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.
The original Ankh is one of several current adventures being ported to the DS, and the game seems like a natural fit for Nintendo's handheld. How did that decision come about?
We always thought about a DS version, as the handheld seems very fitting for adventure games. So we were very happy when our publisher bhv offered Ankh this opportunity by deciding that it should be ported to the DS.
Is this process something that Deck13 is directly involved in?
We are not directly involved, as another company is doing the port. However, we work as consultants and, of course, offer source material.
The DS has been great for adventures like Hotel Dusk and Phoenix Wright so far, but those were designed for handhelds from the start. Do you believe there's a viable market for adventure ports on the DS?
I very much hope so! I myself would love to play great adventures on the DS.
Is it safe to assume that we'll be seeing further Deck13 games find their way to the DS if Ankh is a success?
Sure! It would be great to see more of our games on that platform.
Jumping from the desert sands to the high seas, can you give us a little recap of what Jack Keane is all about?
Well, in this game, Jack experiences his first real adventure that'll eventually make him a real adventurer. In the beginning, however, he is just a poor captain wanting to earn some money by accepting an extra-dangerous assignment. Easy money? Not even close. I don't want to reveal too much at this stage, but Jack is going to have slight problems delivering his "freight" -- a secret Agent of Her Majesty the Queen of England -- to a secret island. Or, yes, well, he does deliver him there, but at the same time, he has a little accident with his ship that leaves him stranded on mysterious "Tooth Island". And as if this wasn't enough, Jack is soon all on his own and has to find a way back to civilization. Later on, however, he will find out that this very island is in the grasp of an evil man named "Doctor T." who intends to overthrow the British Empire. While at first Jack doesn't want to accept his destiny and fight Doctor T., he slowly gets a taste for adventure.
The story also offers many side stories like that of Amanda, who has left America to become the evil "henchwoman" of Doctor T. Also, there is the story of an Indian bride and groom who don't manage to eventually get married. And, above all, Jack has to find out about his forgotten childhood and learn why he grew up in an orphanage in London... and what his mysterious connection to Tooth Island really is about.
As you can see, Jack Keane is a game with many facets, which is also represented in the game's length. It's a much longer game than Ankh and Heart of Osiris.
What's the background of Jack Keane? Is it an original work, or is it based on an existing story?
It's original content. The story is inspired by the Indiana Jones movies, but you'll also find aspects of classic comedy point-and-click games like Monkey Island. Humour-wise, it can probably be compared to movies like Men in Black -- with some pretty silly scenes, but still with some heart and soul and very strong main characters with a well told personality.
Even a glimpse at the screenshots suggests that Jack Keane has a lot in common with Ankh visually. Are they equally similar in style and tone, or are you trying for a different experience between the two games? Would you characterise JK as a comic adventure primarily, or more of a dramatic game with some light moments sprinkled in?
Visually and content-wise, the game has similarities to Ankh. However, the backgrounds are much more dense and detailed, as are the characters and objects. Technically, I think Jack Keane is a big step forward. Compared to Ankh, the playing experience is meant to be more "action packed". But that does not mean that we included any countdown or dexterity puzzles. It's still a pure point-and-click gameplay system. But there are many places where we try to catch the feel of action that we know from adventure movies like Indiana Jones. Time pressure is simulated at various places, and dramatic cutscenes add to the "big" feeling of the story. Also, Jack is able to climb and jump, and that makes him much more agile than his Egyptian friend Assil. All in all I would say that the look and feel of Jack Keane goes much more into the "adventure movie" direction and incorporates less of the quiet and cozy Ankh style.
CDV was the original (and at the time, surprising) worldwide publisher announced for the game, but at some point you switched to 10tacle. Can you explain what happened there?
I can't go into detail too much here, but last August, 10tacle made a very interesting offer to both CDV and Deck13. And with 10tacle being a vastly growing publisher, we were very happy to have Jack Keane join their line-up. So we agreed, and now we enjoy working with the pretty extensive team at 10tacle. Both we and they are very committed to making the best out of the game.
When you first released Ankh, you were one of the first developers to release a comic adventure in the modern era. Since then, we've seen several more released with still more on the horizon. Why do you think there's a (relatively) sudden interest in comedies after years of dramatic focus? Is this just the industry moving in cycles?
I think that the demand has always been there, but it was very difficult for developers to persuade publishers about this. You just have to take a look at the animated movies that are so damn popular at the moment. As PC adventure games are in a way similar entertainment products, it's (at least to me) no surprise that people also enjoy humorous adventure games. However, there don't seem to be many developers and publishers around who dare to release comic adventures. You just have to look at Telltale Games to see that these games are really working.
Although released as a boxed product, Ankh has also been offered through downloads both in Europe and in North America. As a developer, what's your opinion on digital distribution? How about as a consumer yourself?
Regarding myself as a consumer, I really like buying things online. I'm not so keen of having a box standing on my shelf gathering dust. As a developer, I think this is a great opportunity, but still you need publishing expertise to do marketing, sales, PR, and product testing.
So with Ankh 3 already on the horizon for Deck13, what else is in store once you're completely finished with Jack Keane?
We really hope that Jack Keane is going to be a big success that enables us to produce a sequel, or another "adventurous adventure" with similar background. We love the mixture of fun and drama and would like to continue developing games in this great genre. Personally I am very happy about what Jack Keane has become, and I'm very curious to see what peope outside Deck13 think about it (well, yeah, we've had several focus tests, but this is really different to a game's release!)
Well, Jan, the longer I keep you answering questions, the less time you can devote to getting those games to market, so I'll let you go for now. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with us again. Any last words to leave with all the Ankh fans out there?
Thank you for this great opportunity. Both you and I know how long it took before we could get through these few questions, and I promise that we're going to be faster in the future!