Cateia Games – Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World interview
It’s the year 1834, and mankind has spread across the galaxy. Distant planets have been terraformed and colonized, and space travel is commonplace. Unfortunately, space pirates (“kribbs”) are running rampant, so a global alliance called the Space Union has formed a counter-strike force of interplanetary police. Like a certain Kaptain Brawe, the barrel-chested, blustery leader of a two-man patrol ship. When the SPS Mazslow receives a distress signal pleading for help, it’s off to the rescue… at least, it might be if only Brawe can fix his robot, the translation machine, and the darn wiring as I guided this would-be space hero through his early mechanical travails in a preview version of the self-titled Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World.
Wait a sec… 1834? Space travel? Yes, you read right. Kaptain Brawe is set in an alternate universe – one that advanced prematurely due to the invention of an ion drive, a technological marvel beyond anything like our own. Yet it’s a world (or collection of worlds) that’s still very much antiquated in other ways. Besides everything breaking down (some things never change), the Kaptain’s ship is a combination of hi-tech gizmos and wood floors, with intercoms that still broadcast in Morse code. It’s a delightful mix of past and future, and provides a whimsical backdrop for this promising sci-fi comic adventure.
But hang on… 2010? Yep, the article date is correct, too, though some readers are understandably thinking they already played this game in 2006. If you’re one of those people, well… you have and you haven’t. Kaptain Brawe began production in the hands of Napthalite Productions, who released an early demo very similar to this four years ago. The playable sampler floored many of us with its stylish graphics and vintage LucasArts-style sensibilities. At that time, it was destined for an episodic release, and the series launch seemed imminent.
And then… nothing. Not a peep, the game apparently cut adrift in the great cosmic void. (I guess it’s true, you really can’t hear sound in space.)
Then, just as suddenly as it disappeared, the game re-emerged recently as a new title from Cateia Games. Not only that, but reportedly almost finished, with a launch date not far off. We’ll let Cateia and the game’s original designer, Petar Ivancek, explain what happened during the intervening years in our interview to follow. Before that, there’s a new, improved version of a familiar scenario to tell you about, and I’m pleased to report that Kaptain Brawe is looking and playing better than ever, though be forewarned that outer space continues to cast a deafening silence on any and all characters involved.
In just about all respects, Kaptain Brawe would have fit in nicely during genre’s heyday. With its lush 2D cartoon art and “verb coin” interface, the game shares more than a few similarities with mid-‘90s titles like The Curse of Monkey Island. That alone is enough to sell some people on the game, and it’s easy to see the appeal. Even within the rather dingy confines of Brawe’s ship, the architecture is wonderfully skewed, the colours are rich and vivid. I haven’t seen this much purple since A Vampyre Story. There are plenty of details as well, from the arrow-shaped carpet pointing to the engine room to the hot model posters (like I said, some things never change) above the bunk beds to the giant speaker horn of the intercom. It’s all silly and goofy, but beautifully done. Unfortunately, I never got off the Mazslow to explore any of the worlds to come, but I can’t wait to see what Ivancek has done with alien planets when he can invest this much character in just a hunk of travelling metal.
Speaking of characters, Brawe is exactly that: a character. With his bushy red beard and bursting with gung-ho bravado, determined to recite morale-boosting slogans for no one besides his exasperated, longsuffering crewman, Ensign Kralek, the Kaptain is unfailingly upbeat. And more than a little dense. He needs instruction manuals to repair even basic operations (which he’ll first have to find and then get translated), and he can’t even spell. His robot is named “Rowboat”, a ship sign points to “Kargo”, and even Brawe’s subtitles are sprinkled with intentional errors. Poor guy can’t even spell “A.S.A.P.” correctly. Think there’s some hidden meaning in the bizarre title spelling? Nope, just the product of a “moron” (as Kralek calls him) in charge of his own marketing, obviously. This flaw is a fun little gimmick in its own right, and as an added bonus, it should help cover up possible translation errors. It’s win-win for everyone!
