Mikael Nyqvist - Bosch’s Damnation interview
It's been ten years since Carol Reed started looking into her friend Conrad's death while on a summer vacation in Norrköping, Sweden. She, like the rest of us, would never have guessed that this would lead to a thriving private investigator business a decade later. Created by Mikael Nyqvist of MDNA Games, the Carol Reed mystery series now has a strong fanbase around the world, and this year marks Carol’s tenth anniversary as a PI. Her tenth adventure, Bosch's Damnation, is just around the corner, making this an ideal time to find out more about Carol and the indie developer behind her success.
Willem Tjerkstra: The next Carol Reed adventure will be the tenth already. How do you feel about reaching that milestone?
Mikael Nyqvist: I’ve been so busy making the latest game, I haven’t really given it much thought. All I can say is that it certainly doesn’t feel like the tenth game. It seems like we started yesterday, and I definitely haven’t grown tired of the series yet. And I’m very happy that the players haven’t either.
Mikael Nyqvist often makes a cameo in his own adventures.
Willem: Looking back, did you ever imagine when you started that a decade later things would all turn out like they did?
Mikael: Of course not. After completing the first game, Remedy, we weren’t sure if anybody would want to play the game at all. And when people actually started buying the game, we were worried that they had mistaken it for a real game. [smile]
Willem: Do you still like making the games as much as when you started? What part of the process do you enjoy most about it?
Mikael: I’m still just as excited about making games as I was 10 years ago.
Generally, the further I get into the creative process for each game, the more I enjoy the different stages of the process. I really hate writing the scripts; the finished product is so far away, and each new idea for a scene or a setup is like begging for a future problem. I like taking the pictures, and really believe that I’ve become quite a good photographer. The scripting is difficult, since I’m a lousy programmer. It’s rewarding however, since I finally get to see playable parts of the game.
Willem: Could you tell us a bit about yourself? What did you do before you started making adventure games, and what convinced you to try making games of your own?
Mikael: I have been very much into adventure games since Leisure Suit Larry came out in 1987. When I met my wife Eleen, I introduced her to adventure games with the (first) remake of LSL. We played a lot of the classic games together.
I had been making short films since long before I met Eleen, and we often discussed the possibility of making an adventure game. The idea didn’t materialize until (relatively decent) digital cameras were introduced on the market. This made it possible to take hundreds and even thousands of pictures at a very low cost, and without any extra work or time delay with processing.
Scenes from Remedy, the first Carol Reed mystery
Willem: Did you have any prior experience working on games before Carol Reed appeared?
Mikael: None whatsoever. I made short films for 12 years (22 films in all) before we made our first game. I made the last film together with Eleen, which was the same year we released Remedy. I haven’t touched a film camera since then.
There aren’t many technical similarities between making films and games. However, the working process, planning and the amount of discipline required is more or less the same. So I definitely think that making the first game would have been more difficult without our film making experience.
Willem: Is the making of the Carol Reed games a full time job or do you do other work besides it?
Mikael: I absolutely need a more formal job aside from making computer games. That helps me to keep what at least resembles decent hours. I’m a lawyer, and I work for the Swedish Social Security Agency.
Willem: Why adventure games? Do you have a special fondness for the genre, or was that simply the best way to tell the kinds of mystery stories you wanted to tell?
Mikael: As with most people, I dabble in other game genres. The last few years it has been pinball on Xbox and PC (I was quite a pinball master when growing up). But the only genre I’ve been devoted to through the years is adventure games.
I’m especially intrigued by the non-linear storytelling and the genre’s possibilities of merging puzzle solving with narration.
Willem: How did you come up with the idea of making a game about someone who sort of ‘rolls into’ the PI business?
Mikael: This was a very pragmatic decision. When making Remedy, we knew that the game had to be in English, even though it took place in Sweden. We couldn’t hire English voice actors to do all the speaking parts. So we figured that if our heroine was an Englishwoman visiting Sweden, it would force the other characters to speak English with her. That gave us an excuse for the supporting characters’ Swedish accents.
