Her Majesty's SPIFFING is a space adventure game that's taking British colonialism to the stars - to seek out new worlds and presumably introduce them all to the best method of brewing a lovely pot of tea. We spoke with Billy Goat Entertainment's Director William Barr to discuss the game as he embarks on his own epic adventure into the realm of Kickstarter.
Strategy Informer:Her Majesty's SPIFFING is Billygoat Entertainment's first move away from iOS and Android games, what is it about the PC that attracts you as a platform?
William Barr: Up until now we really haven't had too much of a choice as to the platform we've been developing for. Most of our back catalogue has been promotional games that we've put together for clients. Naturally these marketing type folks have heard that the App Store is where it's at, as such that's why we've been developing for iOS and Android.
However, the types of games that we want to make don't really suit the one or two minute experiences most popular on that platform. We want to make games that you make time to play, sit down and concentrate on. More specifically, we want to make adventure games, and folks that like adventure games tend to hang out on PC.
Strategy Informer:Her Majesty's SPIFFING is already showcasing a strong focus on humour and/or mockery of the British and their colonial enterprise, just what is it about British Culture that you find so hilarious?
William Barr: Well, British Culture, or more accurately, the British Establishment, is something that is very easy to find amusing. Everything is very twee, institutions have been around for centuries and have inherited traditions that on the face of it have no place in the 21st Century, yet they live on. This I believe has given the British, perhaps more than any other nation, a great readiness to laugh at themselves.
For example, when a new government is elected, Parliament is officially opened by the Queen. A variety of traditions are carried out including ‘The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod’ (to give him his official title), in ceremonial robes, marching to the doors of the House of Commons, hitting them with an ornate stick to symbolise such and such. Objectively this chap knows he looks ridiculous and what he's doing is ridiculous, however he just gets on with things. Why? Because these quaint traditions are what puts the Great in Great Britain! So he proceeds, in spite of knowing he'll be sniggered at, humbly and dutifully.
Strategy Informer: How did the concept of Her Majesty's SPIFFING come about? Obviously your background as a studio is in games for mobile platforms, was this a case of a project that has been in the back of your minds all along, or was it more about branching out and trying something new?
William Barr: Truth be told, back in The Goat's formative years we had aspirations to turn Her Majesty's SPIFFING into an animated short film. However, then we hired a programmer, then we thought it would be infinitely more enjoyable as a point and click adventure game. So it's been an idea that's been on our minds for a while, however it's only really now that we have a team of folks that would be able to pull it off to as good a standard as I'd personally be happy with.
Strategy Informer: Returning to humour – is it fair to say that you've been influenced by the likes of Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert? If not, who or which games do you consider to be the key influences on Her Majesty's Spiffing?
Well, I have oft said that we intend to pay homage to Mr Schaefer and Mr Gilbert in Her Majesty's SPIFFING, by which I naturally mean plagiarise. It's fair to say that we've also been somewhat influenced by Terry Pratchett's Discworld games, not least because of the hilarious performance of Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame) as Rincewind, the game's protagonist.
More recently Hector: Badge of Carnage and it's subsequent episodes (created by Straandlooper, a studio within caressing distance from ourselves) have been a large, perhaps bad influence. Outside of games we're drawing on the spirit of the late Leslie Nielsen and his oddball comedies such as Police Squad, Airplane, the Naked Gun etc... So, expect frequent double entendres and a reckless dismantling of the proverbial fourth wall.
Strategy Informer: Recent forays into the adventure genre have seen titles likes The Walking Dead, that takes an almost interactive film approach, as well as games like the Deponia series with its more traditional (ill)logic puzzles. Which style would you say Her Majesty's SPIFFING is closer to?
William Barr: Can I take this opportunity to say I love The Walking Dead, however, we do not intend to have the scenario where you use a broken spark plug to shatter a car window, I don't care if it legitimately works in real life! That particular puzzle descended into the just click everything territory, highlighting some of the genre's more frustrating moments. I know that the folks behind Deponia purposefully go out of their way to employ more far-fetched puzzles for comic effect, Her Majesty's SPIFFING will fall somewhere between the two.
While on occasion you may be simply scavenging the environment to recover a 3.5" floppy disc to help reboot your ship's computer, on another occasion you may be required to duct-tape items to an amphibian from your ship's biological science micro-lab to use as a distraction in order to avoid a character hindering your progress.
Regardless of the level of absurdity, we want to give the player puzzles that make logical sense in the game world, we don't want to make things too obscure that the player will have to watch a Let's Play to progress, but we want to make it challenging enough that they'll feel smart once they work it out.
Strategy Informer: Can you give us any more details on the kinds of puzzles and experiences we can expect in Her Majesty's SPIFFING? Classic adventure games like Monkey Island would often introduce ideas like Insult Swordfighting that I could see translating to good effect in a game like yours, where you're trying to deal with rival space travellers or aliens, are there any plans for diplomacy mini-games or moments like that?
