By Randy Sluganski
Randy recently had the pleasure to conduct an interview with Ragnar Tornquist,
the writer, producer, lead designer, et al. of The Longest Journey, the best game
never to be released in North America. Portions of this interview have been edited
for legal reasons and at the request of the developer and will be made public
when and if the situation dictates.
You may obtain more information
by visiting The Longest Journey website
or Ragnar's website.
Can you elaborate on the problems finding a distributor
in North America?
Oh, boy. Well, the adventure game
is dead, isn't it? I mean, who on Earth wants a game without guns, exploding heads,
or impossibly slim, big-breasted models in skin-tight leather outfits? Yeah, well,
obviously some people do. But with American publishers there really is an unwillingness
to take risks, and it's somewhat understandable, because of the cost of marketing
and distribution ... but it's frustrating.
In addition, TLJ was quite
expensive to make, and we really wanted to get at least some of our development
costs back. And because some companies were initially skeptical to TLJ as
a full-price product--adventure-games don't sell, blah blah blah--it took time
to get a deal signed that worked for everyone. Amazing reviews and solid sales
across Europe helped a lot, although most American publishers still couldn't care
less what sells in Europe ... as far as they're concerned, it's a totally different
What is to be done with some of the more vulgar
language for the North American release? As you know, the American public will
tolerate violence in their games, but not adult language.
I won't get into an argument about what constitutes "vulgar" language,
or how suited it is to an adventure game. From the outset, TLJ was designed
for an adult audience--and by that I mean grown-up, and not, um, "dirty"--and
I wrote the dialogue with that in mind. April herself doesn't use any bad language;
in fact, only a couple of the characters in the game do. I can understand how
some people would react to, for example, Zack's colorful name-calling, but then
again, he's not a good guy. He's a bad guy. A very bad guy. You're supposed to
In other words, we're not planning on making any changes for the
North American release.
You are relatively unknown to American
adventure gamers (though this will soon change!). Can you provide some background
I'm a clone, manufactured by Funcom from
their stock developer DNA. We are many.
My memory implants indicate that
I'm currently twenty-nine years of age. In addition to harboring a lifelong interest
in, and passion for, computer and video games--starting with one of those gameplay-packed
Atari TV Pong machines in the late 70s, and moving on to the venerable ZX-81 in
the early 80s--I also have an education in film and TV from New York University.
I started working at Funcom in 1994, right out of school, producing, designing,
writing and level-editing the console adaptation of the movie Casper. After that,
I contributed bits and pieces to a few other projects before starting work on
TLJ in 1996.
At night, I'm connected to a nuclear power-source that
reenergizes and rejuvenates my body. They tell me that I can last at least ten
years before requiring a complete makeover.
Was The Longest
Journey conceived with the intent of it being a continuing series? If so,
how many parts do you envision?
Yes and no. We designed
TLJ to be a stand-alone product, with a beginning middle, and end, but
April's story doesn't conclude with this first game, as I'm sure you know by now.
We have the storylines ready for both a prequel and a sequel, and in the tradition
of all things George Lucas-y, TLJ was conceived--at least in theory--as
a potential trilogy. While the sequel would continue the story--from an interesting
perspective--of April as she matures and takes on the role she was born to take,
and her true heritage, there are also a lot of unanswered questions from the past,
and characters like Brian Westhouse, Cortez, Crow, and Abnaxus whose stories would
be told in a prequel ... leading up to a grand and epic conclusion.
said, I don't know, at this stage, whether or not there will be any more Journeys.
It depends a lot on how many copies we sell in North America.
inspired the storyline for The Longest Journey? What influences from literature,
Oh, a bunch of stuff. I mean, both my co-designer
Didrik Tollefsen and I are fans of JRR Tolkien and his world, as well as the movie
Blade Runner, and I'm sure that has influenced us quite a bit--at least,
those are the references that people seem to notice the most. Additionally, I've
found personal inspiration with material as varied as Neil Gaiman's Sandman
comic books, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show, various novels by
Orson Scott Card, and traditional fairy tales. And lots more. This doesn't mean,
however, that TLJ is not an original concept--it is, and there's plenty
of stuff in there that I can't trace back to any one source of inspiration-- but
as writers and artists, we're continuously inspired and influenced by what we
see, read, or hear.
