Interview with Alan Thorn about Baron Wittard: Nemesis of Ragnarok

At the beginning of the year, I listed Baron Wittard: Nemesis of Ragnarokas one of the “Ten Indie Games To Look For in 2011.” We now know it’s going to hit retail stores in Europe, along with digital download sites, on February 18th, 2011. As we inch ever closer to the release date and the eventual review of the game, one-half of Wax Lyrical Games, Alan Thorn, sat down with me to answer a few questions I had about the their first commercial release.

Diehard GameFAN: Baron Wittard is Wax Lyrical’s first game. I know Marlies Maalderink, the co-designer of the game, did some work for the fan-made The 7th Guest sequel, The 13th Doll, that has been in production for years now. How do you guys find each other and decide to make a game together?

Alan Thorn: Baron Wittard is indeed our first game. The Wax Lyrical team is essentially a two person team consisting of Marlies (in the Netherlands) and me (Alan Thorn) in the UK. Marlies and I first met in around 2007 when I agreed to help Attic Door Productions with some of the AI programming for the puzzles in their 13th Doll game. Both Marlies and I were drawn to the 13th Doll project from our love of first-person puzzle-orientated games, such as the 7th Guest and the 11th Hour. After working together for a while on the 13th Doll project, both of us decided that we would like to create a similar game based on our own setting and with our own characters. That game became Baron Wittard.

DHGF: From looking and screenshots and viewing the trailer of the game, there seems to be a Myst feeling to the game coupled with Nordic mythology (references to Ragnarok, Fenir, a picture of Odin, etc). What inspired Wax Lyrical to write the story of Baron Wittard and were any other games a big influence on this one?

AT: Yes, there are many ways in which Baron Wittard is Myst-like with a Norse flavour. However, many games inspired both the style and story of Baron Wittard. Three series of games in particular stand out among them. Those are: the Myst games of course, the Shivers games, and the 7th Guest series. Baron Wittard attempts to blend together the elements that we loved most in those three series of games. Like Myst, Baron Wittard features a large environment to explore and strange devices to decipher. Like Shivers, the story centers on an eccentric creator and the mysterious events surrounding his death. Like Shivers again, the player will need to collect and use a selection of sacred items to make progress. Like The 7th Guest games, Baron Wittard features some mind-bending but logical puzzles. And finally, like all three games, Baron Wittard is a first-person solitary exploration game; meaning that there is little in the way of character interaction. The Utopia is deserted, desolate and waiting to be explored.

DHGF: From the website and trailer, the story revolves around an enclosed village that Baron Wittard built but never opened. Now strange things are happening in the location named “Utopia” and the protagonist has to go in and figure out what is going on. What else can we expect to see in the story of Baron Wittard?

AT: There are a selection of themes or strands of story-telling running throughout Baron Wittard. There is the central theme of the giant Utopian city that Wittard created and the Nordic themes connected with its demise and abandonment. There are, however, other themes: the story tells a personal tale of hope and ambition, of an architect’s well-intentioned dreams to build a place in which people would be happy. There are also issues of trust. The player will encounter a character of an otherworldly kind, and momentous decisions will need to be made. As in Myst, the player will encounter a choice, and that choice will determine the ending.

DHGF: Baron Wittard is a point and click adventure game. What made you choose that particular style for telling the story of Utopia?

AT:As gamers ourselves, Marlies and I enjoy many different genres of games, and at the outset of development a decision had to be made as to exactly which kind of game Baron Wittard would be. Marlies is very fond of First Person Shooters, and I am very fond of 2D Platform Games. But one genre that both of us certainly admire and often enjoy is the point and click adventure genre. We like it not only as a vehicle for telling compelling and thought-provoking stories, but also as a vehicle for presenting difficult puzzles and for offering vast and interesting worlds to explore.

DHGF: Baron Wittard takes place in a first person viewpoint. We don’t see a lot of first person adventure games these days. There’s been Scratches, Barow Hill, Dark Fall and a few others, but they’ve mostly been horror adventure games. What made you choose first-person instead of a third person view?

