Interview with Djamil Kremal – Marketing Director and Developer for Lexis Numerique

Ah, Lexis Numerique. Developers of the first PC game I have enjoyed since Dracula: Resurrection. And guess what? Both games happened to be published by The Adventure Company, who also gave me Necronomicon, and Seven Gates of the Soul. Generally if it’s a The Adventure Company game, I’ll actually consider it. Budget prices, but incredible games that make this “console only” gamer load stuff onto his PC or Laptop.

I reviewed MISSING last July and salivated over it. I contacted Tara Reed over at The Adventure Company and asked if I could do an interview with someone since this is one of the most unique and innovative games EVER. I highly suggested reading the review before you go on, and if either of these articles piques your interest, I heartily suggest going to buy it. At 20$, you are going to have a hard time finding a better deal in gaming right now.

Here now is my Interview with Djamil Kremal. Please note Lexis Numerique is a European games design company, and that Djmail and I may talk about games and products that North American readers may not be familiar with. If this is the case, shoot me a line and I’d be happy to fill you in. Again, reading my review of MISSING will give you a better understand of so things that may seem unclear to you if you read this first.

HBK: What other games have you guys at Lexis worked on? I’m only familiar with MISSING.

DK: Ironically, we used to specialize in kids’ games. We released a lot of kids’ games either original ones (the Uncle Albert series) or licenses for UbiSoft, Disney or Emme.

HBK: Why the name change from the European release of “In Memoriam” to “MISSING: Since January?”

DK: We felt that “In Memoriam” sounded a bit too intellectual for the U.S. In addition, we would have loved to have called it “MISSING” in Europe, the thing is that “MISSING” doesn’t mean anything in most of the European languages.

HBK: What do you think of the comparisons between “MISSING” and the Electronic Arts game, “Majestic?

DK: Majestic was a great idea. For us, it didn’t succeed for a few reasons:

– its episode-based system
– its being online only, which made it really hard to create an attractive world (no media)
– the general background story that appealed a lot to male teenagers, but might have lacked the appeal of older women.

HBK: Games that featured FMV (Full Motion Video) had their heyday back in the days of the Sega CD (Mega Drive CD) system. Games like Sherlock Holmes, Dracula Unleashed, Night Trap and Mad Dog McCree. Were you afraid the use of FMV might make the game feel dated, even though it makes it feel like the events in MISSING are real and not a game at all?

DK: In fact, we didn’t see the question in those terms. The question was to make sure it would match the concept. As the main hero is a journalist, we felt it would make sense to have him make his own films. In addition, Eric Viennot, the author and director, wanted the players to believe in the characters and make them want to actually save them.

So, the question resulted in trying to do films of the best possible quality with actors that play in a very believable way.

At the end of the day, would you like to save a great 3D model or a real great-looking endangered girl?

HBK: I’ve heard MISSING being referred to as “Shadowgate meets Manhunt.” Do you feel that’s an accurate generalization?

DK: Well, we’d rather put it as CSI (for the analyzing elements) meets Silence of the Lambs (for the atmosphere and the movie dimension).

HBK: How did you come about deciding to do a video game based on internet surfing and research?

DK: The idea of MISSING came from a very special experience Eric (one of the team members on MISSING) had a few years ago. He did an Internet search on an author’s name, and he ended up on a confidential site. This gave him the very exciting feeling that he was somewhat of a hacker. One thing led to another, and he found out loads of things about this guy who -as it turned out – had a namesake.

But for a few hours, he was actually experiencing the thrill of a real-life detective story. This convinced him that the Internet could be used in a way that very few people tested before. It also convinced him that playing yourself instead of a super-hero or a super-detective creates something very, very, very special.

Regarding the video sequences, Eric strongly believes that the player strongly needs to have real feelings towards the character. For MISSING, the best way was to have real actors.

HBK: How hard was it to rig Google so the right pages came up first?

DK: Quite hard indeed :-) In fact, we had to create tons of fake pages and make sure that every second week the referencing is efficient.

HBK: The thing I like most about this game is that it feels real. Like you’re not actually playing a game. How hard was it to make a game that blurred the lines between reality and fantasy and do you feel this will eventually become its own genre of gaming?

DK: Thanks a lot for the comment! It’s exactly what we tried to do. Basically, our feeling is that when you play a super-hero or a super-detective, there will always be something between you and the game universe.

That’s precisely why we decided to make the player the hero of the game.

To do that, we paid very special attention to the first 5 minutes of the game, be it the way we brought the online registration or the warning before the first video.

HBK: On some cases, when you look up specific phrases to help you find answers on Google, the first page that shoots up is a walkthrough/spoiler for the game. I feel this really knocks you out of the realistic feel of the game. Is there anything that can be done to prevent that?

DK: Yes. We are very concerned by that point.

When playing, we recommend using the SKL search engine (MSN). Moreover, we are developing new fake sites every month so that the walkthroughs and spoilers should appear further in the list. This takes some time though.

HBK: How did you cast for the parts of Jack Lorski and Karen Gijman? Was it different from how companies do casting for voice actors in games? What made you choose these two actors?

DK: We asked a professional movie caster to do it for us. We were looking for actors who:

– were not famous (to make it more realistic)
– who had a face that matched their role
– who could carry emotions just by being present and acting even without dialogues.

At the end of the day, we saw about 30 people for Jack and the same for Karen and we’re quite happy with our choice.

HBK: I know when I played I emailed one of the characters who I thought was just an automatically generated email, I was shocked and pleased to find there was a real person on the other end. When did you decide to have real people play NPC roles in the game?

DK: In fact it is a full part of the concept. The thing is that even with a full staff, we can’t answer 100% of the emails. Currently, we answer about 80% of the emails.

HBK: How many of the websites that you have to visit in the game are real, and how many are designed solely for the purpose of helping people figure out the riddles contained in MISSING?

DK: This is quite hard to tell because most of the riddles are based on real facts. The main reason why we decided to create fake sites is that we wanted to make sure that even in 3 years the solutions could be found.

As of today, there are about 300 sites linked to the riddles. All the same, many of them are found by very few players.

We wanted to leave space for secondary intrigues that are not necessary for the game but that bring additional information about a few murders.

HBK: In a few years will there still be support for this game? I mean, if I load it onto a new comp in say, 2009 and want to play it for old times sake, what is the likelihood the emails will still come to my inbox or the web pages made for the game will still be up?

DK: Yes :-)

Basically, all the must-be-seen pages are hosted on servers we own or rent and as long as we’re still alive we’ll have the opportunity to keep them online.

As for the emails, many of them are automatically generated by our server and the game A.I.

HBK: How many people have found the main SKL website, or any of the other pages made for MISSING and have treated them as if they are real?

DK: This is quite an embarrassing question :-) In fact, we even had to issue a press release acknowledging that it was fake. A funny story about it is that several journalists thought SKL was real and wrote papers about the company.

HBK: The ending is pretty open ended. Are you planning to develop a second game and make MISSING a series? Or do you feel that will ruin the realism feel of the game?

DK: I’m afraid I can’t answer this right now, but we’ll bring new good surprises :-)

HBK: What other games are you going to be developing in the near future?

DK: We’ve just begun working on a 3D adventure game (“code L.I.”) that will also be quite innovative. In a totally different field, we’re working on InCrazyBall, a funny party game in which you handle a ball and that supports most FPS multiplayer gaming modes.

I’d like to thanks Djamil From Lexis Numerique for taking time out to talk with me, and Tara Reed from at The Adventure Company for helping me set up the interview. Check out both companies web site’s for more information about their games.