Alas, those subtitles are all you get on the dialogue front. The orchestral music is wonderful, sometimes quirky and other times majestic, but there is no voice acting at all in Kaptain Brawe. The text font is clear and easy to click through, but it’s all done in silence. That’s a dealbreaker for some, and you know who you are. But I quickly adjusted, and the rather blatantly caricatured personalities made it easy to imagine voices for both Brawe and his crewman. The writing itself was rarely laugh-out-loud funny in the section I played, but did provide several chuckles and it’s all just so playfully lighthearted, it’s impossible not to be charmed by it. There are even some non-essential objects to click on strictly for giggles.
The interface is a snap, with a smart cursor bringing up a secondary icon group when clicked on interactive hotspots, allowing you to look at, talk to, or interact with objects. There’s an objective list with optional hints on how to proceed, and a hotspot highlighter prevents any need for pixel hunting, though all items the demo required were easy to distinguish. That’s good, as the bulk of the gameplay is inventory-based. I encountered one logic puzzle that nicely blended clues from two different sources, but mainly I was collecting items, some of which need to be combined in a distinct inventory screen. In fine “comic adventure” tradition, several solutions will strain real-world credibility, but the clues are clear and the logic straightforward in that “what would Brawe do?” kind of way. There’s nothing too taxing, just good fun. Of course, the sequence I played is from the beginning of the game, so it could very well get more difficult later on when the environments open up.
Whether it’s able to sustain its feel-good beginnings remains to be seen, but Kaptain Brawe is certainly a blast from the beloved old-school past that should definitely appeal to longtime adventure gamers. There isn’t long to wait, either, as the game is due for downloadable release on November 1st. In the meantime, let’s go a bit farther behind the scenes and probe the mysterious disappearance of the Kaptain and krew… err, crew. Tag-teaming for the interview are Cateia’s Ivan Bralic, Kresimir Spes, and Dejan Radic, plus the series creator, Petar Ivancek himself.
Adventure Gamers: The last most of us heard, Kaptain Brawe was an episodic adventure by Napthalite Productions. Clearly a lot has happened in four years. What’s been going on since then, and how did Cateia come to be involved?
Ivan Bralic: Well, Napthalite Productions was a brand owned by the game’s author, Petar Ivancek. But it’s very hard for one man to develop an entire game on his own, especially a game as big as Kaptain Brawe. I can’t remember the exact occasion I first saw the game, but we were really impressed with what we'd seen. Since both Petar and Cateia Games are from Croatia, from the same city to be exact, we decided to meet in person. After enjoying a couple of coffees together, things just clicked the right way. We decided we should work together and finish this game properly, releasing it at least on PC, Mac, Linux and Apple iOS devices.
Cateia Games took over the project some nine months ago and ported it to its own cross-platform engine called CAGE (Cateia games Adventure Game Engine). Despite the fact that 90% of the artwork was already done at that point, it took us this long to put everything together. Kaptain Brawe features some 12-14 hours of gameplay, so nine months of programming and testing seems reasonable after all.
AG: What was the state of the game when you took over?
Kreso Spes: When we took over, the game was made entirely with Visionaire, a cool little adventure game engine but not adequate for our needs. Mainly due to its slower performance and the fact that it was available only for Windows at the time. The game has to run on every iOS device, which means it can consume no more then 20MB of RAM at any given time in low-resolution mode (iPhone 2G/3G and iPod Touch G1/G2) so we had to plan the software design very carefully.
AG: Petar, have you remained personally involved in the project since Cateia has taken over production?
Petar Ivancek: Yes, I've been involved since day one. Of course, since 90% of artwork, story and music was done, I was there to help the guys put it together as closely possible. I am very pleased with the work they did, and Kaptain Brawe now looks and runs much better.
AG: There was a demo way back in the day that presented much the same sequence that I just played in the new version. What’s different now?
