Alkis Polyrakis, Nicolas Sideris
First posted on 26 November 2008. Last updated on 26 November 2008.
|Alkis Polyrakis is the founder of Atropos Studios and the creator of Diamonds in the Rough.|
All images are courtesy of Charoula Laina, Atropos Studios © 2008.
To describe Alkis Polyrakis is to describe an indie game designer with talent and innovation. Polyrakis is the founder of Atropos Studios and the creator of the adventure game Diamonds in the Rough. He is also the creator of Other Worlds, another indie adventure game which he has previously released for free. To understand the universe of Other Worlds and Diamonds in the Rough is to understand the person who have created these games, a man who self admits to also be a fan of Stephen King.
We are privileged to have an opportunity to interview Polyrakis and Nicolas Sideris from Atropos Studios about the company and their games. In the interview, they speak about the inspiration behind Diamonds in the Rough, the transition of becoming indie game developers, the production challenges of making a budget commercial game title, and what the future holds for the company. Polyrakis even reveals the secret to why Jason from Diamonds in the Rough seems to always walk in a peculiar way on screen!
- What background did you have in game development prior to Diamonds in the Rough? Who founded Atropos Studios?
- Alkis Polyrakis: I had done some work on the football game Kick Off 2002 by Anco seven years ago, before the company went bankrupt. I also released the freeware adventure game Other Worlds in 2004. The gamers community showed -and continues to show- a great deal of interest in this title, and that is why I decided to found my own games developing company two years ago.
- What was your inspiration for the story in Diamonds in the Rough, given its decidedly more mature theme compared to Other Worlds?
- Alkis Polyrakis: I believe that fantasy stories are what I do best, but whether the theme of the story is mature or not depends on the message I'm trying to convey at the time. I usually begin writing a script by asking myself a question. In Other Worlds, the question was "How far would you be willing to go to find the one you love"? Likewise, I started writing Diamonds in the Rough because I had always wondered how gamers would react if they were confronted with a controversial matter that had never been discussed in games before.
I can't say that I was consciously inspired by anything I had read or seen, at least not as far as the story was concerned.
- What technical aspect of the game do you consider to be most innovative?
- Alkis Polyrakis: Definitely the Thoughts Panel. I've been told that a couple of other games have used something similar recently, but I couldn't have known that when I came up with that idea in 2006.
Think of it as a second inventory. As you progress in the game, new thoughts are added and old thoughts disappear. A simple thought is a character's name, for instance. A more complex one can be a situation, like a meeting Jason just had or something he saw.
Thoughts can be:
- Examined (example: click on a name and Jason will tell you what he thinks about that person at the time)
- Combined (example: use a name on a situation and Jason will think if there's a connection between them)
- Used anywhere else in the game, just like inventory items (example: use a situation on a person and the person may tell you something about it)
Successful use of any of the above may open a new location ("I'd better go ask X what he thinks of that"), trigger something somewhere else in the game, or even make Jason think of something new (a new thought will be added).
I like to think that the Thoughts panel makes Jason seem more real, instead of a marionette that obeys to the player's wishes. Plus, creates some original puzzles. The feedback we have received so far regarding that feature is very encouraging.
- Without any spoiler, what is your favorite part of the story of Diamonds in the Rough? Why?
- Alkis Polyrakis: I love the opening as it is offered in the introduction. It shows the player that this story means business, that it's not something you will be able to ignore or forget easily. In addition, the ending comes as a complete surprise to most people. I believe that Alex Rudy, the actor who does Jason's character, gives an award winning performance as he never sounds fake or uninterested.
In addition, the game has some sudden "discovery" moments which bring a chill to one's spine, especially since they're aided by appropriate sound effects.
- What is your favorite character in Diamonds in the Rough? Why?
- Alkis Polyrakis: I like Henry Saunders a lot (played by Matt Baker). He is an ex-lorry driver who is not afraid to voice his opinion in a caustic way. I like him because he is tough, honest and very straight forward, which are qualities I admire in real life people as well.
Characters are very important to me, I want to do the best I can so that they don't seem paper thin and one dimensional. The way I try to achieve this is by writing down their complete life stories, whether I reveal that information during the game or not. And I do that even for the secondary characters as it helps me create their complete personalities.
For example, did you know that Nadine was arrested for shop lifting at the age of 15? Or that Jason fell from a tree house and broke his ankle when he was 7? Come to think of it, perhaps that explains the way he walks!
- How much of the main character in the game do you see in yourself?
- Alkis Polyrakis: I do not think there is any resemblance, perhaps because we come from very different backgrounds; Jason was born and raised in rural Kansas and his parents were rather poor. I grew up in a middle class Greek family and although I've lived in many different locations, I've always been a city boy. Furthermore, he is a much nicer person than I am and rather smarter, too.
