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Dreamfall(en) in Oslo - The Feature part 2

An interview by MaryScots 16th September 2005


Adventure-Archiv: The famous first question: could you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a little bit about yourself?

Craig Morrison: My name is Craig Morrison and I am the Community Relations Manager for Funcom. I have been with the company since December last year and my responsibilities are pretty diverse. I work on all of our games – doing everything from talking to the communities, facilitating communication between the community and the developers and generally working to ensure we maintain the good relationship with our players and fans that we established down the years.

AA: About Funcom: Since the foundation of the company in 1993 you have released 23 games. Were all of them developed entirely in-house or did you also work with external developers/companies?

CM: All of our games are developed in-house. Up until 1998 we developed as a kind of developer for hire. We worked for Sony, we worked for Disney, we did franchise games like Casper and Pocahontas - so we developed for other people. When we came to decide to do The Longest Journey and Anarchy Online we decided to become a publisher in our own right so the company moved from developing for other people to developing for ourselves. But yes, all of our games are developed by our own creative parts and the departments are here in the house.

AA: You have 5 offices around the world - in Norway, Switzerland, Luxemburg, USA and China. What functions do the offices abroad have? Are those also development studios?

CM: No. Most of the development is done here in Oslo for all our games. The U.S. office for example is our support centre for Anarchy Online which is a live game which runs 24/7 365 days a year so it has a large amount of support staff, customer service people answering emails, billing support, in-game support, games masters in Anarchy Online. The American office also houses some of our QA department, quality assurance who do our testing. The Chinese office which is relatively new - we only opened it in the last six months - and with that we are using it to do some outsourcing. We have some graphic artists that work there. The Chinese market is a potentially huge market for games. It's an expanding market in Korea, in Japan and in China - there is huge potential for progression and as a company that looks to progress all the time it's a market we need to look into and there's obviously lots of talented people working there. So the Chinese office also houses some development people but mostly on the graphics side - concept artists, studio artists - it's obviously easier to allow that kind of resource to be done in another office while the design work and the programming really has to be done in one central location which is what the Oslo offices support. The offices in Switzerland and Luxemburg are of the financial side of the company.

Craig Morrison

Craig Morrison

AA: How many employees (designers/artists/programmers) worked for Funcom back in 1993 and how many do today? Did the number of staff members constantly increase?

CM: I couldn't tell you the exact number back in '93. We are now around 140 people working on the three projects that we've got live now in Anarchy Online, Dreamfall and Age of Conan. We are increasing our staffing now obviously with three games in development. We did, and it's been well publicised, shed members of staff two or three years ago just after the launch of Anarchy Online due to problems that we had with the launch of that game. But the company has bounced back strongly - we're now hiring people - the company is in a very healthy position and developing new talents, bringing in new people. And working on three great games that will hopefully go on for the years to come. So, yes we'll hopefully have many more people as well! (smiles)

AA: Let’s move to Dreamfall: How many people are working on the game, in which departments and for how long?

The game - Dreamfall - has been in development for a couple of years now. The way that the games work in development is that each person works in a team on a game - so someone who is working on Age of Conan isn't working on Dreamfall, someone who is working on Anarchy Online isn't working on Dreamfall. The Dreamfall-team itself is about 30 people at the moment. And within that there are three distinct teams that are design, coding and graphics. Graphics is everything from the concept artists and the lead graphic artists designing the look and feel of the game through to the 3D-modellers and the animators making those concept art pieces come to life in the actual environments that you see in the game. The coders obviously work on the game code (grins) making the programming work and making the software work, designing the code for the different platforms, both for Xbox and the PC. And then the designers are the people who actually write the dialogues, design the puzzles, they come up with the ideas. So, those three teams are the way that the programs/the games are produced in-house. And each project has those three teams and they are entirely dedicated to the one game. On top of that you have the audio designers who work on all our titles as well as the marketing staff working on things like web-site design, posters, ads and box art.

AA: And in addition to that there are the testers, then…

CM: Yes, our QA department is actually based here in Oslo and in the US and depending on which state any of the games are at, dependant how much testing is going on - obviously with a game like Dreamfall – after completion of each chapter of the game the QA department goes through it. They do everything from testing for graphical glitches and where the players can get stuck to making sure that the gameplay flows and the gameplay is strong. So, the QA really have an important job because they have lots to do and they have to make sure that not only are the technical bugs resolved but also the gameplay is strong. They are a very integral part of the team providing feedback to designers on the puzzles, providing feedback on how the game flows - is it too quick, is it too slow, could the player be confused. So, QA is very important part of the development process.

AA: I read that TLJ was planned as a trilogy from the very beginning. However, it seemed as if it was mainly due to the demand of the players and fans of TLJ that you decided to do a sequel. There has even been a poll on the official TLJ site asking whether one would prefer a sequel or a prequel. When did you decide?

CM: In terms of the decision as to when to stage Dreamfall, I think the designers have always had a longer story in mind, TLJ was always part of a much wider story art that the game directors and the writers had in mind. So obviously the success of TLJ was what allowed us to come back and do Dreamfall and do it as a sequel of sorts, we prefer to think of it as a spiritual successor more then a direct sequel, seemed like the correct decision to do - people want to explore the story more, they want to know what happened to their favourite characters - but at the same time also make a game that didn't require you to have to have played the first one to understand.

