Indie Interview - James Dearden on Technobabylon

Published: May 20, 2015 9:00 AM /


indie interview james dearden

Technobabylon is the upcoming point and click adventure game that is going to be released tomorrow, May 21st, developed by Technocrat Games. It was originally started back in 2010 as a freeware project, but along the way Wadjet Eye Games came into the picture, and under the lead of Dave Gilbert, decided to publish it as an updated commercial product. We've been playing through the full release for our review that will be coming out tomorrow, alongside the release of the game (which you can pre-order on Wadjet Eye's website). There is also a demo available, which will take you through the first 30 minutes or so of the game and give you a grounding in this cyberpunk science-fiction game.

Not wanting to spill too much for tomorrow, but if you like point and click adventures, I'd say the work on the setting and writing should have you checking out our review tomorrow for more information!

TechRaptor: Hey, and thanks for taking the time out to talk with us today. Can you introduce yourself?

James: I'm James Dearden, and I'm the creator of Technobabylon and founder of Technocrat Games.

TechRaptor: Technobabylon was originally released as freeware, what was the hope in revisiting and updating it to release as a commercial product?

James: Way back in 2010, I'd started making Technobabylon as a practice attempt at making adventure games. Before that, all I'd done were a couple of simple puzzle and strategy games, and I wanted to get better before tackling a longer narrative. However, Technobabylon turned out to be more popular than I'd expected, so as the narrative grew, I thought it might benefit from being all together as one large project, rather than a series of episodes with sharp quality changes.

I'd seen the success that other commercial projects like Gemini Rue had had with Wadjet Eye, so I thought it'd be worth a chance by showing Dave the demo at AdventureX in 2012. Apparently my pitch succeeded, so this is my opportunity to turn indie games into something more than just a hobby for me!

TechRaptor: What was the biggest challenge you experienced in trying to get it prepared?

James: Initially, the biggest issue was actually my own improvement. Since it'd take a few months to make an episode of the freeware version, by the time I finished there was an enormous difference in quality between bits at the beginning and end. Fortunately, by the time it got around to making the full one, I was able to make use of considerably more talented artists like Ben Chandler!

With the full version though, I'd say testing was the biggest challenge. It's a lot less "fun" than the other stages of production, there's no opportunity for creativity, and then you end up kicking yourself if the build goes out and there are problems.

TechRaptor: How do you go about designing puzzles in adventure games, especially with making them challenging for adventure players but avoiding some of the notorious logic that 90s adventure game puzzles had?

James: Personally, I like to start with a problem and its ultimate solution (e.g. the door is locked, player must unlock it), and work backwards from there, with new obstacles. How did they unlock it? They found the key. How did they find the key? With the metal detector. How did they find a metal detector? They built it from things they find in the room.

There gets to a point when there are just too many elements sometimes (Latha's apartment was originally a lot more complex, and people who've played the older version may recall), but fortunately I've had people able to tell me when there's too much "moon logic". I've tried to make sure everything is at least internally consistent, and makes sense in a sci-fi kind of way!

TechRaptor: What were some of the elements and design influences behind the Trance and its design?

James: The Trance, as with many things in Technobabylon, is inspired by a very eighties/nineties view of "the future" and cyberspace. I've no doubt that in practical terms, a system exactly like the Trance would have a whole lot of utility problems, but the whole "floating data" and cascading information is what most people think of still when they think virtual reality. In terms of how it works, I'd say Ghost in the Shell was a big influence on it and its style.

Trance Latha

TechRaptor: What modern technologies influenced your futuristic technologies in Technobabylon?

James: The internet would have to be one of the biggest - it's been a game-changer for society since its introduction, and the Trance is, in a sense, the internet with the benefit of sharing sensory data to create immersive environments. What's possible with the net has been increasing year on year, and virtual environments becoming a thing would not surprise me in the slightest!

It's not just computers that Technobabylon has a focus on, but there's a lot of points regarding biology and organic engineering. One of the player characters was a geneticist in his previous career, and the player has to deal with issues such as firms stubbornly protecting their copyright on organisms. It's kind of a few extrapolations on what we think may be possible, combined with what we've historically done with new technology. For example, we've got a production line where new plants and organisms are assembled to-order for clients, and youth trends involving self-genetic-engineering with viral vectors.

