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Dreamfall - E3 2004 archived preview

"Here is an aspect of why we like to call this action-adventure. Try to open the door. In a normal adventure game you would have to find an item, you know a discarded bone or a pipe or something. You know what we are going to do though? We're just going to kick the damn door in." – Ragnar Tornquist

The above statement is enough to strike fear into the hearts of many adventure gamers--especially when it pertains to the sequel of one of the most popular "pure" adventure games of all time. During our meeting with Dreamfall designer Ragnar Tornquist at E3, it was clear that his intentions were not to allay the fears of purists everywhere and proclaim that this is indeed the traditional adventure that many are hoping it will turn out to be, but rather to demonstrate that while it is an adventure, it is not limited to the way we typically think of them. This isn't going to be another static point & click adventure like Syberia; this is the next step in the evolution of adventure games.

The world of Dreamfall is being designed to be much more dynamic, reactive, and alive than any adventure that has come before. In order to achieve this, Funcom is co-developing a new game engine called Shark with the company Spinor. They are planning to use this engine for all of their future projects as well. Though the engine is still rough around the edges, you can see the potential shining through. While full 3D worlds that contain shadows, dynamic lighting and bump mapping have been the standard in other game genres for a few years now, it is almost an entirely foreign concept to modern-day adventures. Seeing a familiar location like the Journeyman Inn using this engine was a beautiful sight to behold; it loses none of the charm and atmosphere that it had in 2D and actually looks much better, more bright and vibrant than ever before. The lighting and shadow effects used were especially impressive, rivaling those of any other game in any genre that we saw at E3.

Along with the change from 2D to 3D, the game will lend itself more to action elements than the traditional adventure. "Action can be adventure, and adventure can be action," Tournquist stated. "We really want to put the traditional sense of the word adventure back into it, like Indiana Jones. That's an adventure movie, but it isn't just about solving puzzles." The goal is to have the puzzles and action elements all fit seamlessly and naturally into the gameplay. Part of accomplishing this is done through the use of set pieces. "They are basically cinematic sequences, but you play a part in them." Tornquist explained. "You actually control the character while the cut scene is progressing around you. Whatever you do in that situation - quick thinking - will effect what happens. In most cases, set pieces will play out and the game will continue no matter what you did, but the outcome will be a little different."

In addition to set pieces, there will also be the standard non-interactive cut scenes, though not as many of them. "When it comes to cinematics in the game, we are going to try to take control from the player as little as possible." Tornquist stated.

This brings up the subject of giving the player more direct control and freedom, as opposed to the relative constraint of Dreamfall’s adventure game contemporaries. Most of the situations in the game will be left up to the player as to how they want to solve them. An example of this was given that involves the new main character, Zoë. There is a scene that takes place in her apartment where she has to decide whether to hide from or fight a group of commandos. Depending on which road she takes, the details in the game will be different as a result. Such apparent open-ended ness however has often made it difficult to simultaneously tell a linear story with strong characters. However, this difficult feat seems to have been successfully pulled off. "A lot of people enjoyed the first game and they don't want it to be ruined in the second game. But I think as soon as people see it, they will realize it is something different but that it maintains the atmosphere and carries on the storylines of the first game," Tornquist explained.

While the storyline of Dreamfall is still tightly under wraps, Tornquist did hint at some major revelations: "In terms of story, there are really some things that are going to make people go 'whoa,' especially people who have played the first game." It was also revealed that the storylines in Dreamfall would set up the story for a third game in the Longest Journey series.

Over the course of the game, you will have the opportunity to play three different characters: The new main character Zoë; April, the beloved heroine from the first game; and the mysterious warrior Kian. Each character comes with their own specific strengths and weaknesses. For example, when you are playing Zoë, it may be in your best interest to try and avoid any type of combat situation because she doesn't really have any fighting skills. Whereas in the case of the character of Kian, fighting may be the better option because he is well versed in combat skills.

The combat system was not yet ready in the demo we saw; however, Tornquist promised that "You can avoid combat altogether in most cases. In all other aspects, there is no twitch gameplay." This approach to the combat can easily be compared to the Indiana Jones games, most notably, the great Fate of Atlantis. Like Dreamfall, combat in Fate of Atlantis was mostly optional with various other ways of solving a problem left open to the player.

Along those lines, there is very little to no dexterity needed in order to navigate the game world. If you want to climb a ladder or a ledge for example, all that you need to do is push up against it and the game will do all the work for you. There is no “jump” button and no way to fall off a cliff to your death. As Tornquist mentioned, there is no "twitch" gameplay to be found. The controls will be simple and streamlined so that even the most inexperienced game players will be able to explore their surroundings with minimal frustration.

One of the handy new features available for use when exploring your environment is something called a focus field. The focus field could be looked at as a newer and more effective version of point & click. It allows you, in a more directly controlled way, to scan your environment by way of a stream of light. To examine an item, creature, or character from a distance, you rotate the field so that when a usable target is in its path, you can either examine it or manipulate it in some way. This eliminates the concept of pixel hunting and greatly improves upon the frustration inherent to games like Grim Fandango or Broken Sword 3, in which you were required to stand right next to an item in order to look at it or manipulate it.

As for the interface, "the game will be playable on the PC using both a controller and the mouse," Ragnar stated. He wasn't willing to talk in depth yet about the PC interface other than it will be a different and unique concept that hasn't been used in adventure games before. He did however, reveal that the interface will be 99% mouse and the only thing you'll use the keyboard for is switching between movement and focus mode. Ideally, they would like this game to be completely playable on a wireless mouse, so that players can enjoy the game from their couch.

Inventory will function as usual, except that you can also pick up things and walk around with them in your hands - no need to stuff ladders down your pants anymore.

The camera system in the game will be pre-scripted to give the best possible angles during any given moment of gameplay; the disorienting hard cuts in games like Broken Sword 3 or Grim Fandango are being avoided. This was shown in action during a cave-exploring scene, underneath the city of Marcuria; there were no awkward cuts to interfere with the gameplay. There will also be pre-scripted camera movements and angles for the dialogues in the game, giving you close ups of each character showing every nuance and emotion on their face.

With Dreamfall still a full 18 months away from release, what we saw we were certainly impressed with, to say the very least. It's on the right track to being an immersive, innovative, and entertaining adventure game, that already looks gorgeous at this early stage. Any pieces of action (and I use that term lightly, as the pieces of action are in no way action in the traditional sense) the game has are simply there to enhance the general experience. As Ragnar stated, "This is an adventure game but it has action bits. I think that's a really important difference and I think it's the future of adventure games. I'm not saying this is necessarily the savior of the genre, but I think it's a step in the direction that it should go." If what we saw is any indication, Dreamfall very well may just kick in the damn door of the whole genre.

Dreamfall is scheduled for a late 2005 release, and Funcom promises to maintain a tight veil of secrecy on the game until it is revealed in full at next year's E3.


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archived preview