An interview with Text Zedventure creator Matthew Reynolds
June 7, 2010
After enjoying a trip back to simpler times with the unique Text Zedventure, I tracked down its creator Matthew Reynolds to talk about his game. After the break, Matthew tells us why he chose Save The Rhino as the charity which some of the sales proceeds are going to, how he has absolutely no coding skills and still has a videogame under his belt, and what the name Text Zedventure is really all about…
infinitecontinues: Hello Matthew. Who are you and what do you do?
Matthew Reynolds: Hello! I work as a video games reporter for UK entertainment website Digital Spy, as well as a few other venues.
ic: I have to ask. Did you used to play the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone? Or other choose-your-own-adventure books? If not, from where did you get the inspiration for the format of Text Zedventure?
MR: Yep, that’s exactly my inspiration. I haven’t played many traditional text adventure games, but when I was growing up I picked up a dozen or so of those books from a car boot and pored over them. It’s a great concept. It also paved the way for a key design decision, and that was to make choices count. It was always tempting – and very possible – to go back on your choice and look down the other path to see what you could have done. In Text Zedventure, your choice is final, and I hope it makes people carefully decide and care about what choices they make.
ic: I admit to looking at what the route the other option would have taken me down all the time. I was addicted to the Fighting Fantasy series. I still have the entire set in my study. Do you remember the names of any of your favourites?
MR: Not at all, actually! I could probably spot some of the covers today, but it’s just flashes and certain situations, especially the deaths. I think everyone loved trying to find as many ways they could possibly die. Which, given my decision to have choices count, wasn’t possible in TZ since there is no fast way to check all the deaths in the game. In the books though, you could just read each page from front to back and discover everything. You can’t do that in a game!
ic: How did you first come up with the idea of transposing the spirit of old adventure gamebooks into a donwloadable videogame. Were you ever tempted to add visuals to the game, or was it your intention to keep to a purely text-based game from the outset?
MR: The idea mainly arose from the lack of programming skills – I have none – but I wanted to create a game for a console and the XNA toolset was the best fit. A text-based adventure is really as simple as they come, so it was a good starting point. Of course, that’s not to say it was easy; although I picked it all up from a smattering of tutorials, I encountered all kinds of issues in stringing the game together (which I’m sure experienced coders might have not!) and actually designing an adventure like this presents all kinds of problems in terms of pacing and choice.
But in terms of actually designing a game, the lack of visuals meant I could construct any environment with just text and a sound cue, and allowed the player to go in any direction that I scripted. It was great fun. I never considered visuals because I simply can’t draw. So as I was quite inexperienced in most of these fields – coding and artwork – by keeping it as simple as possible meant it could be more polished and playable by the very end.
ic: I’m sure the fact that you admit you are not a coder or an artist is probably an inspiration to other people who have a videogame inside them and want to get it out to the public. So, the name Text Zedventure then; how did you come up with it? The Text bit I get. The Adventure bit I get. The Zed bit, I’m completely stumped on. Care to shed some light on that?
MR: Zed is short for zombie, so the title automatically gives the player an idea of what to expect. I’m not entirely sure if that’s a common shorthand, but they use it an awful lot in Max Brooks’ World War Z.
ic: Ah, yes, I had an inkling it was a zombie connection, just had never heard of that shorthand before! With regards to the proceeds of Text Zedventure, you took the incredibly generous step of donating all the proceeds of sales up to the 31st May to charity Save The Rhino, with a further 25% of all subsequent sales donated to this cause from now on. Tell us about this decision. And why Save The Rhino in particular?
MR: I ran the London Marathon earlier this year for the same charity, and this game was part of that fundraising process. It was released two weeks after the event, but I still intend for the game to continue to contribute to charity. Why I picked them in the first place was that I wanted to help an animal charity, and a smaller one that would value the cash raised than some of the other larger charities. They were extremely helpful and thankful throughout the process, and I thoroughly recommend them if you want to raise money for a cause.
ic: How is Text Zedventure doing? Are you pleased with the reception it’s getting? And most importantly, are you getting the number of downloads you were hoping for?
MR: The game had an incredibly strong opening week, but it’s now quietened down to just a few downloads a day now, and fewer purchases than that. It’s sold over 1,000 copies so far, though, which is fantastic, especially when you actually stop and think about it in actual players. I’ll soon announce the full sales figures until the end of May – which is the promotional launch period – with some analysis to help others who want to do projects for charity in future.
ic: Do you plan to make any more games? Perhaps more text-only games? Or are you thinking of creating new types of games? Conversely, maybe the whole process has put you off making another game ever again?!
MR: I’d like to make more games – now I know how XNA works then it should be easier. However the creative process, and actually polishing the game and getting the right sounds and transitions is incredibly time consuming, so it’s mainly a case of finding a good idea and having the time to do it. And there’s a strong chance the next game will be text-only, yes.
ic: Are you a big gamer? What games are you currently playing and enjoying the most?
MR: I am – I’m currently chewing through Red Dead Redemption, which feels far more natural a sandbox than any of the Grand Theft Auto games, mainly because you can encounter so much on your travels. I’m also still playing Modern Warfare 2 online, which is pretty much my go to game when I have a spare ten minutes or so.
ic: To finish off, what would be your number 1 all-time videogame, and why?
MR: Metal Gear Solid. It was the first game from memory that really pushed everything – visuals, gameplay, narrative – and felt so unique and thrilling throughout. When I try and think of my favourite game of all time, it would something that I would happily sit down and play from start to finish in one sitting. I could do that with Metal Gear Solid tomorrow with a stupid grin on my face.
Text Zedventure is available to download on the Xbox Live Indie Games store right now, for the ridiculously low price of 80MSP. And, as mentioned above, 25% of that goes directly into Save The Rhino’s coffers, which should give you a warm, fuzzy feeling in your cockles before they are frozen in terror by Matthew’s ‘infected’. Download it from the Game Marketplace or alternatively, buy it here so it’s ready for you next time you fire up your Xbox 360.