Tobias Frisch

Studio Fizbin

Posted by Mervyn Graham, Philip Jong.
First posted on 07 January 2014. Last updated on 05 May 2014.
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Tobias Frisch
Tobias Frisch is the Producer at Studio Fizbin.
Tobias Frisch
German indie game developer Studio Fizbin is the creator of The Inner World.
Tobias Frisch
Tobias Frisch
Tobias Frisch

The author wishes to acknowledge Gregor Ebert, Headup Games, for his assistance.

All images are courtesy of Studio Fizbin © 2013.

German indie game developer Studio Fizbin came into existence through a series of remarkable events. In 2010, the Filmakademie Baden-Wüerttemberg and the University of Weingarten cooperated on a joint student workshop, where students from both institutions met to work on projects experimenting in interactive media. Attending the workshop were a trio of students—Mareike Ottrand, Sebastian Mittag, Alexander Pieper. After they graduated in 2011, they founded Studio Fizbin to continue development of their project as a video game. Tobias Frisch joined Studio Fizbin in 2013 after working as an intern at Ravensburger Digital in Munich, Germany while studying to complete his master's degree in marketing in both Pforzheim, Germany and San Diego, United States. As the new Producer at Studio Fizbin, Frisch followed the footsteps of the studio's former Producer Elke Daniels and took responsibility as Project Lead for the studio's first interactive game project—The Inner World, helping to mold the project from the rough clay model of an idea into a finished sculpture masterpiece of a point-and-click adventure game.

We are extremely privileged to have the opportunity to interview Tobias Frisch of Studio Fizbin about The Inner World. Despite not being a native English speaker, Frisch has kindly agreed to speak to us in English to share his thoughts about the game. In the interview, Frisch speaks about his own personal gaming memories, the origin of Studio Fizbin, and the development history of The Inner World. Frisch even leaves a hint of what is to come from the German indie developer.

Check out our gallery of rare concept and production art from The Inner World!

When was Studio Fizbin founded? Who founded Studio Fizbin? What game projects had Studio Fizbin developed prior to The Inner World?

Studio Fizbin is a pretty young indie games studio. Mareike Ottrand, Sebastian Mittag and Alexander Pieper founded it in early 2011 at the day of their diploma graduation! Together with their university degrees they held in their hands the documents of their very own gaming company. The three met during a co-op workshop of their universities (the Film Academy in Ludwigsburg and University of Weingarten). During the workshop they developed the concept of an inner world, some characters and rough story arcs. That was before anyone thought of a videogame though. Slowly the idea of using the concept for interactive media rose.

So, The Inner World was also the very first game project of Studio Fizbin. Besides some contract work for kid's apps and animation clips, Studio Fizbin premiered with this game in the world of gaming.

What were your earliest and fondest memories of playing adventure games?

I personally started with one of the most classic adventure games: Day of the Tentacle. I'll never forget the fun, laughter and sometimes frustration with puzzles I had with that game. Some years later I started with the Monkey Island series and then the Deponia series by the German developer Daedalic Entertainment. I play a wide variety of other game genres too, so I love adventures but I'm not focused only on them. The whole team is quite different in personal game preferences, which gives great opinions from all thinkable point of views.

What inspired you to become an indie game developer? What background experience in game development did you have prior to joining Studio Fizbin?

There wasn't really a direct inspiration, working for / as an indie developer just was a series of very good decisions. I was sure I want to work in the games industry because I'm a passionate gamer since the first Tetris for Game Boy and (as mentioned) my first gaming experiences with Day of the Tentacle. I also wanted to merge my study background that is marketing and economics related. And, I just wanted to actually DO something. For me, working for a huge company is like being in a hamster's wheel. Maybe it's a safer job situation but in a small company you learn daily and you learn a lot. Best job starting situation one could imagine. Well, step-by-step this thinking led my job search to Studio Fizbin. It's sometimes hard and a lot of work but it's also daily fun and there's a huge potential to become an awesome games company.

I completed my master's degree in February 2013 while working for Ravensburger Digital in Munich. During that time I learned a lot about QA, marketing, PR and about producing. I think this was the final motivation to really look for producing or marketing jobs in the games industry.

Development of The Inner World began as a student project. What was this student project? How much of the game had changed from its original premise as a student project?

True, The Inner World wouldn't have been possible without the workshop I mentioned earlier. The project started as the workshop for creating worlds. It's really interesting and important to know that there never was the idea of making a game; it all started with creating the world of Asposia and its characters.

When, over time, it became clear that there'll be a videogame, it changed a lot during the development process. First, it should be iPhone / iPad only. It changed to PC / MAC and later changed to PC, Mac & Apple-App.

The story was almost completely rewritten in 2012 after many game and puzzle changes had to be done. A lot was written, cut out again or expanded at other places of the game. Let me give you some examples. There's Laura's step-dad, Mr. Lamberti. He should be THE known person and owner of the mechatre. But in the final game he's just one of Ottilie's guest in her bar and sleeps off his hangover! So fast a great career can end! :) His former concept just didn't make sense at a certain point of development. Another example is the three scientists in the root forest. There's a whole almost completed screen which never made it into the final game. In an early version, the scientists were revolutionary rebels and had a nice hideout. But at some point, it wasn't relevant anymore for story, game-logic, and game-progress. Poor rebels... now they do research for explaining airstreams, haha!

