INTERVIEW -In Conversation With Backwoods Entertainment (Creators of Unforeseen Incidents)

By Marty Mulrooney

Following on from Alternative Magazine Online’s recent review of Unforeseen Incidents – “one of the best point-and-click adventure games of recent years” – and an in-depth interview with charming lead voice actor Matthew Curtis, AMO is proud to present an exclusive online interview with the team of Backwoods Entertainment, the small indie development studio from Germany that created the game!

Marcus Bäumer
Game Designer, Writer, Programmer, Media Psychologist

Hi Marcus, thank you for your time and welcome to Alternative Magazine Online!

Hello Martin. It’s a pleasure.

Congratulations on the successful launch of Unforeseen Incidents! How do you feel now the game has been released and received such positive reviews?

Thank you. Exhausted and relieved. It’s really good to finally have it out there. We had it locked up long enough. Reading the positive reviews is always flattering. We’re really, really happy that the game is being received that well without us needing to bribe reviewers too much.

You served as both game designer and writer on this project. Have you always been a fan of adventure games?

Yes, and that was the reason why I always wanted to make one. I have always been a huge fan of the genre. I especially enjoyed the LucasArts games and many others ’90s games from the golden days of pointing and clicking. Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango and so many others were a big inspiration for Unforeseen Incidents – people who played it can probably tell.

Where did the idea for the story come from?

We wanted to make a mystery story. That idea was heavily inspired by TV shows like Twin Peaks, Lost, Fargo and The X-Files. There weren’t many mystery point & click games with a touch of humor at the time the idea first emerged. The story around the virus and the conspiracy formed step by step after I started writing about mysterious events taking place in a small town.

How would you describe Unforeseen Incidents to a gamer that knows nothing about it?

Unforeseen Incidents is a classic but modern point & click mystery about a deadly disease, a dark conspiracy and a somewhat naive but likeable small-town handyman who is about to save human kind, armed only with his trusty multi-tool. It has some beautiful art.

The script often made me laugh out loud! How difficult was it to balance the comedic aspects with the more serious elements of the story?

We tried to avoid humor whenever it came to serious topics like the dying people. Unforeseen Incidents is no comedy adventure. The humor emerges from the characters and the dialog, not the story or gameplay. Harper is a person who likes to make funny remarks, which is kind of his way to hide his fear. That was our premise.

Alasdair Beckett-King wrote the script with you in parallel, which has resulted in an excellent English-language version of the game. How did this unique creative process work?

We teamed up with Alasdair early in the development process. Alasdair doesn’t speak German, which forced me to write the first draft of the script in Okay-English, which Alasdair then edited to Superb-English. At the same time, I often outlined the German version which then changed when Alasdair introduced contextual changes. We used Articy Draft, a game design tool that allows collaborative work, to write the script together.

How long did it take to make Unforeseen Incidents?

2 1/2 years of full-time production. We worked on the basic draft and outline for the project in the years before, but we did that in our spare-time while studying and working in our first jobs. I had the first version of the script in 2011.

Would you like to make a sequel one day?

You never know.

What’s next for you and Backwoods Entertainment?

We just got governmental funding for a new project, which will be a narrative game, but not a point & click title. We’ll soon announce more information about it.

Matthias Nikutta
2D/3D Artist, Illustrator, Animator, Designer

Hi Matze, welcome to AMO!

Hi Martin, thanks a lot for having us!

Can you tell our readers a little bit more about your background and experience please?

I’m Matt, Illustrator/Creative Director and I am responsible for pretty much all the visuals of our studio. I have a background in Multimedia Design, as I have studied at the Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design Halle.

You created the beautiful graphics and environments in Unforeseen Incidents. How long did it take to settle on the project’s final art style?

We started to work on Unforeseen Incidents long before the actual release of the game in our spare time, while we we’re still studying, but that didn’t work out. Every time we got back to the project, we had gotten better at what we’re doing and had to start over. Kind of a tedious process, but we learned a lot.

