Stark Contrasts: Dreamfall Chapters’ Cyberpunk City

By Adam Smith on February 22nd, 2013 at 12:00 pm.

If you’ve never played The Longest Journey or Dreamfall, you could be forgiven for thinking that Dreamfall Chapters is set in a world of rolling hills, sunbeams and magic. That’s partly true. There’s another world behind and sort of alongside that one. Stark is one possible future of our world, and it contrasts sharply with Arcadia’s green and pleasant lands. The latest Kickstarter update contains the first sight of Europolis, a cyberpunk dystopia of dark alleys, and neon-bright corporations and nightclubs. Below, you’ll find the latest video, showing the city streets and providing an insight into the state of Europe in 2220. All of the footage is in-game, taken from the current prototype. I’ve also included some screenshots and concept art, including two new characters, that you can’t find anywhere else just yet. For good measure, I asked project director Ragnar Tørnquist to provide some detail about the characters and the city.

You can click any images, including the concept art at the top of the post, to make them magically grow.

This is, as far as I can recall, the first mention of adventuring hubs and their inclusion makes the hybrid control scheme more fitting than I’d thought previously. Given time and freedom to explore an environment, without the gentle hand of ‘NEXT PUZZLE’ at one’s back, it makes sense to have a means of moving through the world in less abstract fashion.

The brief Q&A is below, but first, here’s some background detail on the two new characters:

Mira — an Indian woman in her mid-20s — runs an underground network that extends from Newport in the west to Mumbai in the east, with Europolis as its brains and central nervous system.

Mira hails from the tech-slums of Mumbai; born on the streets, she survived the cyborg gangs, the street-assassins hired by local police, and corporate Jägers hunting for live subjects for the burgeoning genetic research industries.

Sharp as a knife and a gifted gabber, Mira has built a subterranean empire that encompasses such renowned hackers and dealers as Burns Flipper in Newport, and Olivia in Casablanca. She’s notorious, wanted in fifteen city-states, and at any time every major corporation has at least one contract out on her with the world’s top hit men — but she gets by.

Wit, Mira’s partner, may look like the muscle, but he wouldn’t hurt a fly. It’s actually the other way around: Mira has always protected Wit and treats him like a younger brother. Wit is a silent genius. He can build anything from scavenged parts and rogue code. He’s incredibly nimble, patient and focused. He may be unable to communicate with anyone, aside from Mira, but he makes up for his deficiencies by being the absolute best at what he does.

Onto the questions.

RPS: Oh no! Europe is where take most of my holidays. What happened to it?

Tørnquist: You know, I can recommend southeast Asia. It’s lovely, warm, friendly and cheap. Why settle for an industrial, crime ridden urban wasteland when you can have pristine beaches and coconuts?

In our version of 2220, Europe is finally paying the price for hundreds of years of imperialism, reactionary politics, wasteful spending and industrialisation. Europolis is the dark and rotten heart of this new Europe. The giant megalopolis stretches from former Poland in the east, across all of Germany, and to the Netherlands in the west, encompassing the Baltic nations and most of France.

It’s a pretty big place.

In Dreamfall Chapters, Zoë will spend quite a bit of time exploring this urban landscape. We have several ‘pockets’ of free-roaming adventure gameplay, and Europolis is one of them — Marcuria, in the magical world of Arcadia, is another. Players can explore, experience the environment, story and characters in a non-linear fashion, and decide their own pace before they push the main story forward.

RPS: If I think cyberpunk, I tend to look toward America or Japan, which may betray my own cultural bias, but you’re dropping the noir-bomb right in the heart of Europe. The sprawling city-state makes me think Bladerunner, as does the imagery of the video, particularly the umbrellas oddly enough, Why Europe and can you name any other inspirations?

Tørnquist: We’re European, and Europe is often, as you say, under-represented in games — particularly in this fashion. It’s also a location we’ve spoken about in previous games but have never visited, and we felt it was time — it really is one of the most intriguing locations in The Longest Journey saga.

Blade Runner is, of course, an inspiration, but we also wanted to get away from the cliché of the North American megacity with strong Japanese influences, and base it on something a bit closer to home. Our Europolis is a mix of Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and France — a lot of interesting cultural and architectural influences — set two hundred years into the future. Berlin, in particular, has been a source of inspiration, and I think it’s a city that lives and breathes techno-noir. Which is totally Europolis.

RPS: It was clear from the first world-spanning moment in The Longest Journey that there was an interest in showing the contrast between worlds – that has always seemed to be linked to a fascination with the diversity of human life, imagination and condition. Could you talk a little about any real world locations that have inspired scenes or settings?

Tørnquist: The contrast between the two worlds — Stark and Arcadia; science and magic; order and chaos — is key to our universe, and it’s something we always want to do more of. Really emphasise the huge difference between these two settings.

I mentioned Berlin as an influence for Europolis…mixed with a bit of Blade Runner and Mega-City One, of course. New York’s East Village was a huge inspiration for the neighbourhood of Venice, in Newport, the North American city in The Longest Journey and Dreamfall. For Casablanca, in Dreamfall, we wanted to create a warm, cosy, affluent version of Africa.

