The Cameron Files - Interview with Galilea
First established in 1996, Galilea has designed a range of games including some children's learning titles, some general entertainment packages, two specialised encyclopaedias as well as 'edutainment' titles such as Genesys. It wasn't until late last year that they made their first adventure game, Loch Ness (known as The Cameron Files: Secret at Loch Ness in North America). This game introduced the character of Alan Parker Cameron, a Chicago based Private Investigator.
On his first adventure Cameron took us to Scotland in the depths of winter after receiving an invitation from Lord Alistair MacFarley. On arrival he got more than he bargained for. Lord Alistair was missing and Cameron soon learned that his own ancestry was tangled up in the mystery that involved a helpful banshee and the return of Nessie.
Luckily he survived and he's about to make his next appearance. This time he's off to places much, much warmer; Egypt to be precise. Cameron Files 2: The Pharaoh's Curse is scheduled to be released next month so we managed to get some information from Philippe and Jean Paul at Galilea who agreed to tell us a little about Cameron and his next case.
Gordon: Phil, I'd like to start with some general questions. Until Loch Ness, Galilea was perhaps best known for its children's games and 'edutainment' titles. What encouraged you to change direction and make an adventure game?
Phil: Well, there were several reasons to do so. From a very down to earth point of view, children's games and edutainment have no chance to even recoup their cost or just stay more than a month on the shelves, unless you have the license of a successful movie or toy. And we didn't have such thing. So it made business sense to leave this field.
That said, we were also at a point where we wanted to do something else. And we had the chance as we had very good relationships with our publisher, Wanadoo Edition. They had just released "Necronomicon" at that time, and we knew their in-house teams were working on realtime 3D games. So we met them and said something like "Hey, what if we did an adventure game for you?" They answered something like "Why not... Do you like haunted Scottish castles?" Actually it took some time, as it was our first game of this kind and they were not sure we could handle it properly, but that's not far from what happened.
Gordon: Can you tell us, is it easier to design games such as Genesys that have a lot of factual content rather than make up a totally fictional story? Which is the greater challenge from a developer's perspective?
Phil: The challenges are quite different. When making "Genesys", the most difficult was to glue together sixteen "living pictures" and puzzles depicting sixteen stages in humanity's history, which left little freedom to build a compelling story. And we had to deal with scholars who were very focused on their domain, but were completely unaware of games, and some of them who were looking at us with contempt. One of the most interesting challenges for us has been the video shoot, which involved three months of preparation, 45 actors, 150 costumes and 4 days of actual shoot on a blue screen.
(Gipe - namely Jean Paul, creative director of Galilea - is here with me to add his point of view)
Gipe: I don't think it is that different. In "Genesys", we had to create a short story for each historic era. Today, in these fictional stories, we rely on historic facts and try to introduce our fantastic story in a realistic background.
Gordon: How did the idea for the story and the setting of Loch Ness come about? Did it start with the legend of the Loch Ness monster or was there some other inspiration?
Phil: You really wanna know the truth? Well, at first the game was called "Highland", and though it took place in an ancient Scottish castle and a large part of the story was already there, there was no such thing like a loch inside ... It was more inspired by a Jules Verne novel called "The Castle of Carpathes". Then the French publisher decided that the game would be called "Loch Ness". So we just screamed a powerful "Yes Sir!" and rewrote the story ... laugh ... but in the end this was good, for the presence of the Loch allowed us to introduce the submarine, with the glowing holographic monster ... and the unforgettable underwater timed maze ;-) To be fair, rewriting the story made it far better. And the Loch adds to the mystery.
Gipe: It's also the actual explanation of the Loch Ness legend. We've had access to a classified file about the experimentation of a secret British submarine with holographic laser capabilities ;-)
Gordon: So what about Alan Parker Cameron himself, where did Galilea find him? Was he a pure figment of the imagination or did he take bits and pieces from real people, or maybe a literary character?
Gipe: Cameron is obviously a mix of real and fictional characters. We tried to create 'the' American private investigator the way it is imagined in Europe: casual, pragmatic, the solid guy you don't fool. Inspiration came from detective stories like Marlowe's, movies featuring Humphrey Bogart, Kirk Douglas (for the face), with a little "French touch" of Arsène Lupin.
Gordon: Still on Cameron. He is an American PI of Scottish descent. I find it interesting that a game designed in France should have a North American protagonist. This happens too often to be coincidence, is it purely for marketing purposes?
