For this month’s Dev Intro we conducted an interview with the studio behind that striking Briefcase Romanin game – the surreal little thing which emerged totally unexpected with a superb hand-drawn HD trailer last month and has instantly become the talk of the town. While the game being announced as a participant in the XBox Dream Build Play contest gave a bit of an impression that it might become available only for that particular platform, fortunately this isn’t the case at all – the creators confirm a PC release as well!
So what is it all about? Well, in the center of the game is that very (very) strange briefcase you see… (but you can’t that well see on the screens here, so watch it in the excellent trailer below)
Could you introduce yourself and your studio?
Hello I’m Andrej Bevec co-creator of ‘Briefcase Romanin’, a 2d point-and-click adventure being made by Clever Hans Productions, which for now is just a dedicated two-man team located in internet limbo.
What does the adventure game genre mean to you?
The adventure game has always seemed like a natural home for a good story. Like a lot of the other people interested in the genre, it was the golden-era Lucasarts games that really brought me into gaming. To play as a character in a well told interactive story was just totally amazing. The artwork! The music! The characters! Also adventure games have a special kind of pacing to them, you can poke around backgrounds almost endlessly uncovering details of the story. I don’t know of another medium that allows the user to just interactively soak up the atmosphere of a foreign world through exploration. Then aside from all of that you have the puzzles, figuring out the gameworld logic to continue through the story is its own sort of reward. And also in a sense, on top of all of that love for those early games, I kind of feel that the genre has been dry since Grim Fandango, creatively. So I’ve just been lurking around the indie and professional adventure scene waiting for the good to come back into the genre, and now Clever Hans is making an attempt of its own.
Why did you choose the XBox platform for your game? Can you tell us about your participation in the Dream Build Play contest?
The game is being developed on the XNA platform which allows us to release it on both Xbox and the PC with no additional programming hurdles. We make one version of the game for both platforms. We entered the Dream Build Play contest so we could distribute the game directly from the ‘Arcade’ side of Xbox Live rather than the ‘Community’ side and increase the visibility of the game’s release. The game was not envisioned as Xbox specific. Our PC distribution plans are not really formed as of yet, but the game will definitely be released for Windows. At the very least it will be offered directly from the Clever Hans Productions website for download.
What’s up with that strange (to put it mildly) briefcase and the overall surreal style?
The whole story is about the briefcase, I’m not going to ruin it! I think the tone of the game borrows from all of that Russian literature and early-film storytelling that I have imbibed so much of over the years. My head has always been stuck in that ‘crazy town’ era: Bulgakov, Gogol, Chesterton, Welles, Fellini etc. Also I think maybe those Lucasarts adventures built off of similar inspirations, especially the Tim Schafer led games. They had the same sort of vibe as all of that aforementioned art, both visually and in their writing.
From the trailer Briefcase Romanin’s production values seem extremely artistic and professional. Could you tell us a bit about the kind of efforts (or money ) that went into creating them?
I’m the only artist on the project and technically there is nothing fancy going on. Basically all of the artwork is first drawn out on paper then scanned and painted in photoshop. There is some animation done in After Effects but that is used mostly for things like wires, flags, lights, water–what I would term ambient animation. Everything else is done the old fashioned way and the game’s native resolution is 1920×1080, so a lot of work has gone into it.
Your art is truly impressive. What kind of professional training did you have? Is your style inspired by anything in particular?
When it comes to illustration and animation I can’t say I have much ‘training’ per se. Technically I went to school for animation (at a public school in the USA), which taught me to use the programs– specifically I learned to use After effects and Maya very well, I probably didn’t have the patience to do that on my own. The real ‘becoming an artist’ part was undertaken on the side. This basically means reading the good books about art and then practicing a lot, drawing from observation and then learning how to construct people and places without much/any reference. And it also means looking at good art and trying to copy technique that you like, in some areas I still have a long way to go, since I don’t think I’ve matched my inspirations. I’ve always liked to draw though so it was a life-long prcess.
Speaking of inspirations we can start right with your banner art which has that Grim Fandango concept drawing. All of those charcoal illustrations done by Peter Chan are totally incredible and in fact all of the Lucasarts games (ending abruptly with Escape of Monkey Island) have great art direction that I think back on frequently. Otherwise in videogame land I would say Street Fighter III: Third Strike really influenced me, I still play it occasionally for the colorful animation and artwork. Then there is that massive volume of comicbook and animation art–almost too much to pick through– but I like Geoff Darrow and the studio that made Triplettes of Belleville . And I especially like that birth-of-oil painting time period, Van Eyck, Dürer, Grünewald and all of them–ooh and Ilya Repin. I like any skilled art that still tells the story through the illustratiion, if you know what I mean…all of that impressionism and photorealism is offensive to me.
What was your approach to creating the gameplay for Briefcase Romanin? How large is the game overall?
After the overall story was down on paper the game was planned out in a list-of-needs format. For example the first ‘need’ for the main character is to leave the kitchen, the motivation and obstacles (and by extension the puzzles) are worked out in more detail at this point. The puzzles need to mesh with the dialog and atmosphere because they all help tell the story, so it all has to be designed together. Sometimes there is a loose item or event that needs to be fleshed out and then that changes the story a little bit. The game itself is planned to be a bit longer than the average telltale episodic adventure– maybe twice as long if we only consider dialog, but it will be a self contained story. I have no idea how that translates into “hours of gameplay”. Briefcase Romanin is one-third finished at this point and we are aiming for a 2010 release.
What does being an indie developer mean to you?
Useless struggle and inevitable failure!
Spoken like a veteran developer!
Thanks very much for participating in our interview and the best of luck with Briefcase Romanin!
Note: Like any true fan of classic LucasArts, Clever Hans (or one of its minions) hangs around the International House of Majo forums – that’s where all the cool industry people gather actually.