Just as I hit ‘end record’ on Evaer bringing an end to our energetic Skype chat, KING Art reached their relatively small $65,000 funding goal. Published by Nordic Games, the sequel to staggeringly successful The Book of Unwritten Tales surely didn’t need to be Kickstarted, I thought to myself, so I hunted down Jan Theysen to see where all that money was going. It’s going to good things. Things like this. Things that a small publisher just cannot afford.
Say what you like about Unity and the relevance of adventure games in a world dominated by AAA console ports and bro-shooters, but since the public execution of LucasArts people have had a little time to reflect on that growing niche of discerning gamer; the gamer who grew up on interactive storytelling, where guide books were angrily creased in anticipation for the internet. This is beautiful, and this will never age. Adventure gaming is even lucidly sliding into the virtual reality world.
Sure, we might be a silent majority, but with digital distribution and global marketing, we’re an international niche – and there’s strength in numbers. So let’s talk about the sequel to The Book of Unwritten Tales, which is about to be improved by a 4-tier stretch goal system.
I asked KING Art Games’ creative director Jan Theysen why Nordic needed extra cash to make this a reality, and he explained that ”The Kickstarter is really about the stuff you just can’t afford, all the stuff you get rid of because of budget or time constraints.”
“We just asked [Nordic Games] maybe we could do a Kickstarter and get more money to also do the ‘nice-to-haves’,” he continued.
“For example, optional puzzles and alternative puzzle solutions. Like in an RPG, you usually have several options to solve a puzzle and that’s not something that is usual for adventure games, so that’s something we really wanted to have. Another example is the soundtrack; an orchestral recording of the soundtrack is something our composer would love, but we literally can’t afford it for a AA game. It’s usual for AAA games… usually the soundtrack for our games are really good, so it would be cool to have them recorded by a live orchestra.”
KING Art’s previous game, The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief was an episodic, slightly lighter Agatha Christie style crime series featuring the work of long-time composer Benny Oschmann, who I learned at GamesCom was a lucky score for the relatively small studio, with Oschmann moving on to film and TV. Having nabbed him for a single orchestral piece (the aforelinktioned – no, that’s not a word), the team plan to bring him back for a full orchestral score if they meet the fourth and final stretch of $235,000. If you don’t think that’s worth it, then your ears are wrong.
“It’s Benny Oschmann again. He did the music for the first BoUT, and The Raven.,” explained Jan. “Yeah, we know him since the original game, and I think BoUT1 was the first commercial project he ever did. Basically, we asked him if he’s interested to compose some music… and back then he was a student, or maybe still in school! It was his first project, and we’re very lucky to have him now because he’s great.”
“[a full orchestra score is] part of the stretch goal, yes. If we reach the stretch goal, the orchestral soundtrack will definitely be one of the big things.”
I asked why they were asking for so little in comparison to a game like Divinity: Original Sin who wanted $400,000 to improve their half finished game, and Jan outlined “four steps [stretch goals] and each step would improve the game.”
“If we reach two of the steps, better; if we reach 3, good; if we reach four of the steps, still better. Even if we only reach the funding goal, it will still be a better game. So it’s just the on-top stuff, the nice-to-have.”
Unlike many games seen on Kickstarter, “It’s not an issue of ‘can we make the game’ or something like that, it’s just ‘okay, how much more can we put on top of everything else’.”
The English localization version of the original The Book of Unwritten Tales was released much later than the original German version, so I asked Jan what KING Art and Nordic Games were doing to raise the exposure of the venerable adventure series outside of Germany:
“The first thing obviously is to make the game as good as possible. We really take the first game as our blueprint. We think even today it’s pretty strong… it wasn’t a huge international success everybody talked about, but the people who played the game really loved it. It’s a good idea to just try to improve on the first game, but not to try to change a whole lot of stuff. It’s still the same humor, the same feeling, and the game will be the same size. The idea is to make another game for players who liked the first one, but this time around with the help of Nordic Games and better digital distribution we just hope that more people will know about the game.”
