Ingmar: A little earlier, it was mentioned that PCs were very important for the adventure renaissance. The bigger, most recent traditional adventure games, titles such as The Book of Unwritten Tales 2, games from Daedalic, or The Inner World 1 and 2 have all been released on consoles. How important are consoles for the genre nowadays?
Jan Theysen: They’re getting more important in general since there are more people who like to play on consoles. Adventure games belong to the genres that can be played well on consoles. In our case, and this is even more extreme with our games in other genres but also applies to our adventure games, we’re selling more on consoles – all consoles combined – than we do on PCs. I think this wasn’t the case yet with the first part of The Book of Unwritten Tales, but at least with its successor.
Jan Klose: You know, if you say that point-and-click is an important part of adventure games, the controls on consoles are a bit difficult. I don’t think that it has ever worked to simulate a mouse cursor, and then you’re clicking somewhere. Adventure games that make it to consoles mostly use direct controls or else. This is an obstacle, but I think that it’s conquerable in game design. You’ll have to come up with something good because the different controls are going to give a different feeling to the whole thing. Telltale Games do this a lot, but I’d say that this is actually a difference from how adventure games used to be built. I don’t know. Jan Theysen, you did a lot for consoles, as you went on many platforms. Would you disagree with me?
Jan Theysen: No, from the beginning on, you have to keep in mind that the game must also work well on consoles. As you’ve said, faking mouse controls on consoles is rather problematic. Instead you should say: “alright, we have mouse controls for PCs, and different controls for consoles that work well on respective platforms.” Mind you, not the same kind of controls on all systems! Also, it’s just as wrong to say: “we’re going to have console controls on PC.”
Of course, everyone is going to ask why the hell we don’t give them point-and-click controls and make them run around with the WASD keys or whatever. I feel like you should say that you’re having mouse/keyboard controls for PC, Mac and Linux, gamepad controls for consoles, and perhaps a third type of controls for tablets, or something that’s close to mouse control as tablets allow pointing-and-clicking. When it comes to the interfaces and controls, you need to be aware from early on that you’ll have to take care of this three or at least two times. One-size-fits-all is not going to work!
Poki: Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that playing the game is going to feel the same way on different platforms, but yeah, a 1:1 adaption of controls certainly sucks. (laughs)
Jan Theysen: Bad idea! You know, we also did turn-based strategy games, and actually, I feel like point-and-click games and turn-based strategy are the only two genres that come to my mind that can work on all platforms… from tablet controls – essentially touch controls – to controller input to mouse and keyboard controls. I mean, there are lots of other genres that feel odd on consoles. Surely, you also have point-and-click purists who say that you can only play point-and-click games with a mouse, and that’s ok, but I feel like there’s also players that grew up with consoles and like to play this kind of game. If you pass them a controller, and the controls are done well, they’re not going to feel like something weird happened; they’re going to say: “that’s alright, this works!”
Ingmar: I second that. For me, adventure games work perfectly fine on consoles, but I’m not exactly conservative. There is another important subject that we should definitely talk about, so let’s move on now. I know that there are specific reasons behind individual games, but some “story games” have sold very well in the last few years. I’ll just name Life Is Strange, Until Dawn and some of the Telltale stuff as examples. It’s not really a stretch for a developer of traditional adventure games to take inspiration from such games, and this is something that also shows in recent games by Daedalic and KING Art. Please talk about this and your experience so far.
Daedalic Entertainment's Jan "Poki" Müller-Michaelis
Poki: At the beginning of this interview I mentioned that I primarily see myself as a storyteller who has taken computer games as a weapon of choice because I think that – and this was the theory in my diploma thesis – interactivity can have an additional value for a story and that you can do more with narration in computer games than you can do in a book or movie. Yet we’re still not at a point where a computer game is able to capture each aspect of a story equally well or where we have concepts for each kind of scene.
For instance, what do you do with a romantic scene? Do you have to watch it as a cut-scene or are you going to have some kind of multiple-choice dialogue? Is this the same kind of feeling that you have when you watch a romantic scene in a movie? I mean, even the most bad-ass action movies have a romantic scene. (laughs) A game, however, usually switches to a non-interactive scene because we lack concepts.
