Not many in the adventure community had even heard of Deck13 a little over a year ago, but the German developer is quickly becoming one of the more prolific studios in the world. After turning the world of ancient Egypt on its head in the 3D comic adventure Ankh, the company went right back to work on a follow-up title, while subsequently beginning work on a much more ambitious project, the swashbuckling adventures of Jack Keane. With Heart of Osiris launching recently, and Jack heading into the home stretch, it was all we could do to rip Creative Director Jan Klose away from his team long enough to offer some personal insight into the whirlwind events of the past year, the new games both now and almost upon us, and what's in store for Deck13.
So, Jan, is it an understatement to say that it's been a busy year for Deck13?
Oh, yes, definitely. We are working extremely hard and sometimes close to the edge, but the thing that pushes us forward is the positive feedback that we got for Ankh and Heart of Osiris. With Jack Keane, we want to take our games to a new level and really show what we are capable of. This gives us the energy to do much more than just fulfill a development contract.
Working on two full games simultaneously would be a demanding challenge even for much larger studios. How are you able to manage it so successfully?
Despite our ever-existing daily creative chaos, we also have a very well-working organizational structure. In contrast to some other smaller development studios, we work with detailed development plans. Also, we get very valuable support from our Jack Keane publisher, 10tacle Studios, regarding quality assurance and game testing, so we can rely on an external department to give us feedback and write extensive bug reports.
Another important point is that we clearly split our people into two independent development teams, so there are very few places where one person is responsible for tasks that are needed for more than one game. Most people only work on one project at a time. With this independent structure, it happens very seldom that the two projects interfere.
Can you update us on the status of each game?
The English version of Heart of Osiris is complete and has shipped in the UK. However, I'll have to leave it to the publisher to say when it will hit the streets in the U.S.
Regarding Jack Keane, we are currently adding the finishing touches. Although this sounds kind of relaxed, it is really the most horrible part in game design. Because now things are getting definite. Now we have to face tough decisions like which parts have to be left out because there are simply no more resources to include them. Also, with speech recording for the German version finished, it is now clear that there are not going to be any more changes regarding story, puzzles, and conversations. Simply put: this is it, this is Jack Keane. But we are indeed very happy with the result! We have fallen in love with this game. But whether the players will -- this remains to be seen of course.
Let's talk a bit about Heart of Osiris. First of all, what's been the general reaction to the game in Germany? I know the original Ankh was very popular there, even winning several "Best German Game" awards in 2005. That must have created high expectations this time around.
Expectations were high indeed. And although we did not win the "Best German Game" award this year (well, one should really not be too demanding, I suppose), most reviews rated the game equally high or even higher than the first Ankh, which we found very surprising because expectations were high and the content is not as unique as it was for the first game. Many characters appear again, as do some of the locations (albeit with a new graphical style and at a different time of day). But as we've already seen with the Sam & Max episodes, people do not always demand unique style to find a game attractive.
Ankh: Heart of Osiris
When Heart of Osiris was first announced, it was referred to as an "expansion" to Ankh, as opposed to a full-fledged sequel. Just so there's no confusion, can you clarify what is meant by that?
The game is a complete standalone experience. It's even a bit longer than the first Ankh. You can probably compare it with the Sam & Max games: each of the games is a complete episode. However, the playing experience is much longer. Also, you don't necessarily need to have played the first game to enjoy the second, although you'll miss lots of references to the first part of course.
Word of a third Ankh game has begun circulating, but details are scarce for anyone whose German is a little rusty. What can you tell us about the new game?
I can confirm that a third Ankh is currently being produced by Deck13 because I see quite a few people around me having Ankh images on their screens that I've never seen before.
Will the new game have the same kind of episodic look and feel as Heart of Osiris, or will it be more of a full-fledged sequel with revamped technology, all-new locations and so on?
Regarding the overall style, the game is going to be similar to Heart of Osiris, but of course there's going to be lots of brand new content. So I think that yes, you can compare it to Heart of Osiris very well. However, there'll be many more new locations and characters.
Based on the working title, the plot continues a theme established in Heart of Osiris, which holds a lot of intriguing possibilities. Any further story details you can tease us with at this point?
As far as I can see, the third Ankh is about a battle of the Gods, with Assil right in the middle, much to his discomfort. But I'm sure that once again, with the help of several very weird items, he will manage to escape alive, and this time -- who knows? -- he might even be able to save Egypt!
I know it's early, but any idea when the game should be finished?
The German version of the game is scheduled for the end of 2007.Continued on the next page...