BSN*: Will Ages of Ilathid be free of charge once you finish it or you plan to release as a commercial title?
Jennifer: Ages of Ilathid will be free of charge! The Myst series, the universe in which our game is set, is the intellectual property of Cyan Worlds. We have a third party license from them which allows us to make the game legally, and one of the terms of this license is that we are not permitted to make any profit of off our game, which does not bother us, since it was the original intent. Translated into plain English - anyone who wants a copy of the game will be able to download it free of charge off the Internet.
BSN*: If it was indeed commercial how do you think it would fare on the market, would there be enough reception? Would you use digital distribution model, and try to qualify for STEAM or try to tie-up with small progressive publishers such as Telltale Games?
Jennifer: If it were commercial, I think it would do well - not fantastic, but well. On one hand, the game's graphics, animations, and story are [in my not unbiased opinion] top notch; on the other hand, everything is done in the old point-and-click interface which characterized original Myst and Riven. And while making the game in 2D allows us to create extremely high quality graphics [this was the reason we chose to work in 2D rather than 3D in the first place], I think most people who actually plan to spend money on a game want at least full 3D movement. If I were trying to sell Ages of Ilathid, I would try to qualify for STEAM as I think the game would end up reaching a wider customer base.
Paulo: Another advantage we would have is that the game has very low system requirements and can be played by anyone of any age. This means the potential customer base would be much larger than most games.
BSN*: Do you plan to promote your team's skills through creation of this game or is completion of the game your only goal?
Jennifer: Our team's focus is more on completing the game than on gaining a reputation in the Indie gaming world, but we do use the game development process to promote our individual skills. Some of our members have used the game materials they created [music, art, etc.] to enhance their portfolios; others work on the game to gain experience in preparation for entering a professional field. I personally used my Ages of Ilathid experience on my graduate school application. Other members have used it on Masters' degrees and as part of their CV for entering larger companies.
BSN*: Have there been any major problems in game development that you have overcome - or have yet to overcome in order to finish it?
Jennifer: Some time ago, a malicious person attacked the project and as a result we had to get a new forum and server. Many of our finished game materials were lost, and the extended pause in development which resulted as the forums and server were restored resulted in much of the original team drifting away. Since then, we have restored the server, most of the forum, and as many of the lost game materials as we could reacquire, but we have yet to retain our original level of activity. That's what we're working on right now; it's a slow process, but it will accelerate.
Where are all the purdy elves gone...
Paulo: The other problem we have is inherent to our working paradigm. Our developers are volunteers, so we can't be sure any one of them will have a problem in their lives and be forced to step down from the project at any time. We've learned to live with this, though, by constantly finding more staff. This is good in a way, as each developer improves the game in his or hers special way.
BSN*: Are you looking for more people to work on Ages of Ilathid or are you pleased with current amount of the team members?
Jennifer: It's a mixed bag; in some areas we have enough people, in other areas we're short-handed, in some areas we've always been short-handed - see Linux programmers, and in yet other areas we have enough people but want to expand in order to pick up the pace. Currently we are looking for modelers, concept artists, and programmers experienced in Python and the Macintosh or Linux operating systems.
Paulo: We don't have much of a prejudice as regards to level of expertise or preferred software/platform or even area, despite needing more people in the areas Jen states. We encourage and aid people to learn what they need to work while working and I can find tasks for any talent or level of expertise, plus you can use your work in a portfolio, which is always a plus. But you must come ready to learn: for instance, the manual we give to new developers, explaining the basics of the project, is over 60 pages and fully illustrated. Tim Thomas, our former HR and PR person, made it for us, for which I'm eternally grateful.
BSN*: In your opinion how close is the game to being finished?
Jennifer: Tough question; it depends on how deluxe we choose to make the final product and on how quickly we build up the size of the team. I'd guess about one to two years, minimum.
Paulo: It could be more, though, so don't be too anxious. We will keep on releasing content during this time, and our music album is already extensive - we're thinking of releasing it eventually, if the project itself takes too long. It'll contain final and concept versions of the songs, so you can have a taste of the feeling of the worlds, only a taste, since the final game will have more songs and some changes. The nature of the remaining content may also depend on future developments from Cyan, so we'll not disclose our release options at this time. I'll only say that the fans will have to work to access some of them, as we made them work in the past, with a small ARG.
Yes, I want to enter, but I don't want to wait [Duke Nukem] Forever...
BSN*: If the quality of the game attracted some established commercial developer team would you stay independent or consider merging with them for future projects?
Jennifer: We all contribute to the game in our spare time; thus, the amount of work we can do depends heavily upon our availability. So while it would certainly be exciting to work with a commercial developer team, I don't think a merge would ultimately be successful from a monetary/logistical perspective. It is also not possible with the current terms we have with Cyan, which would force us to drift away from our current universe - unless said commercial team was Cyan themselves. ;)
BSN*: Finally - after you finally finish the Ages of Ilathid game - do you plan to take a break from games or already have a new project planned?
Paulo: We will take a small break from games while we spread the word about Ilathid and see the public's reaction. We'll also be working on the book series, since The Ages of Ilathid is but a moment in time on a much larger storyline that extends from before the game to many years after it. We're even thinking of setting it into present time [after all, TAOI is set on the 1800's], but we're putting this part on hold as it depends much on what Cyan does with Myst Online. There are a few chapters already in the proof-reading stage.
After this break and evaluation period, we will start work on a sequel, which is already outlined. Well, two sequels are outlined, in fact. Both will feature substantial changes on game play, derived from the different settings, without changing the original spirit. But that's for later; first we will finish this game.
While going through the answers, we could not stop but to think what would happen with the universes if fans had an easier time and more support from the originating companies. To work on a project for five to ten years is extremely exhaustive, and yet you aren't able to even profit for the efforts put in creating a fan project. Rather, The Ages of Ilathid will be labor of love for the multi-national team.
If this title was being built with a commercial thought in mind, Cyan could help the team to make a transition to iPhone, Blackberry and other commercially-viable platforms for 2D games and create a solid revenue stream. The content that we saw is impressive for a piece of fan work, but Dave Perry's book just doesn't stop popping in our minds.
There is little not to like about The Ages of Ilathid - when and if the game finally does come out, it could spark new interest into the Myst worlds. The game itself is oriented towards the crowd that appreciate reading a good book while traveling, and this came could glue them to a laptop or a netbook. Low hardware demands will make this game playable on almost every computer released in the past half a decade.
All in all, we wish the TAOI team all the best in their difficult endeavor and hopefully original Myst content will come to life once more.
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