A New Beginning - Daedalic Entertainment interview
There are new beginnings all around these days for Daedalic Entertainment. A relative newcomer in its own right, the German publisher and developer had previously offered up the first details of its debut adventure under the working moniker of "Project Climate Change". But now the team is ready to unveil some all-new information about its interactive eco-thriller, due out next year on the PC, Nintendo DS, and Wii. First and foremost among the new details is the game's official title, Earth – A New Beginning. (Addendum: the title has since been shortened to simply A New Beginning.)
It's not often that games are associated with serious cultural issues, but that's exactly what Daedalic has in mind for its initial project. Confronting the problem of global climate change and the threat of impending disaster, A New Beginning will boldly explore the prospect of environmental cataclysm, though obviously in a manner that they hope will be as entertaining to play as it is disturbing to contemplate.
The story begins (and in danger of ending) in the year 2500. Humanity is on the verge of extinction, and the last glimmer of hope lies in sending a small team back through time in an effort to prevent the damage before it's too late. The first attempt to the year 2050 proves too late to help, as natural disasters are already rampant and civilization is in ruins by that time. Fortunately, two time-pilots manage a second trip, this time to 2008.
On present day Earth, a bio-engineer named Bent has retired after a lifetime of frustration spent trying to create a revolutionary biological fuel. His creation would have solved the world's energy problems and had a dramatic impact on the global economy, but he was never able to realize his dream, and the obsession has taken a heavy toll on his health and his family relationships. Now in his fifties, Bent is visited one day by a young woman named Fay, who claims to be from a future destroyed by global warming and in desperate need of his help. Apparently sincere about her incredible story, Fay explains that the immediate challenge is to overcome an unscrupulous energy tycoon, whose only concern is profit, even at the expense of ultimate worldwide destruction. With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, so begins a game that Daedalic describes as being about a "conflict between egotism and altruism, between idealism and betrayal."
The events of A New Beginning will take players to a variety of locations around the world. The developers are keeping most of the specifics under wraps for now, but stops in San Francisco, circa 2050, and an oil-drilling rig off the coast of Norway are two of the places we'll see in the game. More importantly to many, the game will be a traditional point-and-click adventure featuring hand-painted 2D backgrounds and characters, giving the game a distinctly personal look that hearkens back to the classic adventures of old, as evidenced by the exclusive first screenshots displayed below.
But enough of the second hand information. No one knows A New Beginning as well as its creators, and we were fortunate enough to get not one, but two of Daedalic's founding members to answer our many questions. Carsten Fichtelmann is the Managing Director and Jan Müller-Michaelis the Creative Director, and both were willing to offer their insights into the fledgling company and its promising first endeavour.
For your first project, you've chosen to tackle no less an issue than global warming. That's a pretty significant and even somewhat controversial topic. Why that decision?
Jan Müller-Michaelis: From a dramatic angle, it is especially interesting to highlight significant and controversial topics. Climate change is a global concern -- it is an issue that is relevant to every single person on the planet. And if we're honest, every one of us feels a little at fault for not doing more for the environment. Even if we individually do everything we can, our contribution can only amount to a drop in the ocean. It's not like the polar ice caps will suddenly return to their old size, hurricanes will disappear and floods recede, just because we started buying energy-efficient light bulbs, turn off the TV instead of keeping it on standby and wipe with recycled toilet paper. We all know these conflicting feelings too well. But at least in our game, you'll be able to solve this conflict. The player has the chance to save the world. That's why it is so conducive that it is such a controversial topic: a plot needs conflict.
Carsten Fichtelmann: The looming climate catastrophe gives us the opportunity to tell a story with global scope, highlighting how global warming may change the world, how it will affect all of humanity. It makes the game more attractive for international publishing partners and gives us a 'hook' for the general interest press. It's imperative for an adventure game to reach audiences beyond the hardcore gamer market. In our experience, a lot of adventure gamers do not belong to traditional gamer demographics -- these are, for example, women between 20 and 40 or people over 50.
