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Wadjet Eye Unavowed - Dave Gilbert's RPG-inspired urban fantasy game

Boleskine

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Dave is the current champion on Jeopardy!

MmVwawL.png
 

WallaceChambers

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"Very tastefully done" is a weird choice of words in response to someone telling you they beat off to your characters in an elaborate fashion.
 

MRY

Wormwood Studios
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A strange tweet, indeed.

Anyway, the thing is that it's very hard to capture just how much Unavowed has vindicated (and perhaps in some sense changed) WEG from a business standpoint. When Vic and I were just starting developing Primordia a decade ago, I reached out to Dave for some advice on game development, whether it made sense for us to make more adventures after Primordia or switch to a different genre. Dave wrote, "I have yet to make a game that comes close to six figures." (This was circa Blackwell Deception, before Dave published Gemini Rue.)

Dave then became a really successful publisher. I'm not sure now whether Gemini Rue or Primordia was the most successful of the published titles, but whereas prior games had not even yielded six figures in revenue, the published games (Gemini Rue, Resonance, Primordia, Technobabylon) all yielded six figures in copies sold. Even if many of these were sold at a discount, it was something like a 10-20-fold revenue increase. During this phase, WEG established itself as a publisher of commercially successful titles and a developer of fan-favorite niche games. Excluding Primordia, the published games tended to come in around ~90% popular with players (Gemini Rue is 89%, Resonance is 90%, Shardlight is 89%) and have relatively light player engagement (for instance, I think Gemini Rue sold about the same number of copies as Primordia, but has about 1/3 the reviews). The in-house Blackwell games tended to come in around ~95%+ positive (i.e., comparable to Primordia's 97%) and seem to have a similarly high rate of reviews per sale. For instance, Blackwell Epiphany seems to have sold perhaps 20% as many copies as Gemini Rue, but has about 60% the number of reviews (i.e., three times the yield).

Then you have Unavowed.

It's no longer possible to get reliable sales figures out of Steamspy. But Steamcharts shows Unavowed having concurrent player figures in its third year of release that are comparable to Gemini Rue at launch. Unavowed is 95% positive and has 835 reviews -- just about the same as as Gemini Rue (877). Within a year, Unavowed will become the second WEG title (after Primordia) to break 1000 player reviews. It was the third WEG title (after Primordia and Technobablyon) to win the "Overwhelmingly Positive" rating on Steam. If you poke around Twitter you see comparable levels of player engagement and enthusiasm.

This particular manifestation of player enthusiasm is cringeworthy, but what it is emerging from is something real: WEG's first in-house title that is a massive commercial success, and only commercial success other than Primordia and perhaps Technobablyon that has massive player engagement. The comparison to Bioware in that sense is warranted: Dave has found a formula that achieves both market success and a close emotional connection with his players. He's going to proceed like Bioware did -- distilling that formula into stronger and stronger proof, with fans getting drunker and drunker on it. That stopped with Bioware because it was bought up by a company that didn't know how to brew the liquor; but if the end result of this is Dave selling WEG to EA, three cheers for his success! More likely, he'll stay his own master and draw forth fans' enthusiasm in this vein for the next decade as he has for the past decade.
 

Alpan

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Grab the Codex by the pussy Pathfinder: Wrath
That stopped with Bioware because it was bought up by a company that didn't know how to brew the liquor

I would say it was quite the opposite. It was only following the EA acquisition -- post-Mass Effect and Dragon Age -- that BioWare became primarily associated with companions, romances and whatever else that would constitute "emotional connection" in the fanbase. That's what nu-BioWare is.

The collapse of BioWare has more to do with internal mismanagement and the unnatural, disastrous insistence from EA to use the Frostbite engine for all in-house development.
 

MRY

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Nah. BG2 was when romance came to the fore. I remember endless romance mods. And the guy making Broken Hourglass (Jason Compton?) flagged NPC romancing as a pillar of BioWare gaming. When I worked on DA:O, the Barbarian origin story I did (ultimately cut) had to include two romance options (available irrespective of gender). DA:O made added new dating sim mechanics like gift giving. ME and DA:O both added extensive romance scenes (including sex scenes IIRC). All of that was developed pre-EA.

