What does two million dollars mean to you? Multiple dream homes? Lifetime financial security? A small stake in an NBA team? For Ragnar Tørnquist and Red Thread Games, it means the chance to delve deeper into The Longest Journey universe and finally finish April Ryan’s story, the one began in The Longest Journey.
The Longest Journey Home is the name of the game that would finish April’s story, but its existence depends, at this stage, on Red Thread reaching the stretch goal of two million dollars in its Kickstarter funding of Dreamfall Chapters. It is, perhaps, a long shot. But maybe the promise of another game is enough to inspire even more support, especially given how The Longest Journey Home would return to its roots: it is planned as a 2D point-and-click adventure akin to the original game, rather than as a 3D adventure in the manner of Dreamfall and Dreamfall Chapters. It would feature hand-painted backdrops, 3D character models, and, of course, a story penned by series creator Ragnar Tørnquist.
I caught up with Tørnquist, and started our conversation by asking a very simple question: Why? Couldn’t a single game bring April Ryan’s and Zoë Castillo’s stories to their necessary conclusions? Why not make Dreamfall Chapters some kind of superadventure that allows Red Thread Games to explore both narrative threads in a single project?
“The simple answer is that these are two separate and completely [different] stories, with a very different vibe and tone to them, and very different themes,” says Tørnquist. “The Dreamer Cycle--Dreamfall and Dreamfall Chapters--is primarily about Zoë, and it's a full 3D, direct control adventure. The TLJ games are just about April Ryan, and they are classic 2D point-and-click adventures. It was important for us to maintain that distinction and feel to the two cycles.”
“Of course, with Dreamfall Chapters we are adding proper point-and-click functionality, so the borders are blurring a bit, but with The Longest Journey Home, we really wanted to conclude April's story with a return to the detailed, high-resolution painted 2D backgrounds, pure point-and-click interface, and classic adventure gameplay.”
A 2D interface doesn’t just mean classic gameplay for nostalgic fans, though: it allows The Longest Journey Home to have a different, slower pace than it may otherwise have. It also works well on mobile phones and tablets, and Tørnquist is certain that the game will find a home on such devices in addition to the PC.
The Longest Journey Home will pick up right where The Longest Journey left off, filling in the 10-year gap unaccounted for in Dreamfall. But it will also extend beyond Dreamfall Chapters and conclude April’s adventure. And that comes as good news to the players that have been so invested in her fate over the last dozen years. April’s a special character, in part because she’s sometimes so--ordinary. As Tørnquist says, “She didn't feel like your typical game heroine: she felt like an actual person, like someone you might know. Someone you'd want to know. She had flaws, she was insecure, she struggled with her newfound powers and her destiny. She had doubts, she was close to giving up, but didn't. She had […] humanity. She had a soul.”
April is also a female protagonist in a medium not exactly known for complex portrayals of women. The role of women in games is a frequent topic of conversation among game players and developers alike--yet Tørnquist never set out to make a popular heroine. April just happened to be the right person, in the right story, in the right game.
"Players don't not play a game because the star is the 'wrong' gender. I don't believe that for a second."
Says Tørnquist, “There wasn't really a conscious decision to have an awesome female star in The Longest Journey. We wanted a character who felt real, and true to our story. She had to have the life she had. She had to be who she turned out to be. The fact that she was also a girl -- I guess that was mostly chance, and also because I enjoy writing female characters. And, yes, maybe a part of it was that I felt there weren't enough female protagonists in games back then. But it was never really a conscious decision to break new ground, a cynical ploy for attention, or anything like that. I wrote her, she felt real, she had a soul, and players loved her. It was that simple, I guess.”
As for developers that profess how difficult it is to write female characters, well, Tørnquist has a few words. “Writing female characters is the same as writing any character--male, alien, giant asexual amoeba. Characters are characters regardless; they have to be real, they have to be interesting, they have to be someone players can love or hate, empathise with or be intrigued by. Maybe all of those.”
“I have never, ever felt that games are less commercial or less appealing because they had female protagonists,” he continues. “Or male ones. Or giant asexual amoeba (there's a market for that, trust me). And don't let anyone tell you differently. Players respond to interesting characters. Players don't NOT play a game because the star is the 'wrong' gender. I don't believe that for a second. If players dislike a lead character, it's because that character is uninteresting, badly written, badly designed--and not based on whether or not they have breasts or a penis.”
“In short: developers do not give players enough credit. And maybe even players don't give players enough credit.”
It all goes without saying that without reaching that stretch goal, Red Thread may or may not have the chance to make The Longest Journey Home. The Dreamfall Chapters Kickstarter has been a clear success, but two million dollars? Are The Longest Journey enthusiasts that dedicated? Tørnquist can barely believe Red Thread has gotten as far as it has. “We are flabbergasted that there's even a sliver of a hope,” he says. "Flabbergasted enough to actually use a word like 'flabbergasted'. I was prepared to fight until the very end to reach $850,000--and we did that in a week. We crossed a MILLION dollars by the halfway point. That's amazing! And yeah, two million is a long shot, but we're doing everything we can to spread the word and to get more pledgers. Every step of the way towards The Longest Journey Home will serve to improve the depth, length and quality of Dreamfall Chapters. And if we reach the two million dollar mark, we can greenlight the pre-production on The Longest Journey Home, and get ready to make that game next. And nothing, nothing would make us happier.”
I concluded with the most important question of all: Any chance of a Burns Flipper spinoff? Tørnquist’s response: “Hells yeah.”
And you know, given the runaway success of the Dreamfall Chapters crowdfunding, I’m almost ready to believe it.