AA: So was this poll important for you or did it just back up your decision?

CM: We use community polls to help with decisions - talking to our community is very important. Obviously we have a lot of experience with a game like Anarchy Online where we're constantly talking to our customers all day, all the time on the various issues and we use that same methodology to help us gain feedback when we do single-player games like Dreamfall. So yes, sometimes it's used to back up what we're thinking - sometimes the ideas from the forums and the various fan-sites that exist around the web, they give us ideas. We do read them - we know sometimes people think we never read them but we do (winks and smiles). And the players' feedback is always important. It'll never be the only factor to decide what is right but it is something that the designers always consider.

AA: As Dreamfall is a sequel would that mean that the last part of the trilogy – not implying any plans at this time - is a prequel?

CM: Ah, I really couldn't answer that. That would be up to Ragnar to speculate and talk about at a later date.

[OK. Well, we can ask. (grin)]

AA: There was and still is a lot of speculation going on about what to call Dreamfall – an adventure, an action-adventure or whatever. Which elements of gameplay will be implemented and will there always be a way to work around "action"-sequences - always meaning including those of Kian and April?

CM: Dreamfall is an adventure game at heart - that's the most important thing - it's telling a story. So we don’t want to mark it down into any specific genre, and the pre-conceptions that might come with that genre. What we are trying to do with Dreamfall is bringing that a bit more up to date and make a new generation of adventure games. Obviously, I think, the market hasn't been there over the last few years for traditional style adventure games, which is unfortunate because a lot of the story telling aspects of computer games of late has sometimes been less important than the action and how many explosions you can make. With Dreamfall we are very much telling a story. The action sequences will be used where appropriate to ensure that it brings the story along. The majority of them will be optional - there will always be other solutions. Players will be able to interact or talk their way out of most situations, they may be able to avoid direct conflict, do negotiations and talk the way out of the situation. In terms of the finished gameplay - will every action sequence be avoidable? We can't guarantee whether every single one will be avoidable but the majority of them will certainly offer choices to the player.

AA: Ah, that's good to know.

AA: Ragnar Tørnquist mentioned in a JA+ interview back in 2003 that AO is Funcom’s most important financial resource. Did you ever think about bringing the TLJ universe online?

CM: That's something that obviously - when we have a popular game like The Longest Journey and the world that surrounds it - is always an option. The next online game we're making is Age of Conan but we will certainly be developing other online worlds in the years to come and you never know - it's always an option.

AA: In what way did experience resulting from TLJ and/or external influence (i.e. publishers/industry/audience) have an impact on the design of Dreamfall? Did you have to make concessions, if so which kind and why? Where do/did you refuse to budge? Who do you want to attract/whose demands do you want to satisfy and what age group of players are you aiming at?

CM: One of the main things we're trying to achieve with Dreamfall is to bring the adventure genre up to date. Whether people want to categorise it as an adventure game or an action-adventure game - it'll all be pretty much down to people who review it we shall see when they get the finished product - but before we want to try and bring that genre up to date and present a gameplay to people that is accessible. Obviously, one of the reasons that the adventure games have waned over the last few years is the interfaces, you know, people expect more from a game than just point & click and the frustration if you can't find that one pixel that will trigger something important. It's a frustration that you will obviously be aware of having done The Longest Journey and we wanted to make sure that Dreamfall isn't caught in any of those traps and is accessible to as wide an audience as possible. Obviously, in terms of target audience we want as many people as possible to buy our games. (grins) But at the same time it's a way of story telling that will, we think, appeal to the same audience that The Longest Journey appealed to and at the same time hopefully bring more people to play a game in that genre that they might not normally have wanted to play. In terms of target age obviously we don't find limits ourselves in one way or another or say, "Well, we only want old people to play this game or we only want teenagers to play this game". Obviously the story is a mature and involving story so it's certainly not a children's game but other than that we don't try and pigeonhole. When we go to conventions and talk to the public on the forums - we have people whose ages range between 18 and 80 who've enjoyed The Longest Journey and enjoy our games. And that's something we'd like to maintain with Dreamfall.

AA: The age question brings up another one right now. Quantic Dream had to make some concessions with Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy due to the ESRB rating in America - they had to take out some sex scenes. Are you prepared to change anything if the need arises?

CM: When it comes to rating we are pretty sure we won’t have too many issues with Dreamfall. On the American market if you get an Adult Only rating the game won't be stocked in the majority of retailers in America and that's something that game makers want to avoid. Quantic Dream have obviously made changes to their game to avoid it being categorised for that reason. We don't believe at this point that there'll be anything in Dreamfall that would force us to have to make any major concessions. Without wanting to second-guess the ESRB we know the content will be of a Mature rated game and most likely 16+ in Europe. There may be a slightly different version for the American market depending on the feedback we get from the ratings board but there will be no dramatic gameplay changes.


Continue to interview part 2


maryscots, adventure-archiv 16.10.05


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