Pack Your Bags!

An Interview with Waël AMR of 80 Days


Frogwares is a development studio “…dedicated to creating high-quality, graphically rich and immersive games for adventure gamers.”  In this, they have succeeded splendidly over the years, bringing us thrilling adventures based on historical literature:  Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Mystery of the Mummy; Journey to the Center of the Earth; and Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Silver Earring.

With the imminent release of Frogwares’ latest game -- 80 Days, based on a novel by Jules Verne -- CEO Waël AMR provides tantalizing details about this innovative adventure.


Why do you think that Jules Verne’s stories have served so frequently as inspiration for adventure games?  Why do you think developers choose NOT to follow the original Jules Verne stories with strict accuracy?

Jules Verne games have been done only by French developers (as far as I know).  He is a part of our French patrimony and brilliant enough to be remembered 100 years after his death. On the other hand, a story needs to be modernized and adapted for its heart to remain intact.  In 80 Days, for example, it would have been hard to make the player settle for the usual trains and boats.  We know today that much more varied travel is possible; which asks us to reinvent the means of transportation, and so on.


In the game’s opening sequence, we learn that Oliver Lavisheart was sent away to America to the So Strict Secondary School.  Was this a reform school?  What did he do that caused his parents to send him away?

Well, you have to play the game to the very end to understand it. Oliver is very different from his parents; they would not agree about what Oliver should do in his life.  He wants freedom, and they want tradition.


Was there a thematic or philosophical reason for having Oliver wear disguises in the game?  Or was it just for fun?

The story was written by Aurelie Ludot, who is a woman, and women like to change their clothes, even several times a day. 

To change your clothes is to change your personality.  Oliver has a wide personality -- sometimes he is naive, sometimes selfish, sometimes ironic.

Also, wearing a disguise is another way to sneak around.  Instead of using brutal force, you use a nice trick.


What is your opinion of pop culture?  Why did you elect to use references to pop culture in a game that takes place in a historical period well before the advent of modern pop culture? 

Pop culture is fine, it’s fun, it has a kind of superficiality that I like after work -- when I play a game, for example. Pop culture puts me in good mood and helps me to feel better.

I wanted the game to be funny and, knowing our age and references, I thought it would be okay to have this kind of pop revival. Also the game is colorful and pop might be the most colorful period of time our civilization has known.

Being anachronistic is not a problem I believe; otherwise we would have had to do a complete revival of the 19th century.


There is a lot of humor in 80 Days – some of it reminds me of the British style of absurdist humor/satire.  At one point, you even hear the names of the cast of Monty Python as they are called over a paging system.  Does the game contain this style of humor because Oliver is British?  Or did this style of humor suit the game and game world for other reasons?

Well, at the origin of the modern music there are the Beatles.  And at the origin of modern humor there is Monty Python.  They are, unfortunately, both English, but we have to admit it: they are the best. Their sketch with the Hungarian Dictionary (My Hovercraft is full of Eels) with John Cleese and Michael Palin causes me a violent laughing crisis. Also, the Holy Grail provokes a general collapse in our family.

Coming back to 80 Days, I would not dare to say that our humor is at this level, but the American writer for 80 Days, John Zakour, is an accomplished joke writer and I believe he did some excellent work for the American players.


There are many nationalities represented in the game – which is appropriate since our hero does make a trip around the world!  But there are instances in which colorful characters appear in locations where they are unexpected – for instance, the Scots in Cairo.  Why did you choose for the gamer to meet these particular characters so far from home? 

The main idea was to show that people are the same -- whatever their accent and their nationality, they can be at home anywhere. We wanted to show in parallel with the story that human values are the same.  If you are surprised to see Scots in Cairo, which is literally the first hour of the game, you won’t be surprised to see them in the next location. This holds true for various nationalities in general, but the Scots thing is special.  It is a running joke in the game; the Scots are like the small gnomes that help you and ask a lot from you.  Just like in the Russian tales -- sometimes good, sometimes bad.


There are so many fun innovations in 80 Days – including the unusual puzzles, locations and characters.  Did you have innovation as a primary goal when you first started designing the game?  And in particular -- how did you come up with the ideas for the unique vehicles in 80 Days? 