TechRaptor:  What inspired you to have three playable characters in Technobabylon?

James: It would be an oversimplification to say "more is better", but in Technobabylon it allows us to get three different perspectives on this society of the future. After all, in an adventure game, it's not solely player-agency, the characters have their own "opinions" on things happening around them.

TechRaptor:  One of the things I think worked very well for Technobabylon was the focus on things like having additional phone numbers beyond just the necessary plot ones. What was the impetus for that, and how did getting fans to do the voice recordings for that work out?

James: In games with telephones, it's always struck me as a wasted opportunity if they didn't do something like this, and allow calling of other "random" numbers, so in developing a game myself, it was too good an opportunity to miss! More cynically, it's a good marketing opportunity as well - we now have dozens of people who can say to their friends "hey, you should get this game, I'm in it!" It was a delightful exercise for building connections with the adventure-playing community (or even just the voice-acting one), and I look forward to trying something similar in the next game I make. We were able to use most of the submissions we got, since the instructions were pretty basic ("you're on a voicemail of the future, what do you say?"), and we were comfortable with the less-serious ones as well. The requirement was just focused enough to inspire creativity - if you leave it too open-ended, people are unsure what to say!

TechRaptor: The endings of Technobabylon each have a pretty open-ended question to them with sequel hooks. Are there plans to do one, and if so how are you going to handle the different endings?

James: I would like to do a sequel, though personally it depends on how well-received this game is. I suppose our options are threefold: - settle on an ending, and say that that one is the canonical one, though this'd be a lazy cop-out - change the setting; it's a big world, there are probably a lot of characters and locations, but people might want another Latha/Regis/Lao story - do a Deus Ex, and say ALL THE ENDINGS happened

TechRaptor: A minor thing I noticed when playing Technobabylon, given some of the ongoing fights these days, is the way it handles some social issues – namely a gay relationship and a transgendered individual. They are there but it’s not a big deal – it might be a private detail but no different than anything else. How did it come to be, and what were you trying to show with those characters and choices?

James: The game's set seventy years in the future, and I think that a lot of what I'm aiming to show is just how routine and normal these things are by this time. Another aspect of it is to add to the impression of how cosmopolitan the city of Newton is - there are people from all over the world, with different outlooks and perspectives, and it all helps to add colour to the setting and add another layer of interest.

Technobabylon rooftop shootout

TechRaptor: With the increasing size of the gaming market, do you think there is more room now for ‘niche’ games than there has been in the past?

James: I remember reading a few years ago that, despite perceptions of its popularity, the market for adventure games has actually increased in size over the past decade. Certainly, it's less visible in the "mainstream" of games, but there are more people playing them than ever before. It's not just the size I feel, though, but the way it's getting easier to get into making games. People want a game with a particularly niche theme, story or style, and it's not unreasonable to think "I'll just make it myself!" As long as people are able to find them, there's definitely a market for "niche" games.

TechRaptor: You’ve talked about working on Unity in the future, leaving Adventure Game Studios behind. How is that move going and what are you hoping to get from Unity?

James: This morning, I made a game where you're a mecha being pursued by four-legged televisions. It might take a little more practice, but I can definitely see Unity being the way that my games are going to be heading.

TechRaptor: Thanks for the time, do you have anything else you want to add?

James: If people enjoy Technobabylon and want to see a sequel, let me know on Twitter! It'll help me gauge the response. @TechnocratGames


I'd like to thank James again for talking with us, and if you want to learn more about Technobabylon, you can check out Wadjet Eyes Games where there is the demo. you can also pre-order it (which comes with a free soundtrack). And stay tuned tomorrow for the TechRaptor Review of Technobabylon!

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Don Parsons
| Senior Writer

A longtime lover of speculative fiction, in almost all its forms, Don joined TechRaptor in 2014 on a whim sending in an application as he was looking for… More about Don