Florian Köhne – Trüberbrook interview

Florian Köhne - Trüberbrook interview
Florian Köhne - Trüberbrook interview

When btf launched a Kickstarter campaign for its point-and-click adventure Trüberbrook in late 2017, the German studio blew past their original funding goal of 85,000 Euros within a mere 30 hours, ending up with more than double the original target. And it’s not hard to see why, given the game’s combination of computer generated animation and gorgeous miniature hand-crafted sets of an intriguing rustic setting. With Trüberbrook’s release on Windows, Mac, and Linux due on the 12th of March, with console versions to follow on the 17th of April, there’s no better time for a closer look at what's to come. Read on as designer/director Florian Köhne takes us to the quirky village of Trüberbrook and shares behind-the-scenes insights into the creation of btf's sci-fi mystery adventure.

Ingmar Böke: Hi Florian, it's a pleasure chatting with you here at Adventure Gamers! I assume that many of our readers know btf from your upcoming adventure game Trüberbrook. As a German, though, I primarily used to think of btf as a production company of award-winning TV shows and documentaries in Germany. How did the Trüberbrook project happen, and what can you tell me about your own background, and the rest of the Trüberbrook crew?

Florian Köhne: Thank you, Ingmar!

Well, as a company, we like to lay hands on different genres and media, ranging from TV and film to music videos, exhibition design – and also video games. When I started working at btf more than five years ago, I had a very early draft of Trüberbrook in my drawer. So when one day we casually talked about that concept, everyone was willing to explore the idea of creating an adventure game set in Germany with a strong mystery vibe and hand-made scenery. That’s how it started. I took some time to flesh out the concept, the story and the game design, and applied to the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg for funding to get things started.

btf's Florian Köhne (left) with Hans Böhme

I have a background in graphic design and animation, and worked as a designer on different projects at btf before starting my work on Trüberbrook. Before that, I had the chance to work a lot with miniature sceneries and stop motion animation during my studies. I also learned a bit about game design and have always been a fierce fan of classic adventure games. So the idea of creating a game that would be inspired by some of my favourite TV series, combined with a passion for hand-made environments, puppets and stop motion wasn’t really that far-fetched.

In the core team, we are five people working full-time on the game, including Lead Artist Hans [Böhme] and developer Simon [Sommer], who were both hired fresh out of their graduations for the project, as well as producers Lea [Gamula] and Darius [Cernota]. Depending on which stage the project was in, the team of course grew and shrank now and then. Naturally, there was a lot of reinforcement from btf’s nucleus of artists, who usually work on different projects in the company, like animators, sound designers and set designers. But I also brought a lot of friends and former classmates to work on and contribute to the project.

Ingmar: Trüberbrook takes place in a fictional German village. Please introduce us to the setting, story premise, and your inspirations.

Florian: The year is 1967. The game is set in the village of Trüberbrook, a run-down health resort somewhere in rural Germany. American physicist Tannhauser, the main protagonist, arrives on a beautiful summer’s day, hoping for a relaxing vacation and a well-deserved break from university. But as soon as he falls asleep in his cozy bedroom in the folksy guesthouse Waldeslust, his paper on quantum physics is stolen by a mysterious burglar! Tannhauser teams up with Gretchen, a student of paleoanthropology, who herself is on a hunt for a spine-tingling ritualistic site in the area. It soon becomes clear that there is more to the village than meets the eye.

The story that follows may or may not include: mad scientists, underground laboratories, dinosaurs, aliens, sea monsters, secret agents, ghosts, parallel universes, time travel, artificial intelligence, medieval knights, a lot of strange villagers and a cat named Klaus. Also, in the end someone needs to save the world.

The game is inspired in parts by TV series like The X-Files, Twin Peaks and Star Trek, built on a solid basis of German folklore and a Heimatfilm atmosphere. It also draws a lot of inspiration from the great classics in adventure game history, as well as many personal experiences from growing up in an area much like Trüberbrook.

Ingmar: How was the idea for this particular setting born?

Florian: We noticed that a lot of games seem to rely on well-established settings. You can find, for example, many games created in Europe that take place in the United States, as most players from around the world can relate to that – given the fact that the US has been a dominating factor in popular culture and movies in the past century.