Why April? A teenage female character in
a marketplace dominated by male figures and purchasers? Were you purposely attempting
to reach the predominately female adventure gaming audience?
absolutely not. We just wanted to tell a good story, and our story really demanded
a female lead. TLJ is an emotional tale, and April's progress through the
game is as much about empathy as anything else--she doesn't pick up a gun and
fire it, she helps people out, she solves their problems. With a male lead, I
think we would've lost some of the heart of the story, the emotional anchor; it
could have worked, but it certainly wouldn't have been the same story. So that's
why we created April. It just felt right.
Why wasn't the reunification
of the worlds addressed by story's end?
Well, wasn't it?
Like all good stories, we leave some things to the imagination ... and to the
sequel. Besides, since the whole game was structured as a tale told in the past
tense by an old woman, we do know that Stark and Arcadia were reunited at some
point. But when, exactly, and how? Well, hopefully, I'll be able to tell that
story too, some day.
What is your perception of the American
It's getting sort of generic, isn't
it? There are a lot of very similar games out there, with fewer and fewer original
products. But this is not just an American thing: Games are getting more and more
expensive to produce, and the entire industry is looking for that sure sell, which,
unfortunately, often translates into "same old crap." I do think, however,
that there are a lot of great new games out there ... certainly more than
I have time to play, so I'm not complaining.
What kind of sales
figures in North America would bring a smile to your face?
smile? Three hundred thousand. A big grin? Five hundred thousand. Maniacal laughter?
A million. I hoping for the maniacal laughter, of course, but I'll settle for
The voice parts in TLJ are excellent--can you
tell us a little about the auditions for the characters roles, etc.?
That was a pretty complicated process. We had a casting coordinator
working from Norway with two different agencies in New York. We'd send them bits
and pieces of the script, together with character bios, and they'd send us their
casting suggestions on CD. It went back and forth like that for a good while before
we were able to nail down all the 70 or so speaking parts, using around 25 different
actors. Early on, we made a conscious decision not to go with "celebrity"
voices, concentrating instead on finding the perfect actor for each and every
part, regardless of who they were. And, with few exceptions, we did. Most of our
actors have extensive theater, radio, and television experience, which was important,
because we only had ten days to record more than 12 hours of dialogue, and we
really needed to get the lines just right in as few takes as possible.
the recording process, I went to New York personally to direct the actors, and,
if necessary, to do on-site rewrites. Which there were--in fact, some nights I'd
be up until 5 a.m. doing rewrites, start printing, and be done just in time to
get to the studio by 10 a.m. Unlike a lot of voice-over productions, we chose
to have our April, Sarah Hamilton, in the recording studio at all times, which
allowed the actors to have actual conversations instead of reading their lines
into a vacuum. You can really tell, because the actors were able to play off of
each other, and it sounds a lot more "real" that way. Of course, it
also put a lot of strain on Sarah, because she'd literally be talking eight hours
a day, for ten days straight. I think her voice finally gave in about four minutes
after we'd finished recording--she was a great sport about it, no question.
in all, this was definitely one of my favorite parts of the production, and the
game truly came alive when we inserted the voices into the game. It was a revelation.
there any extensive marketing campaigns planned for the North American market
on a scale similar to Europe, where music videos appeared on television?
I honestly don't know. I would hope so, and we're willing to work
with our distributor to make this happen, but it's up to them, really, how much
money they're willing to spend on TLJ. I believe we should definitely take
advantage of the huge amount of positive press we've been getting, and focusing
people's attention on that. As for the TLJ single and music video ... I
don't think it'll fly in the US, I'm sorry to say.
Do you envision
any spin-off marketing for The Longest Journey? Books, a cartoon series,
Heck, yeah! Towels, breakfast cereals, a long-running
TV show, movies, action figures--I want the Gribbler with detachable claws--TLJ-branded
liquor, soundtrack CDs, diapers ... I want it all!
There has been some interest
in doing spin-offs with novels and a TV show, but I think we'll just have to wait
and see what happens. Like I said before, everything will depend on how well the
game does on the North American market, so if everyone buys twenty-five copies
each, I'm sure something will happen!
