Dreamfall Chapters The Longest Journey – Interview
Our string of articles and interviews from Gamescom continues with a lovely chat with Martin Bruusgaard, Design Director at Red Thread Games and previously employed at Funcom, just like most of the team. Of course, the main subject of our conversation was Dreamfall Chapters The Longest Journey, their first game which enjoyed a successful Kickstarter campaign ($ 1,5+ M) a few months ago.
The whole thing is recorded, but just below you can find the transcript as well.
Can you tell us a bit about the departure from Funcom?
Funcom was going through some tough times after The Secret World, and a lot of people were put on forced leave. We always wanted to make Dreamfall Chapters, so these things kind of happened at the same time. Whenever we were doing press for The Secret World, people would always ask about the next Dreamfall game; having that in mind, and with so many people that had to leave, Ragnar asked Funcom to get the license for the new game.
So basically you had in mind to make this game for a while.
Dreamfall was always meant to be the first game out of two (well, three if you consider The Longest Journey as well), that’s why the first game ended with so many cliffhangers. There’s a lot of unanswered questions basically.
You said you brought a lot of people from Funcom, and I guess that’s why the game looks very good because traditionally Funcom games have shined in that department. I wonder, did you already say publicly what kind of engine are you using?
First of all, we are now working together with a company called Blink, which consists of ex Funcom people. We have a lot of the same artists, really really talented ones, and we’re working in Unity, which is amazing.
It’s free, which means that you can just pick it up and just start making things. So we’re pursuing the Unity engine to its fullest and it’s looking really good, we already have a good collaboration with Unity, trying to squeeze as much juice as we can out of it.
Of course Unity is a cross-platform engine. I’ve read on your Kickstarter page that you were still debating about next generation consoles, is there any news about this?
We really want to go on consoles as well. There’s nothing final yet, but we’re working on it, we have some devkits and we already customizing it so that you can play with controllers. So there isn’t a final word yet, but we’d like to do it, we’re talking to the platform owners and trying to find a deal.
I guess that means mostly PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but what about WiiU? Is there a chance for it?
It is a possibility, we just started looking at it. I think personally that this game can work really well on the WiiU.
Speaking about the game, I’ve read that there will be three playable characters. You’ve said the name of the second one, Kian, but not much else. Can you explain us a bit of his motivation to be a character in this world, and what he’s going to do?
Kian had a change of heart. He saw his own people in a different light at the end of Dreamfall, so you can say that his soul is a bit shattered, he’s lost the will to fight. In the beginning of the game you’re taking him through a section of the game where he needs to, sort of, find that will to fight back and you actually start in prison. He needs to find the motivation to break himself out of that prison. A lot of the game is about Kian finding this strength once again, and of course his path will cross with some of the other characters in the game.
Are you going to split the playtime evenly between the three characters or not?
I think it’s not going to be evenly amongst the three, especially since the third character is not played as much. But the time between Zoe and Kian is about 50-50%, or maybe 60-40%, there’s a bit more Zoe.
She’s the face of the game, after all.
I have kind of a similar question for the two worlds – are we going to play more in one of them or is it going to be balanced?
There I would say it’s about 50-50%, or maybe just a bit more in Arcadia. We are opening that world more this time around. We felt that in The Longest Journey, you saw more of Arcadia and it felt a bit more magical. In Dreamfall it was sort of, more like a medieval city, but you didn’t see much of the magical world. So probably 60% in Arcadia.
That’s good, I like magic!
We felt that some of that magic was lost in Dreamfall, or perhaps not played as much as it could have, so we want to bring more of that magical fairy tale world back into the game.
(Francesco, the cameraman) Can you tell us more about April?
*laughs* Nice try!
No, I’m sorry, I can’t. I don’t want to spoil everything. Ragnar would kick my ass!
You can’t blame a guy for trying!
Oh no, that’s cool!
Of course the world is now fully 3D. Are you going to have, of course investigating is a big part of the game, but are you going to have, I don’t want to say combat, but ways to disable possible enemies?
There won’t be any combat or stealth mechanics. It didn’t feel that good in Dreamfall, I don’t think it added that much to the game. We started talking about what kind of mechanics we want for Dreamfall Chapters, and we think that people don’t play this kind of games for the combat, it’s more to get immersed into the story, in the beautiful world. There won’t be anything like that. There will be, however, I won’t say puzzles, but tasks for you to complete where you need to use your head, and some of them might be disabling guards, but you are going to do that in a unique way and you won’t see that thing again.
It’s actually quite a good challenge not having combat for us, because it forces us to design our way around combat. Combat can often be a fallback: “We need a challenge, let’s just fight someone”. Now we need to think, how would that character solve the situation without combat, and that’s part of what makes it an interesting game.
Also most games are already combat based, and some variety is good for videogaming in general in my opinion. Maybe it will also open up the player base a bit, for those people who do not like action games as much as we do.
Yeah, I agree.
Do you have any idea how long the game will take to complete?
We’re estimating somewhere between 10 and 12 hours.
I know you said that the game won’t be an episodic release, but will you consider DLCs or expansions if the game is successful?
