By Marty Mulrooney
Alternative Magazine Online recently reviewed Anna’s Quest Vol. 1: Winfriede’s Tower (PC), describing it as “a beautifully drawn, professionally voiced point-and-click adventure that deserves to be played by any self-respecting adventure gamer.” AMO is therefore proud to present an exclusive online interview with Australian game developer Dane Krams, the man behind Krams Design and Anna’s Quest!
Hello Mr Krams, thank you for your time and welcome to AMO!
My pleasure, thanks for having me!
Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself please?
Sure – my name’s Dane Krams, and I’m an indie game developer working under the name Krams Design making 2D point and click adventures. I couldn’t think of doing anything else, I love everything about animation, storytelling, and adventure games so this is truly a calling for me! I also live in Brisbane, Australia and am currently working from home, which is a rather sweet deal.
When did you decide to establish Krams Design and who else is involved besides yourself?
Krams Design is actually all me! I’ve contracted out a bit of work so far, like music and voice overs, but as far as programming and art and everything else it’s just me. I started it back in 2010 when I began my Masters degree and needed a front for whatever I was going to produce as my major project (which happened to be Anna’s Quest) and just kept running with it after I graduated!
Anna’s Quest Vol. 1: Winfriede’s Tower is your latest release – how would you describe the game to newcomers?
A fun, quirky adventure heavily inspired by the folk tales of Brothers Grimm about a young girl facing the dangers of the outside world for the first time in order to save her dying Grandpa. Phew, what a mouth full haha! For me it’s a real throwback to LucasArts adventures stylistically, but with a story that really focuses on that notion of a quest – I find that idea really compelling, especially with a protagonist who’s quite vulnerable, someone who the player can really get behind and support and root for.
What target audience would you say the game is aimed at?
That’s an interesting question actually. It’s had a very strong reaction from people as a kind of cute game, even kid orientated, which is never what I set out to do! I completely get it though and can see it in hindsight. I like to think of it like a Pixar film of games, where there’s something in it for all ages. I think the look obviously grabs children’s attention, but there are some themes I’m trying to look at and develop that some of the characters go through which are quite mature and even dark at times. Basing characters and plot points off of Brothers Grimm tales is always going to end up in dark places really! While Volume 1 doesn’t really go too dark compared to later parts of the game, it does set up a lot of narrative threads that won’t resolve in the happiest ways for everyone. That being said it is still child friendly! Just… in an old school Disney, Snow White kind of way.
The game was built using the popular ‘Adventure Game Studio’ engine. What benefits did the AGS engine bring to this project?
Well, there’s ease of use for people who aren’t strong programmers like myself, but that’s not exclusive to AGS. I absolutely love the community around the engine, the people there are amazing. The support they give both technically and morally for each other, it’s addictive. You can feel it pouring from the forums! To see all these great adventure games coming out from there too, the Blackwell and Ben Jordan series, The Journey Down, Gemini Rue, Resonance, not to mention the games still in production, I just felt really compelled and excited to become a part of it.
Anna’s Quest runs at an impressive 1024×768 resolution – was this always planned or did you decide to increase the resolution when AGS was updated to allow resolutions beyond 800×600?
AGS was actually already compatible with 1024×768 when I started tinkering with it, which was nice! To be honest, I would have loved an even higher res (which is currently being worked on, but isn’t ready just yet), and since I’ve drawn all the assets at a much higher res it would be fairly easy to implement a higher res version. When the higher res’ are made available in the engine, it’s definitely something I would look at doing – I’d love to reward everyone who’s supported me with a HD version! We’ll see…
The game features “a range of traditional, frame-by-frame 2D animations.” What exactly does this process involve?
A long, slow and painful amount of time planning, sketching, and drawing! Basically with every animation you see in the game, there’s a lot of time behind it drawing each and every individual frame of movement. It’s incredibly rewarding though, and the more experience I get with it the more I feel like I’m getting out of it. Really excited about some of the plans for animations in Volumes 2 and 3!
How long did Vol. 1 of Anna’s Quest take to complete and what challenges did you face along the way?
That’s a little tricky actually since it was an experimental project for a long time. I began tinkering with it way back in 2010 when I started my Masters and was figuring out if AGS was something I could get my head around. As I tinkered and worked out how to properly animate and get AGS working, and as I thought about all the Brothers Grimm stories I was getting inspired by, I found a story just started to naturally rise out from it and I ran with it. I didn’t really start to properly work on it and the full game design document until mid 2011, so around a year I guess! The biggest challenge was definitely in shaping the game’s experience for the player – it’s one thing to throw a bunch of art together with some puzzles, but when I first started play testing I quickly realised how hard it was going to be to guide players just enough to make it fun and not make them feel too stupid or make it feel too easy. That’s a balance that’s incredibly subtle and takes a long time to fashion out.
