Noel Bruton (Englisch)
Gesprächspartner: Ingmar Böke
Vom: 20.09.2009


Noel Bruton betreibt zusammen mit seiner Frau und seinem Schwager den walisischen Entwickler Arberth Studios. Sein erstes Adventure Rhiannon steht kurz vor dem deutschen Release, am nächsten Projekt Coven wird bereits gearbeitet.

A-T: "Thanks for taking some time for us. Please introduce Arberth Studios to those of our readers who are not familiar with you yet."

Noel: "Hi Ingmar, it's a pleasure to talk to you and your readers. Arberth Studios consists of three people; my wife, Karen, her brother Richard and myself. Karen and I work from a small farmstead in West Wales. Richard lives and works 300km away in the South of England, although he spends a lot of time at our house – especially when we need to get together to brainstorm ideas.

My background is in IT – Karen and I have been running an IT consultancy business for many years. Richard has his own graphics design and modelling company."

A-T: "None of you have worked as game developers before. So how was the idea of making adventure games born?"

Noel: "Karen is our games expert. She's been playing adventures since the text-based games of the 1980's. Our shelves are heaving with her collection. It was after playing 'Scratches' and 'Barrow Hill' that she suggested that it would be great to make a game ourselves. She had become quite proficient in 2d design in her spare time, she knew that I could write computer code and I had done some musical composition in my time, and Richard is well established in architectural 3d modelling. Karen and I had also worked on several scripts and I have written a couple of IT books and a novel. We seemed to have all the necessary skills at our disposal. It was a case of bringing them all together."

A-T: "Your first game Rhiannon was actually supposed to be released in Germany quite some time ago. Then Lighthouse's bankruptcy put big question marks behind a German release. As we know, the German version is finally on its way now, so please give us an idea of the trouble you had, bringing the game to Germany and how it worked out in the end."

Noel: "We localised Rhiannon into German last November 2008. We were all set to release it when Lighthouse announced they were insolvent. We initially tried to find a new publisher or distributor for Germany. We had to wait months for some outcomes and when they finally came, they didn't suit. So we decided to have a go at self-publishing. There was quite a bit to learn and we were naïve in some respects, so progress has been slower than we hoped. It has been a steep learning curve but we made it in the end with a lot of help from the German gaming community – for which we are very grateful."

A-T: "Please introduce the plot of Rhiannon to our readers."

Noel: "Rhiannon is a ghost story. It is set in modern times but has an old Celtic legend at its roots. The player takes on the role of Chris, a friend of the Sullivan family. Their daughter, Rhiannon, is behaving strangely, saying she is being threatened by sounds, voices and apparitions. Her parents think she needs to get away for a while from the old farmstead where they are living and currently renovating and have asked you, as Chris, to look after the place while they're gone.

But when Chris arrives, it is soon very clear that Rhiannon was not imagining the threat. The Ty Pryderi (Welsh for 'house of Pryderi') house and grounds are inhabited by several lost souls, along with something deeply evil which is intent on keeping those souls imprisoned.

As Chris uncovers out more about the history of Ty Pryderi, it emerges that Rhiannon was not the first to encounter the evil that lurks within its walls. This haunting spans centuries and it has in the past taken the lives and sanity of those who have challenged it. Chris must find a way to banish the evil so that Rhiannon can return safely to her home."

A-T: "Celtic legends play an important role in Rhiannon. Please tell us about some of these welsh myths (and their backgrounds) that we'll encounter in the game."

Noel: "There are many, many Welsh legends but probably the most famous is The Mabinogion. We have concentrated on the part of that legend called 'The Four Branches', which among other things describes four stages in the life of a nobleman called Pryderi, who lived over nine hundred years ago in the area in which Arberth Studios is situated.

The legend tells that soon after Pryderi's mother, Rhiannon, gave birth to him, she was accused of killing her baby after he disappeared in the night. It transpires that he was in fact taken from her unharmed but until he is rediscovered, she is made to stand at the gates of Arberth professing her crime to anyone who passes. Once reunited, Rhiannon and Pryderi have many magical and dangerous adventures. During this time, Pryderi makes an enemy of an evil sorcerer named Llwyd Cil Coed. Llwyd would have killed Pryderi but eventually they make a pact that Llwyd will not harm him in life – however, the pact does not say that he will not harm him in the afterlife. It is this aspect of the legend that our game Rhiannon is based on."

A-T: "How much of an identity does the playable character have, keeping in mind that he'll stay invisible? Was he created in a way that pretty much everyone who plays the game could fulfill his role or does he have a defined character with defined characteristics?"

