I was very interested to hear that old-school Myst-style adventure games can still be commercially viable for game developers. One example is the new British home-brewed ghost-hunting game The Lost Crown (Jonathan Boakes / Darkling Room). The UK’s PC Gamer magazine gave it a review score of 85%, and a “must buy” tag. It’s set to be released in the UK in mid-July 08.

It was created using the completely free Wintermute Engine v.1.8, a sophisticated and well-polished royalties-free engine for making point & click adventure games. With no licences to buy for the game-engine or IP, and no expensive console royalties to pay to Microsoft / Sony / Nintendo, the potential for pure profit from well-made Wintermute-based games must be excellent. Although that should be balanced against the fact that it seems to have taken the developer a little over two years to write, code, and finish The Lost Crown. My back-of-an-envelope guess would be that an investor would be looking at about £50k to £80k to bring such a substantial game to market, from script? That would include paying a wage, and paying for top-quality voice-work. That’s not at all beyond the reach of a small 24-person ‘hobby investment circle’, each member investing £3k (£1k each year, over three years).

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Also fascinating is the article “Making of The Lost Crown” (warning: article has some minor plot spoilers). It shows how the developer transformed photos of the real Cornish fishing villages of Looe and Polperro, and their ancient hinterland, into working game locations in the Fens of the east coast. Elsewhere, an article by the game’s author mentions that his first game, DarkFall, sold 2000 copies in the first few months, with 95% of web sales going to the U.S. So I’m guessing that, now he’s better-known and has a fan-base and publisher, Lost Crown could be looking at 5,000+ copies in the first six months?

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There’s also a long interview with the project’s writer and director Jonathan Boakes.

Ghost-story games are not really my cup-of-tea, but this is such a uniquely British product — a lot of the screens seem to be in black & white, and the central character even appears to wear a knitted cardigan and a flat cap — that it’s just too deliciously eccentric to pass up. And you can’t argue with an 85% review from PC Gamer. My copy has been pre-ordered from Amazon.

More sample games made with the Wintermute engine are listed here. Wintermute seems a little under-documented and manual is old, but if you dig around the forums you’ll find that the developer has a new online lessons book that keeps pace with the software’s new features. Would-be back-bedroom game producers might want to investigate this software. Especially since future web browsers will run sophisticated code without needing any plug-ins like Flash — potentially opening up lucrative new niche audiences for point & click adventures.

I also found another nice bit of authoring software. If you wanted to easily prototype your interactive narrative first, without fiddling with the pictures and asset-management and the code scripting involved with Wintermute, then the British text-only interactive-fiction engine Adrift v.4.0 is exactly what you want (site is very slow to load). It’s mature and intuitive software, and I made a satisfying short interactive-fiction game with it, in just a few hours. Celtx v.1.0 is another free application, one that might serve as a half-way house in taking a production between Adrift and Wintermute — it’s a free media pre-production tool.