Phil: I would see several reasons for that. First, it is true that we have to make our game for a broad audience, for the French market is too small. So we tend to use common references that will be familiar to French players as well as American or German for example. France hosted a whole bunch of writers at the end of XIXth century who created very good characters like Arsene Lupin, Fantomas, Rouletabille... but who knows that nowadays? Even kids in France have no idea about that. Most of our heroes nowadays come from Hollywood. You like it or not, but it's a fact.
Gipe: What's extremely interesting, aside from reaching the US audience, is to confront a hero from the new world with the legends and stories of the old world: Europe, Middle East ...
Gordon: This particularly fascinates me because adventure games seem to be more popular in Europe than in the US at the moment and most of the current developers are European. Why do you think that is?
Phil: Well, you know, the biggest market is actually the US. Most of the sales of our adventure games come from US at this time. But most of the developers are European. I guess it is related to a sense of history. Means, my hometown is a small town in the middle of France. It's been here since the Bronze Age. There is a gothic church dating back to the 11th century, and if you carefully look at the bottom of the walls, you see that they are built on the remains of the Roman fortifications, probably built around 300 AD. Gipe is living in the old center of his town. His flat is inside a stone tower built around 1400 AD. Everywhere you can imagine the story of the hundreds of thousands of people that have lived before you were born. That's probably a reason why it's easier for Europeans to imagine adventures, especially historical ones.
Gipe: We've got a slightly different way of thinking about games because European culture is much more influenced by literature. For us, storyline is pre-eminent. We are die-hard "intellectuals" ...
Gordon: Out of curiosity did you consider that Cameron could have been a French detective of Scottish descent? After all the supporters of the Stuart claim to the Scottish throne spent many years in exile in France?
Phil: Yep, but the point is that nobody remembers that in France, except a few scholars and some people who read a lot about history. Most of the French tourists in Scotland are surprised when they see the stickers on the cars with the Scottish flag and the word "Ecosse". They wonder why the Scots write their country's name in French ... Scots have not forgotten, though: I remember being in Scotland in 1990, and to be identified as French was quite a sure way toward a free beer in the closest pub! And, to be honest, there's not been such a Scottish immigration in France since King Louis XI's Scottish bowmen - remember Quentin Durward?
Gordon: It's often said that developers create the sort of game they would like to play. Is that the case with Galilea? What games do you like to play? What games have influenced you?
Phil: We've all been amazed by Myst when it first came out. I still consider it as the best adventure/puzzle game ever made. But we have very different interests. My personal influences are Sim City, Civilization, Marathon, Doom and Duke Nukem. On the other side, I love to play adventure games, but not alone. I'd rather play it with friends, trying to resolve the puzzles together. In the adventure genre, the only games I've really enjoyed were Myst, Dracula, Amerzone and ... Cameron Files. (laugh). Really. But for so many years I've played pen-and-paper role playing games (as a player as well as master) that I always feel restricted when the only choice I've got to open a locked door is to find the key. There are so many creative ways to open a locked door, such as exploding it with an axe, blasting the surrounding walls into ashes ... laugh ...
Gipe: Sure we do what we like to play. Well, at least we try hard. The most important thing to us is to immerse the player in the universe and the story, as in a movie or a novel. This done, everything is permitted.
Gordon: Did you always intend to make more games based around Cameron, or can we assume that the first game was successful enough to warrant a sequel?
Phil: It was not the original idea as I recall, but the idea of a sequel came before we finished the first game. In fact we began to work on other stories featuring Cameron's grandfather in the US, but finally the character began to be really interesting so we decided to use it again. And Dreamcatcher's idea of "The Cameron Files" (in Europe, the game was released as "Loch Ness") encouraged us to build a new adventure with him.
Gipe: It's rewarding to create a genre: Alan Parker Cameron, Strange & Supernatural Enquiries!! Then, in a few years, why not a movie ;-)))
Gordon: So, moving on to Cameron's next case the Pharaoh's Curse. His Scottish ancestry was important in terms of the first story, giving him a personal involvement in the case. Can we expect a personal link in his new adventure in Egypt? For instance has some member of the Cameron Family been cursed?
Phil: Cameron's own reason to brave the curse of ancient Egypt has a name: Moira Mac Farley. How could he stay in Chicago when she calls him for help?
