Great Stroke-Off, The Don's tour behind the scenes of The Great Strokeoff
Date of interview: 02.06.2005.
Interview with: Don "The Barbarian" McPherson
Interview by: Kon-Tiki (via MSN)
Interview about: Great Stroke-Off, The

Alright, hold onto your suspenders, cause here comes the first question. Why?
Don: "The Great Stoke Off" was part of the "ATC Deluxe" team competition. For this particular contest, 15 teams entered to make an adventure game. The rules and restrictions were a bit tough and there was a deadline to complete the whole working game within a 2 month period. I'm proud to say that, with much dedication, hard work, loss of sleep, my wonderful team-mates and I managed to be the only team to submit a full working game within the 2 month deadline, as well as complying with all of the various rules and restrictions. Overall, it was a great learning experience in many ways, though often it almost felt like "real work". But, heck, it was a lot of fun to do.

Which of those restrictions'd you find the hardest one to keep to?
Don: Hmmm, well, I guess a combination of them all. I guess working within the various deadlines was one of the hardest, like giving progress reports, submitting a working Beta version of the game before the 2 month period was up. We started off with 5 team members, but, due to various other commitments and problems that popped up, we ended up making the game with 3 team members, so the workload for one of the other team members and myself was about double to triple of what it probably should have been. Also, I guess, perhaps in the beginning, everyone is excited about the whole project, and you think "Okay, we've got a whole two months to make a great game", then you have "Big ideas", and soon, you think maybe the whole project is too ambitious to include and do everything you want to do, like the old expression "We bit off more than we can chew" came to mind. Though we had to trim down a few of our ideas, overall, we finished the whole project to include most all of the elements we wanted to.

Oh, I should mention that, though we had "4 team members" credited to actually working on the completed project that was submitted for public release, within the actual contest deadline we finished the game with only 3 of us, really, who were able to commit to the project fully. It was only after the contest was over that we managed to "squeeze in" an extra part of the game, which was one of the side-games you can play in the "arcade". It was "Drunken Violent Bums" (scripted by Amet Keles "CoolBlue-Gord", which was added in after the contest deadline expired)

Was the idea of adding Drunken Violent Bums one of the original ideas, or did it come afterwards?
Don: Well, half and half I guess you can say. See, "CoolBlue-Gord" was originally supposed to be the main programmer for the game, but due to various problems on his end, such as he was busy with his schoolwork, studying for exams, his internet connection kept "dying" on him, and at the time he only had a painfully slow dial up speed... we soon found that as time was quickly passing, "CoolBlue-Gord" wasn't able to commit full-time to being the main programmer, so, I took over the role of Main Programmer as well, but I still very much wanted to try and keep our team together, so, as "CoolBlue-Gord" agreed that I should take over as main programmer, he still wanted to contribute something. I suggested to him to come up with a playable Arcade Game which we would then include as an interesting side-game that I thought would help add more playability and overall more of a "cool, awesome" factor to our game, but, as time kept ticking, and "CoolBlue-Gord" was too busy with his school, studies, exams, plus often non-connecting ISP, etc... he wasn't able to complete a fully working bug-free version of his "Drunken Violent Bums" game within the AGS contest deadline.. So, that's why it was added a bit afterwards.

How did you come up with the concept of The Great Strokeoff?
Don: Oh gawd... heheh. I've got a strange warped mind sometimes. Well, overall the team thought it might be most fun to come up with a game that had a lot of humor in it.  Plus, some of the particular rules/restrictions for this ATC contest in a way helped to shape some of the ideas for the game as well. The main artist, Adrian "HillBilly" Bernsten, who is wonderfully talented, mentioned his favorite adventure game of all time was "Day of the Tentacle", so his artwork style in our game is somewhat inspired by that as well. Plus, Adrian and I seemed to connect very well together with bouncing ideas off of each other for this game. Overall, I thought up the concept of the story, characters, puzzles, etc... but, Adrian helped give me great feedback, various suggestions & ideas as well.

The characters're very peculiar. How did you come up with them?
Don: Well, my first idea for a storyline was a lot different, with a more serious tone to it, but as the rules and restrictions for the deadline were revealed to us, as well as kicking around various ideas with our team-members, we thought it best to change the whole story to be able to match the humor element that most of the team members wanted to attempt, but, for example, one of the rules was "the game must include a culture clash", and I was thinking "how can I make a funny game with a culture clash.. Hmmm, how about some hard working average teenager slob getting caught up between a group of Punks and Nerds, and having to choose a side to help". This seemed to fit in well with the game's various rules and restrictions and satisfy the humor element the other guys wanted to include as well, so it just sort of took off from there and I tried to think of "wacky, strange, funny" type of characters for a whole range of "culture clashes" which, hopefully, would give humorous results for the player of the game.

