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Interview with Vonster D. Monster
Designer of Space Quest: The Lost Chapter

The following interview was originally conducted for Adventure Gamers by Josh Roberts, and is copyright (c) 1998-2002 Adventure Gamer (TM). It is printed here with permission. Read Adventure Gamer's exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Space Quest: The Lost Chapter here.

Vaughn Gosine (a.k.a Vonster D. Monster) is a long-time fan of the Space Quest series and designer of the awesome fan-game, Space Quest: The Lost Chapter. To find out more about the Lost Chapter, check out its official website and download your copy today!

Screenshot from The Lost Chapter Q: When did you start working on Space Quest: The Lost Chapter, what inspired you to make your own game?

A: I originally starting working on The Lost Chapter in 1998. As for when EXACTLY, I'd be hard pressed to tell you, too much cleaning fluid inhaled over the years, you know how it is. And the idea for the game, well that's a funny story, unfortunately I'm about as funny as an Orat on a stick so it might come out a bit bland. Ever since I first slapped a Sierra floppy disk into my Tandy 1000 EX eons ago, and discovered the world of adventure games, I was hooked like a Labion Terror Beast with a Cubix Rube.

My first game was King's Quest III, and I loved it more than I loved my mop and gloves -- well, my gloves anyway. Some time after, I bought Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter, and it was more fun than cleaning Xenonian crud-bowls! In truth, though, from KQIII I was smitten with the idea of being able to make my own game just like it. I think from my first taste of Space Quest, and having to pick myself up from off the floor so many times, if I was ever able to make a game it was going to be along those lines.

As for The Lost Chapter specifically, well around 1998 I was really getting interested in picking up a hobby, don't ask me why, perhaps I was getting bored with swabbing floors, who knows, but anyway I went hunting for game engine information on the Internet. For ages I'd harbored this deep-seeded desire to create a Space Quest game and I figured it was about time I did something about it. I quickly found out that there were people who decoded Sierra's original game engine AGI (Adventure Game Interpreter) and it brought back memories of me wishing I had that engine way back when to create my own game.

A guy named Peter Kelly created a program called AGI Studio that allowed you to not only open up existing AGI games and see what made them tick, but to create your own. This was the stink bomb in the girls' bathroom. I began to see the light. I did look for more advanced engines, but there wasn't really anything out there at the time that seemed viable. More and more AGI looked like the way to go, and the nostalgia of working with the tool Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy used really got appealing.

I did every kind of research I could on AGI. I started downloading tutorials, help files and every fan-game made in AGI I could find. I played around with AGI Studio for a while and then started working on a Space Quest game. The name and plot fell in as time went by. I'm not one to plan things out -- I get confused easily.

Q: Did you have any previous programming or artistic experience, or was this all a learn-as-you-go effort?

A: This game was my first real effort with AGI Studio. Besides a brief toy with the idea of Latex Babes running wild, I never strayed from a Roger Wilco adventure. I did do a one-room attempt at a Wolverine game, it was my very first work in AGI, but having no experience with it I accidentally flushed it down the tubes while trying to save it, not unlike what I did with my wallet in the public bathroom a few years back.

Game-wise though it was always going to be a Space Quest game, I knew this early on. As for experience, well if years of scrubbing sludge off walls, floors, shoes and bandits badges counts, I have more experience than most. I did program an Autolase Bowl Sterilizer once, though it somehow seemed to have mistaken the head janitor's favorite easy chair for the bowl and kind of burned it to a crisp. I once painted Bikini clad Pestulon Pirates on the Space cruiser of this bully from Janitorial Graduate School -- he kept calling me sissy, but I showed him. So I guess I have some experience with both programming and art. I'm an all-round talented kinda guy.

Seriously though, I did do programming both in high school and University, I actually squeaked out with a Bachelor's degree in Business Computing too. Don't ask me how though, I just kept handing in reports for this guy who was always too busy to do it himself on my way to clean the bathrooms and the next thing I know, I get a degree in the mail. You know, I never found out what happened to that guy, though I did adopt his name. After all, it was the name on the degree. I did inherit a little artistic ability from my mom, but it's very limited and not very well used either. All my work in AGI was definitely learn-as-I-bungle. And I bungle a lot.

Q: There's a playable demo of The Lost Chapter available right now. Approximately how many screens are there in the current demo, and how much bigger will the finished game be?

