It's been three years since we last saw Nina Kalenkov and Max Gruber. After solving the century-old mystery of the Tunguska explosion, then saving the world from a climatic apocalypse, the pair have finally earned some time to rest and enjoy each other's company... at least until an armed SWAT team barges into their apartment and drags Max away. So much for relaxing. But gamers wouldn't have it any other way, as that means there's another mystery to be solved, the fate of the globe once more at stake. With Secret Files 3 heading into the home stretch, we caught up with the game's Producer, Steffen Schamberger from Deep Silver, and Project Leader Marco Zeugner from Animation Arts to reveal some early secrets about the new game
Adventure Gamers: A lot has happened since the last Secret Files adventure. What can you tell us about events that (supposedly) transpired between Puritas Cordis and now, both for your characters and yourselves?
Steffen Schamberger: Concerning the game itself there is no real gap between SF2 and SF3. This game seamlessly follows the events of the last one. Obviously that was different with SF1 and SF2, what with the temporary separation of Nina and Max. But even then we never really thought about what might have transpired during the meantime. The most important events that took place were mentioned and conveyed to the player at the beginning of SF2. The Secret Files fans were the ones who had numerous ideas and stories as to what might have happened between the two games. As to the real events since SF2: We had taken a break in order to develop Lost Horizon. In doing so we could take a step back from the SF series, gather new ideas and test various things like game-mechanisms, staging, etc., which we included in a modified and more sophisticated manner in SF3 – provided there was positive feedback, of course.
AG: Details about the storyline of Secret Files 3 have been fairly sketchy to this point. We know Nina visits the Neolithic hilltop sanctuary of Potbelly Hill in modern-day Turkey. We know she somehow finds her way to Leonardo da Vinci's workshop in Renaissance-era Italy. That's quite the time-travel itinerary. What's the connection?
Steffen: Ever since the events in the Tunguska region, Nina has been suffering from horrible nightmares. These dream sequences are playable, which enabled us to smoothly include inventive locations into the game like Florence during the times of Leonardo da Vinci or even a dark doomsday scenario. To avoid misunderstandings: we do refer to SF1 from time to time, but in order to understand SF3 it is not necessary to have played the first instalment. But the old-timers out there will surely appreciate the nods to the two prequels. Apart from that, we conclude the story of the mysterious, cloaked men from Part 1 by revealing what they are after. The story comes full circle, so to speak, and the circle itself plays an extremely vital part in SF3. Sit back and let yourselves be surprised. Our team of authors from television and cinema really managed to create something epic.
AG: With Max disappearing early in the game, it sounds like this is going to be largely Nina's adventure. But presumably we haven't seen the last of Max. Will we spend any time experiencing his story?
Steffen: Max does indeed disappear right at the beginning of the game. But unlike Nina’s father in SF1, Max shows up again relatively soon. From that point onward, Nina and Max will master the adventure together and the player will of course have the opportunity to play Max, too.
AG: A new character is introduced this time around, Max's Turkish friend and colleague Emre Derdogan. What do we (or at least what does Nina) know about him?
Steffen: The only thing Nina knows about him is that he is one of Max’s colleagues. The two of them had studied together and are now both working on a mysterious discovery which Max made at the legendary Potbelly Mountain in Turkey.
AG: A huge part of the appeal of events like Tunguska is that they can't be explained. In many ways, it's more fun to speculate than to know. What other phenomena fascinate you and your team? (Or would telling be tipping your hand for future Secret Files games?)
Steffen: There exist tons of such phenomena – Loch Ness, Area 51, the Bermuda Triangle, to name but a few. But with Secret Files we do not want to work with ideas that have been done to death. The theme should still have something fresh and new to offer.
AG: It's too bad you did the whole end-of-the-world thing in 2009. The Mayan calendar apocalypse "prediction" would have made for great Secret Files fodder in 2012.
Steffen: Even the latest instalment of Secret Files, which takes place in 2012, is about nothing less than the end of the world. So no need to worry.
AG: The first two games were co-created with Fusionsphere Systems, but now Animation Arts is going it alone. How were the responsibilities split up in the past, and why the decision to go solo now?
Steffen: Martin Mayer aka Fusionsphere Systems developed the engine behind Secret Files. But even despite the fact that he is no longer officially part of it – as he began to study after Secret Files 2 came out – he still supports and helps us when new features need to be embedded in the engine.
AG: You've brought a professional writing team on board for this game. Who is NEOS Film, and what are they contributing to the production?
Steffen: The NEOS Film GmbH is a film production company based here in Munich. They approached us in 2009, looking for IPs which were suitable for a film adaptation. Back then we were searching for a professional author for Secret Files 3. Story, dramatic composition and character development were not really SF1 and 2’s strongest traits. So we got talking to NEOS, who had very good connections to professional writers for TV and cinema, and pitched three different stories. Our three authors, Stefan Holtz, Dirk Ahner and Florian Iwersen, are experienced in Crime Fiction, Comedy and of course Mystery, and have already received awards for their works. Together with NEOS's three film producers, we worked on the process and determined how to manage a fitting integration of tasks and riddles.
AG: Good writing is good writing, but it's much different writing for a movie than a game. Having a film team in charge of the story, how do you bridge that gap?
Steffen: It can be rather trying to balance so many different opinions. In addition, it was necessary to explain that certain things may be possible in a film but would not work in a game. Linearity, for example, works differently in a film. There the audience follows the story passively. There is a certain distance between them and the events that take place on the screen. But in a game, you can never fully anticipate the next move the player will make. Every possible action has to be taken into account and actions, dialogues etc. have to take this into consideration. Differences become apparent as well in terms of character logic and design: If a film dishes out impossible things, one might still overlook that with a smile. If a character is obnoxious the audience hates them (need I mention Jar Jar Binks, for example?). But this does not work in a game if I force the player to do something illogical or play as a completely unappealing character. All things considered, the discussions did cost us a lot of valuable production time. But I think it was worth it. Hopefully you can see for yourself how well we bridged the gap between film script and game story.Continued on the next page...