Alex Ruske, Igor Posavec

Braingame, 3d-io

Posted by Kenneth Wilson.
First posted on 28 December 2008. Last updated on 28 December 2008.
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Alex Ruske, Igor Posavec
Alex Ruske is the founder of Braingame, the publisher and co-developer of The Immortals of Terra: A Perry Rhodan Adventure.
Alex Ruske, Igor Posavec
Igor Posavec is a game artist at 3d-io, the co-developer of The Immortals of Terra: A Perry Rhodan Adventure.

All images are courtesy of Eve Seber and Ashley Collins, Viva Media © 2008.

Video games are a composite medium, combining the presentation and storytelling capacities of film with the structure and interactivity of a game or puzzle. Creating a video game is always a challenge: to marry these arts in a way that complements both. Alex Ruske, co-founder of developer and publisher Braingame, and Igor Posavec, 3D artist for 3d-io, have worked together before to blend their disciplines into developing educational games. Now, they have turned their efforts from science to science fiction, collaborating once again to develop a new bona fide adventure game—The Immortals of Terra: A Perry Rhodan Adventure.

Together with Anita Pütretmaier, Axel Ruske founded Ruske & Pütretmaier Edutainment GmbH in 1996 with the purpose of developing educational adventure games. After developing Physicus: Save the World with Science! and Bioscopia: Where Science Conquers Evil, Ruske & Pütretmaier Edutainment became Braingame Publishing, which had since released a number of iterations of the Pet Vet 3D Animal Hospital series as well as a number of games and learning tools for the Nintendo DS.

As a 3D game designer, Igor Posavec's past credits included a number of video games, ranging from educational titles such as Physicus: Save the World with Science! and Bioscopia: Where Science Conquers Evil, and their sequel, Chemicus: Journey to the Other Side, as well as historical games such as A*M*E*R*I*C*A, No Man's Land, Castle Strike, and 1701 A.D. He had also worked in science fiction with Neuro Hunter.

Having recently played The Immortals of Terra: A Perry Rhodan Adventure, I have been given an opportunity to ask Axel Ruske and Igor Posavec some questions about their latest collaboration. In the interview, they speak about the game's development history, its unique source material, the challenging of adapting written fiction to video game, and how they handle the high expectation from fans and critics of their work. Their answers offer a peek into the twin worlds of game and visual design, and a universe that spans both millennia and light-years.

Can you tell us who are you and your role in the game's development?

Axel Ruske: We started business as a software developer in 1996 and became famous for the creation of the so-called "learning adventures" - a combination of adventure games and educational content. The learning adventures were published all over Europe and in the USA and earned a lot of awards and prizes. We'd already worked together with 3d-io for some of those titles, so we've had quite a long partnership with them. In 2004 we became a publisher and since then have published a huge range of software titles for both PC and Nintendo consoles, such as the My Animal Centre series (known in the USA as Pet Vet 3D) and the Buddy series – a serious content series for Nintendo DS.

PERRY RHODAN was a special project for me because I was a PERRY RHODAN reader myself and was fascinated by the "Perryverse". We were aware that we had to produce a really good game to please the PERRY RHODAN fan base. Since we knew about the fine work of 3d-io from past projects we decided to partner with them for the development job.

Igor Posavec: When Braingame got the license for the PERRY RHODAN game, Axel came to our office and said: "PERRY RHODAN is the largest SciFi series in the world, and we want the biggest and most fascinating adventure game for it!" Since our main strength lies in fictional creations, we gladly accepted this challenge.

3d-io games & video production GmbH was founded 1996. We have an established presence in design production, digital content creation and graphics animation. Major German and international game and info-tainment companies as well as key players in industrial and telecommunication have utilized our unique graphic style and technology. We had already done several projects in the games sector, such as the Interface Design for ANNO 1701, numerous game trailers and teasers, and major artwork design for the Beowulf Game Pilot project and – as Axel said before - Edutainment bestsellers like Physikus, Biolab and Historion.

A lot of gamers outside of Germany may not be familiar with PERRY RHODAN or the universe built around his stories. Can you give a basic rundown of who PERRY RHODAN is and what his history is in German science fiction?

Axel Ruske: PERRY RHODAN is the world's biggest science fiction series. Since its inception in Germany in 1961 more than 3000 titles set in the so-called “Perryverse” have been published, including over 2400 weekly serialized PERRY RHODAN booklet novellas. In addition to the novels, a lot of other PERRY RHODAN products are available, such as audio books, radio plays, board games, toys, and comic books. Even if the biggest PERRY RHODAN fan base is situated in Germany there have been also foreign editions published in the United States, France, Japan, Brazil, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

For fans who are immersed in Germany's pop culture, being involved in the PERRY RHODAN universe is akin to being involved in the Star Trek universe in the United States or the Doctor Who universe in Britain. What kind of an experience has it been making a contribution to such a robust body of fiction?

