First posted on 21 May 2008. Last updated on 07 September 2009.
Sierra, Cyan, and LucasArts are 3 companies most adventure game fans think of when they are asked to name their favorite developers. Of these, LucasArts is perhaps the most celebrated for humor and wit, and its games (such as the ever-popular Monkey Island or Sam & Max series) continue to thrill thousands of gamers worldwide even today. Unfortunately, few developers have followed LucasArts' footsteps, and the bulk of currently produced adventure games continue to be quite serious in tone. Thankfully, Deck13 Interactive, a German developer, has appeared to fill the void left by LucasArts. The company is dedicated to listening closely to its customers and developing games that meet (or exceed!) their expectations. Ordinarily, such claims are easily dismissed as just ad copy, but after playing Ankh: Heart of Osiris, Deck13 Interactive's latest adventure game title, I am convinced that the independent developer has what it takes to assume the LucasArts mantle. The game is clever and witty, and the future of the company looks bright.
It is therefore a pleasure and a privilege to have the opportunity to interview Jan Klose, Creative Director at Deck13 Interactive, to get his take on the nature of the adventure genre and its future. Judging from his responses, it appears that Deck13 Interactive understands what fans want in an adventure game. The developer has learned what gamers really enjoy about LucasArts' games, and the company is truly a rising star well worth being taken seriously by the gaming community.
- As a developer of graphical adventure games, what do you believe lies in the future of this genre?
- I think that interactive stories is going to become huge within the next years. Whether this is a classic point-and-click adventure or possibly influenced by new technology as provided by, for example, the Wii controller, remains to be seen.
- How do you respond to critics who claim that adventure is a dead genre?
- Experiencing stories as a games player is generally a very successful element of current state-of-the-art games. The new technology that adventures can use nowadays makes them far from "dead".
- How would you describe the Ankh series compared to other adventure games currently being published?
- As the adventure genre seems to spring back to life with lots of new releases, it's certainly good for the Ankh series to be especially targeted at players who like humorous content. It's a 3D cartoon adventure game and will surely appeal to all people who like movies like "Shrek" or "Madagascar". This distinguishes the Ankh series from more serious adventure games.
- What do you think are the advantages of using a third-person perspective (as in Ankh: Heart of Osiris) compared to a first-person perspective (as in Myst) in an adventure game?
- It makes you get to know the character and his behavior and reactions in certain situations. When playing Ankh, you learn how Assil and Thara cope with certain situations. Using a first-person perspective, this aspect is lost.
- What previous games do you think most influenced the Ankh series? There certainly seem to be some resonances to the LucasArts classic Monkey Island series.
- What? No! We've never heard of this, er, "monkey" game before! Well, basically, all classic games dealing with humor instead of plain serious content more or less inspired the Ankh games. Monkey Island might be a good example, but there's a host of other classic games, and also movies and novels, that influenced Ankh.
- What are your thoughts on recruiting voice talent for games? How difficult is to find good voice actors, and how big of a difference does it make on the gaming experience?
- It makes a huge difference. The voices make the characters spring to life, and if you have funny content, it is important to get that right using the voices. Timing is much more difficult - a joke with bad timing isn't a joke any more. So it might be especially important for a humorous game to get the voices right.
- How big of a role did press reviews and fan reactions to the original Ankh play in the development of Ankh: Heart of Osiris?
- We've very cautiously monitored how the people received the first game, and we tried to increase the content that people liked while removing the bits that people didn't like so much (which were, luckily, only a few). In my personal opinion, Heart of Osiris has become an (even?) better game than the first game!
- What do you think are the most common mistakes developers make when trying to design graphical adventure games?
- Some adventures seem to focus too much on a story and neglect the actual gameplay, e.g. the reason why people play a game instead of watching a movie. Also, in my personal opinion, many people try to incorporate inappropriate minigames that do not add anything good to the gameplay experience.
Another important point is that many current adventure games do not make enough effort to meet the optical quality standards that people are used to from TV and cinema experiences. Of course this is not only a matter of experience but simply the money available for the development of the game.
- What are your general strategies for integrating puzzles into the storyline of an adventure game? Do you think the puzzles should always relate somehow to the story?
- We try to make all puzzles directly relate to the story line. Both elements have to tie in together. The story's purpose is to bring the puzzles to life! And there are other annoying aspects that can be avoided. For example, we try to do without any box shifting or code cracking puzzles as they don't do anything good to the story.
- Should developers worry if their puzzles are so hard that gamers will be unable to solve them without seeking elsewhere for hints? In general, what are your thoughts on the proper difficulty level for an adventure game?
- Erm. Games that demand the player to read some sort of solution are really outdated, aren't they? So it's up to us to deliver a "just right" level of difficulty which is (of course) hard to achieve.
- Thara is among the most memorable characters in the Ankh series. Will she be making a return appearance possibly in a future sequel? What are the secrets to developing a memorable game character?
- The same that makes out any memorable human person: being different, being surprising, and having a soul. And I'm sure that as long as there's an Ankh game, there will be a Thara.
- What are your strategies for play testing games to rid of technical bugs and gameplay glitches?
- Take a big audience, and listen especially to the adventure games players that are most likely to decide over success or failure of your game.