Dreamfall Chapters - Ragnar Tørnquist interview

Dreamfall Chapters - Ragnar Tørnquist
Dreamfall Chapters - Ragnar Tørnquist

Ragnar Tørnquist surprised and delighted many adventure fans when he recently formed his own studio, Red Thread Games, and announced that the team would at last be giving us a new installment in The Longest Journey saga. Since then, the overwhelming response to Dreamfall Chapters on Kickstarter has offered definitive proof that TLJ remains of the most popular adventure game franchises of all time. With the fundraising campaign soon drawing to a close, we had a talk with the acclaimed writer/designer to chat about the past, present and future of Stark, Arcadia, and his independent development studio in Norway. 

Ingmar Böke: Hello Ragnar, it’s my pleasure to welcome you to Adventure Gamers. You recently launched your Kickstarter campaign for Dreamfall Chapters with enormous success. Obviously The Longest Journey saga has tons of loyal fans that have waited for this moment for many years, but did you ever expect SUCH an overwhelming response to your work? And what are your thoughts on the campaign so far?

Ragnar Tørnquist: Hi, and thank you! No, we really did not expect such an overwhelming response to our Kickstarter campaign. Our most optimistic projection was $200,000 in the first twenty-four hours, and we didn’t really think we’d get that much.

We made more than twice that in less than a day, and we were completely blown away by the support and generosity of our fans.

We were expecting to be biting our nails from start to finish, but we met our original target in a week, and we recently passed the $1 million mark, which is amazing. There’s only a handful of games that have made this much money, and we’re both honoured and humbled to be amongst them. Our fans are simply incredible, and there are apparently a LOT of them. More than we thought.

Ingmar: What lessons did you learn from previous crowdfunding campaigns, and which positive examples influenced your own Dreamfall Chapters campaign?

Ragnar: We looked closely at pretty much every big Kickstarter there’s been, from Double Fine Adventure and onwards, but the campaigns we’ve learned the most from were Project Eternity and Broken Sword. Those two provided the model for what we wanted to do and accomplish, and we felt both were very well run campaigns that reflected the level of ambition and professionalism we were aiming for.

We spent many months analysing other campaigns and building our own, before we felt ready to launch, and that time – all the research and analysis – was definitely time well spent.

Ingmar: I’d love to crunch some numbers. $850,000 (really less, after all the Kickstarter expenses) plus a $175,000 grant from the Norwegian Film Institute to develop the prototype doesn’t sound like much for such an ambitious project. You stated before that there will be some more money from other sources, and your campaign has already gone over its minimum target, but presumably you will still have a budget that’s a lot smaller than the one for Dreamfall. Can you compare it with the budgets of TLJ and Dreamfall, and explain the financial situation for Dreamfall Chapters in detail?

Ragnar: I can’t go into all the details, since some things are still in flux, but the budget for Chapters is definitely lower than the budgets for both TLJ and Dreamfall. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but I would guess TLJ cost about $2-3 million, and Dreamfall probably twice that, maybe around $5 million. Of course, we had a lot of inexperienced people – including myself! We pretty much built our own engines and all of the tools, and we lacked the management experience to have an effective and optimal production pipeline.

With Chapters, we have an established, functioning engine in Unity; we have a highly experienced and motivated team that has worked together in the past; and we have key learnings from previous games, which allows us to design more efficiently and to not waste time on content and features that we need to cut.

The Kickstarter money won’t be enough on its own, but combined with our own funds, the grant we’ve received, and some other sources of income, we will be able to bring the game in on time and budget – a lot cheaper and a lot more efficiently than a larger developer would be able to.

Autumn in Marcuria (in-game screenshot from Dreamfall Chapters)

Ingmar: Can you give us an idea of what that efficiency means when it comes to the creation of Chapters?

