If you’re a long time reader, then you know I’m a big fan of point and click adventure games. Although these games used to be made by teams of dozens of people with multi-million dollar budgets, these days games in this genre tend to be made by small independent studios who love the genre and refuse to see it die.
I’m also a big supporter of things via Kickstarter.com, which is a website to help fund start-up projects. Through Kickstarter I’ve funded movies like Thankskilling 2, the new wrestling federation by Jeff Katz, an amazing mustard company and even a tabletop RPG in Compact Heroes, which I later reviewed for this site. The problem is that I’ve never been able to fund a point and click adventure game. Sure, some show up from time to time, and I donate money, but they never get the dollar amount needed to fund the project. Which is why I was so excited when I came across Cognition.
Cognition is a point and click adventure game being developed by Phoenix Online Studios. POS is best known for their King’s Quest tribute game, The Silver Lining, so of course I knew I was going to try and help them out financially. Then I say that not only was Phoenix Online Studios involved, but so was Jane Jansen of Gabriel Knight and Gray Matter fame. This game suddenly became a no-brainer and I quickly put in the dollar amount I was willing to pay towards the funding. Now the catch with Kickstarter is that you have to get backers to pledge a specific amount (decided by the start up) in a certain amount of time. If they don’t reach the threshold, the company making the product gets nothing and none of the backers have to pay. In the case of Cognition, they are currently at $18,000. They need $25,000, but they have nearly a month to go. With this in mind, I decided to abuse my Editor-in-Chief status here at Diehard GameFAN and push the odds in favor of me eventually being able to play this game. The best way to do that? Set up an interview with someone at Phoenix Online Studios to have them talk about Cognition with me and hopefully not only spread the word about this game, but get it some backers as well. Cesar Bittar, CEO of Phoenix Online Studios was kind enough to sit down with me and answer a few questions I had about their (hopefully) upcoming game.
Diehard GameFAN: First, tell us a little bit about Phoenix Online Studios for those readers who don’t know your company.
Cesar Bittar: Phoenix Online came together as a fan group to create a continuation to our beloved King’s Quest series. After many up and downs, and finally learning how to make games, we decided that we wanted to take it seriously and become a commercial company. It was then we reformed, and we’ve been functioning towards that goal since last year.
DHGF: POS’ first project was the episodic tribute to King’s Quest named The Silver Lining. Your new project, Cognition, is set in modern times and is more of a crime drama. What was the decision to go for such a dramatically different story and setting?
CB: I guess we’ve worked for so long on The Silver Lining that we needed a change of pace. I personally wanted to have a more personal story this time around, as opposed to an epic, and I think this genre allows for that kind of thing. We also really like the paranormal and investigative stories, so after discussing many ideas, this fell on our laps, and Katie (Hallahan, Designer and PR Director for Phoenix Online Studios) and I clicked with the story just like that. I knew then it was meant to be!
DHGF: Your first game was obviously heavily influenced by Roberta Williams (King’s Quest, Phantasmagoria) while Cognition looks and feels more like a Jane Jansen (Gray Matter, Gabriel Knight) style adventure game. In fact, Jane Jansen is even working with you on this game. How did that come about?
CB: Let me start by saying I’m one of Jane’s biggest fans. Gabriel Knight is my absolute favorite series ever, and ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of meeting her and having the chance to thank her for such a powerful story that redefined my view on videogames.
We met Jane thanks to her having experienced The Silver Lining. Because of the work she saw that we’ve done, and how appreciative she was of it, she invited us to her farm for a weekend to talk more seriously about a possible collaboration. We discussed the obvious, of course–I don’t know if I really need to spell out what!–and at the end we decided that this project would be a great place to start and see how we worked together. So far it’s been a dream to be able to work alongside Jane. She knows exactly what she wants to see and it’s always something amazing, so having her help with this project is something I’m very grateful for.
DHGF: Cognition currently has a Kickstarter campaign going on and it’s doing amazingly well. I saw you guys hit the 50% mark in only a few days. At the same time I’ve seen numerous adventure games fail hard over there. Sometimes I’ve been one of maybe six backers for a point and click adventure game. Why do you think Cognition is doing so strongly where so many other adventure games have failed to get backers?
CB: We are past the 70% mark now!
We have a very dedicated fan base that has supported us immensely. When we had the legal problems, they backed us up, and got us out of two C&Ds! When the game was finally released, they cheered with us and helped us make of it a better game through the different episodes. And now that we are asking for their support, they have responded. We have the most incredible fans ever, and I’m just astonished by the support behind this game at such an early stage of development. It’s incredible!
