I recently sat down with Katie Hallahan, a designer for Phoenix Online Studios. Phoenix Online Studios is the proud developer of the Silver Lining series, and the upcoming Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller.
Katie has been working with Phoenix Online Studios since 2002, when the team began work on a fan-game based on the King’s Quest franchise, called The Silver Lining.
Katie explains that “pretty much everyone on the team were fans of the King’s Quest games from Sierra when we were younger. They were adventure games, had the logic puzzles, and the inventory. Going around and looking at everything. They were really focused on the story, and characters. There hadn’t been a new King’s Quest in years, and the company had been sold and sold again… We wanted to make an unofficial sequel to the series a ‘What Could Come Next.”
Phoenix Online did not go without challenges though, receiving two separate cease and desist orders from two separate companies. The first was from Vivendi in 2005, when they were the owners of the King’s Quest franchise. The second came from Activision when they became owners of the franchise, in 2010.
“Thankfully in both cases we were able to work something out with them, and our fans really rallied and sent in a lot of emails to say ‘hey, let this happen.’”
Development on The Silver Lining started as being done in free time, and continued as such for years. It only reached a release in 2010. Recently the team has started work on a commercial game, Cognition: an Erica Reed Thriller
“Basically, we really enjoyed making The Silver Lining, and for a lot of us we realized over time it was something we didn’t want to just do as a hobby. We really wanted to make this our fulltime career, so that brought on this.”
The team has released four out of five episodes of The Silver Lining as an episodic point and click adventure. The model is based on Telltale’s release model. Cognition is also planned for episodic releases.
“It worked because we were able to restructure The Silver Lining to specific sections of the game we were able to mark off. Plus it’s like doing chapters in a story, you get one section of the story here with a cliffhanger and it’s always interesting as a way to bring people back.”
Being an online based studio, there have been hurdles to jump over for the developers. Katie even described it as their biggest challenge they have faced since starting work all those years ago.
“A lot of it was just figuring out time management, especially since we’re an online studio. We don’t have an actual office. There’s a lot of coordinating through Skype and setting hours and making sure everyone stays in communication, since we’re not in the same place that’s the backbone of making sure everything gets done.”