Hal Barwood, from "Fate of Atlantis" to "Mata Hari"

Τετάρτη, 25 Φεβρουαρίου 2009, Συντάκτης Dream Specialist, Fallen Angel

Hal Barwood, from "Fate of Atlantis" to "Mata Hari"

Welcome to Adventure Advocate and thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us. Although most of our readers know perfectly well who you are, could you introduce yourself to those who might be a bit too young to know you?

I'm a game designer and writer. I used to work at LucasArts, but now I'm a freelancer. I've been playing and making games since I was a little kid, a long time ago.

Tell us a couple of things about your company, Finite Arts. How did it come to be and what was the reason for its establishment?

Finite Arts is a California Corporation that's 28 years old. It's original purpose was to "loan out" my services as a screenwriter, producer, and director in Hollywood, but now it does the same for my designing and writing jobs in the games business. Fundamentally it's simply a legal way of minimizing my tax obligations.

Let us talk a bit about the past before we talk about the present. Do you miss the Indiana Jones days? Do you believe that at that time the gaming industry was purer and thus better than today's one?

I remember them fondly, but I don't miss them. Remember, computer and console games were pretty crude back then, handicapped by anemic hardware and very poor understanding of how to organize production. The only thing going for the old days was this: game sales weren't driven by hits. Almost anything published could make some money. The freedom and creativity that came with the confidence borne of that fact was intoxicating.

There is a rumor out there that the Fate of Atlantis was due to be made as a movie and only after that idea was rejected, was it handed over to you to shape it into an adventure game. Is this really what actually happened?

The rumor is false. I was hired by Lucasfilm Games (the company that turned into LucasArts) to design and supervise a new Jones game to follow Last Crusade, and indeed, I was handed a rejected movie script as the basis for it. After reading the script, I decided it had been rejected for a reason. Noah Falstein and I then came up with the original idea for Fate of Atlantis. I wrote up a treatment, and the company was enthusiastic. They seemed very relieved not to have to use the rejected script, and I don't blame them.

Why did you leave LucasArts back then? Why didn't you participate in the development of any other games for LucasArts after the great success of FoA?

Well, I stayed at LucasArts for 13-plus years and made several other games there. I only made one Star Wars title, though - Yoda Stories - a replayable action-adventure, what we now call a "casual game" long before there were such things.

In the last couple of years we have had the pleasure of seeing some legendary designers of the old times (such as Chris Jones, Dave Gilbert, Bill Tiller, Jane Jensen, etc.) being involved in upcoming adventure(-ish) projects. Do you consider this a sign of the adventure genre being somewhat rejuvenated?

Yup, and Dave Grossman, Steve Ince, Noah, others too. No doubt about it, adventures are coming back.

What was it that delayed your own comeback for so long? Was it maybe a matter of worthy material, circumstantial obstacles or something entirely different?

I love games that tell stories, but not just adventure games. Some of my favorites are filled with combat, platform jumping, lots of action. Even in the early nineties I could see that adventure games were on the decline, so after Fate I turned my attention to other ideas. I didn't return to the fold until Mata Hari.

Are there any adventure game designers currently on the business whose work you personally consider remarkable?

I love 'em all.

What do you think about the adventure-developing business that seems to have overcome Germany as of late? Could we be dealing with a newly founded school of adventure designing as opposed to or in continuation to the American one?

I don't know enough to evaluate what's happening industry-wide in Germany or America. Germany has certainly been a stronghold over the years. (Fate sold more units there than anywhere.) I've been told that the adventure game market is now saturated with titles, and we should antiticape a retrenchment. Here in the States the casual game market seems to be driving the renaissance. When you think about it, the people who like adventure games and those who like casual games in general are often the same.

Do you get regularly updated on news concerning upcoming adventures? Maybe spend some time with the recently released ones?

Oh sure.

Do you think it is possible for someone to write a story for an adventure game without being an adventure gamer himself?

Anything's possible. Learning how to tell a story in game terms isn't easy, but among game types adventures have the most intimate connection to storytelling, so it's probably the easiest transition, if someone were coming from another field.

Could you place for us the following basic elements of an adventure game in order of importance: puzzles, story, characters and visuals?

