Matt Kempke of Daedalic Entertainment sheds light on their new point-and-click adventure!
The Night of the Rabbit is a point-and-click adventure of magic, mystery, and wonder, full of beautiful storybook graphics and an amazing story that will appeal to young and mature gamers alike. The game is coming soon to GOG.com and is currently available for pre-order for only $19.99. Everyone who gets it before release on GOG.com will also become eligible to redeem a free copy of Daedalic Entertainment's previous adventure hit--Deponia! We thought you might like to learn a bit more about this upcoming title, so recently we asked you if you had any questions for The Night of the Rabbit designers. Matt Kempke, the game's lead designer, answered in great detail the ones that Daedalic found the most interesting. We invite you to the resulting Q&A!
Question: From what I saw this is a game that could appeal to a child's imagination and sense of wonder. How hard was it to find the right balance between accessibility and complexity while designing the game and its story?
Answer: Hi Nimo! Yes, we tried to write a game which appeals to players of all ages. That way hopefully experienced players can enjoy it – but also their children, if they decide to sit down and play it on their own or together as a family. I think puzzles and gameplay are accessible when they feel natural and intuitive. For puzzles that means they need to fit well into the story and context and world without being ever impossible to solve – yet challenging enough to be fun. We simplified the controls a bit and tried to make the interface less confusing than in older adventure games. Now simple clicks are enough. You don’t need to choose from a verb coin what action you want the main character to perform. All this was not to make it easier to play for younger players but for everyone – and to make our adventure game more accessible for players who haven’t that much experience with adventure games.
Younger players that are just about the same age as the main character of “The Night of the Rabbit”, Jerry Hazelnut, will probably be better at any game than the older kids or adults, at least that’s my experience. When I played console games during the voice recording sessions with Jed Kelly, who is the British voice actor that played Jerry for us and was thirteen years old at the time, he made me look really old and simply beat me every five seconds. I’m only 32 and quite an experienced old school gamer! He was very polite about it, though.
In the same way I hope older and younger players will be able to enjoy our story. It’s got adventure and humor and danger and darkness and also courage and mystery. There are quite a lot of elements, secrets and motives that might feel like something that only adults catch. But then again, don’t underestimate the younger players.
Q: Adventure games mainly rely on puzzle solving, but also on the stories they tell. Is it difficult to design puzzles in such a way that they don't end up feeling out of place within the game's setting or plot? Does using bizarre fantasy or sci-fi plot elements make it easier?
A: Hey YnK - Yes, it surely is one of the biggest challenges to merge puzzles and story – but it is also tremendous fun. When writing puzzles I try to write them as part of the story. Every puzzle should be part of the story – if there is no direct meaning for the main story then at least the things you do should be meaningful in general. That means I want them to tell us more about the characters, the world or ourselves while being fun or interesting to play. A puzzle that is just there to stretch the playing time or that is just there for the sake of being funny and doesn't fit into the world will hurt the atmosphere and the immersion, I believe.
You’re right. A fantastic setting in which a lot of things are possible helps a bit of course! Seemingly the more humor a game has the easier the puzzles are to write. A very silly game can always be excused for doing highly illogical stuff because it’s supposed to be funny – but even then the player should feel like he’s got a challenge on his hand, but one that is solvable and fun or meaningful and suits the world and story. Also pure silliness can become quite boring after some time I think.
Puzzles are of course essential for an adventure game that is old school at heart, like “The Night of the Rabbit”, and writing them is hard work – but fun. It needs much testing and feedback to find out whether the things you made up will be fun or interesting to play– actually you can never get enough of feedback like that. As a puzzle writer you have to find out how a player might feel about what you’ve written – especially how it feels to play for the first time without having prior knowledge. It’s almost sometimes like testers are spoiled once they know all the puzzles. They can still do great testing on logic and technical stuff. But only a player who plays for the first time will be able to give you real feedback on how the game feels when you play it for the first time. And as a writer you never get to experience that because you’ve all written it – and that is a major spoiler, I can tell you! The same goes for stories and story twists. Writers can just try to imagine what it’s like to hear, read or play the story.
Q: Are there any interesting anecdotes as to what inspired the creation of this or that character, both for the artstyle and the personality? Were the characters all part of the same world when the short stories were written, or did they come together for the game? Would you be willing to talk about the world at length?