Romances aren’t the only thing that gets an emotional connection obviously. Primordia didn’t have any; AOD doesn’t have any. Both have strong player connections. But it’s one form. I don’t think Unavowed’s secret sauce is romance; as far as I know, it doesn’t have romance at all. Rather, it’s that it is designed as a combat-free, stat-lite BioWare RPG in terms of party banter and relationship building. Dave figured that puzzle-oriented gameplay was breaking rather than fostering player engagement for his style of games, and he and Hepler came up with this new formula. It worked, obviously.
 

Alpan

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Grab the Codex by the pussy Pathfinder: Wrath
I didn't intend to come across as thinking romance was the main axis, it is only one flavor of the main course that is companion-centric design.

ME and DA:O both added extensive romance scenes (including sex scenes IIRC). All of that was developed pre-EA.

Yeah. I associate both franchises with EA influence, but you may be right that they predated EA.
 

WallaceChambers

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I wonder if Dave's next game will have the party mechanics that Unavowed did. During a panel about the future of adventure games (which barely addressed the topic lol) he spoke briefly about it and only mentioned one playable character. A girl with time travel abilities. He spoke about his desire to make the puzzles fun vs difficult (but didn't really elaborate on that) and said that he's basing them around the characters power.

I think romance would actually be a good fit for Unavowed but Dave has never written anything like (that Im aware of) that so I wonder if he's any good at it. I'm a sucker for bitchmade romance subplots so I'd eat that shit up.
 

MRY

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Alpan So, I can say that when I interviewed with the doctors at Bioware, which was in 2003, the described their core goal as character-relationship-centered story-telling, and they were really excited about how their improved 3D engine would allow much more emotion to be conveyed with facial animations and character emoting. And the work I did on the Barbarian origin was in 2004 and 2005. Mass Effect was actually released before or maybe just after EA acquired Bioware, but I don't think it had any hand in it. Dragon Age took forever to develop, so a fair amount of its development post-dated EA acquiring Bioware, but based on the design documents I saw (which was basically everything then in existence), my impression is that very little changed in the game's design between '04 and release -- for instance, the NPC romances and their various outcomes were all laid out. So, to me, the dating sim aspect of Bioware's games is not attributable to EA, though it may have mismanaged that aspect into the form that eventually got mocked.

WallaceChambers Are you sure he wasn't talking about that 3D game he released? Wasn't that a time-traveling girl? I can't remember for sure. I was under the (mis?)impression that the next game would be a sequel to Unavowed. (No insider knowledge, I just thought he said that on Twitter at some point.)
 

WallaceChambers

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WallaceChambers Are you sure he wasn't talking about that 3D game he released? Wasn't that a time-traveling girl? I can't remember for sure. I was under the (mis?)impression that the next game would be a sequel to Unavowed. (No insider knowledge, I just thought he said that on Twitter at some point.)

Nah, it's not the adventure jam game but that game did also have an element of time travel to it. I guess he's carrying over some of those ideas. Here's the video where he talks about his new project (it's time stamped to the relevant bit). He mentions that this is the first time he's said anything about it publicly.
 

lightbane

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He's going to proceed like Bioware did -- distilling that formula into stronger and stronger proof, with fans getting drunker and drunker on it.
In other words: Become increasingly degenerate and overflowing with hideous characters as modern politics creep into game development? Become a shadow of their former selves that is constantly ridiculed on? Lose their dignity as the developers visibly decay and degenerate in real time?
Why not join Epic's bribery scheme while you're at it?
 

MRY

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As I’ve said before, I don’t think he’s selling out at all; I think he’s making the games he dreamed of making, and is blessed enough to get rich doing so. They may not be the games you dreamed of playing, but that’s hardly his fault.

As for Epic, I have the good fortune of not caring much about the economics of my games. So I wouldn’t be interested in limiting my player base for Epicbux. Dave is doing so well as is, I don’t see why he would, either.
 

fantadomat

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As I’ve said before, I don’t think he’s selling out at all; I think he’s making the games he dreamed of making, and is blessed enough to get rich doing so. They may not be the games you dreamed of playing, but that’s hardly his fault.

As for Epic, I have the good fortune of not caring much about the economics of my games. So I wouldn’t be interested in limiting my player base for Epicbux. Dave is doing so well as is, I don’t see why he would, either.

You sound bias,and like a guy trying to find an excuse for a deed.
 

