Interview with Kevin Mentz of Daedalic Entertainment, who designed the recent “Memoria” and is now designing the new game “Devil’s Men”
by Peter Rootham-Smith
GB: How did you get into making games?
KM: I wanted to make games since I was six years old. Back then I dreamt of becoming a background artist for Sierra-style graphic adventures and I was absolutely certain that all I needed was my father to buy me a scanner and I could jump right into full-scale production of my first game. Things weren’t that easy, of course. After school I studied creative writing and film and worked on some RPG-Maker games in my spare time. It did not occur to me that I might end up living my childhood dream one day – that is, until I saw that Daedalic was looking for game design interns and all my old ambitions suddenly resurfaced.
GB: What kind of games do you like playing yourself?
KM: I like games with strong narratives, and with differing approaches to story-telling. I like Adventure games, I like role-playing games, I also like Bioshock Infinite which is a first-person shooter but with an interesting premise. Basically I like interesting settings and interesting stories, and it helps if the gameplay is very engaging!
GB: What influences your designing?
KM: “The Devil’s Men” game was especially influenced by two works. One was “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman, I read that and liked the atmosphere. I wanted to make a game in a similar British setting. The other one is “The Prestige” by Christopher Nolan, a movie about two rival magicians in the nineteenth century. I liked the feel, and how friendship turned into something darker through the course of the story as they got into conflict. Those were the two most important influences. Other influences include Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, as well as his “Sally Lockhart” crime mysteries.
GB: Do you ever wish for a 9 to 5 job?
KM: For me it is a 9 to 5 job, but sometimes I have to stay longer. Usually I keep it between those times. It’s a very great privilege to write my own stories, and develop them into games. So no, I don’t want a different job.
GB: That’s interesting - many game developers work all the hours going.
KM: There are times when you have to work more, but we’re getting better and better to stay within reasonable working hours.
GB: Where do you work?
KM: There were times when I preferred writing in quiet from home. But nowadays I and Matt Kempke have moved into what we call “The Writing Room” of Daedalic. There we can work in peace, discuss ideas for our games, and are still easily addressable by our team (if they need feedback or briefings). The hardest part is always switching between creative writing and team communication, but currently I think we found a good balance to get things done on both levels.
GB: How are games planned and managed at Daedalic?
KM: We have very small teams. So there is a lot of self-organisation. Everyone has to take a good amount of responsibility for what they do.
GB: Who do you make games for? Yourself?
KM: They are not only for me, of course, but I enjoy making the kind of games I myself would love to play. The sad thing is that you will never play your own games without knowing every little detail beforehand. There are no surprises anymore. I guess, you need to forget a lot about the production, before you can even start experiencing the game the way others hopefully do.
GB: What excites you about “The Devil’s Men”, the game you’re working on?
KM: It’s the characters, it’s a lot about the characters, a lot about the relationships between the characters. That’s the thing that’s the most fun, that you as a player get to influence those relationships. In my previous game (“Memoria”) there was a lot of spectacle, a lot of epicness in there. So there were points where the characters weren’t that important, the relationships did not have enough space to develop as much as I wanted them to. For “The Devil’s Men” I invested a lot of time into character relationships and character development, and I really enjoyed doing that.
GB: Do you work on more than one game at the same time?
KM: No, I only work on one game. Otherwise I would probably go mad.
GB: What are the important features of a game?
KM: The beauty about games is that it’s a fusion of all arts. If the music is right then the graphics look better. If you don’t have any music then the graphics look slightly less good. You have music, you have gameplay, you have story, you have text, all these things come together to create one thing and they are mostly all equal. Often people consider the visuals very important first, then after that the content and entire feel.
GB: How important is contact with Adventure game fans?
KM: That is of course very important. Nowadays we have the Internet and I get a lot of feedback from players. I read actively, I research what people have said about games I worked on so I can improve. So I know what worked and what didn’t work. It’s a great opportunity to improve your own work.
GB: Is now a good or bad time to be making games?
KM: I don’t think it’s worse or better than before; it’s a very exciting time right now. There’s the indie scene, and especially there are a lot of people considering how story-telling can work with games. So right now we’re making huge steps, and things are getting very experimental and very interesting. But we also have enough experience to build on, to make the games better and better.
