Emily: In doing first-person, are there limitations you weren’t expecting?
Ragnar: There are challenges, especially when it comes to animations of the head, things like that that you have to deal with. We questioned whether or not we should have a body, and we don’t, because it’s kind of disconcerting sometimes to look down and see a body, and it’s a lot more work. We are doing the hands, which we feel is important, so you can see [Edward’s] hands and you get a connection to the character. We haven’t implemented it yet, but he’s going to have glasses as well, and he can take his glasses off. There’s a connection and an immediacy, but in a lot of first-person games, too, your character is sort of like a cipher, but we’re very much into giving [Edward] a personality. So if you look at a mirror you can see him, and if you go to drawing spots in the world, you can sit down and illustrate, and we actually cut to a third-person camera, just to give you an idea of who he is and to see him in the environment.
Emily: So there is a character model, and we’ll see him occasionally?
Ragnar: There is a character model, yeah. And I think that’s sort of—we took that expense, too, because I feel like these games that have nobody around—in Firewatch, I know that’s the idea, but I was kind of disappointed to not meet the other character at the end; it felt like it stopped just before I wanted the game to stop. So I think it’s nice to be able to explore this world together with somebody else; it just feels different.
Emily: That also brings to mind a Walking Dead, Lee and Clementine relationship.
Ragnar: That’s a good comparison, I think, although, you know, you’re more protective toward [Clementine] than with Lissie, who’s very independent. Edward is sort of the one who needs protection sometimes, because he’s sort of—he’s a bit dull, he’s a bit slow and old and dull, and he doesn’t like climbing things or exploring or doing anything really. He’s a recluse, and he struggles with his own issues; he’s not comfortable around people, he’s not comfortable out in the world. He’s barely left the house in thirty years. His sister disappearing pulls him out of his shell and he has to go, he has to travel halfway around the world and face this completely new reality. And a lot of the game happens up here [gestures to head].
Emily: I want to ask questions about the story, but I feel like there’s nothing I can ask—
Ragnar: You don’t! I think this is the kind of story that the less you know, the better it is. Everything I’ve said, you discover in the first five minutes of playing the game, but beyond that we do want people to be surprised, and engaged in the mystery and in who this character is. It really is more of a game about people than it is about a greater mystery; it’s about the mystery inside rather than the mystery outside.
Emily: Your decision to make a game that’s more… I don’t want to say “walking simulator”—
Ragnar: That’s a terrible, terrible—
Emily: I didn’t say it!
Ragnar: But a lot of people do; that’s a tag that exists in Steam.
Emily: And I hate it! I hate when people say, “No, we’re going to embrace it”—
Ragnar: No, it’s the wrong thing to embrace, because it’s so much more than a walking simulator. We’re not simulating walking. A game where you have to press the keys to get the legs to walk, that’s a walking simulator! I like to think of it as narrative exploration, or first-person exploration. But it’s also about more than that: it’s about talking to characters, it’s an adventure game! Like, who cares if it’s first-person, who cares if it doesn’t have hardcore puzzles? It’s an adventure.
Emily: Okay, so your decision to make a first-person exploration game, does that come at all from changes in what people are playing, or what you saw for sales with Dreamfall Chapters, or what you’re seeing with YouTube, any of those types of influences?
Dreamfall Chapters sold over half a million copies
Ragnar: Not really, because Dreamfall Chapters has done very well; it’s sold half a million copies. If we were smart we’d do that again. [laughs] But to me it was more like, I want to explore a new genre, the team wanted to do something new. It’s an exciting genre; it’s just a chance to do something a little bit different, to put our stamp on that. And there aren’t that many first-person exploration games coming out.
Emily: Not enough, in my opinion.
Ragnar: I mean, Campo Santo has In the Valley of the Gods, and that looks a bit similar with the companion character, but there’s very little else. So it’s sort of, yeah, why not do something that people seem to enjoy, and it’s a story that we wanted to tell, and it would only work as first-person. We don’t necessarily make decisions based on marketing trends. We feel if you make a game that has a good story that hooks people, people are going to play it regardless of what the genre is. There’s always a market for that.
