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The look of the game -- rotoscoped and ornate look -- to me, echoes that transition from the old world to the modern era. It is very much a crystallized moment in time of a world on the brink. That's helped by the fact that the game is in real time, echoing the theme of the narrative. It doesn't seem like most games have that strong a sense of themselves.
MN: I think there are games now that are doing things like that -- there's BioShock, and...
MM: I have friends still in the game industry who think that was one of our biggest mistakes. I personally disagree with them.
A mistake in what sense?
MM: That the period of the game is just unappealing to a modern audience -- the end of the gilded age, the end of World War I, and even the artwork of Toulouse Lautrec. There were a few reviewers who, even when the game came out, said, "The look is very ugly." They thought, "Oh, there's these heavy black lines, and it looks like a comic book."
But that truly was the style that was popular in 1914 and that you would have seen on the Orient Express. Our characters look exactly like the artwork that would've been on the walls in the train, but there are definitely some people who feel that that's a period that's just too hard to get into and to wrap your head around.
MN: It's too far removed.
MM: It's very distant, whereas people get more into World War II.
MN: Or medieval times, or Middle-earth.
MM: I think the movie that is closest to our time period is Titanic, the James Cameron film. It came out six or nine months after we finished our game and it was released, but that's two years earlier, in 1912.
Titanic was supposed to come out that summer, but it was still after our game. We both fell in love with this movie. We used to joke about how similar it was to The Last Express. In fact, John Landeau, who is James Cameron's producing partner, was very interested in an early version of the script, and then said, "Oh, this is too similar to Titanic, this movie we're working on."
They both take place in the same era -- 1912 and 1914. They're really about class. After World War I, you don't have class in the same way. You don't think about aristocrats and steerage class, and no one in 1925 or 1935 thinks about, "Is it appropriate for me to go talk to that girl? She was born in a different place than I am." But in 1915, that was very much still relevant. Like with Leonardo DiCaprio's character -- you don't talk to these people. They're from a different world than you are, and they have a different education and different mannerisms.
Titanic has never been repeated, either. That was a one-off, huge success, but nobody raced out and said, "Let's make a whole bunch of movies about the 19-teens and that class warfare that's going on and the emergence of the middle class."
MN: And they both have an American character who kind of breaks the rules. [The Last Express' protagonist Robert] Cath breaks the rules, and DiCaprio's character breaks the rules.
There was a point where people were saying, "Hey, games are going to start to be made more like movies," where you bring together specific people for a project and do the financing and stuff like The Last Express. But in fact that's very hard to do, because you don't get any of the economics of scale -- people who know how to work together and keep working together, being able to keep and use a consistent staff, and being able to use technology over and over again.
But toward the end of The Last Express production and development, we started talking about, "Can we take Robert Cath into the 1920s? Maybe the next game was the Roaring '20s, prohibition, Chicago. Could we do something where, in the same way you're walking around The Last Express and overhearing conversations, you might walk into the big speakeasy, and there would be a singer on stage, and we could have this phenomenal, rich music."
But with The Last Express not making it, obviously we didn't go there, and there is that question of, "Will someone make a game that, without being in a fantasy world or one of the war worlds that we're used to, can give you a great and popular game experience, but maybe start hitting other genres and settings like the way that Hollywood movies do?"