Are you taking a fairly neutral approach to the topic, or does the game present a firm stance on environmental issues?
CF: We're trying our best to take a neutral approach but we definitely wanted to convey that it's up to every single person to do their part in saving the world. We have looked into both sides of the climate debate extensively and talked to many experts, trying to divorce facts from political agendas.
We're currently setting up an extensive website that will deal with all aspects of the topic, collecting facts and opinions and making them available in seven languages. This will also help us to reach more people through media that don't conventionally deal with games.
JMM: It definitely is hard to form your own opinion and adamantly defend it amongst the myriad of voices that form the climate debate. Against popular opinion, many scientists still don't agree on the role of carbon dioxide for global warming. How can a layman then presume to know all the facts and come up with a solution? In fact, it is exactly this uncertainty that the game deals with: How can I do the right thing, when I have no way of knowing the effects of my actions? How can I assign higher priority to a danger looming 20 years ahead than to a present-day problem? Those are the questions we will explore, letting all sides of the issue be heard. Ultimately, the game revolves around the central conflict between egoism and altruism.
Do you see gaming as a potentially important (and largely untapped) medium for dealing with more meaningful topics?
CF: Definitely! The games medium has the ability to be just as relevant as films or books. Not a lot of games explore this potential and that is certainly one reason games are so often cast in a negative light. Especially narrative games have huge potential for storytelling and conveying meaning -- adventure games certainly lend themselves very well to this.
JMM: By casting the consumer into the role of the protagonist and allowing him to interact with the story, games can be much more engaging and confront the player much more directly with his choices and the conflicts he faces.
How do you balance the need for entertainment with a desire to convey an important message? Do they complement each other effectively, or is there a risk that one will overwhelm the other?
CF: First and foremost our games are entertainment products. But entertaining and telling an emotional, well though-out, meaningful story are not mutually exclusive. You would be hard-pressed to find a movie that does not have some kind of message at its heart, even down to the daftest blockbuster. It's just good writing: a great story needs to have an agenda, needs to -- literally -- tell us something.
That being said, we're not going to start preaching to the player and make him click his way through some kind of sermon -- our game is a classic adventure story.
Maybe you can tell us a bit more about the game itself.
Jan Müller-Michaelis: We have opted for a fairly traditional approach: our game features 2D hand-drawn and animated characters in front of very detailed, hand-drawn backgrounds. We have opted for a fairly realistic comic style comparable to a high-quality animated movie. We like to describe it as "Broken Sword -- if it were made today".
In our opinion, 3D just doesn't work for adventure games -- again and again, the characters come out too lifeless, the backgrounds are too sterile and the technical hurdles too high. Hand-drawn characters can display a much wider range of convincing emotions -- it's ultimately one of the main reasons that people still prefer the adventure games of days gone by.
The game is set -- mostly -- in the present and features realistic settings. You will see a lot of archetypal locations in the game that everyone in the world will recognize, in a similar fashion as in movies like The Day After Tomorrow -- although we decided to leave New York be this time and focus our destructive energy elsewhere.
During the course of the game you will take on the roles of two protagonists -- one male, one female -- most of the time, you'll be able to switch between the two.
As far as puzzle design goes, our philosophy is that the puzzles need to serve the story and not the other way around. The puzzles need to feel like logical and integral parts of the game, natural obstacles that make sense to the player. Oh -- no timed sequences and no action bits; nobody likes those.
Why an adventure game? Many believe that the adventure market is shrinking faster than the polar ice caps.
Carsten Fichtelmann: Well, it depends on which market you're looking at. In Germany, the market for adventure games has grown considerably in the last few years. Last year, we were deluged with quality titles, though none of them could really separate themselves from the pack. The genre is also very strong in other European markets like France and Spain.
We know adventure games and we know adventure gamers: by adhering to what you know about your target audience, you can make a very successful game -- even if it's on a different scale than in the blockbuster genres.
