In its own words John Wizard Games makes “great little RPGs to remind you of a time gone by,” but this description is really too modest to describe the well-crafted and creative role-playing game gems that the small independent studio has produced so far. After Dawn’s Light and the newly launched Lilly & Sasha impressed our review crew here at Gamezebo, we decided that we had to know more about the studio that created them. And so we present this interview with John Wizard’s Daniel Newey, who dishes on everything from what inspires him to the state of the indie RPG scene.
Tell us about yourself and what you do at John Wizard.
I am one half of a two man team located in Australia. The best word to describe what I do would be “half.” Instead of having defined roles, we generally just do what needs to be done. In a single day I can go from programming the battle system to doing graphic design for the menus to writing dialogue.
If I ever get burnt out from one aspect of development, I can always move onto something else for a while. Working in a freeform manner like this helps me stay motivated throughout long development cycles.
John Wizard isn’t just the name of your studio, but he’s also a character in his own right (who even made an appearance in Dawn’s Light: Christmas Tale). Tell us more about this fellow.
The name John Wizard comes from an inside joke that even I don’t find funny, and I’m inside. At first John Wizard was just a name and a picture on our site. When we started brainstorming Christmas Tale, we were going to have Harvey as the lead character.
Then out of nowhere, the idea came to have John Wizard play the starring role. It just fit in perfectly with what we wanted to do with the game.
John Wizard is an easy character to write because we get to make fun of ourselves and I’ve got tons of material for that. I have no doubt that he’ll appear in more games.
RPGs aren’t exactly the easiest kind of game to develop. Why have you settled on this particular genre? Do you ever get the urge to churn out a puzzle or hidden object game?
For me, RPGs are the most rewarding genre of game to make because the players really get invested in them. It gives so much more meaning to the writing process, knowing that players care what the characters have to say.
Waiting for players to see some of the surprises and crazy events that we have in store for them is really hard. Sometimes I just want to put up screenshots of my favourite scenes but I have to stop myself from spoiling the best parts.
I’ve made games in other genres before but now that I’ve made RPGs, I don’t want to go back. This is just too much fun.
What are some of the RPGs that have most strongly inspired your own games?
Eternal Eden is the game that made me want to make RPGs. It’s a more dungeon based game than Aveyond and I really enjoy that. I was working on a game that I’d grown bored of when I tried the Eternal Eden demo. It didn’t take long for me to decide that this is what I should be making.
I would say that most indie RPG developers have been inspired by Aveyond to some degree. I learned a lot from Aveyond about making an RPG more accessible to new players.
For dungeon design, I look at the Legend of Zelda series as the ultimate example. The dungeons in that game are amazing.
Other than those I would say it’s just a combination of every game I’ve ever played. Andrew, the other guy on my team, claims that a lot of his dialogue is inspired by things I say to him. Surely that couldn’t be true.
Tell us more about the software that you use to create your RPGs.
We use RPG Maker VX which like any tool is only as good as the person using it. It’s easy to learn but there’s a lot you can do if you’re willing to dig a little deeper. For Lilly and Sasha, we ended up rewriting the majority of the game code to try to stand out from the crowd.
RPG Maker does have its limits though, it puts a lot more strain on a computer than it needs to and it can be really awkward to sometimes. We think we can still squeeze a little more out of it but after that we’ll be looking to move on to something more flexible.
You’ve been outspoken about the fact that you dislike the idea of releasing a game in multiple chapters. Why do you feel this is a bad thing?
It’s not the idea of chapters that I’m against, it’s the fact that some developers use them as an excuse to be lazy. I have no problem paying for an RPG that’s only a few hours long, as long as I don’t spend the time fighting the same enemies or blindly navigating mazes.
Comparing the length of an RPG to the length of a hidden object game is cheating. RPGs use a lot of tricks to extend play time because that’s what they’re about. The development time to play time ratio is much higher for a hidden object game.
We’re probably our own worst enemy when it comes to play time. We try to stop the player from fighting the same enemies. We try to make it pointless by lowering the amount of XP you get from enemies and instead giving it out for quests. In the end, I think players appreciate it. We may not be able to promise 40 hours of play time but the hours we’re taking out are the boring ones.
Aside from the chapters trend, what other things have you noticed about the indie RPG scene that it could be doing better?
I think a lot of indie RPGs suffer from the same problems as many early RPGs. They can be very tedious and rely too much on battles or other time wasters to keep you busy. When I was younger I enjoyed that but I don’t have that kind of time to play anymore.
I’m happy to see that most developers are moving away from random encounters. To this day, I have never played a game with random encounters for more than a few minutes.
As a player, I’m not looking for a game that will waste my time. I just want to play the good bits and move on to another game. I’m sorry about Slime Island.
The biggest buzz in the gaming industry these days seems to be social/Facebook games. Have you considered developing games for the Facebook platform? (If so, what would a Facebook game from John Wizard be like?)
I’m not a big fan of Facebook games. I see them as a step backwards for the gaming industry. I would much rather see a game succeed for its story and gameplay than its ability to convince you to click things for many hours.
I’m sure they’ll continue to be popular and make lots of money but that’s not the reason I decided to spend my life making games.
Tell us about your latest game,Lilly & Sasha: Curse of the Immortals.
In Lilly and Sasha, we’ve taken everything up a level. The story is better, the puzzles are more interesting and the battles are more fun. You’ll never have to fight the same enemy twice and you can even skip a bunch if you like. Instead of battling enemies for gold and experience, you’ll complete quests.
The battle system has been designed from the ground up to be more exciting. There’s no mana to worry about and your characters will be resurrected after every battle. All of your moves are available with a single key press or mouse click so you won’t be scrolling through lists of moves that all do the same thing.
What’s next for John Wizard Games? Can you give us any hints about your upcoming projects?
We’re currently planning a sequel to Lilly and Sasha. I imagine we’ll do something more with Dawn’s Light at some stage and we’re working on a couple of games that are quite different to what we’ve done so far.
We’ve got a lot of ideas but we are limited by the fact that there are just two of us. We might have to change that this year.