Pirates and pooches: An interview with Jolly Rover developer Andrew Goulding

By Erin Bell |

As if it weren’t great enough to have an adventure game where all the main characters are dogs, Brawsome’s Jolly Rover had to take things to the next level with pirate dogs! We spoke to the man behind the game, Australian developer Andrew Goulding, about his stints programming adventure games for PlayFirst, founding his own studio, developing Jolly Rover, and sticking to his guns about a $19.99 price point.

You’ve worked on several gamespoint-and-click that will be familiar to casual game fans: PlayFirst’s Avenue Flo, Emerald City Confidential, and Nightshift Legacy. Tell us more about your involvement with these projects.

I provided all content/gameplay programming on all these titles, except Nightshift Legacy, I just worked on one slider puzzle. In Avenue Flo and Emerald City Confidential I wrote a bit of placeholder dialog, but much of it was taken out. I wrote some racy dialog for the robotic talking Recycling Machine in Avenue Flo. One particular line for placing a recyclable item in the token slot said “Wrong hole. Is this your first time?” in a monotone robot voice, which we all thought was quite funny, but had to take it out lest it offend some users.

The best thing I took away from these projects was an appreciation of the casual audience and what frustrates them, and there are a lot of these things! I tried to integrate as many casual gameplay mechanics in Jolly Rover as I could without taking away the core adventure element of it. Focus testing experience shows that the majority of casual players don’t like to read too much in games, but I bent this rule a bit for Jolly Rover because I didn’t want to take away from the story and character of the game.

Why did you decide to strike out on your own and form Brawsome?

I started Brawsome while I was working for Codemasters in England in 2006. At the time it was just a website where I was going to do reviews and post small flash games, it was fairly random, and mainly a landing pad for my other adventure – Just Another Point and Click Adventure.

This is about the time I got in contact with Dave Gilbert about a collaboration on an adventure, he was working on the Blackwell series then and wanted to do a slightly different type of game that I won’t mention here. I contacted Dave because of his prominence as an adventure game designer amongst the Adventure Game Studio (AGS) community and really wanted to work with him on something.

We didn’t end up working together on that title, but kept in touch. When I heard Dave landed a project with PlayFirst in early 2008 I contacted him to see if he needed a programmer and went from there. I only registered the Brawsome business name part way through development of Emerald City Confidential, about the same time I quit my job as Assistant Producer at Australian developer Krome Studios to pursue contract work full time.

Before then I was doing 20 hours a week for Dave, and 40 hours a week at my full time job with 15 hours a week travel time… PLUS my wife had just given birth to our first child. If I wasn’t mad enough to attempt this in the first place, I certainly was a little crazy afterwards, but tired, mostly tired. I have to take my hat off to my wife, we haven’t had a proper holiday since I started work on Emerald City Confidential back in 2008. I work weekends, nights, sometimes I’ll get out of bed at night to go answer an email or write down an idea. I don’t know how or why she puts up with me, but I’m glad she does!

I have to ask, where did name Brawsome come from?

I originally wanted to call the company “Awesome Games,” but it was too generic. I was living in England at the time and had relatives in Scotland, that would use the word “Braw’ from time to time to mean something akin to “great” or “good.” I combined “Braw” and “Awesome” to make “Brawsome.” The real litmus test was that a Google search turned up no entries for “Brawsome” so I felt it was a winner.

A lot of people have compared Jolly Rover to original 2D Monkey Island. What do you think of the comparison.

I’m flattered. The original Monkey Island (and the sequel) are probably my favourite games of all time. When the Nintendo DS came out in 2004, I wanted to make a pirate adventure for it, really trying to use it to its full potential. We hadn’t seen or heard from the Monkey Island series in a while and I really wanted to play a new pirate adventure. I thought the DS was a perfect device for adventure games. But I couldn’t get any real traction for this idea at the many game developers I worked at.

By 2008 it was getting to be an old idea, the DS had been out for a while and successful adventures had come out on it. But after completing Avenue Flo, I thought I could revive the idea by developing it for the PC/Mac using the same engine I used for Avenue Flo and Emerald City, we still hadn’t seen any decent pirate adventures then so I thought we would be poised to release something relatively new. Of course after I got the game funded we saw A LOT of new pirate adventures coming out. Doh!

