SA Spotlight focuses on South Africa in the game industry. This month we had the opportunity to speak to Louis Du Pisani and Graeme Selvan from local start-up dev, Robot Wizard. Together, they’re working on an up-coming point-and-click adventure called Jengo. Check out my interview with them below.
Hey Graeme and Louis, thanks for stopping by to tell us about Jengo! For those who don't know you and your work, could you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Louis: I'm a former Ad guy and a current TV content guy. I sometimes play in a band and I've dabbled in the local music industry. I don't fit on airplanes. I started animating on a dare.
Graeme: I am 35 years old, I like long walks on the beach and a good piri-piri chicken. Aside from that, gaming has played a major part in my life since the iAPX 286 days. I was hooked at the endless possibilities gaming could bring to the table.
My dream in my younger years was to become a game developer. Unfortunately, South Africa was not in a position to afford me the opportunity to study game development. Naturally, I gravitated towards getting a job and entered the rat race as a web programmer. My end goal was still to work towards entering the gaming industry. That dream came true after 6 years of planning where I started as the PR Manager for XBOX South Africa. I got a taste of the gaming industry internationally and wanted more. Since then, I have worked for companies like Megarom Interactive and was exposed to major studios internationally. The bug bit hard and that’s where I made the decision to stop talking about making a game and actually get off my arse and do something about it. The idea of Jengo was 6 years in the making, it was time to turn it into something.
So, what is Jengo?
Graeme: Jengo is a point and click adventure, it will bring back all those warm and fuzzy memories you had when you played games like Full Throttle, DOTT, and Curse of Monkey Island. The game is about a fella that’s into games, so into games that he brushes Contra aside without losing a life, knows exactly where the secret passages are, and where the loot is stashed without even phoning a hint line... A man from another time... A time before every gamer tried to be a stream celebrity, before every gamer could shout on a forum about how they knew better than the guys who made their favourite games in the first place, a time when gaming was about gaming (and sitting glued to the screen during summer holidays). This is a story about a gamer lost in modern times. His name is Jeff.
Elsewhere, beyond the realm of the real world, is a lonely place at the edge of the Pixelverse. A dumping ground for the Nobody-folk who were almost somebody — but have long lost their dreams at a drinking hole in the middle of the desert, in the middle of nowhere. Little did they know that all they needed was a hero... Sadly, considering the nature of forgotten places, no such hero ever came by, so they’ll have to settle for a gamer instead.
Jeff finds himself warped into a world full of forgotten game creations. A place packed with all the Player 3s that nearly hit the big time, didn’t, and then got on with it.
Where did the idea come from?
Graeme: The idea cropped up over 6 years ago, Louis and I have always chatted about creating a point and click adventure. We truly are making a game we would want to play. The basic idea of Jengo spawned from a book called Ready Player One, if you have not read it I highly recommend you pick it up. Apart from the book, the idea of playing a game about all the player 3s really appealed to us. No one has ever told their story, so we thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to make fun of it in a videogame.
Louis: Graeme brought the broad stroke concept to the table and we've been fleshing out the details for close to 2 years now. I've been grafting hard on the story structure and general narrative — which also drives character creation. Coming up with the name was a gruelling process, but we're very happy with the title 'Jengo'. When we decided to put some folklore behind the character and his back story, the name popped up quite quickly. I'm a big fan of Spanish folklore and the word 'game' in Spanish is 'Juego'... Jengo just evolved from that. Jeff was foretold as the Gamer who will save the Pixelverse from the Faceless menace.
Have you been involved in game development before?
Graeme: Nope not at all, I have been a programmer for MANY years, but I have not officially been involved in making a game before. This is my first dance, but I think we are doing a great job so far. Thankfully, my programming skills have helped me immensely, and being a hardcore gamer helps me identify potential problems in game design.
Other than development, you've worked in the games industry before. Has your experience been an influence on your design?
Graeme: Absolutely it has. I would say my experience thus far has mostly helped in marketing and communication. Being a gamer for the majority of my life has really helped too when it comes to the design of Jengo. Louis comes from a strong TV and music background, the man is a creative genius, so the two of us working together on Jengo is a dream come true. I truly believe we are crafting something special and I can’t wait for gamers to get their hands on the title.
Jengo is an incredibly colourful game, one would say its art style is almost psychedelic, why did you approach art design in this way?
Louis: I've always thought that the old games have a strange psychedelic slant to them. In the classic era of gaming, the stories were deeply set in fantasy and escapism and the visual language very much represented this. Heroes were plumbers and hedgehogs —mushrooms and flower-power made you mighty. We're just pushing the innuendo into the sea and seeing how far it sails.
