Chris Bateman – Discworld Noir interview - page 2

Stefan: Again, did you get any feedback from Mr. Pratchett on how Ankh-Morpork was to be represented?

Chris: I don't know if Gregg showed Nick's concept sketches to Terry, but I'll bet he did. It was too laborious a process to make changes after modelling and rendering. 

Stefan: How did you go about designing the characters of Noir? Did you work in conjunction with artists who had worked on other Discworld media (i.e. the book cover illustrator)?

Chris: Josh Kirby? No, his only contribution was the box cover, which I have to say I didn't think was up to Josh's usually high standards. He died two years later, so perhaps he wasn't in the best of health... 

Stefan: For all three games, how much freedom were you given in the design of the characters? I ask this as I assume this would have been an important detail for Sir Terry.

The first Discworld adventure drew almost entirely from Pratchett's existing cast of characters

Chris: Well the first two draw almost entirely from the existing characters, and have the farcical tone of the early Discworld novels – which makes sense, given they star Rincewind, who is rather removed from the stage once the core cast (the Watch, on the one hand, and the Witches on the other) of Noir’s world is introduced, but I was given tremendous freedom with the story and characters – except, as already mentioned, for names, which were much more closely supervised.

Stefan: As much as I love Discworld Noir, even I must accept the fact that certain elements are a little rough around the edges. I think it’s safe to assume that, this not being a big budget title, concessions were probably made throughout production, particularly as the company was in the process of a court disagreement.

Chris: You are absolutely correct. We ran out of money, and we cut some corners. But we were far from the only point-and-click to have done so. No-one could suggest the final act of Broken Sword was anywhere near as polished as the first act, in Paris. Honestly, we should have scaled down the game at some point, and this had been proposed internally at Perfect... But it didn't happen that way. We'd have lost a lot from the game if we had.

Stefan: Do you remember any of the corners that had to be cut, or entire elements never included?

Chris: One sequence, just after Lewton has become a werewolf as he is befriended by Gaspode, was completely cut. It would have required animating a Lewton-wolf, and we just couldn't make it work. So I rewrote that section to remove the adventures Lewton and Gaspode have together. It was nice, but we really didn't need it. Other than that, a lot of budget cuts manifested as intended 30 second FMV cut scenes being reduced to 5 seconds. It was brutal, but efficient. 

Stefan: Obviously another aspect that made the entire series great was the top-notch voice acting. Due to the darker narrative, I’m assuming the approach had to be different for Noir compared to the previous titles?

Chris: I wasn't involved in the voice recording for the first two (which is a shame, as I would have loved to work with Jon Pertwee and Eric Idle!), so I can only really talk about the studio time for Noir. The biggest difference was in casting, but even then the same policy applied, which was to not skimp on the budget for voice talent because that was one of the hallmarks of quality games – especially at that time, when voice acting was still... well... let's just say there was a lower standard for what was acceptable on that front. For Perfect, though, we judged voice by the standards of any other medium. We had to be good enough to stand tall.

Stefan: I was personally shocked at how different the voices for some characters (particularly the Patrician and Vimes) sounded to how I imagined them. I also noticed that some recurring characters (i.e. Nobby) sounded different when compared to past entries. How exactly were voices decided for characters, particularly famous characters from the books? Where there any other disagreements about voices or casting decisions besides Vimes?

Chris: I voice directed but I wasn't involved in casting. Gregg was definitely running the process, but it's possible Angela Sutherland (who ran the company) was also involved, and Terry may have been as well. I know there were some voices in the first two games Terry hadn't liked, so I hope we were closer to what was in his head with Noir. We certainly were with Vimes!

Stefan: The voice acting and characters in Noir are fantastic. Any personal favourites? I recall reading in another interview that Butler was a memorable one (for me too).

Lewton was voiced by Rob Brydon, as were Vimes, Nobby and several other characters during long days in the recording studio

Chris: I adored working with Robert Lewellyn, and yes, his Butler was superb, and my favourite of the voice performances. He also laughed at my jokes, which was great. I had a running tally of the number of jokes in the script that cracked up the voice talent, because some were mine and some were edited in by Terry. I don't remember who won, but it was fun 'keeping score."

I also adored working with Kate Robbins, who voiced all the female characters. Her Carlotta makes the game, but it was her performance of the troll torch singer Sapphire that most bedazzled me. She came in and performed the song (written by Paul Weir) from the sheet music in one take. I was gobsmacked – what a pro! 

Stefan: Kudos goes to the music in Noir. Again, very different from the games that came before. Not only that, there’s something very unique about many of the pieces compared to just about any other music I’ve heard in films, television or other games.

Chris: Paul did the entire score, and it was a work of genius. It draws against film noir orchestration with a healthy influence from jazz. There were two songs, and I co-wrote one of those with Paul, which was good fun. We worked together again on Ghost Master (another genius project spearheaded by Gregg), which also has an inventive score. It was one of the first games with fully dynamic music too. 

Honestly, we had an amazing music department at Perfect – the head of audio, Rob Lord, was a session musician with Michael Jackson at one point; that's the calibre of talent we're dealing with. Rob and another of our musicians, Mark Bandola, supported The Crazy World of Arthur Brown at the ICA [Institute of Contemporary Arts] one night while I was working on Noir. That was an amazing gig! 

Stefan: This is a question regarding all three entries: How enthusiastic were the voice actors for the games? How much input did they have into the portrayals, particularly characters directly from the books? Did they have the freedom to experiment lines and voice styles, or did they (and you) have to stick to very strict conditions? I ask this partly because, these being comedy games, the delivery of jokes and puns is paramount above just about all else. That, and I’m just nosey.

Chris: I can only speak to Noir's recordings, but there was a definite process we were following, under the expert command of Rob, who did all the studio recordings for all the games. I voice directed, but Rob was in charge of the show.

First, we'd get the talent comfortable in the booth. Sometimes that was trivial – Kate was in and away like she did it every day (which she more or less does!); Nigel Slater took a long time to satisfy himself that everything was in order. It was exacting, but it saves time in the long run as there were almost no retakes for microphone pop and so forth in his sessions. Once they were settled, we'd try on a few voices. It was a collaborative process deciding which way to go in that regard. Once we'd got the voice, we launched into the lines. I'd occasionally call a retake because of an issue with emphasis, and Rob would sometimes need a second take for technical reasons, but once we got rolling it was smooth.

But I feel for Rob Brydon. Every other voice performer was in for one day; Rob's script took five days. And it was hard work too... There's some dramatic lines for Lewton, but there's a lot of boring nuts-and-bolts, too. To make it worse, the script export had accidentally duplicated some lines for each place they appeared. The line "Sometimes a door is just a door" came up so often I swear Rob was ready to knife me in the chest by the final day of recording! 

Stefan: There were a few famous or semi-famous names attached to the voice cast for the three games. Did you ever find yourself star struck at any point?

Chris: Star struck? No, not really. I don't think I appreciated at the time how lucky I was to be working with such amazing talent. It was just business as usual! What did I know? I was so early in my career at that point, I had no idea how lucky I was!

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Dec 18, 2017

Thanks for the great interview!

“Nigel Slater” is probably “Nigel Planer”.

Jan 19, 2018

What a great interview! I read the whole thing while listening to the Peter Weir soundtrack (which I hadn’t listened to in years).
I got the game back then when I lived in France but I never realized it didn’t come out in the US… shame.

PS: I remember busting my head on the Magnet-Boots puzzle with the goblin in Discworld 2

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