Interview with A Quiet Weekend In Capri Developers
Gey and Silvio Savarese
by Laura MacDonald
I spend a great deal of time reading through game press updates, publisher notes and the web in general for news on games. Despite these searches there are always a few games that seemingly surface from nowhere. These are typically independent projects by a small group, many the work of just one person. They vary in quality, but generally lack the support to finance high-end production values. Some are fair but raise expectations for future work. Others I would rate fairly well done, though I do give them a bit of a break over more costly factors such as graphics, sound effects and such. But there are always a select few that turn out to be true jewels in the rough. A Quiet Weekend In Capri certainly falls onto that select group. It has a slide show presentation fairly similar to Golden Gate and some other classic games. What sparkles about Capri, is the story, the tightly constructed game play, wonderful music, vistas and open ended game play. The website tells you that Gey and Silvio Savarese crafted this game. But that is about all I came away with. Curious about them, I did my typical web sleuthing and came up with…nothing. Hmmm, there is time travel in their game – maybe they …no – that’s too weird. So rather than continue with my endless speculation, I contacted them and set up a chance to talk with them both. I will tell you that they are the first father (Gey) and son (Silvio) team I had met, and both have very impressive backgrounds. I think you will be as taken with this remarkable duo as I was.
LM: Hello Gey and Silvio! Let’s talk about you. What is your background in work and such?
Gey: Hello Laura, Well, I have worked for more than 25 years with Texas Instruments, then with Micron Technology. I was Director of R&D in Italy and for some products, the worldwide manager. My job was designing integrated circuits (chips). I was working in Nice (France), later close to Rome.
LM: Silvio, I understand you are living in Pasadena, attending school at Cal Tech?
Silvio: Well yeah. I came here on an Italian fellowship to work in Electrical Engineering. So while I was working on my undergrad studies in Electrical Engineering, I got to know some professors here. So it was easier for me to get accepted. Then I applied to graduate school. I am now working on my doctorate.
LM: So I’ll have to call you Dr. Silvio from now on! How has it been getting to work together on this project?
Gey: We had to work at distance. Silvio is in California; he comes to Italy twice a year. We had to work with e-mails and over the web. But we went together to Jovis for that part of the game. The maze is a game in the game. There are 500+ pictures there. Jovis is a maze even if you go there in reality. But it was not really work for us; it was a lot of fun! We had so many discussions sometime! Silvio is very demanding; he pushed me strong to get what he wanted.
Silvio: Heh - heh!
LM: So how did the two of you decide to get involved in creating this game?
Silvio: It started when I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13. I was playing the Scott Adams games back then. I liked the adventures I played so much – I started creating my own adventure games with a friend of mine. I would sketch ideas and places. Then I would test them on my schoolmates. I would say what do you see. A door, ok the door is locked – now what are you going to do? We really spent a lot of time doing these things. Then later on I designed them for birthday parties and gatherings. I would design big adventures for like 30 people. So to me it is natural to be using this language to create games. I always liked the structure of adventure games. But I wanted to design something more involved than a Myst game. A game should be something to escape from your every day life.
LM: What was your first step?
Silvio: We started with the idea of taking pictures of the island. We then used those pictures and started playing around, created some atmosphere, to see if it was convincing. This was about 80% of the effort then. My Dad was more involved with the programming part and I focused more on the plot and the storyline. Building an adventure game is more than just putting together a couple of puzzles. To us you need to have something that is logical as to how the plot line is developed. Everything in the game should make sense. Soon we had enough to create a little demo from that work. We then asked for all the permissions to publish these pictures. We had to get them, because, otherwise we couldn’t use them.
Gey: We wanted to do something with a real, interesting story. Then we decided on the technology. My background is hardware design, not software. So I selected an easy programming language. We wanted to focus on pictures, on plot, not in solving technology problems. If Scott Adams designed wonderful games with text only, a simple technology should have been sufficient for what we had planned.
LM: Who wrote the story line? One or both of you?
Gey: The main idea came from Silvio. I just fine-tuned the story. We also needed to design a very consistent new Capri world. No flaws, everything had to be very logical.
