Adventures in Germany and Beyond round table (Part 2) interview

Adventures in Germany and Beyond round table
Adventures in Germany and Beyond round table

If you happened to miss the first half of my extensive conversation with Jan “Poki” Müller-Michaelis, Jan Theysen and Jan Klose, you'll want to catch up and come back. If you're all up to date and raring for more, then read on as the Creative Directors of Daedalic, KING Art and Deck13 continue talking about the past, present, and possible future state of the genre both in our own country and around the world. 

Ingmar Böke: During the second half of the 2000s, German publishers like dtp and Crimson Cow started signing genre veterans like Jane Jensen, Hal Barwood, Noah Falstein, Bill Tiller and others. Did this business model have an effect from your point of view?

Jan Klose: Yeah, a negative one, I’d say! (laughs) A lot of money was burned during those days.

Poki: I think the problem was that most of these games were heavily publisher-controlled.  

Deck13's Jan Klose

Jan Klose: That’s one aspect; the other aspect is that you might have a genre veteran on board who calculated the way he used to, and then he said: “I need millions, I need another six months, I’ll re-write the script, I’m not satisfied with these people.” Perhaps that’s what he was used to, but this wasn’t a good match with smaller budgets, and not perfectly equipped for publishers when it came to their capacities, flexibility and the producers that supervised these projects. I think some of them just argued – I believe some ended up in court, several games had a huge delay and some of these people just ended up saying: “Screw this! I’m getting out of here!” Then they were gone, and these games had to be completed somehow. That was a pity because not a lot of good games came about at the time. But guys, please correct me if I’m wrong. Perhaps some of these games ended up being terrific. Let me know what comes to mind! 

Poki: Well, no. For example, Bill Tiller is not a writer, he’s a visual artist, and games like A Vampyre Story looked phenomenal...

Jan Klose: They looked mind-blowing!

Poki: Yeah, but these games somewhat suffered because of their gameplay, and perhaps also their storytelling. Like I said before, an adventure game needs many different competencies to become a well-rounded game. I think that, partially, publishers felt like, “if we sign a big name, we’re out of budget, but people are going to buy the game anyway.” In the end, a lot of damage was done at the time because the expensive names ate up the quality in other departments, and this resulted in an outcome which wasn’t well-rounded. But same here, please correct me if I’m wrong. I haven’t played every game from that era, and I might be overcritical. Certainly, you can get something out of these games from one perspective or another, but for me, each of the respective titles that I played had flawed elements or didn’t feel like their design was thought-out down the line.

Ingmar: I remember the example of Gray Matter, which was in production for many years. At some point, the game’s publisher dtp exchanged the Hungarian team Tonuzaba, and brought in Wizarbox as a new developer. From that point on, the game still needed a few years until its release. It’s hard to imagine this kind of project was too profitable.

Jan Klose: No, I really don’t think it was. If such a project had been profitable, they would have continued making such games. Unfortunately, this whole approach often didn’t lead to the desired effect at all. I feel like you also see this in reviews, where none of these games got the grades one might expect because of the names involved. This also shows that it’s often super-difficult to come up with a really cool hit.

You know, you might have the team of your dreams, consisting of three people or so, and everyone has blind understanding of each other, and everyone knows their craft. This is the other aspect: back in the day, it was possible to develop a great game with three or four people – even though you might have had a lot of additional support for the graphics. Imagine that suddenly you must work with 30 or 40 people to create a cool game… first, this is way more expensive, and second, not everyone who can develop a great game with three or four people – even if he’s an adventure star – is able to cope with outsourcing, a development team and publisher in another country, etc. I think that a lot of projects also failed because not all the people working together were professionals – even if each project had someone professional on board.

I think this is another reason why the whole thing didn’t work out, and I feel like this wasn’t a renaissance but was rather one part of the decline, which consisted of many different components. If more things might have worked out at the same time, some of these games might have ended up being terrific. I guess that the real renaissance rather happened with Kickstarter projects where developers said stuff like: “now I’m doing what I always wanted to do for the people who always wanted to have this.” (laughs) Yet I don’t know if it can be said that this caused a whole wave… probably not, or perhaps just partly.

Poki: Well, in terms of quality, there have been mostly so-so kind of titles. I’m glad that the whole thing had a happy ending with Thimbleweed Park

Jan Klose: At least one thing! (laughs)

Poki: This is a game I really liked a lot! (laughs)

Ingmar: Thinking of SpaceVenture and Hero-U, at least two of the big adventure games that were on Kickstarter during the “hype days” come to my mind that haven’t even been released yet. Jan Klose mentioned industry veterans before who seemingly approached a new game with a mindset of how games were created during their prime. I’m under the impression that this might also be an issue with some crowdfunded projects. 

Jan Klose: Did any of you back projects that you’re still waiting for?

Jan Theysen: I guess so, but I have backed so many games that I don’t remember the adventure games that I’m still waiting for. 

Ingmar: Hmm, good question. I feel like you just lose track of some of the projects at some point.

