Straandlooper Animation (Englisch)
Gesprächspartner: Jan 'DasJan' Schneider
Vom: 16.08.2011


Our questions were answered by Dean Burke and Kevin Beimers, the co-designers of Hector, together with Richard Morss, who recorded all voices for the game and who is also a joint manager at Straandlooper. „To my knowledge, Hector is Straandlooper's first appearance in the world of adventure games. Could you introduce you and your company to our readers? And what does 'Straandlooper' stand for?“

Straandlooper: „Straandlooper exists to create and exploit IP in digital animation—whatever the genre. It’s based in Northern Ireland and has a kids series 'Lifeboat Luke' currently on sale around the world for TV, as well as 'Spotisodes' based on the show available through the iPhone App store and a series of shorts based around lifestyle disasters called 'Small Tragedies'—currently at 5 hoped to grow to around 13 soon.

The company was formed in the hopeful belief that the much-heralded new world order brought about by the internet and the many mobile platforms would enable truly independent companies to find a market. The success of Hector so far within its niche on the iPhone has kind of vindicated that belief.“

A-T: „To my knowledge, Straandlooper's main focus is on animation. Why did you decide to make a game? And why did you go with the adventure genre, which is a very difficult market?“

Straandlooper: „The point & click adventure genre was perfect for setting up Hector and the world he inhabits. It has the ideal structure to give focus to character and have the narrative take more of a front seat.

How we approached the game, in some ways paralleled how we’d set about creating an animated show for example. Both mediums’ underlying forms share common ground such as plot, character, situational humour, and the whole visual side involved in designing the world, including the animated cinematics and 2D game character animation. So the team was able to creatively use our background in producing animation and apply it here. On top of that you have the added bonus of interactivity and puzzles, which was great to explore and put together. Also the technical requirements for building this type of interface weren’t huge, so it was manageable for us with a modest team size to create and produce the game.“

A-T: „While we see many ports to iOS devices, original adventure games for these systems are relatively rare. Why did you launch Hector on this platform? And did you have other platforms on your mind from the beginning?“

Classical adventure situation from episode 1:<br><br>How does Hector get out of this prison cell?

Straandlooper: „Why iPhone? Because we could. Apple’s SDK and App Store made it very easy (relatively) to create, produce and release a game that had the biggest chance to get noticed by a lot of people. On PC or Mac, you’re talking about either a flash game (which you’ll never make money on) or a shipped box and a marketing campaign. The App store put us on more or less equal footing with the big companies, and allowed it to shine on its own merit, not on how many bus shelters or banners we could afford to post the ad on.“

A-T: „Can you name adventure games – or other games – where you mainly take your inspiration from?“

Straandlooper: „Any of the classic point & click adventure games that LucasArts produced in the 90’s. Almost every gamer knows them, they set the bar really high for this type of game and firmly established the genre. Those classics came out of a moment in time when the genre just seemed to align with a great bunch of people who could dream up funny situations, intricate puzzles and a tight script, while adding superb visuals to the mix. Those games are still really inspiring and never seem to get old. The games are embedded in our brains from playing them way too much. Hector has its nods, but the same time we tried to come at it all from an original angle.“

A-T: „Hector's humor is much less tame than the family-friendliness preserving styles of the majority of today's adventure games. Did this cause any problems with, for example, getting approved by Apple or offended reviewers?“

Straandlooper: „We were fully prepared for Apple to have a huge list of things to scratch out of the game or even deem it completely unacceptable! We even thought about substitute content on the few parts we considered might be flagged. It was an anxious period after submission, even throughout production we never knew for sure if all the effort we were putting into the game would ever see the light of day.

After submitting we were stunned when the very first version of the game was approved with hardly any edit notes. So we were relieved to say the least. I guess when pushing the suggestive limits, we must have just scraped by as to what’s acceptable for the App Store. There’s a fine line between censorship, decent taste and moral responsibility! So luckily it worked out.“

A-T: „How did the deal with Telltale happen?“

Straandlooper: „Our partnership with Telltale came about as a result of getting noticed. Someone with enough clout over at Telltale bought our game, showed it to the boys in charge, and it blossomed from there. Hector proved to be a perfect fit for their audience. A few months later, here we are.

