Specials: Interviews:

Interview with Steve Ince (English Version)

Adventure Corner: Welcome Steve and thanks a lot for giving us some of your time for this interview.
I´d like to start this with your current adventure activities, before we get to some other points.
In Germany your last game 'So Blonde' was released in march 2008. How was the feedback that you received on the game so far?

Steve Ince: The feedback has been pretty good on the whole. We got some very good review scores and some of the comments at this year’s Leipzig show were very positive and very encouraging.
The game was also released in France in June and we got some great reviews there, too, which has been very encouraging all round.

AC: Did you like or dislike the circumstance that – due to its setting- a lot of people automatically started comparing 'So Blonde' to 'Monkey Island', long before it was even released, since it might have created a lot of pressure for the game (beside a positive PR effect).

SI: Being compared to a classic like 'Monkey Island' will always generate mixed feelings, particularly with the use of pirates, as well as the setting. We’ve been very mindful of this and know that adventure fans will likely make comparisons. As part of embracing this heritage, we even made a couple of blatant references to other games as part of the fun. Because the game is very much a comedy, we haven’t worried too much about these kinds of things, but we’ve made sure that we’re respectful of the history of the genre.

AC: Please tell us some personal highlights of the development process of 'So Blonde'.

SI: One of the biggest highlights was going into the recording studio and hearing all these characters come to life with lots of wonderful actors giving their talents to the voice recording. I particularly like the English voice of One-Eye who has a more understated menace than most game villains.
I also enjoyed going over to Paris and working with the crew at the Wizarbox studio. It’s always good to work with a talented team, particularly when they do all the really hard work, but when you combine that with a beautiful city like Paris it becomes even more special.

AC: We were a little surprised, when we found out about the Wii and DS Versions of 'So Blonde' at the Games Convention, since the approach is rather unusual (and at the same time very interesting). Instead of just making an adaption that´s pretty much the same as the PC-version with some minor changes, the Wii and DS versions of So Blonde will offer quite some changes to the original game, whether it comes to story elements, some of the characters, the Minigames, and puzzles. How was the idea of that different approach born?

Sunny Blonde returns on Wii and DS.

SI: Wizarbox informed me that they and the publisher (DTP) wanted to do a new version that wasn’t a sequel, so we took the idea of creating a “what if...?” variation and set out with the premise of “What if Sunny had landed on the dark side of the island?”
I then worked with Jerome Britneff-Bondy (Wizarbox’s lead designer) to flesh this out over a couple of days in Paris. Once we had the main structure formulated I was able to return home and work up the story and design details.

AC: Could you please give our readers – and in particular those that own both a Nintendo-Wii (or DS) and the PC-version of 'So Blonde'- some details on which aspects will change in detail, and which elements from the original game will remain the same in the new versions.

SI: Probably around 80-90% of the game’s story and design is different. While a number of the locations are re-used, some are completely new and others have been re-worked to fit the new formats. Many of the original characters make an appearance, but there are also new characters and some of the originals aren’t in this version.
There is even a new playable character and the way that he and the other characters relate to Sunny gives a very different but complementary view of the unfolding story.
Although the PC and Nintendo versions are completely stand-alone, players who play both versions will be rewarded by very different developments and playing one will enrich the experience gained from playing the other.

AC: In how far will console versions use the special control devices of the Nintendo Wii and DS?

SI: The Wii will use the remote to control an on-screen cursor and the DS version is controlled through the use of the stylus. They are both very intuitive and perfect vehicles for an adventure game of this nature.

AC: Despite your work as an adventure game writer and designer, you´re the founder of Juniper Games, an established platform for casual games, then you´re a book author, a cartoonist and it seems as if your creative energy is completely unlimited. Please talk about some of your current activities beside the work on the Wii and DS versions of 'So Blonde'.

Beneath a Steel Sky: A legendary science-fiction adventure, available as freeware today.