Gordon: As a sequel with a ready-made character and his 'occupation' defined, was it easier to make Pharaoh's Curse than it was to make Loch Ness? What did you learn from making Cameron's first adventure?
Phil: I wouldn't say it was easier, because though we learned a lot by making Loch Ness, we found some very creative ways to get into trouble ;-). More, the Loch Ness schedule was tight, but it was completely crazy on Pharaoh's Curse. So it was a "make or break", we had to do everything right at first try. It put a lot of pressure on everybody in the team. You know, when you've got a bit of experience, you avoid a lot of mistakes, but on the other side, you know how it's going to be during the next six months and you're just plain frightened before you jump.
Gipe: We've also learned that every production is unique. Even with good production organization, it's always a new adventure. And we love so much to give ourselves new challenges ;-)
Gordon: Also because you know him better, did you find yourselves taking more care of Cameron. Is his character growing?
Gipe: Indeed, he is growing. We even have in mind a hair implant ... No, seriously, he's like the comic characters. In the beginning you see them roughly drawn, then they evolve and refine to reach "maturity". Think about Mickey as drawn in the 30's and now ...
Gordon: Where did you get the inspiration for this latest story? Have any of you been to Egypt?
Phil: Well, much of our inspiration for Egypt came from three movies: "Death on the Nile" (from Agatha Christie's story), "Raiders of the lost Ark" and of course "The Mummy". Though I've been to Egypt, I found it very hard to give a real sense of what it is through pictures and descriptions. So we provided our artists with lots of books, sent them to the Louvre Museum so they can feel and touch the statues and real ancient Egyptian stone. Sadly, and though it would have been the best, we didn't have the money to send them to Egypt ... Nevertheless, in the end they achieved a really good job to recreate a feeling of Egypt in the game.
Gipe: You should see the studio with all the big pictures of Egypt on the walls! We try to immerse into the atmosphere of the locations where the game takes place.
Gordon: In Pharaoh's Curse are you planning any major changes to the style of gameplay we encountered in Loch Ness? There are a lot of games, for instance, where you have to beat the stuffing out of countless mummies ... Cameron isn't going to get too physical is he? Can we expect lots of puzzles?
Phil: Well, I must admit we had to follow the Hollywood rules for the US market, so Cameron made some intense body-building and bought a machine gun to kill mummies by the pound ... I'm joking, thank God he's still the good old private eye. The gameplay is very similar to "Loch Ness", and no physical stuff is in sight.
Gipe: The gameplay of this series is well defined. But for the third episode, maybe we'll put a little bit of action inside ... only a little bit!
Gordon: Probably the one 'puzzle' that tested a lot of players in Loch Ness was the timed underwater maze. There are many adventurers who don't like timed puzzles. Will there be any in the Pharaoh's Curse? If so, have you considered an option for allowing players to turn off the clock?
Phil: There are still timed puzzles, still a maze, but I swear it, no timed maze in Pharaoh's Curse. It makes some sense from a gameplay point of view to introduce a feeling of urgency from time to time.
Gipe: We've got to put some pressure on the player sometime, don't you think?
Gordon: Finally then, who do you hope will want to play Pharaoh's Curse? It's a question I can never resist. Do you visualise your audience when you are planning a game?
Phil: What I hope is to see a wide audience enjoying the game, both men and women of every age. We have a lot of adventure game player around us, and the only thing they have in common is that they are very different from each other ... laugh ...
Gipe: I see Mary on the phone with a friend, saying, "You know, when you're on the boat, in the curator's cabin ..."
Phil: Before we leave I would like to say that we are very happy to work with Dreamcatcher, as they are really nice people and it's a pleasure to work with them. The kind of people that encourage you to do your best because you know they are doing a wonderful job to make sure your game will reach the people who enjoy playing it.
And I would like people who will play the game to think about the people that worked on the game here at Galilea. Making a game is not just a matter of having the idea, it's teamwork. People here are talented, they are also very nice human beings, they have a strong team spirit and they are deeply involved in the game. As managers, it's the nicest reward to see that our company is a place where this kind of people come, glue together in a strong team, and enjoy their work even in the toughest times.
Gordon: Thank you Phil and Gipe for making the time to talk to us. Good luck with The Pharaoh's Curse, we look forward to playing it.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2002.
All rights reserved.