Interview with Mark Yohalem by Peter Ward

Wormwood Studios is a small, international team committed to developing games with distinctive visuals, complex themes, and rich settings.  Wormwood was founded in 2010 by Mark Yohalem, an American writer, and Victor Pflug, an Australian painter.  Along with Greek programmer James Spanos, Victor and Mark spent two years making Primordia, an award-winnning point-and-click adventure game.  In 2013, the team expanded to include Steven Poulton, an English programmer, and Ben Chandler, another Australian artist.  That team made Salt and Like A Raisin in the Sun and worked on the now-defunct adventure game, Cloudscape.  In 2014, the team shifted to include Daniel Miller, a pixel artist dividing his time between Japan and America, Zoltán Tóbiás, a Hungarian artist (and doctor!), and Connor Brennan, an American programmer.  This team is working on Fallen Gods.

We view supporting other independent game projects as an integral part of our overall development mission.  To date, we have backed around 300 projects on Kickstarter, and we’ve plugged other projects through our Facebook page.  If you’re working on a project that falls within our wheelhouse and you’d like our support, please drop us a line.  (Obviously, as a small team, our resources are limited.)

Ages have passed since legendary Man walked the planet. Now, in the desolate wastelands beyond the city of Metropol, a solitary robot named Horatio jealously guards his freedom and independence. All that is taken away from him when a marauding foe steals his power source, forcing him to leave the safety of his home and set out on a perilous journey into the wastes – and into his own mysterious past.
Primordia is a point-and-click adventure game that combines the challenge and depth of the classics with a streamlined interface and a player-friendly design: puzzles emphasize logical thinking and exploration, rather than trial and error or endless backtracking. The game features over fifty hand-drawn rooms, dozens of distinctive characters, and gorgeous painted cutscenes.

First of all Welcome to Retrogamesmaster.

What is your first gaming experience?

Space Quarks (a very simple Galaga-like game) and David’s Midnight Magic (a pinball game), which were on opposite sides of a floppy disk that ran in my Apple II/c. The first game that I think had a really strong impact on me was The Ancient Art of War on a neighbor’s early Macintosh. It’s amazing how much the Murry Brothers accomplished with that game. Karateka, Jordan Mechner’s first (I think?) game, also had a big impact.

What got you into programming games?

My grandfather was a NASA engineer, and when I was quite young — seven, I think — he got us that Apple II/c, which ran through a black and white television. He showed me how to halt the start-up process, which allowed you to read the BASIC programming of the whatever software was in the disk drive, and also let you program your own stuff. He taught me the rudiments of line numbering and PRINT “Hello World!” and so on, and from there it was off to the races. I was convinced I would be able to program a game that could simulate the collective stories (rule-less Dungeon and Dragons) that I told with my friends. Impossible, but a nice aspiration.

What development tools or coding did you use?

BASIC, then LogoWriter, then QuickBasic and QB4.5, then Turbo Pascal with the SPX libraries, and then various game-development suites (RPG Maker, AGS, Unity, etc.).

What hurdles did you have making your current game?

None of us is working full time, we’re flung across the entire globe, and we’re shooting for the moon.

After the completion of the game what game will you make?

Who knows? Scrambled eggs for breakfast.

What other games have you made you made?

The only published game where it was truly “my” game would be Primordia, a retro-adventure game with a cult following. I worked as a writer or designer on Torment: Tides of Numenera, Kohan II: Kings of War, Dragon Age: Origins, Heroes of Newerth, and some other titles.

I’ve worked on scores of unpublished games over my life — many we’d just play in the computer lab, like a locally run BBS-“door” style game, various shooting games, some simple RPGs. Some were more elaborate. I wrote the story for Infinity, a Gameboy Color RPG that I am sad was never released.

My favourite computer was my Amiga and console the Megadrive do you have a favourite?

Kids who had Amiga computers lived charmed existences that no one else will ever enjoy. I guess my first PC, a low-end 486, was probably my favorite.

What is your favourite retro game?

Hmm. That’s a hard question, because it’s hard to define “retro.” I really liked Cave Story, which has many retro elements but many modern ones as well. Same with The Age of Decadence. I think Thimbleweed Park looks swell.

Do you still game on the current consoles if so whats your favourite game?

I don’t.

Whats the worst game you have ever played?

Hydlide for the NES had a control scheme that was literally impossible — it was something like you had to hold down the A button while pressing B and a direction to attack. Even as a little kid I was utterly baffled as to how such a game ever could ship. But there are bajillions of games that are so bad no one should have ever made them — games where the intent was purely commercial and the product is purely garbage. Just go on the iPhone store.

Finally what game or feature would you like to see on Retrogamesmaster in the future?

Would be interesting to learn about the coding tricks that people used in the past. I was a big fan of the demoscene.