From a genre perspective, point and click seems to be making a notable comeback, why did you guys decide to return to this classic genre?
Graeme: Louis and I are lovers of point and click adventures, we could have made a shooter or RPG, but we decided our first game needs to come out of our love for the genre. Jengo is truly a passion project, think of it as our own contribution to the gaming industry.
In years to come I would love for people to bring up Jengo as a memorable experience they will never forget.
Louis: We actually decided to do this back in 2008-ish before the genre's resurgence. It's simply the game we wanted to make.
What engine are you guys using to build the game?
Graeme: We are using Unity to build our game.
For those only hearing about the game now, what platform is Jengo launching on and do you have plans to bring the game to console at a later date?
Graeme: Jengo is set to launch on PC and tablet, but as an exclusive for my good friends at the Nexus, we are officially announcing here today that plans are well underway to bring Jengo to Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. As soon as we have launch dates in mind we will announce more details.
Juggling a full time job and a project like this can't be easy, how often are you guys in the studio?
Louis: I'm managing my time a little differently due to being a freelancer. Thursdays and Fridays are Jengo development days. Weekends as well. So I try to push at least 3 or 4 full days a week on the project, otherwise it'll never get done
Graeme: It’s a hard slog on top of work. I have an 11 month old son too, so every free minute aside from that is dedicated to building out Jengo. Thankfully, Acer came to the party and donated 2 Predator 17s, so Louis and I can work on the go or when we are on holiday. The work schedule is about to elevate to a new level in the coming months, unfortunately we can’t mention too much about that yet, but our end goal is to be able to work on Jengo full time and not part time. More on that soon!
That’s exciting! Meanwhile, can you tell us a little bit about the soundtrack of Jengo?
Grame: The soundtrack has also been a hot topic of discussion for us. Thankfully, with Louis being heavily invested in music, it’s afforded us the opportunity to bring some big names on board. Our audio team features Riaan Bothma from Underbelly, Chris van der Walt from The Black Cat Bones, Boargazm, and way too many other bands to mention. Stefan Stabic from The Drift is also lending us some of his musical skills as well. You could say we have some exceptional talent on board here.
The music in Jengo will also evolve as the player moves through the world. The game kicks off in the desert, so music will feature a lot of strings and stabs. As the player makes his way to more urban environments the music will become a lot more mechanical and electronic. It makes sense to us that the music evolve along with the game.
Louis: I'm very excited for this one. We're working with the cats in the Black Cat Bones, Boargazm, Underbelly, and The Drift. Chris van der Walt and Riaan Bothma in particular. Our process thus far is to improv-jam over the scenes to see what comes out. From there, we take the rough recordings and finesse them for the final versions. It's a very exciting way to score a game.
Can we expect any South African-isms in the final release?
Louis: More like Easter Eggs. We're pulling from much-beloved inspirations, so we don't want to just “Saffricanise” them for the sake of it. When it suits, it'll be included. There is at least one character that will strongly influenced by Fourways culture. When we need a “foreign” sounding language we'll look close to home.
Have you guys had a lot of interest in the game internationally?
Graeme: We have deliberately tried to keep the news to a minimum internationally. Our goal was to give South Africans a taste of what we were doing. Home is where the heart is, so we wanted to bring all our “chines” along for the ride. In saying this, we have picked up a fair amount of interest internationally and we expect things to explode in our kick-starter announcement.
You guys were looking for some local voice talent recently, how is that going?
Graeme: It actually went too well, the response was exceptional and we have well over 400 submissions. The talent in this country when it comes to voice work surpassed my expectations and my inbox size. It was a very humbling response to see so many passionate people wanting to get involved with Jengo.
Are you voicing any characters?
Grame: We may cameo ourselves as the developers in the game, but the plan is to leave most of it up to the pros
How can our readers get involved with the project, if at all?
Louis: There's a Kickstarter looming. Stay tuned, don't touch that dial.
In terms of a release, when can we expect to see Jengo launch?
Louis: We're REALLY hoping for Feb or March 2018
Looking way ahead, do you guys have plans for a follow up title after the dust has settled?
Louis: There are so many ideas... We want to branch out and collaborate with as many people as we can on many different titles. I have an idea that I'm set on doing and sure Graeme is brewing up something as well. Jengo will always be our mutual baby, but I'm sure for the next few projects we'll get some more fresh hands in the Robot Wizard pie.
One tablespoon Star Wars, a dollop of motorsport, a splash of Metal Gear. And a pinch of space magic. Mix and blend. Smashing! Is also running for congress.
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