A: The demo has over 200 screens at present and the finished product should have close to 250 screens. AGI allows only 255 screens per game, but I suppose if the need arises, anybody, myself included, could just separate a large game into two parts. I don't foresee the need for that here though, I'm almost done and will make due with the limitations that I have within a single AGI game. It will be like working in a Vorakian Slug Pit -- you run out of space and tools very fast, but if you're near the end, you'd better just make a run for it or you're likely to end up being more closely involved in a 105-year digestive process than you would ever want to be.

Q: When do you expect to finish the game?

A: Barring any Scumsoft attacks or hits by Anti-Wilco terrorists I should be done with the basic game in January of 2001. Then I'll try to iron out all the bugs and get some sound in there, but a working version of the full game should be done at the end of December. The mop jockeying keeps me pretty busy, but that Crell Crisperion 9000 Handheld Super Computer I found floating in the crapper in August has really been an enormous help. It lets me work on the game while I'm at work. Though I'll admit juggling highly volatile cleaning liquids and a high powered computer at the same time can be tricky, so far I've only blown up two urinals and slightly damaged the janitor's lounge. I've lost the odd screen or bit of code too, but basically I think I do okay.

Q: The original Sierra adventures were huge team efforts, but this seems to be a one-man job. How difficult has it been being the sole creator, writer, artist and programmer?

Screenshot from The Lost Chapter A: Holy Ridiculous Amounts of Work, Adventure Gamer-man, you would not believe! I've completely lost track of the amount of hours I've spent on this game, actually I don't think I ever kept track. Don't get me wrong, being a one-man show has its advantages, like total control, no superiors pushing you around, no Captain sending you to clean out the Deepship Cargo hold, but the drawbacks are there too.

With all the responsibility it sometimes gets hard to prioritize work. I'll be building screens for a couple hours and then I'll get tired and start plugging them into the game, which will suck up my time, and then I leave the screen building for days. I also end up switching from one area of the game to another, leaving unfinished parts all over. It's like cleaning a bathroom tackling a little of each task instead of finishing off each one before you try another. And believe me, nobody wants to sit on a perfectly clean-looking toilet, only to discover the Crudfree Bacterialate Acid that I didn't remove from the seat yet has burned through his or her butt!

It's frustrating at times, because I don't know where to attack next. My game was going in so many directions at once it was confusing my poor little brain. But I didn't cry, really I didn't. Not much anyway. What was really tough was trying to get ready for the Virtual Broomcloset Anniversary. I was trying to finish the game, and I severely underestimated the amount of testing I would need to do, and one day I was bored and did some and found more bugs than are in Sludge Vohaul's pants! I ended up abandoning expansion for testing and debugging.

Thankfully I found and fixed most, but not all, of the bugs. Sometimes it's hard to go from designing and building screens or animation to programming or plot writing, but other times working on a particular screen or character will give me a brainstorm (a rare thing indeed) and send ten new screens or a whole new plot idea into my head. Of course my head has more holes in it than Swiss cheese so I usually try to write these ideas down somewhere or they just leak out.

I have a little scrapbook knocking around that gives me a chuckle when I look at it. It has ideas in it from before I even started the game and it's amusing to see the things that stayed in and the things I just left out.

All in all it's a mood thing. Sometimes I'm in a plot mood and I rip out tons of good stuff, then I'm in a screen mood and I hit off ten great screens in half a day, or I'm in a programming mood and I slap in those ten screens and get them working great. Of course other times I'm in a run-around-the-room-naked mood and end up getting arrested, but the neighbors are pretty cool, they never press charges.

I do think the amount of work is a bit much, though. I'd recommend a team effort to anybody who really wants to try to produce a quality game. Of course size always mattered to me, whether due to my inadequacies or not I'll leave unmentioned, but the point is I did want a sizeable game. However, my game got way out of hand for a fan-game and I really should have tried harder to keep the size down. It was just hard, though, when all these ideas came to me I wanted to try them, and more often than not I'd get them working, to some degree anyway, and then include them in the game.

Word to the home game producers though, don't try to do too much if you're on your own, you can lose interest and never get the game done. I almost ended up abandoning my game more than once. I got fed up with it and an end seemed too far away, I got lazy and worked on it less and less until I stopped. I picked back up only to stop again. I was expanding and expanding instead of improving what was there and looking for a good ending. That's how I ended up with over 200 screens, too much expansion. It would be better to put down a plot, work out your screens and basically stick to that plan. My "add this because it hit me today and that because it sounds good tomorrow" attitude added a lot of good stuff to the game, but it made it really hard to get the game done.

A good plan that's stuck to is the best way to get a good game produced, and finished. Fan games seem to always suffer from the old demon of abandonment. I almost fell victim too, but believe me it was hard, very hard, to get where I got, and I still have work to do to finish the game off completely. I think a lot of people start games without realizing how much work is involved in producing one. One of my problems of course was I never wanted to do a ten or twenty screen small game that was pretty nice. I was always thinking minimum size of the originals, and bigger if possible.

