Benoît Sokal interview
Benoit Sokal's Syberia established the designer as an important figure in adventure gaming. The beautiful adventure made quite an impact in worldwide adventure markets, and now the world waits in anticipation for Syberia II, the sequel that promises to take all the great aspects of the first and improve on them! We had a chance to ask Sokal some questions about this upcoming game.
Syberia strikes me as mnemonic, lonely and somewhat surreal. The funeral of Anna Voralberg—where the only attendants are automatons—really sets the tone for the rest of the game. Why did you aim for this particular atmosphere?
That’s a tough question to begin an interview with!
Funerals are never really a happy event you know…The atmosphere the game begins in is supposed to put the player into the story. Anna’s life has always been about automatons. To have only automatons at her funeral is a link to the life she lived, where everything has always been about automatons.
The game appears to have references to industrialization, Soviet Russia, the Berlin wall, and so on. What is the significance of these references within the story?
The industrial epoch has been the glory days of the communist countries after WWII. In these times, Russia and East Germany were the only counter balance to the US superiority but we knew very little of what was happening in there.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and of the communist government in Russia, we discovered a lot. But since then, these huge industrial plants have been abandoned because the governments cannot support them anymore. It’s the same with the military facilities these countries used to have. A lot has been let down with a few people remembering how things were back in those industrial years…
I just thought this era would be a really nice setting for a story like Syberia, the automatons, with the genius of Hans Voralberg…
Did you already have the story of Syberia II in mind before you finished the first part, or is the story still in full development?
The story of Syberia II was almost completed when we began the development of Syberia. With a few exceptions here and there, we knew how the story would be developing, how it would end but we worked until recently on making sure the story was dynamic enough to keep the player interested the whole way through.
What are the major areas of improvement going to be for Syberia II?
· Dynamic Graphics and Lighting details such as glass reflections, ice texture, uniform fabric, and decals
· Real time snowfall and footsteps marks
· Dynamic lighting and shadows
· Animated fog
· Enhanced in-game animation
· Challenging puzzles
· Increased interactivity with characters(main and extras)
· New original vehicles
· Improved path finding
· Dynamic camera angles
What kind of dialogue system will Syberia II use?
Pretty much the same we used for the first episode. We just want to make sure to make it better by adding a bit of diversity to Kate’s replicas. For an example, if you click somewhere to make Kate walk this particular way but she doesn’t have to go there. Instead of just saying: “I don’t need to go there” She might also say : “I should be going somewhere else” or “Why go there”… We just want to add options so it doesn’t become too repetitive…
The dialogue interface will also be the same.
In an earlier interview you've said Syberia II will have more action in the story. Can you further explain what you meant with that?
I see this has caused a big commotion in the Syberia community. A lot of people are anxious about Syberia becoming an Action/Adventure game… Don’t worry, there is not a chance in the world for Syberia to become this type of game.
What we wanted is to have a story including more sudden developments. We wanted to make sure Kate (and the player through Kate) would be experiencing bumps in her road, situations where she’d have some trouble getting out of…
Syberia’s story was somewhat linear and we worked on making the continuation a little bit more intense.
Will Kate's journey continue by train, or will she have some other means of transportation? And where will her journey take her?
The train will still be used by Kate and the crew (Hans and Oscar). But other means of transportation will also be needed… I won’t say more…
Will we learn more about why Kate chose to gradually abandon her normal life in favor of pursuing the Voralberg family history?
Obviously the player will discover more about Kate Walker in the second episode of Syberia as she continues her journey and gets closer and closer to Hans.
But I think we already know a lot about what has motivated her to this change of a life. From what we learned in Syberia I, we already know that Kate wasn’t entirely satisfied with her previous life. The more her journey advances, the more she realizes there is more in life than what she had…
How has your background as cartoonist affected the development of Syberia?
It helped a lot. With over 25 years of experience in drawing, sketching, story writing, story-boarder, I had a strong background on some of the most important aspect about creating a video game.
The only area where I wasn’t at ease was the programming part of the development and I had the chance to work with a few very good programmers who helped me understand the limitations I had to deal with.
It took a while for comics to be fully recognized as a potential artform. How long do you think will it take for games to achieve the same level of recognition?
I really don’t know about a timeline for this to happen but it is clearly one of my aspirations. It is something I’m trying to make happen but I think we are very far away from it.
It also depends on the regions. In Montreal, we have been participating in a few artistic expositions. We had one with all the sketches and artwork of the game, another one with a Design University Facultee. So I guess we managed to achieve that goal in some regions but not on an international basis.
You live in France, but the production team is in Canada. Has the distance between you and the team posed any difficulties?
I wouldn’t say it has ever caused problems. I’m in constant communications with the project manager and the leads so there are no communication problems. With e-mails and FTP sites we’ve managed the distance pretty well.
Let’s not forget I spend a week per month there in Montreal with the team!
Do you play (other people's) adventure games? If so, can you name one that you've particularly enjoyed?
I don’t have time to play a lot honestly but one game I truly enjoyed was The Longest Journey.
What kind of challenges do you see in game design—both technically and creatively—for the coming years?
I really think the challenges down the road will remain the same. The main one being creating a good story. Personally, I want to use the video game support as an form of expression and to do so we will need to create stronger and stronger stories as I’m convinced it is what lacks the most in today’s games.
On a technical point of view, the only limitations existing are monetary limitations. With the way technology is progressing there aren’t a lot of limitations right now. Money talks!
Any guesses as to what might be in store for us gamers after Syberia II?
It is way too early for that type of questions right now but we’ll definitively continue working on adventure titles here at Microïds! We’re making a commitment to the adventure genre and we will build on what we’ve achieved in the last 2-3 years.