Review Fix chats with Vance Baryn, who details the creation process of his newest point and click adventure, “Leprechaun Shadow.”
Review Fix: How was this game born?
Vance Baryn: This is the 3rd in the series and has been planned for years. The first game, Unicorn Dungeon, was initially planned to be a 1-off very short game. I didn’t have any games in the works at that time, so I planned to make it in 1 month and just get it out there. I’m a big fan of avant garde art and music as well as absurdist comedy, and it was kind of a mix of those things, just something very weird yet weirdly familiar.
I pretty much had it completed in 1 month and then decided to make a sequel to it, Poltergeist Treasure. I had only made a few scenes for Poltergeist Treasure before I realized this could be a much more substantial series. I started getting ideas for later games and even later games and eventually had a full road map planned out for a plot spanning 6 games, with each game being also a stand-alone game on its own. So I stopped work on Poltergeist Treasure at that time and started greatly expanding Unicorn Dungeon, decided to add voice acting, the game grew to twice its original length. When the game was released in May 2018, it had been 6 months since I had first decided to make that game in 1 month.
I went back to Poltergeist Treasure, released that in October 2018, and now this is the 3rd in the series with 3 more planned out.
Review Fix: What was your role in the game?
Baryn: I’m the designer, narrative designer, programmer, producer, and many other things.
Review Fix: How did you get involved in the industry?
Baryn: I’ve been making computer games my whole life, like since I was 8. In the late 90’s, I started Stand Off Software. It was mostly used for my freelance programming work, and I made games on the side. A few years back, the company I was working for saw potential in my games and acquired Stand Off Software from me, and it’s a full time game company now.
Review Fix: How has it grown from the first two games in the series?
Baryn: Leprechaun Shadow is more than double the size of either of the other 2 games in length and complexity, and has more than 3 times the number of characters and voice actors. While the world has stuck to being pretty absurd and anachronistic, each game has its own unique character and Leprechaun Shadow is no different.
Review Fix: What was development like?
Baryn: After Poltergeist Treasure came out in October 2018, I figured I could get Leprechaun Shadow out by February 2019. I was very wrong. The game is much longer and more complex than the previous ones in the series. It took 6 months longer to make it than I had figured. So I guess the development was… stressful. It was worth it, though. I’m very happy with the result.
Review Fix: What makes this game special?
Baryn: Like the other games in the series, there are several things that set the game apart from others in the genre.
First, off, while comedy adventure games are certainly not uncommon at all, the specific style of humor in this game is quite unique, I believe. I sometimes hesitate to even call it a comedy game (although it clearly is) because a lot of people’s expectations when they think of comedy point & click games is very different than the style of comedy in this game, and people coming in expecting a Monkey Island style of humor are going to be surprised by what they find. This game draws inpiration from sources like Monty Python, Fire Sign Theater, and the avant garde, but isn’t exactly those things either. I often just call it “absurdist” instead of using the word “comedy” when describing the games.
The other thing that sets it apart is that there are different game genres also intertwined with the adventure game. In Leprechaun Shadow this primarily takes the form of a large part of the game being in the style of an old school RPG, although there are other game genres included as well. The previous games have different genres included.
I often find that the striking uniqueness of the games tend to polarize players to the extremes. People seem to either love them enormously or hate them completely. But that’s what tends to happen when you don’t “stick to the formula” when making games.
Review Fix: What games influenced this one the most?
Baryn: Leprechaun Shadow’s RPG section is heavily infuenced by the early Dragon Warrior games, and this is immediately obvious when playing it. Other than that, besides being influenced by basically every game I’ve ever played, a lot of the influence for this game in particular was not games at all.
Instead, the game is strongly influenced by classic film noir. Film noir has gone through a strange life cycle. The original ones were made primarily in the 40’s and stretching into the 50’s. The style was so popular that later it got a whole lot of comedic parodies made of it to an extent that Film Noir Parody is pretty much its own genre with its own conventions. Then a very interesting thing happened later still. People starting making serious film noir again, but were really making serious versions of the parodies using the parody conventions but making a serious film, and it’s these films that a lot of modern people think of as film noir, having never even seen an actual film noir made in the 40’s. This game, however, is not a film noir parody. It’s a classic film noir game with comedy.
Review Fix: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
Baryn: Not really. Game development isn’t really fun or wild. It’s long hours of hard solitary work. There are often interesting challenges. For example, I found it interesting to make the Dragon Warrior-esque section and designing all the characters and XP and skills to make a balanced and fun game. And it’s rewarding and satisfying to release a game I am proud of. However, “fun” and “wild” are never words that come to my mind regarding game development.
Review Fix: What were the major lessons learned?
Baryn: I’d say the major lesson learned from Leprechaun Shadow is not to announce a release window too soon. Things can take a LOT longer than expected and then you just kind of look like a fool and stress yourself out more knowing you missed the release window you already told people about.
Review Fix: Do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics in new games is important?
Baryn: To a large extent, yes. People become accustomed to the way things work, and if you make them work in a completely different way just for the sake of being different, even if you think your way may be slightly better, it just ends up confusing and frustrating people. Breaking conventions is basically the thing that I do, but you also have to stick to the conventions when there is no reason to change them.
Review Fix: What’s your favorite memory as a gamer?
Baryn: I’ve been playing games for so long that I have many fond memories, and it’s very hard to pick one. Playing the Sierra games in the 90’s is a very fond memory, especially Space Quest and Quest for Glory series. Playing the first 2 GTA games before they went 3D. Dragon Warrior and Super Mario games on the Nintendo. And many more. I really love games, and so many of my fond memories relate to games. That’s why I make them.
Review Fix: How do you want this game to be remembered?
Baryn: Although I make the games, I don’t know that it’s my place to tell people what they should get out of it. The games I make are unconventional in many ways and there are a lot of moving parts, so I find most often different people have strikingly different experiences playing the games. Some are delighted by the throwback sections to older game styles. Some laugh out loud at the humor. Some enjoy the many very subtly in-jokes to other games and media (I don’t beat people over the head with in-jokes, but there are plenty in there if you catch them). Even the strategies people use to play the games often give different people very different experiences as the games aren’t as linear as they may first appear.
So, people will remember the game different, depending on their own way of approaching it and their own experiences and disposition. I just hope that it is remembered, and hopefully fondly.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Baryn: That’s the question. There are 3 more games to be made in this series, so that’s in the future somewhere. However, having now released a trilogy in this series, I may spend some time working on a completely different, as yet unannounced project. It will be a different type of game entirely from these games. So keep an eye on Twitter to hear more about that when I have something to announce.