SI: One of the big problems in the games industry is that we’re all sworn to secrecy on many current projects, so I have to be careful exactly what I say. But having said that, I’ll certainly tell you what I can. I’ve been working on another adventure that will appear on the Wii and DS.
I’ve been working with a couple of developers on some casual titles in varying degrees of involvement. The first of these will be released within the next two weeks and I’ll be saying something about it in my blog at the time. The others I can’t say anything more about right now.

I went to Leipzig to promote 'So Blonde', but also took the opportunity to present three proposals and initial ideas to a number of publishers and am waiting to hear back on those. One of them is something I’m really excited about, so I really hope that this comes together.

Adventure Corner remark: In the meantime, the first of the new Casual Games Steve Ince is talking about in this interview has been released under the name 'Delicious: Emily´s Tea Garden. Joining forces with the Gamehouse Studio from Eindhoven, Steve Ince has been responsible for writing the story and dialogues. On his blog Steve mentions that we can expect more Casual Games to come from him in combination with the Gamehouse Studio.
Purchase (or have a look at) Delicous: Emily´s Tea Garden. Click here.

Delicious: Emily´s Tea Garden.

AC: It's interesting to see such prominent names like yourself and Jane Jensen also gaining a high reputation for doing Casual Games. In how far could the experiences you make with approaching actual non players and casual players also be important for opening up new markets adventure-wise, since story based games might actually appeal to a lot of non and casual gamers, that don´t even really know about the existence of story based adventure games?

SI: Adventure games are on the rise within the “casual” marketplace. Some of the casual portals are actively looking for back lists of older games to release. What this means is that we can also utilise this for original titles that take advantage of the casual audience. We’re already seeing successful games being developed along these lines with 'Women’s Murder Club' and 'Dream Chronicles'. While they may seem a little on the light side for many hard core adventure gamers, it gives us a good starting place from which we can expand and develop.

AC: During the long period of time you were working for Revolution Software, your role constantly changed. You started as a sprite designer for 'Beneath A Steel Sky', then your role constantly expanded during your Revolution years. Please give us a short description of your way of involvement in the different Revolution games you did.

SI: As well as the sprites for 'BASS', I also did a few background paintings for that game.
My work on 'Broken Sword' actually started before my work on 'BASS' and I did some initial concept sketches. Once production was under way, I moved into a producer role in order to help keep things on track and organise the huge number of game resources that we were creating. I also stayed in this role during the development of 'BS2'.

Gold and Glory: The Road to El Dorado: Based on a Dreamworks picture.

'In Cold Blood' was my first foray into writing and design, as well as logic scripting. Because it was such a huge game, there were a number of us involved with the design and with the writing. This was the first time that I felt I was reaching the breadth of my potential.
As we got into the later stages of 'ICB', we also began development on 'Gold and Glory: The Road to El Dorado'. Although I still worked with others on the writing and design, my share was much greater than on 'ICB' and I was able to have a lot of fun with the characters.
We then developed 'The Sleeping Dragon,' and once more I was involved with the writing, design and implementation. I also worked very closely with some of the programmers to help devise the tools for the implementation team to work with.

AC: Would you say that a return to Revolution, with all the different forms of satisfying your creative outlet you have right now, is something that is generally never gonna be an issue, or might there be a chance we´re gonna see you returning one day?

SI: I would never return to Revolution as an employee, but I’d never rule out working with them again. I regularly see Charles (Cecil) and Tony (Warriner) in York and have a coffee or a beer.

AC: When the first two 'Broken Sword' games were released, many high classed adventure games did not sell as well as adventure games used to ( 'Toonstruck' or 'The Dig' for example), and the trend started slowly directing into what would happen to adventure games in the late 90s. Your games on the other hand, sold extremely well- What would you say, what was the reason that 'Broken Sword 1 and 2' did so well, when other adventure games, that received great reviews as well, turned into financial flops?

Broken Sword: The saga begins.

