Dreamfall Chapters - Dag Scheve of Red Thread Games

Interview by Steve Metzler (March, 2013)
Red Thread Games was recently formed by Ragnar Tørnquist, the creator of The Longest Journey (2000) and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (2006). You may have heard of those :-) The new Oslo based studio managed to obtain the rights to The Longest Journey franchise from Funcom, and they are currently in the closing stages of an already very successful Kickstarter campaign to raise capital that will allow development to commence on the next installment in the series, Dreamfall Chapters. As of the time of writing, there are 3 days left to do your bit for the cause in exchange for some exclusive goodies.

Dreamfall Chapters official trailer

Ragnar brought along a few people from Funcom that worked with him on Dreamfall when he started up Red Thread Games, and one of those people is Dag Scheve, the co-writer of Dreamfall. We asked Dag some incisive questions regarding Dreamfall Chapters, among other things, and we got some forthright and interesting answers. Enjoy.

metzomagic: There probably aren't many people out there who would consider themselves to be adventure gamers that haven't played both The Longest Journey and Dreamfall. As the co-writer of Dreamfall, you have a large professional and emotional stake invested in this franchise, and we're sure that you want the conclusion of Zoë's tale in Dreamfall Chapters to be all that it possibly can be. Obviously, yourself and Ragnar can't always share the same vision of how the story and game play will pan out. How do you resolve your differences when you disagree on major issues? Beer, or brawl? :-)

Dag: To be fair, there aren't a lot of times I can remember from working with Ragnar where we fundamentally disagreed on anything. We disagree on many things, but it's mostly in details in presentation or on a character level. Maybe the exact phrasing of something. While we're both pretty vocal and enjoy the process of argument more than what's perhaps usual, I think we both respect each other enough that we usually just try to talk it through until we find that common ground that we know is there. And arguments can be very productive; we usually come up with some new material in the process. It's happened that we've argued about something and then forgot what we were arguing about because we came up with something better.

Now when it comes to the TLJ universe I go into production with a huge amount of humility and respect for the source material. Since I had nothing to do with The Longest Journey it was always important for me to learn and to respect Ragnar's vision and direction. I guess what I'm saying is I'll fight less when it comes to The Longest Journey:)

metzomagic: It's challenging to make games that work well on both the PC and consoles, as the controls are fundamentally different. There were concerns expressed by both the gaming community and yourselves, in retrospect, as to the efficacy of the stealth and fighting sequences in Dreamfall, which seemed to be more appropriate for a console. It appears that Dreamfall Chapters will be PC-centric, with ports to consoles perhaps to follow. The question is: will stealth and fighting sequences play as big a part in Chapters as they did in Dreamfall, or will the emphasis be more on the puzzle aspects of game play as in The Longest Journey?

Dag: The latter. We will have no traditional combat or stealth gameplay in Chapters. We want to try and mix the best bits of TLJ and the best bits of Dreamfall, and then hopefully getting to a place where we make the best game in the series so far.

Zoë Castillo

metzomagic: What were some of your favourite games in your formative years? How did you happen to become involved with Ragnar and Funcom? Do you dabble in the software development side of things, or are you exclusively a writer? Curious minds want to know.

Dag: I wasn't what you would call an avid gamer when I grew up. I was one of those kids who weren't allowed a console, so I had to play Super Mario at my friends' houses. So my earliest sources of entertainment were books and movies. We did get a PC relatively early, though, and I played some of the Sierra adventures and some of the LucasArts ones as well. The King's Quest series, Police Quest and Space Quest, and the Monkey Island series. Oh, and of course Leisure Suit Larry. I remember my friends sharing the answers to those questions that were put in at the start to determine you were above 18.

Then I really didn't play much until I was at university and discovered Civilization. I played that a lot. A lot. I was always fascinated by ancient history and the ascent of man.

And it was at university I met someone who eventually introduced me to Funcom, where I started as a web editor, writing stuff for the Anarchy Online website primarily, but also a game called Midgard that Ragnar was making at the time. And when at some stage they were down-sizing the web development team, Ragnar got me transferred to the production team where we first worked on Cabal, and then started Dreamfall.

As for personally dabbling in software development, I don't code, I don't draw, and I certainly don't animate. Writing was the card I was dealt. But I do help out with a lot of design, coming up with puzzles, and generally adding my two cents wherever needed (and some would say, not needed, I'm sure:) ). I also do some basic implementation, especially when it comes to setting up and scripting the conversations and cinematics. Now that we're such a small company it means that everyone has to pitch in a little bit everywhere, and that is something I enjoy a lot.

'Crow' speaks with April Ryan in the original Dreamfall

metzomagic: Many prominent adventure game developers like yourselves, Jane Jensen, and Chris Jones/Aaron Conners of Tex Murphy fame have recently used the Kickstarter model to raise capital (or, at least the initial capital you require to begin development and to help secure additional investment). Do you see this as the way all games from small to medium-sized developers will be funded in future? There are obvious benefits to the Kickstarter approach vs. the traditional publisher/developer relationship, the one that immediately springs to mind is having more control of your own destiny. Are there any inherent drawbacks to the Kickstarter model that we aren't aware of, or is it a win/win... once you manage to reach or exceed your initial target, that is?

Dag: I'm not sure anyone knows exactly what this business will look like in a couple of years. Everything is changing so fast now. The next generation consoles are being revealed, a lot of gaming has moved onto tablets, phones and social media, and there seems to be more room for independent dev teams at the moment. Crowd funding is one of those things that has the potential to be a game changer, really, and I think it will be a prominent part of the industry for a long time to come in some form or another.

As you say, it allows for another level of freedom when you have an independent source of funding and can interact with your fan base directly in the early stages of development. That, along with the growth of digital distribution means that developers can base themselves on completely new strategies. It's a very exciting time to be in this business.

As for potential downsides, it might be that it's a bit early to see them yet. As far as I know, none of the really big Kickstarter titles have been released yet, and it will be exciting to see how well everything pans out for everyone. I know we spent a lot of time trying to come up with a reward structure where our pledgers feel they are getting something back for their investment, while at the same time making sure we don't eat up the entire development budget producing and shipping rewards.

metzomagic: Will you be very disappointed if the Kickstarter campaign doesn't raise enough to allow Red Thread Games to develop The Longest Journey Home, the conclusion to April Ryan's story? Or do you folks just consider this to be the icing on what is turning out to be a very fine cake?

Dag: I don't think we are allowed to be even the slightest bit disappointed with any aspect of the campaign. We are humbled, proud and excited about the response we've gotten. It really has been the high point of my 12 plus years so far in this business.

We will continue some form of crowd funding with PayPal on our own site after the Kickstarter campaign is over, and everything we should manage to raise there will be added to the total. So even if we don't quite get there during the Kickstarter campaign, there's a chance we will eventually.

That said, we also want to tell that story so badly that we will do everything we can to make sure it gets told, somehow, some time, even if we never reach that stretch goal. The stretch goal is about us getting the means to get started on it sooner rather than later, so that we can hit the ground running once Dreamfall Chapters is out the door.

metzomagic: Thanks for your time, Dag! Dreamfall Chapters is scheduled for release in November of 2014.

Copyright © Steve Metzler 2013. All rights reserved.