First posted on 21 November 2008. Last updated on 21 November 2008.
|Riccardo Cangini is the founder and current CEO of Artematica, the developer of Belief and Betrayal.|
All images are courtesy of Tamara Robeer, Lighthouse Interactive © 2008.
Riccardo Cangini, founder and CEO of Italy's largest game developer Artematica, started his career in the game industry from a humble beginning. Originally developing and publishing games in the late 1980s under the MSX platform, Riccardo spent 6 years working at Simulmondo as a graphic designer and a development director. The former large Italian developer released a number of sports and budget adventure game titles, before the company disbanded in 1994.
In 1996, Riccardo set about to form his own game company, a one-man affair, in his small room with only a single PC. Now, 12 years and over 30 games later, Artematica employs 32 fulltime staff and outsources additional hires when needed for its project work. The company's latest published title is the highly acclaimed adventure game Belief and Betrayal, released in 2008. The game features breathtaking graphics, pedantic detail, and a solid story based on real people and historical events. Yet, not content with just developing games on the PC platform, Riccardo has also branched out into producing games for the consoles, including the Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation.2, PlayStation Portable, and Xbox 360.
We are privileged to have an opportunity to interview the multitalented Italian game designer and developer Riccardo Cangini. Despite the language barrier, Riccardo speaks to us candidly in English with much effervescence and enthusiasm about his early career, his time with Simulmondo, and his current work at Artematica. He also gives us a rare insight into what development tools and possesses are being used to create the graphics, modeling, and artworks in Belief and Betrayal. Lastly, he tells us of what we can be expected of him and his company in the near future.
- Prior to founding Artematica in 1996, what background experience (if any) did you have in game development? How big was the video game industry in Italy at that time?
- In 1987-1989 I've completely developed (code/gfx/design) and published 2 games for MSX then I've worked in Simulmondo (first Italian SH) for 6 years, in first time as graphic & designer and afterward as development director.
Until middle '90 Italy had a very small VG industry with a poor market and few SH/Developers, unfortunately.
- Most independent game development companies had a modest beginning. How many people were employed by Artematica in its early days? How much had the company grown over the years (including the number of people currently employed there now)?
- I perfectly understand what you mean because even Artematica has had the same route; when I founded the company I was alone: 1 PC in my little room.
Artematica has had a comparatively slow grow, for more reasons: money, right people (in Italy there are few devs even today), difficulty to find publisher (in first time your company needs to become 'reliable') and some bad choice in partnership... but in this case I'm not speaking of Italian's companies!
Anyway today with a good staff, exciting projects in development and more than 30 published games we can look at future serenely: now we've 32 fully operative people and some additional freelance or companies involved during binding time (especially near Gold Master phases); we're official Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony devs, we've good skill on console (PSP, PS2, Wii, NDS, XB) and we're studying I-phone.
So at the end I think we're in the right way :)
- What was Artematica's first ever published game? What was Artematica's first adventure game? Why did Artematica choose to expand into adventure genre, at a time when other game developers and publishers were shying away from it?
- Our first game was even our first adventure: Druuna Morbus Gravis.
The reason for which we've chosen adventure genre is due to 2 aspects: from one side we had a good experience due to Simulmondo's titles (we did a lot of adventures), from other side we like 'contents'; I mean the story, the plot, music, camera, lights, shadows...
- Publisher Lighthouse Interactive had just begun distribution of the English language version of Belief & Betrayal. The game was already released locally in Italy in 2007. Who was responsible for the localization of the game into English? How long did the localization process take?
- Fortunately Jonathan Gervasi, co writer of the B&B, is half English while his mother (that is a translator) is 100% English. So it was been easy for us to translate texts and dialogs in English.
Timing loca usually depends from agreement, marketing and publishing questions, not 'just' from real timing request for dubbing.
- There were in excess of 60 people listed in the credits for Belief & Betrayal, from management to development to quality testing to public relations. How long was Belief & Betrayal in development? Did Artematica outsource any part of the game's development?
- If we consider only physical development, I mean since 1st 'official' day of development until 1st language release, then we're speaking of 14 months; if we consider from first subject, sketches of the game until first fully localized English version, then we're around 18 months.
Yes we've given in outsourcing some parts of graphic, especially for modellation of secondary characters or locations.
- What is the basic premise of the story in Belief & Betrayal? Who are the major characters in the game?
- The basic premise in B&B is that even if it's based on real facts, places, events, credences and people, it's fiction yet...
The main characters are Jontahan Danter and Kath McKendal.
- The story of Belief & Betrayal plays heavily to a religious theme. How worried are you that the game may be unfairly chastised by critics who are oversensitive or disagree with how religion is depicted there, especially its ties to the occult?
