The Intricate Worlds of RHEM: An Interview with Developer Knut Müller

 by Becky Waxman


Can you describe briefly how/why you became a game developer?


From 1985 to 1993 I studied painting/graphics (at both the undergraduate and Master’s Degree level) at the College of Fine Arts in Leipzig.  During that time I became interested in music/composition.  Therefore I started additional studies in electronic music at the College of Music in Dresden.  The most frequently used tool in the studio of electronic music at the college was the Apple Macintosh Computer, so I got familiar with it and bought one.  I discovered a freeware "Myst-like" (Mac only) adventure game, "Das Tor der Minerva" (The Gate of Minerva).  I was fascinated by this game and got the idea to make such a game by myself.



What was your chief inspiration for the RHEM games?


The beginning step in creating the RHEM games was to make contact with the developer of "The Gate of Minerva", Stephan Stoske.  He was very friendly and helpful.  The greatest help for me was to know that it's possible, that one man alone can make such a game.

The chief inspiration for the RHEM games – that’s not easy to say, because there are so many influences and ideas that come together in the world of RHEM.  I remember myself as a 10-year-old boy, drawing castles and architectural ideas on large sheets of paper.  I think that was the true beginning of the creation of RHEM.



How much do you think about the gamer as you construct a game?  Have you ever been surprised by the reaction of gamers to various aspects of your games?

The reactions of gamers are very important to me.  I learn much about developing the puzzles by listening to the questions of the testers and the gamers.  In that dialog I try to create puzzles (difficult but solvable) and to design an interesting environment.



What process do you go through when you are plotting out game environments?  Do you create a map first, or are you inspired to create individual spaces, and later connect them?

Most parts of the game environments grow like a tree.  At the beginning of the development it's a collection of puzzles, a storyline, a rough draft of some locations and a detailed draft of one or two rooms in the arrival area.  Then I work directly in 3D, designing the rooms from the view of the gamer.  During that process, the design of the rooms changes sometimes.  In that way I'm able to add new design ideas and parts of new puzzles.  I don't exactly separate the drafting process and the execution.  The goal is to create the gameworld as an organic structure, grown by its own rules.



Do you use any particular strategies or techniques to draw the gamer into the gameworld and encourage him/her to explore the game environments?


Designing a game is like composing music or writing a story (or any similar creative process).  Similar "abstract" rules apply, for example: dramatic effect, proportion of time and space, the relationship between surprise and logic....  The gamer needs something with which to identify in order to build a relationship to the gameworld.  He/she also needs a quest and never-before-seen-/unknown rooms or buildings to awaken curiosity.  The best result is when the player never experiences the feeling of playing a game, but instead feels as though he/she is exploring an unknown world.  I try to create the world of RHEM so that the player thinks: "I can unravel the mysterious structure and story of this world with my own mind, using only the revelations and hints within this world."



How do you get ideas for puzzles?


I get the ideas at different places and in different situations.  For example -- during a
visit to a museum, while reading a book, sitting in a train and looking outside, or playing
another game.  I write those ideas on small pieces of paper and collect all in a folder.  During the design process for RHEM 2, I'd looked in this folder sometimes and choose a draft of a puzzle.



Will the puzzles in RHEM 2 be similar in style to those in the original RHEM?  Will they be about the same difficulty?


The puzzles in RHEM 2 and RHEM 1 are based on similar ideas, because they are based on the same gameworld, the world of RHEM.  The unity of puzzle and gameworld is very important for me.  All the puzzles are logical; the gamer needs no special know-how, only simple, common knowledge about mathematics and physics.  But he/she needs the powers of observation and patience.  He/she will need to draw comparisons between different things and to digest many strands of data.  Maybe the RHEM 2 puzzles are a little bit more difficult than in RHEM.



I've been admiring some RHEM 2 screenshots - muted, eerie colors, repeated geometrical forms.  There's an industrial "feel" to the environments, with an emphasis on order and balance.  Is this the mood you are trying to create? 

I like this early industrial style, rusty gates and wooden doors, old stone walls, pipes and
poles, ladders and lamps, railways and mechanisms....  Many of the puzzles refer to these
items.  Before starting to design the RHEM-world, I already knew: "RHEM will have this industrial feel."  In my hometown, Leipzig, there are many such "nice" places.



What is the story like in RHEM 2?

It's a sequel to RHEM 1.  In RHEM 1, the gamer found the parts of a letter from KALES and brought them to the brother ZETAIS.  In the letter, KALES wrote about another area of RHEM and part of a key.  At the beginning of RHEM 2 the gamer meets ZETAIS.  ZETAIS gives the gamer one part of a three-part key.  The location of RHEM2 is a large cave system far beneath the earth’s surface.  Finding all parts of the key opens an entryway to a deeper cave, a lost city.



Will there be background music in RHEM 2?  If not, why not? 

No, there is no background music in RHEM 2.  In-game music is an element of cinema.  I like to give the gamer a "real" world, a strange and phantastic world, but a "real" world.  If music starts every time you enter a room in a game, it's like in an opera or the cinema.  In RHEM 1 and RHEM 2, the environmental sound serves as the background music.



I understand that you have replayed certain games several times in order to analyze their structure.  In your opinion, which games have the most to teach someone interested in game design?

I've played many games (mostly adventure games).  I've learned from each game.  From some games I've learned "How to do" and from some games I've learned "How NOT to do".  One of my first experiences in game playing was "Myst" and "Riven".  The most important point for me was the unity of the puzzles and the gameworld in the Myst games.  Important also was the experience of games from other independent, "standalone" gamemakers ("Dark Fall" from Jonathan Boakes and "Alida" from Cos Russo).

It's difficult to say which games have the most to teach someone interested in game
design, because it depends what the "someone" would like to do.  But I'll suggest a short
list for (mostly pre-rendered) adventure games.  (Sorry for any games I may have forgotten.)

A) To learn about puzzle/game design: play "Myst", "Riven", (partial) "Myst III", (partial) "URU"
B) To learn what an independent game developer can do: play "Dark Fall", "Alida"
C) To learn about text interaction: play "Starship Titanic"
D) To learn about 3D design: play "Obsidian", "Riven"
E) To learn about 3D animations: play "Obsidian", "Riven", "Myst III", "Schizm", "Journeyman Project 3"
F) To learn about live videos: play "Myst III", "Journeyman Project 3"
G) To learn about character animation (human): play "Amerzone"
H) To learn about character animation (animal): play "Myst IV", "Riven"
I) To learn how to make an edutainment adventure game: play “Physicus 1 and 2", "Mathica"
J) To learn how to make an historical adventure game: play "Versailles 1685”, “Versailles 2"
K) To learn about background/game music: play "Myst", "Riven", "Obsidian", "The 11th Hour"
L) To learn about sound design: play "Riven", "Myst III"

For a game developer working with Macromedia Director:
M) To learn the programming, media, and organizational structures: play "Amber", "Mathica"



A year from now, what do you want gamers to remember about RHEM 2?

"Oh, I made it alone, without a walkthrough!"


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