A: Thanks for your question mdqp! The first ideas where revolving around a twelve year old boy, who runs into a well dressed but mysterious and talking white rabbit. The rabbit would open up a portal in a gnarly old tree and offer the boy to take him on a strange journey. And the two would vanish into the portal. And the player would be very suspicious about all this, because he had seen how the rabbit had stared into the boys window the night before, seemingly scheming and planning. These were ideas my brother Sebastian came up with. And he said they’d make a good game and I said that they were great but that I didn’t want to do another game, because making games is hard and I had just finished working on my indie adventure game “What Makes You Tick: A Stitch in Time.”
In the next weeks slowly but surely my brother’s ideas started spinning around in my head and suddenly the boy and the rabbit had names: Jerry Hazelnut and the Marquis de Hoto. And then I wrote down the introductory poem for the game. As I wondered to what strange place the boy and the rabbit could go I realized that I already had made a world like that, which was filled with a lot of talking animals and trees and stories: Mousewood. A couple of years earlier I had written a fairy tale book that I never published. It was called “Eight Stories from Mousewood”. That world had characters I loved and that I really wanted to bring to life again. So many of the characters from Mousewood that you find in the game now are actually from these stories – and the stories themselves are also hidden in a wonderfully narrated version in the game as bonus content. If you run into the Woodsprite at night while playing the game, then just ask him about it. Maybe he’ll give you one.
Before I pitched the game to Daedalic and joined their company I continued building the story and weaving these two basic elements together. I had to come up with a backstory for the main characters, a reason why the rabbit takes the boy to Mousewood. All that lead to coming up with a form of magic that stems from nature and that can connect worlds – that way the portal trees and the treewalkers were born. By magic coincidence there already had been a very special magical tree in my Mousewood stories. This tree is now also very important for “The Night of the Rabbit”. And then came more new elements that could connect worlds: magical creatures, vile enemies and of course the Great Zaroff, who you’ll find being mentioned very early in the game – but it will be quite some time until you find out who he is and how he is connected to the Marquis de Hoto and Jerry Hazelnut.
Q: This seems like really imaginative game, even more so than your previous games like Deponia and Whispered World, so where did you come up with all this, what gave you the idea to the game?
A:Well, I’m glad to hear you think so, Stebsis! If you feel a difference here, then that is very much possible, because while the other Daedalic titles have been written by others authors – for example the “Deponia” series was created by Poki while “The Whsipered World” was created by Marco Hüllen – in the case of “The Night of the Rabbit” I have written and directed the game. So there are differences of course and though I am grateful that you find it more imaginative than previous Daedalic titles, I’d say it’s a question of personal taste. :)
As “The Night of the Rabbit” resembles more my own previous indie games “What Makes You Tick” and “WMYT: A Stitch in Time”, Poki and Marco Hüllen also have their very unique styles of storytelling that have already a big following and though I didn’t try to copy their styles I still hope fans of their games can also appreciate our story.
In a previous question I already answered how these ideas came to be and how they grew, so let me just add that for “The Night of the Rabbit” I was trying to create a big and fairytale-like world to explore and a story that comes full circle in the end – both based on stories and fairytales and ideas I loved as a kid and even now. It’s supposed to be a journey that starts with a promise and adventure and such, but then more and more grows mysterious and dangerous. So this game might feel different because we were aiming to tell a story that is quite different from previous Daedalic titles.
Q: Daedalic already created a few astonishing universes. Are you planning on doing any kind of crossover between them? Wouldn't it be fun if Edna met Rufus and Sadwick?
A: Well, I’m pretty sure that Poki and my other author colleagues at Daedalic have been tempted to tell a story like that and as our white rabbit would say: “Nothing is impossible!” In the universe of “The Night of the Rabbit” connections actually do exist between worlds, times and possibilities and maybe you can even find some of those in the game and peek into “Deponia” or “The Whispered World”. So maybe the magicians in our game, who know about these connections – the so called treewalkers – could someday help to get everyone together for a big party. At least I think that would be great fun! Thanks for your question, Keeveek!
Q: How do you feel about the... evolution of the adventure genre? Were there any eras you liked or disliked, and is there any games you took lessons from when designing Night of the Rabbit?
