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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

AyC: With all of those games you've made, it's very clear the fact that your favourite genre is the adventure game. From your point of view, how would it be the perfect adventure? Which ones are closer to that?

Promoted by a pair of old fellows of Sierra, Mandel started working for other renowned adventure games company: Legend. His first work there was to help his “godfathers” as writer in Shannara, an adventure game based on a famous literary franchise with high role-playing remembrance.

JM: My ideal adventure game would be, at times, both very funny and very serious. The story would be timeless, so that it would appeal as much to audiences 50 or 100 years from now as it would appeal to audiences today. The puzzles would be logical and not so difficult that they would slow down the pacing of the story; each needs to have that "ah-HA!" element that makes you smart and clever for having solved it.

Most of all, I think, the game would have to be playable by everyone. With text adventures, deaf people could enjoy them because they didn't require sound; blind people could enjoy them with text readers; aged or infirm people could enjoy them because they didn't require fast reflexes or precision with a mouse. These days, ALL adventure games require good vision and good reflexes, and most require good hearing. I find it a shame that we've completely shut out the disabled.

The games that come closest to my ideal are all text adventures, such as those written by Steve Meretzky and Brian Moriarty. Because they only had text to deal with, they had to concentrate on the writing and the puzzles, and they succeeded in creating some of the best adventures ever written. Among my favorites are Planetfall, Leather Goddesses of Phobos and Trinity.

AyC: There is a common question between the Spanish adventure gamers: Why all that sudden deaths in every Sierra adventure? Were they to enlarge de game, a legacy from the text adventures or due to pure sadism?

JM: Yes, I believe the correct answer is that the deaths were carried over from text adventures. It started with King's Quest Roberta put in a lot of deaths because that's the way games had been done up until then, AND because it helped support the idea that, unlike (for example) Bruce Willis in Die Hard, you really had to believe that the main character was mortal and could die if he did things incorrectly. If you know that your character can't possibly die, then how do you ever feel that the character is in grave danger? You can't –you can only put the characters AROUND the main character in danger. So Roberta wanted people to feel that her main characters were mortal.

Then the Space Quest series came around, and the idea here was to poke fun at all the sudden deaths in King's Quest by making them extra-gruesome and very common. People seemed to really enjoy this.

Ron Gilbert made designers start to re examine the death issue by makin Guybrush Threepwood in Monkey Island games basically immortal. He felt that deaths pulled the player out of the story and broke the narrative structure. Eventually, many of the Sierra designers adopted the same attitude, although I think it was at a sacrifice of the sense of mortality for the main character.

Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon
At Legend, after working with the Cole in Shannara, he adapted the novel series by Spider Robinson Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon to the adventure game genre.

AyC: To conclude the interview, what would you say to all those fans who aim to become a subtitute to Josh Mandel?

JM: I would like to tell them that the computer game is a very powerful tool. Personally, I try to use it to make people laugh. I feel like if I've made someone laugh out loud, and brightened their day, then I've accomplished something completely good. But the potential power of the computer game is much greater than that.

When people sit in front of a monitor for hours, a box which puts out light and sound, people are put into an almost trance-like state… sort of mild hypnosis. This makes them very open to suggestion.

So study neuro-linguistic programming ("NLP") and apply it to what you create on the computer. You can make people laugh, you can make them cry, you can change their mood, their politics, their habits, their opinions. It is an enormous power. Use it wisely!

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