Monday, 14 October 2013

Interview: Jay Ziebarth - The Ballads of Reemus 2

I've mentioned previously that I receive a lot of emails from game developers and promoters. Most of them want me to review their latest game for the blog, which is not something I'm willing to do (it would distract me from the underlying goal of The Adventure Gamer). Occasionally one catches my attention though, and I find myself wanting to do my part to help. Jay Ziebarth's message was one such email, partly because he gave me a copy of his first game The Ballads of Reemus, but mostly because he'd clearly read some of the blog and understood how things work around here. After looking into the game, I found that the sequel is on Kickstarter right now, and it's touch and go as to whether it will get the funds needed. I felt compelled to find out more about it and its creator, which resulted in the interview below. Do check out the Kickstarter campaign if you get a chance, and if it looks like something you'd like to play, well you know what to do. Oh, and if anyone has any questions, I'm sure Jay will pop in at some point to say hi.

Who are you and what’s your background in gaming?

My name is Jay Ziebarth but I've been known as "Zeebarf" online since 1999. I started out making cartoons and flash movies on sites like I'm primarily an artist and writer. My background in gaming is only that of a fan. Everything I've done has been self-taught.

Jay (Zeebarf) Ziebarth: The only Canadian point and clicker on Kickstarter

How did adventure games become your weapon of choice?

I've been an adventure fan since first discovering "Maniac Mansion" on the Commodore 64 in the 80's. Adventure games combine all my passions into one. I love storytelling and writing, characters and puzzles. I always wanted to make one but never really had the tools or skills to do it.

It wasn't until I learned how to use the program Adobe Flash that I was able to do anything about it. I played a flash game called "Samorost", I loved it and realized that I could probably make a game like that myself. My goal was to eventually make a full Lucas Arts style adventure game, so I just started making point and click games in flash, all free to play in the browser. Each game I tried to teach myself a little more. I've since made 15 flash adventure games. I finally realized my Lucas Arts dream last year when I completed my first commercial adventure game "The Ballads of Reemus".

 Samorost: Damn that's a beautiful game!

What made you decide to start making your own games and how would you sum up the experience of the early years?

I had gotten quite good using Adobe Flash for art and animation and I had a pretty solid understanding of basic action scripting. In 2007 I found myself with a bunch of free time and I had always wanted to make a game, so I started teaching myself some more advanced programming concepts using "Samorost" as a template. I created a simple horror adventure game called "The Visitor" where you play an alien worm terrorizing a cottage. People really loved it and it went viral, I ended up getting offers to make games for other sites like Comedy Central. So I ran with and here I am six years later still creating games.

The early years were all about pushing my skill set. I started out having no clue how to do anything and each game I tried to add a new programming concept to my tool box. Those early years were probably the most fun since I really had no pressure to create a hit game. I just made whatever I felt like and let the reviews from players shape my future games. It was all trial by fire. Make a game, find out what people loved and hated about it. Tweak the ideas based on feedback and make another one. If you play my games in chronological order you can see them grow and improve.

The Visitor: I played about five minutes of this and had to tear myself away. Very addictive!

You were previously heavily involved in a TV show called Sons of Butcher. How did that happen and is it any good?

Depends on what you consider "Good" :) It's a really weird animated series about three guys who run a butcher shop by day and at night they're in an over the top KISS type, spandex clad rock band. It's fully animated except the three main characters have real heads on cartoon bodies. I was one of the real heads. It was a late night adult cartoon, so the content isn't for the faint of heart.

How it happened was basically luck. I was working in TV making props for "The Red Green Show" in Canada. The production company that made that show was looking for something new and we had already been working on the idea as a web cartoon. So we pitched it to them, they liked it and helped us get a meeting with Teletoon, who was the main animation broadcaster in Canada. The unique style sold them and they gave us a shot. We had zero experience making a TV show so naturally we made ourselves the head writers and lead actors. It was just one of those serendipitous moments in life. We ended up creating 26 episodes over two seasons, we got nominated for a Gemini Award and then they canned it. I rank it as the best job I've ever had in my life.

Every episode is currently online at - If you like your cartoon characters fat and dirty then you'll probably love it. Otherwise, you've been warned.

Sons of Butcher: If it's anything like Metalocalypse then I'm in!

How did ClickShake Games come about?