I wanted to do things in AGI that I had not seen done with Roger Wilco in SQ1 & SQ2. Maybe I was a little too ambitious. It was like the time I thought Sludge Off could get rid of Tarmaklian Scum and ended up spreading scum over 2000 square feet of the Hydro Cruiser Space Complex. Man were they pissed. Luckily I snuck off before they could unstick themselves from all that scum.

Q: How big is this game compared to Space Quest I and II?

A: Space Quest I and II were both around 80 to 90 screens. The Lost Chapter will be close to 250. Like I said, I just got carried away. I've always been the excitable type, with too much of a perfectionist attitude to things I like. You should have seen me wash that Aluminum Mallard I borrowed from Roger a while back. I just loved that ship. Ah, the memories. Sorry, minor lapse in concentration there.

Q: What are some of the coolest places Roger explores in the demo version? How about the full version when it's done?

A: The demo is very close to the complete game, only the ending is missing. I've sent Roger to only one new planet in TLC, but to a few interesting places on that planet. The planet itself is a Swamp filled jungle planet, with many hazards around to keep Roger on his toes. Being the lover of water that I am, I have Roger needing to do a lot of swimming in TLC, and that includes exploring quite a few underwater caverns and even visiting an underwater city. Of course that also means he has to deal with a fair share of aquatic wildlife, complete with teeth, tentacles and other forms of deadly attributes.

At the end of the game Roger will visit an enormous space vessel with lots of places to explore onboard. Roger will need to pilot a small underwater vessel as well as navigate a small, and pretty easy, maze to get where he needs to go. I have the poor guy walking, climbing and swimming all over the place. I've been accused of sadism, but I deny those rumors and say in my defense that a devious enjoyment from plotting multiple deaths of an old friend is quite normal in many circles. Roger knows it's all in fun, even if I break his back or mince him like beef now and then.

Screenshot from The Lost Chapter Q: Do you know exactly how the game ends?

A: I know my ending and have for some time. I have everything basically worked out for the entire ending, the only missing part of the game, and I'm trying desperately not to add anything else (I'm running out of space in AGI). But oh the curse of a warped and idle mind, I've made so much stuff up as I went along you would not believe. Sometimes I just draw a single screen and I like it so much I end up doing five more of a similar type with no real plot involved. That five turns into ten, and then I need to write plot to include the screens.

That happened a lot with those underwater caverns. I just got carried away and had tons of them with nothing to do, so I had to come up with things to do there. The ship at the end too, geez, I don't know what I was thinking but I created an elevator screen and just put twelve buttons on the keypad. The next thing you know I'm busting my tail to build a twelve-level ship with Roger able to visit at least one screen on each level. That's where I am now, actually, fighting the good fight to finish up that ship and get the ending done. Incidentally, because of the size of that ship I added about three or four new plot elements to accommodate the large number of ship screens I did to fill up twelve levels.

I think it's coming out pretty good, though. I'm pleased with the new plot ideas and have started programming them in already. I get scared every now and then though, like that time I was sure an Orat was following me. I worry about never getting to the end, just like I worried about that Orat bursting in on me and making me swallow a bottle of dehydrated water. Scary stuff. But the doctor said the Orat was in my mind and it was really my shadow, and that it couldn't hurt me, or make me swallow dehydrated anything. Likewise I can see the end now, it's like a light at the end of the tunnel, only it's not staying the same size anymore, it's getting bigger an bigger. Soon I'll be done and I can maybe take a vacation to Phleebhut or something. Maybe even try skinny dipping on Jupiter, I hear it's all the rage.

Q: If you had to choose one or two of your favorite puzzles that you've come up with for this game, what would they be?

A: Errr, that's a hard one. Let's see, okay, I know, the cool Bona Lisa painting I cut up in about 5000 pieces when I was in the Meektron Museum about twenty years ago. Man my mom was really upset, and dad had to sell his Space Hopper 4500 to pay for it, but that thing was my favorite puzzle for years. I'd put it together and take it apart, put it together and take it apart. It was hours of fun. Of course my mom took to crying endlessly not long after, and we lost the house, but even in the mobile rocket-home I'd play and play. Ah, the good old days. Well, that and perhaps the Tiny Toothed Terror Fish and the Pouting Puffy Fish puzzles in TLC. They were pretty cool too.

Q: Why did you decide to squeeze this game between Space Quest II and III? Why a "lost chapter" and not a straight sequel? Did it have anything to do with the look and feel of the AGI engine you were using?