The production team decidedly not browsing images of cats.
I was curious to know if people could jump in having not played the first game, but Jan was convinced that wasn’t a problem, exclaiming ”Absolutely. The story takes place after the first game, so it won’t hurt to know about it, but it’s not necessary.”
So how relevant are adventure games now, I pondered aloud, and just how realistic are Nordic Games and KING Art games about the numbers of players interested in this genre. Unsurprisingly, they seem pretty clued in. Steam has made it possible to ship copies of their games to all 7 corners of the world, not having to rely on boxed copies.
It’s much easier to reach an audience today than it was 5 or 10 years ago.
“It’s a niche genre, so it’s not as big as RPGs and I don’t think it will become as big as action adventures or anything like that, but with Kickstarter and digital distribution, for a developer it’s much easier to reach an audience today than it was 5 or 10 years ago. Even if it’s a relatively small percentage of users interested in this sort of game, it’s possible to make good adventures — big adventures — and make money from them, because you can sell the game everywhere in the world. There are fans in South America who love adventure games and 5 or 10 years ago there was no chance to get the game legally there, because there was no boxed version on the shelves there.”
“Today it’s no problem, and we see the numbers for BoUT… these games are pretty much timeless. It’s still fun and it looks okay… it doesn’t feel old – not as old as a 5 year old shooter for example. There is a market. It’s a small market, but I think it’s big enough to even support these big adventure games.”
Of course, shipping geographically to many different places has issues of its own, since players expect localized versions. I asked Jan if that was a problem, and if we’ll be seeing more than the English and German localization advertised on the Kickstarter page.
“It’s not a stretch goal,” Jan explained. ”But if we reach the fourth goal we’ll think about additional goals. Maybe that’s something to to think about as an additional goal. And even if not, it’s possible there will be more language versions to launch. At this time, English and German full localization is guaranteed, and then we’ll see if it’s possible to add more.”
Swarms of musicians wait patiently having been told they are not allowed to move until funding has been reached.
I recently wrote about how episodic gaming was becoming a pain in my arse, noting that although The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 isn’t an episodic game, there will be an Early Access phase which is. Looking for Jan’s opinion on episodic gaming, I asked if he understood my issues associated with getting my fiction-fix cut off at the whim of the development schedule, and how the episodic Early Access will work for this title.
We can adjust these small things during Early Acess
“It’s a little bit like… the game will be out early 2015, if you’re interested you can play the game before, but we don’t really see it as a big reward,” Jan said. “It’s just an offer if you’re interested.”
Asking if this was technically a beta, or alpha, or if the game would be finished, Jan replied: “No it will be pretty much finished when it’s released on early access, but we’re still interested in feedback and tweaking little problems and stuff like that, because this time we’re doing all the voice recordings not in one big session but at least two or maybe more separate sessions. If there is feedback for example… the puzzle is too hard, or too easy, we can adjust these small things during Early Acess, but it’s not an Alpha version or Beta version.”
“There will be 5 chapters during Early Access, and the chapters will be released separately. After that, all 5 chapters are released as the full game,” he concluded.
The celebration video released moments ago.
Explaining his thoughts on episodic gaming, Jan took a pragmatic approach, looking at the pros and cons:
“Well there are some pros and cons. Marketing and PR wise it might be a good idea to release a game episodically, because there might be just more coverage… the game is in the media longer, so this might be interesting when it comes to PR and marketing,” Jan explained from his development throne. “Obviously it’s also interesting when it comes to money and cash-flow, but for the players it’s a little bit hard to construct a big advantage for the players. I can see why players don’t like the idea of episodic games, but I also obviously see the other side, the production side,” he concluded, shuffling onto his consumer bean-bag.
According to the developer, BoUT2 will be around 20 hours long. ”BoUT1 I think is still the biggest adventure game, and the second one will be as big as the first one.”