LM: The story is definitely sci-fi. Were there any particular writers that influenced or inspired?
Gey: I am quite an expert on science fiction. My favorite authors are Robert Scheckley, Jack Vance and of course, Isaac Asimov. We were quite familiar with time warp, time machines and so on. When I met Felice the plumber (who is the plumber who did my house in Capri, by the way) and I saw that old hydraulic machine, I thought immediately: this must be our time machine!
Silvio: I inherited my love for SF from my Dad. We also tried to add some sense of humor to the story. We thought: we didn’t want to take ourselves too seriously
LM: Since you are from Naples – why center the game in Capri?
Silvio: We want to set the story in a closed world - Capri is perfect with her little narrow roads, no cars
Gey: Capri is naturally good for adventure videogame because it has very narrow alleys. We wanted to give the player the chance to go everywhere. Since Capri had narrow alleys and walkways, this helped to limit the possibilities. And of course Capri is... Capri!
LM: It does represent a mysterious exotic setting - and yep cars - I could see where you would want a place that limited the traffic you would have to contend with.
Gey: Yes, fewer cars. But the one difficult thing was to shoot pictures with no people around. Sometimes I waited half an hour or more, waiting for people to get out of a scene. Sometimes I just decided to cancel them out digitally.
LM: I understand the Capri Municipality had some involvement with this project?
Gey: Capri Municipality just gave us the permission to shoot pictures at Villa Fersen, Augustus Garden and at the Library. They liked the idea, but the idea of a game based in Capri was ours. You know, Capri is so well known; there is no need of additional publicity for the island. The Municipality set up a couple of events to advertise the CDs.
Silvio: Even when we first spoke with the Chamber, they did not understand what we were talking about. When you say “game” they think, what do you mean? They only thought a game involved shooting and this kind of thing. We had to explain, “No this is an adventure game, very quiet – very peaceful! You cannot get killed in it “ After that of course, the Municipality did like the project and gave us some support by advertising the project in Capri and things like that. Securing all the film permissions was very critical for the game too. For example, at the beginning of the game, your character was supposed to get to the piazzetta using the cable car. But the cable bus company refused to give us permission and we had the tourist take the cab instead!
LM: That sounds like a challenge. Speaking of which, the plot for Capri game was very complex and definitely challenging to play through.
Silvio: Well we did not want to design too easy of a game. We wanted something that people could tackle to squeeze their brain a little bit, but in a positive way. There are some video games that are out that are almost impossible to solve. You end up getting really frustrated with the game. In this game if you are patient and give yourself enough time – you should be able to solve it. The Publisher in Europe said "Why don’t you do something to make the game more commercial", so we came up with the idea of the contest.
Gey: Non-linearity was a big must for us. It has been very very very difficult to design this into the game. We had to take into consideration ALL possible cases. But, non-linearity gives the player total freedom to do what he wants. In almost every picture there is the "turn" command to change direction and your mind.
Silvio: We were very pleased to read in some forum discussions that people appreciated this feature - some of them said: “this is one of the best games I've played in the past few years!” This is such an honor for us!
LM: I really enjoyed this aspect of the game. To me it was so much more natural and free for the game play. Speaking of the contest. How was the response to the contest? Were there a lot of competitors from Europe as well? I did see it was a US team that won.
Gey: Yes, there were many competitors. But, very few of them actually finished the game! We designed the game to be a little difficult, deliberately. We wanted the same kind of challenge as in Myst. One of the persons of the team that won our contest plans on coming to Capri next year.
LM: That’s great! I was also thinking about your characters. There was a member at GB who went to Capri after they had finished your game. They were quite excited to run into people who were featured characters. What has been the response of these "actors" to perhaps being famous or recognized?
Silvio: Actually, it is quite impressive if you go there. Sometimes when I am in Capri and I see this guy walking around there it is quite strange. For the gamers who played Capri, going there and finding these are the actual people who live and work there must be fun.
LM: Has anyone gone up to some of them and asked them for secret codes and stuff. I mean do they go to the bakery and say “OK give me the recipe for the cake now!”