Having said that, I think that it’s not just exciting but also necessary to break up game mechanics, and that’s exactly what the games that you mentioned do. If you think about the new tool-sets that David Cage or Telltale have given us when it comes to the question of how you can implement other aspects of a story in-game, during actual play time, then you can barely appreciate enough what kind of achievement that is!
On the second level you have the question, “what types of stories are they actually telling?” I mean, if you consider that Heavy Rain won a BAFTA Award for the best video game story… strictly speaking, just looking at the story, what kind of story is it? What kind of movie would it be? You know, it would be the type of thriller that would make me say to myself: “I’ll be fine with waiting until it’s on free TV at some point in time. I’m not going to the cinema for it.” (laughs)
Ingmar: We‘ll remain silent about the ending of Fahrenheit…
Poki: Right! (laughs) But on a totally different level you have this impressive tool-set that he has worked out with such a major effort, and I’d be very, very interested in exploring it! I’m a huge fan of puzzles and games that don’t make it easy for players, but this is actually a demand that often collides with a good story experience. You’ll have to consider whether you want to make compromises or marry these two aspects.
I’m just super-motivated to research all of this by creating precedential cases. Of course, you can’t afford to spend all your time at the “research lab”, but interactive storytelling is something that excites me tremendously. If we’re not careful with traditional adventure games, which used to be known as the way of telling an interactive story, different kinds of games – some of them related, but different nevertheless – are taking that status away from us here and there. It would be worth researching this further and to analyze if, in certain areas, there aren’t good reasons for it.
Ingmar: When I look at several recent adventure games, near-adventures or whatever people want to call them – and this also goes for games such as Black Mirror from KING Art or Pillars of the Earth from Daedalic – I’m frequently under the impression that these game aren’t really sure about what they want to be. Does it want to be a traditional adventure at this stage of the game? Should it rather be something like a Telltale game? Such games might give the impression that the makers aren’t sure or confident about the direction they should go. The result can be an effect of sitting in between chairs with such games. Would you disagree with me?
Jan Theysen: You know, I think there is this recurring situation of particular games becoming hits for individual reasons, and then you’ll have someone – usually a publisher – say: “why don’t you make a game that’s more like game X?” Let’s take Life Is Strange as an example. Why has Life Is Strange been so successful? Because of the presentation? Because of the gameplay? Because of the characters? Because of the pacing? There are plenty of reasons why something might have worked out. There can even be an entirely different reason, coincidence or whatever. (laughs) But then you’ll have these phases where everyone is saying: “hey, do it more like Telltale, do it more like Life Is Strange,” etc.
KING Art took the latest Black Mirror away from point-and-click mechanics for more console-friendly control and experimental storytelling techniques
The issue that can come into play here is that you might try to combine elements that don’t resonate with each other. You know, like: “hey, it is this kind of game, but actually it should rather be more like that kind of game; it might be better if you take out the puzzles, and add element X instead; somehow all of this going to match in the end.” Then you end up in a sitting between chairs scenario because fans of traditional adventures don’t like the game for the following reasons, fans of interactive movies don’t like the game for the following reasons, and fans of walking simulators don’t like the game for the following reasons. Well, in this case you’re in trouble!
I think the reason why it seems like more such games are being released these days is that more publishers and developers are searching for new concepts that work. People say: “X isn’t up to date anymore or it doesn’t work anymore, let’s try something different, and let’s move more in the direction of Y.” This approach can work out, but usually it’s not going to work when the marketing or accounting department comes up with ideas like, “we could try something that goes in the following direction” because you end up missing all possible targets.
Personally, I’m under the impression that it somewhat depends on the particular themes of a game. I feel, for example, that many games that are rather realistic and want to deal with more serious subjects don’t always work well as point-and-click adventures. Of course, this also has something to with my LucasArts influences, but for me, many point-and-click adventures have something crazy, slightly unrealistic or silly to them. I’d say that you shouldn’t have too realistic a look at the things you’re doing in these games. (laughs) Therefore, it’s great to have the kinds of things that David Cage or Telltale Games are doing. In their cases it wouldn’t be a good match to combine their kind of storytelling with rather absurd, traditional point-and-click adventure puzzles.