MRY

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Well, I’m very biased. Dave is a friend, and Primordia owes at least some of its success to Dave publishing it and linking it with his brand.

Bias aside, I think Dave’s opus is impressive (especially The Shivah), and maybe even more impressive is the discipline—maybe even ruthlessness applied primarily to himself—that would allow him to have a Jeff Vogel-like business longevity in indie gaming but without stagnation. And that discipline has included bold steps—jumping into publishing, bringing on full time staff, taking on mobile ports, dropping traditional puzzles, etc. It has also included decisive retreats, which not everyone would have the will to execute—laying off Francisco when Shardlight showed having a second “in house” designer didn’t make sense, abandoning 3D when he couldn’t make it work, dropping Android ports because they weren’t profitable. He managed all these things without losing friends or fans because he’s transparent.

At this point he’s made more adventure games than Roberta Williams. He’s fostered more adventure designers than Lucas Arts. And he’s gotten rich and famous doing so. Hard not to cheer for that striking achievement.
 

fantadomat

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Well, I’m very biased. Dave is a friend, and Primordia owes at least some of its success to Dave publishing it and linking it with his brand.

Bias aside, I think Dave’s opus is impressive (especially The Shivah), and maybe even more impressive is the discipline—maybe even ruthlessness applied primarily to himself—that would allow him to have a Jeff Vogel-like business longevity in indie gaming but without stagnation. And that discipline has included bold steps—jumping into publishing, bringing on full time staff, taking on mobile ports, dropping traditional puzzles, etc. It has also included decisive retreats, which not everyone would have the will to execute—laying off Francisco when Shardlight showed having a second “in house” designer didn’t make sense, abandoning 3D when he couldn’t make it work, dropping Android ports because they weren’t profitable. He managed all these things without losing friends or fans because he’s transparent.

At this point he’s made more adventure games than Roberta Williams. He’s fostered more adventure designers than Lucas Arts. And he’s gotten rich and famous doing so. Hard not to cheer for that striking achievement.
Sure,i do agree with that. But if you begin delivering shit that nobody wants,you will end up out of customers and fuck off in obscurity. Same shit with vogel,his later games are trash that i have no interest,even if i had replayed his older ones like a few times each. Changing too much things will not bring people in,after all he is selling games in a very niche market place. People are more interested in the content of the game than in its shininess. Making his games more modern looking could push off more people than the ones who decide to buy it because of it. Still,in the end we will see what he delivers.
 

MRY

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But people do seem to want his games. :) If anything, I think we at Wormwood Studios are more likely to selfishly make games for ourselves and find no one likes them.
 

WallaceChambers

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I don't see how much of a big deal could be made about Dave changing his approach when he barely has. The Shivah isn't heavy on "traditional" puzzles nor is it difficult by any stretch. You cant even use inventory items on the game world in Blackwell Legacy. Unbound is mostly research and clue combining as well. The inventory puzzles it does have are mostly to underscore a dramatic narrative moment like playing Issac his sister's piano part.

If anything the relatively (relative to actual puzzle heavy adventures) few instances of more involved inventory or logic puzzles that you can find in Blackwell Deception and Epiphany are the exceptions to the rule in his catalog (I dont recall much from Convergence tbh it's my least favorite). There's the boat sequence at the start of Deception... and what else? Rosa melting ice to jump off a dumpster? Come to think of it that boat sequence might actually be the most complex traditional puzzle chain in the entire series and it spans like 3 screens.

For me the big change in Unavowed was the party mechanics. The puzzles were roughly in line with his earlier games, more simplistic than Deception and Epiphany. A big reason for that, I'd imagine, is that it's hard to design so many different kinds of puzzles for all the party combinations, with different powers at play. Especially when you're one dude and (self admittedly, as he's said in interviews throughout his career) puzzle design isn't your biggest strength.

I genuinely think If Dave had to stretch his design capacity, as a solo designer, across 3 or 4 different distinct routes in Blackwell Deception you would have gotten similar results to Unavowed. I dont think it's him "dropping" traditional puzzles. They're still there. They're just not as complex because he had to come up with 3 times as many and work within the constraints of incorporating character abilities.
 

V_K

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I don't see how much of a big deal could be made about Dave changing his approach when he barely has. The Shivah isn't heavy on "traditional" puzzles nor is it difficult by any stretch. You cant even use inventory items on the game world in Blackwell Legacy. Unbound is mostly research and clue combining as well. The inventory puzzles it does have are mostly to underscore a dramatic narrative moment like playing Issac his sister's piano part.