A: I never felt hampered by AGI Studio, to be honest. I could have chosen to do anything at any point in Roger Wilco's timeline with AGI and just hope that the fans accept the game as is. I mean AGI is a very limited tool, graphically, with sound, on many fronts. There are many patches and advancements for AGI that I didn't use in my game, partly because I was too immersed in TLC, but I was very comfortable with having my game at least resemble SQ I and SQ II. The main reason I placed the plot where I did, though, was because when I originally started TLC, Space Quest VII was still a possibility, and many of the avenues I could have gone down I assumed might be dealt with in that game.

I did want to do a story continuing after SQ6 at first, but I thought Sierra would handle that so I found a nice place in the SQ timeline that I could fit in an adventure without affecting the chronology of things that came after. Right after SQ II was perfect, since any amount of time could have elapsed between Roger's defeat of Vohaul and eventual pick up by the Garbage Freighter in SQ III.

Q: What's been the hardest part of making the game so far? What's been the most rewarding part?

A: I suppose to be honest the hardest part of making the game has been fighting off the girls who have taken to crowding into my garage at night and sneaking into my car, my house, even my clothes! The fame and popularity has been overwhelming and the females just flock to me like flies to a sludge pile. I've tried everything, Girl-Away, See-Her-No-More, Anti-Chick-Permalick, Ditch-the-Itch (Oops, wait, that's for another problem, sorry, forget I said that, just keep that out of the interview, ok? Cool.). [Interviewer's Note: Sorry, I'm contractually obligated to leave this in!] The point is, nothing I try has worked. They're everywhere, I have to check under my bed every night to make sure nobody is there. I tried disguises, no good. Moved twice, still no dice. They find me, and they swarm all over me. You should see some of these girls, yeesh, have you ever seen a Phlagnian with a Mohawk? Scariest darn thing I ever saw.

As for the most rewarding part, well, not ALL the girls were scary, and I now have about three permanent residents who were former Latex Babes of Estros. Man, life is good! Outside of those, well the hardest part in getting everything done, the time it takes is astronomical sometimes, and it's hard to find the time you need these days. I spend so much time hunched over my computer some days I have to roll home because I look like the hunchback of Notre Dame. And the neck pains are pretty bad sometimes too. Doing everything myself is tough, and doing such a big game only makes that worse.

The best part, bar none, has been the response from people who have played and enjoyed the game. When I read about somebody getting all the old memories back from the originals I feel like I got the reaction I was looking for. When I read about somebody struggling to remember the old parser interface, or somebody stuck in a place I expected people to get stuck I really feel good.

My vocab in the game is lacking, but on the whole it takes people a while to adjust to this old form of interfacing with a game. I wanted to recapture a little of the old nostalgia, but I mainly wanted to give the fans of Roger an all-new adventure to try their hands at. I wanted everyone out there, who like me was very disappointed at the ending if the SQ series and was just dying to have a new SQ. When people tell me how much they enjoyed another trip to janitor-land with Roger, it makes all the effort worth it.

I created the game for them, for me too yes, but it was the fans who I knew would snap up a new and decent SQ game and play it till they solved every puzzle. It had been so long since they helped Roger bungle his way through a set of seemingly insurmountable obstacles that TLC was just what they needed. Knowing I helped give them another chance to take Roger to where no Xenonian has gone before is really great. I hope everyone who was hoping another Roger Wilco adventure came along gets some enjoyment from the game. It really is about the guys and gals who kept Roger alive for so long. They, with their websites, fan-fiction and fan-games are the heroes of Wilco World, and they are the ones I wanted to give something to.

They show their enthusiasm and appreciation, believe me, and that makes it all worth it. If I give one old Wilco fan a glimpse of old glory while stumbling through TLC, or renews his or her love of SQ, that's a monumental task, and it's what I hope to do. Giving the SQ fans a new and (from what I'm hearing so far) enjoyable game, is definitely the most rewarding part of producing TLC.

Also, not long after I put the original TLC demo up on the Net, I was contacted Josh Mandel, who as you might know, has some official SQ creating experience. He contacted me after finding out about The Lost Chapter on the Net. Apparently he still trolls around some of the Space Quest haunts. Josh not only offered his good wishes on the project, but to my great surprise, offered to add some of his unique humor to the game. Well, I was thrilled, and obviously said yes.

Having some original Josh Mandel humor in a little fan-made SQ game from the Caribbean sounded pretty good to me. So I lavished thanks and appreciation on him (which he graciously made light of, being the humble funny-guy he is -- that's not butt-kissing, is it?) and I promptly sent off a copy of the demo to him.

