The Book of Unwritten Tales was a pleasant surprise when it came out internationally back in 2011 (2009 in developers KING Art's home nation of Germany). An affectionate ribbing of typical fantasy tropes, it was genuinely funny, and a welcome throwback to the classic point and click adventure games of yore. Now KING Arts and publishers Nordic Games have announced a sequel under the unsurprising name of The Book of Unwritten Tales 2. I chatted with creative director Jan Theysen and Philipp Brock from Nordic about their upcoming title.
Strategy Informer: First of all, could you tell us about the setting of The Book of Unwritten Tales 2, and when it takes place in relation to the first game?
Jan Theysen: BoUT2 takes place just after the first game, so the war is over and everyone has to get used to a new, unusual peace. The four heroes from the original are the same main characters in the second game, and all these four characters have their own problems and have basically split up. But then there are certain events that lead to a reunification, and they have to save the day again.
Strategy Informer: So it was back in 2009 that the first game was released. It's been quite a long time!
Jan Theysen: We started development on the first in around 2007 or so, so it was around one and a half years of production. The plan was to release it a couple of months later intentionally, but then our publisher went bankrupt, which was s****y as you can imagine. So it took us over two years to release that one internationally because of all the legal mumbo-jumbo.
Strategy Informer: Talking of international releases, the translated English version of the original was very impressive. How did you get such a good working translation, and are you using the same methods this time around?
Jan Theysen: Yeah absolutely. Again we're working with a British localisation studio, OMUK. They're just the best when it comes to localising story-driven games, especially when it comes to humour, because there are so many things that are hard to translate when it comes to wordplay or local slang. So it's not a translation, that's simple, it's a localisation. They really wrote new jokes, for example, to replace jokes that might only be funny to someone in Germany. So we're working together with them again, and this time we started talking about the project earlier. Five minutes ago the owner of the studio left my office, actually! We've already started talking about location and how to get the game just right for the English speaking world.
Strategy Informer: So it's essentially two teams coming up with different scripts?
Jan Theysen: Yeah, actually. When they localise there are four or five writers in there. When they localise the game they use different writers for different characters. So one character, Wilbur, is Welsh, and they have a guy from that area who knows how to sound Welsh. There's a Canadian guy writing Nate too. So it's not just one guy who tries to mimic different accents and stuff like that, it's really guys from all these different regions.
Strategy Informer: Critter [a sort of purple muppet thing] was easily my favourite character from the last game. Will he be returning?
Jan Theysen: Absolutely! All the main characters are back. We have like 60 different written parts in the game, and 15 or something like that are characters from the main game coming back. So it's not just the main characters, a lot of the background ones will be returning.
Strategy Informer: The puzzles often relied on multiple characters to complete. Is that back, and what other new mechanics can we expect?
Jan Theysen: We call it multi-character gameplay. So there are two or three characters playable at the same time, and you decide which of these characters you want to control. There are puzzles that can only be solved when different characters work together. Lets say one character has to distract somebody while another character sneaks behind him. There are parts of the game where we have this multi-character gameplay, but there are also parts with just one, so it's very similar to the first game.
Strategy Informer: The first game was pretty long for a point and click adventure, lasting around twenty hours or so. Can we expect a similar runtime from the sequel?
Jan Theysen: Absolutely, we noticed this trend to make adventure games shorter, and feature less locations, basically to save money. Pretty early on we said no, BoUT2 has to be a big game, at least as big as the first game. In all departments this is the goal we set, we need as many backgrounds and locations, at least as many characters, better animations. We basically made a check-list; how and where to beat the first one. Our goal is to make the second game at least as good as the first game, and just as big.
Strategy Informer: We've seen a trend towards episodic adventure games recently, is that something you're interested in?
Jan Theysen: It will be one big release, one big game. There will be an opportunity for backers on Steam Early Access to get the game earlier, chapter by chapter. But the main release will be one big release with the full 20 hours or so of gameplay.
Strategy Informer: What are your major inspirations when writing these games?
Jan Theysen: Basically everything in pop culture! Obviously in fantasy and science fiction you've got Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Discworld. Your main standouts.
Strategy Informer: Choices and consequences are a popular device in adventure games at the moment. Will we see any of that in BoUT2 or will it take a more linear approach?
