Published on August 26th, 2013 | by Brendon Templin0
Walking the Beat with Jim Walls
In 1986, California Highway Patrol officer Jim Walls left the force after 15 years of service, having been scarred by a traumatic firefight. In the period following, he was invited to work with Sierra to help create the first police-themed adventure game, and throughout his recovery he penned Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel. With its gritty story line and strict adherence to realism, the game gained a strong fan base. Since Jim Walls last released the third and final Police Quest adventure game, the cult following has remained heavy, and to their relief, he had announced his return the series, albeit without the brand name. Precinct was going to be a modernization on the series, a new IP doing just what Police Quest did: breathe new life into the adventure genre by giving it a lethal dose of realism.
TechZwn: In 1987, when you helped create the first Police Quest, how was the transition from being a retired Highway Patrol officer to working as a game developer for Sierra, both culturally and technologically?
Walls: Going from patrolling California highways for 15 years, to asking an artist for a piece of concept art was quite the cultural transition. And, the technological end of it wasn’t any easier either since I knew nothing about computers at the time. But Ken Williams was key in helping me work through the unknowns.
TechZwn: Since that time, you have maintained involvement in the video game industry. How has it been watching the industry bloom, and how do you feel about the future of the business?
Walls: It has always been fascinating. I mean back in the day, computer technology was advancing and evolving right before your eyes. You could be finishing up a project one minute and the technology you used was almost obsolete before you were done. And it seems to be moving at the same pace or faster today. It’s just amazing how life like games can be these days. To the point that it’s a little scary, especially for kids and how they can become so hooked. But overall it’s still fascinating to watch the industry evolve.
TechZwn: As I understand, you’ve been kicking around the idea of a spiritual successor to Police Quest for a bit before announcing Precinct. What initially fueled you to come back to this, and do you think you would have been able to engage the project without Kickstarter and the current opportunities of crowd-funding?
Walls: In early 2012, some of the old Sierra fans found me on Facebook and started nudging me to come out of retirement to do another Police Quest type game. And with the Kickstarter success of some of the Sierra Alumni at the time, it seemed as though we were in the middle of a Sierra gaming revival. So along with the fan nudging and the availability of crowd funding, I thought it may be possible to get it done. And so the Precinct concept.
TechZwn: The Police Quest series is notorious for its stringent employment of officer protocol, but in the years since, video games as a whole have become much more forgiving and altogether much easier. This shift has even affected the adventure genre, with games like The Walking Dead and Heavy Rain pioneering as “interactive dramas.” Is there a challenge in balancing Precinct’s roots with the seeming demand in the modern market?
Walls: Here’s what we want to do with Precinct. We want to capture the spirit of Police Quest, while at the same time modernize the gameplay. And yes, it will be a challenging balance. But I believe we can take the same aspects of Police Quest and make a more realistic experience with Precinct. If you can go back to the time I met Ken Williams, when Police Quest was born, and bring it forward to today, I believe Police Quest would have looked just like Precinct. Call Precinct an adventure game, but I like to say it’s an experience as a police officer on the beat.
TechZwn: What size development team are you utilizing? Of those people, how many are either individuals who you’ve worked with in the past, new talent or maybe even old Police Quest fans?
Walls: Right now our development team is small. However the team will grow as the funds for development grow. Only one member of the team, Robert Lindsley, worked with me on Code Name Iceman as a programmer. Robert is now my business partner on Precinct. As for the rest of the team, believe it or not they are all Police Quest fans (at least that’s what they tell me).
TechZwn: Though the rights to Police Quest were liquidated along with the rest of Sierra’s assets, Precinct still looks to have a flavor and style reminiscent of the series from the early clips you’ve shown. Coming back to the helm, is it difficult establishing a new property while at the same time living up to fan’s expectations?
Walls: Yes. I think the hardest thing, without actually having a demo of the new product, is convincing the fans that Precinct will be an actual adventure game. Some folks do have concerns that it will be something different. I wish I could just say, “trust me” and everything would be OK. But unfortunately things don’t work that way. However, I do believe that whoever plays Precinct will be pleasantly surprised with the experience they will derive from the game.
TechZwn: Though many developers claim to have a close repertoire with their fans, yours seem adamant about your down-to-earth communication with them. Can you think of any times in which contact with a fan has helped you come to a decision or solve a problem in development?
Walls: Sierra fans as a whole are the greatest fans ever, and Police Quest fans ROCK, plain and simple. Over the years I certainly have accumulated my share of fan mail. All of them thanking me in some way or another, along with suggestions and ideas about how I should make the next game. But the ones that moved me the most, were those that told me that playing Police Quest inspired them to go on and become Police Officers. Those are very rewarding and special. They inspire me.
Since the time this interview was taken to the publication of it, Precinct has been aborted, being officially cancelled within the hours. After switching from a Kickstarter campaign to their own direct crowd funding, the project in the end proved to be too expensive and too ambitious to finish development. Head developer Robert Lindsey left an open letter on their funding page, addressing fans and funders.
“We’re fighters and fought our best. Unfortunately, our best wasn’t good enough to overcome the challenges with crowdfunding Precinct… Depending on the situation, we may decide to try again someday. The backing community are wonderfully supportive of Jim Walls making a new game. Likewise, our team remains passionate about Precinct and are hopeful there is a way to make Precinct a reality in the future.”
If you listen closely, you may be able to hear the sound of fans around the world taking a deep breath.