Kreso: The first demo was made using the old Visionaire version. The most noticeable changes are in the User Interface design. We spent a lot of time and had many people, both hardcore gamers and casual gamers, try it to come up with a perfect user interface for each platform that will satisfy everyone without making any compromises. We decided against a unified interface on the PC/Mac and iPhone/iPad – that way, both platform advantages can be used to their maximum potential.
Petar: This version is true to my original design, so the gameplay has remained the same. But as Kreso said, overall improvement was done on the interface and a couple of new features, like the hint system and the object highlighting. I think players will appreciate these additions.
AG: For you guys at Cateia, what convinced you that Kaptain Brawe was an adventure worth licensing to complete?
Ivan: When I first saw the old demo, I was pretty impressed with its artwork, character design and the overall atmosphere. I was very fond of the game’s humor and I soon found out that this Kaptain Brawe, an optimistically crazy, English-illiterate, self-convincing, pure-hearted police officer from Eastern Europe is a lovable character that will make you laugh all the time. He has no idea what he's doing, but he's doing it anyway! And he's doing it with all of his heart and terrible English.
Then, we saw some of the other characters like Luna, a secret agent working for the High Space Council, and Danny the reluctant space pirate, along with the bad guy Wrag (who can't pronounce the letter “R” by the way) and the wooden robot called Rowboat – Kaptain Brawe's personal assistant. They were all simply awesome!
Instantly we recognized Kaptain Brawe's homage to old-school adventure games like Monkey Island and Broken Sword. It gave us a strong nostalgic feeling from the good all days when we were kids, playing the aforementioned games all day long on our state-of-the-art 386 computers. And that is something precious we were sure many players would enjoy. We fell in love with the game instantly and couldn't wait to start working on it, and now that I finally see it finished, it makes me believe that this was one of the best decisions Cateia Games has ever made.
AG: This game is a big departure from your more serious adventures so far. Has it been a big adjustment switching from drama to comedy?
Dejan Radic: True…we've stuck around dramatic scenarios for a long time. You could say drama has become our trademark over the years. Serious faces, intrigue, spooky storylines...that’s Cateia's main course. But everything changes… We’ve always tried to out-achieve ourselves with each game we develop! We decided to go with a whole new approach with Kaptain Brawe’s story. And I think we've done it well!
AG: Tell us about Kaptain Brawe, the man.
Petar: Kaptain Brawe is a true point-and-click protagonist. He is naïve, courageous and generally means well, but he also has another side. You will see him get angry, sad and provocative. He believes in the New Space Union, justice and law, even when things around him don't look that way. However, during the game he will have to make a choice. His career or...
AG: Yes, or… We know very little about the plot so far. What kinds of trouble can we expect the Kaptain to get himself into? Or more likely, cause.
Petar: Well, the game features a couple of planets, each making a separate chapter of the story. You will hunt for kidnapped aliens, blow up dams, blow up laboratories, cook and tinker with the latest space technologies. I just realized you blow up everything you come in contact with.
Adventure Gamers: The other planets in this “brawe new world”… Are they anything like Earth, or should we count on some pretty alien (literally) environments to explore?
Petar Ivancek: They are all like Earth. I wanted diversity in the environments, but on the other hand keep them very familiar to players. The planets are just an excuse to change the setting and atmosphere of the game. You will notice that the mood of the story reflects the ambiance of the environments. The first planet that you will play, called Jama Spacea, is a lush, colorful, tropical island, which serves as an intro to the story. Next is Schminkell 7, an icy planet, where you get stuck inside an ice cave. The feeling of isolation is then enhanced with music and artwork. That was the general motif while I was designing the game.
AG: Who are some of the other characters (in every sense of the word) that we’ll meet in our inter-galactic travels?
Petar: On Jama, you will meet a Space War I veteran, space pirates and a crucial (but ever-so-dead) previous owner of the motel. But I assure you, there are no ghosts. Kidnapped aliens appear here as well as Kaptain Brawe's superior, Space Precinct Chief. On Schminkell you will play with a new character and also be introduced to a third. This is an introduction to multi-character gameplay which will evolve on Planet Varion.