- To be honest I wasn't and I'm not at all worried.
B&B plot doesn't absolutely born in our mind in order to be desecrating; our aim wasn't to be polemic or blasphemous, vice-versa our aim was to think an interesting and amazing story that could be told through an adventure game.
B&B plot born some years before development, we've changed, updated and proposed it in the right time, that is when Da Vinci's code was becoming a best seller.
- Although Belief & Betrayal is based on a strictly fictional storyline about an imaginary artefact called the Imago Sanctissimus, the game includes many references to real life historical objects, people, events, and locations, such as Raphael's fresco , the Vatican, the Cathars, and even the Knights of the Templars. How much research has been done beforehand to ensure that all of these details are historically accurate? What is the secret to seamlessly combining fantasy and history in a game such as Belief & Betrayal?
- I'm happy to ascertain that sometimes hard work is even recognized... ;)
Yes we've done a great work in research because we were speaking about real facts, events and places; from one side there it's a great advantage (I mean that some materials already exist); from the other side it's even a disadvantage, 'cause you must to be really careful.
- Many of the buildings and locations in Belief & Betrayal are rendered in incredible details. Are they produced from actual photographs or imagined by highly skilled artists and modellers? What graphical tools are used in Belief & Betrayal to render these models?
- All buildings and locations are modelled on layout bases; those bases can be real photographs or manual sketches; by the way we always need orthogonal drawn of everything (characters, locations, weapons... everything) before to start with modellation and texturing.
We use 3DSMax, XSI and Maya, it depends from staff skill and pipeline.
An important phase, especially for locations, is related to manual retouch post rendering phase, where our more qualified artists retouch location backgrounds afterwards rendering.
- In Belief & Betrayal, much attention has been given to skilfully recreate all the period architecture over the centuries, from 1194 A.D. to current times. Among the different styles of architecture are the Gothic, Byzantium, Ionic, Gothic, and Corinthian styles. How much research has been done to reproduce the rich architecture portrayed in the game? To what extent do the game's artists take artistic license in interpreting these architectural styles?
- As told we always work using orthogonal layout, often even with other perspective images or pictures so our artists can't interpreting building volumes especially whereas the aim is to recreate a known building.
There are few cases where modellators need to get some 'license': sometimes in order to change proportions of nearest buildings or to enlarge narrow passages and to let a better hero control.
What artists always can do is to work on the atmosphere, so on lights, shadows, camera and regia.
- In the game, the player alternates to control the different characters, but not as cooperative play. How do the different characters that the player can control work together to solve the puzzles? Does each character possess special skills that the others do not?
- Yes, in B&B the player is called to control different characters in order to solve some puzzles; in some cases we're speaking of enigmas of which the solution can be reached just sharing infos between characters; in some other cases every single character can solve a situation by self.
Each character has a different personality but, at the end, this doesn't affect gameplay, even because what change is the context on which, in a certain moment of the vicissitude, those different characters are going.
- What types of puzzles are in Belief & Betrayal? How many hours of play will the game offer?
- There are a variety of puzzles and inventory types as well as the original feature called "Ideas inventory", where each idea element can be combined with other ideas, objects of inventory as well as interactive elements of locations or still with the 'communicator'.
B&B offers around 15-18 hours of play even if, of course, it's really subjective.
- The game allows the player to have the option of playing the game with spoken dialog, playing the game with written dialog but the sound muted, or playing the game with both spoken and written dialog. Although audio captioning in games is not uncommon, the implementation in Belief & Betrayal is unusual. Is this an attempt to address the problem of bad voice acting when the game is localized to so different languages? From where are the voice actors recruited for the different language localization?
- No, simply we think useful to
1) let the player to see texts whereas he so wished;
2) let deaf players to play and understand the game.
- Is there any plan for a sequel to Belief & Betrayal? We have to ask (for the record)!
- Why not... To be honest we already have a great subject for a possible sequel! But surely not within next 18 months.
- What other game projects are currently in production by Artematica? What can we expect from Riccardo Cangini in the next 5 years?
- We've just closed console's version of DIABOLIK THE ORIGINAL SIN while we're currently working on JULIA INNOCENT EYES; in the same time we're working on first concepts of a new nextgen adventure game, but now we're really speaking of 2011-2012...
90% of research is based on the web (thanks a lot Google!) while last 10% is related to our comic strip or illustrated books database. Sometimes we've even requested opinions to some skilled specialist (for example for some Latin sentences or in order to create a chorus effect).
The secret to combine fantasy and history!? No secret to be honest considering that often fantasy surpasses reality... It's just a careful job.
Generally every publisher and distributor decide by oneself what and who will give voices to characters, at least, if there isn't a very know brand for which is requested an approval from the owner of the IP.