Igor Posavec: The challenge of such a project was an old designer dilemma: finding a balance between the existing universe and the world we wanted to create. The Perryverse could certainly be compared to the Star Trek universe. It was created decades ago and fans have a certain conception of what it should look like. On the other hand, an average adventure gamer probably wouldn't buy a game with Flash Gordon-style haircuts and weapon designs. So we had to find a compromise between the established PERRY RHODAN style and modern game design.

We studied Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who and almost every other similar epic SciFi series from the past. If you take a closer look at them you will find that all of them use very similar patterns of storytelling, conflicts, and emotional relationships. We tried to extract the most important attributes of the Perryverse and the PERRY RHODAN character and then started to define the conflicts and build the story around it.

The main author of PERRY RHODAN, Rober Feldhoff and our game design writer, Oliver Wronka did marvelous work by telling the story in a manner every PERRY RHODAN, Star Wars, Star Trek or Blade Runner fan would understand.

To what extent did you have to deal with the owners of the intellectual property for the series? How hands-on or hands-off were they during the development process?

Axel Ruske: We have a very close and friendly relationship to Pabel-Moewig, the licensor of PERRY RHODAN. They were very enthusiastic and excited and supplied us with all information we needed during the whole development process. They have a very close relationship to the PERRY RHODAN community and so we were able to get direct feedback from PERRY RHODAN fans at every stage of the development process. Of course we had to follow some guidelines, but we never had the feeling of being restricted by them and at the end we were both very content with the result.

Is the game designed for adventure game fans who may have never heard of PERRY RHODAN? If so, how does this affect the way the story is being told in the game?

Axel Ruske: Our goal was to develop a game which satisfies both PERRY RHODAN fans and classical adventure gamers. Even someone who never heard of PERRY RHODAN before is able to play the game. Any outside information needed is provided within the game. The game does contain a few hints and gimmicks which are related to the Perryverse that might only be understood by real Perry fans, but that does not reduce the fun of playing for classic adventure fans.

How easy is it to build a story and a game around licensed material, where there is already an established history and fan base, as compared to creating an entirely new game where there is more liberty to take on the story?

Igor Posavec: This was a conflict not easy to solve: if we just concentrated on transferring the Perryverse into an adventure game with all the old-fashioned terms and inside jokes we would just reach the core PERRY RHODAN fanbase. But if we drop all PERRY RHODAN specific things to address those adventure gamers who have never heard of PERRY RHODAN before we would run the risk of angering the PERRY RHODAN community. Our goal was to make a game both groups would like and enjoy to play.

We put a lot of effort into designing the story, taking care of each single element and character. They had to be true to their description in the Perryverse, but at the same time, simple enough so that everybody can play the game without having a bachelor's degree in PERRY RHODAN knowledge.

I was never really sure about the fan community since they could have been both a help and a curse. Luckily in the end the community "approved" the game and the game magazine reviews were flabbergasted: we got a marvelous 80%-85% overall, a score I am very proud of concerning the strong competition in the market.

How much assistance or guidance did you get from the license holders concerning production for the game, such as the tasks of choosing voice actors, developing concept art, and writing dialog?

Axel Ruske: As we said above they were very helpful and gave us a lot of assistance. We wanted to develop an authentic PERRY RHODAN game and so we decided to add some real PERRY RHODAN experts to the development team. The storyline was written by Robert Feldhoff – chief author of the PERRY RHODAN novels, and the dialogs were edited by another PERRY RHODAN author - Michael Marcus Thurner. The voice actors were chosen by us but we got very positive feedback from Pabel-Moewig and the other licensees and hopefully it was not the last time playing a PERRY RHODAN role for some of the voice actors...

In addition to support concerning production, we also had some good marketing cooperation with Pabel-Moewig and some of the other licensees of PERRY RHODAN products.

You had previously expressed the fact that Myst was an influence on the design and structure of Physikus, a game on which you had previously collaborated. How did that influence, if any, carry over into the game?

