In just 10 years, Wadjet Eye Games has established a solid reputation for producing critically acclaimed adventure games for the PC and iOS. Famous for games such as IGF Student Showcase winner, Gemini Rue, and now the Blackwell series of film noir style adventure games, its success has gone from strength to strength. At its heart, it’s a company run by husband and wife team, Dave and Janet Gilbert, based out of the apartment they share in Brooklyn with their young daughter. We talked to them to learn more about how it all came to be.
“It was a hobby of mine for many, many years. Then one day I found myself between jobs and I had money saved up, so I figured it was ‘now or never’ and then jumped right in,“ Dave explained. Dave started work on the Blackwell series of games alone, and met Janet around the same time he released Unbound, the second Blackwell game.
“When we got engaged, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to go into business together. And here we are!” exclaimed Dave.
Now, the pair divide the work between each other, with Ben Chandler and Francisco Gonzalez helping with art and design. As Dave and Janet explained, they both do a little bit of everything, while leaning towards certain strengths. Dave focuses on the design and creative direction of the games, while Janet deals with the hardcore coding, such as “fiddling with the innards of AGS (Adventure Game Studio) to get it to work properly on iOS” and porting to other platforms.
The games, while initially only for PC, are now available for iOS, with the hope of adding Mac compatibility in the future.
The Adventure Game Studio (AGS) engine has been pivotal to the development of Blackwell. Much of this is down to its simplicity. “I highly recommend it to anyone with a story to tell,” explains Janet. “I have a Computer Science degree and am used to coding in C++, so AGS is a breeze! Almost too easy!”
It’s been ideal for the couple, who love adventure gaming (Dave cites Discworld Noir as a huge influence, while Janet is a big fan of Gabriel Knight 1).
This shared interest, as well as the simplicity of AGS, enabled Dave to create a game inspired by his love of New York City, and a Hitchcock film called Family Plot. “One of the main characters was a psychic medium who would often talk to her spirit guide Geronimo. I remember feeling bad for Geronimo, who was constantly at this woman’s beck and call. So I had the idea of a reluctant ghost who was forced to be a spirit guide, which was the basis for Joey Mallone. The rest formed naturally after that!”
Fondness for the subject matter has translated well, with the Blackwell series consistently garnering positive reviews on the PC. Its final instalment, Blackwell Epiphany is making its debut on iOS this month.
It’s been a great experience for the couple. “I will say that it’s a wonderful feeling to see our games go out into the world and know that we did that together. I’d say they were like our children, if we didn’t already have an actual child. It’s the kind of marriage I never thought I would have,” explained Dave. Although, as he put it, “it sometimes IS difficult to have the ‘So how was your day, dear?’ conversation at the dinner table when you already spent the whole day working together.”
So, what’s next for Wadjet Eye Games?
Blackwell Epiphany is coming out on iOS on February 18th, and their new sci-fi adventure game Shardlight is making its way to PC on March 8th. Shardlight veers away from the film noir feel by exploring a post-apocalyptic world in which the rich benefit from regular vaccines, and the poor live in squalor.
Things aren’t slowing down for Wadjet Eye Games after March either. Janet aims to diversify, stepping away from porting to design her own adventure game. “I’ve made my own games before but they have all been puzzle games. I need to do something creative.”
Dave is currently designing an urban fantasy called Unavowed, while their internal designer, Francisco Gonzalez, is working on a Poe/Dickens-themed murder mystery. The future is looking very bright for Wadjet Eye Games.