Of course, Jane Jensen also has her fans that know that she won’t disappoint, and that her work here will help shape the story and game. And there’s also Romano Molenaar, an excellent comics artist who has a legion of fans of his own. So I think that powerful combination, plus the fact that we made the effort to reach you, the press, and thankfully you responded so well, and the fact that Phoenix Online has 35,000 registered users, most of whom we can reach with our newsletter, does help a lot.
DHGF: At the time of this interview, you have roughly 300 backers. Personally, I’m curious how many are US backers and how many are from overseas. I know that in the States, point and click adventure games have become a niche genre from their heyday in the 90s. Meanwhile they are still going strong in Europe and Russia. Why do you think there’s such a disparity across the Atlantic?
CB: I couldn’t tell you exactly how many people are from the overseas and how many people are here from the US. We don’t get that kind of data until the project has been fully funded. We do know, however, that we have many fans in Europe (one of our recurrent jokes is that, “we are HUGE in Europe!”). I think that when you are looking at different markets, it may be a question of education, it may be a question of interests, it may be a question of culture…there are a lot of factors that can affect it. I think Americans like things fast and practical, while Europeans may have more time to kick back and have the patience it requires to get through these games.
DHGF: Cognition, like the Silver Lining, is going to be done in episodic format. What was your decision to release the game in episodes ala Casebook or the adventure games Telltale puts out rather than as one big game? As well, how long do you anticipate each episode being?
CB: We really enjoyed the development of TSL when we switched to an episodic format. From a design standpoint, it allows us to receive feedback from our fans and implement it in the following episodes, and from a production standpoint, it’s a dream. Being able to work hard on a chunk of the game, then put it behind and never come back to it again, allows us to focus and get things released faster. We anticipate that every episode will take the average gamer three to five hours to complete.
DHGF: When the funding for Cognition succeeds, how are you looking to publish the game? Will you be self-publishing, or will you be looking for a company to partner with?
CB: It’s too early to tell. We do want to eventually become a self-publisher, because we can rely on the digital format to do so, and that is a goal I have for this company. I want us to have control over our own products instead of always being at the mercy of a publisher. But, with Cognition, we may find that it’ll be easier to start through a publisher. We’ll see.
DHGF: I see Cognition is going to be released for PC, Mac and iOS platforms. I was a bit surprised to see plans to eventually release the game on Xbox Live. We don’t see a lot of console releases for adventure games these days except for well, Gray Matter on the 360, and even that version didn’t come stateside. What about the 360 is appealing to you as an indie studio and why no plans for the PS3 or Wii?
CB: We haven’t said no to the Wii or PS3. Honestly, we’ll put it wherever it can reach the people that would want to play it. The beauty of the Unity engine is that porting to any platform becomes a very easy process, so as long as Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo greenlight a submission, we’ll put it on as many platforms as possible.
DHGF: I know you’ve just released Episode Four of The Silver Lining and that Episode Five will be out eventually. How hard is it to balance the publication of one episodic game while you’re in development of another- especially for a small independent studio like POS?
CB: The Silver Lining has and always will be our hobby project, and so now our priorities lie with Cognition. However, that doesn’t mean that we’ll push Episode 5 to the side. We have already done a lot of work for it already, and the good thing is that, because we are bringing Episode 5 to Unity as well, everything we are building as tools to make development easier for Cognition, we’ll also be able to use it for Episode 5. The other good thing about TSL is that we can recruit as many people as we can, since it’s a volunteer project, which helps greatly.
DHGF Finally, for those that are either new or relatively unfamiliar with point and click adventure games, what about Cognition should make them not only want to play it, but contribute to the Kickstarter campaign?
CB: If you are a fan of a series like Dexter or CSI, or movies like Seven, and you ever wonder what it would feel like being one of those characters, and finding clues, investigate witness and suspects, and putting them together to resolve mysteries, and like to be challenged mentally, these are the games for you. It will also feature the beautiful art of artist Romano Molenaar, so if you are a fan of graphic novels, this will also be good for you to take a look at.
As for the Kickstarter, apart from donations supporting the game’s development, there are some great rewards to be had! For those who don’t know, with Kickstarter, when you pledge to a project, you also get rewards from the creators for your support. We put a lot of thought into these; it’s not just pre-orders for the game and Special Thanks, you can get other great stuff like posters, comics, the soundtrack, and there are opportunities to get an inside look at development and offer feedback while we’re working on the game at certain levels. We’ve always loved our fans and they’ve made this all possible, so we wanted to set up the Kickstarter to get them involved in the game from start to end. For people who are interested in helping make this game happen, you can visit our Kickstarter here.
We hugely appreciate your donations, or even just spreading the word to others who might enjoy the game!
If fully funded, Cognition‘s first episode should be out around June 2012. To learn more about Phoenix Online Studios, click here. You can also visit the official website for Cognition or the official Kickstarter page.