At one point we decided to make a prototype and try to get funding for the game. Because we wanted to keep production costs as low as possible, we went for a sketchy looking art style, that would enable us to draw over 60 backgrounds in a short amount of time. So I think in some way the art style is a result of the style I developed during my studies and the decision to go for that atmospheric, yet sketchy art style.

As we started the development of the final game, we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted it to look like. The style still changed a little bit compared to the prototype, but the general idea was the same. Up to that point we had already worked on the game for 4 years.

Unforeseen Incidents looks like concept art brought to life; was this an intentional stylistic choice?

Actually no, it wasn’t. During the pre-production and the development of the prototype we calculated that if we had to draw 60 backgrounds, I could spend 2 ½ days on each one of them. So I tried to keep the line work somewhat sketchy, while trying to give the backgrounds a nice atmosphere with the use of light/shadows, colour and a lot of gradients. This turned into a feature and into this art style.

Did you refer to any real life images for reference/inspiration during production?

No, not really. I think the most inspiration for this project came through other artists that have influenced my own style. For one it’s Ian McQue with his gorgeous linework. And Robert Valley, who really knows how to use gradients. I mingled these two together during my studies and came up with my own style, which you can see in the game. But I didn’t really get references from real life images.

Were the graphics drawn by hand or digitally?

Well, they were drawn by hand, but I paint everything digital on a tablet, using Photoshop. I usually do everything on the computer.

Were there any locations that had to be scrapped?

We tried to come up with interesting locations and places during pre-production. During that stage we had to dismiss some cool ideas and sketches but I think that’s the case with every project. We really tried to avoid scrapping finished backgrounds, as we couldn’t afford to do so.

Would you like to work on a sequel at some point in the future?

Maybe. Right now I’m really happy, to be able to work on something different. But it might be fun, to come back to this project some day.

What’s next for you Matze?

Right now I’m working on our new project which also is a mystery adventure, but in 3D this time! I’m pretty excited to see where that will take us.

Thank your for your time!

You’re welcome! Thanks for the interview!

Tristan Berger
Musician, Sound Designer, Programmer

Hi Tristan, welcome to AMO!

Thanks for having me!

You served as musician, sound designer and programmer for Unforeseen Incidents – how did you balance these roles?

Since the idea and some concepts of Unforeseen Incidents were already existing from early game-jams we did in our free time long before we started working on it full-time, the overall musical tone of the game was already kind of set once we really dove into production.

This took away the rather time-consuming process of coming up with a musical concept and I could instead directly start working on the music for the different scenes and rooms. During the early production process I always tried to focus on one big chunk at a time. I would do the complete music for Chapter 1 and then Chapter 2 for two to three months, then work on the sound design for another month and get back to music for Chapter 3.

Dividing things up was very efficient in the beginning but proved more and more difficult to manage the closer we got to finishing the game, as a lot of adjustments had to be made once all the pieces were put together and we could really see and hear what worked and what didn’t. The programming part was relatively small compared to the scope of the rest of the programming team – it really only consisted of implementing the sounds and music into the game – and thus wasn’t too hard to fit in between the larger tasks that came up towards the end such as recording and implementing the voice acting.

From a creative perspective, being both the sound designer and composer for a game or any kind of media opens up some really nice possibilities such as leaving out music and having the sound design completely take over the atmosphere or vice versa. I really enjoy musical silence in films and I think it has – unfortunately – become widely accepted to shove as much music into narrative media as possible. I really enjoy the kind of “silence” that a simple recording of a forest can create. We’ve used this in quite a few scenes in the game and I think it really calms down the pace and can add a sense of reflection to the protagonist’s inner world.

How did you approach the music and sound design of the game?

For point-and-click adventures, one of the biggest challenges when it comes to music is to not overdo it. Players spend a LOT of time in all the different rooms – sometimes hours – and they will be hearing the same music over and over again, while having to concentrate on solving puzzles that are sometimes far from easy to figure out. So the one thing the music really shouldn’t do is get to much into the spotlight as it will easily become annoying. I always kept this in mind even though it was very challenging to me, even frustrating at times, because there is always that almost irresistible impulse to take out the big guns at least somewhere during a piece of music. Luckily we had cut-scenes and other events in the game that allowed for a more bloated kind of soundtrack.

