Mar 2, 2010

Agustin Cordes of Scratches fame answers 11 questions

Successful independently produced adventures are a truly rare breed, whereas successfully independently produced quality horror adventures are way rarer than a particularly rare thing. Meet then Agustin Cordes, creator of such a rarity, who was responsible (among other stuff) for the splendid Scratches and Scratches Director's Cut adventure games, and currently runs the excellent and definitely eclectic Slightly Deranged blog. Oh, and as this is quite obviously an interview with the man, it will also let you find out some juicy bits about his forthcoming projects. Tasty, eh?

1.So, Agustin, care to intorduce yourself to the Gnome's Lair crowd and let 'em know a bit about you and your creations; besides Scratches that is?

Hello little creature of the forest! Oh you know, I’m just a guy who’s hopelessly in love with the past, especially vintage games. I’m like one of those old people who always remind us of just how better things were back in their times, except for the old part that is. My creations can be counted with the tentacles of my left arm, but they’re still worthwhile: there’s Scratches indeed, and we’ll get to that soon, but there’s also Risk Profile, an educational and very fun adventure which is only available in Spanish, a quirky little interactive fiction I wrote many years ago called Valpurgius And I and of course Slightly Deranged, my recent blog about cult movies and games.

2.Excellent. But, let's get back to Scratches now, as it is one of the best horror adventures I've ever played. How did you first decide to start working on it? What was your inspiration and what were you trying to acheive?

I’m glad to hear you liked Scratches! I’ve always fancied developing an adventure game ever since I tried King’s Quest when I was a small brat. The real decision to start working on such a project came many years later after seeing the impressive achievement of Dark Fall, in my eyes the real beginning of the indie movement (yes, not only adventures but gaming in general). I thought, “Hey someone actually pulled this one off” and decided to give it a shot. It’s been one hell of a ride since then! The inspiration behind Scratches came from countless of vintage horror films, especially from the Hammer era, although two movies in particular stand out: House Of The Long Shadows, an overlooked little gem with Lee, Cushing and Price, and House By The Cementery by the one and only Lucio Fulci. In fact, you can blame Fulci for my obsession with basements. Of course, H.P. Lovecraft is my ultimate inspiration -with Scratches I wanted to mimic that mood of 70’s horror films and particularly the notion of playing a Lovecraft story, who I think remains the master of literary atmosphere and subtlety. The ending of Scratches (which many found unsatisfying) was pure Lovecraftian in nature in a sense of facing that ultimate horror and coming to a sudden halt.

3.Did you epxect its success? Did you believe a horror adventure game could be succesful or were you mostly indulging yourself?

Hell no! Scratches was always supposed to be a quaint adventure game for a very specific audience. It was designed to be challenging and please hardcore adventure gamers in the first place. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined so many people enjoying the game; even brand newcomers to the adventure genre.

4.Are there any interesting facts from the game's development you'd like to share?

Well yes, sort of. As you may recall, the game was first announced with a small playable teaser that featured a “slideshow” style. Shortly after, Cellar Of Rats came onboard the project and was the first to suggest the possibility of updating the gameplay to the 360 panoramic panning. Given that the first teaser got such a great reception, I thought that upping the ante would be a wise move and went to develop the panoramic format. The game looked great with it! In the end it was a good decision, but back then we decided to launch a second teaser featuring this new improvement. We figured that, since the first teaser became a hit of sorts, this one would blow everyone’s minds. Funnily enough, the new teaser wasn’t that hot and some even questioned the change! It’s a really strange world out there...

5.What about Scratches: The Director's Cut? It was a pretty unique decision in our world of PC gaming.

Do you think so? I believe there have been similar “upgrades” in the past. The success of Scratches was huge and people wanted more, but there wasn’t any sequel planned, so it seemed like a good idea to give them some more of Scratches. Furthermore, the new release was bound to attract the attention of gamers who were on the fence about buying the first game or maybe missed it.

6.How did you decide what to improve for the Director's Cut? Was it the feedback? Where there choices that were only made possible after the first version of Scratches brought in some cash?

Some was feedback by fans, yes, particularly regarding the controls. The new scheme with a fixed camera was so much better and granted more dynamism to the game. Other things were left unsaid the first time and came back as comments from Michael, especially the journal feature. And of course, The Last Visit was intended to show what happened after that enigmatic ending and provide a few more answers. Last, but not least, the entire graphics were revamped to support a higher resolution, one of the biggest complains about the first version. All in all the additions were worthwhile but I would have wanted to make the Director’s Cut even bigger with more features, most importantly a commentary track that would have given players plenty of behind the scenes details as they explored the house.

7.And, well, how have you been keeping yourself busy after Scratches?

After Scratches Nucleosys became involved in this huge project in Argentina called Risk Profile, an educational adventure commissioned by the government of Buenos Aires. It was quite surprising to say the least, I mean, an actual government supporting adventure games! And they even brought references such as Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion to the table. The project lasted about 18 months and was pretty hectic. The game was very large (over 50 characters to interact with and 80 lush background scenes) and ideally would have required 24 months for a much less stressful development.

8.Care to describe Risk Profile a bit?

Sure, the style of the game is reminiscent of Runaway, but it is far more lighthearted. Keep in mind it was intended for kids between 9 and 16 years. The idea behind the game was to teach youngsters what are taxes for, lessons in morality and what it's like being a good citizen. It probably sounds utterly boring, but the actual game was great fun and even adults loved it! There are 12 lengthy missions ranging from auditing a dubious software company to investigating a mine apparently haunted by ghosts a la Scooby Doo. I was given nearly complete freedom with the script and included lots of jokes although many of them would probably get lost in translation.

For instance, there’s a sequence where the protagonist (Martina) has to mix a beer for a loser hanging out in the street to get some crucial information, so the player has to pick a dumped half-eaten box of cereals, put them inside a running car engine and get the resulting liquid from the exhaust pipe. Needless to say, the bum loves the revolutionary taste. There are also some great cutscenes between missions where two news reporters inform players about the outcome of Martina’s achievements. These segments get more and more bizarre as the game progresses though and at one point the anchorman warns people about a giant Lovecraftian creature invading the city while you can see behind him huge tentacles hugging a skyscraper. I still can’t believe they allowed me to get away with that!

9.Any chances of it reaching an English speaking audience in some form or another?

Unfortunately I’m not sure, though I would certainly love to bring the game to a bigger audience. I think it would be highly entertaining, even to hardcore adventure gamers looking for something different. There has been some interest about translating the game, but I can’t really say it will happen.

10.So, what have you been doing lately?

You already know about Slightly Deranged, a project I had been toying with for a few years. These hobbies can get extremely time-consuming so I’m always in awe when I find remarkable sites such as Gnome’s Lair and many others, managed by a small group of people or even one person. The dedication you show is enviable and the internet just wouldn’t be the same without you!

Besides working on Slightly Deranged, I’m preparing the imminent announcement and website of my new company, Senscape Interactive. Hey, that’s a scoop!

11.Any plans on new games? What does the future hold?

Yes, many plans as usual, but one thing at a time. I’m working with a new team on an exciting adventure game, definitely a dream come true for fans of Scratches. And what’s even better, this game has been secretly in development for a while so you won’t have to wait that long to play it. Believe me when I tell you this is going to be one scary and unforgettable experience! In fact, we’ll be referring to this game as “Unnamable Project” until it’s officially announced.

Now wait a minute... those have been TWO scoops! I guess you caught me in a good mood today. Thank you again for giving me this great opportunity to chat and I wish you the very best with Gnome’s Lair!

Thank you, and please stop making me blush! Can't wait for more of your games, mind...

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