06 août 2015

Interview with Johannes E. Kiel

Interview par

Released last April, Fire had managed to light a small flame within us. So much so that we wanted to learn more about this nice adventure game, featuring a mute prehistoric man faced with a series of wacky puzzles. The game producer, Johannes E. Kiel, talks about the development of this endearing title.

"There are lots of strange ways of getting into developing games."

A quick presentation seems to be required. Who are you and, above all, on what previous games have you worked?

Johannes E. KielLooking at my passport my name is "Johannes E. Kiel", but everyone calls me John. I am a producer for Daedalic and worked on Blackguards 2 and Deponia – The Complete Journey among other titles.

You have made your mark with Farbflut Entertainment as a game designer. What memories and lessons do you retain from this experience?

J.E.K."There are lots of strange ways of getting into developing games" and "There are no classic internships in the games industry." Actually I started out as a game writer, but after the first month I was game designer, level designer and scripter. I also got a first feeling for the pure size of - even small - video game projects. To sum all of it up in one sentence: "In the games industry there are no limits to what you can become, because the amount of work is practically endless."

"French gamers don’t care as much about outer appearance and technical content."

Daedalic is one of the best known German publishers/developers. In your opinion, what are the specificities of the French market compared to yours? In particular, German players seem to be more fond of point'n'click adventure games.

J.E.K.What I learned about "the French" over the years, is that you don't care as much about outer appearance and technical content, but about intention, motive and the cultural impact of a game. It needs to have drama! It needs to be artsy! And it needs to have "real" humor and not just slapstick!

And you know what? It's the same for the german "adventure players". That's why I think: "No matter the cultural background, adventure players worldwide are all the same!" Though I'm sure that there are a million cases out there that contradict me.

"The game had a really design-heavy approach."

Let's talk about Fire. Making an adventure game without any dialogue, it's a bit cheeky, right?

J.E.K.So there we are with the problem of the “classical genre definitions”. Is Fire an adventure? Yeah, I guess so. Is it in any way like anything else we ever produced? Hell no! Fire was planned as a puzzle adventure, or "puzzleventure", purely aimed at fun through animations and context with no single line of text! It was made to be played by anyone regardless of his upbringing or cultural background – a dream our studios Head of Game Design and the creative lead of the title, Sebastian "Bade" Schmidt, actually had for a long time. I think once you realize, that every single Daedalic game before Fire had close to (or more than) 100,000 lines of text, you understand Bade's dream.

In Fire, the player has no inventory. Was that a choice of the team from the start?

J.E.K.The development of Fire took more than two years and was really experimental. I don't think anything that's in the title now was a “starting choice”, because the game had a really design-heavy approach. The team tried lots of different concepts – ideas like the missing inventory and the animation speed were researched in a long process.

- Ung, the hero of Fire, deep in thought -

"Our games are almost always made and controlled by authors."

The game is full of cultural references. Were they brought up spontaneously during the development process or were you planning to include them from the start?

J.E.K.Our games are almost always made and controlled by authors, not by marketing gurus or project managers. Therefore the initial concept of a game is almost never even close to the way it turns out in the end. So yes, all the cultural references were brought in spontaneously - like everything else -, but took of course days, sometimes weeks, to finish.

In your previous adventure games, the environments were hand-drawn, which gave them a real personality. Can you tell us a bit about the artistic direction of Fire in relation to this?

J.E.K.The backgrounds of Fire were hand-drawn, too. In fact, everything was hand-drawn, including the animations - character and environmental. In fact we had three artists working on the title (most of them worked on our previous adventures, too): Fabia Zobel, Tobia Baraccani and Nathalie Jahnel among them. It is due to their hard work that Fire managed to win the german video game award.

"Fire is for people that want to get away from it all after a hard day of work or school."

Fire is a game where the puzzles are fairly straightforward. In addition, it is rather short. Its accessibility has probably enabled players to reconcile themselves with the genre, wrongly renowned to be a bit difficult. To what kinds of players is Fire aimed at?

J.E.K.Fire is aimed at players that want to have fun and immersive themselves into solving the problems of a game without straining their nerves. It's for people that want to get away from it all after a hard day of work or school - and even if you only have a few minutes you'll make some progress. It's also made for players who want to experience something different once in a while. Everything, from the music to the animations, is done in a unique way that hasn't been done before.

Despite his silence, you made sure that we cared about this small prehistoric man. Will we have the chance to see him again in Fire 2?

J.E.K.I don't think there will be a Fire 2. Not because of Fire not being successful. It is! But because "Fire" is such a difficult title. Did you ever try to google "Fire" in order to find our game? No, Fire 2 would need to have a different name. Maybe "Ungh – tales of a prehistoric idiot" – do your readers have some suggestions?

- Ung, the hero of Fire, shaking the coconut -

"We have some unannounced projects in the pipeline."

Finally, can you tell us about your current projects? A small hint about Silence whose beta has just started?

J.E.K.Well, we just released our 2D point and click adventure Anna's Quest and are really amazed about the reviews. And that is not just some PR bullshit, because the game got really great scores from adventure and mainstream sites all over the world.

We're still working on Silence - it's scheduled for 2016 - and we have some unannounced projects in the pipeline, too, but we're publishing a lot of titles as well. For example there is Valhalla Hills, a building sim we're doing together with Funatics, the german building-sim-veterans that made The Settlers II and the Cultures series.

Then there's Bounty Train by Corbie Games, which has a unique concept: The player controls a steam train in historical America, follows trade routes from town to town, fights attackers and manages the train, hiring and firing personnel, chooses engines and waggons, even buying coal.

And last but not least Skyhill, a Rogue-like survival game where you try to survive a post-apocalyptic hotel full of mutants and disease.

These three games will be released within the next months!