William Barr: We do indeed have plans for mini-games to break up all the talking, collecting and clicking. While we don't intend to punish the player for not performing too well in these sections the outcome will always have a slight effect on the story. Obviously we'll have a cricket themed mini-game integral to the plot, however, given our protagonists are British, we may rig it to ensure that the player always loses.
Strategy Informer: Space travel and exploration is a concept often mined to great effect in gaming, but with a few exceptions – not generally adventure games, what is it about space travel that makes it a good fit for an adventure game?
William Barr: Well, firstly I should confess that we do intend to be rather selective about which scientific principles our protagonists adhere to. Of course space, being the final frontier and all that, naturally is filled with mystery. I think it's mainly down to our lack of concrete understanding what exactly is out there that gives folks a bit of a creative licence to go nuts and just make a load'a stuff up.
Strategy Informer: So following on from that - will the game be a largely linear experience, or are we able to make choices about where we go next in our travels?
William Barr: The core story of the game will be linear, however, all the conversations in the game will have multiple branches, so different players will be subjected to different trite jokes of ours, but they'll all suffer towards a common goal... I should clarify that's an attempt at my British, self-deprecating humour, I assure you the jokes will be super.
The mini-games we mentioned earlier will have a few different conclusions too that will often dictate small events in the story, but these won't affect the over-arching storyline.
Strategy Informer: Adventure games have been criticized in recent years for not evolving as much as other genres, which is often cited as a reason the genre faded somewhat into obscurity. Do you feel that's a fair comment to make? How 'evolved' do you feel Her Majesty's SPIFFING is as a game, or are you more concerned with simply making it the best classic-style adventure game you can?
William Barr: We did toy about with the idea of making the game first person and having the player float around in zero G shooting people, but then we saw the trailer for Call of Duty: Ghosts and figured people would just accuse us of copying them. However to seriously answer your question I remember listening to an interview with Tim Schafer about Psychonauts where he mentioned the publisher said that the QA guys where getting stuck at this particular puzzle in the game, to which Tim replied "That was the point". In that regard, i.e. the puzzles, we don't intend to stray too far from the genre's roots.
However, I would agree that a lot of recent adventure games are perhaps less intuitive than they could be, certainly when it comes to interaction. In our current build of the game (which is still very much in prototype stage) we have a context sensitive, interaction wheel that appears once the player right clicks on something in the environment. Four icons pop up where the player clicked (that should be quite self-explanatory) so the player can quickly chose their action. Implementing stuff like this we hope to streamline the interaction as much as possible, reducing unnecessary clicking (this isn't DOTA, after all!).
Strategy Informer: So you just launched the Kickstarter to fund Her Majesty's SPIFFING, tell us a little about your funding targets and stretch goals?
William Barr: The story for Her Majesty's SPIFFING is split up into three chapters that we intend to release as episodes. We're trying to get the funding to develop episode one, our stretch goals essentially being completing the additional chapters (backers of course will get all three episodes, with the caveat that episodes 2 and 3 may be somewhat slower coming should we be successful but not reach those stretch goals).
At this moment in time we have an additional stretch goal that we would love to reach, we would really love to add a few zero gravity sections to the game as we've some cool ideas for puzzles. However, technically this is quite a big task as we'd have to develop an additional animation system for our characters and for objects floating in the environment so we'd need to bring a couple of extra guys in to meet our release target. We don't want to get too ahead of ourselves and have stretch goals for hitting ten million English pounds, we know that we aren't celeb devs so we've budgeted modestly!
Strategy Informer: Do you have a target yet set for release? There have been several Kickstarted games recently that have missed their target for release by quite a long way, have you taken on-board the way other studios's crowd-funding attempts have gone in that regard?
I think (and I trust the actual folk behind these games will forgive my ignorance) that, more often than not, the reason you hear of big profile guys missing their release date is usually down to their campaign being a bigger success than they had initially anticipated. With all that money a modest game with modest budget goes out the window in favour of epic game with (often) not just as equally epic a budget. Then problems start, you talk about releasing the game on Steam early access and the internet has a hernia.
We've a plan that we very much intend to stick to, if we were to find ourselves in the fortunate predicament of having an articulated vehicle load of extra cash we'd hire a few more guys and polish up what we already plan to do to a vibrant shine. We intend to release Episode One (entitled The Empire Staggers Back) provided we're funded in November 2014, depending on how successful the campaign is will dictate how soon we'll be able to complete the additional two chapters.
William, thank you very much for your time and for sharing those answers with us. Her Majesty's Spiffing has just launched onto Kickstarter, if you're interested in backing the project, head here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1236117571/her-majestys-spiffing. The game also has a Steam Greenlight page up: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=192829301 finally, you can follow William (@billysonthewall) on Twitter: https://twitter.com/billysonthewall