How large was the development team for The Inner World? How difficult was the localization process for the game from German to English?

The team varied from time to time. At some major points of development, 16 team members worked on The Inner World. Not all at the same time at the same place, but it really was cozy in our small office. Altogether with external freelancers and third party companies we were a team of 20 for The Inner World. Now, the team again is sized down to the core team of 7 people.

Indeed, we had some serious troubles with all the fully invented names and being German natives. But luckily we had support from a Native American. And as far as I can tell from reviews, she did an amazing job. Yes, we learn English in school, but this doesn't prepare you for such work, hehe. We further learned to develop games in English right from the start; it makes many things a lot easier, if you only think of selling the game! And a lot of German gamers prefer English as well. On the other hand, I don't think our writers could've written the funny dialogues so easily in English. Depending on the game, it's important to find a good way and balance, I think.

How long had The Inner World been in development? What were the major third-party tools used for graphics, sounds, and scripting in the game's production?

The development process took us from 2011 to mid-2013, so almost three years. The whole team was new so we also had to test, try and redo a lot, but in the end, it paid out.

The game engine is based on Adobe Flash Air and the frameworks of Starling and Sparrow, developed by the great coder Daniel Sperl in Austria. Step-by-step we modified it to our uses so we now have our own framework and tools to develop adventure games. The whole Adobe package was very helpful for graphics and animations but also the tool "Harmony ToonBoom" made by ToonBoom Animation in Canada.

For prototype scripting we used Visionaire and later transferred everything to work with our own engine based on xml-files.

The music was arranged and produced externally by Music Producer Philipp Kobilke together with Music Composer Christian Barth over at Akkordarbeiter. So was the sound done by the sound master Bertram Baer at Audio-Postproduction. In the end we just received the completed files which we transformed to fit in our engine. And we love the work those guys have done!

Despite the game's cartoonish graphics, The Inner World is decidedly targeting a more adult audience by dealing with a number of mature subject matters in its storytelling. What are the major adult narrative themes that the game tries to explore?

Yeah, it's quite obvious to adult gamers that it's not just sweet and nice and funny in the game.

We try to deal with relatively serious topics like use, influence and abuse of religion and religious power. We try to show how desperate situations under dictatorships can get, how helpless people can become and how only a few try to actively change things. There are a lot of smaller hints to topics like drug and alcohol problems and sexual stuff but we try to explore these in a funny, sarcastic way.

The Inner World is set in the world of Asposia. What is Asposia? Who are the denizens living in Asposia? Why is Asposia dying?

Asposia is a mysterious world. Surrounded by the endless soil and against all laws of physics, Asposia is located in an enormous hollow space, which is ventilated solely through three big wind fountains. Asposians are peaceful but a little bit bizarre people. Somehow, they all look a bit like beans! Asposians are all very friendly and just love to live a good life. But the world is dying, because one fountain after another runs dry and the terrifying Windgods, the "Basylians", befall the peaceful Asposia.

Who are the main protagonists and playable characters in The Inner World?

In Asposia lives Robert, a naive and cheerful novice of the last wind monastery. He lives quite an introspective, simple life as the court musician in the shadows of his honored master and ideal Conroy.

Due to a very sudden, unforeseen action of Peck, the pigeon, Robert is in the center of unexpected events!

Together with the mysterious thief Laura, well-intentioned but clueless Robert hits the road to solve the secret behind the disappearance of the winds.

To what extent, if any, is The Inner World's fantastical mythos inspired from real life folklores?

The Inner World isn't really inspired by real folklores. The story arc itself is kind of a very classic tale about the lonely son of a king dealing with lots of adventures and finally rescuing the world. For the setting itself a lot of inspiration came from the work of Terry Pratchett. You might be able to find references to fairytales and folklore all along the way of Robert's adventure, but there's nothing really definitely inspired from any certain real lore.

What kind of puzzles can players expect in The Inner World? How extensive is the game's built-in help system?

Well, we think of the puzzles as that kind of puzzles which only could exist in Asposia. They all are somehow logical, but player have to think really outside the box. The obvious way, if there's any, is never the answer. Asposians don't care so much about "what people can't do or allowed to do or not". If necessary, a drunk worm IS just the perfect addition to the broken slingshot. A drink from Ottilie's bar could just be the right dissolver to craft a strong glue. We tried not to overwhelm player with managing too many items and walking through too many screens. Usually you can solve puzzles in a limited area. It's tricky but not too complicated.

After the game came out, some players said it's too easy and some players said the puzzles are too weird. It's very interesting to read so many different opinions. We just love our puzzles. :)

What plan, if any, is there for a sequel to The Inner World? What other projects is Studio Fizbin currently developing?

We were asked a lot about a possible The Inner World 2. There's enough content still untold. What happens to Robert & Laura? What about Gorf and Gorfelina? Does the tailor ever get free of prison?

We don't rule out a sequel, but there won't be a TIW 2 as the next project. We first need to see how The Inner World is accepted, loved and of course - how successful it'll be.

So if everyone out there is enjoying the game then it does raise the chance!

Of course there are other projects and ideas going on. Soon we will start showing you new things. It gets a bit darker, a bit more action, a bit more hardcore. More to come soon! :)

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