times thank you!
Once again, we would like to thank Cesar Bittar and Phoenix Online Studios for taking the time to answer our questions. Make sure you do yourself a huge favor and swing by their site to play the first 3 episodes of The Silver Lining as well!