Image: Grundislav Games

If you're a fan of point-and-click adventure games, you've probably come across Francisco González's work in the past.

For the last 20 years, he's been producing some classic games in the genre, from fantastic freeware titles like Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator, to modern gems like Shardlight, A Golden Wake, and Lamplight City. His latest project, Rosewater, however, is arguably shaping up to be his most exciting yet, thanks in no small part to its "Old West" setting, as well as its all-star voice cast that contains the likes of Roger Clark (Red Dead Redemption 2), Dave Fennoy (The Walking Dead), Cam Clarke (Metal Gear Solid), and Cissy Jones (Firewatch).

For those who aren't already familiar with it, the game takes place in the same alternate timeline as González's last release Lamplight City — a fictional 19th-century version of the United States that never declared independence from Britain, called Vespuccia. Players step into the role of a former boxer turned reporter named Harley Leger (who is also incidentally the sister of the dead partner from Lamplight City) and follow their journey as they set off on the hunt for a missing fortune with a ragtag group of companions across the wild frontier.

By our count, the game has been in development for the PC for roughly six years now and it has been on our radar for much of that time. However, it wasn't until recently that we were able to grab some time with González to go over the making of the ambitious new project. Speaking to him, we were able to find out a little more about the origins of the project, the game's fascinating companion system, and what it was like working with its central cast of voice actors.

A Town Called "Rosewater"

According to González, the idea to make his next title a point-and-click Western initially came about during the development of Lamplight City when he started thinking of ways to expand the world beyond that game's setting — the city of New Bretagne. This led him to envision the idea of Rosewater — a mining outpost populated by conmen, thieves, and opportunists.

As he tells Time Extension: "I had created this whole alternative history for the world of Lamplight City and I thought it would be interesting to explore more of it. And it just seemed like the natural extension for the time period was the Old West. I also realized that there weren’t any serious point-and-click western adventures. They’re all comedies — or at least mostly comedies. So I thought it would be an interesting genre to tackle."

Image: Grundislav Games

Rosewater isn't exactly a humourless game, but it's quite clear there's been a lot of care taken in making the world of Vespuccia feel believable, with the title eschewing the more cartoonish approach of other Western point-and-click titles like Freddy Pharkas: Frontier's Pharmacist and Lone McLonegan in favour of a more grounded take on the genre. This is reflected through the game's evocative, hand-painted backgrounds and detailed pixel art, as well as its fascinating newspaper articles, NPC dialogue, and diary entries that seek to communicate an overarching history of the world to those who want to dig a little bit deeper.

As González tells us, his decision to tackle the genre was slightly out of character for him, as he isn't necessarily the biggest fan of Spaghetti Westerns. Instead, he claims to prefer more modern "Neo-Westerns" like No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

I know for a fact that I held off on playing Red Dead Redemption II for a very long time. Because I didn’t want to be influenced subconsciously by that game. So Red Dead II came out in 2018 and I didn’t play it until, I want to say, 2020 or 2021.

We asked him whether, at any point during development, he sat down to marathon any old films or games to get into the right headspace, but surprisingly he seemed to take the opposite approach.

"I know for a fact that I held off on playing Red Dead Redemption II for a very long time," he tells us, "Because I didn’t want to be influenced subconsciously by that game. So Red Dead II came out in 2018 and I didn’t play it until, I want to say, 2020 or 2021. And when I did play it, I was like, ‘Oh no! There are a few things in here that I have in Rosewater.’ But then I realized there are only so many things that you can do within the genre, so it makes sense that there would be some similarities. They’re not 100% outright or 1:1 similarities, but I was like, ‘Hmmm, it’s interesting that they had that same idea.’

After González decided that he was going to make a game set in an alternate version of the Old West, the next obvious step was deciding what kind of story he wanted to tell in the setting. It was then that he became attracted to the idea of creating more of a straightforward adventure story — inspired in part by his experiences of playing Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.

As he tells us, he had never had the opportunity to write an "Indiana Jones-style" experience in the past, with his previous games instead being about the rise & fall of a real estate agent in 1920s America, a woman's quest for survival during a post-apocalyptic plague, and the various cases of a private investigator who is riddled with guilt over the death of his partner. So, with his next game, he wanted to change things up a bit and focus on more of a straightforward adventure narrative with a MacGuffin and potential for action. To do this, though, he'd first need to create a slightly different kind of protagonist than he was used to — someone who could not only handle themselves in a bar fight but who was also well-educated, cunning, and could think on their feet.

"Harley Leger came about because I just wanted to have a connection Lamplight City," González tells us. She was a former boxer but now she wants to be a writer. So that was fun because it gave a bit more leeway to have certain puzzles where you had the more logical cerebral solution as well as the 'punch the person' or 'blow the thing up' solution.

"I [also] thought it was cool to have her be a writer because then that also frames the story as they’re taking this journey," he continues. "So, in the game, she’s keeping a journal as kind of a gameplay thing to kind of remind you of what’s going on and what you’re supposed to be doing, but then also as the game progresses, she has narration where she’s telling you, ‘This is happening blah blah blah’, so the story moves along with her narration as well."

Making Friends & "Excursions"

In Rosewater, the plot of the game starts with Leger stepping off the train into the town for the first time, where she quickly gets a job at the local newspaper headed up by a no-nonsense editor named Joan Gallagher. From there, she then gets her first-ever writing assignment, interviewing a famous gunslinger turned novelty act named "Gentlemen" Jake Ackerman, who reveals to Leger that he will be shortly setting off in search of a missing scientist's lost fortune. Spotting a good opportunity for a story, she agrees to help him in the hopes of landing the exclusive and soon finds herself embarking on a trek across the frontier with Ackerman and his assistant, the sharpshooter Danny Luo.

