The name Steve Ince is widely known in adventure circles. In the past, that recognition has come largely from his work on the acclaimed Broken Sword series with Revolution. Now a freelance writer and designer, however, Ince is beginning to make a name all for himself. Receiving a nomination for “Best videogame script” at the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain 2008 Awards (winner still to be determined) for his latest adventure, So Blonde, certainly won't hurt the cause.
Fewer people know much about Wizarbox, a French studio that's been around for several years and yet exploded onto the adventure scene only recently with the release of So Blonde. Get used to hearing about them plenty more in future, though, as the company has taken over development of Jane Jensen's Gray Matter, even as they continue work on an "alternate reality" version of So Blonde for the Nintendo DS and Wii.
Adventure Gamers recently went behind the scenes with both Steve Ince and So Blonde's lead designer at Wizarbox, Jerome Britneff-Bondy, to ask about their collaboration on the new comic adventure and the paths that brought the two together.
Adventure Gamers: First of all, thanks to both of you for taking the time to answer our questions. Some gamers are playing So Blonde already, but it’s taking time to spread internationally, so that gives us an opportunity to discuss the game a bit more. What's been the general reaction to the game in areas where it's available, both publicly and critically? Any surprises? Any disappointments?
Steve Ince: I’ve been pleasantly surprised by all the positive reactions and reviews the game has so far received, particularly when the game has been given 8/10 and 17/20 recently. The biggest surprise, though, was the fact that the review score in the French print magazine, Joystick, was better than that given to the latest Tom Clancy game.
Jerome Britneff-Bondy: The general reaction is really good so far, we got great reviews and ratings. This acknowledgement by our peers is of course a great satisfaction for the team but we don’t forget that only the gamers have the final cut - they decide concretely if the game is a success or not.
AG: And how about you personally? Now that the game is finished and you've had the chance to reflect on the finished product, how has the game measured up to your own goals and expectations?
SI: It’s difficult to judge the non-English versions completely, but the English version is everything I could have hoped for. The tone of the game has matched the aims we set out with. I was looking at the game again recently (not having touched it for a few months) and it felt really good doing so.
JBB: When we started the project, we hoped the game would be appreciated by both hardcore and casual gamers and this seems to be exactly what’s happening.
AG: Before looking at the completed project more closely, let's go back to the beginning. How did you come to be working together on this game in the first place?
SI: [Wizarbox CEO] Fabien [Bihour] sent me an e-mail and asked me if I was interested in working on the game. I went over to Paris, took one look at the sketches of some characters and it was love at first sight. Considering that I speak no French, it was surprising how quickly we all started seeing the same vision for the game.
JBB: People at Wizarbox brought the starting idea, which was to confront a young, pampered and modern blonde teen used to luxury and modern comfort with rude and bloodthirsty pirates. We thought this was an uncommon - so interesting - environment for an adventure game. When we needed to develop the story and push the concept forward, we contacted Steve who loved the idea and collaborated with us to make our dream come true.
AG: Had you known each other previously, or collaborated in any way before this?
SI: I must admit that I’d never even heard of Wizarbox prior to that first e-mail. It’s funny how the world works at times.
JBB: It was our first collaboration with Steve, whose talent as storyteller impressed us on titles such as the Broken Sword series. It has been a real pleasure to work with him and we really enjoyed it from the first day.
AG: So the game had a French development studio with an English writer and a German publisher. What kind of challenge did that pose? Were there times where translation issues, cultural differences, or just plain physical separation caused any problems?
SI: The wonders of the internet means that most of the time I feel as close to the guys in Paris as I do to my old colleagues up the road in York. I am thankful that everyone I deal with speaks such good English, which helps enormously from my point of view. Rather than difficulties, I think that having three nationalities involved in this way gives the game a positive strength because we have three versions of the game where the language is native to someone involved.
JBB: Language was not the challenge, although we thought it would be at first. When the project started, we all switched to English, for convenience. Moreover, our employees speak English pretty well - much better than Steve speaks French indeed [laugh] so it went pretty well.
AG: Steve, how involved were you in the game's development after writing the script? Was it pretty much hands-off at that point, or did you work closely with the team in implementing the design through to the end?
SI: The story, design and dialogue were all developed in stages that were done in a way which maintained the holistic feel of the project. I worked closely with Jerome, who contributed enormously and kept me from being too silly with the design. However, there came a point where I’d pretty much done all I could and it was then down to the rest of the team to put in the really hard work to make the design play as we’d intended. I have great admiration and respect for everyone involved.
AG: The game stars a pampered, shallow (at least at first), self-absorbed teen girl, and Steve, you're a... well, just about as far from a pampered, shallow, self-absorbed teen girl as there is. How did you manage to create a character that you've obviously had little personal experience with and make her believable?
SI: The character was partly created when I got involved in the project, with sketches and some description. But I was surprised at how easily I was able to get into the head of a 17 year old. Must be all the pampering I receive when I visit the Wizarbox offices.
AG: The stylized, cartoon-like visuals and the decidedly bizarre premise immediately suggest a "comic" adventure. Would you say it's accurate to describe So Blonde as a comedy? Or is it more of a lighthearted coming-of-age story? Or maybe something in between, something else entirely?
SI: It’s a comedy drama coming of age with romantic overtones in a saving the world kind of way story. Sometimes there is straightforward comedy, sometimes it’s just plain silly and other times it can be quite serious. There is a theme of self-discovery and Sunny goes through a real arc and becomes a different person by the end of the game.
JBB: So Blonde clearly belongs to the “comic” or even “parody” genre but it’s also the story of a teen becoming an adult. Behind the jokes and the funny situations stands Sunny, a young girl who never really had to do anything by herself in life so far. We thought it would be interesting to accompany her as she becomes more mature, thanks to the player’s actions. Remember that the game offers more than 5 hours of spoken dialogues.Continued on the next page...