We wanted to do 80 Days, but we couldn’t do it in point and click because it is a race.  So we made the decision early on to do the game in 3D.  Then everything followed logically: vehicles, large environments, huge levels, many characters, pop music dances, colorful scenes, etc….

The inspiration for the vehicles is Jules Verne.  The one tire is an invention which existed in the early 20th century; the chopper is a reference to the American bikers and the freedom of the road; the flying carpet, well, is something we came up with during the production. Aurelie, the game designer, proposed it and we made some attempts and it worked.  We spent hours driving in the cities; it was very fun.


Why did you decide to make the game in full real-time 3D?  Was there anything about working in 3D that surprised you?  Is it easier to create new kinds of puzzles and challenges when working in real-time 3D?

As I said previously: for the story itself, we couldn’t imagine a race in 2D or 2.5D --we needed dynamism.

The amount of work was three times greater and the surprises were numerous.  The game is not perfect, but it’s unique and inspires emotions unknown in the genre. We were not expecting this at the beginning, but when we began to see the results, we intensified our efforts in the puzzles and the dialogs to have a good result.

The work was hard.  For the dialogs, for example, you have free cameras, which allow simple or complex movement, interesting but long to create.  There are 91 dialogs and we did all of them three times to get a perfect result.

The graphic work took a huge amount of time too. The technology is ten times more complex to create and use. But it was worth it.


Why was the decision made to use an autosave feature instead of allowing the gamer to save wherever he would like? 

Due to the time challenge, we were afraid that people would forget to save and find themselves in a situation in which they would have to replay a big part of the game after meeting a Game Over. That wouldn’t be pleasant. So we thought about using checkpoints.  There are 68, and if you play 20 hours, it means there is a save checkpoint every 17 minutes, which is not a big time space between saves.


In a game like 80 Days -- with a huge game world, requiring the input of many artists -- how do you ensure that each artist has a consistent vision and uses a graphical style that is consistent throughout the game?

Well we use management methods of a certain type -- making meetings, adding steps to the process to be sure that information is well transmitted, etc….  This is not very interesting for your readers, despite being fascinating when it’s your work. Also we went to the different locations to take some photos.  It does cost a lot but allowed us to have a perfect result.

The music in 80 Days is a significant departure from the quiet, atmospheric music we’ve often come to expect in adventure games.  What were you trying to achieve with the music?  Also, I’ve never seen a game with production numbers like the ones in 80 Days.  Can you tell us how the ideas for these musical extravaganzas came about?

The music is connected to the pop style.  It’s fun and the dances at the end of the levels give the feeling you have in a musical that everything will be fine. It took a big effort, working with singers on one side and choreographers on the other. But it was very fun to do and forced me to leave the office and my screen a few times.  I can’t complain.


Having played a few hours into the game, I can already see many things in the large game environments that a gamer would miss if she were playing the time-sensitive Adventurer Difficulty level.  Were you hoping that everyone would eventually play or replay the game in the more leisurely Tourist Mode?

Not specifically.  If people love the game, they can replay it.  If they just like it, they play the way they want. I believe we deliver a product and people can do what they want with it; they can play it once or ten times.  We often see people replaying Gabriel Knight because there is just no game of that quality anymore, and I’m sure they discover new things every time they play. 80 Days is a game with a rich content and allows replaying.


Did you yourself visit any of the locations that are in 80 Days?   (Creating a game that takes place all over the world would be a great excuse for a world tour.)

Well, I must admit I went to San Francisco, but it was on the border of the Game Convention 2004 in San Jose. And I went to Japan, in Kyoto, one week, and I strongly believe Yokohama in the game is the best city level. We sent other teams to Cairo and New Delhi. It was fantastic, because to visit a city in order to recreate a part of it gives you a new vision of the elements, streets, building architecture, people.…  You have to catch the essence of the culture and the exact elements at the same time. It is certainly one of the most interesting parts of this job.


A year from now, what would you like people to remember about 80 Days?

That it is a good game -- maybe too ambitious, and with a long learning curve.  But something out of the ordinary, and still definitely an adventure game.



