Of all the adventure games to grace both consoles and the PC in the past decade, there are perhaps none more unique than Dreamfall. Starting out with The Longest Journey, we were introduced to the world of Arcadia and Stark, the Balance and the Guardians along with April Ryan, the everyday girl looking to make sense of it all. While the franchise may have laid dormant following Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, Red Thread Games has resurrected the series for Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey. Crowd-funding and Kickstarter are magical things indeed.
GamingBolt spoke to creator and director Ragnar Tørnquist about the development experience, whether Dreamfall Chapters will be making the leap to the PS4 and Xbox One, the status of the supposed Wii U version and April Ryan’s current whereabouts.
Ravi Sinha: The Longest Journey first released in 2000 and immediately became one of the best adventure games of all time. Now, nearly 14 years later, what inspired you to return to the series and continue the story of Stark and Arcadia?
Ragnar Tørnquist: Every time someone tells me it’s been fourteen years, I suddenly feel very old. But I’m both amazed and grateful to be working on Dreamfall Chapters. The Longest Journey saga has been such a big and important part of my life for so long, I couldn’t stay away forever — there are many more stories to be told in this universe.
Of course, there’s also the fact that the previous game in the series, Dreamfall, ended on a massive cliffhanger, and fans have rightfully been demanding a sequel ever since. It was never our intention to leave players hanging off that proverbial cliff for so many years: Dreamfall was written and designed to be the first half of a duology, a standalone cycle set in The Longest Journey universe — the story of Zoë Castillo, the Dreamer — and we’d hoped to get started on Dreamfall Chapters as soon as we’d finished the first one. But then other things, and other projects, got in the way, as they often do.
It wasn’t until I started my own development studio, Red Thread Games, that we were finally able to reassemble the team and start thinking about a sequel. It took over six years, but thankfully the fans were still there and they were ready to support us and our vision. The Kickstarter gave us the incentive and the budget to kick things off, and we’ve been busy ever since, making what we hope and believe will be the best game in the saga so far. If nothing else, it will be a game born from passion and love, and from the dedication and loyalty of our numerous fans and supporters.
We’re very happy and very, very grateful to be able to continue telling our story after so many years of silence. It’s a real testament to the generosity of our fans, and to the power of crowd-funding and democratised game development, driven by the rise of digital distribution and cost-efficient game engines like Unity.
Ravi Sinha: Adventure games have gone through somewhat of a renaissance as of late, with Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us earning accolades while horror franchises like Amnesia and Outlast make a name for themselves. Where does a point-and-click adventure like Dreamfall Chapters fit in, and how does the aspect of different chapters play out over the game’s central plot?
Ragnar Tørnquist: Dreamfall Chapters is a lot closer to Telltale’s games than traditional point-and-click adventures, though it will have more freedom-to-roam and larger locations than The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. In that way, Chapters is more traditional, although still a far cry from the single-screen, point-and-click puzzle games of the past.
I don’t believe there are any games quite like Chapters out there; games with large, open locations, a deep and mature story, and an emphasis on exploration, conversation and problem-solving over combat or stealth mechanics. This is a game built around player agency, a complex choice-and-consequence structure, and social features that encourage the sharing and discussion of your single-player journey with friends and the world.
It’s really hard to categorise Chapters: it’s not point-and-click, it’s untraditional, and while it is definitely an adventure, it’s unlike any other adventure game out there. It is, first and foremost, a story-and-character driven game, set in two very original, very exciting and very explorable worlds. And it’s a game with plenty of heart and soul.
Ravi Sinha: Dreamfall Chapters will intersect heavily with the real world in many ways. Europolis is based on Industrial Age Europe, for instance. What prompted this influence of realistic elements into a heavily fantasy-based game, in both culture and aesthetics?
Ragnar Tørnquist: The Longest Journey saga has always been grounded in reality, despite the obvious fantastical and magical elements.
In The Longest Journey, April Ryan lived in a futuristic North American city that was heavily based around New York; April’s neighbourhood, for example, was basically the East Village of the early-to-mid 90s. We wanted April’s — and, later, Zoë’s — future to feel real, believable, lived-in, so that players could more readily buy into the idea of this parallel world, Arcadia, that’s pure magical fantasy.
Having said that, Arcadia is inspired by a plethora of myths and legends, grounding it in a shared cultural concept of a idealised fairy-tale world. We wanted it to be more than a cliched mediaeval fantasy setting: we wanted it to have a deep history, a believable culture, real languages — and to go beyond the typical elf-dwarf-human-orc setting of most adventure and role-playing games.
