Benoit Sokal was born 1954 and is a passionate comic book author. He became famous with his series "Une Enquête de l'Inspecteur Canardo" which is about a duck in a Humphrey Bogart like trench coat. In 1999 he developed the PC game Amerzone which transferred with its beautiful graphics and an intriguing atmosphere Sokal's style to a new medium. On the occasion of his new PC game, Syberia, he and Frederic Pons, the international product manager of Syberia, answered us a few questions.
Adventure-Treff: Fred, please tell us something about you and your involvement in the development of Syberia first.
Frederic Pons: I am the international product manager of Syberia. I am dealing with all marketing actions regarding this title.
A-T: Mr. Sokal, How did you as a comic book author discover the medium PC as a base for your stories?
Benoit Sokal: The link between Microïds and me comes from Amerzone released on PC and Playstation two years ago. In fact, this relationship has started by chance. Indeed, Casterman (book and comic publisher) wanted to develop a multimedia production whose roots were my comics called "Amerzone". And Casterman found Microïds as a technical partner. And then Amerzone was a huge success, especially in France, Italy and Canada.
A-T: Mr. Sokal, how much did you interact with Microïds? Did you only send them your sketches and ideas or did you have an active involvement in the game making process?
B.S.: After the release of Amerzone, we started working together about Syberia. And in fact I am the artistic director and the author of the game. That is to say I am completely involved in the development of the game. I have been one week a month in Montreal (the game was developed by Microïds Canada) and otherwise, I am working with the development team (+/- 30 persons) by E-Mail, phone or FTP. At the beginning I have written alone the synopsis and made many drawings so that the team should understand what I wanted to express (you can contact the www.syberia.info web site to consult some of them). It was a true challenge at the beginning of the project because the North American culture is far different from the European one.
A-T: While creating Syberia, how much worth was the experience you had with Amerzone?
Fred: Of course this Amerzone experience was very useful. But you know, the technologies are much improved and you have to learn always. Besides, contrary to Amerzone, Syberia is a new original story thanks to which I hope players will catch much emotion...
A-T: Is there a specific time frame in which the story takes place? I noticed aspects out of very different historical periods, including some science fiction elements, on the screenshots.
Fred: The story is contemporary. But Syberia is the story of a woman who will try to find a disappeared for 50 years heir somewhere between Alps and Siberia. That is why the heroine, Kate, will follow his step and discover what happened to him during the last century. Indeed, there are many references to major events of the 20th century (2nd World War, Cold War, Communism, etc).
A-T: Try to characterize Kate Walker. What kind of woman is she?
Fred: Kate Walker is a young American lawyer from New York. Her destiny is apparently clear: A fine job, a boy friend, a flat... Well a good balance! She is also happy of her American way of Life. But, the personality of Kate moves during the adventure. The dialogs (with characters & by phone) help us to understand how. At the beginning, she is very proud. But progressively she will relativize the reasons why she has come to Europe. She will soon doubt of her life of her goals...
A-T: Is there some humour in the game or is it a completely serious adventure?
Fred: Yes there is some thanks to Oscar who is a particular automate. He is nearly human. But his behaviour is very rigid. He is the train driver. And trains are always on time... Well, he is like an English aristocratic butler. Contrary to what might be shown, Oscar gives much fun in the game, because he is so rigid that he is getting on Kate's nerves.
A-T: Hans Voralberg is described as a mechanical genius. Did he set up some intriguing mechanical Myst-like puzzles for us?
B.S.: Hans is indeed a genius about creating automate and mechanics. And the player will have to help Kate make broken mechanisms work. Note that I wanted that each puzzle of the game should be fully integrated in the story. No artificial difficulty!
A-T: One of the most unique gameplay features is the cell phone. How does it work and what is the idea behind it? Are there more unique gameplay features in Syberia?
Fred: The cell phone helps us to understand how the personality of Kate moves. We also learn many things from the background of the game. Kate is able to call 10 characters (her mother, boyfriend, boss...) at any time of the game. Sometimes, she will reach an answering machine...
