Gamasutra: Is there ever a point in development where you say, "This part of the story is going on a little too long we need to have the player do something here"?
Ragnar: Oh absolutely. Because we start with the story, then we find where the gameplay goes... there was a lot of pruning and editing done. There are still sequences in this game where we have to tell the plot. At this point, we have to explain some things and that's going to take a while and it's going to have characters talking to each other. Again we break that up with long section where there's no dialogue and just playing.
But it's a good question and it's one that's almost impossible to answer, but I've decided what I'm going to do in games is tell stories in new ways. So with the next game I'm going to take whatever lessons I learned from Dreamfall, what people liked and what people didn't like, and build on that. The future of storytelling in games is going to be show more and tell less. Dreamfall shows more and tells less than The Longest Journey which was, you know, a lot of telling. Simply because of the tools at our disposal, when you're dealing with a 3D world you can do a lot more and in the next generation we're going to have more characters and they'll show emotions just by lifting an eyebrow or showing that they're sad or happy... that's kind of hard to do still. Especially on the Xbox because you don't have that many polygons or that many bones at your disposal. So you have words to explain things that could be done with a look or a move. But it's a challenge and we've chosen to make a game that is about the storytelling and let people be the judge of "is the story interesting enough?" and I think they're going to find the balance between watching and playing to be pretty good.
Gamasutra: From the press build the whole world or worlds of the game seem much harsher... visiting Newport was just depressing, Marcuria wasn't in much better shape and there was a point where I had April Ryan break someone's neck!
Ragnar: Our little girl has come far hasn't she? (Laughs) Oh yeah, the infamous "breaking the neck" scene. The fans will love that. (Laughs) Yes it is darker, and it's a very cliché comparison but this is our Empire Strikes Back. But hopefully the next one isn't going to be Return of the Jedi! (Laughs) It's darker. I look at The Longest Journey as a three-part structure, where you have the opening which is sort of naive... actually the comparison I've used is April in the first one is the young inexperienced Frodo, you know? In the second she is more the Aragorn type character and... I'm not going to say more than that, but it does change. The game also matures, I think the first one was lighter. Like you said, it was happier. Although it had an ending that was ambiguous and that probably sent her down the path where she is today, and that's what we want to do to the characters. We want to change them, we want to change the worlds, and hopefully we'll get to make the third chapter of the saga and if we get to do that you'll see that it's going to be completely different from the mood of Dreamfall.
Gamasutra: Is it a planned three-part series definitely?
Ragnar: No, this game ends, it has an ending. I can't say too much but there are going to be story threads left open because I never like to close everything. I like to leave some mystery and some second guessing to the players, but yeah, I have a lot of paper with the story of Dreamfall 2 or Longest Journey 3, or whatever you want to call it, ready. So yeah, if this game is a huge success then I'm ready to go! After my next game of course.
Gamasutra: Speaking more generally, there's a lot of talk about increasing development costs, and putting more emotion into characters means more manpower. How are you going to deal with rising costs?
Ragnar: Just spend more money! (Laughs) I don't know. It's a really good question and one answer is we just opened an office in China. (laughs) Development in China is cheaper than in the west... it is more manpower, but you know what? Tools are getting better and this game is also being made for PC and it has to be said that this game on the PC... it looks like a next-gen game. PC development is all ready next-gen in that sense.
Yes, there will be rising costs, some people exaggerate it, some people play it down a little too much, but it's definitely going to go up. It's gone up consistently from when people started making games. How we deal with that? Funcom just went public a couple of months ago, so there's that. We just, you know, have to spend more money on games. The next game I'm going to do is going to cost a hell of a lot more than this one! It scares the hell out of me too! I think the most important thing is to focus and use the right tools. For example you can't beat EA on budget, they'll always have more money, so there's no point in trying to do that. We try to do something with graphics that stylistically doesn't have to be photo-realistic, but is just a very consistent style that will look beautiful no matter what. I mean this game doesn't look photorealistic, it has a style of it's own, which means that you can get away with things that aren't super, super, super detailed.
But in terms of characters, costs are definitely going to go up, and we see that too. We have in this game about one hundred and fifty characters and we have a lot more detail on them and that's costly, it takes a long time to make them. It's not a completely positive thing because it means fewer and fewer people can afford to make games. But that's why Xbox Live is a great thing, because you have smaller developers making games that aren't about photo-realism and aren't about huge budgets but about fun gameplay. And then leave it to the big guys to make the big games, the expansive games, the games that have to look amazing and have to have hundreds of locations and stuff like that. Hopefully, we'll be one of those players too. That's what we're aiming for: the big games.