I'll do it, but please understand I don't think like this: story, characters, visuals, puzzles. For me these ingredients aren't just important, they're all essential. In pondering the design of an adventure game, the order I'm giving is the most fruitful approach. Puzzles come last, not because they're unimportant, but because their design depends on the deeper foundations.

In our forums we have a debate concerning the remake of classic adventure titles of the old times. Would you be willing to participate in the remake of your past successful games in order for them to be appealing to younger adventure gamers as well?

I would not. Let's all move on! It's just as easy to light a new fire as stir the embers of an old success.

In one of your interviews we have read that you have a soft spot for action-adventures. Would you explain to us this fondness and name a game of the said category that captured you or one that you are eagerly anticipating?

I don't think there's an explanation. Action seems natural in most games, especially when the software enforces all the rules as if they were laws of nature. And I don't mind mashing my thumbs on a controller. Here are some titles (among many) I've liked over the years: Zelda Ocarina of Time, Rayman 2, Sly Cooper and the Thievious Raccoonus, Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank, ICO, Beyond Good & Evil, God of War.

And this brings us to the Mata Hari game. Since you are an action-adventure fan yourself, how come did you decide to design a point 'n' click adventure? Is that maybe why the mini games were inserted into Mata's gameplay to begin with?

Although Noah Falstein and I designed Mata, we were hired by dtp Entertainment for the purpose. They were looking for a modern adventure game, and we were excited to revisit this game category. Cooking up minigames was part of the assignment; the fact that some of them are action in disguise is partly my influence, I suppose.

How come you chose to tell the story of Mata Hari? Also, are there any similarities between her and the character of Indiana Jones?

dtp brought us the bare-bones concept of a game about the glamorous courtesan/spy, and we wove a workable story around her. My standard answer regarding similarities between Jones & MH is ... they both wear hats.

How strongly related is the character of Mata Hari that appears in the game to the Mata Hari known to us from history?

Very close, I think, although we altered the circumstances in which her character operates. She was a beautiful, smart, talented, reckless and independent woman who kept her wits about her. A modern woman trapped in the Belle Epoque, when ladies were still decoration, before they could vote. History declares that she only took up espionage late in her career, when her fading charms were no longer sufficient to command the support of wealthy lovers. She may have thought spying was another form of theater. Anyway, she was naive, she miscalculated, she got caught. Not much fun to play that game, I'm afraid. So we thought, let's give players the chance to perfect Mata's career, to re-write history.

How is your cooperation with Noah Falstein? Is it any different from the one you had when working on Indiana Jones?

We're friends as well as collaborators, then and now. Back in the days of Fate, Noah ushered me into the professional game development world, explaining some of the mysteries of production. This time, we've both got many years under our belts, so most of our communication takes the form of old-pro shorthand.

Why has the release of the game been delayed? What were the problems you were facing while designing it?

I'm unaware of any recent delays. The original development studio, 4Head, ran into financial difficulties and turned into Cranberry. That caused a delay as the troops re-organized, but after that a release in German-speaking territories was always set for late 08, with English (and maybe others) to follow, I believe.

On the website of the game we read that "In the historical records, Mata was caught and executed. Will the player succeed in improving her performance? Will he prevent Matas imminent execution?" Does this mean that depending on the player's decision a different ending will be given to the game or maybe that there are deaths in the game?

No deaths, no different endings. I wish. On the other hand, the threat is always there, and if the player abandons the game unfinished ... well, goodbye, girl!

And what about the scoring system? Do you also believe this is the best way to give replayability value to adventure games and all new releases should employ it?

I'm not ready to write any prescriptions for other people's games. There are a number of little side quests and skill development opportunities in Mata that contribute to our heroine's "personal advancement". Depending on the score, slightly different fates await her after the game ends. I think scoring is a good way to engage players who obsess over every little detail. Fate had a scoring system, as have many of my other games over the years. It's not essential.

And finally, a tricky question about Mata: what would you personally say is the best aspect of the game that will win our hearts over?

The beautiful scenes, the intricate spy tasks, Mata's strength of character!

Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

I'm glad to see such current interest in adventures. My old love affair has been re-ignited.

Thank you for your time. It was a real pleasure. We wish you all the best in all your future projects and we hope to see lots of your games out there again.

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