If anything the relatively (relative to actual puzzle heavy adventures) few instances of more involved inventory or logic puzzles that you can find in Blackwell Deception and Epiphany are the exceptions to the rule in his catalog (I dont recall much from Convergence tbh it's my least favorite). There's the boat sequence at the start of Deception... and what else? Rosa melting ice to jump off a dumpster? Come to think of it that boat sequence might actually be the most complex traditional puzzle chain in the entire series and it spans like 3 screens.
I don't know, it's highly subjective, but Blackwell games made me pause to think every once in a while, and Unavowed was just playing itself.
For me the big change in Unavowed was the party mechanics. The puzzles were roughly in line with his earlier games, more simplistic than Deception and Epiphany. A big reason for that, I'd imagine, is that it's hard to design so many different kinds of puzzles for all the party combinations, with different powers at play.
Yet Whispers of a Machine, Goetia, QfG and QfG-likes, Maniac Mansion and possibly many others have managed just fine.
WoaM is particularly interesting comparison, as it's extremely similar to Unavowed in many ways - production values, team size, writing quality, RPG influences - but it works as a proper adventure game. It's still fairly easy, but not offensively so. Which, apparently, had been its downfall as it wasn't received nearly as well as Unavowed.
EDIT: Funnily enough, it turns out today it's exactly a year since WoaM has been released.
 
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WallaceChambers

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Yet Whispers of a Machine, Goetia, QfG and QfG-likes, Maniac Mansion and possibly many others have managed just fine.
WoaM is particularly interesting comparison, as it's extremely similar to Unavowed in many ways - production values, team size, writing quality, RPG influences - but it works as a proper adventure game. It's still fairly easy, but not offensively so. Which, apparently, had been its downfall as it wasn't received nearly as well as Unavowed.
EDIT: Funnily enough, it turns out today it's exactly a year since WoaM has been released.

I'm not talking about the concept of branching paths being antithetical to challenging puzzles in a general sense, though. I'm talking about a specific designer who already tends to make pretty simple puzzles spreading himself thinner than usual.

As far as the Whispers comparison. I also felt Whispers was an easy game and that's with two people designing puzzles over just Dave. One of those designers, Faravid Interactive, being known for challenging puzzles with The Samaritan Paradox. So we're already talking about a different skill set, a different design sense. Whispers is also a significantly shorter game. I finished it in like 6 hours whereas Unavowed took me over 10.

But again, I'm comparing a creator against his own track record. I'm not saying it's literally impossible to have branching paths and challenging puzzles. Of course you could imagine someone with an entirely different skill set doing just that. I'm making two points about Dave Gilbert, specifically.

1. That his puzzle design has always been on the simpler side for the most part and he's already tended to eschew traditional inventory/logic puzzles (prime examples being Legacy, Unbound and The Shivah).

2. It makes sense that Unavowed would have simpler puzzles than his most complex game, Deception, given Dave's skill set. It's just common sense to me. Obviously he's not gonna be able to come up with Deception's boat sequence tier puzzles for for all of the branches in a game like Unavowed. He didn't even do it for all of one branch in Deception.

My main point is the first one. I fundamentally don't get how his puzzle design has changed all that much (in terms of difficulty/traditional puzzles). The first game I ever played from him had no inventory puzzles (Blackwell Legacy). To me, a game like The Shivah is actually way easier than Unavowed. Stuff like finding the loophole to sacrifice Kalash actually stumped me for a minute or two whereas I breezed through The Shivah without hitting a bump. So this is just the kind of experience I've always expected from Dave Gilbert (which I think are fantastic, btw). From some of the posts I read you'd think he started off with Monkey 2 and followed it up with Minecraft: Story mode lol.
 