A: Ahoy there and thanks for your question, Kliff! Well there have been a lot of tries to make adventure games better or easier to access or more fun to play. Some have been more and others less successful. In the end still it comes down to what one personally likes best and what kind of story you want to tell. The cool “Walking Dead” games have made a great use of choice and consequences. On the other hand they don’t give you much room to explore your world actively. A game like “Red Dead Redemption” has a vast open world, but the main story is still quite linear. If you’re wondering why I’m mentioning this game while we’re talking about adventure games, then that is simply because I think that games can only evolve in an interesting way if we forget about strict genre boundaries.
“The Night of the Rabbit” has simplified controls – it has no verb coin or anything like that, which means that outside the inventory you just need to simply click on things with your left mouse button. At first I wasn’t sure if that feels good to play, because I had written my previous games using the good old verb coin like in “The Curse of Monkey Island”. I realized that one-click controls actually felt better to play as you didn’t have distracting mechanical elements that stood between you and the game world. Of course there are areas that could still be more simplified and experimented with – you can lose items completely or reduce their number or try to avoid dialogue trees. We tried to keep the item and dialogue interfaces simple and easy to use, but they are still in our game.
In the end updated game play mechanics can make a game more fun and lead to a greater immersion, yet it is the story and the world that make a game interesting and memorable, I believe. I have always loved about adventure games that they bring places and characters to life. In “The Curse of Monkey Island” I was able for the first time to walk through hand drawn locations that felt simply alive. So for me the fascinating thing about making games was that you could create places and characters and weave a story around it. Choices and Consequences are fascinating too, but have so far not been that important for me – but they are something I would love to work with if I ever want to tell a certain story in the future that actually fits to that kind of narrative concept.
For “The Night of the Rabbit” still the classic LucasArts games have been my greatest influence but also games like “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask” because it was the first game that had introduced me to the idea of different daytimes to explore and there was so much to collect –something that is more common outside the adventure game genre. In our game you can collect quite a lot of things: from audio stories to playing cards to magical dew drops and much more. And because I always loved exploration in games in general you can now explore a lot of places at once in the main part of the game and switch between daytime and nighttime – a questlog and a help spell will help you to keep track of what you’ve seen or heard in our world.
For me it always starts with the world and the story and I’m sure we can find ways to evolve the gameplay further to strengthen the experience for the player. And I am very grateful for many inspiring games that dare to try new things because we can learn a lot from them. And, of course, because I can enjoy playing them.
Q: What is your favorite adventure game that you didn't have a hand in? Did it (or any others) inspire how you approach your games?
A: Hey, Hucklebarry! My personal all time favourite is still “The Curse of Monkey Island” because I simply fell in love with the game when it came out and I was always drawn back to it. For years I just loved to load old savegames and then walk around Plunder Island or Blood Island – like a tourist or a wanderer who returns to a place that he likes a lot and that he hasn’t seen for a long time. The fascination derives for me from the world and the characters – the way you are able to explore a handmade world that was crafted in a lovingly fashion, where nothing feels out of place. Music and sounds and animations merge and form something that is quite more than just the sum of its parts. And in these places characters live and through this world the story is told. Wonderful! You see, I’m still romantic about it.
When a friend of mine, Greg MacWilliam, created the Lassie Engine in 2005 I was very tempted to try and do something similar, although it was supposed to be my own world, not just an imitation of the places I loved from Monkey Island. And since then the fascination hasn't ceased and I’m still as mesmerized by how the elements come together to form something that is bigger and just feels alive.
By the way, in the early 2000s I even emailed Jonathan Ackley who had been the project lead for “The Curse of Monkey Island” to tell him how much I liked his game – and he even mailed me back. I think the mail was deleted during a bigger hard drive problem a couple of years ago, but I’m still very grateful and excited, as he told me that to make games like his you just should start making your own small games and then show them around. Without his advice I might never have started and then never have gotten the opportunity to make “The Night of the Rabbit”.
Q: Is there a 'spiritual' relationship to Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland'?
A: Yes, The-Business, the basic starting point is based on the meeting of Alice and the white rabbit, and her following it through the rabbit hole into another world. Yet, when my brother was coming up with the basic start for our story he asked himself: what if we had seen that rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland” the night before their accidental meeting staring through her bedroom window? Wouldn’t that be creepy? What if the rabbit was telling Alice that she was chosen? The rabbit would start looking pretty creepy and mysterious, don’t you think? So that’s how “The Night of the Rabbit” and “Alice in Wonderland” are related. These ideas are still in the game but the story has grown and shifted in tone and so now our rabbit, the Marquis de Hoto, is not just about simple creepiness but mystery and magical flamboyance, too.
