Porting adventure games to tablets: is it worth it? And what’s next for Wadjet Eye?

December 31, 2013
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As Brooklyn-based Wadjet Eye Games, the husband-wife duo of Dave and Janet Gilbert specializes in niche adventure games that they've been porting to iOS and Android. Games like The Shivah, Gemini Rue, the Blackwell series, and Resonance have enthralled fans of the classic genre on PC, and now that they're being ported to tablets a whole new audience is gaining access to them.

But how much time does it take to port a game like The Shivah, a murder mystery starring a rabbi that lasts around two hours, to mobile platforms? And is it worth it? I spoke with Dave and Janet about their unique brand of adventure games and the art of balancing creation with re-creation.

TabTimes Games: Are you two the entire company?

Dave: That's correct.

Janet: Does Ben count?

Dave: Yeah, Ben counts. We just hired a full-time artist, so I guess that counts. But he's only been involved for about a month and a half now.

Janet: He did all the art for the new version of The Shivah.

How do you describe your games?

Dave: I mean they're point-and-click adventure games obviously. And we like to think of ourselves as, you know, a small operation, but we're very—what would be the word?

Janet: Dynamic.

Dave: Dynamic, yeah. We like to stay flexible and do different things. So our games are best described as point-and-click adventure games, emphasis on story. We just love doing it. And I guess our roles would be: I am kind of the chief creative officer or chief executive offer. I started the company, and then Janet joined up in 2009 when she married me.

Janet: I do programming. Recently I've been doing porting.

When did you decide to start porting your games to tablets?

Dave: Well it really started when—the AGS engine, which we code all our games in, was originally just PC only. But then a port was made—the engine went open sourced a few years ago. The members of the community started working on a port, and we took advantage of it basically. Since the port was available we decided it was time.

What's the process like?

Janet: The editor compiles games into an exe file on a PC, but the ported version of the engine takes that exe file and puts it onto the iOS device and runs it as a data file. So I work mostly on PC altering the games from their form that's PC friendly to a form that's more iOS friendly; enlarging hot spots, changing the control system—in Shivah's case re-implementing all the graphics again, all the animations, all the backgrounds, putting all the new ones in. When that's done we take the compiled exe file and use a Mac to put in on an iOS device.

Do you revamp the graphics for every game you're going to port?

Dave: Just Shivah. Do you want to tell the story or should I?

Janet: We wanted a really quick game that I could do while I was getting back from having a baby, which we had six months ago—seven months ago. And I wanted something that would be really quick and simple. Shivah's our shortest game and it's also wholly owned by us so we didn't have to get anybody's permission. So I thought it was going to be really quick and simple but unfortunately it took a long time because when we got it on device we found the graphics were too small. They were really letterboxed and so tiny. So we had to get all the art re-drawn which took a long time because it wasn't just re-drawing—I also had to re-implement whenever a character walked somewhere, I had to change the x/y coordinates because the graphics were different sizes and shapes. So it took a long time. Also we were moving houses a lot.

Dave: Yeah, we moved four times. So it wasn't fun. We debated whether we should just go and do some of our other games, but The Shivah is still—we wanted to do something short. Still it would've taken less time to remake The Shivah than it would have to port any of our other games because they were so much more complex. And The Shivah was short, simple, and even though we had to redo all the graphics it was still our best option at the time.

Is it worth it? Do you see a lot more sales on tablets?

Dave: I think it's getting more and more streamlined now, so it's taking Janet less time.

Janet: We're looking at getting someone else to do it so that we can work on more original things.

Dave: It's definitely worth it in the long run. It's always good to have stuff on multiple platforms. But we know our real money always comes from new stuff. So that's why we decided, now that Janet kind of has the process down, to hire people to help us. Rather than us do one game at a time, we want to hire someone else to do all of them while we focus on new stuff and kind of release the iOS version simultaneously. So that's what we're doing now.

So for future games you want to release the iOS version and the PC version at the same time?

Janet: Yeah, if possible.

Dave: If possible.

But for now you're working on porting over the Blackwell series, right?

Dave: Yeah.

Janet: That's what I'm currently working on.

Do you have any specific numbers for the iOS launches versus the PC launches?

Janet: No one else does.

Dave: I mean it's doing great. It's doing fine. I mean, I will say, [The Shivah] is a remake of our first game, and it has a very bizarre subject matter—the whole Jewish rabbi thing. So it's already got a niche appeal that's maybe been made more niche.

Janet: A lot of people thought it was some religious game. They thought it was going to try to convert you and were freaked out by that. But it's not.

Dave: It's fine doing something so niche because we didn't spend that much time working on it. It took Janet five months, but that was part-time, because she was also looking after the baby.

Janet: And moving a lot.

Dave: And moving four times! So altogether we put maybe three months of hours into it, and it's more than earned that back. So we're very happy with how it's doing on iOS. And on PC as well—they're kind of spurring each other.

Janet: It was released on PC as well because it was a remake, essentially, with all the new graphics. It was on Steam for the first time.

Dave: That was a big coup, getting it on Steam as well.

Janet: Almost all of our games were on Steam.

Do you have plans to go onto Android or other platforms?

Dave: Yeah, we can talk about that. Gemini Rue is coming to Android very soon [ed. note: it's available now!]. You'll be seeing a press release about that very soon. And we're hoping to push that over to everything else. It's going to be on Mac and Linux soon as well, so we're hoping to take what we got from—we outsourced that, so now that they finished we're hoping to take that method and bump it over to all our other games to hopefully get those ported quicker. Android, Mac and Linux very soon.

What do you think are the strengths of tablets and what do they add to your games?

Dave: I know that as I start using my iPad more and more I kind of like the fact that I can take it to the couch, I can take it to the living room tablet, I can take it on the subway, I can take it—I just went to AdventureX in the UK, and I was using it on the plane. It's just so easy. And being accessible on that kind of platform—the device itself is so accessible, which is why it's great to put our stuff on there. You're not limited to just your computer. Even laptops—lugging around a laptop is not something people would do. But they bring around their iPads, or even their iPhones—the games are on iPhones as well. And just having that accessibility is good for us. And the point-and-click system translates pretty well to a touch screen interface. So it's more like "reach-and-touch" as opposed to point-and-click.

Janet: It's very immediate. You feel tactile. You feel like you're more engrossed in the world than moving a mouse and clicking.

Dave: Yeah, you definitely feel more engrossed, because like she said it's very immediate.

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