I think that could be very interesting. If it’s a success and people want more of the story, we’ll definitely look into that. I think it’s really cool what Borderlands 2 did. They had the full game, and then there were some characters that people really liked, like Tina, and they released a DLC about her story. This could be our way as well, because you meet tons of cool characters, and some people would surely like that. That’s an option, indeed.
Is there kind of a main enemy in the game?
Yes, there are several. But the spirit of the game is that the truth is not always clear, the enemy has many faces, there is sort of an overarching entity that is bad and trying to destroy the world basically. So, it will become clear after some time into the game but it’s not gonna be like “That’s the bad guy” and you have to wait until the end of the game to fight him/her. It’s going to be more lurky, more…
Yeah, we think so at least.
Do you have other questions (to Francesco, the cameraman)?
I can talk about the UI, which is kind of cool. While the game is fully 3D, we’re trying to pay homage to the old point and click games, so when you move around the character you have a way to look at things to see if they are interactible. If you right click, you can however go look into the finer details, let’s say of a table.
So you can interact with different objects…
In a more granular way, yes. It’s going to be very minimal (the UI), there won’t be health bars…It’s going to be very clean, even the inventory as we don’t want to clutter the experience with UI elements, but rather we want to show the world’s beauty.
Yeah, I’ve seen your demonstration at Rezzed and it was very good looking.
It was kind of fun to read the comments, it was a very short demonstration and after that I was just reading the YouTube comments, there were so many people who already felt connected to this robot and I think that’s so cool because our writers (Ragnar and Dag) are so good at creating these characters that they feel real, and you feel an attachment to them. I think it was fantastic to see.
Yeah, of course having interesting characters is extremely important for a game like Dreamfall Chapters. I was wondering, do you have anything specific planned for sound? In terms of voice acting, music…
Yeah, we haven’t nailed down everything yet, or at least made it official, but we’re in talks trying to get really really good voice actors and composers. It’s so important that the voice acting is perfect, as you said characters are so important, they drive the game, and getting voice actors that can nail that down is critical. Ragnar is in talks with different studios, different people, trying to get the best ones.
So people can look forward to an announcement later?
Definitely, as soon as we’ll have definite information we’ll release that. I mean, we have an obligation to our backers that gave us their money to do it. It’s their game as well. We are very transparent with them.
It’s an interesting topic, that of Kickstarter. There are a lot of not-so-small developers who are pitching their game directly to people right now. Are you open to go back to the publisher model in the future, or do you want to keep using Kickstarter?
I think it depends. I really enjoyed Kickstarter, it worked really well, but….we’re not planning the next game…. I mean we don’t have any money. When we went to Kickstarter, we were five people; we were fortunate that we now have the money to make this game, but it’s going to take some time. Hopefully when Dreamfall releases and it’s successful, it will take some time. If we go on Kickstarter, we need to launch another campaign probably before we launch Dreamfall.
Like inXile did with Torment.
Exactly. But about Kickstarter, I think it was incredibly refreshing to not have a publisher, I enjoyed it, but I’m not so naive to say “I will never work with a publisher again”, that might happen, we just don’t know yet. Right now we have money to make one game and we’ll see what happens.
From our side we can safely that it’s a lot easier to deal directly with developers rather than going through publishers, PR…
And it’s good for us as well, we’re on the forums, on Twitter, I get to go out and meet people and it’s amazing.
They wouldn’t let you do that if you had a publisher, or it would be more limited.
Well it would definitely be more limited, but it also depends on the publisher. When I was in Funcom, I didn’t have that many restrictions, we were still talking to people and being involved in the community but without a publisher you have more control, basically, you do what you want and we are making decisions ourselves which is good.
Last question: I know you worked on The Secret World. I anticipated the game a lot before release, it’s a good game but, you know, maybe it didn’t grab people as well as it could have. Do you think there is a way to improve story based MMOs, to make them successful, in the future?
Of course it could have been better. If you think just about story based MMOs, I think – I’m biased, but I think it’s the best one out there. I think there are other things that didn’t work in The Secret World, like the combat, the moment-to-moment gameplay, some people found it difficult not to have levels, the skill system was quite big and deep, so I think that we could have done a better job, however I think the idea behind it is good, it could have been presented in a better way and we didn’t do a good enough job there. The combat wasn’t tight enough, so there are many elements. All in all, it could have been done much better, but if we’re only talking about story based MMOs, I think The Secret World is really good.
Of course making an MMO is a very hard thing to do.
It’s so big, there are so many things.
It’s the hardest type of game to do.
Yeah, and it’s scary…I think it took us five years to make The Secret World, so spending five years in something that you don’t know if it will succeed or not…The feedback that we were getting from the beta, they said “This is good”; I remember we had a survey after one beta, we had like thousands of people playing, and I think like 80% of them said, “This game is fantastic and I would recommend it to my friends”. And we thought we were onto something, but when it launched it didn’t go as expected and you just don’t know. Those games are so big, there’s so many systems in there, the combat, the crafting, the story, the economy, the exploration, the levelling, just building the world…
Would you give it another try to make another MMO, in the future?
Yes, I would. If you asked me a year ago, I would have said no. But yes, I would, but right now it’s very refreshing to do a single player game, as it’s much tighter.
Thank you for your time.