A First Look at 80 Days

by Becky Waxman


80 Days starts off with a fast-paced dialog between two unlikely people – a white-haired, British aristocrat and his muscular, irreverent nephew. The nephew, Oliver Lavisheart, has just returned from the “So Strict Secondary School” in America, where he thinks he has learned all about freedom.

The uncle, Matthew, has two problems – he has placed a wager that someone can travel around the world in 80 days just as Phileas Fogg did twenty-seven years before. If this feat goes unfulfilled, Uncle Matthew will lose his entire fortune. He also is about to lose his title as Pulsative Engineer unless he can prove that he is the author of four amazing inventions, now scattered around the world. He has 80 days to prove that he is the true inventor. Oliver’s problem – well, let’s just say that it’s family-related and that he has a motive for the next 80 days to be anywhere in the world but in the arms of his family.

Thus begins Oliver Lavisheart’s adventure around the world. I’ve played the beginning of 80 Days – I’m a few hours into the game, and I’m still discovering the breadth of what the game has to offer.

It’s Fogg’s World Now

The first thing that becomes clear as you take on the role of Oliver in this third-person adventure, is that the World of 80 Days takes place in a colorful, funny, deeply anachronistic alternate universe. It’s as though Phileas Fogg’s original 80-day journey (in Oliver’s universe, an important historical event, not a fictional work by Jules Verne) has overstimulated technological and cultural advances. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are real, and are acquainted with the concepts of calculators and rock and roll. Modern American pop culture and slang has begun sweeping the world in 1899. The results are comic, outrageous, and sometimes strange and disorienting.

Oliver’s adventure begins in Egypt, where he arrives at an island outside the Cairo harbor. Everyone is stuck here for 24 hours while the authorities search for tomb robbers. Oliver explores, shops, chats with sailors, politicians and local women. A musical loop that sounds suspiciously like “Walk Like an Egyptian” plays in the background.

The game world in 80 Days is fully 3D. It is magnificent and vast. In the first few hours of gameplay, Oliver makes his way through the harbor, the streets of Cairo, the marketplace, a fantastic luxury hotel, underground catacombs and the ruins of an ancient temple complex.

Almost immediately, our hero has access to some traditional and nontraditional forms of transportation. There are “car rental” spots, in which you can rent the following vehicles: a flying carpet, a camel, a motorized three-wheeler, and a Giant Tire (my term). Trying out these various vehicles is a hoot – one of the funniest parts of the game. They go at different speeds – with the camel the slowest and the Giant Tire speediest.

The Giant Tire can push other vehicles down the street (I discovered this by accident) and can roll partway up the sides of things, like fountains, trees and even people (no people are hurt, however). The Giant Tire is also difficult to control, as it has a tendency to roll on its own – I suspect that merely breathing on it would start a roll. There are more efficient ways to get through the streets of Cairo, but frankly the Giant Tire and Oliver seem a match made in heaven, so it is hard to deny him his little bit of fun.

Mouse and More

Now for the game’s interface. Unless you are accustomed to moving through 3D worlds, there will be a learning curve with the interface of 80 Days. It is a good idea to read the 80 Days manual before you get very far into the game – the information there is vital.

You can use the mouse as a directional pointer, and then press the “W” or “up arrow” key to move Oliver through the game world. Left-clicking on the mouse performs actions, like picking things up, using things, or talking to people. Right-clicking with the mouse brings up the inventory, and the mouse wheel/scroll button allows you to scroll through the inventory. (The controls are remappable if you don’t like this setup.) This part of the interface was easy to use – the only difficulty is that you have to place Oliver in exactly the right spot before a left-click will perform the necessary action. Often, for instance, I would be too close to people and would have to back up before I could get them to converse. There are also a couple of keyboard commands you’ll need to learn so that you can jump, climb and crouch.

When you are driving a vehicle, the interface operates differently. During vehicle sequences, the mouse functions solely as a means to control camera angles. Driving vehicles depends on the keyboard controls – I found the arrow keys easiest to use for this. Vehicles cannot turn unless they are also going forward or backward at the same time. As an inexperienced virtual driver, I found this to be both fun and frustrating.

