A brand new instalment in The Longest Journey adventure series was announced last week: Dreamfall Chapters. The Longest Journey creator Ragnar Tornquist is in charge and he'll make the game at his new studio Red Thread Games. He'll also remain at Funcom overseeing the MMO he fathered, The Secret World.
But that's all we know - knew: I phoned Ragnar Tornquist yesterday to find out more.
Dreamfall Chapters will be a meaty, offline, single-player PC and Mac adventure game. It won't be point-and-click but a full 3D third-person affair. There won't, however, be any combat.
Dreamfall Chapters will also eventually take to Kickstarter for funding. "That's been the idea for a long time now," Tornquist revealed.
"We could go to investors, we could go to publishers, but that's going to tie our hands a quite a bit. If we're going to make the game we want and that everyone else wants, the only way to do that is to basically have the freedom we need, and Kickstarter is a lot about freedom."
He wants to be rock-solid about budget before he reveals a Kickstarter figure, but said it should fall in-line with other notable projects on the site. I say $1 million.
"Dreamfall Chapters is going to be a reasonably large game," he forecast, "it's going to be a reasonably long game and it's going to be a polished game. It's going to be a game that reflects the brand and the universe.
"It's not really cheap for us to make, but we are experienced people working on this game and we know how to do things as efficiently as possible, so I think we can bring it out at a budget that is considerably lower that in would be going through a typical larger publisher with a larger budget."
A government grant and the studio's own money will get Dreamfall Chapters off the ground, giving substance to the Kickstarter pitch. Tornquist knows Kickstarter success isn't guaranteed, "But I think a lot of people want to see Dreamfall Chapters and a lot of people are willing to help out funding that game."
"The reason it's called Chapters is because the theme of the game is chapters of life," Ragnar Tornquist explained. "Dreamfall Chapters is about life in chapters; it's about birth and it's about life and it's about death."
"Chapters" doesn't mean episodes, although once upon a time it did. "Initially when we talked about Deamfall Chapters, five or six years ago, that was the idea, the intention, to do episodic gaming, because that was at the time something that everybody believed was going to be [big]."
(Whatever you do, don't mention Half-Life 2: Episode 3.)
Intentions changed and today, Tornquist told me, "The nature of Dreamfall Chapters and the nature of the story means that we really want to have one big meaty game with a full story with a full conclusion that wraps up everything everybody has been waiting for." And just to be clear, he stressed: "No episodic gaming."
Ragnar Tornquist has been mulling Dreamfall Chapters for a while. "I've been tinkering with the story and we've been talking about it for years now," he shared. "We have always been planning to pick it up but it's not really been on Funcom's agenda, and that was clear after The Secret World released that Funcom's key focus is online gaming.
"Although there have been some discussions in the past about taking Dreamfall Chapters online, it's not something I wanted to do myself. I wanted to a single-player game. It's definitely not going to be an online game," he made perfectly clear. "It's strictly a single-player game."
"Definitely the way we're going to suggest playing this game is with someone else."Ragnar Tornquist
And by single-player he means controlled by a single player; the idea that families or friends would gather around the computer, collaborating on puzzles, watching a story unfold, is an idea he likes. "It's not that important to be the one with the mouse and the keyboard," Tornquist believes. "The important thing is sharing the journey and experience.
"You sit there and you throw advice around and you discuss how to solve this puzzle. The pace allows for it, you're not pushed forward all the time. There's no danger: you're not going to die if you stop and think about it. Definitely the way we're going to suggest playing this game is with someone else," he told me. "Play with somebody you enjoy sharing stories with."
As briefly mentioned, Dreamfall Chapters won't be point-and-click like The Longest Journey but will be a third-person adventure like Dreafall: The Longest Journey.
"Dreamfall Chapters is not point-and-click, no," Tornquist explained. "We are going to evolve the gameplay style we started in Dreamfall. We're not going to do," he paused to laugh, "combat, but it will be a third-person adventure."
You'll take direct control of an as yet unknown hero, looking using the mouse and moving using the WASD keys. "And the reason for that is immersion," he bubbled, "immersing the player in a living world. We're going to put a lot of emphasis on that.
"That's another place where we felt Dreamfall didn't quite succeed as much as we would have liked it to. The Longest Journey felt very alive. The world, even though it was 2D, it felt inhabited, it felt alive. In Dreamfall it wasn't as much of that.
