Rafael Latiegui

Pendulo Studios

Posted by Julian Seale, Philip Jong.
First posted on 20 February 2008. Last updated on 30 April 2010.
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Rafael Latiegui
Rafael Latiegui is the Art Director at Pendulo Studios, best known as the developer of the Runaway series.

All images are courtesy of Jérôme Blazy, Focus Home Interactive © 2007-2008.

Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle is the sequel hit to the adventure game Runaway: A Road Adventure. Developed by Pendulo Studios, the Runaway series follows the globetrotting adventures of Brian Basco and Gina Timmins as their fates cross paths each time in a most uncanny way. The series, with its quirky characters and humorous stories, has won praises from both fans and critics. While a third game in the series has not been officially announced, gamers who are familiar with the series already know that the adventures of Brian and Gina are far from finished.

We are privileged to have an opportunity to interview Rafael Latiegui, Art Director at Pendulo Studios, about the Runaway series. In the interview, Latiegui speaks of the development history behind both games, the distinct humor of the series, the challenges of storytelling in computer games, and what holds in the future for Pendulo Studios.

The Runaway series pays great homage to the style of the classic adventure games from the 1980s and 1990s. What classic adventure games have been the inspirations for the Runaway series?

Many, the Monkey Island series, the Day of the Tentacle, the Space Quest series, and many more. In general, you could mention the adventure games from Sierra's earliest period and especially those by LucasArts.

How did the development of Runaway: A Road Adventure and Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle begin? How long were the development periods? How much of the game assets from the original were reused in the sequel?

Runaway was a change compared to our previous adventure, Hollywood Monsters. We wanted to make a more linear and less zany story. The result was a huge success in Europe, and that is how we got the chance to continue the adventure experienced by the main characters in Runaway, which was great for us, because we were left with quite a few ideas which we had had to leave out in the first game. The time it took to develop both projects was a bit more than two years each, and in the sequel we did not use too much from the first game. Basically just the ideas on the characters, as well as the philosophy of the game.

How true was the rumor that the ending of Runaway: A Road Adventure was deliberately written so to leave room for a potential sequel? In retrospect, how satisfied were you with the closure of the first story?

It is not true at all. The decision to make a sequel to Runaway arose many months after launching the original game. I believe that the first story was well-rounded, but in our team, we were left wanting to put in several ideas that came about as we were writing the script. For obvious reasons of time and space, they could not fit into the production.

Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle has an amusing and witty plot that involves space aliens, turtles, military, and even sushi chefs! What are the inspirations for such a whimsical story? What are the challenges to develop believable characters that conform to such a whacky plotline?

We find inspiration in everything around us, in both our personal lives and movies, books, TV, etc. For the sequel to Runaway, we wanted to place more of an emphasis on the humor, so there is not so much of an attempt to make the characters believable. Instead, the idea is for players to have a good time.

Brian obviously had a makeover! He transformed from a nice likeable geek in Runaway: A Road Adventure into a classic spiky haired punk in Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle. How was this decision brought about to change Brian's appearance for the sequel?

Well, the story itself called for it. Brian goes from being a geek without much of a personality to meeting Gina, a woman who has lived quite a bit and who obviously influences him in many ways, the physical part being just one.

In the Runaway series, there is a harmonious balance between humor, action, and mystery in the pace of the story. How do you strike this delicate balance without losing the player because of an overly convoluted story?

I believe that this is precisely one of the most difficult things to do when designing a chapter of Runaway. We always try to adapt to the players' taste, which is why, after publishing the first Runaway, we held a contest to get to know the players' positive and negative opinions, so as to use them in developing the sequel. The result was excellent, and we received more than 3,000 detailed e-mail messages. The winner of the contest, a French girl, became one of the characters in Dream of the Turtle, the sequel to Runaway.

What graphical tools are used to develop the unique cel animation look in the Runaway series? What are the advantages of using a combination of 2D and 3D graphics to produce the visual effects in the series?

We use a mixture of external tools and internally produced tools to achieve the look of the game. In terms of the advantages of combining 2D and 3D, the truth is that the only advantage is that the aesthetic result is what we were looking for. Other than that, there are mainly disadvantages, because you get trapped by the limitations of 2D and those of 3D all at once.

Brian is a character whose life suddenly makes a drastic detour while running a mundane trip to pick up a book. To what extent is this character drawn from the real life experiences of Pendulo Studios which has also gone through a turbulent and unexpected detour as a game company? Is the parallelism deliberate or accidental?

Hahaha, though there are personal touches in some of the characters in the Runaway series, I cannot say that the main character is based on any one of us. Any parallelism with real life is pure chance.

It was rumored that the final phase of the development of Runaway: A Road Adventure had been turbulent because of the financial difficulty of Dinamic Multimedia that had subsequently gone bankrupt in 2001. When did you first learn of Dinamic Multimedia's financial difficulty? How much was the game's development put in jeopardy because of the fallout with Dinamic Multimedia?

The final stage of production went faster than the rest. However, this is normal when developing any game. When we found out more about Dinamic's financial trouble, it was more or less one month after Runaway had been published in Spain and Italy.

How satisfied are you with how the Runaway series has been marketed in different countries in both Europe and North America? What are the lessons that you have learned as a developer when dealing with a publisher? How different has been the experience between Dinamic Multimedia and Focus Home Interactive?

Well, I think the experience in each country is different, and there are many different parameters which include marketing, distribution, user tastes and, of course, the relationship with each publisher is different.

What aspects of the Runaway series are you most proud of? What elements (both technology and gameplay) do you want to see further developed for the series in the future?

Perhaps the aspect that most stands out is everything visual, though I believe there are other equally important elements that are of indisputable quality. In terms of the series' future, the third part is in production right at this time.

How much do you believe that the Runaway series has the potential to be developed into a movie with its road cinema inspired characters? Fans and newcomers can learn to laugh with Brian as he encounters the cross dressers, strippers, and other funky characters in the series that will certainly make a scandalous but amusing action adventure comedy!

We have never taken the potential for that too seriously, though I think the story, which is wrapped up in a veil of adventure and humor, and is not to be taken too seriously, could be quite appealing, to tell you the truth.

It is difficult not to compare the relationship between Brian and Gina in the Runaway series to that between George and Nico in the Broken Sword series or between Gabriel and Grace in the Gabriel Knight series. How do you feel about such comparisons? With this in mind, how do the dynamics of your characters differ from those mentioned above?

In this case, I would not say that there is anything beyond chance coincidences, because we have not played the Broken Sword series. However, I do not think the type of relationship between Brian and Gina or, as you say, between George and Nico, is anything completely original, because you can find many similar pairs in movies and literature.

How true are the rumors that Hollywood Monsters and Igor: Objective Uikokahonia may be returning to the spotlight soon?

For the time being, it is only that, rumors.

In your opinion, how will Pendulo Studios evolve over the next 5 years in its vision and focus?

I wish I knew, but in large part Pendulo's development will have a lot to do with the developments taking place in the adventure game market, and how adventures adapt to the different consoles.

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