Retro Interview – Javier Maldonado on Masq
The joys of Twitter, after seeing Craig from Gaming Daily tweet about the great Masq I downloaded it again and gave it a quick whirl, it led to a re-post of my interview with Javier Maldonado.
This wasn’t the first time I had played Masq, I initially played it last year after reading Tom Francis’ article about it in PC Gamer. I also had the chance last year to interview the creator of the game, Javier Maldonado on evo-gamer.com I then thought to myself, “why not repost the interview here on The Reticule?” so here we are with that classic interview ready for people to read:
Chris – How did Alteraction come into being and what is the company ethos?
Javier – A few years ago I was looking for way to participate/play in a movie-like story, meet exciting characters, etc. However, all that I found were games which seemed to be trying to stop me from living and enjoying the story, either with twitching challenges or difficult puzzles. And the story was not that good either. So I decide to make my own. I figured many others would enjoy playing these kinds of “games” so I decided this was an enterprise for the long term to trigger a new game category. I went to some friends and asked them to invest some money–and Masq and AlterAction were born.
Chris – Masq is brilliant, how did the game come into being?
Javier – It was inspired a little bit by David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Latin-American Soap operas. Over many years I wrote and programmed Masq in Macromedia Director. My wife was my editor and main tester. I even drew the first three episodes, but soon we came to the conclusion that this was too much work and we needed some help, so we set up an office in Mexico where we hired local artists. In the US, well known game designers such as Ken Melville and Noah Falstein helped me to localize Masq in English and introduced me to everybody in the gaming industry. I must say that with a few exceptions, the industry was very dismissive.
Chris – The story seems to be a driving focus of Masq with multiple plots and endings, why did you decide to take this approach to the story?
Javier – That is what I wanted to experience and wasn’t able to find in the market. My background is as a comic writer and I went to Film School, so I am a storyteller at heart that happened to know some basic programming.
Chris – What do you think of stories in ‘mainstream’ games like Halo and Gears of War?
Javier – I’m not sure if I’d call those games really mainstream given that my wife and mother don’t play them, nor do millions of other people. But I get your point: they are commercially very successful. Those kinds of games still demand so much dexterity and time investment that most of the time I can only play little parts. So I can’t give a qualified opinion of the titles you mention, but if I can extrapolate from my experience with other games: at best the story is “decent” compared with linear media such as movies or TV, and the point of those games is not really playing the story, but the story is a device to “dress up” the game. In Masq the story IS the game.
Chris – The interface and graphical design of Masq are very simple and intuitive, why did you take this approach?
Javier – I wanted myself and everybody else (the real mainstream market) to be able to play the game and become the active protagonist of a story. So I needed an interface as friendly as possible, which in addition, by using text options, allowed the author to offer the player any kind of action. This is essential to playing a story-based game in which dialogue and personal relationships with characters are the backbone of the experience.
Chris – Do you wish to see more games take this type of approach?
Javier – We strongly believe that this approach can create a whole new category of games and enhance most existing genres. Before Masq, no one was convinced that you could fully integrate stories and games. That it was not possible to base a game entirely on a story without using traditional game-play dynamics such as puzzles. Now it’s clear that if done right, the story can be the game, and that opens the possibilities to create a broad variety of different interactive stories using the same gameplay mechanics. This will also allow creators and players to explore a whole new range of emotions and themes.
Chris – Has Masq become as popular as you thought? Did the PC Gamer article by Tom Francis boost the popularity of the game?
Javier – The article by Tom Francis really brought Masq to life. Masq had been online for 5 years without being noticed until Tom discovered it and that triggered many other great reviews on magazines, blogs, etc. The fact that a game with such a minimalistic graphic approach was chosen as one of the Top 100 Games of All Time by PC Gamer magazine and was called the “father of a new game genre” really tells you we hit a nerve. We really knew it long ago but it is great to be recognized by the critics and the players.
Chris – If you could start Masq again from the beginning, how would you do it?
Javier – I did what I believed was best at the time, but I broke too many rules of the industry at once. But the most important lesson I learned was how difficult it is to get broad distribution and exposure for a game that features an adult theme and includes some light sex. The resistance is mainly in the US, but they have come to dominate world distribution. In addition, the sex has prevented some people from seeing the potential of the format as a vehicle for stories, any kind of stories. I’m proud of Masq, but we may have to come up with more family-oriented titles before exploring more adult themes again. Regarding production, we should go with full screen and sound. 3D animation will work too, but we should not get distracted. What makes the genre work is the interactive story, not fancy special effects.
Chris – What are your thoughts on the games industry as a whole today, is it too dominated by ‘blockbuster’ titles and graphics at the expense of new fresh design?
Javier – Yes, and most people in the industry can’t see anything outside their current design paradigm. They do not seem willing to experiment with what they really don’t understand (such as storytelling). But the web, the casual games market and the indie games movement are really opening up some possibilities.
Chris – For such a great game, I am shocked that Masq is free, why did you take the approach to make it so?
Javier – Even though Masq was recently discovered, it has been out for more than 5 years. We left it for free all these years and we were discovered as a free game, and now we’re getting great promotion. However, we’re already considering ways to monetize Masq.
Chris – What are your plans for Masq and AlterAction in the coming years? Are there plans for any new titles?
Javier – We’re looking for funding to create authoring and publishing tools to empower independent authors to create a great variety of interactive stories. This platform will also allow established media companies to convert story-based franchises such as Sex and the City or Desperate Housewives into games which currently cannot be successfully translated into games. But we also have plans to develop another title on our own.
If you haven’t played Masq before then I insist you check it out to see what a great game it is.
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