Martin Ganteföhr interview
We're quite honored to have had Martin Ganteföhr, director of House of Tales' forthcoming The Moment of Silence, sit down with us for this lengthy interview. Many have questioned why we have The Moment of Silence at the position of #4 on our Hype-O-Meter; hopefully this interview will show you why we're so excited about this upcoming point & click adventure!
How did you come to be involved with House of Tales, and what is your role there?
I co-founded House of Tales with my partner Tobias Schachte. Since 1996, we've been working together as a two-man team on edutainment and consumer application titles. He as a programmer, I as a writer. In 1999 Tobias asked me whether I would dare to work on a "real" game. We started with the development of our debut game Mystery of the Druids, some of you might know it. Today, I'm still House of Tales' writer, and Moment of Silence's director.
Why, at a time when the market for adventure games is perceived as relatively weak, did you decide to create an adventure game?
Quite simply because we love adventure games, and we think we have something to contribute to the genre. The sales figures of good titles show how much potential there is in this segment. Currently we see a renewed interest (and investment) in our genre. A new generation of developers has entered the stage, and I see a lot of talented people and ambitious projects out there. With more and better games, we'll see better sales, better press coverage and increased player interest. I strongly believe that Moment of Silence will play an important role in that comeback.
How did you personally come to love adventure games?
I've always loved stories, no matter in what media. My first adventure game was Mask of the Sun on VIC 20 (with smokin' fast datasette). That game got me hooked to the genre. Other Milestones in my AG junkie career were Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle, and (yes!) Myst.
The Moment of Silence is said to take place in a futuristic "big brother" society. Are you aiming for a very dark, Orwellian oppressive society tone with this game?
Yes and no.
No, because Orwell's state is a very straightforward totalitarian regime. It uses fear, terror, and violence in very obvious ways. The Moment of Silence is about more advanced, more subtle forms of oppression -- about the hidden mechanisms of control and power.
Yes, because the game has a tone of darkness, but one that is lingering under the surface. The Moment of Silence raises questions about individual freedom, technological progress and human-technology-relationships. It is a very serious game, and maybe a political one - but not as depressing in tone as "1984."
As already mentioned, The Moment of Silence takes place in the future. Does it take place in a future version of an actual location, or is it a fantasy location? What sort of future technology have you created for the game world?
As for the locations: A mix of both. Some are completely fictious, some are "our" future versions of locations, but you can actually find them on a map. Of course we're taking freedoms to shape our game world as we like to see it. The technology issue: I don't like the idea of coming up with all that ridiculous Sci-Fi-Stuff in a game set in 2044. We have included some interesting communication and transportation devices, also various computer and robotics related stuff. But the game has neither elves and dwarves (or Sci-Fi pendants of them), nor anti-matter-guns and polarity-reversers.
Besides George Orwell, what inspires you as a writer?
I love Flann O'Brian. I'm fascinated by his multi-threaded writing style and his bizarre ideas. Somebody should really adapt "The Third Policeman" into an adventure game. An inspiring source for MOS specifically was also Ray Kurzweil, although I find his blind techno-enthusiasm rather scary. Generally, I'm also very interested in orally passed-on myths, as their variable, layered structure is very similar to the narrative concepts of adventure games.
The graphics we've seen for the game seem very technically impressive; tell us a bit about the graphics engine behind the game.
Our in house-created engine, Cougar 2.0, is a complete and fundamental rewrite of what once started as the MOTD Engine. We use prerendered graphics and 3D-Characters. We have built in a special technology that allows us to to animate the entire screen in different depths, with loops as long as we like. Also, I think we're the first studio that uses pre-rendered camera moves with real-time moving characters displayed in them. A lot of voodoo was needed to implement this, but it works -- and it looks great. We also have real-time facial animation, mirror effects, weather and particle effects -- one could say, it's a 2.75 D engine. :-)
Tell us about the "Messenger" device in the game.
The Messenger is basically the future version of a cell phone, only with much advanced technology and multi-purpose use. Peter uses it to video-phone people, but it also works a credit card, identity card, news source etc. It's an important part of the gameplay, and it also has relevance to the story. Technically, when Peter calls people, he'll see the 3D-character at the other end in the display, talking with real-time lip-synched facial animation. Pretty cool.
How will the gameplay mechanics of Moment of Silence compare to those of Mystery of the Druids?
I mentioned that the Messenger will play an important role, and that's of course one key difference. Peter will also occasionally engage in chat sessions at his computer. Another important news, I know you're all waiting for this line: The MOTD conversation system has been thrown overboard completely, and has been replaced by a good one.
How much linearity is there in Moment of Silence? Will there be multiple paths and/or endings?