V_K

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As far as the Whispers comparison. I also felt Whispers was an easy game and that's with two people designing puzzles over just Dave.
Well, on the other hand, Dave had a dedicated artist and Hepler as a "narrative consultant", so I don't think having both devs contribute to puzzle design gave WoaM much of an edge.
I finished it in like 6 hours whereas Unavowed took me over 10.
A full walkthrough video of UA, including four different endings, is a bit over 6 hours. An analogous video for WoaM is a little over 4. So yes, it's a shorter game, but not that drastically shorter.
The first game I ever played from him had no inventory puzzles (Blackwell Legacy).
And yet, the way I remember playing it, it was significantly harder than Unavowed. I was actually mildly stuck in some places.
So I don't think easy puzzles in Unavowed are the result of Dave not having the resources to design harder ones. It felt deliberate to me, like there was too much implicit and explicit hinting going on. For example, the clear separation of hotspots into interactable and flavor-only - that was a deliberate design decision that obviously made puzzles a lot easier.
 

fantadomat

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But people do seem to want his games. :) If anything, I think we at Wormwood Studios are more likely to selfishly make games for ourselves and find no one likes them.
They do want his older games,and he had build a name for himself in that niche,same as vogel. Still if he butthurt enough people,he could loose his edge. His latest games are not particularly good. i am not really fallowing his melodrama tho,just play the games he puts out and buy the ones i like. I have noticed that he is a libtard and i remember wanting to make a full 3D game. Soo i won't be surprised his future games are decline,still i will most likely play them. Even if he goes down burning,well there are still people that make good adventure games,like you and the dude that made Infinity quest(hope he gets well).

As of your game,well as avid pirate i have to admit.....i did buy your game and am looking forward to another one ;).

Speaking of good games,did you play whispers of a machine? I do hope that it sold well and we will see a sequel,pretty decent game :).
 

Alpan

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Grab the Codex by the pussy Pathfinder: Wrath
WoaM is particularly interesting comparison, as it's extremely similar to Unavowed in many ways - production values, team size, writing quality, RPG influences - but it works as a proper adventure game. It's still fairly easy, but not offensively so. Which, apparently, had been its downfall as it wasn't received nearly as well as Unavowed.

Whispers of a Machine's lukewarm reception is better attributed to its blandness. Unavowed, despite its excesses, is a far better realized and imaginative gameworld.
 
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Terra

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I think so long as Dave stays away from the allure of making 3D games and continues to refine his niche of well-made pixel art he'll do fine. He has a great niche that was abandoned years ago by the big boys and has expanded into that niche really successfully, however, I've seen him make reference to moving away from that pixel art style and flirt with Unity over the years on multiple occasions. Given this is how things invariably end up in game dev, I'm basically waiting for the other shoe to drop with Dave and for him to decide he's grown beyond the audience and/or genre that put him on the map as he reaches for the mythical "wider audience." I think he's already talked about this in the past, but was surprised just how successful Unavowed ended up being (can't recall all the specific, but that was the gist).

One look at the Technobab 2 screens easily underlines the superiority of classic, strong 2D pixel art in this genre over dubious quality 3D, and I feel assured that if Wadjet Eye themselves make that sort of shift it'll quickly mark a rapid decline in quality (as well as being a waste of their artist's amazing talent). There are so many more aspects to 3D from a graphical fidelity standpoint that you just can't get away with nowadays like you can with 2D; uncanny valley looks, lacking facial anims, wonky 3D animations, the list goes on. I just don't think a small studio can reach the relative level of quality needed to succeed. Using 3D models overlaid on drawn backgrounds like Gray Matter/Cognition could work I guess, but those games were made by bigger teams.

Hell, I remember picking up Dave's early titles from the IndieRoyale bundle years ago, got Blackwell 1-3, & Gemini Rue for a pittance. After languishing in my steam library for a while, I finally got around to playing them and came away really impressed; Dave earned day 1 purchases from me on all his future titles based on the strength of those titles alone. Seeing the series' art style evolve into the edifying beauty that was Epiphany over the next few years was something to behold. It'll be a sad day if WE ever loses that style.

The Vogel comparisons are apt but also funny given that Dave likes Vogel's games and in many ways I wish Vogel would take a leaf out of Dave's book and pay for some good art.

Dave also stopped posting on the Codex as well in recent times, which is unfortunate and may be indicative of retreating into a more bubble-like community of yes men. Codex can be harsh in its criticisms but I can always respect a dev that is willing to navigate the shifting tides of the Codex and weather the various storms she throws up.
 
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MRY

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Speaking of good games,did you play whispers of a machine? I do hope that it sold well and we will see a sequel,pretty decent game :).
Yes, I quite liked it. Primordia's coder, Dualnames particularly loved it.
 

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