Chris Bateman – Discworld Noir interview - page 4

Stefan: You mentioned reading as much as 75% of all the Discworld books. No easy feat considering how many of them there were, even at that point. Did you continue reading Discworld after the final game? What’s your favourite book?

Chris: I actually have read very little fiction at all after Noir because I picked up, as Mr Scoplett says in Noir, "a bad case of philosophy..." Reading philosophy completely supplanted fiction for me – at least until I had kids to read to. I can't wait for them to be old enough to read Discworld books too... what a treat that will be!

Guards! Guards! is perhaps Bateman's favourite Pratchett book, given its focus on the Ankh-Morpork City Watch

As for my favourite, it might be Guards! Guards!, although I think Feet of Clay (which came out during my work on Noir) might be a more sophisticated novel. I also like Pyramids and Reaper Man, but the Watch are the stars of Ankh-Morpork for me, and the city is the crown of the Discworld series. That it draws against Leiber's Lankhmar is the icing of the cake. (Terry liked to downplay the influence of Leiber's Death on his own version at times... But it's hardly a secret that he was inspired by those books, nor that he took it far further than Leiber.)

Stefan: Do you still have any assets from the games, such as concept art, pictures, or earlier builds? If not, do you know if they still exist and where they might be?

Chris: Sadly, I don't think I do. I wish I did. I bet there's still some stuff out there – John Young, who lead the PlayStation team, may still have some. That said, I have files in deep storage... There might just be Discworld sketches in one of them. You never know – I am a hoarder!

Stefan: At the time you were making the Discworld games, how much of a fan were you and the rest of Perfect Entertainment of adventure games? Did you create the Discworld games as adventures because it was the genre you loved and wanted to work in? Was it because you were required to make them in that genre, or thought it was the genre best suited for a Discworld game?

Chris: It was a genre with a strong market throughout the nineties and it was a genre that thrived off a big art team and a small programming team, which was a practical set of resources to set up. I think Gregg had a deep love of the form too – one of his first games was a port of The Hobbit for Melbourne House. But 1996 changed games forever, and the point-and-clicks were on borrowed time from that point onwards. The writing was on the wall... 

Stefan: Outside of your own creations, do you have any personal favourite adventure games? Furthermore, did any other adventures influence the design of your Discworld games? Were you / are you a fan of point-and-click adventures?

Chris: As part of the research, I played a good number of point-and-clicks. I remember enjoying the narrative work in both The Dig (LucasArts) and Broken Sword, which was made by the other British point-and-click developer, Charles Cecil's Revolution Software. I was less impressed by the structural design, and that might have influenced me to push harder on that side of Noir's narrative design. And there was a puzzle I really hated in Broken Sword: the goat. Man, that annoyed me.

But my favourite adventures were in the 16- and 8-bit eras, immediately before the first PlayStation. Magnetic Scrolls' Guild of Thieves has some soft non-linearity that I adored – you had to loot everything of value, but it was all more-or-less available to do in parallel. I think Angela was working for Rainbird, who published that classic. But nothing tops Mike Singleton's 1984 masterpiece Lords of Midnight, which was an adventure game and a strategy game in parallel. The best Lord of the Rings game to not have the license, and one of the finest pieces of software engineering in the history of games. (British-made, I might add...)

Stefan: Noir was released during the downfall of the point-and-click genre, with several other companies going out of business or changing their business models for other, more lucrative genres. Do you think, had Perfect Entertainment survived, you’d have continued with adventure games, or do you think the company would have been tempted to switch focus like most others? Were you still interested in developing adventure games?

The timing was terrible for Discworld Noir's release, both for the company and the genre itself

Chris: We were already trying to make the move away from adventures... There were two last projects of that kind: Space Babes and The Naked Gun (The Big Kahuna after we lost the license). Both had been cancelled before Noir shipped. Grim Fandango bombed, and that was it for adventures games.

I was working on two games in the last days of Perfect: World's Deadliest Chases, or some such, which was never completed, and Seven Shades, which was a fighting game with strategy-adventure elements. But by 2000, the ship was pretty much sunk, and there were no further releases.

Stefan: Just how financially successful were the three Discworld games? Presumably the first two enough to warrant sequels. Was there an increase or decline in sales in the second game? Understandably, there must have been a decline for the third, considering it wasn’t released in the US, but what about the regions it was released in? Did it sell at least reasonably well?

Chris: The first one sold very well – it was perfectly timed. The second was not as good, but it was good enough to warrant a sequel. I never saw sales figures for Noir... But the publisher was folding even during publishing it, and they did little to promote it because, well, it was already too late for the poor adventure. The 3D guns had arrived.

Stefan: What was your reaction to the critical response by review publications, gamers, and fans of the book series?

Chris: I was thrilled that it got such a great response – we won at least one Adventure of the Year award, which was amazing. And it means a lot to me that those who played it remember it fondly. I'm certainly proud of the work I did on it, and of everyone on the team.

Stefan: This may be a tough question to answer, but one that has played on the minds of many people who still fondly remember these titles: With the disappearance of Perfect Entertainment and GT Interactive, who actually owns the license to these games now? 

Chris: Terry is the only person who could claim to own the license, although obviously that involves a certain complication. And he granted permission to the SCUMM VM project to make free adaptations of all of the games... Trouble is, that's a huge task – just doing one is an enormous challenge – so we may never see them.

Stefan: Apparently this is the reason why the games have never resurfaced on places such as, etc.

Chris: Hypothetically, someone could try and push these games through a secondary channel like GOG, but if anyone challenged their rights claim, they would not be able to defend it. So it would be a risk, even to try...

Stefan: Experience-wise, what did you come away with from working on the Discworld games? Has it affected the games you’ve worked on since?

Chris: It totally changed my life. I wanted to make tabletop role-playing games, but by the ‘90s there was no hope of succeeding in that space. Discworld Noir linked me indelibly to game narrative, and that was how I founded International Hobo. If it wasn't for Noir, the entire fabric of my life would have to be rewoven. 

Stefan: Can you briefly explain what your current company does?

Chris now heads up his own company, International Hobo

Chris: We work with developers to make their games more awesome, either by levelling up their game designs or by taking their narrative materials to a place they didn't even know was possible.

Stefan: My understanding of iHobo is that for the most part you cannot legally go into detail about what games you are involved in or have worked on in the past, but are you able to at least confirm whether or not you’ve worked on any adventure games since Discworld Noir?

Chris: I haven't worked on an adventure that was published since Noir. We tried to pitch some to publishers, but the offered budgets were too low so they didn't happen. Perhaps one day I'll try a Kickstarter for an adventure, but I don't really have a developer on hand to work on such a project and I wouldn't want to raise money without having that set up first. 

Stefan: Imagine if, somehow, a company approached you to write and design another Discworld game, adventure or not. Would you say yes to such a thing?

Chris: Absolutely! I floated the idea of a Discworld RPG to Terry in the early 2000s, but he wasn't keen on doing another game project.

Stefan: The final question is, of course, do you have a message for the many fans of the Discworld games? There are still people such as myself who continue to play the titles, or have very fond memories.

Chris: I'm enormously grateful for the love the fans have shown the Discworld games, and Noir in particular as it was such a turning point in my career. To everyone who played Discworld Noir: thank you for being there to experience what we made, and thank you for remembering it.

INTERVIEWER'S NOTE: A big thank you to producer Patrick Hargreaves as representative and point of contact at iHobo.

content continues below

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

Post a comment

You need to be logged in to post comments. Not a member? Register now!