Which it did. The choosing sides brings up one of the most obvious features of the game, namely the different storylines. Was this something you wanted to include from the beginning on?
Don: Yes, well I always enjoy playing adventure games that you can make a choice within the game that may end up taking the story in a different direction, or offering different puzzles to solve because of it. Plus it adds to the replayability factor of the game too. Plus, I should mention, that also one of the rules of this particular ATC contest was that the game should include at least two different storylines that could be played.

Which one's your personal favourite?
Don: Well, they both have great moments in them, and even though I programmed the game, made the storylines, created the puzzles, etcâ?Š I still enjoy loading up the game and play through it just for a quick laugh.  But, when it comes down to it, I think I enjoy playing the Nerds path more, as they are sort of like the underdogs, who get bullied and picked on... so it's nice to see them beat the Punks all fair and square and put the bully Punks in their place.  However, I must admit, one of my most favorite scenes in the games is when you get to play the Punks path, during the "scare the crap out of the Nerds" scene. Hehehe, I think it's classic.

The amount of err... topic-specific jokes is enormous. How hard was it to come up with them?
Not at all, I got a weird sense of humor anyways, and once I got the ball rolling (pun) on this project, it was fairly easy to squeeze in jokes here and there. In fact, I had to tone down some of the humor a little, but overall the game was purposefully made to be with somewhat "silly, immature, with cheezy humor", to get a result of the players laughing and groaning at the same time.  Adrian told me to try and include as many silly "ball and stick" jokes and references as I could think of, plus he helped me to come up with a few ideas along those lines as well. I guess another reason is, we worked so hard on this, and also sometimes having lack of sleep between the people working on a humorous project like this into the wee hours of the morning, it sometimes brought out an even stranger sense of humor while developing the game as well.

Which of the jokes cracks you up the most?
Don: Well, for me I think it's got to be when Uncle Ernie "polishes his stick"... that scene cracks me up every time, even now... Heheheh. I mean, it's so lame and so good at the same time. Visually it's also one of the parts in the game that gives me the biggest laugh too.

What's up with Uncle Ernie's stick-polishing obsession, anyways?
Don: Lol... Well, I sort of wanted to portray Uncle Ernie as your die-hard armchair-sportsman, who, though perhaps getting towards that "past his prime" stage in life, still likes to think of himself as a connoisseur of the "Gentleman's Sport" of golfing.  Well, there's a few little hints here and there in the game that perhaps Uncle Ernie may be a bit eccentric, perhaps a bit off, living in his own little fantasy world, and it helps to give him some purpose and meaning in his "past his prime, over-the-hill wannabe" day-to-day life. Perhaps Uncle Ernie is a bit lonely too? So, I guess you can say, in a strange way, his golf equipment is like his best friend.  Perhaps more.

I don't want to think of what that perhaps more is ;P Anyways, if you could make the game again, what would you do different, and what the same?
Don: Well, originally we wanted to have 3 people on each of the teams Ned meets, I mean, 3 Punks and 3 Nerds, but due to contest deadlines, heavy burden on a couple of us taking over the tasks of a couple of the members who were not able to commit to the whole project, we had to cut it down to 2 people on each of the teams Ned meets in the game. Plus, we were thinking to maybe add a parking lot-scene, which is where you see the "Exit" sign on the main fairground area where the game starts. Plus, and perhaps depending on what team Ned chooses to help, if he played the Punks, maybe have a little extra adventure where Ned meets up with his Punk friends at "The Pit" and parties it up with them, or if he picked to help the Nerds, then perhaps have a little adventure where he does something to help the Nerds at the "Dirtbag-High Science Club"

As far as anything different, hmmmm, I might want to fix up some of the GUI stuff a bit more, or perhaps even add an extra arcade game the player can choose to interact and play with, but overall I'm fairly satisfied with how the whole project turned out, so I might not change too much, really.

Do you think the game would be noticably different if it were made with other team members?
Don: Yes, I think so. Well, I was lucky to have such a fantastic artist that worked so hard on drawing everything you see in the game; the characters, animation sequences, backgrounds, etc... Plus, I can't forget to mention our wonderfully talented musician, Eigen Lenk, who did such a perfect job of coming up with the various music to match the different scenes in the game. All of the various talents and skills of our team seemed to compliment and work very well together to make this adventure game.  So, with different team-members, we may have ended up with a game that was much different, or perhaps even end up like so many of the other teams in that AGS contest who, due to various problems or what not, had to pull out and quit the contest. But, between Eigen, Adrian and myself, we were all dedicated to complete this project within the deadlines, as we had put in far too much hard work and time to give up... Though, at a couple of times during production it came dangerously close to that (quitting).