Silvio: Yeah ha-ha-ha-ha
Gey: Capri is so international that this was not the first experience for many of them. The taxi driver, the deli man, and others have appeared in magazines many times. For example, the red taxi is the oldest taxi in Capri. It is very famous. Two of the people in the game, Mata Haprik and Gravitiello are actually actors. They are good friends of mine for many years. She is a lawyer, plays the guitars and sings Neapolitan songs. Mata Haprik played the dark lady! She hits the player, this is the only (quite mild indeed) violent act in the game... even the war is just mentioned in Capri.
Silvio: I think it was very much fun for Capri's townsfolk as well. They loved to play the game and find themselves in it.
Gey: They do like that. But they like much more to walk around in virtual reality in their town! They are crazy about that.
LM: Cool! Have many of them played or seen the game yet?
Gey: I believe it has been the world "first" in videogames of real people playing themselves in a real place. Yes, the Capri people gather at Libreria Faiella and play the game on a laptop available in the shop. Once they went crazy: because they did not know where this Villa Jole was. It is an almost unknown place, at the far end of a lonely road. They asked the policemen, went to the town hall. This game is a mix of gaming and real life. Particularly when they play it in Capri
Silvio: The game is a staple at the bookstore. So it is always there and the laptop is on. And all the people can go there and play the game
LM: That is funny! So do they argue over the plot or the characters while they are playing?
Gey: They argue over the places. They got mad if there is a place they do not know where it is. Also they like to recognize the streets where they live. Practically ALL Capri pedestrian areas are included.
Silvio: Yeah, the game is a real blend of the invented and real life. But, the war between Capri and Anacapri didn't come up out of the blue. In the past, Capritans really used to resent Anacapritans - now we can't say that anymore, of course.
Gey: Well, even now they do not like each other too much. Today, there is a sort of healthy competition between them.
LM: Aha, so this is perhaps a hint of what is to come in the next game?
Gey: Ah the next game! Yes, it will be set in Anacapri. They are now pushing for that. Anacapri always wants to have what Capri has. We have done all the groundwork. The most difficult thing was to secure permission from the representatives of the King of Sweden to shoot pictures of Villa San Michele. We just got it two days ago!
LM: Oh excellent!
Gey: Yes, the permission came in through the Axel Munthe Foundation. Axel Munthe was a doctor-writer who built Villa San Michele, and then he donated it to the King of Sweden at his death. Villa San Michele will be a key place in Anacapri.
LM: Since we are talking about Anacapri. What else can you tell about the game at this point?
Gey: Silvio has already designed a very intriguing plot. It is not written with much detail yet, but is there. It will be very different from the Capri story. We can say that Anacapri has many other beautiful and strange places. I am in love with the new plot.
LM: Is the Blue Grotto going to be in the sequel?
Silvio: Oh yes! This next game will be more involved with the surrounding area. We will be using boats and the sea around the island. The setting will be a bit different than in the first game. We plan on having areas accessible by boat, by bus, by taxi.
LM: Oh that sounds great! Any idea where you are in the development timeline?
Gey: Well we still have to decide when we will do it. Silvio is more willing than me... he does not want to deceive our new fans. I am more practical, looking for a bit more commercial success with the first game. In any case, we need to wait the spring to shoot nice pictures. I can say that where Capri is based on “time”, Anacapri will be based on “dreams”! Silvio, could you expand a bit?
LM: Oh I love that twist!
Silvio: Well, yes. The idea is to set the story in 2 parallel developments. The gamer and the world in his/her dream... oops - maybe I shouldn't disclose that much...The story goes on between these 2 worlds and hints in one serve to solve puzzles in the other one...
Gey: Ha-ha - We do not want to spoil the plot, but we can say: when you remember something, you cannot make any difference between remembering a dream and remembering the reality...
LM: Well I am intrigued already!! I want to thank you both for taking the time to talk with me. I am sure people will enjoy this chance to get to know you both and learn some back ground on the Capri game and some news on your next game as well.
Gey: Wonderful!! Also, thank you because we had fun in this chat!
Silvio: Oh yes, it was really great to talk with you.
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