Jan Theysen: There’s one remarkable thing to me, and certainly this is kind of a general thing with Kickstarter, but when it comes to Broken Age from Double Fine, we at KING Art thought: “this game probably costs as much as five of our adventure games, and probably the adventure games of Daedalic or Deck13…”

Poki: It depends on the era, but this is probably even an understatement. (laughs)

KING Art's Jan Theysen

Jan Theysen: It probably is an understatement. Well, it took quite a long time until Broken Age was released, and it’s arguable how good it was, but in any case, it wasn’t a super-extensive game. I mean, I like Tim Schafer, and of course they’re doing good games, but he got the money because of his name and the games he used to create. I would say that it’s unlikely too many people feel like Broken Age was worth that kind of money and time. You know, occasionally it seems like a name, nostalgia, or the hope for new a game that holds up with the classics seem to be more important than the question of who managed to develop good games throughout the last few years.

Poki: This is also a loss of confidence. I remember when LucasArts stopped producing adventure games, I was browsing the shelves for other adventure games. I was forced to expand my horizon here and there, but after the fourth or fifth game tremendously disappointed me because it wasn’t the same, and because I could barely recognize my favorite genre, I stopped playing them. It’s not the genre per se, it’s the good games of this genre that make this our favorite genre.  

Ingmar: We have raised the subject of budgets already. Just to give our readers a better understanding, when we’re talking about the most recent, large adventure games from KING Art or Daedalic, what kind of budgets are we talking about?

Jan Theysen: The last traditional point-and-click adventure that we developed was The Book of Unwritten Tales 2, which goes back a few years. By now the game has been released on 10 different platforms and even in comparison with our other adventures, which were pretty extensive, this one is particularly extensive with roughly 25 hours of play time. It was the most expensive adventure we've done so far, and we had development costs of close to a million euros. Keep in mind that you must add marketing costs and production costs for the physical versions and so on. This means that you can roughly calculate that you’ll have to make an income of around 1.3 – 1.5 million euros before you break even and start being profitable!

Actually, the big adventure games we’ve done all had medium or high six-digit development budgets. For smaller adventures, and smaller teams, the numbers can be lower, of course, but let me tell you, even the development of an adventure for such numbers isn’t easy. Of course, it sounds like a lot of money at first, and it is a lot of money, but if you consider how many people work on it for how long, and what kind of income is generated in the end, then it really isn’t that much budget. I mean, even for this kind of budget you’ll have to get things right, and we’re not able to say: “You know, last time, we were lavish during the development, but next time, we’ll be twice as fast and we’ll do it for half of the price!” We’ve already been very careful with keeping control of our budgets in the past. Yet, we ended up at the aforementioned numbers.

Poki: Right! The times when we were able to make games for mid-six-digit numbers were also over quite some time ago. (laughs)

Jan Klose: Didn’t Telltale Games spend around 500,000 dollars for a single episode even by the time they started out? If you know these episodes, and compare them to a full game, you can see that it doesn’t take long to spend this kind of money. Even if you economize, when we’re talking about a game with a lot of storytelling, with graphics and content, it doesn’t need much time until you have spent between a half million and one million. Looking at how many people work on such a game, let’s say for one or two years, you’ll get there quickly.

Poki: Or you do it the way that we did before, double the size of your team, and run through production in eight months. (laughs)

Jan Klose: Well, that’s another option. (laughs)

Ingmar: Looking at companies like Telltale or Double Fine, which are both located in San Francisco where living and working is very expensive, just their labor costs must be enormous.

Jan Theysen: I mean, I don’t want to badmouth colleagues; on the other hand… yes, the costs are enormous. The question is whether that makes their games enormously better. When I look at the graphics of these games, sure, they look awesome. Daedalic, on the other hand, does awesome graphics, too, you know? Like I said before, when it comes to nostalgia and the question of who used to make great games in the past, a lot of people have given developers a trust bonus. That trust might not always have been fulfilled. Therefore, it has become more difficult for a lot of other developers, and smaller developers, to get money for their games.

I get upset each time a Kickstarter game has been canceled or if someone came up with a crappy game. At the same time, I’m happy about each Kickstarter game that comes out and turns out as a cool game. Each time, it rebounds on us too… the ones who are trying to fund games on Kickstarter or develop games in general. Every time someone had a good time with a game, and feels like it was worth spending money for it, he might also buy the next (adventure) game. However, if someone feels like: “this wasn’t as good as I remembered” or “turns out that adventures do suck/are dead” or whatever, it’s going to be difficult to sell the next game to that person. Hence, it’s always a bit troublesome if players have so-so kinds of experiences.

Continued on the next page...

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Skywalker333 Skywalker333
Mar 15, 2018

very interesting 2part interview.
but it left me very sad about the state of the industry at the moment and about the fact that the “new age” has really come to an end for many of our new fav companies.

and the fact that all 3 of them think that the telltale model is the way to go, it is highly disappointing.
I started playing adventures for their amazing stories but also because they challenged my mind and made me take notes, think and improve my skills and mental abilities.  I know I am in the minority but it is sad to hear that yet another developer is choosing to go towards the interactive movie model that offers no challenge. Yes, it is understandable that they need to sell to survive, but it is just sad that the only way to do it is by making their games much simpler and easier to digest.