By the way it was NEVER my intention to rip of Monkey Island. The Monkey Island games are the BEST pirate adventure games of all time. It would be impossible to make ANY pirate adventure game and not be compared to Monkey Island, especially if you’re making a comedic pirate adventure. But just because Wolfenstein was set in World War II, does that mean every other First Person Shooter to be set in World War II is ripping off Wolfenstein?

Jolly Rover boasts a cast of dogs, which is definitely unusual. What’s up with that?

They weren’t always dogs, they were humans for a long time:
It wasn’t until I started writing a new design document for a pirate adventure for PC/Mac that I made the decision to go to dogs.
The main reasoning being humans just felt too generic, but put in dogs, and now you’ve got something different. Each dog with their own unique silhouette, breed and personality. And “Scurvy Dogs” just fit the pirate universe so well. And of course I wanted it to be a comedy, and not take itself too seriously, and felt dogs just added to the silliness of it all. Really I wanted to kind of parody the adventure and casual game genres in a way.

Do you have dogs as pets? What’s your favorite breed?

Growing up we always had a dog. My first dog was a Collie, then we had a Maremma. We don’t have a dog at the moment, we have two kids under three! When they get a bit older I think I’d like to get a Schnauzer, or maybe even a couple of little Dachshund’s named “Jolly” and “Rover.”

The pricing of games has become a major issue in the casual downloads space. Although portals have pressured you to release Jolly Rover at a $10 or even $7 price point, you remain firm about selling Jolly Rover for $19.99. Can you explain your reasoning?

Ah yes, it has been an issue! The game released at $19.99, and I believe it’s worth $19.99. People perceive it as an indie game, and it is, but I’ve received comments that it doesn’t look like an indie game. The production values are high for an indie/casual game, it’s been reviewing well and people are definitely enjoying the game.

Of course, it doesn’t appeal to everyone, no game does that. But a permanent drop to around $10 would be a disservice to the people that have already bought the game, and show my lack of confidence in the game, it might also lead people to believe it’s an inferior product.

Of course, pricing is organic, and you have to watch the price and compare this to peoples’ perceptions, it won’t be at $19.99 forever, but will stay there for a while yet. The big issue here has been the game not releasing on Big Fish Games due to their flat $6.99 pricing. Don’t get me wrong, the people at Big Fish Games are great, I’ve met and chatted with them a few times, and they’ve given feedback about the game. But I simply can’t charge $19.99 for the game everywhere else while it’s $6.99 on Big Fish. If I do release there it will be when the price of the game has come down of its own accord, unless of course they’d allow me to just put it on their site just for a short sale.

Another thing is marketing. I tried to do as much of it as I could before release, but being a one man show, I wasn’t able to get it out to as many places as I would have liked. Jolly Rover will be in a couple of magazines (PC PowerPlay, MacLife), TV (Good Game) and hopefully many more game review sites. I really need to let the affect of this exposure sink in before I look at the pricing again.

How has the game been selling so far at the $19.99 price point?

Steady. It’s not an overnight smash hit, but I never expected that from a 2D point and click adventure. If people want to play a new 2D point and click adventure with the kind of production values Jolly Rover has, not to mention the high quality of voice acting, then they don’t have much choice. People can vote directly on whether they want to see this type of game continue to be made by buying the game.

Many people have said the point and click adventure genre is dead, I’m not seeing that, but the simple fact is if I can’t sell enough copies of Jolly Rover, there won’t be able to be any more games like this from Brawsome.

Can you give us any hints about your upcoming projects? Will Jolly Rover get a sequel?

There’s a sequel for Jolly Rover floating around in many notepads, scraps of paper, emails and word docs, whether I pull all these great new ideas together depends on sales. I’d also like to develop another series that moves away from pirates.

Obviously, I lost a lot of points for originality when I decided to make a pirate adventure, and I would really like to show that I am able to come up with something new. But I still really love the world of Jolly Rover and would be very happy to jump back into it and expand it again.

Any last words for your fans?

Wow! I have fans!? Should I start wearing dark glasses when I go to the shops?

Well, as an indie developer, especially one just starting out, I don’t have a marketing budget, I rely heavily on reviews, so if you l liked the game, please let people know, preferably online. Also, bad reviews really hurt, I’m not talking about my feelings, I’m talking about peoples’ perception of the game, and thus sales. So if you’re going to write something negative about the game, please make sure it’s constructive and well thought out. Constructive criticism can actually be helpful feedback.

I hope I’ve given people laugh and a fun experience. Many thanks for letting me think I can make games.

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