As for Marcuria, there are no real world parallels, but we’re all fans of imaginary cities, and Marcuria borrows from a host of sources — including the fantasy classics.

RPS: A collapsed Europe isn’t entirely unimaginable – we’ve spoken before about artistic, personal and cultural influences, but how strong is any intentional political element to your work?

Tørnquist: There is always an intentional political element to our work! But I’m not sure it’s something we want to overtly state. A lot of it will depend on the player’s own point of view and interpretations.

Of course, with Europolis, we’re basically saying “Europe is going to degenerate into poverty, crime and chaos” — maybe overstating things a tiny bit, but hey, that makes it more interesting!

There’s more to it than that, of course, and there’s a lot of stuff under the surface. You’ll find out more through the characters you meet, the dialogues, the puzzles, the story. But yeah, there’s definitely a political element to Dreamfall Chapters, as there was to Dreamfall as well.

RPS: What is the process for creating the initial drafts of a new ‘world’? Do the writing team storyboard or do the art team translate ideas and words into images?

Tørnquist: We write the words, give the precious words to the artists, who then create magic. It’s often as simple as that. With Europolis, it was something we needed for the story, but also something our art director jumped on immediately. I think all artists jump at the chance of making proper, old school cyberpunk. It’s in their blood.

Usually, it’s a collaboration. We need certain locations for the story and the characters, but we’re also quite flexible, and we want the artists to brainstorm, to show us what they can do with the engine and the tech, to be inspired — and to inspire us in return. It’s a back and forth process. With Chapters, we’ve actually modified the story a bit and added scenes based on some amazing stuff the artists have shown us.

Gaming is a collaborative medium, and you really do need to be flexible and allow for outside ideas to challenge and add to your vision. Usually, that’s a very, very good thing.

RPS: Is Mira playable? Is Wit playable? Who is playable?!

Tørnquist: No. No. Who’s to say? It’s all a blur, to be honest.

We’ll have more on this soon, I promise. There will be three playable characters in Chapters. And two of them are NOT Zoë.

RPS: Wit is a ‘silent genius’ – saving on voice actors’ fees, eh? What has happened to his eyes? Is that the new iPhone stuck in the sockets?

Tørnquist: He’s the iWit, manufactured by Apple. Actually, he looks more like a Samsung guy, to be honest.

RPS: With seedy nightclubs, cyborg gangs, live research subjects for genetic testing and all manner of poverty and exploitation, will there be graphic content? Europolis is a dark place, and Mira and Wit sound like they probably deal with some unpleasant situations and characters. How much of that unpleasantness will be implied and how much will be shown?

Tørnquist: There will be graphic content. Dreamfall Chapters is a game for adults — although that doesn’t mean there will be tons of sex and violence. Just a bit of sex and violence. There are mature themes. People die. Children die. Good people die. There are fewer certainties. Things are a bit less black-and-white. We’re creating a fantasy world that feels real, with characters you care about, characters whose lives matter. We want the player to be emotionally invested, to actually feel something. Love, loss, heartache, horror…

There will be unpleasantness both implied and shown — although we’re not going to drown the player in sleaze and filth. Chapters is a game of contrasts. Of light and dark. And for every Mira in Europolis, there’s a Blind Bob in Marcuria. For every Wit, there’s a Crow. And for every inner-city wasteland there’s a beautiful, sunny, magical landscape.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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54 Comments »

  1. Soulstrider says:

    Haven’t been this excited for a game in a long while.

  2. Meat Circus says:

    Weird, everywhere I’ve been in South East Asia already looks like the first screenshot.

  3. rustybroomhandle says:

    I backed it and it looks great, but I’d have been just as happy just getting the rest of the story in a text file with some crude ASCII art accompanying it.

  4. Frank says:

    “We have several ‘pockets’ of free-roaming adventure gameplay, and Europolis is one of them”

    Even pockets will do. Color me interested (with neon cyberpunk lights) and glad that Tornquist is back making non-MMOs (now that the project has met its KS goal without my help).

    • DeVadder says:

      So one of the ‘pockets of free-roaming’ is a city the size of middle-europe? Does that mean i can travel the streets by car for weeks without reaching the other end? And how could something that big be considered a single place? Surely the culture, visuals and everything can not be homogenous in a city of that size? Have these people ever BEEN in a city with more than one million inhabitants?

  5. Alexander says:

    Man, that first concept art is superb. Exploring Europe in 22something should be interesting at the least. And thanks for the high res.

  6. Brosepholis says:

    Good heavens, it’s Gunther Hermann and Anna Navarre!

  7. Sheng-ji says:

    Did anyone else think Ragnar and Dag were brothers until their names appeared?

  8. Jamesworkshop says:

    Anyone got any good advice for the older titles, i’ve only heard good things about them but can’t really get any to run with suitable play-ability.

