A l’approche de la sortie de Dreamfall en France, Minstrum s’est entretenu avec Jorgen Tharaldsen, Directeur Produit à Funcom et François, de Micro Application, éditeur français.
Minstrum.net – 22/02/06
Q. Can you tell us a bit about yourself ? Your role at Funcom, your background in this industry…
JT: My name is Jorgen Tharaldsen, I work as the product director in Funcom. That means I’m responsible for PR, community, product marketing and our strategic partnerships. I’ve been involved with Dreamfall since the very beginning, I’m not on the developing team per se – i mean Dreamfall is Ragnar Tornquist’s baby, he is the creative lead on the project – but i’m involved in the universe around it. I’ve been working with games for 13 years, everything from being a journalist to being a buyer for the biggest chain in Norway and lots of various stuff. And today I’m also involved in PEGI and in Norwegian game developers association, so I worked a lot with games on all kinds of ways and it’s my big passion.
Q. TLJ was critically acclaimed and sold very well, what goals are you aiming at for Dreamfall ?
JT: We’re aiming to make it profitable and to make it a critical success. At this stage we feel pretty certain that it will be a fantastic game, we think most people will love it and it will gather very high rankings and scores, how much will it sells ? We don’t know yet. But we hope it will make money, so if we make money we can make a new game and if we don’t make money we can’t make a new game, it’s very simple. So of course we hope GTA 10 million copies but that’s not realistic, realistic is to get attention all over the western world and to get good sales. Hopefully some chart toppers in Europe and top 20 in the US, so that’s what are some of the goals.
Q. You could have made a traditional point & click sequel with April as the main character, why did you take the risk of a new gameplay and a new main character ?
JT: Because we had to, for Funcom our goal is to be amongst the leading developers in the world, and we focus on two genres which is adventures and MMO games. To make another point & click adventure would have meant that we would have targeted the game towards a niche in the market. By opening up the target and mixing the best of point & click with lots of things from the modern action mechanics we are broadening the scope of adventure games. Adventure games used to be biggest genre of all, but because it was the same mechanics over and over it meant – especially in the US – that the following shrink down. In many countries in Europe it’s still very popular, but in order to put the budget we’re putting into it we had to increase and had to make what we call a modern adventure. So that’s our goal, to try to innovate the genre. We should see if it works, but it looks good so far.
Q. Some gamers found TLJ too talkative, how can you please them and at the same time met the expectations of those who loved the long dialogs ?
JT: First of all in Dreamfall, if you think it’s too talkative you can skip. You can skip any dialog, any cutscene, anything, and you have a log: you can always go back and read everything which has been said so you can go through it very fast. Many times there are long dialogs but they are shorter. But it’s a story-based adventure game, so you’re bound to see a lot of dialogs but hopefully in a good way. When I’m playing the game I never want to skip: I want to actually listen and hear what’s going on and I think we have so much quality on actors, voices, music, experience so the dialog feels like it’s natural and it’s in place.
François (Micro Application): The dialogs in Dreamfall are more nervous, reactive, there are much more dialogs than in TLJ – there were a lots of monologs – so they are much more dynamics.
JT: Yeah, you can say it like that as well. In general, i think a lot of criticism which came after the last game has been adapted into this game to improve on what we felt could be better after the last game.
Q. Is there any game that influenced you when making Dreamfall ?
JT: Knights of the Old Republic, Grand Theft Auto, Fable, Day of the Tentacle and The Longest Journey of course. Most people on the development team play a lot of games, they often play games together. And you also have a game like Katamari Damacy and of course Resident Evil , there’s no one influence, there’s multiple influences and many on the team have different influences.
Q. TLJ story was mainly about April’s journey, isn’t it harder to create a story with three playable characters and make the player really care about all of them ?
JT: Yes of course it is. Sounds geeky, but i was sitting here a few days ago and playing with Zoë and i thought « oh shit, I love you Zoë » *laughs* I got a very strong connection to Zoë when I played the game. I think everybody who played April the last time will still have a lot of connections to her as a person, which will be re-lived when they see her again but she has changed. And for Kian, he doesn’t talk as much but he has a very interesting setting in a very interesting story. I think the fact that you have three stories means that you play three stories which go together and I think you’ll get an even more intriguing story this time around that you had last time. But it’s of course up to the player to judge, but I think so.