Willem: Was the name ‘Carol Reed’ at all influenced by the director? Or was there another inspiration for the name?
Mikael: The name “Carol” came up when we discussed names for the main character. Eleen suggested “Carol Reed”, and I said that there was a film director with that name. Eleen said “So what?” I guess that was when it was decided.
Willem: Carol is a very brave lady; she often enters dangerous places totally on her own and unarmed. Isn’t that a bit strange? Or at least reckless?
Mikael: All I know is that she’s gotten out alive every time this far. But I keep telling her to be more careful.
Willem: Each one of your adventures features an historic event or person. Are they all based in reality or did you make some of them up? And how do you find and decide on which themes to explore?
Mikael: Most central historical characters are real, although I usually take some liberties when describing them. Some characters are (quite obviously) fictional.
In the last game, Cold Case Summer, all details and locations related to the Palme murder are authentic. Most of the characters associated with the murder are based on real persons. The final conclusion about the killer and their motives is my personal belief on why the murder was committed.
I made up the whole thing about the Dead City though.
(From top) Locations from Cold Case Summer, The Color of Murder, and Bosch's Damnation
Willem: Where do you discover all the great locations in your games? I take it they are not all around Norrköping anymore. For instance, the Dead City in Cold Case Summer does not look Swedish at all.
Mikael: I spend a lot of time searching for suitable places to use in the games. It’s obvious that I have a preference for old abandoned buildings. They’re visually compelling, easy to build stories around, and people rarely disturb you while you’re photographing them.
The Dead City is an abandoned leper colony in Arico, Tenerife. When I read about it on a web site dedicated to urban exploration (exploration of abandoned ruins), I immediately knew that the next holiday destination was Tenerife.
Willem: Do you need permission to take pictures in certain places?
Mikael: Sometimes, yes. But when it comes to old deserted locations you’re almost always turned down, due to health risks. That’s why I rarely bother to get permission. I’m a lawyer so I have a rough idea about how to get myself out of legal trouble if it comes to that.
Willem: How do you prepare for making the pictures and music for the game? Do you plan out a complete storyboard ahead of time?
Mikael: I always begin with making the music, for some reason. I got into that habit when I made films. I didn’t make the music for the films myself, but I always edited the soundtrack first, and then edited the scenes “over” it.
I don’t make any storyboards, but there is a large amount of planning involved. However, when photographing “on location”, which I almost always do, one has to leave room for plenty of improvisation.
Willem: At the start of the series, the pictures were photoshopped to have a watercolor painting look. Later this became less pronounced and the images now look photographic. Why did you change styles?
Mikael: We wanted to do something different, but the decision was also VERY pragmatic. The digital cameras back then weren’t nearly as advanced as today, and my photographic skills were close to zero. Using a watercolor filter on the images provided a good disguise for pictures that were out of focus or too pixelated.
Just as you point out, I gradually reduced the filter effect. In the end, I thought it was destroying the pictures. In the seventh game, Blue Madonna, I removed it totally.
A scene from Blue Madonna
Willem: What other ways do you think the series has improved over time?
Mikael: I honestly think that each game has been better than the one preceding it. But it might just be that my perception of how to make games has changed over the years.
Each game is slightly longer and bigger than the previous. Bosch’s Damnation is no exception. The first game, Remedy, contained approximately 1,000 still images, while Bosch’s Damnation has almost 1,900.
Willem: Some years ago your wife Eleen disappeared from the credits. Is she not at all involved in the making of Carol Reed games anymore?
Mikael: We planned and wrote the scripts for the first three games together. Without any bad feelings, Eleen felt that I took too much control over the games, which most likely was true.
Willem: With Bosch’s Damnation just about ready for release, can you tell us a bit about it?
Mikael: The game takes place in both winter and summer, which is a considerable difference to the previous games, which all have taken place during summer time. I’m quite satisfied with the winter scenes, although I almost froze my fingers off while shooting them.
A scene from Bosch's Damnation
Willem: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, Mikael. It was an honour for me to interview you. I enjoy your games immensely and hope you will keep making them for a long time.
Mikael: The pleasure was entirely mine!