Multiple endings: Yes -- because I don't like the idea of knowing beforehand that all will be well in the end. Multiple paths: No. Of course you can visit many locations multiple times. In a lot of locations, there will be new things to do as the story progresses. But entirely different story paths are very time-consuming and budget-intensive things to create, and I really don't see the benefit. Stories are always linear experiences, because choice means decision. Multiple paths in the middle of the game simply means missing out half of the content. It adds some replay value, but at least in my opinion that doesn't justify doubling the budget.
What sort of interface will be used in Moment of Silence?
Point & Click. Multiple choice conversations. Some things can also be triggered via keyboard -- but that's an option, not a requirement. We're very much on the traditional side with that, and I'm more than happy with it. It will be the story that will make MOS contemporary and innovative. That's much better than having it the other way around.
What led to the decision to make Moment of Silence a third-person perspective game?
The fact that first-person is very limiting, in terms of camera work, cuts, character development, storytelling in general. That's why many first-person adventure games use few characters (if any) and basically make you explore empty settings. The Moment of Silence, in contrast, builds heavily on character and character interaction. I want to know, who my characters are -- and I want show who they are. Third-person games invite you to explore not only a game world, but also the main character. That guy Peter in Moment of Silence certainly isn't you, or your "avatar." He's a person of his own, and the POV we've chosen is the first and foremost thing to reflect that.
What types of puzzles will be in Moment of Silence? Should we expect the same sorts of inventory puzzles as in Mystery of the Druids?
Translation from Implicit-a-nese: "Will you AGAIN force us to outsmart seven different people, and collect & combine 14 items, just to finally get one freakin' stupid form signed!?"
No. Don't worry. Of course, there will be a big variety of puzzles in MOS -– we have inventory-based, conversation-based and also "machine" puzzles. But we've paid close attention to their logical integration into the story -- and we also finally got around to looking up terms like "learning curve", "difficulty level" and "pace" in the dictionary.
What lessons do you feel you learned as designers from Mystery of the Druids?
1. Listen to what the players say.
2. Don't think twice about things you're not quite happy with. Think twenty-seven times. And then, when something is unfeasible to be done the way it should be done, don't force a crippled substitute into the game. File it away, and let it go.
3. Learn to deal with reviewers in a professional, balanced way: Send them death threats, but take their valid points to heart for the next time around.
4. BEFORE starting a project, be aware that it may cause gastritis, permanent caffeine poisoning, nightmares, and a break-up with your girlfriend.
Was Mystery of the Druids commercially successful?
Absolutely. You know, we really didn't expect MOTD to be an all-time bestseller, or serious challenger of big-budget projects from big-time companies. The point of MOTD was proving to ourselves that we can get a project of that scale done. We wanted to learn, pay our bills and build a track record for a second game. All of that worked out. What more do we want?
Your company's name is "House of Tales," which connotates an importance of storytelling. How will you go about effectively telling a story in Moment of Silence?
I'd love to tell you, but then someone will take this interview, press a "compile" button and upload the game to fileplanet. But generally speaking, I think every interactive writer's challenge is to create a narrative core spine and a multitude of story invariants that allow players to play large portions of the game in an individual and still well-paced way. A split personality of course comes in very handy when you have to write for a structure like that.
Tell us about your project to bring classic adventures to mobile phones. Has this project been successful for you?
Yes! You know, the HoT Mobile Adventure project was born when we were having beers with the guys from elkware at the GC Germany [Game Convention in Leipzig, Germany - Ed.]. We just thought it would be fun to pioneer the cell phone platform with small adventure games. For a developer, it's like a travel back in time: 64k of memory and pixel graphics - that's the ultimate challenge. Also, it's the "two guys create a project in four weeks" feeling again, and Tobias and I are quite familiar with that. We've recently been offered a pretty big license from overseas, so it really pays off in various regards.
Is Moment of Silence progressing on schedule? When do you anticipate an English-language release?
The game is progressing as planned. We're very happy to have hired some well-known and incredibly talented contractors, who all deliver on-time and at an overwhelming quality level. I cannot comment on the release date for an English version yet, but it will come - maybe sooner than you think. :-)
Of course all your energy is focused on Moment of Silence right now, but have you had any thoughts about your next project after this?
Yep. Totally cash in on a totally soulless sequel.
But seriously, my next project after MOS will definitely be "Martin Ganteföhr's Overdue Vacation, v1.0". I really hope this time I can afford more than putting up a tent in my garden. And then – well, we already have a batch of ideas, and there are some interesting and promising talks going on right now. We will of course continue to create adventure games.
Anything else you'd like to tell our readers at Adventure Gamers?
Well, thank you all for putting us with us thus far! Should you get a chance to visit GC 2004, come by our booth and say hello!
Our sincere thanks to Martin for taking the time to answer our questions. Keep watching Adventure Gamers for continuing coverage of The Moment of Silence!