Simon the Sorcerer 3D: Interview with Andrew Brazier

Simon the Sorcerer I Simon the Sorcerer made his debut way back in 1993. His appearance took the adventure game community by storm with its potent mixture of wit and charm, and a host of colourful and quirky characters combined with a quest that was a worthy challenge.

Simon won a place in our hearts and he returned in fine form in 1995 in his second humorous adventure.

Now at last he's about to make appearance number three, but this time he's had a thorough makeover. Will the changes satisfy Simon's legion of existing fans and captivate a new generation of adventure game players?  We certainly hope so!

Quandary is delighted to have the opportunity to put some questions to Andrew Brazier who is working as Assistant Designer on Simon 3D, and who previously worked on The Feeble Files and the 'never finished' 2D version of Simon 3.

Quandary: Among adventure game players Simon is an enduring character right up there with other likeable characters such as Guybrush and Rincewind. How do you account for Simon's popularity?

Andrew: Because he's normal. Well, apart from the stupid clothes and dubious magical prowess, he's basically an everyday kid with the usual problems to match. I think as well that people can spot he has a softer side under his arrogant exterior - it doesn't show very often, just occasionally, but he's definitely got it!

Quandary: Harry Potter is another such character who, like Simon, seems to be popular with adults as well as younger readers and, given that many adventure game players are also avid readers, do you see the potential for Simon to pick up new fans from amongst the Harry Potter readership?

Andrew: We can only hope! There are a number of parallels between Harry and Simon, so hopefully Harry fans will enjoy Simon's adventures and the game will fill the void until the inevitable HP game comes out. They share a lot personality-wise, although Harry is probably a bit nicer than Simon. Our games have always been popular with the whole family, so hopefully Simon 3D should be just the same.

Quandary: The phenomenal success of Harry Potter has taken a lot of people by surprise, apparently he was rejected by several publishers. This reminds us of the trials and tribulations that Simon has gone through. We know you had problems with publishers, would you like to elaborate on your experience? For example, it is well known that Simon 3D began as a 2D game and was changed to 3D because of publisher pressure or resistance. How did this make you feel?

Andrew: I was pretty gutted, especially as Simon Woodroffe (the lead designer) and I had finished the entire design for the 2D version, and had begun writing the script. When I think of the hours we toiled thinking up puzzles, it seems a real shame to see it go metaphorically in the bin. In retrospect though, it was probably the best thing for us, as we have now made the transition to 3D which means we have more chance of getting future games released. Unfortunately, 2D is pretty much dead now. The only way we could make a 2D adventure nowadays is to fund it ourselves, which is unlikely, especially as adventures are probably the most demanding (resources-wise) games you can make.

Quandary: It must have been frustrating to have a game almost completed then have to go back to the drawing board. Weren't you tempted to complete it and sell it through your website?

Andrew: It was nowhere near finished - it would have needed at least another year of work to get it anywhere near playable. It would have been nice to see how some of those puzzles worked, but it's never going to happen.

Quandary: Despite Simon being a 'kid', albeit with 'attitude', in our experience his biggest fans are mature players. Is this also your experience and did you expect this to be the case? For example, when Simon was created did you have a target audience in mind? Did you see Simon as being played by his peers or by his parents?

Andrew: Simon was originally created as a child/teen audience game, but we found that often it'd be played by families. The kids would play the game, with the parents watching and giving help, and then when the kids went to bed the parents would load it up again, just to get a little bit further. Adventures are one of those types of games where they can be almost as much fun to watch as to play, and I think this is where the appeal is with the older generation. That, and the fact that they aren't too demanding to play and you can take them at your own pace.

Quandary: Hmmm, this answer is fascinating from two perspectives. Firstly, are you saying that Simon fans are mostly kids, that adults only play incidentally to help the kids out? This is quite different to our own impressions, as our question suggested. Over the years we've formed the opinion that Simon is popular with everyone ... from 7 to 70 ... and beyond. We know lots of players who have purchased Simon games who haven't necessarily used kids as their excuse :-) Have you done a survey to arrive at your conclusion? What makes you think that Simon doesn't appeal so much to mature players?