All that game will come at a price ”less than any full priced title on PC or console.”
“Obviously, the versions you can get on Kickstarter will be cheaper than the release price… so if you want to save money, it’s cheaper to buy the game now.”
BoUT was packed with over 20 hours of content, and remains one of the largest adventure games to date.
Many people who buy via Kickstarter are concerned with DRM, and strangely enough there’s a [very] vocal minority who consider Steam to be unacceptable DRM, so I asked Jan about their delivery avenues, and what they thought about Steam.
“Actually I think you can release games on Steam without DRM,” correctly explained Jan. “There is this connection that ‘Steam is DRM’. For the early access, no, it would be just too risky when it comes to pirating, but for the release I don’t know. There will definitely be DRM free versions,” he concluded, hinting towards the GoG and retail releases listed on the Kickstarter page.
Broken Sword has been released on pretty much every platform aside from the Vectrex and Tiger Game.Com now, so I wanted to see where the versatile Unity engine would take Book of Unwritten Tales 2, given that The Raven had decent game-pad support. Unfortunately for now at least it doesn’t seem like the Ps4 or Xbox One will be graced with this adventure, as Jan explains:
“We use Unity as the engine, and Unity is in theory multiplatform capable, so there might be other versions but again that’s not something we’re really decided on. It depends on how many people are interested in the game, and on which platforms they want to play it. We’ll have a look at all the options and then decide what makes sense and what doesn’t.”
KING Art held at gun-point by Nordc Games.
I think there are far more pirated versions of the game out there than had been bought
Finally turning to pircay, I asked if KING Art games were worried about the potential with this title. Asking “do you have the piracy numbers for BoUT?” Jan calmly pointed out that ”no, we don’t… but anecdotally, we released a patch for the German version in 2009, and the patch has been downloaded 3 or 4 times more than we sold the game… so yeah.
“We really don’t know, I think there are far more pirated versions of the game out there than had been bought,” he stated without sounding too worried about it.
He then took a little time to reflect on his loyal fan base and put it all in perspective, enjoying the idea that Kickstarter support from fans at least helps to alleviate the issue since “everyone who supports us on Kickstarter or later on Steam Early Access can’t pirate the game, because it isn’t out yet. So anyone who buys now only helps to improve the game, and also helps to decrease the affects of piracy for us.”
I said that it sounded like KING Art had accepted piracy as an issue, and perhaps unsurprisingly Jan said “you can’t really do anything about it… there is just the option to make life worse for your buyers and fans by implementing always on copy protection, and we don’t want to do that.
It’s better to lead with a good example
So really we tried to make the games as good as possible, and relatively cheap, so we just hope there are enough honest people out there to buy the game and support us, and to this date I think it worked out! Obviously we would love that everybody who pirates the game will buy it, but I think it’s better to lead with a good example and say that our fans are the important things, and not the pirates.”
Leaving on a high note, I asked for clarification on the idea that BoUT2 will “contain traces of WoW, LotR, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, D&D, Discworld and many more.” I wanted to know how these were represented in the game, and if they’d be subtle or more slap-stick in their approach. “Will they be numerous and loud?” I asked:
“Absolutely, in the first game there were so many little nods and hits to all the different classics, and that’s really something we enjoy! When we write the game, it’s something the players enjoy, so there will be a lot of references and easter-eggs.”
Just how many, I asked: “A lot!” He replied. “We are still writing but even in the background art and stuff like that, there are so many little things.”
We said goodbye as I noted they should produce more CD soundtracks of the game, since The Raven OSTs are now in such short supply. Jan joked that he has ”three or so on my desk now… but they’re almost all gone…”
Hopefully fans of the music will have ample chances to get a physical copy this time around.
The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 was successfully funded on Kickstarter, but the real meat is in the stretch goals, so there’s plenty of time to contribute to that, and bag yourself some goodies in the process — oh, and the game is cheaper if you buy now, too.