AT: There were several reasons underpinning our decision to create a first-person game as opposed to a game with some other kind of perspective. The first reason was that we recognized that there was already a wide range of exciting third person games available, but that the same could not be said of first person games. So we wanted to do something about that. The second reason was that I wanted to brush up on some math skills by creating a 360 panoramic first person system. Thirdly, both Marlies and I considered the limited viewing range of the first person view to be remarkably successfully at creating emersion, tension, and a sense of suspense. It makes it easier for the player to think things such as: What was that I saw from the corner of my eye? Did something just pass me? I heard something moving behind me… etc. And lastly, our intention from the outset of development was to develop a game similar in style to the classic Myst, Shivers, and 7th Guest series of games, and all three of those series use first person perspective.

DHGF: I know it’s really hard to find a publisher when you’re a small development team these days. Can you tell us how you went about securing a deal with Iceberg Interactive? I know they publish a lot of independently made adventure games.

AT: Securing a deal with Iceberg turned out for us to be a smooth and painless process. We created 70-80% of the game, sent out a press release, and Iceberg contacted us some time later. Since then, we have worked together with Iceberg on finishing, testing and polishing Baron Wittard for release. It is my hope that gamers will enjoy the result.

DHGF: I really enjoyed the music and sound effects in the trailer for the game. I’m curious about how you went about writing/composing the music for the game. Did you write the music once you had the story, was it composed after you completed different sections of the game or was there an entirely different process at foot?

AT: The music was for me one of the most educational and surprising developmental challenges that we faced when creating Baron Wittard. It was educational because neither Marlies nor I had very much experience at creating sound effects at the outset of this project, but work on this game taught us a lot about sound and sound design. I began development with a very clear idea about the kind of music and sound that I wanted for the game, and then I discovered that I lacked the experience to create the music as I intended. As a result, we started to create the music by licensing third parties, and then we sought the help of two very capable artists, Ran Kirlian and Mike Mcloone. Ran Kirlian kindly gave us permission to use some of his tracks for our game, and Mike Mcloone created some new and original tracks for us that matched our requirements. Later in development, I also tried my hand at creating some sound effects and music, and I am reasonably pleased with the result.

DHGF: What are some of the puzzles gamers will encounter in Baron Wittard?

AT: The visitor to Wittard Utopia will encounter a wide variety of puzzles, each of which belongs to one of either two types: a brain-teaser puzzle or an object-manipulation puzzle. The Brain Teaser puzzles are those style of puzzles found throughout The 7th Guest series, such as the Eight-Queens chessboard puzzle. These puzzles are presented “raw” as it were in that they are: a) self -contained, since the player does not need to look outside the puzzle in order to solve it; and b) the puzzle comes already equipped with all the pieces necessary to solve it. The other kind of puzzle is the object-manipulation puzzle, like those puzzles those found in Myst, such as the Channel-wood puzzle. These puzzles typically require the gamer to decipher the controls of a machine, or to decode messages, or in some way to work out how things operate in the environment. These puzzles are not self-contained in that the gamer will often need to scan the world for clues that will aid them in solving the puzzle. Baron Wittard contains puzzles of both kinds in more or less equal measure.

DHGF: Do you have a North American publisher lined up yet? If there’s one genre we here in the States get shafted on these days, it’s point and click adventure games.

AT: At present, Baron Wittard does not have an official North American publisher. However, I hope to have some good news for North American gamers about this very soon.

DHGF:Does Wax Lyrical games have anything else in the pipeline once Baron Wittard is officially on the shelves?

AT: Yes, first of all we have a rest period in mind. Baron Wittard has been an enjoyable but nonetheless exhausting journey and learning experience. Both Marlies and I intended to have a break before starting new work. But our intention is certainly to start work on a new game project. I would like to share more details on this, but at present we are not certain of the details ourselves. We need to brainstorm further, to design and to think. I hope to have further news regarding our new project later in 2011.

With a little over two weeks to go before the release of Baron Wittard: Nemesis of Ragnarok, I’m more interested than ever in what the end result will be. We’ll have a review of the game written up once it’s officially released. In the mean time, feel free to check out the official website for the game for more information.

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