SI: If any of us knew the answer to that we’d all be making millions. :)
However, with 'Broken Sword' we had a real world setting, a (mostly) believable conspiracy that used historical fact as a basis for the fiction; we had a strong cast of characters as well as some very good gameplay that worked well with the story. I think that the way these things came together struck a chord with many players.

AC: Compared to some years back, the amount of published adventures (especially in some parts of Europe) in general is growing and growing. At the same time, the sales –compared to mass market products- aren´t very high (at least at this point of time). Now with a game like 'A Vampyre Story', that seems to get covered by a lot of institutions that normally don´t do much coverage on adventure games, and are rather focused on “usual” mass market products, do you see Adventure Games gaining back some of their popularity – on a commercial level - in the long run? And what could that mean for the future of adventure gaming?

SI: Although there has been an increase in the number of games, I think we’re seeing a falling back in relation to the gaming spectrum as a whole. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a cutting back in future years so that publishers can concentrate on fewer titles but perhaps give them bigger budgets with better marketing.

If 'Heavy Rain' does turn out to be an adventure title (though with some action, judging by the footage I’ve seen) then future adventures will be judged by this, particularly in the eyes of reviewers, and may cause small budget developers to have to think differently.

AC: You´ve been involved in quite some very popular adventure games, that in some aspects differed a lot from each other. If you had to pick one adventure title you made, that you´re the most proud of in retrospective, what would your choice be?

SI: I’m proud of everything I’ve been involved in and for all sorts of different reasons. However, if I had to choose just one then it would have to be 'So Blonde'. I’m pleased at being given the opportunity to explore the themes of the PC game in a new way for the Nintendo version. Making the two games different with effectively the same starting point was a challenge, but one that I don’t think anyone else has done in gaming before. I can’t wait until the second version comes out and the feedback comes through.

AC: Which movies and books influence your own writing?

Writing for Video Games: Steve´s debut as a book author.

SI: All of them.
I think that we’re all influenced in some small way by everything we see, hear and feel. Even bad films or books have an effect because you are aware of what not to do or what to avoid.
I’m probably influenced most by things that are character driven, comic strips like 'Calvin and Hobbes' and 'Peanuts'; TV series like 'Torchwood', 'Doctor Who', 'Firefly', 'Buffy', 'Heroes'; books like 'Dresden Files', 'Codex Alera', 'Dexter', 'Stardust', 'The Hippopotamus', and films like 'Love Actually', 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest' and 'Star Wars' (the original trilogy).

AC: Which adventure games –throughout the years- , present and past, left an impression on you, and which ones are your all time favourites?

SI: Two earlier ones that are still very vivid with me are 'Day of the Tentacle' and 'Grim Fandango'. Quite brilliant!
More recently (kind of) are 'Longest Journey' and 'Moment of Silence'.
Two recent favourite (non-adventure) games are 'Portal' and 'Tomb-Raider Anniversary'. The puzzle aspects of both of those games are superb.

AC: This may be a very theoretical –but hopefully interesting- last question. If someone would approach you and say, we want you to do an adventure game for us, you´ re allowed to spend as much money on it as you want, plus you decide what type of adventure-game it´s gonna be and you have full freedom of art. How would that game look like?

SI: It would be brilliant! :)
I’d love to explore something that was visually very stylised, but that utilised 3D to give a very immersive feel to the world. I’d also love to develop something where players could play the game as a single player experience but also play cooperatively with a friend/spouse/child/etc. if they chose to do so.
I’d also love to explore more human nature stories where it’s important to help your friends instead of having to save the world every time.

AC: Thanks a lot Steve, it was a pleasure to welcome you on adventurecorner.de, and we would be very happy to welcome you back some day. All the best for the 'So Blonde' Wii /DS versions and your other current projects!

SI: Thank you for your interest in my work. It’s always a real pleasure to do these interviews with people who have a love of the genre.

Additional Links:

Official Steve Ince Website
Official Juniper Games Website
Purchase Steve Inces´ book "Writing for Video Games" on Amazon.com
German version of this interview

geschrieben am 10.10.2008, Ingmar Böke

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