Axel Ruske and Igor Posavec - Perry Rhodan interview
With very little prior fanfare, Perry Rhodan looks poised to become one of the more recognizable sci-fi adventure game protagonists with this year's release of The Immortals of Terra: A Perry Rhodan Adventure (or Rhodan: Myth of the Illochim in Europe). Unless you count the existence of literally thousands of Perry Rhodan novels covering almost half a century of publication as fanfare, that is.
Indeed, the Pabel-Moewig books about the fictional astronaut already comprise one of the most prolific series of all time, and it's still going strong. So why have so few people heard of him? The relative anonymity is because the series is popular largely in its native Germany, and for all its local success, the franchise has never managed to successfully penetrate international markets. Until now, perhaps.
Thanks to the collective efforts of BrainGame and 3d-io, Perry Rhodan is about to hit the… well, equally niche but decidedly more international stage of adventure game stardom. The game has already released in Europe to general acclaim, and will soon be distributed in North America by Viva Media. Still, very few details are widely known about the game and the "Perryverse" behind it, so we went behind the scenes to chat with the Managing Director of BrainGame, Axel Ruske, and the Managing Director and Creative Art Director of 3d-io, Igor Posavec.
Adventure Gamers: The name Perry Rhodan isn't well recognized in many parts of the world. Maybe we should start with a bit of background for those whose first exposure to Perry Rhodan is the game. What can you tell us about the franchise to this point?
Axel Ruske: Perry Rhodan is the oldest and most written space saga of all time, created in Germany. Since its inception in 1961 more than 3,000 novels have been published, including over 2,400 weekly serialized booklet novellas issued continuously since 1961, making it the most ambitious futuristic story ever written.
Perry Rhodan is the main character of the novels and of our adventure game.
BrainGame's Axel Ruske
AG: What made you decide that Perry Rhodan would be suitable for a game?
AR: The idea to develop a Perry Rhodan PC game resulted from a fortunate coincidence. I visited a German book fair a few years ago and discovered the Perry Rhodan stand. A Perry Rhodan reader in former days myself, I quickly got into a conversation with the people from Pabel-Moewig, licensor of the Perry Rhodan brand, and found out that the license for a PC game was still available. That was the beginning of a new partnership…
AG: Why an adventure game? Did you choose the genre first and adapt the license to it, or was there something about Perry Rhodan that determined it should be an adventure?
AR: Perry Rhodan is a novel character and he's more a strategic thinking person than an action hero. We wanted to choose the genre which best fits the Perry fans' concept of Perry Rhodan and his world. Besides, Braingame has already developed several educational adventure games before and has a certain affinity for that genre. So it was an easy decision to make Perry Rhodan an adventure game.
AG: Although your previous experience in the genre consisted largely of "edutainment" adventures in years past (though under the different name of Ruske & Puhretmaier Edutainment), can we assume that Perry Rhodan will be more entertainment, less education than your previous games?
AR: On first sight, Perry Rhodan is not a classical Braingame title. Braingame is mostly known for its edutainment and infotainment titles and Perry Rhodan is a typical representative of adventure games. But there is also a certain aspect of infotainment in Perry Rhodan. Due to the fact that Perry Rhodan is a license of a well known novel character, it demands some explanations and background stories. We integrated the info into gameplay that both kinds of players -- adventure players and Perry Rhodan fans -- can use this knowledge to simplify the gameplay. In any case, this additional info about Perry Rhodan is very useful -- and in most cases it is very inspirational and entertaining.
AG: Igor, can you tell us a little more about 3d-io? What's the background of the team, and what experience did you have prior to Perry Rhodan?
Igor Posavec: 3d-io games & video production GmbH is a Germany based software company founded 1996. It has an established presence in design production, digital content creation and graphics animation. Major German and international game and infotainment companies as well as industrial and telecommunication key players have utilized our unique graphic style and technology. Further projects in the games sector were Interface Design for ANNO 1701, numerous game trailers and teasers and major Artwork Design of Beowulf game pilot project and edutainment bestsellers Physikus, Biolab and Historion which were developed by Braingame and were part of the “learning adventures” series which built the base for the success of Braingame.
3d-io's Igor Posavec
When Braingame got the license for the Perry Rhodan game, Axel Ruske, CEO of Braingame, came to our office with the following words: “Perry Rhodan is the largest sci-fi series in the world, and we want the biggest and the most fascinating adventure game for it!” Since the main strength of 3d-io’s artwork lies in fictional creations, we gladly accepted this challenge. This meant a lot of work for us before even starting with the real production: intensive studying of the Perryverse, drawing of countless concepts and writing thousands of pages of stories and puzzles. Meanwhile, we are indeed some kind of Perry Rhodan experts, or at least the best Perry Rhodan game experts. [grin]
AG: Are you longtime fans of the adventure genre? Presumably you must be fans of Perry Rhodan.
IP: To be honest, before we started on the game only one person in our team was familiar with Perry Rhodan. But we didn’t see this as a handicap: there is nothing that can’t be learned and you can summarize the most complex book trilogy to one single A4 page. Starting from this single page and progressing into further development using the existing facts, you can build more easily a completely new story, a new style and a new gameplay. Considering the fact that we wanted to create a game that is playable by both Perry fans and also gamers without any Perry-experience, we didn´t want to risk getting too deep into “Perryverse” details or becoming too “nerdish”. On the other side, there had to be enough “Perryverse” aspects in the game to not annoy the big Perry Rhodan community. It was a hard task, but it seems that we made it at the end.
