Adventure Gamers: The game's title suggests that Richard & Alice is a very personal, character-driven drama more than a plot-driven one. Would you say that's an accurate assessment?
Ashton Raze: I think we’ve got a balance of both, actually. The scenes with Richard and Alice are definitely more about the characters, their interactions with one another, and understanding them as people. The flashback scenes are a little more about the situation. There’s not too much I can elaborate on here without giving things away.
Lewis Denby: It’s definitely a character story, though. In fact, when we first started the early design process, it was a game almost purely about the interaction between two people in an awful situation. Ultimately we expanded on this quite a lot, but it’s key for us to have a set of credible characters who you believe in. Games don’t do that very well, generally, I think it’s fair to say.
AG: The preview gives us a glimpse into Alice's history, but we still know nothing about Richard. What can you tell us about his story?
Lewis: Not a lot!
Ashton: Richard is a military man, fairly high ranking, who – for reasons we can’t go into yet – is in jail for dereliction of duty.
Lewis: There’s stuff in the preview build that gives you an idea, I think. But there’s definitely a story there to uncover.
AG: It's interesting that their prison is more like a haven from the catastrophic events going on around it. It may have bars, but it's safe and warm, with regular meals and TVs provided. Clearly this is no Alcatraz.
Ashton: It’s hard to talk about this at all without ruining anything!
Lewis: Yeah, I’m aware that we’re being a bit useless with our responses here. I suppose it’s about the way we’re approaching the storytelling. Most games, I think, start with a fairly comprehensive back-story and build upon that. But we’ve got, in a way, four separate story strands – there’s what happens in the present day, in Richard and Alice’s jail, but there’s also each of their back-stories that you uncover as well. And then you’ve got the story of the world – what happened to it? Why are things the way they are? What’s with this weird prison? And this is the sort of strand you’ll be able to read into as much as you like. You can race through the game just to get to the end, or you can take your time, explore, delve into the fiction of the world. That’s something we really wanted to bring to the table.
AG: The bulk of the action I saw occurred in flashbacks. Does that begin to balance out with present day events during the course of the game?
Ashton: It’s an equal balance. The preview build has been tailored to show what we thought would make a good cross-section of the game, and there are sections missing. Again, giving too much away about this would ruin a considerable portion of the plot, but let’s just say Richard and Alice aren’t as satisfied with their ‘comfortable’ prison as you might expect.
Lewis: What I’d say, though, is don’t expect a game where the intro sequence is to escape and then there’s this huge world to explore, and a new story that takes place there. Richard and Alice are very much in jail, and no one likes that, but frankly there’s not much of a life for them on the outside either. But yeah, you’ve only seen a small fragment of the present-day stuff. There are longer sequences in between the flashbacks as you press further into the game.
AG: The world of Richard & Alice has been devastated by inclement weather and the resulting fallout of our increasingly barbaric response. Is this mainly just a thematic backdrop here, or are you consciously trying to make a statement about mankind as a self-destructive species?
Ashton: No comment.
Lewis: I’ll happily comment on this, actually. I can honestly say that, when I started conceptualising Richard & Alice, I had absolutely no ‘statements’ in mind. What’s interesting – and I hope this suggests the writing is good! – is that I think the characters have started to communicate certain... I don’t know, feelings about the world? A couple of weeks back I was writing a scene, quite a dialogue-heavy one, and it just felt natural that these characters should be mulling over these really quite philosophical points. That wasn’t me trying to make a statement – it was just me thinking, ‘if I were in this situation, these might be the sorts of things that were on my mind.’
Questions. I’d say the game asks questions, rather than makes statements. But that’s just me. One of the great things about a co-write is that each of you brings different stuff to the table!
AG: Who or what would you cite as some of your creative influences?
Ashton: In terms of loving adventure games, Charles Cecil – and in particular Broken Sword – is a big influence for me. I love the classic, older-style adventure games too, but Broken Sword is the pinnacle for me in terms of puzzles rooted in real-world logic, a fantastic, character-driven story etc. There are a ton of different influences on my work overall, but with Richard & Alice in particular, looking outside of games for a moment, I’d say stories like Children of Men. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has been mentioned in relation to it quite a few times – including by us, in the game no less – but personally I’ve never read or seen that.
Lewis: The Road is remarkable. It would be silly of me to pretend it wasn’t a huge influence. I’ve actually only read a small portion of the book – I find McCarthy’s writing to be beautiful and elegant, but difficult – but John Hillcoat’s film is something that stayed with me for a while. I watched it when I was ill, actually, and it just took on this whole additional fever-dream element. And the way the ash created this astonishing, barren, desaturated land was an enormous visual cue when dreaming up Richard & Alice. More so than the story itself, in fact, despite the clear parent-child parallels with Alice and Barney.
Within our medium, the horrible, lonely desolation of the Stalker games is something I was eager to capture, even though we’re working in a very different genre. The natural, candid dialogue of a Ragnar Tørnquist game, too. The smartness of To the Moon’s plot, and the way it told a story almost entirely rooted in the past and yet let you live through it in the present. There’s a lot.
Actually, going away from games for a minute, Emma Donaghue’s Room is a really powerful novel about the relationship between a mother and a child in extremely difficult circumstances. I actually didn’t think much about this when writing the characters, but I did recently notice that our script, somehow, probably owes a lot to that book.
AG: More and more games are going deliberately "retro" these days. The SNES-era presentation you're using has a kind of innately cheerful nostalgia associated with it, which stands in blatantly stark contrast to the subject matter. Why that decision for your game?
Ashton: Practical mainly, although I’m very happy with the results.
Lewis: It turns out that being an artist is something people expect money for these days? Pah! To hell with them – we’ll do it ourselves! In all seriousness, though, I think what we wanted was a visual style that was able to capture the mood. That’s it, really. We didn’t need a flashy 3D engine, so we didn’t use one.Continued on the next page...