  9. brulleks says:

    “Wit, Mira’s partner, may look like the muscle, but he wouldn’t hurt a fly. It’s actually the other way around…”

    This is one of the reasons I love this series, and its creators: they understand an audience can be just as engaged by having their expectations subverted, rather than constantly pandered to.

  10. CaspianRoach says:

    there will be tons of sex and violence

    Excellent! Sold!

  11. yeastcapp says:

    I thought the video showed a “Sexponential” sign but it turned out to say “Sexperience”. I like my version better :/

  12. Stevostin says:

    It looks ugly to me. Am I the only one shocked by the very low poly building, the flat texturing, the weak quality of the lightning ?

    • Janto says:

      Yeah. I can forgive them for it being an early build, with in-progress assets, but it’s sort of funny the concept art, which would be amazing with some polish for a 2D game, is so much more attractive than the 3D renders.

    • derella says:

      It’s footage of an early prototype, from a tiny indie company that has existed for like 4 months. I really hope you’re the only one shocked.

    • mutopia says:

      Well I can’t speak for others but I think the vast majority of people who played TLJ and/or Dreamfall will know they can expect something a lot more beautiful and with at least a hundred times more graphics.

      That said, you’re probably not the only one who has to get used to seeing game footage from this early on in development, but the times they are a-changing (ie; it’s a natural consequence of crowdfunding and all).

  13. JohnD says:

    Great to see cyberpunk becoming a big focus in games these days!

    I do have the original two, are they worth playing?

    • solidsquid says:

      Game mechanics a bit clunky and puzzles can be awkward, but they’re adventure games so that’s pretty par for the course. The story is good though, and that’s what most people played them for (personally I just played with a walkthrough open so I could use it if I came across any obscure puzzle bits)

      So yes, worth playing, but keep in mind that, as adventure games, they have some bits which will frustrate the hell out of you if you don’t have a walkthrough

    • mutopia says:

      Definitely. And try to partially ignore what solidsquid said; two or three weird puzzles should not mean you keep a walkthrough handy, because unless you are Dr. Strongwill de Termined and have the jaded discipline of a hardcore adventure gamer, IT WILL ruin the entire game for you if you’ll be constantly wondering whether or not this is the time to consult the walkthrough. Really, it’s the difference between playing a game and watching a game being played by someone else.

      If you find yourself stuck, use UHS-Hints instead:
      http://www.uhs-hints.com/hints/search.php?search=the+longest+jouyrney

  14. ecat says:

    I just hope they change Zoe’s face, the nose and chin are wrong. I keep telling myself it is my Zoe, but no. And my Zoe would never wear a nose stud :(

  15. Bhazor says:

    Grrr, I really don’t like the new Zoe, trout pout and hair pulled back so tight it looks painted on. Why didn’t they go with the wooly hat look from the concept art?
    https://s3.amazonaws.com/ksr/assets/000/370/787/377035364f1f594ec2f979915f4e820f_large.jpg?

    I know it’s petty at this stage but I’ve always loved the character designs/costume design in these games and this just seems so bland. Hopefully she’ll have a few changes of clothes like in the other games.

    • Ninja Dodo says:

      Hair like in the concept is a lot harder to animate / more expensive to simulate. This is why there are not many game characters with long locks of gloriously flowing hair. For a taste of the difficulties involved in doing complicated hair check some behind the scenes on Tangled…. and that’s not even real-time.

  16. rawrty says:

    I find it disturbing when I’m asked to touch things and watch them magically grow.

  17. Iskariot says:

    Another game I want to play.
    And they said PC gaming was dead…
    To me it seems to become more and more alive with every minute that passes.
    -
    EDIT:
    Is it true that this is a 3d point and click game?
    That would be disappointing.

    • Citrus says:

      It is an adventure game. Point and click is the way these games usually go. I got bored of TLJ, never played the sequel so I am not sure I will try this out.

      Syberia series still has way better story/world/characters as far as I am concerned.

    • The First Door says:

      The Longest Journey (the first one) was a classic point and click style game, Dreamfall (the second one) was more of a third person game with some pointing and clicking.

      I believe they are planning to make this one more point and click oriented because… well, because the combat and ‘stealth’ in Dreamfall was a little rubbish. I think they are both fantastic games though!

  18. jfrisby says:

    Considering this has gotten two RPS articles during it’s Kickstarter… I’m trying to be happy for them.

    Never really got the appeal of the first game… It was an grueling experience with a off-the-shelf fantasy plot.

  19. crinkles esq. says:

    I had this weird moment watching that video, about 1:30 in where suddenly a person is watching the game from a monitor Except I thought the person was another game character, and there was a surveillance or meta-game-within-game thing going on.

  20. The Dark One says:

    Disappointed by the lack of staring eyes tag.

  21. whoCares says:

    Dear Developers, please do not concentrate too much about how steampunky noir and god-forsaken the world must be, but conentrate on making the characters as suspensful (don’t know if it’s the right word I mean german ‘spannend’) as they were in previous games. ‘Cool’ world design is overhyped as hell.

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