Igor Posavec: Myst is the grandmother of all adventures – there is no adventure game today that doesn't contain some Myst elements. Having to use an "Inventory" or "open the drawers and find the key" is already a kind of Myst element. At the time when I was designing Physikus, back in 1995, Myst was an inspiration to me and today you'll find some Myst elements in PERRY RHODAN as well. But as some time has passed since Myst there have been a lot of innovations: we have large sliding screen areas, a lot of moving realtime characters, fullscreen fog, smoke, dust and particle effects, lip-synced faces, movie-like cinematics, etc. PERRY RHODAN is actually sort of a departure from the Myst look and feel, as it looks much like a modern console game. We have our special light and texture style that makes characters and environments look realistic, smooth and pleasant, instead of cold and lifeless. Perry is our first game that has left the old simple, childish way of designing the worlds – it grew into a larger, more serious, detailed up-to-date video game for mature audience.

What other games or media have inspired your writing and design styles?

Igor Posavec: Definitely all well-known and user-friendly adventure games concepts flew into PERRY RHODAN. The main inspiration came in 2004 and 2006 from the adventure games Syberia and Secret Files, which have redefined the genre of adventure gaming. Adventures became bestselling products with huge fan bases.

PERRY RHODAN touches on political elements such as the Cold War and the anti-war movement, including the subsequent emergence of the German Zeitgeist ethos. To what extent does the game reflect the political climate and subtext on which the series is partly based?

Igor Posavec: At the beginning of the project I was thinking of implementing themes like war, politics, religion... they are indeed a very important part of the Perryverse. But it seems we are now living in a quite strange, unpredictable and restricted world, where you have to be very careful with what you say and do. Politics can be very risky; religion can be taboo as well.

We made the decision that even seemingly harmless scenes can lead to concerns from other points of view. In the North American version, for example, it says "Drug reference" on the ESRB rating on the package because in the game, PERRY RHODAN breathes in some steam in an apocalyptical bar on a distant planet and has hallucinations, and it says "Mild Fantasy Violence" because one cinematic scene shows robots firing weapons. That made us aware that we have to be very careful with what we show and deal with in the game. So we decided (or were kind of forced) to leave out even small details that could offend conservative viewpoints or government institutions.

How has advancing technology affected you as a game developer? Has it streamlined your workflow or just given you more to do to meet what is expected?

Igor Posavec: Oh yes, definitely. Realtime 3D graphic cards and engines offer us huge possibilities and make work much easier. In the past we had to render and paint each image various times, depending on content. For example, if part of a game required you to stand in front of a bookshelf and pick up a book to put in your inventory, you had to design at least 2 images – one with the book and one without the book. If this bookshelf is visible from different camera perspectives in the room, you had to paint an image from every perspective - with and without the book. In the games we designed pre-2005, I can remember painting over 30 images per indoor location! A whole game could have 100 rooms but over 1200 images, most of them looking nearly the same! That was real madness. Now, by using the new technologies we can design the items and characters as Realtime 3D objects which are freely moveable and then have more time and energy for putting artistic details into the image. On the other hand, more powerful computers demand more content and higher quality. While older games had images sized at 800x600 pixels, today we have to render images that are over 2000 pixels. This means a lot of work for designers to fill them with intricate details.

What decisions led you to decide to develop this game as a point and click adventure game, rather than another game from a different genre?

Igor Posavec: The first thing we had to consider was the target audience. Since most of the PERRY RHODAN demographic are older than 30 and have "weaker" computers and graphics cards we couldn't sell them Crysis or Unreal2007 game art, since they wouldn't be able to even load the game. An action shooter game couldn't be the right choice as either because it wouldn't reflect the Perryverse in the right way. The final PERRY RHODAN game may indeed appear as if it has some action, but it is a classic adventure without any hardcore action sequences or other dexterity-based tasks. Most adventure players don't like genre mixes that contain action sequences and we didn't want to force players into an action-oriented gameplay.

We decided to design an adventure and let the users dive into a multi-layered story and solve the mysteries like detectives.

Point and click adventure gaming has been, until very recently, almost exclusively confined to personal computers. However, game consoles, especially the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS, are started to broaden the reach of this type of gaming. What are your thoughts on the potential of the console platform for adventure gaming? Is there any plan to develop a PERRY RHODAN game on the consoles?

Igor Posavec: No, at the moment there is no interest for a console porting. Adventures still are the domain of personal computers – users want to play it slowly, to think about their actions and reactions, save and load, scan the screen with the cursor to search for hidden objects and riddles, read the dialogs... I really can't imagine Myst or Monkey Island for PlayStation 3 – who would play it at all? But never say never – I'm sure that the adventure games we make in the next years will be ported to at least one console.

What are your plans for your next game projects?

Igor Posavec: We are now moving to full realtime 3D environments. Our next game will very likely be action-adventure and we will allow users to truly move through the rooms and fully interact in all directions. Adventures with rendered still images are nice, but the freedom to move is nicer.

Thank you very much for the invitation to this interview!

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