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Interview with Josh Mandel

We spoke to one of the big ones in the old sierra, writer and designer both in Sierra itself and in the equally important Legend Entertainment. Josh Mandel is quite known, among other stuff, for his participation in Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist (in which he played the rol of project director for his first time), Space Quest VI: The Spinal Frontier (in substitution of the Two Guys from Andromeda) or, being already at Legend, Callahan's Crosstime Saloon

# By Paco García |

Interview with Josh Mandel

Aventura y CÍA: We don't know very much now about that great group of designers, scriptwriters and many creative people from the Sierra On-Line of the '90s. Al Lowe is now focused on his website and jokes; Jane Jense is writing her novels; Ken and Roberta Williams seem to be kind of "out" of this world… What has become of Josh Mandel in the last years?

Josh Mandel: Well, after leaving Sierra On-Line, I went to Legend Entertainment. There, I did a little work on Shannara (which was designed by Corey and Lori Ann Cole of Quest for Glory fame) and designed Callahan's Crosstime Saloon. After Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, I worked with Broderbund on the Carmen Sandiego series, Sir-Tech on Jagged Alliance 2, and Microsoft, among others. Spent a year as Director of Game Design at Sega, for the launch of the Dreamcast (where I worked with Kurt Busch, editor of Sierra's InterAction Magazine), then came back east to New York to work with Vicarious Visions on a number of Gameboy and Playstation products. Now I'm freelancing, and still designing games.

Sierra On-Line logo
The life and work of Josh Mandel has been marked by two important companies, both big talent pools in their time: Legend Entertainment and Sierra On-Line.

AyC: In Spain there's a rumour going around that some of the one-time members of Sierra (including you), are now working in new adventures. Could you tell us something about this? Are you in touch with your ex-mates?

JM: For the last year and a half, I've been working on various projects for Health Media Lab, Inc., a company funded by the National Institute of Health. My main project for them is called The Adventures of D. M. Dinwiddie, P. I. T., an adventure game for schools that teaches health and first aid to 8-to-12-year-olds… a little like a Police Quest-style real-life simulation. The art is being done by Rich Powell and the animation by Karin Nestor, both artists from Sierra. I'm also working on a "fangame" of Space Quest. And I do speak with many of the old Sierra folks from time to time… Bill Shockley, Andy Hoyos, Bruce and Leslie Balfour, Al Lowe, Scott Murphy, Mark Crowe, Gano Haine, the Coles, Tammy Dargan, and others.

AyC: If one day you receive a phone call from one of these ex-mates –Al Lowe, for instance– telling you: "Josh, I want to make a new adventure: Pleisure Perry in the Land of the Lounge Wizards… Do you want to join me?" What would you say? Haven't you ever felt like doing yourself that phone call?

JM: Absolutely! I'd jump at a chance to work with the Sierra people again. In fact, some of us have had email conversations from time to time in which we discussed possible future projects. To me, these people are not only great designers, but they were groundbreakers as well. The computer game field was still very young in those days, and much of what's done today owes a debt of gratitude to these pioneers. I was proud to work with them.

AyC: There is a big discussion concerning the future of graphic adventures: Some people think that everything is done and the genre is at the edge of extinction, like the text adventures were once; others feel that it just needs a renewal and are with those mixtures with other kind of games like arcade or the on-line multiplayer option; and others say that the adventure is just fine as it is and the only responsibles of this bad moment are the companies that don't want to put their money into big projects like these. What do you think about this?

JM: I think that the name "adventure game" carries an implication that the game is going to be slow and unappealing to young players. Many companies believe that young players form the backbone of the entire computer game audience, so they shy away from producing these games. But there are still adventure games being produced; it's just that the developers have to avoid using the NAME "adventure game" to avoid prejudicing people. Instead, they use words like "action adventure" even though most adventure games have had some kind of action element (look at the Leisure Suit Larry, Police Quest, and Space Quest games!).

AyC: The only sure thing is that the future of the genre is uncertain. Sierra is already far away from the genre, and LucasArts is now getting far as well. Is this lethargy definite os is just a matter of time? In Space Quest IV, we could see the proof of the easiness of premonition that you, Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy have. Tell us, how would it be the adventure of the future?

The Dagger of Amon Ra
Together with Bruce Balfour and Lorelei Shannon, Josh started writing games in The Dagger of Amon Ra, the sequel to Roberta Williams’ classic Colonel’s Bequest.

JM: Once companies started producing 3-D games, it's become very difficult to go back to 2-D games, so I think 2-D games will reach the same state that text adventures are in now – produced mostly by fans on an amateur basis. 3-D games will rule for many years, and the changes we'll see are, like the changes we've seen for the past few years, very slow, small improvements. So the 3-D games will become more realistic, with better lighting, shadow, and detail, but our way of interacting with the game will not change much for a long time. This may be a good thing since developers will have to create newer and more interesting plots and structures, and be less reliant on new technology to impress players.

AyC: In spite of the "bad health" the adventure is suffering, more and more fan groups are being created (both in Europe and in the US) spending their time to revive the genre. You are one of the most important persons in these initiatives. Do you think the amateur scene will take the enough shape to challenge and rival the professional productions?

JM: The importance of the amateur game-makers will be to put pressure on professional productions, as they are doing now with games like Tierra's remakes and Vonster the Monster's Space Quest: The Lost Chapter. I don't think they will rival the professional productions in terms of mass popularity, because amateur productions can't afford the immense costs of development to produce the kinds of graphics and features that the mass market has come to expect. If amateur developers get someone to pay those costs, then they're not amateurs anymore!

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