Adventure games should be as much about exploration as about puzzle solving, Tornquist believes. Two things define adventure games for him: one, being given a character's interpretations of objects you click on using the eye icon; two, being able to talk and interact with characters in the world. "We're not going to burden the game with constant puzzles and mechanical puzzles," he promised me, "we're going to leave it a little bit freer to play and focus on exploration and navigation and discovery - as well as interesting puzzles!"
In order understand what Tornquist wants Dreamfall Chapters to be, we looked back at the divisive last entry in the series from 2006, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. Were there wrongs there to right?
"Yes, definitely. We're all very proud of Dreamfall and it got some excellent reviews and some average reviews - I do remember Eurogamer's review which was disappointing," he said with a chuckle. "But I think the game has really survived the test of time. People are still talking about it. So that to us means the game did a lot of things right.
"There are a lot of areas we can improve in. One is to get rid of the horrifyingly bad combat system. It never became what it was supposed to and we had to rush it out and it failed on all accounts. Luckily we were able to avoid using it most of the time. That's the first thing to go.
"The second thing is we felt the controls of the game were a bit clunky. Today it feels clunky, your character doesn't feel connected. That's something we're going to work on quite a bit.
"Thirdly," he added, "the puzzles in Dreamfall: the good thing about them was they were tied to the story - there was no puzzle that felt completely arbitrary or abstract like in The Longest Journey. But The Longest Journey had a lot more gameplay, and that's something we want to go back to."
Tornquist is keen for Dreamfall Chapters to present players with more of a challenge - not just be harder, but also "a bit more dense when it comes to challenges and things you have to do". He's conjured up some new mechanics to enable this. He says they will make the game "a lot more interesting, a lot more interactive and give the players a few more choices".
"What Dreamfall did right," he pressed on, "was the atmosphere of the game: the story, the dialogue, the characters. All that stuff we're going to carry over. We're going to go back to a bunch of the same actors. We are going to recreate the mood and the feel of it while also paying more attention to the immersion in the world, how connected you are to the world in terms of being able to navigate and explore it.
"Those are the key things we want to 'fix' from Dreamfall: make it generally a more playable, more interactive, less clunky experience."
"You don't have to make the big triple-a console titles, you can make a low budget PC/Mac title and you can be successful doing that."Ragnar Tornquist
Initially the focus will be on completing Dreamfall Chapters for PC and Mac, because that's where Tornquist believes The Longest Journey fans are. That done, other options can be explored: tablets, perhaps console. He told me "we are in early discussions with at least one of the big console manufacturers".
Release dates are a discussion for a later date, but Tornquist has a clear idea of how long Dreamfall Chapters should take to make. "Definitely [launch] won't be more than two years from now - it will be less than that," he said. "All of us are tired of working on productions that take too long; I don't think that's very beneficial. We want the production to be within a two-year period."
All of who? Tornquist wasn't quite ready to reveal names, but hinted at some well known faces at Red Thread. The team comprises 10 people today but will nearly double for the main production of Dreamfall Chapters. And the plans don't stop there: Red Thread has the option of making many more Dreamfall games should it so wish.
"Once Dreamfall Chapters is out the door we are going to look at making other games and we have some ideas," Tornquist revealed. "Red Thread Games is set up to create games that focus on story: we want to tell good stories. We want to further the role of interactive storytelling, of stories in games. With our next game after Dreamfall Chapters hopefully we can do that by starting something completely new.
"That's not saying there won't be any more games in The Longest Journey universe. There might be. But the next game after Dreamfall Chapters will probably be something completely fresh and new. That's something we're thinking in the backs of our minds, but it's not something we're going to focus on for the next couple of years."
Ragnar Tornquist helmed a 200-strong MMO team and made an expensive bet with The Secret World that, commercially, flopped. (The ins and outs and the future of The Secret World I discussed with Tornquist and new game director Joel Bylos a few weeks ago.) The pressure Tornquist was under must have been immense. It's no surprise to hear that he, like so many other corporately entrenched high profile game developers, has found it "very refreshing" returning to his small-team game development roots.
"We're getting a bit older and games are changing, the market is changing, and suddenly there is a platform for doing the types of games that we made 10 or 15 years ago. That's there again," he said. "You don't have to make the big triple-a console titles, you can make a low budget PC/Mac title and you can be successful doing that. That's very enticing, that's very attractive and, yeah, it's great - I'm definitely loving it."