AG: You're no stranger to the adventure scene, having previously designed the What Makes You Tick? series. Tell us a little about your background and how you came to be an adventure game developer.
Matt: At the end of the '90s I was still in school, and after I played The Curse of Monkey Island I was hooked. I loved the game's setting and mood, the music and the dialogue. The previous games were great too, but here the voice acting and the backgrounds just formed something very new and important for me. An artistic vision of a world coming to life in a fashion I had never seen before. I even made my own Monkey Island website that was hosted on mixnmojo. That's how I met my very, very good friend Greg MacWilliam, who had a Grim Fandango website there. The sites were swept away by the tides of time, but we kept in touch and met and travelled together.
Greg later created the wonderful LASSIE adventure game engine and I promised him to make a game with it – which then became What Makes You Tick? (freeware, 2007). Two years later we made WMYT: A Stitch in Time together, which Greg also produced and which was finished in 2010. It is a full length continuation of the story of WMYT. We both worked very hard for 1.5 years to finish the game. And though we are happy with the outcome, we both agreed never to do anything like that again because we wanted to stay alive and sane. I went back to university and Greg continued his job as a programmer and designer.
And then, in the fall of 2010, my brother Sebastian had an idea for a game … about a boy and a rabbit. And it started all over again. Just 5 months later and 4 months before my last exams at university, I went to the good people of Daedalic in Hamburg to pitch our game. One month after my last exam, I started working on the project.
Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you about this: in 2001, I mailed Jonathan Ackley who directed The Curse of Monkey Island to ask him how to get into the position to be able to make such fine games. And to my amazement he replied and told me in a pretty long and friendly mail that the best way is to make your own game and show it around. Without his kind and honest advice I might never have made any games at all. True story.
AG: Certainly can't argue with that advice. Since you took it to heart, what lessons learned from your previous games have helped you in making this one?
What Makes You Tick: A Stitch in Time
Matt: I learned how to write puzzle and dialogue scripts and how to plan backgrounds and such. During that creative process, it is very important to keep your doubts about your own work in check (although those doubts are a good thing for artists at times, I think). In such a case it helps a lot to be able to draw from past experiences. When you sit in front of a blank piece of paper to write puzzles, dialogue or to draw a background it can freak you out a lot, especially if you know that you need to be done in time. So believing in your own abilities helps – but it is also important to know when you might need help. For me, writing puzzles is something you need two brains for. For WMYT: A Stitch in Time I worked with Greg, and in the case of The Rabbit's Apprentice I worked with Ulrich Wanitschke, who was with Daedalic at the time. He was a really great co-writer for the puzzles.
AG: Who are some of your inspirations, either thematically or as a game designer?
Matt: For The Rabbit's Apprentice I'd say it's part Wind of the Willows, part Hayao Miyazaki, part Neil Gaiman and part Monkey Island. My brother came up with the initial idea of Jerry and the Marquis meeting and going through a portal tree … the Marquis was supposed to stare through Jerry's window the night before so the player should get an eerie feeling about this rabbit who takes the boy away. And it was my job to think about where the two go and why. And that's what The Rabbit's Apprentice is still about. So my brother Sebastian was a huge inspiration, too. But don't tell him.
AG: Your secret's safe with me (no promises for the thousands of people reading this). You've done quite a bit of world travelling yourself (though never as far as magical lands, as far as I know). Tell us about some of your real life adventures, and how those have influenced you and your games.
Matt: Well, with Greg I've hiked through the Swiss Alps, through Prague and went on a camping trip through the deserts and woods in the American West. I've been to Ireland and I always loved to do day trips with friends into the woods or old caved-in buildings at the edge of town. I love exploring and seeing something new or unexpected around the next corner, be it in a foreign place or just on the other side of town. This is what I love to do in games, too.
I studied Japanese Culture and Language and African Cultures, but I've never been there simply because when my mates at university went abroad, I was always working on a game. But still, what I've read and seen has influenced me a lot, too, and at some point I really need to go there.
AG: Daedalic's previous games have always had a nice blend of humour and whimsy with some surprisingly mature dramatic undertones. Would you characterize The Rabbit's Apprentice like that?
Matt: Well, the games that the talented Jan “Poki” Müller-Michaelis does have a very unique humour that I really like a lot. The Rabbit's Apprentice also has a lot of humour, but more like you've seen in my previous games. We also have dramatic undertones and hopefully you'll sob at one or two points – but also feel courage rising in yourself, as Jerry stands tall, and maybe you will also be scared or touched here and there. Our soundtrack by the wonderful Tilo Alpermann will, without doubt, help to convey these emotions, too.
AG: Your earlier games were purely indie titles. What convinced you that Daedalic was the right fit for this game as a partner/publisher, and how are the responsibilities on this game divided?
Matt: I approached Daedalic in the spring of 2011 and told them about our – me and my brother's – game idea. Since they are located in Hamburg, the place I was born and was aiming to live in, and I really like their games, I simply felt that it was my duty to try to go and talk to them. They were all really friendly and in the end the game went into production half a year later.
I am employed at Daedalic and am the creative lead for the project. That means that I get to work with many gifted people who help making the game.
AG: Would you classify The Rabbit's Apprentice as "old-school", or will you throw in some modern wrinkles to keep players on their toes?
Matt: The game is old school at heart, but I've tried to come up with some concepts that will make this game a bit more modern. For example, we simplified the controls for the game: the player can interact with characters or objects with just one click. In addition, we hid many collectable extras in the game. Also we got rid of some of the things I didn't like too much in old-school games … at one point in the game it should become pretty obvious what I think about sliding puzzles.
AG: What stage is the game at now, and when can we look forward to seeing it on store shelves?
Matt: We just recorded the voices for the German version and are in the beta-phase. The release for the German version is planned for November this year. An English version will probably be available sometime next year.
AG: Argh! The inevitable English language release delay... But this sounds like it will be worth the wait, and we certainly look forward to seeing more of The Rabbit's Apprentice in the coming months. Thanks for the early glimpse into the game, and good luck with the project.
Matt: Thank you very much and also thanks for your interesting questions. Keep up the good work! And also thanks to your readers for their endurance and patience with me if they've made it that far through the interview.
May the aardvarks live long and prosper! (… by now I'm sure that's a good thing!)