The voice acting is fantastic across the board – where did you manage to find such talented actors?
Thanks! I completely agree, I feel extremely lucky. I just posted character bios and a bit about the game on voice acting forums mostly, I think I got most of them through the Voice Acting Alliance forums. I had people send in recorded auditions and went from there. There’s a lot of talented people out there, there were some really tough decisions to make in casting actually, but I couldn’t be happier with how the voices turned out.
Did you get to meet the actors or was everything organised over the Internet?
Sadly it was all over the net. A lot of them were from America, so being in Australia it wasn’t very practical to meet them! Well, that’s not entirely true – Ted is voiced by my own son, so that’s at least one actor I got to work with in person! But thankfully the actors I used were so talented they could take the characters and give them life with very little direction.
Will they all be returning for Anna’s Quest Vol. 2?
Most likely, yes. Some characters won’t be reappearing, but in those cases it’s very likely I’ll invite them to play other characters, there’s a LOT more in upcoming chapters. I like the relationship I’ve built with the actors, it feels like a little online family to me, so why not keep the family together if I can!
Your son did a great job as the voice of Ted! Was it fun to work with him in this way?
Haha, thanks, he’ll be glad to hear it! It was incredibly fun, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging. As an 8 year old, keeping him in front of the microphone for periods of recording longer than 15 minutes became somewhat difficult! I resorted to bribing him with Skylander figurines, which worked well for all involved.
Did he have to audition for the part?
He did actually! I wanted to make sure it suited Ted before I committed to it, and it worked out even better than I first thought it would.
Had you always planned to make Anna’s Quest a trilogy? Or did you ever contemplate releasing all three volumes as one large adventure game?
That’s a really good question, since I never did plan it this way. I definitely wanted one large adventure, but the options for getting games made that way are kind of limited when you’re working as an indie. It’s basically join the bandwagon and go for crowd funding, or release it in parts and have those parts fund the rest of the game. I liked the idea of having proof of what the game can be rather than crowd funding which is just kind of a promise – I prefer people to get hands on with it and get excited for it rather than look at pictures and imagine it!
The soundtrack by James Flamestar suits the mood of the game perfectly – how did he become involved with the project?
Definitely, I’m so incredibly happy with how the music turned out! He’s actually a friend I had already made through an Australian gaming site with a really great community around it, so it was a really easy and comfortable progression going into working together. He knew I was working on a game, I knew he was making music, so it just kind of happened very naturally! Also his stuff is great, he’s amazingly talented so that made the decision to get him on board easier!
What’s your favourite adventure game?
Oh man, tough one! I’m a huge sucker for Monkey Island 3, it just combined art, animation, puzzle design, writing, so many things so well. Full Throttle, Syberia, Sam & Max, the first Gabriel Knight, Day of the Tentacle, Willy Beamish, they’re all up there too, it’s so so hard to name one! It would have to be Monkey Island 3 at the end of the day though I think.
Have you started working on Anna’s Quest Vol. 2 yet?
Sure have! I’ve already completed a few room backgrounds and objects completely and am working on a fourth right now. All the game has been designed, and a lot of the concept art has been sketched out already, so it’s just a matter of churning through the list of things to do! It’s a long list though, but I’ll be making sure it gets out as fast as it can.
What can players expect from Anna’s Quest Vol. 2?
A LOT more characters, and also different puzzles happening at the same time. I know I’m not the first person to emulate it, but think the map puzzle from Monkey Island 2 – it’s very much like that. Players have been kind of confined to this tower in Volume 1, so I really wanted to go the opposite way and let them roam and explore more, interact with more people. There’s a lot more stories going on with the different characters, and I’ve been able to play around with a lot of old folk tales on this one, which was a lot of fun. It also means I could start exploring a few more darker areas of the world which I’m really looking forward to creating and sharing with everyone! There’s a local witch kidnapping the village’s children, a ghost of a boy that’s drowned in the nearby lake, a houseful of murderous thieves… can’t wait!
When do you hope to have released all three volumes of Anna’s Quest?
By the end of 2013, but that’s a lofty hope right now! April is the intended target for Volume 2, with 3 by the end of the year, but a lot can happen between now and then, especially when I’m carrying the bulk of the game on my own shoulders. We’ll see! I’ll definitely be doing my best to release it by these dates.
Thank you for your time, it has been a pleasure interviewing you Mr Krams! Anna’s Quest Vol. 1: Winfriede’s Tower is one of the best indie adventure games I’ve ever played. I can’t wait to play Anna’s Quest Vol. 2!
Thank you so much for saying so! And thanks again for having me on AMO!