iGR Exclusive – Tom Szirtes On Atomhawk Design/Lantern Interactive’s Kickstarter Project The Realm

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In our continued support of Kickstarter crowd funding iGR is reaching out to countless developers about their unique and innovative projects. Atomhawk Design and Lantern Interactive are cooperating to bring us a fresh take on the Point and Click Adventure genre with: The Realm. Before we get to our exclusive interview with Tom, let’s take a look at the collaborative efforts of the many talented people that comprise Atomhawk Design.


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I challenge any one of our readers to NOT find a game they enjoy out of that impressive portfolio. These are the people that are attempting to bring The Realm to life. A bit of background on The Realm can be found in our newest Kickstarter Spotlight article, if you want to read up prior to the interview. Just as The Realm’s Kickstarter-campaign was “kicking off” I contacted Tom Szirtes and we got to talking a bit about The Realm, England, the Adventure genre, and the studios many contributions to the gaming industry.

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1. As you mentioned in your Kickstarter pitch, The Realm was shopped around to the usual suspects and no one snapped up the opportunity to publish. With the Adventure Genre returning to glory, why do you think large publishers are so late to the party?

Adventure games are a hard sell, they still command a fairly niche audience and yet are quite expensive to make. So for publishers it’s more of a risk for them as a business venture. However I’m sure that will change as more and more great adventure games (like The Realm we hope) challenge their perceptions and find a new audience.

2. First off, the collective development staff working on The Realm has a renowned pedigree in the gaming industry. The portfolio the team has collectively worked on is superb. How did the stars align and allow everyone to come together to make The Realm?

It came from a meeting at GDC (Games Developers Conference). I met up with Ron who I’ve stayed friends with since we both worked at Computer Artworks on The Thing. It was just a social occasion but Ron showed me the amazing graphics to The Realm and I suggested we make a game as I was looking for a new venture at the time.

Then we looked around for a game designer to come on board. It made total sense to approach Andrew Curtis who was another The Thing veteran. The final member was Richard Jacques who I worked with at Sega – originally I asked him for estimates on what budget we should put aside for music but he loved the game so much he offered to do the music himself!

3. The development team is based out of Newcastle, United Kingdom (delicious beer by the way). The UK has a rich history and deep connection with nature. How did that factor into the world you’ve created?

The north east of England where Atomhawk are based was definitely an inspiration for the team and they used real life locations as a basis for The Realm. As the game is set in future of our world reclaimed by nature it makes sense to take this approach and there is lots of fun in ‘redressing’ familiar places. UK has some great countryside and as you say a rich history and these are all things we would like to inject into the game.

4. You’ve chosen a strong, yet fragile female protagonist (Sarina) for your vision. Do you think that had any factor in the game not being picked up by a mainstream publisher?

Actually I’m not sure thats the case. Actually all the publishers loved the game as it was, I think it was just the business side they couldn’t get behind. That said I’m sure a focus group would show that we shouldn’t have a girl as a lead character if we wanted to sell x number of copies – but sometimes you have to stick to your vision.

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5. In the fiction of The Realm nature has more than begun to reclaim the Earth, and one of the main characters we’ll play as is Toru, a stone golem. He appears to be covered by vegetation of some kind, maybe moss? Is Toru a representation of Gaia in any way, or was his appearance inspired by the Greek goddess?

Toru is a mysterious character, his appearance is that of stone and vegetation – very elemental looking. I don’t want to give away much about him at this stage as we want the player to discover this themselves as they play the game.

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6. You’ve talked a bit about how Sarina and Toru will have to work together to accomplish their journey. The duo are a veritable Ying and Yang. How important are the contrasting character traits to the story experience?

Quite, its very fundamental to the unique experience that is The Realm. This is very much a story with a heart and the relationship between Sarina and Toru is at the center of that. You’ll see that relationship develop as you play the game.

7. The concept art for The Realm is absolutely stunning. Who at AtomHawk was principally responsible for the first pieces of artwork that were shared with you (Tom Szirtes)?

It was very much a team effort, not a single person’s vision and that’s what makes the art of The Realm so interesting. We’ll be showing some interviews with the art team later in our campaign.

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8. In regards to The Realm it seems you’ve definitely aimed to streamline the standard UI elements many adventure games employ. Do you find the typical layout of the genres inventory systems and object interaction cumbersome?

They can be if not done well. A lot of our decisions actually came from trying to imagine adventure games that could work on touch screen devices as well as PCs and the logic fell out of that way of thinking. The way people interact with them is different. Also we just remembered the things we found frustrating – like randomly trying every object in your inventory to try and solve a puzzle. So we’re trying to do something a bit different and make things a little bit more intuitive, more modern.

9. Richard Jacques is Atomhawk’s chosen composer for The Realm’s soundtrack. As you mention, you want The Realm to be an emotive experience, possibly akin to thatgamecompany’s Journey. Just how integral will the soundtrack be to the overall experience?

I think the soundtrack is of high importance and that’s why I’m so excited to have Richard on board. Actually I’m a musician myself so I understand the importance of audio in games. We want the music to reflect the atmosphere of the world we are creating. Its hard to describe in words, but its mysterious, beautiful, peaceful but with an underlying threat and darkness.

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10. My next question is an absolutely loaded one, and may be hard to answer, but please try. With the countless titles under the studios’ collective belt. What single game, in your personal opinion, lends the most inspiration to the unique concept of The Realm?

There isn’t a single game – sorry. But perhaps I can mention a few references, but all for quite different reasons – Machinarium, Sword & Sworcery, Monkey Island, Beneath a Steel Sky and then games like Ico and even Limbo have influenced our thinking.

11. The team will attempt to bring several new ideas to fruition with The Realm. Agile development is better known to those with a development background, or at least experience at a company that develops it’s own products. How important is it for the team to have the ability to say, “No, this doesn’t work, and we can’t cost effectively allocate the manpower to make it work”?

I’m a proponent of agile development and that’s definitely the approach we will take. You can’t go into project at the beginning saying ‘we know exactly what we want’ – its a creative process and one that evolves throughout – so you have to be flexible. That’s also why Kickstarter is great because we get to take our backers on that journey too. Crowd sourcing doesn’t end at the funding stage, its a fantastic way to tap into the vast wealth of knowledge and passion that the community has in order to produce a better game.

12. If the team successfully funds The Realm via Kickstarter, do you imagine the team will attempt to self publish future games?

Ha, one step at a time! We’ll see – lets get this game made first. Hopefully with your support and your readers we can!


 


The Adventure genre has been making a serious comeback with the help of Telltale, KING Art, and now Atomhawk Design/Lantern Interactive. I’m personally a serious fan of games like The Walking Dead, Journey, and The Book of Unwritten Tales. It’s looking like The Realm will elaborate upon the thought provoking and emotive concepts from The Walking Dead and Journey. All the while streamlining the traditional components that go into the Point and Click UI. Not to mention what’s sure to be a soundtrack that’s an experience of it’s own. I have personally reviewed (and loved) both Journey and The Walking Dead, if Szirtes and company can intuitively combine the two games, The Realm may just be my next favorite. We at iGR respect and admire our readers because of their passion for unique game experiences. With that in mind head over to Kickstarter and help cultivate the intelligent, passionate, and powerful experience The Realm is sure to be.

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Dylan Zellmer

Dylan splits time between games journalism, designing video games, and playing them. Outside of his deep involvement in the games industry, he enjoys It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Shameless, A Song of Ice and Fire, fitness, and family.
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