AG: The lack of voice acting is always a divisive point among gamers. But you’re a small Croatian studio funding your own games. Explain the challenges in getting a fully localized game to market.
Dejan Radic: We were considering recording voiceovers for the game but unfortunately math is a very cruel science...
Kaptain Brawe has so much dialogue, voicing it all would be a huge undertaking, and although we are aware that the game would have more widespread appeal with voice acting, the cost of recording quality voice-overs is far too high...
We are constantly improving our skills and it isn't too hard to imagine Cateia Games being able to produce high quality, polished voice acting in the near future. However, at the moment, we believe it’s better not to have voice-acting than have bad voice-acting (which we hear too often these days in adventure games).
Kreso Spec: As Dejan said, the amount of text in the game would have sky-rocketed the recording price. We considered recording voice-overs with our local actors which would be affordable, but the local accent would be very noticeable and in our opinion, would be much worse than not having any voice-overs.
Voice acting should be done with native actors to the language the game is being made for, in a studio, with a producer that makes sure everything is being done properly, and all emotions from the script are being transferred to the voice. And that costs a lot! Anything else would produce a sub-standard quality, inadequate of our beloved Kaptain Brawe!
AG: Besides the incredible artwork, what is it about Kaptain Brawe that will appeal most to adventure fans?
Kreso: Kaptain Brawe is no doubt our most ambitious project to date and we've put huge effort into perfecting every detail of the game. I've played the game through and through while testing the programming and the game still manages to make me laugh. I think adventure game fans will mostly appreciate the good old-school feel of the game and its very unique story and clever puzzles.
Petar: To make things clear, I grew up on adventure games and actually learned English through them. When I set out to make Kaptain Brawe, one thing was crystal clear. It had to have that Monkey Island 3 feel to it. Characters need bold, bright and colorful artwork, the backgrounds need that level of detail to keep everything believable. However, it’s the puzzles and interface that will immediately feel right with experienced adventure players.
AG: Is this a standalone adventure now, or are you planning to have more Kaptain Brawe adventures to follow?
Ivan Bralic: Originally, the game was to be released in several episodes, but we decided against it. We don't want to reveal too much information to avoid spoiling the story, but we can tell you that Brawe and his friends will make a huge turnover in their careers through the game. There is a proper ending, but it leaves us much room for possible sequels. If it comes to that (and this mainly depends on the game’s sales), Kaptain Brawe will have a completely different role in this chaos-driven universe.
AG: You’re also releasing the game on iPhone and iPad. Are there any noticeable differences between versions?
Kreso: The pre-retina resolution iPhones and iPod Touches will run the game at a lower resolution (compared to the PC version) but despite that, the game looks remarkably good on such a small device. The iPhone4, iPod Touch G4 and iPad will feature a full HD resolution version of the game. There are noticeable differences in the user interface between PC/Mac, iPad and iPhone versions to make everything intuitive and easy to use on each device.
AG: The PC version will be available for download on November 1st. Any chance of seeing a full retail release of the game some day?
Ivan: We are negotiating with several retail partners for different countries and there will certainly be more than a few retail releases. However, retail releasing takes much more time than digital download, especially if retail partners want to localize the game for their territories and maybe even record voice-overs. Optimistically, I would say that the first retail version of Kaptain Brawe could be expected in spring 2011.
Cateia Games will release the game on November 1st through more than 20 partner sites, including GamersGate. At this very moment, GamersGate is offering exclusive pre-orders of the game for PC and Mac at a special discount of 15% off!
AG: Petar, we’re glad to see this game didn’t disappear for good after all, and thanks to you guys at Cateia for helping make it happen. We appreciate you all taking the time to talk about the game.
Ivan: Jack, thank you for this great opportunity to present our new game to your readers. I hope everyone will spend many entertaining hours playing it!