Wolfgang Kierdorf of Bad Brain interview
A couple of days ago a new company called Bad Brain Entertainment announced they had secured the rights to A Vampyre Story, the 2D point-and-click adventure with a visual style similar to The Curse of Monkey Island. As well as having plans to publish other adventure games, rumors immediately began appearing saying that one of those games would be the resurrection of the now-defunct Sam & Max: Freelance Police.
This caused a lot of people to go "whaaaaa?". Fortunately, we got in touch with Wolfgang Kierdorf, CEO of the elusive new Germany-based publisher. It turns out Wolfgang isn't short on enthusiasm. He even manages to sound completely unlike your typical CEO, especially through his frequent use of Internet shorthand (edited for your convience).
In this very first interview, he tells you about who he is, what his favorite adventure games are and what his plans are for Bad Brain. Maybe he'll even comment on those crazy rumors.
I think the first question on everyone's mind is "who are these guys?". Please tell us about what Bad Brain is.
Well, I can tell you about myself. If I would tell you about the whole team, there would be too many spoilers ;-)
I started with computers at the age of 12 and wrote my first game at 14 or 15 (in Basic). I became a professional programmer at the age of 16 and worked as kind of an engine developer and project manager for some games. I then left the business for doing development of business software. During the "Internet boom" I worked for several agencies and e-companies as manager, developer and project-manager. I love programming. I wrote three books--one about C, one about C++ and one about Java (the first one in Germany).
Right now I own three companies:
Abracus GmbH, which develops and sells project management software.
kCreations KG, which does business-developement and consulting,
Bad Brain Entertainment Ltd., which obviously develops and publishes games and does videogame merchandising and product placement.
I am 31 years young/old (that changes from day to day). I have a wife and a cat. I live in Leverkusen, Germany. That's the city where aspirin comes from.
"The team" (let me call them that) are professionals from all over the world who successfully worked in various industries. I guess we have a bunch of real talents and also a bunch of promising newcomers. That gives us quality and speed with fresh ideas.
How did you decide you wanted to start a company with a mission to publish adventure games and "reinvent the genre"? Why adventure games and not some other type of game or other industry altogether? (Not that we're complaining.)
Well, that's simple: I love the genre. I am an adventure player myself. But since the days of Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis, Sam & Max, Space Quest and Monkey Island there hasn't been much to play. I liked the look of Syberia and The Moment of Silence, but the classic LucasArts Games are now ten years old. So I thought, "why not give it a try."
My personal background is that I am active in other industries. I do commercial software for project management (which would be nice for the game industry too). I also do business-development and business consulting and I just love to get things going. Founding a company like Bad Brain Entertainment is a dream I've had for nearly 20 years... and I guess there is no better time to do it than now. I always wanted to get back into the business as a game designer. My first game in the new millenium will be I-Jet.
What are your personal favorite adventure games from the past?
My favorites are (in no specific order):
- Sam & Max (actually that is #1) ;-)
- The Dig (the game every adventure has to be measured by in terms of atmosphere)
- The Space Quest Series (the one every adventure has to be measured by in terms of humor)
- Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (the one every adventure has to be measured by in terms of puzzles)
- The classic Monkey Island series (the one every adventure has to be measured by in terms of ... monkeys ;-))
- Zak McKracken (well, it's Zak McKracken ...)
- Day of the Tentacle (the one every comic-adventure has to be measured by in terms of atmosphere and humor)
- The Moment of Silence (great graphics, good voices)
Other games I like are:
- Half-Life 2 (great engine and storytelling)
- Doom 3 (got a little boring after some time)
- Command & Conquer 1+2 (kept me awake quite some nights)
- Star Wars: Battlefront (good for in between meetings)
- Metroid Prime 1+2 (Gamecube)
- Zelda (pick one, they are all great)
- Beyond Good & Evil (good graphics, nice and easy)
- XIII (great idea of an action-adventure told comic style)
- Advance Wars (Gameboy)
When did you hear about A Vampyre Story? I guess a lot of people are surprised that a brand new German company got the rights to this game, so how did that happen?
When I first read about A Vampyre Story in July 2004, the idea of a game about vampires made total sense to me. Vampires have been a trend for years. And movies like Van Helsing, Dracula etc. show that there is an interest. Monsters are timeless, anyway.
So I wrote an e-mail to [lead designer] Bill Tiller and he told me that he does need a publisher but even more than that he needs an investor. So I got all the info I needed--the storyline, the demo (yes, there already is a demo), concept art, etc. I was blown away by the graphical style and the humor and I thought, well, if point & click adventures can be brought back to life with real vitality, it has to be done by the guys who have made it best before. So the idea of having a team of ex-LucasArts, Pixar and Disney guys and gals was just mindblowing.
And why did they give it to us? That's an easy one. We took hostages :-)
Now that A Vampyre Story has found a home, will it soon enter full production? Do you have a new release date for us?