As for the sound design, except for choosing/recording the sounds that were being used, there wasn’t really much of a creative rather than a practical approach unfortunately, since 2D scenes don’t really allow for much experiments in spatialisation. This in turn made the process respectively easy. We tried using convolution reverb to mimic the room’s spatial atmosphere but as soon as the game launched, some players were complaining about the voice acting sounding too roomy so we removed it with the first update.

What came first: the graphics or the music of each scene?

Both. I started working on the music when the graphics for Chapter 1 and 2 were already finished; Chapter 3 was pretty much done in parallel and for Chapter 4 I had no graphics other than concept art to work with, which really proved challenging at times but worked out in the end.

What technology and game engine does Unforeseen Incidents use?

Unforeseen Incidents was developed in Unity. For the most part, since we weren’t working with complex sound mechanics, we simply used Unity’s built-in sound engine as well as a few scripts we wrote ourselves.

Were there any major technical hurdles during production?

For me not so much. Some rather minor things, such as bringing together all the voice recordings from different studios (mostly home studios) all over the world. Some of which vary in loudness or sound-quality even. But it’s not so much a technical hurdle as it is just a load of work.

Is there anything you’d do differently in hindsight?

I think scheduling of certain tasks. There are things we started doing too early, such as recording voice acting. We started doing voice recordings as soon as the script for Chapter 1 was finished, because we thought it would save us time. And then later we added a lot of changes during the beta tests – because at some points we needed verbal hints for the players or we just figured out that a certain thing wasn’t explained well enough – so we added new lines of dialogue to parts of the game that had already been recorded. So we ended up having to reschedule new recording sessions with some of the voice actors and probably spent more time in the end. Also this proved tricky for implementing the sounds as the voice actors may have a slightly different tone on a certain day or another and we ended up having some lines sounding slightly different from the others because of that. It’s not really noticeable in game but the amount of work that adds up on our part surely is.

Would you like to program a sequel at some point in the future – and if so, what improvements would you make?

I’m not sure. Making 2D games really has some downsides and is a lot more work in some parts, while seeming subsequently less complex on the outside in other parts in comparison to 3D games. For now I really look forward to working on a 3D game, which our next project will be, mainly from a musician’s and sound designer’s perspective. I think there is so much more room and possibilities for experiments and that’s really a thing I started craving for during the development of Unforeseen Incidents. I think we all started growing a little tired of Unforeseen Incidents in the last phase of development, because new ideas started forming in our heads, so that finally launching the game felt a little like kicking a coming of age kid out of the house. Now, seeing players – especially streamers – enjoying our game so much kind of brings back some of the enthusiasm we had during early development and I start seeing it in a new light again.

I wouldn’t really know what kind of story a sequel to Unforeseen Incidents would consist of, but it’s not totally out of the question. Just not very soon.

I think in terms of making a game that is enjoyable, we did a lot of things right. But I would definitely shorten the scope of the game. Classic rookie mistake we did there. Unforeseen Incidents has a lot of shortcomings that I would have loved to see being developed to their full potential rather than the compromises we had to accept.

What’s next for you Tristan?

New projects – and lots of them, but first and foremost our new game that we started developing very recently. I can’t wait to dive into the depth of interactive audio in Unity. I want this to become a unique experience and I want to play around with interactive sound environments. I became really interested in this kind of stuff a few years ago and want to put my experience and knowledge into a larger project.

I’ll also be doing some contemporary audio visual art projects. It’s always a great and fun way to gather new inspiration for our projects at Backwoods.

And finally: moving into an office! I think it’s so crucial to have a place where the whole team can bounce ideas around and develop different aspects of a project side by side.

Find out more about Backwoods Entertainment by visiting:
www.backwoods-entertainment.com

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