The world Jerry and the Marquis visit is not as insane and silly as Wonderland but has a quite unique tone and feel to it, I think. It feels a bit like going back in time a hundred or two hundred years but mice and squirrels are living there instead of people, running shops in tree trunks and so on. But in the woods of Mousewood lurk dark secrets and strangers are about to arrive, so that peaceful place might have to face dangerous times. And just at that moment Jerry and the Marquis arrive. Coincidence? Probably not! But the explanation for that might be quite different from what you expect.
Q: What makes Daedalic Entertainment differ from other developers?
A: Heyho, Accatone! At Daedalic there are a lot of great and creative people working on projects with a lot of creative freedom. In that respect it feels quite indie and as an indie who pitched “The Night of the Rabbit” at Daedalic and then got hired to do it I had the opportunity to work with a lot of great people and learned a lot about teamwork and communication. Of course Daedalic as a company is not indie as it’s got funding from publishers and soon over 100 people who work there now with multiple projects going on at the same time. Still in the teams we’ve got many hard working people who believe in the project and only their effort and support can push the games to point that makes them special. Of course as a writer and project lead like me you take responsibility and define the story and the look, but many additional ideas and the actual process of pushing the game to what you want it to be takes the effort and help of many. In a way this could be true in other companies, too – but then again, I’ve only been at Daedalic after my indie years and thought this was very special.
Q: I loved Deponia, and its sequel along with Chains of Satinav. So I want to know if you guys ever feel a panic before release. Do you worry that people will look back at your past accomplishments and judge, or do you only look towards the next best thing?
A: Well, 011284mm, I can only speak for myself, but I think this is true for most of us: it is exciting and of course a bit scary. The release will show if people actually like what you’ve done and of course after working for 1.5 years on a project you are not really objective about anymore. Feedback from people you trust inside or outside the company is important to keep you optimistic then. For me personally it is also a bit scary, because I made this – this is not written by the guys who made the other Daedalic titles which means that it is of course different – and then you ask yourself from time to time whether people will be able to accept or even embrace that difference. So you just keep going most of the time and tell yourself: don’t panic! Just do your best!
When you make your own thing and stick to what you like and belief in, then that hopefully works out. Yet, especially because it is such a personal thing it is always exciting – no matter whether you release a drawing, a short story, a book or a game into the world, you of course hope that people will like it and treat it gently. Almost like a kid you have to send to school.
Q: Would you one day like to bring out a darker feeling game, eg "Night of the Rabbit" could have been a dark tale, behind every cute bunny lies potentially a ferocious, vicious killer rabbit. Would too dark a tale break the balance between younger audiences and older adventure gamers.
A: No and yes and no, deonast! In “The Night of the Rabbit” we’ve got certainly darker elements creeping into the game and defining most of the story. But this darkness is not simply blood and monsters. To me the scariest things in stories are not just the obvious bloody knives and masked killers (though I enjoy those with a bag of popcorn and friends around) but ideas and secrets. Ideas that can change the world around you or people you used to know. I chose a quite cute look, because the world of Mousewood is supposed to be something that players can fall in love with and that they’d know would be a place worthy to protect, because it resonates with what we know from our childhood. A return to a innocent place of magic and mystery. But then things change slowly and then faster during the game.
As you say, I wanted older and younger player to be able to enjoy this story; but that was not a financial decision – actually from what I’ve heard (I’m just an author and game designer, not a producer or publisher) darker games are easier to sell. Some reporters came even up to me after presentations and told me “This is just for kids. Who’s going to buy this?” If that’s a legitimate question then surely my bosses at Daedalic took a risk, when they allowed me to make “The Night of the Rabbit”. Yet, I on the other hand strongly believe that a well crafted story can be enjoyed by all ages, like the Studio Ghibli Movies for example.
But coming back to your question: when you do a story like this, you always come up with ideas that won’t fit into this world. Jokes that are too stupid or motives that are too extreme. So believe me, yes, after working for such a long time on a fairy tale you end up with a notebook full of ideas for a full fledged adult horror game, because they just would never have fit into this scenario. Only time will tell, if they’ll ever actually turn into a game though!
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That's it! We hope now you're just as much excited for the release of The Night of the Rabbit as we are. The game will be arriving approximately on May 29th. Remember, that with pre-purchase by that time, you'll be getting a free copy of Daedalic Entertainment's Deponia.