Unfortunately not long after, his computer all but blew up, thanks to an overzealous janitor who shoved his mop into the disk drive in an attempt to clean the guy's hard drive (Darn you, Roger!). Well, Josh was without use of his machine, and lost everything on it, including more important things than a TLC demo. Well a couple weeks, three hard drives and one power supply later (some janitors go heavy on the water and cleaning liquid on their mops, and the damage was bad) Josh is still willing to offer his help and humor and I'm still willing to accept.

I will be sending Josh the most updated version of the game (before I make it available on the Net) and though his time is very limited right now, since he still gets paid to do stuff and all I can offer him is copious amounts of thanks, if he is at all able he will send along some ideas and whatever else comes to his warped mind.

I must say Josh was enthusiastic about TLC and about Space Quest on the whole. The guy still loves Roger and is very interested in seeing him live on past SQ VI. It was very reassuring and a pleasant surprise to find a creator still showing a willingness to support a supposedly dead series of games in a supposedly dead genre.

I don't know what Scott or Mark would think of TLC, or what their feelings on SQ are in 2001, but at least a few people who lent them a hand in creating this amazing thing that is Space Quest still have a hankering for messing with Roger and making his life a little more difficult and perhaps a little more funny and interesting too.

Screenshot from The Lost Chapter Q: Which is your favorite Space Quest game?

A: My favorite one is Space Quest III. Something about it just stuck with me and it's been my favorite ever since. I've played them all, but that one is the one I'd want in my escape pod for the next fifty or so years till I got picked up by some Garbage Freighter in space.

I've been playing adventure games for longer than I can remember. I was still a kid (and believe me that was long ago), and they were the best darn thing since Monolith Burger. They were, and still are my favorite genre of games. I grieved for the end of Sierra, which was my favorite game company. I miss them and their special brand of games that made a young guy love so many characters and took him on so many adventures. The only games I ever actually spent money on were Sierra games. I got all of the major Quest games, and a lot of the smaller ones like Conquests of Camelot and Black Cauldron.

It's the only company, and only genre, I deemed worthy of spending money on. To this day I have never bought another game other than a Sierra product. The last two games I purchased were Quest for Glory V: Dragonfire and the last King's Quest. I could write a 20-page deluge on my love for Sierra and their games, but I'll spare everyone that sappy dribble.

Q: Everyone seems to call you Vonster D. Monster, but what's your real name, what do you do for a living?

A: My real name is Nowa Yinhell. My job title is High Exalted Janitor Supremous. Which translates to the senior junior janitor's assistant to the trainee janitor's assistant, and I'm stationed at the Clongronian Starbase. I'm about twelve thousand three hundred and sixty nine years old, factoring in sleep chamber slumbers for interstellar high light-year travel.

Seriously though, my name is Vaughn Gosine, I'm the IT manager at an Insurance Broking firm in the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago down in the West Indies. I'm all of twenty-seven, with emotional scars to prove it.

Q: You mentioned that you made an effort to play as many games made with the AGI Studio as you could find. What are a few of your favorites?

A: Well, there are few finished games out there, but a few of the games in progress that really caught my eye, from both a programming and artistic sense, were Dave's Quest, Time Quest, Operation Recon, The Ruby Cast, Speeder Bike Challenge, Acidopolis, Napalm Quest, The Lost Planet, and a rare finished game called URI Quest. There was a small fan-game called The New Adventures of Roger Wilco made in AGI, but I can't think of any others that were Sierra-related right now. There probably are though, but ever since that Automatic Ceiling Sweeper fell on my head, the memory hasn't been working too well.

I hope I've answered your questions okay. I was never good at quizzes, I'd get bad head pains and my stomach would do some funny things as well. My old teachers used to say it was because I used to eat too much and then stand on my head, but I'm not sure they knew what they were talking about. I think it's because I used to run around in circles and then slam into the wall to try to ease my nervousness. Who knows? Anyway, to all the adventure gamers out there, I wish you good gaming and to the guys and gals working on games, whatever they may be, good luck.

I'd like to thank the people at Adventure Gamer for all their interest in a small little AGI game by some doofus with a penchant for space, janitoring and looniness. I think their support of the world of Adventure Games is invaluable. Maybe you'll let me and Roger come clean the place up some time, I hear you're overdue for some mopping. Of course I can't guarantee we'll leave the place in one piece, I mean he's dying to try out the new Speed-Mop XHS again, and the last time he tried it he blew a whole in my wall, but the floor was never cleaner!

Comments, questions, suggestions...

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