Last year, German developers Goodwolf Studio debuted their interactive fiction game Code 7. Originally funded through a Kickstarter campaign, the text-based hacking adventure has since won many awards like the German Developer Award for Best Indie Game 2016. Episodes 0 (free to play) and 1 have already been released, and after a year of development now Episode 2 is nearly ready. Since their office is directly next to gamescom, we took the opportunity to visit their calm little shared working space during our visit to Cologne. In that half hour, we talked a lot and this interview is the result.
Peter Färberböck: It is nice to have the opportunity to talk to you about Code 7 here at gamescom 2018. How is it going with the development of the game, and when will you release Episode 2? After all, it should already have been available for some time.
Kevin Glaap: Well, the reason why it took us so long is simple: We overworked ourselves for the release of Episode 1 a little bit. We also had to translate it into German…
Zein Okko: … and the version for blind people…
Kevin: Yes, that too. Everything took us quite some time. That is why we started working on Episode 2 a bit later than planned. Sure, now a year has passed since Episode 1 was released. It is going to take us at the most two or three more months until the release. After that, the next episodes will not take us that long. We definitely will not need another year.
Zein: Yeah, we learned many things during the last year. Hence, we did not exhibit at gamescom 2018, because we were and still are fully concentrating on development. It is quite awesome to exhibit and gather feedback on your own game, but it also takes a lot of resources and time.
Kevin: Usually at fairs people play Episode 0 anyway, because they do not know the game and they want to try it from the beginning. That is not necessarily the feedback we are looking for. After all, that episode was released two years ago.
Peter: Have you already prepared some things for the next episode, as you want to meet a quicker release cycle?
Kevin: We are building our episodes on each other, but every episode will have its own game mechanic. That is the basic idea of our episodes. For example, one of the bigger mechanics we are using for Episode 3 is based on something new from Episode 2.
Peter: That means that you’ll introduce that element in Episode 2 and Episode 3 is based on that?
Zein: Yeah, we won’t be cutting development time by working harder or faster, but because we learned many things about why we lost so much time last year. We went to every fair we could attend. We also told ourselves that we have to be finished after six months per episode and tried to pull it off by force. Thus, we lost much more time because we worked ourselves up about our schedule. Now we try to work more relaxed and at the same time more focused on Code 7. That should get us back to our schedule. For now, that works fine.
Peter: What are your main inspirations for Code 7? They aren’t the hacker movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s, are they?
Goodwolf's Kevin Glaap (left) and Zein Okko in one of their more serious moments
Zein: No, more like The Matrix and Alien. And especially Doctor Who. That motto “everything is possible with technology” inspired us very much.
Kevin: That influence is mainly visible in our storytelling.
Peter: Well, that’s better than the hacker movies, since they tend to be quite weird. How could you possibly depict hacking in the daftest way possible?
Zein: How can you depict hacking as exciting as possible – it is quite boring after all. To make a Hollywood movie about hacking, that is difficult. They willingly tend to cheat.
Peter: From your point of view, how difficult is it to sell a text-oriented game today?
Zein: Rather difficult (laughs). That kind of game just does not have that much marketing material. We use the prime artwork for every episode. A screenshot of the game’s interface may look interesting, but it is not that eye-catcher you need nowadays. Many players also have the wrong idea when they see such a screen because there are already a lot of text adventures. In interactive fiction, you think you know what you can expect: Fine, I have to read a lot and there will be many lines of text. Even the trailers for Code 7 do not make it that clear that every single line of dialogue is voice acted.
That is why we chose to omit the words “text adventure”. Code 7 is surely inspired by text adventures, but actually it is quite different. In my opinion, to release Episode 0 for free was one of the best decisions we made. That way we can convey what is to be expected of the game. It is quite difficult to explain the game in a few sentences. So sit down, play for half an hour and you will understand what the game really is. That worked for many people.
We also recognized that classic marketing is very difficult with this kind of game. We engaged two different professional marketing teams and it was to no avail. No, they were not completely incompetent, but it really is hard to market the game and explain it to the players. Typical ads will not cover the job. There is just so much going on: that special feeling, the atmosphere, and the multimedia storytelling.
Peter: That definitely is difficult. How about streaming on Twitch? Does that spoil too much or are you using that kind of advertisement?
Kevin: During the Kickstarter campaign it worked really well. Many streamers played our game on Twitch and many videos were uploaded on YouTube. We will see how well that works with our next episodes.
Zein: Streaming is important, no question about it. We even had streamed videos of us developing the game once per week. We also wrote to some streamers and even experimented with individual versions of the game where they could find emails about themselves. That did not quite work. It is quite hard these days.
Kevin: Streamers also receive many emails nowadays and it is getting harder and harder to reach them.
Zein: It is definitely on our radar and maybe we will try to push that with Episode 2 again. Not too much; we do not want to spoil everything. We have to find the middle ground.
Peter: It might be more difficult because your game is released episodically. Should you even release a game episodically nowadays?
Zein: In retrospect, we would not do it again. Back then, when we decided to go for episodes, we did not have that much of a choice. We could not foresee that we would receive money by winning the German Computerspielepreis [Video game prize]. Had we known beforehand, we would have developed it in one turn. However, if you do not have much funding, you will tend to release games episodically. Episodes are quite appealing because you can just develop a game step-by-step and generate revenue while developing.
Screenshot from the upcoming Code 7: Episode 2
Another point is that our episodes grew bigger and more epic. More and more gameplay was incorporated. In the meanwhile, we could have even released our episodes as standalone games. Every single one has its own story arc and its own gameplay. You always learn something new.
Kevin: Now we will definitely see it through and we also think that in the end, everything will look a bit different and more positive.
Zein: There is a good thing. Many people have read or heard something about Code 7. If we release a complete version with all the episodes after finishing the game, then we could get something like a delayed viral effect. We will see when it is time.Continued on the next page...