How'd you get to team up with the other members?
Don: Well, it was I guess mostly "luck" perhaps. We were all member of the AGS (Adventure Game Studio) community, , which has a very popular message forum. This is where the ATC (AGS Team Challenge) was announced and took place. As luck/fate would have it, as I recall, the first 5 people who replied on the ATC message thread, was our team members... so, we contacted each other and decided to go ahead and form our team, thus team "Old School Point n' Click" was born.  Jordan "Scuthbert" Burnett was also originally in our team. He was supposed to be the main background artist, but shortly after the contest started, his computer died on him, plus he was very busy with his school, studies, etc... So, he had to pull out of our team early on. But, he did give us some good ideas about the game too, and, during production, he was kind enough to set up a private message board in which our team members could keep in regular contact, share work, ideas, progress, etc.. about our project.

What were these ideas he had?
Don: Well, from what I recall, he came up with the "Old School Point n' Click" name for the team, as well as helping to originally contact the various people in regards to forming the team. Also, during development stages, example during Beta-stage, he did a little "play testing" and helped to find a couple of things that could be improved, and he also suggested the idea to use right-clicking with the mouse to advance to the next cursor-mode. Things like that. He's a really nice guy and from what I've seen of his art, is quite talented too, just unfortunately circumstances prevented him from doing the whole project with us.

Are there any plans of the team working together again sometime?
Don: Well, as you probably've guessed from what I mentioned in this interview, most of the guys on the team are in school, busy with exams, studies and such. Also, some have other projects on the go they may be working on first. However, I have kicked around the idea of working on a future project together and, when the people on our team can manage to find the time to work on another project, then sure, we'd like to go ahead and make another adventure game. Nothing is set though, so I can't promise anything in that regards yet, but if we do go ahead and make another game, we might go in an entirely different direction. We were sort of thinking to try and make a survival horror style of adventure game, as we think it would be a lot of fun to try our hand at something different.

Where're you residing at the moment?
Don: Well, I'm a Canadian, but for over the last couple of years now I've been in Asia. I'm based in Hong Kong for now. It's been a life-long dream of mine to one day come and stay for an extended period in Asia, soak up the culture, train with the Martial Art masters, have a greater appreciation for the world around us and continue to grow as a person.

Why Hong Kong specifically?
Don: Well, it's a gateway to so many of the other Asian countries and it's got such a diverse mix of cultures here. I originally come from a "smaller city" in Canada, so being here in Hong Kong is definitely a big culture shock in so many ways... but that's part of the excitement as well.  I've been so fortunate to meet so many wonderful people here, to see such amazing places, do things that few Westerners have the chance to do, and I have so many great opportunities here. Also, as Hong Kong was under British ownership for so long, it's also a bit "Westernized" in some ways, so, though the culture and experience is much different in many ways, at the same time many things can seem familiar and comfortable. So, overall I like it here. Also, for the last couple of years, I've been working hard here on a big, potentially life-changing, project. My Sifu (Martial Arts Teacher) here and I have been working on making a book. It's now completed and ready for the publishing stage, and we found a publisher that will help us with our book, so, if all goes well, I will also soon be a Published Author, and being here in Hong Kong at this stage in my life has given me that opportunity.

Any hint as for what title we'll have to look out for?
Don: Oh, It will be called "Tai Chi Chuan in 24 Forms". It will be an instructional book to teach people how to do Tai Chi. I have been practicing Martial Arts for over 23 years now, and Sifu Cheng in Hong Kong here is also a long-time dedicated practitioner of the Martial Arts. So, together we decided to use our various experiences and knowledge to go ahead and make our own book so we can share with others. The book will at first be presented in both Chinese and English (both in the same book) I took all of the pictures myself on my old Digital camera, and I prepared and wrote all of the English, as well as I put everything together on my computer. Of course Sifu wrote all of the Chinese, and he posed for the pictures for the forms. I have tentatively prepared a little website in which people can find out more information about our book (though the website is still a work in progress), but, if people are interested, they can check it out over at:

Any suggestions or tips for wannabe and fellow game developers?
Don: I am a "wannabe game developer" hehehe...  But, yeah, you got to be prepared to work hard, and not give up when problems or setbacks arise. Try to plan out the various parts of the game first, for example; story, characters, puzzles, etc... Then it will be easier to piece it all together when it becomes time to program it and make the art and music.  If you are working with a "team", then it's important to try and keep in regular contact with each other. Keep each other updated on development, progress, ideas and such.  Try and commit yourself to setting aside some time to work on the game, and really do it. But, remember, sometimes you need to just take a break, get outside, go for a walk, see a movie, whatever. Yes, sometimes you need to push yourself away from that computer, as too much time in front of it can "burn you out"... so, try to balance your activities so it's not all just computer time. Besides, getting away from the computer from time to time can help you to "clear your head", and you may in fact come up with some fresh ideas, or perhaps solve a nagging problem because you took the time to do something else for a little while.

Any last words you want to go in history with?
Don: Think and act positive, and positive things will happen in your life. And, remember, the longest journey begins with the first step, so if you have a goal or dream, then work towards it one step at a time, and you can really accomplish and do so much.  Best wishes.

Thanks for the interview and g'luck in your future projects.


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