Adventure Gamers: What games or designers would you say have been instrumental in your own approach to adventures in general and Perry Rhodan in particular?
Igor Posavec: Definitely all well-known and user friendly adventure games concepts flew into Perry Rhodan. The main initiation was given in 2004-6 by the adventure games Syberia and Secret Files, which have redefined the genre of adventures. Adventures became good selling products with large numbers of users who started to play them, again.
On the other hand, we wanted to move away from the “dusty” look and feel of those adventures, and present designs that are modern and compatible to the current games and movies. Technology in adventures didn't change a lot in the last several years but people’s playing behavior and expectations have changed tremendously! We wanted to create a game which fits the new expectations and uses the technological possibilities of today. We redesigned user interface, plugged-in 3D characters with normal mapping, perfect lip synch and realtime particle and shader effects, 3D sound and superb CG cinematics. The positive reactions and reviews (in most of them we got more than 80%) show us that we chose the right way.
AG: The game is out in some countries already, but the English markets didn't get a lot of pre-release information about Perry Rhodan. Can you give us a little more detail about the game's premise and storyline?
Axel Ruske: In the year 4934 B.C. a mysterious space cruiser was found on a distant planet of our galaxy. It contains not only clues about the presumably extinct race of Illochim but also the means to achieve immortality. Very few knew the coordinates of this legendary location: members of a secret arkonidian organization and Mondra Diamond, girlfriend of Perry Rhodan, our hero. In order to be the only one in possession of the key to immortality, arkonidian agents take Mondra hostage during an attack on Terrania and vanish without a trace. This is the starting point of the game, in which Perry must confront many conspiracies, lies, legends and obstacles in order to rescue her. On his way, he slowly starts to recognize what mysteries truly are behind the abduction.
AG: The existing Perryverse is so well established after all these years. How hard was it to find a balance between satisfying longtime Perry Rhodan fans and yet not alienating newcomers to the series? Is there a happy medium between the devoted hardcore and those who don't know the Arkonides from the Naats?
AR: To develop a game which both fascinates longtime Perry Rhodan fans as well as total newcomers was one of the biggest challenges. The good reviews from both sides indicate that we achieved that goal. The game contains a lot of hints and gimmicks which are related to the “Perryverse” and some of them can only be understood by real Perry fans. But that does not reduce the fun of playing for classic adventure fans. For them we created a high class science fiction adventure with fascinating graphics and complicated puzzles -- which can even be solved without ever having heard of Perry Rhodan before.
AG: The chance to play as Perry certainly brings opportunities that simply reading about him does not. Have you stayed true to the established Perry Rhodan series, or have you tried to bring your own unique vision to the game?
IP: We definitely brought a big part of our own vision to the game. Perry Rhodan is a bit like OpenSource -- you may bring in your own ideas as long as the main rules are respected. There was no way to plug-in the game into the current book serial, so we got the permission to create a kind of “parallel universe”. This way we could use all characters we wanted to and differ a bit from the story in the current novels.
AG: Do you think there's a risk that the game will be overlooked by those who aren't familiar with the books? What is it about the game that will appeal even to those unfamiliar with the series?
AR: That was really a kind of risk when starting investing money and time in the development of the game. Therefore we put a lot of effort in creating a game which will also be attractive for those who aren't familiar with Perry Rhodan. Due to the fact that we didn't put too much insider info about the “Perryverse” into the game, no one needs to have a Bachelor Diploma in Perry Rhodan to be able to play it. For those who don't know Perry Rhodan, it's a normal high quality adventure game. We have great graphics/sounds, an exciting storyline, more than 50 animated 3D-characters and and and…… and we had some good reviews confirming that Perry Rhodan is even interesting for those who are not Perry Rhodan addicted; and maybe the Perry Rhodan novels got some new readers thanks to the Perry Rhodan game. [grin]
AG: You've mentioned the generally positive reception so far in the areas where it's been released already. Anything unexpected so far, for better or worse?
AR: The game was released in Germany at the end of February and we are very content so far. We got really good reviews for both storyline and graphics/sound and even those who were not fans of Perry Rhodan before were fascinated by the “Perryverse”. We are now very excited about how the game will be reviewed and sell in other countries where Perry Rhodan is an unknown character.
AG: If the game does well, will there be more Perry Rhodan adventures in future? For that matter, is there one in the works already?
AR: It's too early to make a decision about a second Perry Rhodan game. We first want to have a look at how the game will be accepted in the other territories. Right now there are no concrete plans but if the game becomes a success in the other territories as well… why not…
AG: Thanks so much for taking time to answer our questions. Any final thoughts to leave with readers as we prepare for the launch of Perry Rhodan's first interactive adventure?
Axel and Igor: We would like to thank to all the people who were working on this project. We are writing here in the name of over 20 artists and programmers, not counting the army of speakers, musicians, beta-testers and authors. Each of them has been a part of the machinery, and without all of them the game couldn't have been completed with such a quality.