Q. Other studios tried to evolve the adventure genre but there is still a majority of traditional point & click games, do you think the adventure genre will follow Dreamfall steps ?
JT: Yes i think so, if we become a success. If we don’t become a success, they wont follow. But this takes a lot to do, it’s a lot harder to make Dreamfall than it is to make a point & click adventure. Because then you have static pre-rendered backgrounds, a lot is happening in 2D or 2.5D, or however you wish to look at it and it’s a lot more complex to make this, so a lot of the companies who are solely focused on adventure games today cannot make this game without stepping up their staff, stepping up the budget, and this makes it very hard because this increase the risk, and you need to have more money into the studio to develop. So hopefully, but on the other side you see more stories in Grand Theft Auto or from Bioware and role playing games, so you see that many others genre of games are putting more emphasis on the story. So it’s hard to say where we will go but Fahrenheit did great, hopefully Dreamfall will do great and hopefully more games will be coming up after us.
Q. Is Dreamfall less linear than TLJ ?
JT: Yes a lot less linear but it’s just one story. It’s one start, one end, each chapter ends in the same way but your choices within these chapters have a lot more freedom. Both in terms of dialogs, in terms of branching and also in terms of what you can do: you can speak your way out of situations, you can fight your way, you can sneak your way … So you have a variety in terms of what you do within each given scene. But it’s one story; it’s one way through to the game.
Q. TLJ was really popular with females, why is that ? And do you think Dreamfall will be as popular with this audience ?
JT: Yes I hope so.
François: 100% true.
JT: I feel confident because they can relate to the characters in Dreamfall. Zoë is the girl next door: she’s a smart girl but she’s not like Lara Croft – with boobs out there – and very often female character in games is about tits and an ass and revealing everything- But in Dreamfall we have hopefully find a balance. I also think we have interesting female characters which are not victims, they are heroines and they are strong in themselves and I think this attracts the females instead of always having a macho grunt to control.
Q. One of the main criticism in TLJ were the puzzles, did Funcom pay a special attention to them in Dreamfall ?
JT: Yes – i mean you have the rubberduck puzzle which is legendary today – *laughs* a lot of considerations and thoughts has gone into making them, and to make them feel logical and make them feel like they are part of that evolution we’re going through. It should feel like they are there for a reason and they tie into your journey through the game. So I think the puzzles are fun and great and many of them are also quite challenging. So we’ve taken care of the legacy of adventure games but tried to take them within a 3D universe, so it’s mix of 2D puzzles and 3D puzzles.
François: It’s also interesting that the puzzles are consistent with the universe, in Stark they’re more technological, and in Arcadia it’s more esoteric…
JT: Yeah, like symbols and music and other aspects. I think in general the puzzles have turned out to be great; there is only one I haven’t been able to achieve without cheating.
François: which one ?
François: oh ok I understand *laughs*
JT: That’s good I think; it’s good to challenge the player a bit.
Q. TLJ had a light-hearted story, Dreamfall seems darker and more serious, is there still a place for humour in Dreamfall ?
JT: Yes definitly, everywhere. You will find it in lots of locations in lots of the conversations, in lots of the characters speaking with each others, to each others, i think there is humour everywhere. A lot of it is grown-up humour …
François: dark humour …
JT: Black humour or whatever you call it, but it’s fun humour. This depends on cultural backgrounds, but I think many times you will laugh and smile.
Q. Which kind of emotion do you want the player to feel when playing the game ?
JT: Hopefully it will come across a multiple of emotions, so you feel like your hair is rising and sometimes you are scared, anxious, other times you are laughing and happy, sometimes you are just smiling when you see stuff going on on the screen. It’s not just one-dimensional; it should take you across multiple emotions. And the emotion should not be just in term of emotions but also in term of visuals; so you see that every new location you’re coming to should feel they are consistent with what you’re actually doing. When in the fantasy universe you should feel like you’re in a fantasy universe and vice versa; when you are in our world you should feel like you are in Casablanca or Japan or Russia …
Q. How large is the development team compared to TLJ ?
JT: It’s very hard to compare because we’ve changed our focus a bit, we’re more than 30 people but Funcom is due to increase needs for better graphics so we’ve started a lot more outsourcing. The core team is 31 people and in addition you’ve marketing and testing and other functions, so in total maybe 40 people at Funcom work on the actual development. And then you have Micro Application who also work on testing and localization, then you have the Americans working on testing, and lots of people from Asia in our Chinese office working on graphics. I don’t know quite where to put it, you can say it’s 30 people or you can say it’s 150 people.