Gamasutra: Are adventure games dead?
Ragnar: Adventure games as we knew them are dead, yes. But adventure games as a sort of "focus on the worlds, the characters, the setting" and variety of gameplay, definitely not. I consider games like Shenmue... I consider them adventure games.
Gamasutra: Shenmue didn't do very well commercially...
|Silent Hill 4: The Room|
Ragnar: Damn you and your logic! Damn you! Okay bad example. Silent Hill then. Those are, to me, adventure games because they're about exploring spaces and not necessarily just combat. I think adventure... even in the old days adventure was a name that encompassed a lot of different games... In the early King's Quest games you had direct control, you had combat. In Police Quest games... it eventually became mostly point-and-click with no combat and was very restrictive. A lot of adventure fans are still locked in that mind set but I think they're opening up. I think the community has warmed to Dreamfall and now they're all really excited. So I think there's room for adventure games, it's just not going to be adventure games as we know them. And actually a lot of modern games have adopted characteristcs that were considered "adventure" like RPGs and the Grand Theft Auto games.
Gamasutra: On the production side was everything done in-house?
Ragnar: We outsourced a little bit of it, most of it was in-house. We worked with a studio in China called Virtuous games in Shanghai. We see China as a great breeding ground for game developers, especially graphic artists now, they're fantastic. They're really, really good. It's a great market as well... but most of the stuff on Dreamfall was done in-house. We have a very talented staff of people. When we were finishing Dreamfall I wrote down a list of the dream team, all the people I really had to have on the next project and I got all of them! So I'm really happy to have this sort of solid team of people who really proved their worth on this game. I mean not to say that the designers and programmers haven't but our graphic artists on this game, they really shined. It's some of the best stuff I've seen and I think our art director Christer Sveen is one of the most talented art director's in the industry, it's just really great work. We outsourced some things like some of the music was done by a guy named Leon Willett who works out of Barcelona, he did a couple of things. Mostly in-house though.
Gamasutra: It seemed for a while like Funcom was publishing this themselves.
Ragnar: Our intention was always to find a publishing partner because our main focus as a company is online games, and with The Longest Journey we worked with local partners, and on Anarchy Online we did the same thing. We don't have a distribution network, but what we want to do is find a publisher who understands and who can give attention to the game. We didn't want to just choose somebody where we'd be part of a huge portfolio and just throw the game out there and doesn't really respect it. So from the beginning that made it hard to sign with a big publisher, we might have done that but then they'd screw us. That what a publisher does, they have to make money, that's their business and of course they do that. We don't have as much power as they do. So we wanted to work with somebody we could do a partnership with, a collaboration, and we found that in Aspyr. But it took us a while to find somebody we could work with and trust and feel like we got an equal share.
Gamasutra: Are they handling all territories?
Ragnar: Aspyr? No they're doing North America. In Europe, we have Microapplication and they're doing localized versions of this game for lots of different European countries. They're probably hating our guts right now because we have eight to nine hours of dialogue in this game and they have to translate it into every single language! But it's going to be great... I actually played a little bit in French and in Spanish, and it feels right! Zoe walking around speaking French and Spanish? Yeah, that feels good.
Gamasutra: Are you going to work on the translation for your native language?
Ragnar: We actually have almost finished the Norwegian translation, but I didn't work on that. First off, I'm not as good in Norwegian as I am in English at writing and secondly it's just a huge job. It's like I didn't want anything to do with that!
Gamasutra: SingStar had a Croatian version shipped.
Ragnar: That's the great thing about Europe is you have all these markets, and if you spend time localizing, there's an enormous profit to be made. The Longest Journey was translated into thirteen languages, and that's part of the reason why it sold so well. In Poland, it sold something like 20,000 or 30,000 which you just couldn't do if it was in English. I think a lot of American publishers don't know that or disregard that, they see it as a lot of work, but if you work with local partners, that's actually a smart way of doing it. And the same in Asia too. Something we're going to do with Dreamfall, or at least with our next online game, is to get into Asia and make sure it's localized for every market and tailored for that market because that's where the big business is. I mean America and Europe are huge markets but Asia is enormous in comparison. It's like half of World of Warcraft's six million subscribers are in China, or at least two million are in China. It's just amazing.