- When did you first develop the idea for Diamonds in the Rough? How long was the development time? Who were involved in the development?
- Alkis Polyrakis: The title came to me when I heard the phrase in a movie, in the beginning of 2006. I instantly pictured an organization named "Diamonds in the Rough" and a middle age man (who later on became the character of William Hungerton) saying to a youngster the phrase "I want to offer you a job". One picture is what usually gets you going. It got me thinking, what is this organization about? Who funds them and for what purpose? What sort of job is that and what is the price the employees have to pay?
It took us about two years to create DITR. I'm sure you don't want me to list the entire crew, so I'll just say that the graphics were done by Jura Kalinkin, Nikolas Sideris took care of the music, sound effects and sound engineering and a number of people worked on getting the scientific facts right. I wrote the story and did the programming myself, with a little help here and there from members of the Adventure Game Studio community.
Overall, my cooperation with all the people who worked with me was ideal. I have no complaints whatsoever with their work and I'm fairly sure I didn't treat them too badly either.
- How was the process of scoring the music for the game? From where did you sample the music?
- Nikolas Sideris: The music was all originally created for DiTR, not sampled or taken from any music library.
The music for the game is pretty much divided into two distinct sections, from the gameplay and the story itself. The first part is a calm, ordinary, cool setting for the whole town, but after the middle everything changes to a more sinister and dark sombre sound.
The composer had constant input from the developer, and he was able to deduct the important information about the mood of the game to each section. The music for the finale was written after the completion of all other elements because of the importance of it. Concept art, dialog, voice acting files, all helped to create the atmosphere for DiTR.
- How did you cast the voices of the characters for the game? How difficult was it to select the right voices for the right characters?
- Alkis Polyrakis: It was harder than I thought, but the results were more than satisfactory. What I did was announce the auditions by writing a brief character profile and a short script. The actors who were interested would then read the script and send me their samples. I listened to all of them and narrowed the list to a small number of people, who went through a second audition. I often requested the opinion of some of the native speakers of my crew as well. Finally, when I decided on the ideal candidate I gave him/her a complete description of the story and the character as well as guidelines on how I wanted the tone, tempo etc. to be. Looking at my database, I see that I had to listen to the auditions of 87 actors for Jason's part alone!
For every sentence Jason says in the game, imagine that it was recorded in three different ways by Alex which made my job a lot easier as the tone I wanted was almost always present in one of the three.
- How much did you draw from your own previous work, particularly Other Worlds, when making Diamonds in The Rough?
- Alkis Polyrakis: The making of Other Worlds was a precious learning experience. Although I have been a programmer for 22 years, it was the first time that I created such an enormous program all by myself. I learned how to create a convincing game world and how to work with beta testers. Furthermore, I got a lot of feedback from people who played the game which was valuable to me during the making of DITR.
- What classic point and click adventure games most strongly influenced the development of your games? Why?
- Alkis Polyrakis: The titles I had in mind where the ones created by Sierra and LucasArts during the early 90s, and also some later ones such as The Longest Journey and Discworld Noir. Without trying to copy anything from them, I would say that I was inspired by their immersion and wanted to create something similar.
- What architectural or artistic style influenced the distinctive style of the sceneries seen in Diamonds in The Rough? Why did you choose that particular style?
- Alkis Polyrakis: I wanted the town to offer a rather lonely, claustrophobic and isolated feeling without having to resort to dark sceneries or other visual effects. If we did everything correctly, while walking around the town's streets you should feel like it's similar to many small towns you've visited before, but without that friendly small town feeling. It was also important to me that the buildings were correct from an architect's point of view. Being an engineer, I often notice in computer games that the buildings they have feature an interior that would have been impossible to construct judging from how they look on the outside.
However, I didn't give my artist much more than generic guidelines. I resisted the temptation of telling him all the details a location should have, I let him use his imagination as often as possible.
Finally, you will notice that although every graphic in the game is actually three dimensional, everything is pre-rendered so that it looks 2D. That is what I have always preferred when playing an adventure game so that's how I intend to make my games.
- How do you feel about making the transition to a commercial indie developer? What have been the major challenges faced by Atropos Studios in the business of game development?
- Alkis Polyrakis: As you can properly guess, the biggest issue is the budget you have to work with. There was also the question of selecting the right associates for the job. A major challenge for me was the supervision of the entire crew. However, their professionalism made my job a lot easier and I never encountered any cooperation problems. I'm very satisfied with the result and I believe that in some aspects (story, writing, ease of interface, lack of bugs, music, voice acting) Diamonds in the Rough is on a par with the biggest commercial releases.
- What can we expect from Alkis Polyrakis and Atropos Studios in the next 5 years?
- Alkis Polyrakis: We will do our best to continue delivering quality 3rd person, point & click adventure games that offer challenging puzzles and original storylines.