GB: Would you recommend making games as a career?
KM: That’s a hard question - depends on the person. I was very lucky to get into the games industry. It’s not easy and it’s also a lot of work and very stressful. It’s not as glamorous as you may think at first. It’s really a lot of work and struggling.
GB: Can games say things?
KM: Of course. Like a movie is able to say important things, or a book can have a moral or theme that is discussed, you can also discuss things through the things the player has to do, through the gameplay. So I think this is very important to not only be entertaining but to add a certain thematical depth to your games. To make it more meaningful for the player in the long run.
GB: Can games be Art?
GB: Will you still be making games in ten years time?
GB: Were you involved with the “Chains of Satinav” game?
KM: I did a bit of proof-reading, and I rewrote some of the dialogues. It wasn’t until “Memoria” that I got fully invested into production of a “Dark Eye” game.
GB: Was it difficult to do the sequel to “Chains of Satinav”?
KM: It was difficult, but it was also easy if you had some kind of pattern that you could build upon. So one of the huge challenges, and also the biggest joys in developing the game, was to figure out how I could use everything that was established in “Chains of Satinav” and make something new with it. So I had all those puzzle pieces in front of me, and I had to build a new story that was entirely my own, but still worked as a sequel. But also worked as a game that you could play for itself, so you didn’t have to play “Chains of Satinav”. I like to have a lot of things fixed before I start working on a project, rather than just having a blank sheet of paper and having to make up everything.
GB: Was it difficult to come up with the ending to “Memoria”?
KM: Basically I had a rough idea for the ending. That is, I knew where everything was going to move to, but for quite some time it was all very vague. It was an OK ending with a nice little twist, but nothing more. So, I was thinking about this for weeks and weeks. One day I just sat around relaxing when it struck me. Suddenly everything fell into place.
GB: It does end unhappily perhaps for most of the characters.
KM: It depends on how you interpret it. For example, the Nuri / Geron ending gave you a choice, so you could influence the ending, and decide what you thought would be the right thing to do. In that case it is up to you, really.
GB: “Memoria” had a nice elegiac feel to it. Would there ever be a sequel?
KM: I have an idea for a sequel, and I made sure to establish enough in “Memoria” to motivate in a sequel. But for now there are no plans to go into production with it. But that doesn’t mean that it will never happen. I for my part would love to work on another “Dark Eye” game.
GB: Daedalic have done at least 4 games in the Dark Eye universe.
KM: A lot of people who work at Daedalic used to play the Dark Eye pen and paper game. First there was “Chains of Satinav”, then we did “Blackguards”. And afterwards it was sequels. So we have two Dark Eye games, and decided to make sequels (Blackguards 2 and Memoria), so just building on that.
GB: Aventuria (the Dark Eye world) is a mirror of our own world in some ways.
KM: The story is focusing on our relationship to the past, to memories and history. And that’s something which is not only apparent in our culture, but all kinds of cultures. As we are humans, as we are people, we make experiences and we define ourselves by what we experience, by what our memories mean to us. That was the theme that is very relevant for each one of us, that was the focus of the story.
GB: So the name of the game “Memoria” reflects the theme.
KM: Yes, it does. On multiple levels.
GB: Moving on to “The Devil’s Men” you stressed the choices the player will have, which is something “Dreamfall Chapters” is also allowing. There the choices won’t affect the ending you reach, but will affect which other characters you reach it with.
KM: Compared to “Memoria” it’s the complete opposite with “The Devil’s Men”. In most other Daedalic games you have one linear path, then a decision at the end. You have all these decisions, and paths, then one ending. I found different endings always a bit annoying. Mostly because they lose their meaning once the player just makes a save game before deciding and then just clicks through all the possible endings without the feeling of having made an investment in one particular ending. Or, if you didn’t design the decision well, you may end up with two endings that are not equally powerful, with one ending being better than the others. If the players then ends up with the less satisfying ending, it is their right to feel cheated or disappointed. Everyone always wants to experience the best possible ending. So, “The Devil’s Men” will have different paths leading to one specific ending. And there will only be that one ending, so you can fully enjoy the finale as it was meant to be without feeling like missing out on something.
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