Keepsake - Interview with Wicked Studios

Interview by Rosemary Young (February, 2005)
Set in a land of magic and mages and dragons, Keepsake is a new adventure game on its way to us from Wicked Studios located in Montreal, Canada.

Keepsake tells the story of Lydia as she searches for her good friend, Celeste. It begins at Dragonvale Academy on Lydia's first day at the school. The Academy is empty, Celeste is nowhere to be found, but Lydia does make a lucky find, the Keepsake that she gave to Celeste 8 years ago. Where will it lead her? We'll have to wait and see.

It's a good looking game, and Keepsake promises an intriguing story and a fun adventure. At Quandary we're looking forward to it and we have plenty of questions. Here are some of them kindly answered by Yves Bordeleau of Wicked Studios.

Rosemary: Hi Yves, before I ask about Keepsake, can you first tell us a little about Wicked Studios. The choice of name, Wicked, is good :). Who thought of it? And how did the team get together?

Yves: Hello Rosemary :). We decided on the name after seeing the first drawing of our Imp mascot! We said: "Man! That little creature is Wicked! Cool!!" So the Wicked Imp was born (and the name Wicked Studios a few minutes later). The business was started after the closing of Vircom Interactive. Half of our team were core members of V.I. and creators of The 4th Coming and Black Moon Chronicles MMORPGs; and the other half are former Ubisoft and other company employees.

Rosemary: Can you tell us what influences are behind Keepsake? Any games, in particular, or other media that might have given you some good ideas?

Yves: Well, to name a few, Syberia, Myst, and, of course, the old King's Quest series were an influence. But we were also inspired by The Lord of the Rings movies when we designed Keepsake. We really wanted to give the "grandiose" and bigger than life feeling found in LOTR to the Dragonvale Academy.

Rosemary: Now here comes the inevitable question, I hope you don't mind :). First day at school, a magic academy, can't help but think of Harry Potter. Apart from the obvious gender difference, how much in common does Lydia have with Harry?

Yves: Hehehe, it's okay. The only thing that Harry and Lydia have in common is that it's their first day at a magic academy. Period. ;) Lydia has a very strong personality and she's quite different from Harry in the way she acts and thinks. The mood of the game is also different: Lydia is alone in a place where hundreds of scholars should be... Also, the general setting of the game, which is a Medieval / Fantasy era, is quite far from being similar to the Harry Potter Universe.

Rosemary: Ok one more mention of Mr Potter and I'll move on. I'm thinking of the Harry Potter games that are aimed squarely at kids. They are mostly about jumping around, throwing spells and collecting things ... not really adventure games. We're assuming that Keepsake will give us more than this. So tell us a little more about the gameplay?

Yves: Keepsake is a pure adventure game. Designed by adventure gamers for adventure gamers and beyond! ;) Well, one thing's for sure, Keepsake is not a game aimed at young kids. The story is complex and the intrigue is very deep. The gameplay is a mix of exploration and puzzle solving. One of the main focuses of the game is character development and interaction. Since the school is empty, there was plenty of space to have a very talkative sidekick that would take A LOT of space. ;) There are some other NPCs in Keepsake, but what we really wanted was to give the player a good opportunity to know the main characters very well throughout the game. When we designed Keepsake, we wanted to give the player a new and innovative experience. Our character interaction and development is part of that new perspective.

Rosemary: So why an adventure game? It's a game type that a lot of developers have run away from in recent years.

Yves: First of all, it's because adventure games are great and that's really what we wanted to do as our first project :). I think that adventure games have an amazing community of dedicated fans and for our first title it's a blessing to have that kind of public. Also, from a more technical point of view, an adventure game doesn't need the latest high end, and VERY expensive, 3d engine that shooters or RTS titles do. Since Keepsake is our first project as an independent developer, spending a hundred thousand dollars for an engine was out of the question. But anyways, even if we had the opportunity to afford the latest engine, developing an adventure game was very high on all of our team members' wish list.

Rosemary: And what about the audience for Keepsake. Who do you think will play it? Especially with the hint system, will young players (pre-teen, say) have as much fun as mature players?