Emily: I hope so. I think games like Tacoma had trouble—
Ragnar: Tacoma struggled a lot. But I think that has to do with—and I did buy it; I haven’t played it yet—but from what I’ve read, it’s a really good game, but I think they maybe struggled with how to present the story, and it was a space station which is hard to do. People have been on space stations [in games], while Gone Home was in a family home in the ’90s. That felt approachable and unique at the same time, while Tacoma felt like, yeah, you go up to a space station… I mean, god bless them for making that game, but I feel like it was a harder sell than Gone Home in a lot of ways.
Emily: Which you wouldn’t necessarily think. You would have thought that Gone Home would be the harder sell.
Draugen can be compared to What Remains of Edith Finch (pictured) in terms of environmental storytelling focus
Ragnar: Yeah, absolutely. But I think also, they decided to say, we want to tell this story, and we’re going to tell it. Edith Finch I think also struggled with sales in the beginning, but that’s such an ambitious title. Have you played it?
Emily: I started to and I couldn’t get into it. I had a lot of trouble with the controls.
Ragnar: Yeah, because you have to pull and push everything.
Emily: Yeah, and I got through one of the first sections and it was making my teeth hurt.
Ragnar: It’s a hugely ambitious game; they do so much stuff, and that must have cost a whole lot of money and a whole lot of time to make that game.
Emily: You liked it?
Ragnar: I do like it, I do like it, simply because of the ambition, and I like the story. Again, it’s sort of a family story, and I like games that are anchored in the real world; that’s always interesting to me.
Emily: I like that too, and actually in Dreamfall, my favorite parts were in Stark.
Ragnar: The domestic stuff.
Emily: Yeah, the fantasy wasn’t as interesting to me; I was more interested in the stuff that’s happening in the real world, even though it’s a futuristic, not-real version of the real world.
Ragnar: Yeah, and I think if I was going to do any changes, maybe doubling down on the domestic aspects, but with Dreamfall Chapters we were sort of committed to a story that had to be told, and that story had been decided a long time ago, so there wasn’t a lot of freedom in terms of… well, we have to do this. Not that it’s a bad thing, but we have to do it.
Emily: And the added layer of having the Kickstarter and having all these people you’re answering to.
Dreamfall Chapters tripled in size between original concept and final game
Ragnar: Yeah. New company, new team, tight budget, huge expectations, a game that grew over time because we really wanted to—I mean, that game tripled in size, and it didn’t triple in size because we’re terrible at planning, it was because we felt we owed people. Especially since we went episodic, we’re like, oh shit, now we really have to go above and beyond, and we kept doing that. The final episode, we didn’t even set ourselves a deadline; we said we have to do this right, we have to conclude this right, so we spent six months on it and all of our money in order to just, basically, get that done right.
If anything that’s what makes me a bit sad; people criticize it—a lot of people love it, too, the rating is very high, so obviously people do like it, but it’s a feeling like people were cheated out of something? But we were really all in; we just wanted to make a game for the fans, you know? And I think also the game sort of got… it started pretty good, but then it sort of got off rails, but then it got back on rails toward the end. I’m proudest of episodes 4 and 5 and how they managed to conclude the story we wanted to tell in a proper fashion that we can actually close the book and say, ‘We’re done now. We don’t have to do anything more, because we did what we were supposed to do.’
Emily: Which, after ten years or whatever, it was nice to be able to close that book.
Ragnar: Yeah. I mean, of course some people weren’t happy, but I think most people were. And you know, you always get the thing where it’s like, oh, where’s April Ryan’s story? That was The Longest Journey! That’s also why we decided to move on, I think. To be able to get past that a little bit and do something fresh.
Emily: With no expectations.
Ragnar: Exactly. So hopefully, The Longest Journey and Dreamfall fans will play Draugen and get something from it. And the vibe, and the mood, is similar to what we’ve done in the past. It’s just something fresh, and it concludes. There’s no cliffhanger or anything; it’s one and done with, you know?Continued on the next page...