Red Thread Games
The Longest Journey is finally getting a sequel: how Kickstarter brought the band back together
When your game ends with one protagonist presumed dead and another in a coma, six years is a long time to hang onto a cliff. But Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is finally getting its sequel, Dreamfall Chapters, with the help of Kickstarter.
Chapters, the third in the Longest Journey adventure games, was originally announced in 2007, but shelved while creator Ragnar Tornquist and writer Dag Scheve worked on Funcom’s MMO, The Secret World. Tornquist and Scheve have since parted ways from Funcom, re-forming under the banner of Red Thread Games, a small indie studio.
The Report caught up with the gang to ask what it was like getting the band back together.
A recurring dream
The Longest Journey was released in 1999 as a point-and-click adventure game that focused on the parallel worlds of Stark and Arcadia. Stark is a land of machinery and tech, while Arcadia is a land of magic. April Ryan, the main character, moved between these worlds as she attempted to restore balance to the universe. Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, the 2006 sequel, focused on a new character, Zoe Castillo. The plot gets far more tangled from there, and involves dragons, prophesies, human experimentation, and conspiracy theories. It ended with the cliffhanger above.
“With Dreamfall, we never got to finish what we started. So we always knew we wanted to do it,” Scheve told me. “Ragnar wanted to create this new company to start working on Dreamfall, he asked me if I was interested, and I said, ‘You had me at hello.’”
Tornquist chimed in: “He actually did say, ‘You had me at hello.’ The women in Tom Cruise’s life: that’s Dag’s main source of quotes.”
Scheve laughed. He was easily sold on the idea of returning to the Longest Journey universe.
Tornquist explained that, while the team size has dwindled from the hundreds that worked on The Secret World to a team of under two dozen, not much has changed in the way he likes to see games made.
“Every game’s different and every game’s the same, in a way. It’s the same in that the way we approach it, the way we make games, is similar, because we always have a world and a storyline. It always begins with a heart and soul, the essence, the themes, the storyline, and we evolve the game from there,” Tornquist said. “That process has been remarkably similar since the first Longest Journey game.”
The only major difference is that now, there’s no publisher funding development, no overseer handling the practical issues. Red Thread Games is funding the creation of Dreamfall Chapters via Kickstarter, and that means a tighter focus on what can and can’t be done with the resources available.
Tornquist, for his part, didn’t seem worried though.
“The game will be made with 17, 18 people, but it’s gonna feel like a game made by a lot more people, because the spirit, productivity, heart of the team is… people are so passionate about this. It’s amazing what you can do when the team is passionate about what they’re doing,” he said. “The less you have sometimes, the more you make.”
New kid on the block
There’s a new member of the band going on this Journey reunion tour (rimshot) with Tornquist and Scheve: Martin Bruusgard, former lead designer on The Secret Word. The Report spoke with Bruusgard back in October, after massive layoffs hit Funcom.
Bruusgard told the Report that year that he hadn’t given up on creating, so when Torquist approached him with the possibility of helping create the third entry in the Longest Journey series, Bruusgard returned to the world of gaming. “He brought me flowers,” Bruusgard said.
“Chocolates. Don’t forget the chocolates. You always forget the chocolates!” Tornquist reminded him.
Tornquist said he believes Bruusgard’s addition to the team will benefit the game’s development, because Bruusgard hadn’t played either of the previous entries until recently. “That’s actually a very good thing, to have someone who can look at it with fresh eyes and at least question – or not even question, just bring something new to the table, since he respects the story and the feel of the games,” Tornquist said.
I asked Bruusgard what he had seen in other adventure games that he could bring to Dreamfall Chapters. What lessons could be learned from games that had been released in the half-dozen years since Dreamfall: The Longest Journey? Bruusgard said one of the bigger changes is how he came to view story.
“I came from the type of gamer that usually don’t care too much about the story. I care more about the mechanics. But what I learned from working with Ragnar and Dag is that story can be amazing in a computer game if it’s done right. I think I personally underestimated how much other people care about story. As long as it’s done well, it can be an amazing feature for a game. That was a sort of revelation for me.”
“Games like The Walking Dead, I think, are fantastic in the way they tell story. If we can borrow or be inspired by something along those lines, that’d be amazing,” he said.
Can I borrow a cup of HDMI cable?
The small team size and lack of funding has been a boon to the development team in some respects. There’s no more game of telephone, where the message gets lost as it travels from director to designer, designer to programmer. Everybody can communicate freely and come to a consensus on how the game should be.
I asked Bruusgard, who cited a need for financial stability when we last spoke, why he would abandon his previous position for Dreamfall Chapters. “I honestly love it. I think it’s so much… I want to use the word ‘cozier.’ We’re so few people, so we talk so much about every single aspect of the game. In larger companies, when so many people are involved, there’s more layers of decision-making, and right now it feels like we’re just a group of guys – and a girl – talking about the game and coming to this unanimous understanding of what the game should be, and what direction we want to move it,” he said.
“It feels so different to come into work, and it’s one room, and everybody’s there, and it just feels… again, cozier.”
“It’s very limited, very tight, so we have to make the most out of every dollar and cent, we have to do everything ourselves. We can’t expect anyone to do anything for us,” Tornquist said. “From borrowing the neighbor’s HDMI cable to show our presentation to running the Kickstarter, it’s all on us.”
Scheve agreed. “I’ve been sort of a social media recluse and now I’m on Facebook and Twitter, I’m answering emails from press and potential distributors, I’m helping write press releases, emptying the trash cans.”
“You have not emptied a single trash can!” Tornquist interjected.
“Lies! Lies!” Bruusgard said.
Scheve paused for a moment. “Well… asking someone to empty the trash cans.”
But there’s stress in this environment, too. Tornquist admitted that, while he felt he sold the idea to the team well and with confidence, in reality he had no idea if the desire to make Dreamfall Chapters would pan out. “We were sitting in the meeting room, before launching the Kickstarter, and my finger was hovering over the big green button,” he said. “I told the team, ‘This might be a disaster, it might be a complete catastrophe, don’t worry if it is, we’ll find a way to do this. So don’t take it personally, we’ve done the best we can.’”
With that sentiment in mind, Tornquist pushed go. The game has since raised more than $810,000 out of a goal of $850,000.