A-T: Will there be action sequences in the game? Can you die?
Fred: You will have a bit of action in the game. Kate will not die because I want that the player (mainstream target) should finish the game. How frustrating it was to not finish Riven!! Besides, Kate is not Lara Croft: She is a credible woman without any gun. She uses her brain to solve problems.
A-T: The published trailers show many cut scenes. About how many of them will there be in the game?
Fred: About 20 minutes. They help us to understand the game background they are kind of gifts!
A-T: How big is the game? How many hours will an average player roughly need to solve the game?
Fred: Two CDs and 20-25 hours for a casual gamer.
A-T: When reading about the nature of the four worlds in Syberia, for example the communistic Komkolzgrad, you can find some aspects very close to our real world beneath all the fiction. Did you intend to have some deeper civilization criticism in Syberia or is it just to have four game worlds very rich in contrast?
B.S.: Both in fact! I wanted to create a very credible story. That is why the roots of the game come from European history in the 20th century. And there were many errors at this stage. For example, see Aralbad which is a criticism of what Russian industry made: Pollution with a dramatic consequence; the Aral sea has nearly disappeared! But Syberia is not politic game. Just a personal reflect of what happened...
A-T: There are some quite obvious similarities between Syberia and "The Longest Journey". Are they intended?
Fred: Technically, yes! That's all.
A-T: Maybe the most obvious difference between Amerzone and Syberia is the change of the viewpoint. Amerzone was a 1st-person-game while Syberia has a 3rd-person-view. Why did you come to this decision?
Fred: It is interesting to follow the evolution of a character personality when playing with the 1st person view. And it is one of the force of Syberia. Players can follow Kate (who is pretty isn't she) and it give much volume to the image...
A-T: The change of the viewpoint involved the development of a completely new engine. Tell us something about its capabilities. Will it be used for further games or will you license it to other companies?
Fred: We have worked in partnership with Virtools. And we will use it for other games.
A-T: There were some aspects testers complained about Amerzone: The missing longevity, too simple and easy puzzles and a not very vivid environment. Did you try to work on these aspects without losing the very intriguing atmosphere?
Fred: Most of these criticisms were made by gamers. And I would love to enlarge the target of video game. It is a fine way of artistic expression. And longevity is not so important. Look at Max Payne or Metal Gear. They are short games but among the best! Anyway, Syberia is a better compromise than Amerzone: Longer and more difficult. But keep in mind that it is not Riven that I have never finished.
A-T: Will the game be shipped on CD or on DVD? How many CDs will be used? If there are CD and DVD versions will there be some extra goodies on the DVD?
Fred: Two CDs first and then a DVD version which perhaps will include the making of you will be able to see on the 21st of May on www.syberia.info, better videos, a 30 minute movie... We have not decided yet. Note also, that Syberia will be released on Playstation 2 at the end of the year.
A-T: "The adventure game genre is dead." Your comment?
Fred: Not at all!!! There were maybe too bad adventure games and players have chosen another type. Look at cinema...
A-T: Many game developers think that only 3D adventures can be successful (e.g. Broken Sword). Why did you choose to make a 2D game anyway?
Fred: Who cares but for specialized gaming press? Sincerely, if the 3D is awful, where is the benefits? It is like the choice of the 1st or 3rd person views. I made the 3rd person view because it makes a sense in the story and the emotion of the game. Not because it is fashionable! Same thing about graphics.
A-T: When looking at the finished product, what are you most proud of?
Fred: The global harmony I think: Graphics, scenario, sounds, music...
A-T: Will there be more Benoit Sokal/Microïds-cooperations? Are there plans for a new adventure?
A-T: Which (non-Microïds) PC games do you currently have on your private hard disk? Do you play games in your free time?
Fred: In fact now, I have not very much time to play video games. But my sons do! And it is interesting to look at them. The last game I played was Max Payne.
A-T: Thank you very much for taking you time to answer our questions. We are really curious to see Syberia and wish you all the success with it you deserved.