Andrew: Mostly the feedback we get is from people who write in or phone us after finishing the game, or people who are stuck and ring our tech support line. We often find that these people are mums or dads who say that 'their child is stuck' etc.etc. when we suspect otherwise! I totally agree that Simon seems to appeal to a 7 - 70 age group, I just think that most often the parents buy the game for their kids, and then discover that it's actually quite fun and get into it themselves. Then there is also the group of more mature players who buy the game themselves because they prefer the more relaxed gameplay of adventures.

Quandary: Secondly, you do say that adults, 'the older generation', aren't too daunted by Simon because the games aren't too demanding! This could be misinterpreted. Are you saying that the 'older generation' don't play difficult games because it is beyond them? Who are we talking about here, late 30s and upwards? This is the age range that could be Simon's parents and the parents of children who would play the games. Just in case you incriminate yourself here :-) you are talking about us, and a huge proportion of Quandary readers! Perhaps you should clarify the word 'demanding' to be on the safe side :-) Adventure game players see a 'demanding' game as one that requires a lot of brain power. We suspect (and hope) you mean that the Simon games aren't 'demanding' on the reflexes which is a different kettle of fish altogether :-)

Simon the Sorcerer IIAndrew: That's correct - sorry if it came out wrongly. What I mean is, that the 'older generation' of gamers are often put off by games which have complex control systems, high adrenaline action etc.etc. Whether or not this is because they came to gaming later in life and haven't had joystick in hand from the age of five, or whether you just prefer less action orientated games as you get older, I don't know. However, I would say that adventures are probably the genre most played by the 'older generation', because of their relaxed gameplay (you can take it at your own speed) and the fact that it exercises the brain more than most games. Unfortunately though, the number of 'traditional' adventures is rapidly becoming less and less, so I am unsure as to how many games there will be in the future which will appeal to this audience.

Quandary: Do you think that game publishers are generally aware that adventure game players are probably older and possibly more mature than the perceived market for computer games, and are not always looking for the latest technological breakthrough?

Andrew: I think they realise that market exists, but it can only really be considered as a niche when played against the massive 'gen-x' market, which encompasses roughly a 13-26 age range. It is that market where the money is for the publisher, so that's who they aim the games at (and therefore only want games for) - and that market tends to require products which look better and run faster than the last one they bought. It would be nice to just develop adventures for the older market, but a bit of a risk financially.

Quandary: As Simon 3D will be mouse-less is the shift to the keyboard and joystick control deliberately designed to attract a younger target audience who are perhaps more familiar with action type games?

Andrew: No - the decision to use keyboard control was purely because of the viewpoint problems. Simon 3D uses many different types of camera, which makes it different to Grim Fandango or other '3D' adventures. We have Fixed Static Cameras (cameras which don't move and look in one direction only) and Fixed Dynamic Cameras (don't move position, but rotate to constantly look at Simon) - both of which would work OK with mouse control, although it would be a bit fiddly.

However, a lot of the game is played in 'Shoulder Camera' viewpoint, which is a roving, completely free moving camera which is positioned behind and slightly above Simon. This viewpoint is used in large open spaces, or when Simon has to cover a lot of ground (which you have to in the forest). It is impossibly difficult to use a mouse to control Simon in this viewpoint, using the standard 'Click where you want the character to move to' method, because Simon is always in the way of where you want him to go (assuming you want him to run straight ahead). Therefore you have to zig-zag left and right to get him to go anywhere, which is really annoying. Keyboard control is by far the easiest option in that case.

Quandary: Considering that most adventure game players are not used to keyboard/joystick or gamepad navigation are you anticipating a similar outcry to that received by Grim Fandango? How will Simon's control system differ? Will it be easier?

Andrew: It may take a bit of getting used to for people who have previously only used the mouse, but it is easy to pick up. I think one of the main problems why GF was difficult to control was that the constantly changing viewpoint could leave you a bit confused as to where you actually were. That, and the fact that Manny was 'pulled' towards doorways and other areas of interest, which meant that you weren't strictly in control of him all the time. Plus, you could get him stuck by walking behind something that obscured the camera's view. This can still happen occasionally in Simon 3D in areas using fixed cameras, but you can switch to 'Simon's eye view' camera and see where you are. It makes you feel much more 'in the world'.