So when we thought about a setting for the game, we tried to look at places that we are familiar with, places we can tell stories about, and tried to turn this familiarity into something exotic, something that might be appealing for people who haven’t seen this before. Like, isn’t the German province bizarre and strange enough for someone who didn’t grow up with it? Doesn’t it look weird from the outside, through the eyes of an international visitor who was just dropped there? Well, that’s Trüberbrook.

The town of Trüberbrook is kind of a stylized, condensed version of many different small German villages, like something that could have been seen in romanticized German Heimatfilms. Of course, this conveys a clichéd image of Germany, which was intended to present the idea a bit better. I grew up in a small town at the edge of the Teutoburg forest, and Trüberbrook draws a lot of inspiration from that area. But during the game’s creation, I also visited a lot of small towns in other remote German mountainous areas, like the Harz and the Eifel, and Trüberbrook became a fusion of different features one could find there.

The setting in sixties cold-war Germany is an interesting background for a mystery story, as there’s the smoldering conflict between two very different post-war German countries, the constant dangers of a foreign threat, competing intelligence agencies, the race to the moon and so on. Of course, all of this enhances the atmosphere and the feeling of seclusion in that little village.

So taking these premises and mixing them up with a plot that could be straight out of a sci-fi movie was very tempting and probably – or hopefully – not done too often before. We wanted to mix different genres, to make the game entertaining yet exciting, funny and a bit scary as well.

Ingmar: What can you share about the design philosophy behind the game, its interface, and its difficulty level?

Florian: The main concept of the game is definitely inspired by the great adventure games from the good old days. Though it’s a mystery game, I like to think that it draws a lot of humour from the classic LucasArts games. On the technical side, we have a classic coin interface that allows the player to interact with the environment, like objects and other characters. The player can also obtain items and utilize them in the environment. Additionally, from an artistic point of view, we wanted to preserve the idea of long distance shots, which was quite usual in the early days of graphic adventure games, and in our case helps underline our hand-made sceneries, emphasizing the impression of peeking into a little diorama or dollhouse.

Apart from these common features, we wanted to make the game accessible for today’s gamers, especially players who have no long history of playing adventure games, allowing more people to experience an entertaining and exciting story. Most of the puzzles are designed to advance the story, and less to ponder on how to find the right solution or to cause frustration or headaches on the way. We want it to be fun, without the moments of frustration that can happen with harder puzzles from time to time. But of course there are also some puzzles for the die-hard adventure game enthusiasts, which we believe are a bit harder to solve.

Ingmar: All of the scenery has been built by hand. Please tell us more about the technical creation of Trüberbrook, ranging from the early stages to the final game.

All Trüberbrook sets have been painstakingly hand-crafted

Florian: Right! Most of the scenery you see in the game went through our hands at one point or another. Every detail, ranging from the smallest cobblestone to the tallest tree, including houses, rooms and gigantic caves. As all of these sceneries were built by hand, there is very little room for adjustments or iterations after a particular set is finished being built. This is why the process needed a lot of planning beforehand: when creating the story, the characters and the puzzles, it was important that we come up with precise sketches of the scenes, so that everything important for the story, the world lore and the puzzles would find its intended spot.

There was a team of six insanely skilled and passionate set designers who built more than twenty sceneries in total, all with their hammers, saws and glue. Some of the scenery models grew unexpectedly large and heavy, and since of course our space was limited, we had to do the filming in blocks every few weeks – like four or five sceneries per weekend – and then stow them away to have room to build the next few sets.

For the process of digitalization, we would first create a particular light setup – like, say, an evening setting, using a lot of lights, just like a real film set. We would do some master shots of this particular light setup, which would later be the basis for our textures. The next step would be to take up to 400 photos of the whole set in a neutral or diffuse light setting, the more angles the better, and have software create a 3D model of the whole set. After that, we would then reproject our textures – the ones with the realistic, real lighting – onto the photoscanned 3D model.

The last step would then be to recreate the whole light setup in-engine, so that our digital characters and objects match the real light from the set. This last step was by far the most laborious and delicate process, as it marries the real world with the digital world.

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Mr Underhill Mr Underhill
Mar 8, 2019

It’s fascinating to learn about how much work went into this game, and it was obviously worth the entire effort. Very much looking forward to this, great interview!

Mar 8, 2019

This is something out of this world. Gorgeous!

jimrh69 jimrh69
Mar 9, 2019

Can’t wait till Tuesday!

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