Noel: "We all feel quite strongly that a game is more immersive if the player sees it from a first-person perspective, with nobody forcing them to adopt any particular characteristics. In that way, they can play purely as themselves, using their own intellect and deduction, instead of working through an avatar who might not ask the questions the player would have asked, or with whose personality the player cannot identify. We think that the Rhiannon gamestory works much better this way because it is meant to be a lonely, spooky, quasi-realistic experience."

A-T: "Rhiannon seems to be a game that will rather confront the player with eerie themes in a subtle way, rather creeping into people's minds, instead of jumping into their faces with gore effects. How important is psychology for the whole concept of Rhiannon?"

Noel: "We feel that one of the strengths of Rhiannon is the depth of characterisation of those whose histories you encounter in diaries, letters etc. We felt it very important for the player to understand and empathise with the people, past and present, who have inhabited Ty Pryderi. Having such an understanding of the characters and their lives, means that when they are presented with information about them that might be gory to see, the player's imagination is enough to set the scene – it is not necessary - in fact it would be detrimental - to show the graphical details. The imagination can be much stronger than any actual portrayal of events.

It's all about psychology, of the player or the characters. What motivated Charles Boswell to do what he did? What was going through that young mother's mind, the night she walked out of the house? Is Jon Southworth helping Rhiannon out of altruism, or does he have his own agenda? Just what was happening in the watermill in Summer 1967?"

A-T: "Please describe the type of gameplay and puzzles the players can expect from Rhiannon."

Noel: "Rhiannon is largely an inventory-based game. It doesn't have any mini games, sliders or mazes. We wanted the puzzles to be logical and stem from the story. Everything you see, hear or do is relevant to the plot. You use technology while also delving into the world of magic and the supernatural. The paranormal aside, we have been very careful to make Rhiannon a credible experience.

We have deliberately not used full-motion video for navigation because of the nauseating effect it can have on some people. However, the player can turn on the spot and see left and right of their current location in most situations. In too many games, you see only one view of a room, but not in Rhiannon. There is always something behind, as well as in front of you. This is real, and it's based on a real place, namely the Welsh farmstead where Karen and I live. This allows for full exploration of every nook and cranny.

The game arena is huge. Richard has modelled every building and texture of an actual Welsh farmstead; its house, pond, woodland, streams, gardens, outbuildings and so many rooms. Some of it is real, some he has imagined. There are over a thousand backgrounds in various permutations. Add up the lengths of the all the paths you'll explore and it is over one and a half kilometres of geographically and topographically correct, photo-realistic scenery. His graphical reproductions are simply amazing. There are no paintings – it's all modelled and textured. It's an astonishing achievement.

From the start, much of the game world is open to you so it would be too cumbersome to be able to take into your inventory every one of the 200 or so items you will find. So like real life, you can mostly only put in your pocket those items for which you have witnessed a need. But this is a game – everything has a point - so it's useful to note where you have seen something you might need later on.

Although you get knocked about a bit, in Rhiannon, you do not die. You can't do anything wrong and there are no dead-ends."

A-T: "What part of the creation process was the most satisfiying part for you? In addition to that: What were the most frustrating elements in the making of the game, especially considering you did Rhiannon with 3 people and you've encountered a lot of 'Firsts'?"

Noel: "For me, it was creating the story that was the most satisfying. I loved making the music too. Probably the most frustrating aspect was having to work with Microsoft Vista, but the less said about that, the better?

Karen enjoyed the research most. She designed many of the larger puzzles and really loved digging up lots of useful information. It was also very satisfying to see the game world come alive when she applied all the water effects and animations. Her most frustrating time was finding the right software to meet the challenges of all the aspects of the game she wanted to include.

Richard says he really enjoyed seeing a room come alive from practically nothing but found it very tricky to keep tabs on all the variations of lighting etc. in the models.

We all found it immensely enjoyable coming up with the story."

Richard, Noel, Karen and cat.

A-T: "Any movies, books and/or games you´d give credits to for being an influence on Rhiannon?"

Noel: "Both Karen and I love a good ghost story. The games by Jonathan Boakes of Darkling Room and Matt Clark of Shadow Tor definately had an influence on Rhiannon, as did Nucleosys' Scratches.

Richard cites his influences for the design of the model as coming indirectly from Victor James Martinez, movie-set designer, and Josef Hoffmann, designer."

A-T: "You've been a musician for many years and are responsible for the soundtracks of Rhiannon and Coven. What would you say: How can we imagine ourselves the special trademarks of a Noel Bruton soundtrack?"