Can you provide some
background material on TLJ: number of years in production, total artists
who worked on it, cost to produce?
We started design
work on TLJ back in April 1996--at that point it was just me, my co-designer
and Art Director Didrik Tollefsen, and two artists. We spent that whole year working
on the visual and story design, while the programmers--who joined the production
that June--created a prototype of the game.
Full production began in January
1997, and at that time, I think there were nine people on the team; four artists,
three programmers, one musician/sound guy, and myself. The size of our team varied
between seventeen at the most--at one point, we had seven or eight artists, and
five programmers--and eight or nine, at the very end.
quite a bit to make, mostly because of the length of development, but no more
so, I'd guess, than other games of the genre. Adventures are, traditionally, expensive
to make, because of the sheer amount of art, animation, sound, and scripting needed;
it's all unique, no tiling and little reuse of assets, and with around 160 locations--most
of which were made two or three times before we were happy with the results--you
can only imagine the amount of work that went into the game. When I think back
on it, I still don't understand how we managed to do it.
We finally finished
up development the last week of October 1999, and then we spent a few months building
different language versions of TLJ, starting with the Norwegian and Swedish
versions, and continuing to this date, with rumored versions in Polish and Spanish.
Ironically, the version that was finished first--the English-speaking one--was
one of the last to go out the door.
What is the purpose
of the "Secret Journal," and how can the player access it?
If by Secret Journal you mean the Book of Secrets, then ... um ...
it's a secret. Well, okay, it'll unlock once you've finished the game. But there's
also another way to unlock it, but I'm not telling.
any "Easter eggs" in the game that you can share with us?
Oh, there's a bunch, mostly in the shape of subtle references to adventure
games, movies, other Funcom products--like the upcoming Anarchy Online--as
well as the above-mentioned Book of Secrets. There's also a way to see the original
TLJ trailer--from 1997, I believe--in-game, through careful pixel-hunting.
But to be absolutely honest, we wanted to concentrate on creating content that
all players would get to see, and so we didn't really have much time to create
a whole lot of Easter eggs.
Among all the accolades, the two
most common complaints have been the lengthy dialogues and some minor plot holes.
Can you address both of these?
Plot holes are inevitable,
simply because there's a whole lot of plot. Someone, somewhere, will find that
something's missing--and someone already has, because I recently spent hours trying
to explain a number of those "plot holes" on Usenet ... Of course, in
doing that, I probably uncovered a large number of new plot holes, but so be it.
In a way, it's fun to see people pick apart something you've spent three years
making--after all, we try not to take ourselves too seriously--and I do think
we've managed to avoid major plot holes at any rate. At least I'm able to explain
the majority of them.
As for lengthy dialogues--true, there's a lot of speech,
and some conversations do go on for quite a while; Tobias' explanation of the
Balance and the Guardian lasts for a good fifteen minutes--but this is also part
of what people seem to love about the game. We have a complex story to tell, and
we tell it mostly through dialogue. Personally, I think the performances are so
good that we manage to pull it off, but more impatient players will probably disagree.
It's really a question of taste.
TLJ is the
number-one seller on the majority of mail-order lists from Europe. Are you afraid
that the majority of hard-core American adventure gamers may have already played
and purchased the game by the time it is released in North America and thus have
an adverse effect on retail sales that would then lead to further unfounded speculation
on the death of the adventure game?
No. Well, yeah, I mean
the ideal situation would be that the game was already released in the US, but
the situation being what it is, I'm happy that hard-core adventure gamers have
had the opportunity to get a hold of the game and play it. That's what matters
the most to me. Hopefully, our official North American release will reach people
who've never heard of TLJ, or who don't know much about it aside, perhaps,
from what they've read in The New York Times or other mainstream or specialist
press--people who'd never order online or buy an import. There's a potentially
huge audience out there, so I don't think we've spoiled the chance to become a
big seller in North America.
A lot of gamers have commented
on April's realism. You are obviously not a woman; to what do you attribute your
skill at creating such a realistic character of the opposite sex?
Obviously not a woman? Hey! I resent the allegations!