Carsten, you previously held the Marketing & Product Director position at dtp entertainment, which has become one of the most influential adventure game publishers in the world, so you're clearly no stranger to the genre. The fact that you're now making your own shows you clearly believe there's a viable market out there. What do you see in adventures that others apparently don't? (Besides us, of course.)
CF: At dtp I was involved with many projects, I brought Runaway, The Longest Journey, Dreamfall, Black Mirror, Sherlock Holmes and Gray Matter to Germany. I've been playing adventure games myself for more than 20 years. Sure, I like to play shooters and logic games as well, but I've chosen to focus on what I know best. And I'm confident that we have a team here that is capable of developing a brilliant adventure game.
At Daedalic, we still see a lot of untapped potential for adventure games as the quality of stories and gameplay has generally stagnated in recent years. As an exceptional narrative medium, adventure games can do so much more to engage the player, yet this potential is so seldomly utilized. We believe that we have a very keen eye for the market and its demands and we intend to deliver what adventure gamers clamor for.
What can you tell us about the rest of your team?
JMM: Our team, based in Hamburg, Germany, is currently comprised of nine people, with myself coordinating all aspects of the development process and handling story writing, game design, storyboarding and about a million other things. Before founding Daedalic together with Carsten, I've been a writer and director on several short films, as well as a lifelong fan of adventure games. For my diploma thesis, I independently designed and co-programmed a complete adventure game that includes 30 characters, complete voice-overs, 120 screens and 30-plus hours of playtime. It will probably see release in the not too distant future... Through that project I met Carsten and we immediately connected over our shared vision of the potential for adventure games.
We're also handling all the coding and scripting for the game internally, while all the artwork and sound assets are done externally. We have contracted a large team of artists and animators, many of them with years of experience in traditional animation film. Our sound team is also based here in Hamburg; they will be handling the game's orchestral soundtrack and the roughly seven hours of voice-overs.
The game will be a fairly conventional point-and-click adventure, which will please many genre fans. Other than the subject matter, what features would you say make the project unique?
JMM: One thing that definitely sets us apart from many recent titles is the size of the game: with around 130 screens, 30 great, compelling characters, 20 minutes of animated cutscenes and around 20 hours of gameplay, we will deliver a hefty gaming experience. We're also very much focused on bringing back a sense of fun and experimentation as you explore the environments. One way to do this is by writing and recording voice-overs for nearly every single possible action-hotspot, action-item, item-hotspot and item-item combination. No more "That doesn't work."!
We're also implementing a number of technical innovations, both on the graphics side with multi-layer characters and complex backgrounds, as well as in the sound department with a uniquely dynamic soundtrack and unusual voice-over recording process.
Will the game be independently financed and released by Daedalic, or will you be seeking out publishing partners to finish production and/or distribute the game?
CF: We're financing the game with the help of a partner and will publish it in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Internationally, we are looking for publishing/distribution partners. Fortunately, we are very well connected with the relevant companies and there is already a lot of interest, since the game has such a general appeal.
Are you planning a localized English version of the game?
CF: Yes, we are of course developing the game with the international market in mind. At the Games Convention in Leipzig, we will be showing an English version to trade visitors and the international press. We will also be at GC Asia in Singapore this September.
If all goes well, when might we be seeing the game appearing on store shelves?
CF: We have set ourselves a very ambitious schedule, with release planned for the second half of next year. The game is being developed for PC, as well as Nintendo DS and Wii.
Even better! We're always encouraged to see more developers branch out across platorms, so that's good news, indeed. I'm also personally pleased to see environmental concerns being embraced, so I applaud your choice, and I look forward to seeing the results. Thanks very much for sharing more about your game with us.
CF: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to tell you about our game's vision. So far, we have enjoyed a lot of positive response everywhere we have presented our project, with an unprecedented amount of attention in the German media, so I know we're on the right track.
JMM: Thank you!