Ragnar: It simply means that we are able to plot out the story and gameplay in detail and to stick with that plan. We will still do tweaks along the way, of course, and we will still need to change things when we start testing and playing the game, but much less so than with previous projects. We also know exactly where the story is heading and where it ends, and we can focus on telling that story and wrapping up all the loose threads. In addition, we have so much experience budgeting and managing large projects, it’s going to be a lot easier to run a small and tight team, and a game as manageable as Chapters.

There will still be hurdles and surprises, of course, but we know how to handle those. We are capable of making the right changes at the right times, simply because we’ve done this so many times before.

Ingmar: Since you’re working with many familiar faces at Red Thread Games, now's a good chance to introduce the team.

Ragnar: We have a bunch of people from the Dreamfall core team, including art director Christer Sveen, co-writer Dag Scheve, technical directors Eigil Jarl Halse and Kjetil Hjeldnes – who also worked on The Longest Journey – and Sigbjørn Galåen. On the technical side, we have my brother Audun, who also worked on TLJ, along with Quintin Pan, who has experience from The Secret World. On the management side, there is Rakel Johnsen, who was senior project manager on The Secret World, and of course we have Martin Bruusgaard onboard as lead designer – he held that position previously on The Secret World.

We’re going to add a few more people to the team in the months ahead, but we don’t plan on growing too big. At least not yet.

Sunset in Shady Quay (in-game screenshot)

Ingmar: I imagine you must have a feeling of unlimited freedom right now. Talk about the mood at Red Thread Games at the moment, and how this independence from publishers is the model of the future.

Ragnar: The mood is great at the office! I think everyone feels privileged and lucky to be able to work on this project at this time, and to have received so much support and love from our community. We know that this freedom isn’t unlimited, and that it comes with a lot of responsibilities, but we also know that we are the architects of our own fate, and that it’s entirely up to us to make a great game and to tell a good story.

The crowd-funding model is definitely one that will have a great impact on how games are made. It’s not going to be the way ALL games are made, obviously, and this model isn’t for everyone, but for us it’s changed everything – it’s allowed us to take charge and forge our own path. It’s allowed us to approach this game on our own terms, with our fans and supporters in mind, and to avoid the whole process of selling an idea to a publisher and making compromises in order to raise money. We have an audience, and that’s who we’re making the game for: adventure gamers, players who love great stories and characters, who can appreciate a challenging and mature game, and who are looking for more depth, more meaning, more soul.

Ingmar: Let's talk about the actual game now, starting with what you can tell us about the plot of Chapters. I'm sure you’re keeping many things tightly under wraps for now, but perhaps you can tease us a little.

Zoë Castillo (in-game screenshot)

Ragnar: The story starts where Dreamfall left off. Zoë is in a coma, trapped inside the Storytime. The resistance in Marcuria has received a serious blow. WatiCorp’s Dreamer has been released. Things are looking quite bleak. It’s almost a year since the events of Dreamfall, and players have to help Zoë confront her past self, her fears and hopes and dreams, and to be reborn into the world...

I don’t want to spoil too much, but I can safely say that most of the questions players had at the end of Dreamfall will be answered, or at least addressed, and that we will resolve the cliffhangers that players may have been frustrated with after the previous game.

Ingmar: When people hear the word “chapters”, many probably think about episodic games, when in fact that idea has been abandoned for a while now. So... since Dreamfall Chapters will NOT be an episodic game, please explain the context of the word “chapters” for this game.

Ragnar: Chapters refers to the chapters of life, to the passage of time, to the phases we pass through on our journey from birth to death. It’s the theme of the game, and a really important part of the story itself. Dreamfall Chapters also takes place over almost a whole year; seasons pass along with the chapters in our characters’ lives.

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Mar 1, 2013

Great interview! Nice to see that Ragnar was so inspired by one of my other favorites, Jane Jensen.

Mar 1, 2013

“We worked every weekend for over a year, and I distinctly remember arriving at the office one Sunday in the early afternoon, and working nonstop until Tuesday morning, when I fell asleep in front of the computer and drooled all over my keyboard. Good times!”

Awesome! Smile
Thank you for this interview. November 2014 seems so far away!