I'm a writer, first
and foremost, and like most writers, I observe: At home, on the street, in cafes,
restaurants. or stores, I listen to what women say, how they speak, and I watch
how they act, and react, and I use that in my writing. However, most of what April
says and does I extrapolate from her surroundings, and from the people she interacts
with; I don't think men and women are that different, not when faced with
the kind of stuff April has to face, or the situations she has to go through.
Sarah Hamilton's performance had a great impact on April's realism; she really
made her sound like an actual person, so Sarah should get some well-deserved credit
Let's have some fun--if TLJ were to be made
into a movie, who would you like to portray April, the voice of Crow, etc.?
This is a tough one. Sarah did an amazing job with April's voice,
and she's a very good actress. Still, in a potential movie, it'd be fun to see
what someone else could do with the character, and I'd love to see April played
by Alyson Hannigan, "Willow" on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She
has that perfect blend of teenaged innocence and exuberance and adult wisdom and
cynicism. Besides, she kinda looks like April--at least to my eyes--she's very
funny, and she's a damn fine actress to boot. So Alyson, if you're reading this,
give us a call, okay?
Crow should be Crow. Period. Roger Raines did such
an excellent job--Crow is my favorite character, bar none--that it'd be a sin
to use anyone else.
McAllen? Jeremy Irons. Heck, why not--he's the perfect
villain. Ian McKellen would also be a fine choice.
Cortez is a tough one
... I could see Sean Connery doing this one quite well, although he's not Latin.
Antonio Banderas is too young, Danny Trejo is great, but not really the romantic
type ... Like I said, it's a tough one, and suggestions would be more than welcome.
fact, I think TLJ could work well as a big-budget fantasy movie, so I'll
be expecting that fax from Dreamworks any day now. Any day.
would you envision playing an adult April--Pamela Anderson Lee?
Yeah. You nailed that one right off the bat. Pamela Anderson Lee is, in fact,
perfect. More than perfect, she is the personification of the adult April ...
with the emphasis on "adult."
Dear God, what a nightmare that
would've been. Okay, April all grown up? Sigourney Weaver would be cool. Or Madeleine
Stowe, or Sophie Marceau. If you could combine Sophie's looks with Madeleine's
voice and Sigourney's attitude, you'd have the perfect older April.
bucked the marketplace trends in every manner possible--an adventure game, heavy
on the dialogue, and featuring a female teenager--and triumphed. What even made
you think you could succeed in today's marketplace?
bloody-mindedness, for one. Funcom was always very supportive of the project,
and they let us do pretty much whatever we wanted, which was great. When we started
working on the game, the genre was already on the wane, but in the end, I actually
think this helped us; there has been so much focus lately on how the adventure
game, as a genre, has died a quiet death, and we've been lucky enough to have
been used as an example of how this is not true.
We never really
worried too much about whether or not we'd be a huge success--we just wanted to
create a great, playable, good-looking, story-oriented adventure game, and we
figured that if the fans liked it, the game might cross over to more casual gamers.
Which it has.
What time frame are you looking at for the
release of The Longest Journey sequel?
question. Well, if there is one--and it'd be fun to do a sequel, although this
time I'd probably stick to just writing it--I'd like to see it being released
around Christmas 2003. As much as I love the world and the characters, and even
though big chunks of the storyline are already fully plotted--both for a sequel
and a prequel--I'd like a chance to do something different right now. And I've
got something very different in mind, while still staying true to the things
I love about adventures ... good story, great characters, puzzles, less action,
and more lateral thinking.
Will you attempt a simultaneous world
release for the sequel?
It'd be silly not to, at the
very least, try to launch the game worldwide at approximately the same
time. The problem lies in the translation and voice-recording. TLJ was originally
written and recorded in English--contrary to some reports--and consequently, that
was the first version to be ready, and almost the last to be released. In other
words, we had to wait for the game to be translated, recorded, and released in
a number of different languages. Releasing the English-speaking version first
would have affected sales in other territories, as stores and customers would
have imported the game from England or the US. So part of our contract with the
different local distributors stated that they would have a certain period of "exclusivity"
before we launched the English-language version.
But I sure hope, if there
is a sequel, we'll be able to shorten the time between releases dramatically.