Daedalic’s 2010 game The Whispered World was celebrated by many players for its return to “classic” adventure elements: 2D cartoon graphics, an epic fantasy storyline, and an abundance of clever puzzles. When I sat down with Daedalic’s Claas Wolter to get a first look at the upcoming sequel, Silence, I wasn’t sure if I was remembering the right game.
Wolter started the preview by showing the opening cinematic, which was released in December as a trailer. In it, a teenage boy named Noah tears his sister Renie away from the snowman she’s building to run to the safety of a bunker, while incoming planes begin to drop bombs on their city. At the end of the three-minute movie, Wolter asked what we thought. My sheepish reply: “Um, wasn’t The Whispered World that game with the clown named Sadwick?”
Spoiler alert for The Whispered World
I’ll admit, I never played The Whispered World. Maybe if I had, I could have figured out the connection between the video’s serious, real-world situation and the comedic fantasy game about the sad-faced clown. Those who did play The Whispered World might already have a hunch about the identity of Silence’s protagonist. If you didn’t, brace yourself for a great big spoiler: Silence’s Noah is the boy who dreamed up Sadwick and his entire adventure.
This apparently darker storyline isn’t the only obvious difference between The Whispered World and its upcoming sequel. The aesthetic has also been overhauled, with striking 3D graphics that use a “camera projection” method. Instead of applying textures to 3D objects to give them color and form, as is normally done in 3D games, Daedalic is building a 3D environment and then projecting a 2D painting onto it. This allows them to reap the benefits of 3D, such as dynamic camera angles and close-ups, while taking full advantage of their 2D artists’ skills. The paintings are meant to be viewed from a specific position—if you were able to pan the camera around you’d see the landscape start to skew as the camera moved too far from the intended perspective—but since the game uses fixed cameras, this limitation should never be apparent to the player. As an added bonus, Silence will run better on lower-end machines than a game with true 3D graphics. And from what I saw, it does look incredible—in fact, that opening cinematic is all in-engine, not a prerendered cutscene. (Check out the video near the end of this article for a better idea of how camera projection works.)
In the game’s first scene, which takes place in the bunker, Noah attempts to distract Renie from the chaos outside by telling her the story of Sadwick and his adventure to save an ailing king in Silence, the land of dreams. Besides catching players up on the events of the first game, this sequence also gets you used to the interface—a departure from Daedalic’s usual approach. Silence uses “one click” mouse controls, with a smart cursor that changes in appearance to indicate what your next task is or what items you’re trying to find. I saw this in action as Noah looked around the bunker for props to use in his storytelling: the cursor turned into a jester hat, suggesting that Noah could only begin to tell Renie the story once he cobbled together a reasonably convincing Sadwick costume.
At points you’ll need to hold down the mouse button and drag the cursor to move items—for example, a heavy rock that must be pushed across the room—giving a more hands-on feel than we’re used to with traditional point-and-click. And in what might prove to be the sequel’s biggest fundamental change, there’s no inventory in Silence. You can pick up one item at a time, but that item will be used nearby, not carried around with you. “Gameplay-wise we want to do things a little differently,” Wolter explained, “to make the puzzles, and how they carry the story forward, more intuitive.”
Some of Silence's supporting characters
Why has Daedalic, whose games have always been faithful to the “old school” adventure format, decided to go in this new direction? “We’ve seen so many games that use heavy story focus but other gameplay opportunities,” Wolter said. “We’ve seen of course the Telltale games, for example—a bigger audience for the gameplay. On the other hand we don’t want to go away from our roots and do something like an interactive movie where you just have to click through, but we want to create gameplay that maybe can attract more players to the story.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean Silence will be deprived of the challenge fans enjoyed in the first Whispered World game. “It’s way more accessible now, without becoming too easy for the core adventure community,” Wolter explained. “We don’t want people to get stuck in a situation because they didn’t find the right item five screens before, or didn’t combine it in the right way, stuff like that. But [we still want to] have them thinking about what’s going on, listening to the dialogues, paying attention to the world around them.”
Though most of what I saw during the demo took place in the bunker, Wolter cautioned that this is the game’s only real-world location. As Noah completes his retelling of Sadwick’s story, a bomb lands outside, throwing the bunker into darkness. When Noah wakes up his sister is gone, her voice calling to him from far away. He picks through the rubble to find her and gradually emerges in a new place, a world littered with items he remembers from his first adventure in Silence years ago. From here on, the game takes place in Silence as Noah and Renie try to reunite and get back home.
Noah and Renie are both playable characters in this game—or, maybe it’s more appropriate to say Sadwick and Renie, because as Noah travels deeper into Silence he will become more like Sadwick in behavior and appearance. Though I didn’t see Renie as a playable character during my demo, I was told to expect some scenes where the game dictates which protagonist you play as and others where you can switch freely between them.
In addition, Sadwick’s sidekick Spot will reappear once you solve a series of puzzles that involve hatching him from an egg. Spot will again be able to shape-shift to help with puzzle solutions, but these shape-shifting puzzles will also be streamlined compared to The Whispered World, with only three shapes for Spot to assume. Still, Wolter said, each shape will have multiple uses—for example, a flat Spot could be used as a cover, as a sail, or slipped under a heavy item to slide it around. Like with the simpler inventory, the goal is to free players to use Spot creatively without getting stymied by a complex series of steps.
In his search for Renie, Noah will learn that Silence’s current situation parallels that of his own war-torn world. He’ll encounter and eventually join up with a group of rebels fighting the “false queen of the Whispered World,” and he’ll need to hide from creatures named seekers, who are roaming the forest looking for blood. “If you die you’re taken back to the situation where you made the wrong decision; you won’t really lose anything,” Wolter says. “It’s not supposed to be a punishment for the player… it’s more to create a feeling that things aren’t all right in the Whispered World at the moment.”
The tone set by the high-octane opening is certainly more grim and serious than in the previous game, and Wolter says this tone will be present throughout: “There will be a certain humor around the cuteness of Renie and Spot, beauty and fascination with the Whispered World, but Silence is also supposed to deal with more mature views. On the other hand, it’s not supposed to totally go away from everything that people loved in the first game.”
Even in this early version, Silence definitely looks promising, with graphical innovations and new approaches to puzzle design beyond any of Daedalic’s games so far. At least, that’s my impression as someone who didn’t play the original and am not protective of it. For die-hard fans of The Whispered World and Daedalic’s other traditional adventures, the changes could be perceived as cause for concern. Should we consider this a new direction for the company?
“We don’t want to get away from traditional adventures—we are working on adventures with classic puzzle design as well—but in addition, we want to create something in between traditional adventure gaming and an interactive movie,” Wolter said. “Definitely with Telltale’s games and all the new buzz around Double Fine, adventure is a popular topic again for the mass gaming media; it’s made people realize that story-driven games can be great fun. And progress and technology—visually stunning games like The Last of Us, and so many console games that attract many more players [than traditional adventures]—have also brought more attention to enjoying a story while playing [a game]. I think the possible market, the technology, the genre has grown to a level where you can finally get out of there.”
“If you really want to take a look from the business point of view, in the past the most business [came from] the very hardcore adventure game-playing scene who wanted to have very traditional puzzles,” he added. “Now, finally, there’s a broader market that allows us to play around with gameplay, without leaving behind the guys who still want that traditional gameplay.”
Silence: The Whispered World 2 is planned for an early 2015 release, on PC and Mac.