Chris Bateman on Discworld Noir interview
Hi Chris. Can you briefly introduce yourself and the games you worked on?
I started work in the table-top role playing games industry, where I produced a number of RPGs before it became apparent that the trading card games were dropping the bottom out of the market. That's when I started working for Perfect Entertainment on the Discworld games. The script and design of Discworld Noir was probably the best work I did while I was with them.
After the fall of Perfect, I founded a company called International Hobo which provides games design and dialogue scripting services to the games industry. Although we've worked on a lot of games over the last three games, I can't legally talk about most of them, unfortunately. One of the perils of being an external services company, I'm afraid.
In Discworld Noir, Terry Pratchett [author of the novels] is credited as "far too much interference". How involved was he really in the development of the Discworld games?
Terry's involvement was mostly at the beginning and the end of the project. Initially, Terry, Gregg (the producer on Noir) and I were throwing around script ideas, gradually developing a plot line that we were all satisfied with. There were certain things that I originally wanted to do that Terry wasn't so keen on (like using Teppic, the assassin from 'Pyramids' as a lead character) but in the end I'm glad that we ended up creating a new character.
After I'd written the script, Terry took it away with him to Australia to edit. I was tremendously grateful to have Terry as editor, as he tweaked some of the jokes and dialogue to make them more authentically Discworld--you just can't beat having the person who created the license as an editor. I'd say his edits changed about 10% of the dialogue or thereabouts.
His biggest change in the latter stages was making us rerecord Vimes' voice—he wasn't happy with the original recording sessions for that character. Other than that he seemed very pleased with the look and feel of the game.
What kind of company was Perfect Entertainment?
Perfect was the kind of place where you would sometimes go to the pub for lunch and wake up the following morning in a field with a hangover and a traffic cone. Sometimes, you'd be working so hard you literally slept in the office, so we went out drinking a lot to blow off steam. It was a really good crowd of people, with a lot of talent.
What inspired you to make Discworld Noir such a radically different game from the previous two?
We'd covered the offbeat wackyness of the Discworld well in the first two games, but we hadn't really touched on the darker aspects. Noir was a genuine opportunity to explore the other side of the coin, and the change in thematic content lent itself to a very different kind of game.
What made you decide to include more clue-gathering puzzles and fewer inventory-based puzzles in Discworld Noir?
We felt that adventure games had become a bit bogged down by wacky object puzzles. From a design point of view, using an object as a key to progress is functionally equivalent to using a clue—although using the clues placed a lot more burden on the script, but I was confident that we could make it work. It also required a lot more design effort to make everything fit in, but I believe it's worth making the effort to integrate a strong narrative with a game.
Which book(s) was the plotline of Discworld Noir inspired by?
Depending on your perspective, none of them or all of them. I read about 75% of the Discworld novels prior to working on Noir, but I didn't want to be rehashing old stories. The Discworld setting lends itself to an infinite number of adventures, so we made the effort to create an entirely new plot, drawing from various film noir influences such as The Maltese Falcon, To Have And Have Not, The Big Sleep and Casablanca. Casablanca isn't exactly film noir, but we'd chosen so many Bogart films as source material that it was obvious choice.
There are some similarities between the characters of Vimes, as seen in the books, and Lewton. Was this deliberate?
Not initially, but during script writing it became apparent that Lewton was the person Vimes would have been if just one decision had been made differently... a sort of mirror-universe Vimes. That was the origin of the conflict between the two characters within the story.
The music in Discworld Noir was absolutely superb. Have you ever considered releasing a soundtrack?
It's not an option for legal reasons, but plenty of people have asked for one! Paul Weir, who wrote the music, would have tried to release an album had not GT's failing fortunes brought disaster upon us all...
You can create your own soundtrack album by converting the .MUS files from the game into .MP3 files (just rename them). It would be copyright theft if you distributed it, but if you own a copy of Noir and use those MP3 files for your own personal use I don't see any legal issues.
Where did you come up with the idea for the notebook interface?
The story suggested it, and hypertext seemed like a useful tool for a clue-driven game. The ability to store information about the player's progress within a tool that was integral to the gameplay was irresistable.
The voice acting in Discworld 2 was top-notch, yet in Noir a handful of actors covered the whole cast. Why was this?
There was only one fewer voice actor on Noir, but there was more dialogue by several orders of magnitude. That forced us to reuse the voice actors a little more than we had done before. I'd like to single out the butler as my favourite voice actor performance in Noir—Robert Llewellyn was a joy to work with!
You've worked on Discworld 2 and Discworld Noir. How do they compare to each other, in your view?
I think Discworld 2 was a great sequel to the original game, in that the first one was unbelievable hard and DW2 was a more fun and easy-going take on the same idea.
Noir was, however, a totally original approach. It was different from everything else in the adventure game genre, and the story construction used an unusual approach. Although players experience a linear story, there is a lot of non-linear elements creating an open game space. Every game of Discworld Noir is different, and the dialogue adapts to the player's actions throughout. It's nice to talk to players and ask questions like "how did you do such-and-such" and hear lots of different answers.
What led to the bankrupcy of Perfect Entertainment? Do you believe we'll see another Discworld game?
In part it was a legal battle with another company which now has also gone under. But the failing fortunes of GT Interactive was fatal, and the collapse of the US branch created cashflow problems which hurt a lot of people. Perfect was one of the casualties.
There are no plans for another game at the moment, but it's not impossible.
Perfect's bankruptcy soon after the game was released meant that very few copies ever came out; this obviously hurt the sales of the game. Now that the game is easily available on budget, however, would you say that it has been received well?
The people playing on Windows 95 or 98 have been very positive in their reception of the game. Alas, the game isn't designed to run on other operating systems, so a lot of people have had a lot of problems getting it to run under, say, XP. I wish that Infogrammes (who bought up GT Interactive's assets when they went under) had re-released the PlayStation version as well; it would have been a better platform for a Platinum version in many ways.
In our 1998 interview, you said the choice of GT Interactive as publisher was mainly driven by their strong US presence. How significant has the US market been for the sales of DWN?
The collapse of the US branch of GT Interactive meant it was never released in the US, so the short answer is 'absolutely insignificant'.
What are you working on these days?
All sorts of projects. We're very much into design-integrated narrative--the process of getting a good story into the gameplay itself, rather than just tacked on with cut scenes. We've scripted a lot of cartoon and film tie-in games, and done some original design work here and there. NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) prevent me from saying too much.
The biggest game on the horizon is Empire Interactive's Ghost Master, which I'm thankfully allowed to talk about. It's a game with a lot of Discworld Noir links: Gregg Barnett who produced/directed Noir is the producer/director of GM, my company has done game design and script, and Paul Weir is once again the composer. Nick Martinelli, who did art design for Noir, has done art design for GM. We also have a lot of the talented artists from Noir like Darren Hatton and Jim Ellis.
It's a really unique game, and it looks and plays like nothing else. You command a team of ghosts on a mission to scare the hell out of hapless mortals, whilst avoiding exorcists and Ghostbreakers who are trying to stop you in your ectoplasmic tracks. There's no micro-management - you control the position and powers of your team at a tactical level, and try to outsmart and terrify the mortals at every turn. Once you get into the style of play, you can get sucked in for hours making mortals scream, faint, catch on fire, electrocute themselves or driving them insane. Good old fashioned twisted fun...
It should be out on PC at the end of Spring, with console versions to follow.