Screen Essentials

The screen displays a wealth of information as you progress through the game’s various missions. At the top left of the screen is a mini-map, a helpful guide to your tasks in the game. You will need to pay attention to the mini-map because the game world is vast, and the mini-map indicates the direction of the items (or people) that you need to locate.

At the top right of the screen is a time indicator. It also compares your travel time with that of Phileas Fogg’s world record in 1872. If you are behind his time, a red light indicates that you are “late” and had better do some quick work in order to catch up.

At the bottom of the screen is a tiredness meter. In order to keep from collapsing and sleeping on the city streets, you either need to return to your hotel from time to time or eat lots of the local delicacies (my favorite in Cairo was Hot Rat). Hotel stays and food cost money – you monitor your financial holdings by looking at the money bag on the bottom right of the screen.

The Intentional Tourist

80 Days is a very challenging game, so it’s a good thing that you can choose three different difficulty levels. The Adventurer Level is the most difficult – time is short, and you must manage sleep and money very carefully. The Globetrotter Level is more forgiving – you still have to manage time, sleep and money, but less strictly. The lowest difficulty level is for gamers who find the idea of keeping track of time, tiredness, and money less than thrilling (I number myself among these gamers). On this “easy” level, you can choose to play the game as a Tourist.

The Tourist mode shuts down your ability to be late – you can explore every corner and byway of every town, watch the sun set and the moon rise from atop the temple complex, test-drive all the vehicles, chat up the locals, sleep on the street when it suits you, eat every delicacy, and still make it to the next location on the map in exactly the same number of days as Phileas Fogg. Tourist mode also gives you lots of cash (and with your careful exploration of every nook and cranny, you’ll find even more cash) so you can pay for all that food, extend your stay at the hotels, and afford extra vehicle rentals. You can also bribe your way out of certain awkward situations with ease.

Tourist mode does not remove all challenge from the game, though. You must still accomplish all the missions. You will need to find and use inventory items, navigate through new and complicated environments, figure out how to use odd technologies, gain information from reluctant people, disguise yourself, deal with villains, avoid the police (or go and find the police, depending on the situation), jump over gaps in different structures, climb up ladders and other surfaces, and persuade people who may not have pleasant memories of Uncle Matthew that your cause is just.

Do You Have What It Takes?

The huge, beautiful game world in 80 Days -- in which there is so much to see and do -- comes at a real price in terms of computing power. My computer just barely meets the system requirements. The game crashed once during installation, and then twice during the initial load screen, so I turned all the graphical details down to their lowest setting, which eliminated the technical problems except for an occasional volume glitch during dialogs. The game world is still attractive at the lowest graphical settings, but it is frustrating, knowing that I could be seeing so much more detail if my computer was up to snuff. I’ve been gradually fiddling with the graphic settings, nudging them up one by one. This has made the load times very long, but I haven’t experienced more crashes. And the improvement at higher settings is well worth seeing.

One last technical point about the game – 80 Days does not allow you to save your game wherever you like. The game has an autosave feature. If you quit the game, be aware that you will lose any progress you’ve made after the most recent autosave point.

* * *

One thought springs to mind after a few hours in 80 Days – breaking tradition. Although there is plenty in the game that is reminiscent of “traditional” adventure games, there is much that is new, previously untested (at least in adventure games) and potentially controversial. There is almost an entertaining mischievousness about the game, from the character of its hero, including his avoidance of traditional entanglements and responsibilities -- to the game’s unexpected anachronisms, its half-tribute, half-satire of pop culture, and the developers’ willingness to experiment with new kinds of gameplay and new ways to see the world. From my First Look at 80 Days, I’d say the journey is well worth taking.

I played 80 Days on the following system:

WinXP, Pentium 4 1.8GHz
GeForce 3 Ti 200 with 64MB video RAM
DirectX 9.0c
SB Live! sound card

The minimum system requirements for 80 Days, as posted at GameBoomers by one of the developers:

AMD or Pentium 1000, 512MB RAM, and video card 64MB, BUT (there is a BUT) video card supporting pixel shader 1.1 at least, it means Geforce 3TI, Radeon 8500. Intel integrated graphic chipset might not work, Geforce 4Mx won't work, first Radeon series will not work. Sorry about this but it's the price for innovation.

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