Q. Going from 2D to 3D, what are the main difficulties you met ?
JT: 3D means full interaction with the whole world around you, it means that you need to calculate a lot more, everything needs to be seen from all angles – of course not all angles but multiple angles – and of course it also means that you have a lot more effects to take care of, you need to think a lot more of where light is coming in, you also need to think about how to do puzzles in 3D. In general it’s a lot more complex to make 3D games so the step up escalates the difficulty on all regards.
Q. Did you make the Xbox and PC versions in parallel or is the Xbox version a port from the PC version ?
JT: No it’s in parallel; there are a few programmers who work simultaneously on both. It’s the same development tree, and we’re making for both versions but we scale up and down according to the power of the machine; because on the PC we have more choices, more power, on Xbox we need to scale down some things.
Q. Is the Xbox version playable on Xbox 360 ? What are the chances of an Xbox 360 version sometimes in the future ?
JT: If it’s gonna be a Xbox 360 version, it’s gonna be a new Longest Journey game, it’s not gonna be this game. Unless it sells millions and millions and Microsoft come « please », of course we will think about it. We don’t know yet if it will be backward compatible, actually it’s a bit sad that we cant say « yes it will be » but this depends on the architecture of the Xbox version. We will know in about two or three weeks I guess, so … I hope.
Q. Does the music play an important part in the narrative of the game ?
JT: Yes very, for this game a total of four persons have been working on the music and sound effects, we’ve 7.1 support if you have that kind of system. And the music is always there to increase your emotions, and to put more dramatic and to put more effect on what you’re actually hearing, this is always important for Funcom. I cant talk about it quite yet, but you also have a very well know artist – at least in our region – who especially composed music for Dreamfall outside our orchestral music, so you actually gonna have two soundtracks.
Q. Was it hard to work with multiple publishers ?
JT: Yes it’s always hard to work with multiple publishers; but it’s a thing of game development: you’re coming out in a lot of regions, and each region have different needs and this is a challenge of course, but it’s always gonna be like that. If you are a developer you want to have your game out in 200 nations of course, and every region has different needs. But Micro Application has been doing a great job, Aspyr in the US has been doing a great job and in northern regions we have been doing a great job so we’re happy with everybody. At the moment I think we have a good chance of making it a success together with our partners … but it’s always hard *looks at François and laughs*
Q. Is there a secret bonus like the book of secrets ?
JT: You need to find out yourself …
François: no comment on this one
JT: Yeah, no comment *laughs*
Q. Is a sequel to Dreamfall already in the planning stage ?
JT: No. It’s in the planning stage in Ragnar’s head, no doubt about it; it’s been in the planning stage since The Longest Journey was released. It depends on the success of Dreamfall, this is the only thing I can say because Funcom would like to make more adventure games, but if it doesn’t make money we cant do it. So all we can do is ask that everybody who wants to play Dreamfall that they actually buy it in retail and not download it from internet. So because our economical success if we’ll make money depends on if there’ll be a new game.
Q. Do you think the worlds of Stark and Arcadia could be used in another type of game ?
JT: Yes you could use it in RPG, you could use it in MMO games, we can have the war of the balance, and you can use it in pretty much everything.
François: Maybe not a racing game …
JT: Yeah, you can have airships driving *laughs* you can have fighting games … I mean there’s no limit to what you can use the universe for because it is Fantasy, it is Futuristic sci-fi, it’s also the spiritual and the dream-like so there’s really no limits. I guess the easiest conversion would be RPG of some sort, either online or offline.
Q. Anything else you want to say to the French fans ?
JT: No. But I’m really glad that we have French fans. I think it’s great that Minstrum has been holding up so long; I think it’s great to see that you have spent a lot of your time on actually dealing with this community. And this means a lot to us – I mean I don’t speak French so I cant follow your site – but I follow the English speaking sites and I know Ragnar is doing; and pretty much everybody on the development team is actually reading the fans sites, and it’s great to see that people actually care so much about what we do. I’m a big fan of games myself so I do follow games myself and it’s great to see what we are actually making means something to people.