The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief is King Art's latest adventure game, and sees them jumping into the cinematic, movie-like world of 3D. Promising a real-world 1960s who-dunnit story in the mould of Agatha Christie, it's spreading its clues across three episodes - with the final half of the game putting you in the shoes of the very villain you spend the first half trying to apprehend. Jamie Donnelly spoke to executive producer Marco Rosenberg in order to unveil the mystery of The Raven.
Strategy Informer: In terms of how you structure a who-dunnit story, do you have the ending from the very beginning and then you work backwards from there?
Marco Rosenberg: I think it's more all over the place. You have the beginning and the ending, and some of the character traits, and then you try to fill in the gaps.
Strategy Informer: It must be difficult to write a mystery, especially finding the balance between plausible suspicion and innocence of each character?
Marco Rosenberg: Yeah, it's really hard and we did a lot of fine tuning and rewriting. In the beginning, we had dozens of brainstorming meetings to try to find ways to do it. Sometimes we knew the direction we wanted to go, but we had to find out how we get there and at what pace and stuff like that.
Strategy Informer: How do you make the ending of a who-dunnit story feel satisfying?
Marco Rosenberg: Well I can't tell too much, but we have a very good twist at the end of the game and that twist will make people want to play the game again to find the hints that have been there all the time that they didn't notice the first time playing through. We put a lot of effort into placing hints - and also misleading hints of course - to make this an experience where people don't know who - well, who-dunnit - in the middle of the game.
Strategy Informer: While you're playing as the Raven in the second half of the game, are you not aware of your own identity?
Marco Rosenberg: No, actually, for the first half of the game you play as the investigators. So, for first chapter you play only the investigators, and in the second chapter you switch after half of it. Then you play the story again from the beginning, just from a different point of view. You know who you are as the bad guys, but there's still enough mystery around and you still don't see the whole picture 'til the end of the game.
Strategy Informer: Why did you decide to take that approach?
Marco Rosenberg: Well, it's more interesting. And we always try to do something new and try new approaches to stories, so that was an interesting thing that hadn't been done before in crime stories.
Strategy Informer: Aside from Agatha Christie and 1960s Gangster movies, what other inspirations lie behind The Raven?
Marco Rosenberg: There probably have been dozens or hundreds of inspirations, but most of them are not conscious or sometimes we put in small jokes or homages to other movies and books just like we did in the Book of Unwritten Tales, so if people read a lot of books and like to watch movies they will find a lot of nods to other stories in there.
Strategy Informer: And what attracted you to the 1960s time period?
Marco Rosenberg: Actually, the start of the story was written by my boss, I think he is a big fan of those older Agatha Christie books and the movies that were made from those books, like Murder on the Orient Express and Murder on the Nile, and I think he just liked that setting and started to think of a way to tell a story in that same setting.
Strategy Informer: Puzzles in the raven are all in-keeping with the logic of the real world. Why did you take that route instead of the more outlandish puzzles that we're used to seeing in past adventure games?
Marco Rosenberg: Well, there's basically two kinds of adventure games. You have the humour cartoony adventure games and in those you can go really wild with objects and combinations of objects, but we wanted to make the game more realistic, so we decided it would be pretty strange if you had that realistic setting and someone puts a ladder in his trouser pocket or another big object like a treasure chest or something. So, we decided to find a way to advance on that and have characters carry around big objects visibly and they have to put them down if they want to do another interaction in their environment. We wanted to try that because it would be silly to have that cartoon adventure approach in this realistic setting.
Strategy Informer: So is it that the puzzles are there to guide the story, rather than the story just moving you from puzzle to puzzle?
Marco Rosenberg: Yeah, like an interactive experience and we wanted to have that movie feeling and concentrate more on the story. That's why we also chose puzzles that fit into the world instead of ones just being put in later that just feel wrong - sometimes you have puzzles where you feel like the creator just wanted you to spend more time with the game and they just add more combination puzzles in there or some really strange stuff, and we just tried to avoid that and make the experience flow as much as possible.
Strategy Informer: A quite specific question: the dialogue choices are written in third-person. It's 'what is she doing here?' rather than 'What are you doing here?', making it seem like you're directing the character rather than actually embodying the character. Was that intentional?
Marco Rosenberg: Yes it was intentional. I don't know the exact reason why we did that, but yeah, you are directing the character and you're not in the skin of the character or that position yet.
Strategy Informer: Why was that the case? Why did you want people to feel like they were directing?
Marco Rosenberg: Apart from the sentences, in the dialogues we of course try to pull the player into the world, and in the dialogue we chose that way because we didn't want to write down the exact sentence that the character would then ask the other person. Because if you click 'what are you doing here?' and the character says the line 'what you are doing here?' it's kind of redundant. It wasn't intended to make the player feel like he was directing the character.
Strategy Informer: Why did you decide to move to 3D and away from 2D backgrounds?
Marco Rosenberg: Well, we chose that approach because it allows us to make it more cinematic and we have a lot of different camera angles and camera movement that we couldn't do with pre-rendered backgrounds. That way we can really present it like a movie and have more movement and we also have a lot of animations this time - the character animations are more than in all our previous games combined - so all those things combined mean its more dynamic and cinematic.
Strategy Informer: And do you think that's the direction the adventure genre is heading in? Telltale have obviously taken a very cinematic approach to the genre, and even Ron Gilbert made The Cave as he felt the older formats were slow-moving and stilted. So, do you think that's the future of the adventure genre, these more cinematic, story-driven games?
Marco Rosenberg: I think that's one of the directions the adventure genre is moving to, and we're trying to stay at the front of this direction, of this movement, with our games. And, yeah, it's also a way to interest other players from different genres into the adventure genre, because they are used to more movement and action in their games and the cinematic presentation. So I think the right way to widen the audience of adventure games is going that way.