Hopefully we will keep seeing balanced and challenging games coming out from other developers and someone else will rise from the ashes to take on the baton.

Mar 15, 2018

Two interesting things

- These guys have not played anything but Lucas, and the thing is that they say “everything else sucks” without giving names. Pretty sure they got into adventure games only having played the Lucas classics as many other people did. Which is alright: Deck13, Kingart and Daedalic have wonderful adventure games. But under their own criteria, they would have never played their own games. The late 90s were full of myst clones and third person adventures, and some of them are glorious.

- That humour view is really really weird: things can be either comedic or totally serious? I mean, there is sarcasm, there is dramedy, since the storytelling is storytelling horror, detective stories, dramas have feature hints of humour, of not taking themselves seriously. One of the better examples is precisely Black Mirror 2, which blends horror, some social commentary and loads of subtle and black humour.

But their other observations are interesting, illuminating or sadly true. And whatever, I wish all of them luck and success in whatever they do.

Advie Advie
Mar 19, 2018

Well, i don’t think Jan, Jan and Jan were NOT of knowledge that their interview ALL together for adventure-gamers site, will be that obscure, and gets only 6 comments until today, and who knows how many have read it at the first.

Ingmar really covered so many if not all the points worth discussing from the beginning of the genre until today. [how did they get into the genre - what do they think the reasons behind genre’s death at late 90s - how the genre was revived again 5-6 later, what Jan Klose called the bronze age - what Cage and ttg new ideas and concepts of adventure gaming are -  what do they think of the Kickstarter’s phenomena - and what is going with the genre right now; how it is turning from puzzles oriented to story telling’s, and it seems it gonna be like this for awhile, too]

MAGNIFICAT, I said it at the thread of this interview, that i would ve paid to read it, Imagine Tim Schafer, Roberta Williams, and Rand Miller had a similar shot at the Golden age. with all due respect to this trio here, there is differences and a big gap between these and those, anyways. Thanks to everyone who was in and behind this interview.

Mar 20, 2018

Yeah, but that’s the thing: the genre was never dead. “Adventure games are dead” is something that has been said since 1994 or 1995. If you check mobygames for example (or the spanish database in Aventura y Cia, where you can check by year) you will see that there was a lot, a huge lot, released. Thing is, this is like those 40 year old friends that tell you “electronica is dead, people don’t club like they used to in 1995” or “rock is dead”: it’s said from people that didn’t pay too much attention after they became adults.

Mar 26, 2018

I don’t know more than developers that is for sure, but I grew up with adventure games from king quest I to the most recent one.

To me what many developers fail to see, and telltale started to say and then failed miserably.

Is what is being said that the beginning, how many GOOD adventure games have been published lately? and I mean like really GOOD?

Besides thimbleweed park, I can say NONE.

All other adventure games have become grade B games, when I played Monkey Island 2, fate of Atlantis, king quest 6, even more, simple games like Eco Quest, I was marveled at watching that beautiful story unfold with those beautiful graphics and music and sound.

Then they went the 3D area for some stupid reason, I remember thinking King Quest 7, Monkey Island 3 and Broken Sword was the future.

Now is all pixel art and stuff, even the Gabriel Knight remake ended up being bad, how can you make a remake worst than the original? all they needed to do was to make High Def Graphics updating it, not changing the whole thing.

I crave for adventure games with complex, magical, adult, interesting stories (a combination of those not all of course) but with beautiful 2D handpainted graphics.

Daedalic has done some great work I have bought all of their games I even streamed some of their games.

That is another thing in the age of social media they still undervalue the power of youtube, I have a small channel and I tried to get some keys to stream the last game and I got a big NO, I bought the game anyway and streamed it, but come on giving away a few free keys to people trying to sell your freaking game shouldn’t be such a problem.

Dec 31, 2018

I have found this article (both parts) only now and it makes me sad about adventure games. For sure our genre was not the most popular between playes during last 20 years and especially with consoles and current “quick age” people are lazy / dont want to spend so much time at game and think. I dont agree with the words about mixing the genres. I always loved adventures mainly because of story, because of challenge which force me to think about the game, about the story, about the puzzles (not necessary to be super hard, but it must have impact to me). But what I absolutely dont like is action in the games - shooting, fighting etc. And unfortunatelly lot of games with (possibly) nice stories are with lot of action parts, so nothing for me. I am currently playing mentioned The Raven and it is great adventure for me. On the other hand, another KingArt game Broken Mirror failed for me - they totally destroyed charm of this series. It was like they didnt know if they want to make adventure or interactive movie like Telltale - and failed in both. Completely useless control (maybe working for console controller), very poor gameplay with lot of walking around, but nothing happened. And added ghost or action sequences didnt helped too. And boring and unchallenging story…

All in all, it is not so positive words from the “quite big” teams which were focused to adventures. There is not so many big teams which stayed with adventures now, but still there are some of them. And of course there is lot of indie titles.

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