Secret Files: Tunguska Developer Q&A

Q&A with lead game designer, Jörg Beilschmidt

It’s great to see a point-and-click game, these days it’s a rarity; it shouldn’t be so – it’s easily the best way of providing an interactive story. Graphically this one is shaping up very well.

Koch Media has made available an interview with Jörg Beilschmidt, Lead Game Designer of Animation Arts and Fusionsphere Systems, the developers behind Secret Files: Tunguska – a charming and mysterious point-and-click adventure for PC on DVD ROM to be exclusively distributed by KOCH Media throughout the UK in August 2006.

Q: The game is based on the mysterious Tunguska event. Did you encounter any difficulties when making a game based on true events instead of fiction? And if so, what were those difficulties?

A: As you said, the game is “based” on the Tunguska event. This doesn’t mean that we didn’t use our own way to tell the story, but of course we had to deal with certain restrictions: If you stay to close to the facts, people knowing these facts might get bored. On the other hand: If your theme is e.g. Atlantis it could be quite difficult to convince the player that it is necessary to spend most of the time in the Himalaya. That means that it is very important for your fictional parts to perfectly fit in the “real” parts.

Q: Why have you chosen the Tunguska event for this adventure game and how did you come up with the idea of making an adventure game around that event?

A: We were looking for a theme that was hardly covered in games. When we read about the Tunguska phenomenon, we really wondered why nobody else ever had this idea before. Our own ideas in combination with all the rumours and conspiracy theories dealing with this topic convinced us within a couple of days: This could be a perfect mixture of a mysterious reality with enough room for thrilling fiction. The reason for choosing this genre was quite simple: We loved the classic adventures from LucasArts and titles like “Simon the Sorcerer 2”. And we realized that there was hardly any of this kind of adventure on the market. And as it was always our dream to create an adventure on our own, we decided to change this.

Q: There are different theories and hypotheses surrounding the Tunguska event. How do they appear in the game? Did you come up with a theory of your own?

A: Sorry, but answering that would mean telling the story. The only thing I can say: Yes, we have a theory. Which one? You’ll find out at the end of the game.

Q: On your site, you said well-known talents from film and television will do the voices in the game. Which talents will take care of the voices?

A: These are well-known German speakers, who speak voices of prominent actors. We have for example the German voice of Angelina Jolie.

Q: Since you visit a lot of different countries in the game, will all the characters speak one language (English?) or do they speak the language of their own country?

A: We discussed this topic for hours and hours. Finally we decided to let them all speak in perfect English. This might not be very realistic but in some cases you have to choose between realism and playability. And the main reason people play games is not for a perfect simulation of the real world but for having fun.

Q: In the game you can switch between Max and Nina to solve puzzles as a team. How does that work? And does each character have abilities that the other one doesn’t have?

A: In those parts where Nina and Max play together you can switch between the two characters at any time you like. Some places can only be visited by Max, others only by Nina. E.g.: Nina has to find two items, combine them and then hand them over to Max. He adds a third item and returns the modified item back to Nina, who then uses it to solve a certain puzzle. Concerning the abilities: Our adventure is as pure as any adventure can be. This does not only mean the absence of action elements and time based puzzles. It also means, that the player and only the player determines whether he is successful or not. It wouldn’t be fair if the player knew what to do but still couldn’t solve the puzzle because he chose the wrong character.

Q: In an interview with JustAdventure, you said: We have mainly concentrated on inventory puzzles but we are also try to ensure a varied puzzle design. So what can we expect from the puzzles in the game?

A: A lot. Most adventure games have a certain way of puzzle-design. This has the consequence that the beginning could be very difficult because the player hasn’t found out which way it is. But after he did, the game becomes easier and easier – very untypical for computer games but very typical for the genre. We always changed our way we designed our puzzles. This enables us to have an easy beginning and a really difficult ending – not only a theoretically difficult one. Sounds simple, but believe me: Sometimes we were close to going nuts (some people even say we were not just close …)

Q: There are more than forty characters in the game, with their own culture and background and they show emotions. How will the conversation work? And can the questions you ask change their behaviour and the answers you receive?

A: We were thinking about this feature. The problem: If you are really able to choose between different ways how to treat people than you have to take into consideration that the player might fail. This would end up in a load-and-save-orgy. The other option was to give alternative ways of behaving – with only one outcome. We took a close look at several games which chose this way of conversation and came to the conclusion that most players quickly realized that their “freedom of speech” is only a fake. So we decided: Having several “real” alternatives how to solve a puzzle is way more important than having some “faked” conversational options.

Q: You’ve made a great variety of games, from RPG to sports and from Racing to Management games. But never an adventure. How was it working on an adventure game and what was different?

A: To be honest it was quite a mixture between paradise and hell on earth. The genre offers you so many opportunities to let your creativity run free. On the other hand, you have to be very careful. There must not be a single lack of comprehensibility, neither in the story nor the puzzle design. And the more complex both are the more difficult it is to avoid these lacks. I am quite sure that you can’t imagine how many sleepless nights we had dealing with these problems. But worst of all: We would even do it again.

Q: Are there more adventures planned for the future?

A: Yes of course, we will publish some adventures in the future. Which one? That’s our secret…. in the moment.

Q: Will this adventure game be available in The Netherlands?

A: We hope so. But for the moment we can give you no definitely answer.

Q: Do you like to play (adventure) games in your spare time, and if so, which?

A: We certainly do – otherwise we wouldn’t be able to make good games. There are many adventures on the market that are quite good. But to be honest, my all time favourite is still Simon the Sorcerer 2: Great puzzles, superb dialogues and as funny as hell.

Interview originally appeared on on 28th June 2006.

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