Ravi Sinha: The contrast between Stark and Arcadia is more pronounced here than in previous games. Stark appears to have embraced a more cyberpunk outlook while Arcadia feels more Middle Earth-esque. As the years went by, did the respective evolutions of each world feel natural and how did you eventually settle on the current states of both?
Ragnar Tørnquist: With Dreamfall Chapters, we’re attempting to recapture the unique magic of the first The Longest Journey, with a futuristic sci-fi world that looks and feels more overtly cyberpunk, and a fantasy setting that’s more original and hopefully more exciting than your garden variety Tolkien clone.
Dreamfall may have lost a bit of that magic — although that’s partly due to our themes; the loss of faith, of innocence and magic — so it’s important for us to return to what people love about our universe, and to bring back the heart and soul of The Longest Journey.
Still, there’s a constant evolution that goes on when you’re writing such a long story over so many years. We put a lot of ourselves into our games, our characters, locations, dialogue, music — and as we grow, change and mature as people, so do our games. We like to believe for the better, although that will be for our players to decide.
Stark and Arcadia, therefore, are constant reflections of where we are in life, what we’ve learned from our previous games, and from other games and stories that inspire us, and who we are as people. They’re not static worlds: they change, together with us, and that’s what makes them so exciting to write for, and to live inside.
Ravi Sinha: Given the general lack of third party exclusives on the Wii U and an apparent lack of support from Nintendo, what has the experience been like developing for the console? Are there any console specific features you have worked on?
Ragnar Tørnquist: We don’t have any updates regarding a Wii U version at this stage, unfortunately. And if that sounds like the type of answer a publisher’s PR department would give, I sincerely apologise! We strive to be properly indie, and to be open and honest with our players.
For the time being, however, the Wii U is secondary to making the PC, Mac and Linux versions as good as they can possibly be. We owe that to our backers.
Ravi Sinha: Unity 4 has helped you save time on the basic technology for the game and allowed you to focus more on content. Given the support for Unity on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, would you ever look into releasing Dreamfall Chapters for next gen consoles in the near future?
Ragnar Tørnquist: Yes, we are in discussions regarding Dreamfall Chapters for next-generation consoles, and we hope to have more news about this very, very soon.
That also sounded very PR-ish, I know. But it’s really all I can say at this point. Sorry!
Ravi Sinha: What are your thoughts on the current graphics debate that is happening? Just how beneficial is a 1080p resolution and 60 FPS frame rate compared to a unique visual style?
Ragnar Tørnquist: It really depends on the game. 1080p helps bring our worlds to life on the big screen — Dreamfall Chapters would suffer in a lower resolution, losing some of the detail that makes the art pop and the locations feel real and lived-in. As for 60FPS, that’s a lot less critical for a game that doesn’t rely on quick reactions or button-presses. As long as we’re running at a steady 30FPS, the game looks, plays and feels great.
At the end of the day, however, it’s the art direction that matters the most, along with the quality of the characters, animations and locations. 1080p is great, and definitely preferable, but the strength of the art direction means that it’s perfectly acceptable running at a lower resolution — I think the beauty of the game and the worlds comes across regardless, and I’m very, very happy with how beautiful the game looks on any screen and in any resolution.
Ravi Sinha: Now the big question: April Ryan. Does she make a return?
Ragnar Tørnquist: I’m not going to answer that! We have, however, confirmed that Sarah Hamilton — the voice of April Ryan in both The Longest Journey and Dreamfall — will be back for Chapters. Make of that what you will.
Ravi Sinha: What are your thoughts on SteamOS? Will you be creating a version of Dreamfall Chapters that takes advantage of the Steam Controller and is catered to living room PCs?
Ragnar Tørnquist: We will definitely create a Steam OS version of Dreamfall Chapters, and it will support whatever version of the Steam Controller makes it to market!
We feel that Chapters is the perfect big screen, living-room game. The previous games were often played by friends, families, couples together: simply watching the story unfold is such a big part of the experience, you don’t have to be the one holding the controller in order to enjoy it. In that way, the game is a lot like an interactive story where players make meaningful choices, and watch the intriguing consequences play out.
Ravi Sinha: From a development perspective, do you think with time the PS4 and Xbox One’s API and GPU tools will get better so that they will be able to compete with the high end PC GPUs out there?