Noel: "I don't think I've yet really figured that out. In Rhiannon, there are contemporary orchestral pieces but there are also tunes influenced by jazz and rock structures. There are also a couple of musical jokes, like the satirical brass band piece in the tunnel and the scratchy 1960's pop in the mill. And there are spooky reveal pieces where I use the wind as an instrument, or a church organ to portray a tragedy. Karen says its obvious I've listened to film composers like Michael Nyman and Hans Zimmer, but there's Donald Fagen and Celtic folk music in there too.

Music is too important and powerful to be used merely as paint, so there's no background music. I dislike games where you hear a sound and you don't know whether it was a something important, or just a product of the background music. There's no background music in real life – but there are tunes, melodies and harmonies that have their own identity and significance."

A-T: "The official Arberth slogan says that 'the story is the game'. Keeping in mind that quite some of the 'big' adventure productions get repeatedly blamed for their weak and mechanical writing efforts, the indie scene has recently come up with some titles that work as an impressing platform for interactive storytelling: Do you think this is a coincidence (if you agree) or might indie developers often be closer to the core of what an adventure game could be in terms of storytelling, due to less creative restrictions for example?"

Noel: "I'm sure it makes a big difference to the depth of story if the developers have direct control of the game without the pressure or influence of someone breathing down their necks who may have a different, say purely commercial agenda. Like many indie developers, Arberth started from the point of view of avid gamers rather than from a purely profit objective. While we want to make a living doing this, our main interest is producing a great game rather than a fast profit. We want to help bring the adventure genre back to life so that we can go on doing something we all love and hopefully encourage other developers to do the same.

It's an idea taken from the movies, but it's a universal truth. Life is a story. The best movies – the ones people enjoy most and that collect the awards, are the ones where the plot and each of the principal characters have a definite story arc, without resorting to cliché. We want our games to take the player on a journey through experiences, emotions, coincidences and realisations, not just from hotspot to hotspot. It's why we'll never worry about not quite competing with the latest graphical gimmicks, because we don't have an army of people to make them anyway. The actual game is primarily the product of its story, not of its technical features. The story really is the game."

A-T: "You're working on your second game, Coven, right now. Beside the first info out of a press release, featuring the official announcement of the game, and a teaser website, we don't really know too much about the game yet. Please introduce Coven to our readers, in terms of plot, game-features and whatever you like to share with us at this point of time."

Noel: "While we were researching for Rhiannon, we came across a little known fact about the witch trials of the 17th century – namely, that Wales was much more tolerant of witches than many other countries. In fact, although a few Welsh women were executed for witchcraft, this never took place in Wales itself. This gave us an idea for a story – what if a witch had been executed in Wales but the reason was actually much more involved than her just practising witchcraft? But to say any more at this point would spoil several surprises.

Coven is a first-person point and click adventure but with all that we have learnt about game making added to the mix. The puzzles are logical yet inventive and the gameplay is largely non-linear. The main thing as always is the depth of story and believable characters – yes, you will get to meet and chat with several characters in Coven."

A-T: "Like it was mentioned before, getting the first game together is surely something that provides quite some useful lessons. Any things you're handling differently in Coven, due to lessons you've learned from the first game or the feedback of the international adventure community?"

Noel: "Rhiannon is what it is. We don't believe we could have told that story any other way. Coven is a very different story, requiring different techniques.

We’re flexible, but we’ve also learned to be philosophical. It is impossible to produce something that everyone will enjoy and it can be difficult to separate useful feedback from individual taste. For example, I read a game review recently by somebody who said in his first paragraph, 'I don’t like games of this style' – so then how much use might his feedback be to players who do like that style? Nevertheless, that opinion is out there, so it has to be taken into account, as does its opposite.

We have tried to be objective, to take all the feedback very seriously. We have learnt lessons from producing Rhiannon, and where these apply to Coven, they will be used. For example, one issue we didn't consider with Rhiannon until after release was localisation. Coven will be much easier and quicker to localise into several languages."

A-T: "Again, thank you very much for doing this interview Noel. Good luck with the German version of Rhiannon and the further development of Coven! Any last words to our readers in German?"

Noel: „Wir danken den deutschsprachigen Adventurespielern für ihr Interesse an Rhiannon und hoffen, dass es ihnen allen gut gefaellt. Waehrend sie unsere Produkte kaufen und spielen, geben sie uns die wertvolle Gelegenheit zu tun, was wir lieben, naemlich Adventurespiele zu schaffen. Das werden wir nie unterschaetzen. Beste Grueße.“