Note: Since this article was originally posted, The Rabbit's Apprentice has been renamed to The Night of the Rabbit.
Daedalic Entertainment is no stranger to fantasy adventure, having already given us The Whispered World and The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav. But soon the German studio will send players tumbling deeper down the rabbit hole, so to speak, in the role of The Rabbit's Apprentice, a collaboration with acclaimed indie designer Matthias Kempke.
The Rabbit's Apprentice stars little Jerry Hazelnut, a 12-year-old boy who longs to learn magic. With his summer holidays nearly at an end, Jerry's dream appears to come true when he meets the Marquis de Hoto, a magician willing to take him on as a student. But the Marquis is no ordinary wizard; he's a human-sized talking white rabbit who lives in a world where magic is very, very real. And dangerous. On the journey through his new mentor's home of Mousewood, a land filled with magical creatures and other talking animals, Jerry discovers that he was chosen to play a crucial role in confronting an evil force threatening to tear apart the fabric of reality. But to do so, he'll first need to overcome his greatest fear.
This modern day fairy tale promises many strange characters to interact with, gentle wit, unique puzzles, and a storyline that's whimsical enough to appeal to children, yet complex and philosophical enough to captivate adults as well. That sounds like Daedalic, all right, not to mention the game's formerly-independent project leader. Matt Kempke is the creator of the What Makes You Tick? series, a pair of similarly fanciful adventures with darker undertones set in gorgeous hand-drawn settings, a background that makes this partnership with Daedalic a natural fit for both sides. With production already well underway, we caught up with Matt to discuss the road that led to The Rabbit's Apprentice, and of course to learn more about the game itself.
Adventure Gamers: The White Rabbit in Wonderland, Harvey (both Edna's and Jimmy Stewart's), the Easter Bunny, even Max... What is it about rabbits that makes them so ideally suited as magical fantasy creatures? You just never hear of many anthropomorphic aardvarks.
Matt Kempke: Well, the Puca in the original Harvey is a creature that shows how impossible it is to draw a clear boundary between normal or insane – a creature that doesn't fit into a sane and scientific world. The White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland is the one who crosses the border between here and Wonderland – and Alice follows.
And then there are magicians' rabbits. Where do those guys come from? What's their intention? And what's magical about them anyway? Are they to be trusted? When you write a game about magic, those are the questions you have to face at a certain point.
Our game about young Jerry Hazelnut and his rabbit teacher faces these questions – but just like in James Stewart's Harvey the answers are a bit more … complicated. And that's where our story gets interesting, I believe.
If aardvarks had such a rich past of imaginative depictions, maybe they'd end up in games and movies more often. We can only hope. I am pro-aardvark, by the way. (But only if that's a good thing.)
AG: The Marquis comes from a magical place called Mousewood. Is that a hidden land somewhere here on Earth, in another dimension, or a faraway different world entirely? (Or is this overthinking magic?)
Matt: That is a good question – we have all of them: hidden places, other dimensions and even a moth monastery. But back to your question: The Marquis is a special kind of magician, the kind who uses magic natural gateways between worlds (so called portal trees) to travel between different times, places and possibilities. Mousewood is one of those worlds. A place where mice and squirrels can talk and run restaurants and radio stations. The Marquis travels with Jerry to Mousewood because that's where he has trained students for ages. But the citizens of Mousewood don't know much about magic and, strangely enough, most of them don't remember the Marquis when he returns to Mousewood to train Jerry. Pretty mysterious, right?
AG: Very mysterious, I'd say. What's Mousewood itself like?
Matt: Mousewood is a bit like a human town or village might have been a hundred years ago, but since the inhabitants there are all mouse-sized, as is Jerry when he arrives there, their perspective on the world is a bit different from ours. Nature plays an important role in the game. Even magic stems from nature – at least in our story. There are several old portal trees hidden in the forests of Mousewood. Jerry has to find them and the magical creatures that cross back and forth between the worlds through the portals, in order to learn spells from them.
Exclusive concept art of a very "important" tree in The Rabbit's Apprentice.
AG: Does the bulk of the game take place in Mousewood, or is time split between there and the "real" world?