Yves: I think that Keepsake will appeal to a large public. We tried to make the game interesting to both male and female players by having a strong story with very good suspense. Although the game was not designed for young kids, I am a firm believer that our hint system would make it easier and less frustrating for them. As a matter of fact, the hint system will make the gaming experience of everyone much more enjoyable by completely eliminating the frustrations of being stuck for too long on a difficult puzzle. Usually, people just shut down the game, go on the Net and grab a Walkthrough to look for the puzzle solution... Our Hint system lets you stay in the game and it gradually gives you hints on demand.

Rosemary: That's great! We're interested in the hint system. Can you explain a bit more about how it works? Will it be possible to get graduated hints? Will there be any penalties for getting help?

Yves: Like I was saying the Hint system is a really cool feature. If the player is stuck somewhere in the game, he or she can simply ask Sidekick Zak for a hint on what to do next. Also, during puzzle solving, you can ask him for clues if you need help. If after a certain number of hints you still can't figure out how to solve the puzzle, Zak will offer to resolve it for you. The player will always have the choice of having Zak helping out if a puzzle proves to be too much of a challenge. We are still in the process of deciding whether or not we'll have penalties for using the hint system too often.

Rosemary: And the interface! It's point and click, I believe, but what about the navigation? Is this also point and click or is it keyboard driven?

Yves: Everything is done with the regular mouse. No need for a keyboard or gamepad to fully enjoy Keepsake. We think it's more convenient that way and much more intuitive.

Rosemary: Can't forget the puzzles. From the screenshots it seems that there are some manipulative challenges. Are these solved by experimentation or will there be clues in the gameworld for some of them?

Yves: Most of the puzzles are contextual to the story, so there are always some clues to be found somewhere to help in solving them. Still, there are some puzzles that require a bit of experimentation.

Rosemary: Also, you say that Keepsake doesn't rely on 'go fetch' puzzles. But are there still some items for Lydia to collect? Is there an inventory? And we're interested to know if Lydia will solve problems by casting spells?

Yves: Yes, Lydia will find quite a few interesting items during her journey. She has a little backpack to store all of her findings and the player will be able to access it through the game interface. Since Lydia is a new student of the arcane arts, she won't be able to cast spells at first. But later in the game, she'll have some opportunities to use a bit of magic.

Rosemary: Another thing you say is that the puzzles in Keepsake don't demand high dexterity. So can you assure us that there is no arcade action, or puzzles where Lydia must jump and run?

Yves: I can assure you, no dexterity is required. Actually, playing Keepsake demands less dexterity than what I'm using right now: typing on a keyboard ;-) hehehe. At all times, Keepsake challenges the wits rather than the dexterity of the player.

Rosemary: We've noted that Lydia has a side kick Dragon who is afraid of heights. A humorous touch, so Keepsake will have a lighter side too? We know Zak the Dragon dishes out the hints, but is he always a help, or is he sometimes a hindrance as well?

Yves: The Keepsake story is a serious one, but like you said, Zak will be there to lighten things up. He's a great character and he has a very strong personality. Zak will be with Lydia almost all the time and will always be available to give her a hint or two. But, as with all classic sidekicks, Zak could be a hindrance in some situations... ;)

Rosemary: Finally, Dragonvale Academy looks like an interesting place. Is there real-life inspiration there? It's just interesting to know how such a place comes to life? Purely through the imagination, or from experience?

Yves: The Dragonvale Academy was entirely designed by the core team of Wicked Studios: the concept, the architectural influence and all that is related to it. We were inspired by classical Gothic architecture and by the mythology of dragons. The final rendition of the structure was first hand drawn by our Art Director, Guy England, and then it was modeled and done in 3D. The result is a structure that represents well the power and knowledge of the Mages in the world of Keepsake.

Rosemary: Well, thank you for talking to us. And, of course, good luck with Keepsake :)

Yves: Thanks! It was my pleasure.

Watch out for Keepsake. Visit the official website for more information.

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2005. All rights reserved.