Ragnar Tørnquist: Oh, definitely. Just take a look at some of last year’s games — such as GTAV or The Last of Us — and how far they pushed the ancient, creaking hardware. I have no doubt that there’s a ton of potential locked away in this new hardware, and we’re itching to unlock it. I can’t wait to see the next wave of next-gen games — I’m sure we’ll experience some amazing worlds and concepts in the months and years to come. The console isn’t dead quite yet.
Ravi Sinha: Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey will be supporting a DRM free distribution model. Obviously, DRM as a solution has failed. We have already seen the fiascos associated with the Xbox One and SimCity. So my question is there any feasible model available where PC piracy can be fought against?
Ragnar Tørnquist: Yes: release your games in as many channels as possible, worldwide, at a fair price. It’s not rocket science. Most people are willing to pay for games and give developers their fair due. A lot of people are still going to steal games, of course, and I’m not sure how to stop that, but I think we’re converting a lot of pirates into customers with Steam, GOG, Humble Store and other emerging digital distribution platforms.
The solution is definitely NOT more (or stronger) DRM. We’re committed to releasing Dreamfall Chapters on as many platforms as possible, including DRM free platforms. If people want to copy and steal our game, so be it — at least it won’t be because of a lack of options, or unfair pricing. All we can do is hope that everyone who wants to play our game and experience the story are willing to pay for it, allowing us to keep making games for years to come!
Ravi Sinha: Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey has ditched its episodic format and instead will be available as a full fledged game. Given that several episodic games like The Walking Dead have done well, what prompted you guys to take this decision?
Ragnar Tørnquist: An excellent question! We felt that the story’s structure would be better served without any extended, artificial breaks — affecting the pacing and flow of the story. It’s sort of like the difference between binge-watching a TV show, or waiting a week (and sometimes two) between each episode. Both can work, though I personally prefer the binge-option.
Having said that, it seems that splitting the story in two or more episodes, chapters, acts, parts is becoming more and more accepted: Broken Sword did it; Broken Age did it; Telltale has obviously built an incredibly successful company and business around the idea of episodes — there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, it’s simply a question of philosophy and suitability. If it makes sense for the story, it can be a really good idea. And we’re definitely interested in exploring episodic distribution in the future.
Ravi Sinha: What can you tell us about the choice system in the game? We do know that certain choices will alter certain events in the game but will not alter the ending in any way. Why is that?
Ragnar Tørnquist: We want players to be able to shape their journeys, and to make meaningful and often difficult choices that affect both the lead characters — Zoë Castillo and Kian Alvane — and the large cast of supporting characters, some of whom will live, die and change irrevocably depending on your decisions in the game.
The whole saga, however, is built around the notion that our journeys have already been written, and that we can’t alter the ultimate outcome. Our destinations are set in stone, our dreams have already been dreamed, and though we can alter the course of them along the way, we always end up in a predestined place.
It wouldn’t be Dreamfall if there were multiple branching endings — but at the same time, this is a game about decisions, about the consequences of those decisions, and about living with the choices and consequences you make along the way.
Ravi Sinha: Can you please describe the mission structure in the game? Furthermore, can you also please explain the open world elements in the game?
Ragnar Tørnquist: The mission structure differs from chapter to chapter. At some points — during Zoë’s early days in Europolis, for example — the gameplay is more free-form, allowing you to roam around the city and do things at your own pace and in your own time. Goals can be met in your order of preference, and some goals can be abandoned altogether, if you’d prefer to fast-track the main story.
In other chapters, however, the journey will be more linear — the pace will be faster, the stakes higher, and you won’t have a lot of leeway. There will still be choices and consequences, of course, but everything will be a lot more directed and driven.
We believe this is a good mix, and makes for a game that has the best of both worlds: freedom and direction.
Ravi Sinha: Is there anything else you want to tell our readers about the game?
Ragnar Tørnquist: Even if you haven’t played the first two games in the saga — The Longest Journey and Dreamfall — we believe Dreamfall Chapters is a great place to get started, and we hope non-fans will give it a chance, regardless of whether or not they’re adventure game players. It really is very, very different from everything else out there!
Oh, and even though the Kickstarter ended a long time ago, it’s possible to support the production of Dreamfall Chapters — and secure some exciting rewards! — by visiting our official website: http://www.dreamfallchapters.com/