Quandary: What about inventory manipulation? How is this handled and will it be possible to easily combine items in your inventory?

Andrew: Every object Simon picks up is kept in his spell book which is a separate screen from the main game interface. Simon can carry one object at a time 'In-hand', and you use his spell book to select what this is. Hitting ALT during the game will have Simon use whatever object he has in hand with whatever he is looking at. Combining objects in your inventory is just as easy. It's a very simple system which is very easy to pick up.

Quandary: The change to 3D generally has unsettled some adventure game fans like us. The Kings Quest VIII experience comes to mind. We were promised an adventure game what we got was an action game. Your latest game description promises a return to familiar adventure game problems does this mean that Simon won't be performing acrobatics and jumping lava pools?

Andrew: No - for a start, Simon can't jump. The most acrobatic thing he can do is crawl. I would have to be honest and say that Simon 3D is ever-so slightly more action orientated that the first two, but it is by no means an action game - there are just sections which could be considered as 'Action' (such as when Simon must beat a kid in a 'who can swing the highest' competition). No more action I'd say than in Monkey Island 3.

There are still masses of puzzles and conversations, so it is still a true adventure at heart. We wanted to be very careful that we didn't associate the change to 3D with a change of genre to Action / Adventure.

Quandary: What is it that 3D promises to deliver that 2D can't? For example, many proponents of 3D say it allows you to look under beds and behind wardrobes but so far no 3D adventures (with the possible exception of the Tex Murphy games) have really used this feature as a puzzle-oriented component which makes us think what's the point? Will Simon 3D have genuine adventure puzzles to solve utilising its 3D capability? Can you give a hypothetical example?

Andrew: Some puzzles in the game require switching to 'Simon's eye view' in order to complete, something that is not possible in 2D without a separate special screen for the purpose. Funnily enough, there is a puzzle early on which requires you to look under a (blank*) to find something you need, which means you have to use Simon's crawl abilities. The main advantage of 3D is that it lets the player go wherever they want, and see whatever they want, which really creates a compelling universe to play the game in.
(*Word omitted by Quandary in the interest of not giving a single thing away!)

Quandary: In the first two Simon games we loved the complexity of the adventuring problems that were posed where you couldn't get an item you needed until you had completed many, many other tasks. Can we look forward to similar complexities in Simon 3D?

Andrew: To a degree, yes - although we have tended to avoid the problems which require you to complete loads of unrelated puzzles just to get one item, as this fragments gameplay. We usually take each puzzle to a few stages though - so to complete objective A, you need objects B and C - you already have object B, but you need to do task D and E to be able to get object C. There are certainly lots of puzzles in the game though, and they are of a similar standard of complexity as those in Simon 1 and 2.

Quandary: Despite the change to 3D will the game maintain that unique Simon the Sorcerer humour with its parodies of other game genres and digs at game reviewers who are the bane of every creative genius?

Simon the Sorcerer 3DAndrew: Yes, Simon still has his sense of humour. One of the nice things he does is frequently step 'out' of the game, and make a comment about what's going on, or about the game development process in general. His swearing has been toned down a bit as the game is aimed at a family audience, but he still makes plenty of gags - no woman is left un-propositioned, no bodily abnormality left un-laughed at. You've got to remember the guy's still a teenager!

Quandary: Will the option of text captions be available (including in cut sequences) for players who are deaf or hard of hearing or for whom English is not their first language?

Andrew: Yes - you can play the game with text only, voice only, or a combination of both. We regret not having a text option in The Feeble Files, so made sure it was left in Simon 3D.

Quandary: Do you have a firm release date for the game?

Andrew: At the moment there is no 'cast in stone' date - although I would guess it to be around the end of November for the UK / Europe release and shortly after for the USA. By Christmas, definitely.

Quandary: Thanks very much for your time, Andrew, and despite our need for reassurance we are fans of Simon the Sorcerer and we wish you all the very best with the game.

Also check out our reviews of Simon the Sorcerer and Simon the Sorcerer II and The Feeble Files.

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