Matt: We will spend a good amount of time in Jerry's world, which could be yours or mine, then there's Mousewood, and then there's also other worlds beyond the portals of Mousewood, among them even the north pole, which Jerry visits during the game. But in the end he will have to venture beyond the borders of our reality to find out why he was chosen to be the Rabbit's Apprentice in the first place.
AG: Who are some of the other characters players will meet in Mousewood?
Matt: In Mousewood, players will very likely run into Plato the Frog, who's working as a mailman there, then there's Conrad the Owl and Jonathan Squirrel, who form the city council, and Anja Mouse from the tree stump café, an angry dwarf, a mysterious wood sprite and even more magical creatures like the Japanese fox girl Kitsune or the giant rock toad. But even the smallest guys in Mousewood like the city watch mice, the rabbit family, the radio host mole or the backpack mouse who don't know much about magic at all are pretty cool people. I know that, I've met them.
AG: What are some of the magic spells we'll learn in this game, and how will they be utilized? Will they work like de facto "inventory" items, or will spell-casting be a more involved process?
Matt: Well, the magic spells are pretty secret. So I definitely can't tell you about it. Really. Well, if you insist ... among the spells might be the ability to hear statues whisper about what they've seen … but then again, that could just be hearsay. The spells might be available in the inventory, but even if I spilled the beans here, where and from whom you learn them and when to use them is what makes them so interesting and mysterious. And later Jerry will have to use the spells he learned in a different way altogether, when he faces the Great Zaroff. Who is the Great Zaroff? Well, just head on to the next question to find out!
AG: Whoa, how did you know what I was going to ask next? You must be magic too! (Either that or you read my questions ahead of time.) But yes, here goes... Wherever there's magic, there always seems to be someone ready and willing to abuse it. What can you tell us about the "evil force" threatening to tear apart the fabric of reality?
Matt: The German title of our game is The Rabbit's Apprentice: Im Bann des Zaroff, which translates as “the Spell of Zaroff”, and you can even see his vile shadow on the box art. So yes, we have a villain who is named the Great Zaroff. And when someone is named after the scary master hunter from The Most Dangerous Game then it's pretty obvious that he really is up to no good. But WHO is Zaroff? How is he related to the story, Jerry and the Marquis de Hoto? That will be revealed in the game. Oh, and then there's the lizards, of course. The Consortium Squamata. They are pretty vile, too ...
AG: The human protagonist is 12-year-old Jerry Hazelnut. What do we know about him?
Matt: Jerry Hazelnut lives with his mother on the edge of a large city. He's really into magic and magicians and comic books and cartoons – and two days before the end of his summer holidays, Jerry runs into a well dressed man-sized rabbit with red eyes …
For now I can only say that them meeting is probably not a coincidence.
AG: Does he simply have an interest in magic tricks, or is his fascination with magic part of an escapist fantasy from his life?
Matt: It clearly is both. Jerry is not very keen on returning to school after the holidays. Probably because there he's given the stage name “The Great Nut”, as his magic tricks and his love for magic make him a bit of an underdog. And who of us wasn't? Magic is for Jerry what for some of us was science fiction or fantasy or for me Masters of the Universe or Star Trek. Yes, I suffered in school. But look where I'm now! Top of the world, Ma! Top of the world!
AG: Apparently Jerry will need to overcome his "greatest fear". I doubt you're ready to spill the beans as to what that entails (or are you?!), but are we talking about a crisis of faith of some kind, or a tangible, world-shattering, Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man kind of deal?
Matt: Jerry won't be able to blow up his greatest fear with a proton pack, because it is indeed a crisis of faith but also a real physical danger that he has to face. The game starts out with a promise and when that promise is broken, Jerry will have to face that “greatest fear”.
AG: A bit of Jerry in you? Or more the Marquis?
Matt: Well, a bit of both, I think. Jerry is naïve and open minded, while the Marquis is the adult who is able to make Jerry believe that he knows everything and is in control. Maybe you need a bit of the boy's view of the world to keep the Marquis in you in check, and a bit of the Marquis to make sense of the world's chaos with style.
In our story, the different views of the world – the boy's, the Marquis', Zaroff's – are the results of the characters' pasts and we will learn how each character's experiences and decisions shaped them. So, even the villains in the game are a part of me somehow, but which I hope to avoid. Especially the lizards … they are really vile.Continued on the next page...