CoyoteAG CoyoteAG
Mar 1, 2013

Great interview! It’s awesome that my favorite adventure game of all time (The Longest Journey) was partly inspired by my favorite TV show of all time (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)!

Mar 1, 2013

Sounds great!  Can’t wait!

Mar 1, 2013

I have absolutely NO idea what the interviewer was on about when they said “Dreamfall did a fantastic job of merging gameplay and story…”, (seriously?!?), but a good interview nonetheless. Tongue

It’s been a pretty comprehensively (and encouragingly) successful kickstarter thus far. May the last 7 days bring more of the same. Smile

Mar 2, 2013

Okay, I’ve been reading this site for years and I finally created an account just so I could comment on this. 

Thank you Ingmar for the wonderful interview.  I’ve read a bunch of articles on Mr. Tørnquist but I think this one gave me more information than I’ve seen before.  Well done.  It was thanks to Adventure Gamers that I became excited about TLJ more than a year before I ever played it and I’ve been following the series on here ever since. 

I love his explanation of why they chose the name Chapters.  And I totally agree that as an art form games are still in their infancy.  I’ve been playing games since the 80’s so I have loved watching how they evolved.  And most of all, I’m so glad that I never lost faith in the adventure genre, even during it’s “mostly dead” phase, so that now I get to enjoy another great game by a great storyteller.

after a brisk nap
Mar 2, 2013

Haha, yeah, I’m with A.A. Most of the “gameplay” in Dreamfall was abysmal, with broken fighting, broken stealth, extremely iffy chase sequences, and otherwise very little in the way of actual gameplay (to the point where I’d argue that it doesn’t really qualify as a “game” at all). The only reason I’m willing to back Chapters is that Ragnar recognizes and acknowledges the flaws, and is promising to take it back to a more traditional style, with actual meaningful challenges integrated with the story instead of relying on a few poorly-implemented mechanics to provide challenge.

He and Red Thread might make mistakes in the design and implementation, but hopefully they won’t be the same mistakes.

Ingmar Ingmar
Mar 2, 2013

“I have absolutely NO idea what the interviewer was on about when they said “Dreamfall did a fantastic job of merging gameplay and story…”,  Well, as long as the interviewer (me) knows what he what talking about that’s fine and I mean just what I said. I’ll admit that gameplay in Dreamfall had its rough edges, but I feel like the way it used interactivity helped driving the plot forward and did a fantastic job when it comes to creating immersion (which is probably the key thing I’m looking for). Pretty much the opposite of every traditional point and click adventure game where puzzles get in the way of telling a story.  But let’s not start a discussion on that (no point behind that, as we’re not gonna have any result anyway) and focus on Ragnar.

Mar 2, 2013

I was just being cheeky. No offence intended.  Smile

Anyway, it seems Ragnar’s going to go for the middle-ground between what you and what I look for in adventure games.

Will be difficult to accomplish, but best of luck to him, eh?

And I repeat: Good interview, I enjoyed reading it.

Ingmar Ingmar
Mar 2, 2013

Thanks a lot, JDSandara Very happy about your words! Smile By the way: I can understand that people say Dreamfall barely was a game. I can also understand when people say the same about Heavy Rain or The Walking Dead, but I guess it’s a question of what each one of us wants. A game or an overall experience that uses interactivity in different ways than a “usual” game. I made my choice, but I think we can all coexist with our different expectations towards interactive storytelling.

inflikkt inflikkt
Mar 2, 2013

awesome interview! this is truly an exciting time Smile

im really curious about journey after reading about it how it was his fav game last year… too bad theres no pc port!! it looks really creative

tsa tsa
Mar 4, 2013

I’m very happy Chapters will not be an episodal game. Let’s hope it’s really finished by next year. It will be great to play a new TLJ game again.

Mar 7, 2013

For me I loved April Ryan much much more than Zoe.

Jun 14, 2013

Well, I had to watch Dreamfall on youtube, but I loved TLJ a lot so I joined Kickstarter for this. I am looking forward to it.

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