Adventure-Treff: Hello Ed, hello Mike, thanks for taking the time to do this interview!
What is Armikrog about?
Ed Schofield: Armikrog is a story about Tommynaut who is our main hero. Tommynaut is an astronaut and he crashes on a weird planet along with his sidekick who’s named Beak-Beak. They get locked in a fortress called Armikrog and that’s where the game starts. So the game portion is where the player will navigate Tommynaut through this fortress and try to escape from it. That’s sort of the broad, overall concept. There’s a lot more to it than that, there will be a lot of subplots, things you will try to achieve beyond escaping from the fortress but the basic idea is to get out of this massive fortress that you’ve been locked in.
A-T: Armikrog is a sort-of-sequel to The Neverhood Chronicles. Can you explain why?
Ed: Armikrog is not a sequel to The Neverhood. You won’t have the same characters as The Neverhood did. But it is the same team behind the game. We have Doug TenNapel on the team, who created the characters for The Neverhood. Then we have some of the same animation, art and technology staff from The Neverhood, and Neverhood composer Terry Taylor is doing the music for Armikrog as well. But the game is not a sequel. It exists in the same style and it will have the same feel but it won’t take place in the same universe as The Neverhood. The reason for that is we don’t own the rights to The Neverhood, EA owns the rights. We’ve talked to them over the years to try to get the rights back to do either a re-release or a sequel and that just hasn’t worked out. And that’s the reason why Armikrog is not a sequel to The Neverhood.
A-T: Do you know whether EA is planning to do a re-release of Neverhood?
Ed: In the conversations that we have had with them they didn’t sound like they are going to do that. I don’t know if they are going to do it eventually but for right now it doesn’t sound like it. We talked to them a few years ago about possibly releasing The Neverhood on mobile platforms and at first they were really open to the idea but then they finally decided that this was something they were not interested in. However there are no bad feelings between us an EA, I mean, we understand that they own the rights and this is what they choose to do. As the creators of The Neverhood we think it’s unfortunate because there are fans out there who would love to see a rerelease, But it’s just a decision EA is making right now.
A-T: Do you think that EA will maybe get back on board when they see the success of the Kickstarter project for Armikrog?
Ed: That would be great, actually! I mean, there has been a lot of talk about that as well. I think until they have had a chance to get an idea of what the fan base is really like and maybe if they see “Hey, there’s people out there who’d really love to see the game” and really like to see it back on the PC as downloadable content or for handheld and mobile devices, they might do something there. You never know. At the very least we are hoping to bring it to their attention.
A-T: Why clay motion again?
Ed: When Mike and Doug and I sat down for our next project, we thought back to when we had some of our best times developing games and The Neverhood really was the height of our enjoyment in terms of development, doing the puppets and the animation. And I think that clay animation has a charm to it that computer animation or even hand-drawn animation doesn’t. When we released The Neverhood, there was so much positive response to the style and the art direction that doing something like this felt like a natural fit for our next game.
Mike Dietz: There’s so much out there that looks the same. And I think that aesthetically there’s something special about stop motion that stands out. I hope that will help us stand out of the crowd a little bit. And on top of that, as Ed says, we really, really love doing stop motion. So the idea of doing another game like that gets us really excited. And I think if you get the developers excited, it shows in the game and the people playing the game benefit from that.
A-T: If you see the making of from claymotion movies, it always looks a little bit exhausting to do tiny changes on the set, take a picture and then make the next one… And you really enjoy that?
Mike: Yeah, a lot of people say “Man, you must have so much patience to do that!”. And I always answer that patience has nothing to do with because it’s not boring to us. We love doing it and I’m having fun being out there doing it! So if I’m out there for 10 hours and I only get five seconds of animation, I’d be ok with that because it was a really fun 10 hours.
Ed: Maybe it’s a little bit crazy and a little bit nerdy.
A-T: One thing that is often said about The Neverhood Chronicles is that it’s very good and entertaining, but you have to use a Walkthrough to get through it. Will Armikrog be as difficult as Neverhood?
Ed: I think we learned a lot after releasing The Neverhood. That was our first point-and-click adventure game and we learned a lot about these games. I think Armikrog will have different levels of difficulty but we want the game to be accessible for the common adventure gamer and even causal gamers. We want the start to be easy enough and accessible for every gamer. The game will cut through the whole spectrum of difficulty.
Mike: It’s a though balance to strike because not matter what you do, someone will think you made it too hard and somebody will think you made it too easy. So we have to find that sweet spot in the middle and make sure if it is difficult, people are still having fun solving it. We don’t want the player to get frustrated. And you can get frustrated if the game is too hard and if the game is not challenging enough.
Ed: We can say that we won’t let you traverse 36 screens of the Hall of Records to get one disc. For those of you who remember that.
A-T: Can you say anything about on-screen deaths yet?
Ed: We haven’t really talked a lot about that in terms how that will work. I mean, we definitely don’t want it to be frustrating to the player, so we still have to figure that out.
Mike: If it’s entertaining and it makes sense in driving the game forward, we’ll do that. But the last thing we want to do is let the people die on screen and then have them backtrack though whole bunch of stuff.
A-T: In which ways is it different to develop a clay motion adventure instead of a “common” adventure?
Mike: The biggest difference is the preproduction. You have to build everything in the real world. So you have to build sets, you have to build characters. Of course you have to create assets like you have to do on the computer but it’s a much larger task and a much more expensive task to do it in the real world. And as you are dealing with the real world, you are also dealing with the real world’s physics, so you are somewhat bound to the laws of physics. For example, if the character has an enormous upper body and tiny legs, you have to figure out a way for him to support his own weight.
And once you are into production of a stop-motion game, one of the drawbacks is that it’s very expensive to reshoot stuff. With computer animated games it’s very easy to go back and change a scene or a character, whereas with stop-motion you would have to reshoot the whole thing.
So one thing we are doing, and we did this for The Neverhood as well, is that we hand-draw the animations and elements as a pencil test. We make rough sketches and digitize them, and then we test them in the engine and see if it works because those drawings are very easy to change. So by the time we start shooting for the game we know exactly what we need and how it will work.
A-T: How much tons of clay do you need for such a project?
Mike: Lots, lots of clay!
Ed: We’re not sure exactly on how much clay we will use. On The Neverhood we used almost three tons of clay which was probably most of the clay in the Western United States.
But this one’s still to be seen. Some think we can go for four tons this time.
Mike: Well the rule on The Neverhood was: It’s a world made out of clay, so everything has to be made out of clay even if it was something that you would normally make out of metal. So there was a lot of clay in that game. In Armikrog we will use other materials as well if something calls for it. In that end we might end up using less clay, but we are still looking at thousands of pounds of clay.
A-T: Where do you get the clay for the game? Is there a local shop where people already know you as “crazy-clay-guy” or do you use the internet?
Mike: Actually, both. For The Neverhood we used a special sort of clay which we discovered was really good for animation. It was firm and held its shape as you were animating under the hot lights. Unfortunately that clay was only distributed in Europe at that time so we had to have it shipped over here, which was rather expensive. But now I think this clay is sold in some form in Europe, but we can’t get it from here. So we’ve developed our own mix based on an easily available sort of clay here in the United States and then we mix stuff into it to get the consistency we need. So basically we go to every local shop and buy them out of their clay. And when there’s nothing left we go to the internet and buy it there. But if you buy clay and it has to be shipped, the shipping costs are quite high.
A-T: Thank you very much and good luck with Armikrog!