Ingmar: Along with using real lighting to simulate different hours of the day, you also have a particular way of embedding real weather conditions into the environments. Can you give us a better understanding of these production elements?
Florian: Once a set was built, it was comparatively easy for us to set up a different time of day, a different season or different weather conditions. We would usually just redecorate and relight the set differently and the whole atmosphere would be completely different. In most cases, we wouldn’t even need to do the 3D photoscan again, as we could use the same photogrammetry data from the first light setup, since the geometry of the set remained largely unchanged. Naturally, our experience grew with every scenery, which is why the later miniature sets are a bit more advanced in terms of our own workflow. Anyhow, depending on the story, we utilized this technique to depict the village, for example, during broad daylight, in the evening or at night – or to show changing weather during the progress of the story.
Ingmar: What were the biggest technological challenges that you've encountered during the development of Trüberbrook?
Florian: We always feared that our digital characters wouldn’t match our hand-created environments and that the game would look like a cheap bluescreen or like a collage. We did quite a few experiments to proof that it was possible, but we didn’t expect the whole process to be so extremely laborious. Part of the challenge was the pre-recorded shadows in our textures, which came from the real lighting and looked quite good in the photos – but we had to make sure that our digital characters wouldn’t cast a doubled or second shadow on these already shadowy areas.
Ingmar: Technology aside, as this is your first big game, what have been the most important lessons that the production of Trüberbrook has taught you about game development?
Florian: No matter how well you planned your timetable, no matter how big the time buffer – in the end, you’ll always need more time. And even when the game is finished, it is not finished. In fact, it is never really finished. At least that’s my impression.
Ingmar: The PC version of Trüberbrook uses a traditional point-and-click interface. What about the interface of the console versions? To what degree does Trüberbrook feel different if you're playing it on a PS4 or Xbox One?
Florian: We always had the controller in mind when we started creating the game. It is not an adaptation of the point-and-click-interface, but a genuine approach to transfer the experience to a completely different interface. The character is controlled directly with one of the thumbsticks, while the other stick controls the character’s direction of view, snapping to points of interest. It feels different, yes, and both interfaces are fun! The PC version even allows you to fluidly switch from the mouse to the controller in-game.
Ingmar: I understand Trüberbrook contains a Kids Mode. Please talk about the specific differences between this mode and the regular version.
Florian: Though small children are not our core target group, we really liked the idea of parents playing the game together with their kids. We originally implemented the Kids Mode to avoid surprises in certain situations, like sudden violence or explicit language. However, the game turned out to be quite kid-friendly in general (even though some of the more dirty-minded players claim to have witnessed sexual references – and yes, there may be the consumption of alcohol), so right now the Kids Mode only converts Tannhauser from a unhealthy smoker to a healthy non-smoker, but we are thinking of expanding the features of the Kids Mode even further.
Tannhauser is a smoker by default, but with Kids Mode on he'll have to butt out!
Ingmar: Would you say that the game’s humour works on different levels, depending on how much knowledge players have of historical, political, and cultural aspects of Germany?
Florian: The game draws a lot of its humour from the bizarre setting and even more bizarre characters, which I like to think can work in a universal way. There is also a lot of humour coming from references to literature, TV shows, movies, video games, certain celebrities and so on. But of course some of the humour deals with that very special time period in Germany. There are some hints concerning German traditions, myths and legends, and even German cuisine as well, which might all be funnier to those in the know, but at least funnily bizarre enough to those who aren’t.
Ingmar: The voice cast features several people that are well-known in Germany, including late night host Jan Böhmermann and actress Nora Tschirner. If I'm not mistaken, the English version of the game uses the same voice talent as the German version. What was your approach for the English dubbing?
Florian: Yes! As the game is set in a rural German village with characters who are not used to speaking English all the time, we wanted them to keep their natural accents in the English version. So I decided that all characters in the game (apart from the main character Tannhauser) would be voiced by the same actors in both the German and English versions of the game. This way, we’ve created genuine villagers with more or less noticeable German accents, which feels somewhat natural for a formerly well-visited touristy spa town.
Some of the characters were created with a particular actor in mind, secretly hoping she or he would be interested in taking the part. For example, when writing the character of enigmatic inventor Lazarus Taft, I always had the voice of singer Dirk von Lowtzow in my mind, so I was really excited when he agreed to take the part. This was also the case with Nora and Jan. I would like to point out that I am so very happy with all of our voice actors; I would always want to work with every single one of them again.
Ingmar: Speaking of Jan Böhmermann, btf produced two freeware adventure games that were related to his show, both of them having a strong vibe of old LucasArts classics. Please talk about your "career" as an adventure fan and share which games particularly left an impression on you.
Scene from one of btf's German-only Neo Magazin freeware adventures Game Royale 2: The Secret of Janni's Island
Florian: I grew up with all of the LucasArts classics, and so did most of the team involved in the Neo Magazin adventure games: Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island 1, 2 and 3, Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max Hit the Road, you name it. I also particularly enjoyed the Broken Sword and Kyrandia series. In later years, I revisited the genre more than once, starting with the Telltale games, which I felt were a revitalizing and fresh take on the genre. I was enchanted by Kentucky Route Zero, strongly impressed by Virginia, blown away by Firewatch and deeply moved by Life Is Strange – all of which were released while we were working on Trüberbrook and thus certainly had some influence on our development. And of course Thimbleweed Park, which felt like coming back home after a long journey.
Ingmar: btf are no strangers to storytelling in other forms of media. How do you feel about the strengths, weaknesses, and unused potential of video games as a storytelling platform?
Florian: Strengths: I like to think that probably the most important, but also most obvious strength is the interaction and immersion you can experience in a video game. You not only identify with a character, you become the character to some degree, and you control her or his actions. That’s a huge part of the fun.
Weaknesses: I have experienced that, at least from an artist’s perspective, it is much harder to stay in control of your work or your vision. You can, for example, work on a movie and edit it over and over until you are really satisfied with the result, and then release it out into the world – in the end you always know what it will look like in cinema, TV or on the home screen of your audience, at least to a certain degree. But with a video game, especially if it is released on different platforms, with different performances on the machines, with options for resolutions, graphics quality and audio settings, and most important with players whose movements and behavior you cannot predict as they take their own routes in their own time, you may lose a certain degree of control over the intended experience, if you consider aspects like dramaturgy or suspense. But this may only be true for linear storytelling games. Because on the other hand, it is also one of the greatest strengths and part of the fun of open world games like Red Dead Redemption 2.
Ingmar: How likely is it that we’ll see more games from btf in the future? Do you have an interest in exploring other genres as well, or would you prefer to stick with traditional adventure games?
Florian: Though adventure games may be close to us, as we are familiar with storytelling, we thirst to venture out and explore other genres and forms of gaming, as we feel we have just scratched the tip of the iceberg yet. There is still much to learn!
Ingmar: Thanks a lot for taking the time for this interview, Florian. Much appreciated, and all the best with Trüberbrook's impending release!