It’s a real compliment for us to have the interest of a studio that was so well respected in the industry. It’s an amazing experience working with a lot of the original people who created the games we were essentially emulating.“

We don't know yet what's the purpose of this

A-T: „Are there differences between the PC version and the iPhone version of episode 1?“

Straandlooper: „Telltale has added a hint system and updated the save game system so you can have three profiles instead of just one. The other updates are technical tweaks to provide a better playing experience on the new platforms, such as the ability to adjust the screen resolution and audio settings. And, of course, all of the textures are higher resolution in the new versions than they were on the iPhone.“

A-T: „How was the general feedback you received for 'We Negotiate with Terrorists' so far? Will it have an impact on the next games?“

Straandlooper: „People responded to it so well. Online, if they don’t like something they get straight to the point and say it. When the game started to get many positive reviews and responses, after a while you start to believe that it’s not a fluke and that they genuinely like it! People getting a kick out of what you’ve created is what makes it all worthwhile. We appreciate anyone who takes time out to send us feedback, whether it’s emails, reviews, comments, we take it all on board.“

A-T: „What is Straandlooper's role in the development of Telltale's Hector games? Do you provide the content and Telltale builds the game with their Telltale Tool or are you fully involved in the development process?“

Straandlooper: „Straandlooper still has autonomy on the plot, game design, art, animation, and voice; we all want the ultimate feel of Episodes 2 and 3 to follow in the footsteps of the first one. However, Telltale has put together a crack team of superhuman developers bred in a government lab, adapting their multi-platform game engine to accommodate the 2D style of our original game, and have spent the past few months re-engineering Episode 1 for the release on the iPad, PC, and Mac. Episode 2 and 3 are being built straight into their game engine with the aid of the aforementioned crack team. Plus, we’re going to have their QA and debug team, marketing and PR team, so these games have got a much larger number talented people behind it.

It’s such a compliment to our creating that we’re now working with Telltale games on the next two episodes. We’ve visited their studio in California, and got to meet a lot of the pioneers of the original point & click genre. To have received a compliment from any of them saying they liked our game would have been amazing enough, but the fact that we’re working hand in hand with the originals guys, having holes poked in our scripts by one of the original writers of Monkey Island, it’s huge.“

A-T: „Do you have artistic freedom or does Telltale have an eye on the number of condom jokes?“

Straandlooper: „They loved what we did with the first one – after all, it’s what caught their eye in the first place. They’ve cast their eye over the scripts for Episodes 2 and 3, which toes the same line as the first in terms of offensiveness and visual nausea, and only come back with logic and script suggestions. As an animator, you tend to know which subjects are taboo and which subjects are fair game for a bit of stomach turning. They’ve had no problems at all with pushing the comfort zone, or the decency barrier... in fact, in the early puzzle overview discussions, they said that Episode 3 didn’t contain enough poo jokes. Well, we soon fixed that, let me tell you.“

Scene from episode 2

A-T: „Do you plan to increase the amount of content for the upcoming episodes?“

Straandlooper: „There’s a lot of people out there ‘patiently’ waiting on the next installment. We’re throwing everything we can at the next games and they’re going to be bigger, fatter and uglier than Episode 1.“

A-T: „Can you tell us anything about what happens in episodes 2 & 3?“

Straandlooper: „In Episode 2, Hector is pulled down a twisted trail of meat, sin, sleaze, and more meat. Episode 3, Hector must escape his squalid demise and stagger back to Clappers Wreake to save it from itself.“

A-T: „How do you see the current state of the adventure gaming market?“

Straandlooper: „We, Dean & Kevin, grew up as big fans of the classic, wit-based point & click adventures, and shed a quiet tear when the genre of the first person shooter fragged it into submission. The thing is, when people talk about the glory days of gaming, the point & clicks are the ones that always come up as the ones to remember - we’re a small yet passionate audience. There’s been an attempted resurgence lately of P&C, mostly through the porting of the old classics onto smart phones, but there aren’t a whole lot of people out there making new ones (besides Telltale, of course). We wanted the chance to put the wacky characters and wit back into the genre, and remind folks what the glory days of adventure gaming were like.“

A-T: „Thanks a lot for taking the time!“