Besides Ackerman and Luo, Rosewater also features three other companions for Leger to meet on the journey, which González has previously revealed on Twitter. These include the tracker Loretta "Lola" Johnson, the physician Nadine Redbird, and the revolutionary Filomena "Phil" Marquez.

Image: Grundislav Games

Each of these characters has their own individual side stories to uncover that will change depending on the player's choices and how they decide to solve problems in the game. According to González, this was his way of retaining the multiple pathways present in his previous game Lamplight City — where players could fail at solving a mystery to see different outcomes — but without these consequences feeling like one outcome was superior to another.

"On paper, the idea of doing a detective game where you can fail sounds good, but in practice, I realized that players play games to succeed and win," he says. "So some players appreciate that, but a lot of players are like, ‘Well, no, I got it wrong, so obviously the game punished me.’ So I wanted to continue trying the multiple paths thing, but I didn’t want it to be, ‘Well, you chose this path, so you’ve got a worse outcome.’ I just wanted there to be variations. And yeah, I wanted to focus on the relationships with the companions and have that be what changes the story."

His approach to these stories, he says, was inspired by a few different games, including titles like Sierra On-Line's Conquests of the Longbow: The Legend of Robin Hood, Telltale's The Walking Dead Season One, and Obsidin's Fallout: New Vegas.

"It’s not quite as complex [as New Vegas]," González admits. "But you'll see there’s like companion-specific vignettes or what I’m calling ‘excursions’. This is where there is a specific scene that plays out that is related to the companion, but there are two possible ones per companion. There’s one for if you have a high relationship with them at that point or a low relationship with them at that point, and the relationship is affected by dialogue choices and certain ways of solving puzzles and things like that. It’s not advertised like in a Telltale game. So it’s not like, ‘Jake will remember that’ or ‘Jake thinks you’re a jerk’ or whatever. Instead, I try to make it more organic."

Arthur Morgan, Red Dead, & SAG-AFTRA

Besides the setting, story, and characters, González tells us that another vital piece of the Rosewater puzzle was performance. Not only does the game use rotoscoped animation — a process in which an animator traces over the live performance of an actor (in this case, typically González or his wife walking on a treadmill) — but it also features a phenomenal cast of voices that you've probably heard of in the past from other projects.

González had worked with actors in the past on some of his other games, including Lamplight City, calling the process one of his "favourite" parts of the development cycle and "a little reward for all of the work that you’ve done this whole time". But, with Rosewater, he claims he wanted to "level up his quality" even more — something that he believed might be possible via an agreement with the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (better known as SAG-AFTRA).

Image: Grundislav Games

"I decided I wanted to make Rosewater a union project," says González. "So, through many conversations with SAG-AFTRA, I was able to use this low-budget interactive agreement, and I was very fortunate to get an amazing cast of actors – most of whom I was familiar with and most of whom I was a great admirer of because a lot of them had been voices in the classic games that I grew up playing or more modern ones."

When he agreed, it was really exciting. But I also had to be extra conscious not to have him play any characters that would be a rehash of Arthur Morgan. So Roger Clark has three roles, and they are all very different.

According to González, there were no auditions held this time around. Instead, he simply handed over a list of who he wanted to be in the game to a casting agent and waited to hear back. He initially expected that only one or two of these names would respond, but remarkably, every single person said yes. The voices were then recorded over the space of a couple of months through Zoom, with González and his narrative consultant and script editor Jess Haskins sitting down with the actors to read through the dialogue

Out of the many famous voice actors that make an appearance in Rosewater, one of the most fascinating to us is arguably Roger Clark — who is, of course, best known for playing the cowboy Arthur Morgan in Rockstar's critically acclaimed action-adventure game Red Dead Redemption II. González cast Clark in the project after he had finally gotten around to playing Red Dead Redemption II, and after he had made peace with the fact that there was going to be some crossover between the two projects no matter how hard he tried.

"I thought it would be fun to ask Roger Clark to be in the game mainly because I was really impressed by his performance," says González. "So when he agreed, it was really exciting. But I also had to be extra conscious not to have him play any characters that would be a rehash of Arthur Morgan. So Roger Clark has three roles, and they are all very different.

"His main role is in the second act. But the first character he plays is just this thug guy and I told him like, ‘Let’s make sure he doesn’t sound like Arthur Morgan.' He also plays a very posh English guy — where he’s basically doing a James Mason impersonation — and an old grizzled Irish sea captain. In fact, there’s a [fun] bit where the sea captain tells a story and you can either have him tell the story at the dinner table or have him tell the story after dinner when he’s had a few too many drinks. So I had him record two versions of the story and had him improvise one drunk version and one normal version. That was a lot of fun."

Before speaking to González, we already had some high hopes for Rosewater, but we're even more excited now to check out the finished game when it becomes available later this year.

Two of our favourite things about point-and-click adventure games have always been their capacity for storytelling and exploration, and Rosewater looks like it takes advantage of these strengths to provide players with the kind of experience that they can get lost in.

If you want to keep up to date with the project, you can wishlist Rosewater on Steam or follow its developer Francisco González on Twitter @GrundislavGames. We'll also endeavour to keep you posted on any new announcements as they become available.