Poki: When I try to combine two inventory items with each other, that’s rather odd and it’s always fourth-wall-breaking humor. This isn’t even something you’d like to have in every comedy. It can be incredibly funny, but in the fewest cases does this approach work well when you want to do something very serious. Let’s say that you’re in this super-tense thriller, and now you’re combining a fishing line with another inventory item…
Jan Theysen: Exactly, and therefore the question is if other genres somewhat outstrip adventure games. By now – when it comes to certain themes – I might rather want to play something with particular themes as a survival horror game or whatever. If you have a game, for instance, that deals with cultist murders… I don’t necessarily want to play that as a point-and-click adventure game! However, when I’m thinking of crazy worlds, crazy characters, humor and funny stories, I still feel like point-and-click adventures work way better than most other games!
Poki: I would like to get back to a particular subject: the mixture of traditional adventure and storytelling along the lines of Telltale, Cage, etc.
Actually, we have had very different experiences than what you, Jan Theysen, have described. We are our own publisher, which means that our writers have full freedom. This means that games such as Pillars of the Earth and Silence – which both leave the area of completely traditional adventures – are deliberate. At the same time, to get back to Ingmar’s opening question, this doesn’t mean that they always know what they’re doing. They’re in an area with a lack of precedential cases. They want to be in between chairs, and they aren’t X or Y because they don’t want to be. In the case of these two examples, they mostly seem to resonate with critics and fans, and it seems like they have become a good mixture. Yet they might leave that kind of feeling because this isn’t a defined genre of its own yet, and because sometimes they’re doing this, and sometimes they’re doing that.
Also, if you have a bigger paint-set, you’ll have to ask yourself how much red and blue you want to use – and perhaps you didn’t even have the color blue before. This also means that you’ll have a different approach for painting your picture. Of course we’ve already made progress but I also feel like these are super-exciting times to try out new things.
Deck13 has found success in non-adventure genres, like the action-RPG The Surge, for which it won Best Game at last year's German Developer Awards
Jan Klose: I’m not really far away from what you just said. To formulate this in a slightly provocative way: I feel like adventure games are kind of dissolving into different types of games – not just currently, but they have been doing so for ten years or so. I think that, by now, traditional point-and-click inventory-combination adventures are only one segment of the whole thing. Telltale Games already started to re-interpret the genre quite some time ago, then you have walking simulators, where you just walk around, look at things, pick up notes, and experience a story. Also, I’d claim that Gothic 1 by Piranha Bytes was an adventure hidden in role-playing dressing, if you look at how you play it, what kinds of missions you have, what’s really important in the game, and how much of the classical RPG rule-set is actually in it. I think that there are loads of games – also when it comes to action-adventures – that you rather play like an adventure game, and it’s very exciting to ask yourself what things actually characterize an adventure game.
I always like to use Swedish crime novels as an example. These novels are always going to find their fans, and they’re always written a certain way, which is always going to be cool, but perhaps I want to tell a different kind of crime story, and why not? All of us started out developing adventure games, and I think that by now all of us have also made games in other genres… in our case, we’ve been doing action-RPGs for some years now, but they also have quests, an inventory, characters, and story arcs. I think that the developments of how these things can be driven can go in lots of different directions, and I’m fascinated by the thought of saying: “once we have learned all this, how are we going to use that knowledge in the future?”
Poki: By the way, this marriage between adventures and role-playing games that you mentioned in relation to Gothic 1… actually, from a historical view, the very first adventure game Advent / Colossal Cave was kind of a cave exploration at first. It was a naked dungeon that a Professor wrote because he was an enthusiast for cave exploring or whatever, and so he strung together single caves from a cave system in Montana. It was kind of like, “go north, go west,” and then you got descriptions of the caves. Then some student got a hold of the program, and added pirates and a treasure map.
This sounds a lot more like a typical RPG than it sounds like an adventure game, but in the end, this was the birth of text adventures. Also in text adventures, you had the option of going north, south, etc., and then you received a description of what you saw, and what options you had. This was the birth of text adventures as well as it was the birth of the first MUDs [Multiple User Dungeons], which were pretty much proper MMOs [Massively Multiplayer Online (Games)], even though they were text-based. (laughs) So to speak, the adventure genre and the RPG genre had the same roots.
Jan Klose: Unfortunately, I have to leave a bit earlier, so I should get going.
Ingmar: No problem, Jan! Thanks a lot for giving us so much of your time!
Jan Klose: It was fun! Have a good time while wrapping this up!
[The remaining participants see Jan off]Continued on the next page...