At the time I was looking to take my games to the next level, my programming skills weren't as sharp as I needed them to be and the programmers I had been working with were doing it for me in their spare time. I really wanted to be a full time game developer and I knew to do that I'd need a full time programmer to work with. I ended up meeting Steve Castro during a game jam, we worked really well together and he was looking to go full time into game development as well. He lives in Ohio and I'm in Ontario, Canada, so we did a couple client projects together to see if a long distance partnership could work. When things went smoothly we decided to make it legit and formed ClickShake Games in 2010. We worked with each other for four years and only ever met in person twice.

 Oooohhhhh...mixed messages! What should I do!!!!????

What can you tell us about The Ballads of Reemus. Was it everything you hoped it would be?

The Ballads of Reemus is about a medieval exterminator named Reemus who along with his sidekick Liam the purple bear try to legitimize "extermination" as a heroic career path and find their 15 minutes of fame. It’s classic point and click adventuring with a few optional side quests, like hidden bug squishing thrown in for fun. It has all the bells and whistles like full voice acting and animated cut scenes.

As far as being everything I had hoped it would be, I think it is definitely close. We did it with an extremely tiny budget, working on it between client work. It took two years to complete. Overall I wish I could've made it longer and expand on some of the ideas but for a first crack at a commercial game I think it turned out pretty good. The people who've played it all enjoyed it, and it had good reviews and even won "Best Story" at the Casual Connect conference this year in San Francisco. So I'm proud of it. Could I make it better? Definitely but that's what sequels are for...

 The Ballads of Reemus: Well it sure looks better than David Gray's first effort.

The sequel (The Ballads of Reemus 2) is yet to reach full funding. Why should the adventure gaming community back this project?

If you're a fan of 2D, outlandish and funny adventure games then you'll definitely enjoy my work. This new game will be a beefier tale with more focus on exploration. If the first one was my Maniac Mansion, then this one will be my Day of the Tentacle.

At the end of the day I'm an adventure fan trying to do my part to keep the genre alive and kicking. With your help I can make a new notable adventure game that expands Trickster's playlist and keeps him point and clicking.

 You can back the game on Kickstarter here

But why talk about it, when you can just play my games now and decide for yourself:

The Several Journeys of Reemus series -

The Ballads of Reemus demo -

or try some of my other adventure games -


  1. Looks fun, backed! How far have you come in the making of TBoR2, and what happens if the Kickstarter doesn't succeed?

  2. Thanks for the interview Trickster! I really appreciate the support and love what you're doing with this site.

    @Lars-Erik: Thanks for backing! I've mostly been concentrating on writing and puzzle design on the game so far. I have the full story worked out and a bunch of puzzles. I've also created a few of the major art assets and animations. If the KS fails, I'm sort of on the fence about what to do next. I might turn it into an episodic game, not really sure yet.

    1. Seems like it'll work out though, you're really getting close now. Less than $2K to go and still three and a half days left.

  3. Good Luck! From previous projects I followed on Kstarter I would say that this one looks like it will succeed, looking forward to seeing the final project.

  4. I remember playing your flash games. Good luck with the commercial releases. I think my favorite was the one where you trade favors. It at least made the random puzzles seem more plausible.

  5. Holy cow! My Mom works at CBC Toronto, and my family was a big fan of The Red Green Show so I've been to see a bunch of episodes filmed. They always had excellent prop work, so I'm voting you did a great job. Sadly I just moved from Burlington to Vancouver (I keep discovering people formerly local to me RIGHT after I moved. *sigh*)

    Anyway, I played The Ballad of Remus a few years ago on Kongregate; Pretty fun, hope you make your KS goal! Best of luck!

  6. I played The Visitor when it appeared in Kongregate and I liked it a lot. Very impressive work. I wish you the best of luck with the Kickstarter, although I don't think you will need it :)

    1. Same here, I played The Visitor when it came out. It was as entertaining as it was gruesome, loved the atmosphere :-)

  7. Wow, thanks for all the great feedback and support everyone! Canageek, I made every single coupon for the Red Green "word game" segment if you remember that. The tapings were always a lot of fun :)

    1. Hah. How could I forget it? Man, I miss that show. I'd love to go see one of his stand up routines. (For those of you that don't know, Red Green was a really big Canadian comedy show for years and years. It was done by Smith & Smith productions, but it was filmed at the CBC Production Studios in Toronto.)

  8. The game has been funded! Congratulations Jay! :)

  9. Oh man I didn't recognise the name Ziebarth at first, but as I read through the article, I realised that I have played most of zeebarf's games. I enjoyed them, with Ballad of Remus reminding me somewhat of Sam & Max games. Glad he was one you decided to pick, Trickster