Well yes. The date is not fixed yet. We currently plan Q1 or Q2 2006. And some minigames are on the way that introduce the characters and set the mood.
You posted some teasers about another game called I-Jet on The Inventory. You were certainly not shying away from hyperbole when you said it would be the largest and finest in adventure game history. Okay, you have our attention... now what can you say about I-Jet that underscores those claims?
Okay, here's the deal! It's the next big thing in point & click adventures. The idea is: stick with the same style and the humor, but extend to the new technology.
The story of I-Jet is about seven people who lost their children. They disappeared one day and now they want their children back. We hope that we can create a game that appeals both to male and female players. Think of it as a large, playable X-Files episode with seven main characters.
You play one of those characters. Every time you play the game you can decide who to play. The chapter structure is that there are single-player chapters (the first three for every character, which totals it to 21) and multiplayer chapters (ten). There will be one more character you can play once you've solved some of the puzzles. This character will have two chapters. So there will be 33 chapters, which is a lot.
Every character has its own personality and every character starts in a different country and with a different job. Why is that interesting? It's easy. Firstly: locations.
The first three chapters of everyone will be set in their home country. Secondly: people with different professions see things in different ways. An architect will see other things when he enters a room than someone who is a cop. So everytime you play with a different character the same room will change in terms of information and items to collect.
So what does that mean for multiplayer? There will be three types of puzzles: single player puzzles, multiplayer-synchronized and multiplayer-asynchronous. The first group consist of standard puzzles which can be found in every adventure. You can solve them in a single player session, no help needed. The second type can only be solved with two or more people at once (meaning playing at the same time, in the same or another room). An example is: one character tries to steal something from an office and needs to distract someone behind the table. So a second character has to call him on the phone to distract him and the first one can take the item.
The third kind of puzzle is even better. Characters can leave messages and clues for other players. They don't have to be online at the same time. Every character has a way to communicate. One will have his own website where he leaves info for the others. This information works like an item. Once you have read/heard/received them, you will be able to use them and maybe continue at a location that needs something more.
We're currently discussing if it is a good idea to have puzzles that can only be solved by more than one person simultaneously. Maybe there will be more than one way to do it.
The graphics are going to be 2D backgrounds with 3D characters and movies with real actors as cutscenes.
It's scheduled for release in the second quarter of 2006.
Many have attempted to do a multi-player adventure game before, but probably all attempts failed. What makes you sure a modern attempt will work?
I guess we have the right mood to do it. We don't look at the multiplayer option from a technical, but from a gameplay standpoint. That makes the difference.
Germany is one of the best markets for adventure games in the world. Do you have an explanation for the genre's extreme popularity in your country?
That's a good question, though I wouldn't say it's extreme. A good selling point-and-click adventure does 40.000 units in Germany. Compared to The Sims, Doom 3 or other games I would say it's not extreme.
And to tell the truth: I don't know. Maybe because companies like DTP kept the torch burning. The other idea is that loads of people played the old LucasArts games and still feel happy when they play games like that again (but that would mean it would happen in other countries too, right)? I don't know.
What can you tell about other games in your line-up, such as Quizzoid?
Bad Brain wants to do a lot of different games. There is another game in the pipeline which will hit stores in Q2/2005. It's called Quizzoid and it's an online quizshow where you can play with or against others. And once a day you can actually be a candidate for a live show in which you can win prizes like cars, money etc. Think of it as "a web version of a crossover of Who Wants To Be a Millionare and Trivial Pursuit". It's also possible to create your own sets of questions and answers and sell them for points in the Quizzoid Shop. That way you can buy new card-sets, skins, sounds, etc.
You see, there is plenty of room.
But there is yet another adventure coming our way. It's called The Orgastic Four. It´s scheduled after I-Jet and will be a mix of The A-Team, a 70's porn movie and The Godfather. It will be a South Park-ish, comic-style hyperactive point & click adventure.
Have you seen or played any of the "amateur" adventure games made with freeware engines? If so, do you reckon that community can produce something you'd want to publish?
Yes, sure. I played Zak McKracken 2, the new version of Maniac Mansion, etc. and sure there might be potential. We have an open ear to everyone who wants to get into the adventure or games business and is willing to work with passion. I recently had a look at the WinterMute engine and Unnamed Project Joe. Maybe we will use the WinterMute engine for future projects. It's a great tool and I guess everybody who has a little programming experience in C, C++ or Java is able to do technically flawless adventures.
Back in the times when I did game programming I would have killed for tools like this one.
Rumor has it that Bad Brain is attempting to acquire the rights to Sam & Max: Freelance Police. What can you say about that?
No comment (I signed an NDA). All I can say is: yes, we are talking to LucasArts about a game that might involve animals, but that's all folks! I guess we will see what´s happening in March 2005 at the latest. Also check our website for more information about our games.