Jan Theysen: That's actually one of our stretch goals, to implement optional puzzles and quest lines. So the idea is that usually you have your main story and that's about it, so we thought wouldn't it be cool to give our players optional quests that are a little bit harder, but you don't have to do them to complete the game. In the game, for example, you visit a count in a dark castle and you can become his servant. If you perform well you can become his Igor, and you get a special outfit, stuff like that. So it's a bonus, but we think it's a pretty neat idea. Another thing on the Stretch Goal list is alternative puzzle solutions. Most of the time there's only one possible solution to a problem or puzzle in an adventure game, but we think it might be cool to give people a little bit more freedom like in an RPG or something like that.
Strategy Informer: So how will your Kickstarter campaign work?
Jan Theysen: The Kickstarter is starting today, so it's really exciting. The idea basically is that it's for stuff you usually cant do. So you have your must-dos, your should-haves, nice to haves, and there's always stuff you just cant do in a normal production. So the Kickstarter is for things like that; alternate puzzle solutions, things like that, really cool stuff we'd like to do but that are just too much extra work. So the game will be there in any case when we're finished, but if you're interested you can buy it right now much cheaper, and the game will be even better.
Strategy Informer: Do you see this as an ongoing series? Do you have a larger story/lore planned out?
Jan Theysen: Obviously this game is the focus right now, but we like the world, we like the characters and if the players like the game as well and want to see more, why not? We hesitated regarding a sequel after the first game because we didn’t want to be just the Book of Unwritten Tales company, but why not? Of course, we might decide to do something else then come back.
Strategy Informer: It's a good time to be a fan of adventure games at the moment, but yours seems to be the only one with a real comic focus. Is that what sets your game apart?
Jan Theysen: Right, the comic focus and also the pretty classic gameplay, you know? There's a lot of puzzles, there’s a lot of items, bursting inventories, stuff like that. It's not like, and this is totally fine obviously, but it's not this Telltale Games experience where it's all about the story and hard decisions but there’s not that many puzzles. We represent this other school of adventure gaming, where there are always like ten puzzles going on that you can work out.
Strategy Informer: Is there any concrete information on a possible release date?
Philipp Brock: January 2015. We're not trying to strangle ourselves with that. The whole Kickstarter structure with the publisher involved is something new and never seen before, so we kind of want to have a closer look at that before we go into further details about release dates and things like that. It's the beginning of 2015, let's put it that way!
Jan Theysen: One things it important to mention is that Nordic Games is involved in the production of the game and they've paid for the production, but all the Kickstarter money goes into the game so it's not like a pre-order thing to get early revenue. All the money from the Kickstarter goes directly into the game, and I think that’s something really special. Nordic Games says, basically, okay the first couple of thousand units we don’t make anything from them, we put it straight into the game to make it a little bit better.
Philipp Brock: We don't believe in the traditional relationship between developer and publisher any more. I think it's evolved into something way more complex and towards the direction of a strategic partnership, instead of the publisher being the bad guy and restricting everything all the time. That’s why we went forward and said okay, if you've got all this experience and know how to run a project successfully lets go for it. Because we are not omniscient oracles ourselves, we need to find out what the community wants.
Strategy Informer: It's definitely a changing environment for everyone with crowd-funding and Kickstarter still so popular.
Philipp Brock: Absolutely. Developers have been placed as self-publishers over the last year or so, with Kickstarter and crowd-funding and whatnot. So we have to think about the changing role of the publisher now, and believe me we gave it a lot of thought. What we came up with was the attitude to say, okay we want to really enhance and enrich the developer to work on what he knows best, the game. And we take care of the integration, ratings and that side of things.
Strategy Informer: Do you think you'll use this kind of model in the future?
Phillip Brock : Well maybe, yes. We're a first-timer in this as well, I don't think I've ever seen this kind of thing before. There are not only multinational corporations as publishers, there's also smaller, independent publishers as well. We don't have any responsibilities to shareholders, so we can be pretty flexible in our thinking. That’s one of our advantages.
Many thanks to Philipp and Jan. The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is planned for a full release in January 2015, but hopefully we'll find out more regarding the team's Steam Early Access plans in the next few months.