JustAdventure - 27/02/03
Ragnar Tornquist is the creator and developer of the most critically acclaimed adventure games ever made – The Longest Journey. Immediately before the official announcement of a sequel to The Longest Journey, Ragnar was gracious enough to agree to this exclusive interview for Just Adventure.
Read on as we grill Ragnar on the aftermath of the success of The Longest Journey, what he envisions for the sequel and his thoughts on consoles and online blogs!
Let's ask the most obvious question first: a sequel to The Longest Journey - yes or no?
Yes! (since this interview, Funcom has also confirmed the development of The Longest Journey 2 in their official press release - Randy)
Since its release, The Longest Journey has won numerous awards and is recognized as one of the best adventure games ever made. How has this acclaim affected you personally?
I've become cocky and arrogant, prone to tantrum fits, and addicted to Cristal champagne and painkillers. But mostly I'm completely and totally unaffected by it all, since the acclaim's for the game and the team, not for me personally…and also because I'm still the impoverished schmuck that I was before it all began, except a lot older.
Flipper's colorful vocabulary has been an unending source of controversy since day one. What is your response to those who criticize Flipper's four-letter vernacular?
A braver man than me would find something offensive to say, but…not going there. I understand that the language, particularly in Burns Flipper's case, is offensive to some, and there's perhaps a bit too much of it. C'est la vie. It's important to push the boundaries. We'll push the boundaries in the next one too, but differently. Fewer cusswords, more sex.
And while we're talking about sex: I have no understanding whatsoever for those people who've complained about the gay characters in TLJ. We've actually received a lot of complaints about it, and, honestly, if someone's that bigoted, they shouldn't be playing the damn game. Go be bigoted somewhere else.
I find it interesting that you keep an on-line diary of your thoughts that is updated almost daily. Diaries of the past were much more private affairs often kept under lock and key. What is it about the Internet that encourages someone such as yourself to express his private feelings to the world?
The thing about online journals – blogs – is that they may appear personal and intimate, but oftentimes they're really not. My most private thoughts are still very much private. I'm careful about what I write, and when. The purpose of my blog isn't to lay my inner self bare to the world, but to give readers an insight into the creative process from my point of view, to entertain them, and to keep them updated on TLJ and whatever else I'm working on. (And also to boost my already bloated ego, of course.)
Were you satisfied with the North American sales for The Longest Journey and on the same note, do you think more marketing would have increased awareness of the game?
‘Very satisfied', and ‘sure'.
There was such strong word of mouth, and so many great reviews, that we managed to get TLJ into most big stores and out to the players regardless of marketing. Good marketing doesn't necessarily help sales, but it does help awareness. With TLJ, we already had a great deal of awareness – amongst gamers, and particularly amongst adventure gamers. With more marketing in the right places, we would probably have increased awareness amongst casual and non-gamers, but that would have been very expensive, and it wouldn't have guaranteed more sales.
If there is a sequel to The Longest Journey would you consider developing it for the console systems (PS2, Xbox) first and then converting it for the pc?
It will probably – and this is not by any means definite – be developed simultaneously for PC and consoles. The PC version will have a PC-friendly, mouse-driven interface, as well as higher resolution textures, models, and screen size. The console versions will have their own advantages, and be tailored to the TV screen and the individual controllers. Everybody wins.
Is there any possibility of a console version of The Longest Journey or would the technology and graphics be considered outdated for the PS2 and Xbox?
It's not completely out of the question, and the two-dimensional backgrounds – the landscapes – would work fine, but we'd need to update the three-dimensional character models, animations, and special effects. I'd love to be able to play TLJ on my TV, but I think it's a slim chance, simply because of time and cost. Maybe if the next game does well…?
You had no sooner finished The Longest Journey before you were involved with Anarchy Online. Many of the more popular adventure game developers seem to have the need to create only adventure games (i.e. Jane Jensen, Charles Cecil, Maciek ), what spurred you to take on a MMORPG as your next project?
Anarchy Online was already well underway when we released TLJ, and since there were no resources to start a new game right away, I lent my “talents” as a writer to the AO team. After about a year, we started development on Midgard – another online world – but that one was unfortunately put on hold in September 2001. I returned to AO, and continued working on the story until last summer.
For me, personally, it's both important and fun to work on a variety of games, as long as there's some aspect of storytelling to it. I've learned a lot from my time on AO and Midgard, and that will help me on future projects. I love adventures, and I love role-playing games – I have no problem working in either genre.
There seems to be an Internet myth that The Longest Journey was a financial failure and that is why there hasn't been a sequel. There are also those who believe that The Longest Journey was a financial success and are upset that the profits from TLJ were used to fund Anarchy Online instead of a new adventure game. Is there any validity to either of these rumors?
The profits from TLJ were – still are – used to pay the salaries of people who work at Funcom, including those who didn't work on TLJ. We're all part of the same team, and whatever money we make goes into the same pool, keeping the company alive and kicking. Work on Anarchy Online actually started before TLJ, but since it was a much bigger and much more ambitious project, it took a lot longer to complete. And without AO, Funcom probably wouldn't be here today. It's our primary source of income.
The Longest Journey is without a doubt a critical success.
But with all the continued controversy surrounding Flipper's language, sales figures that were good but not spectacular and the adventure community's constant complaints that a sequel is not in development – do you sometimes wish that you had never even created the game?
Absolutely not! As far as I'm concerned, there's been no big “controversy” regarding language – only a few people, relatively speaking, have reacted negatively. Sales figures continue to amaze us, and they have been pretty spectacular worldwide, especially for a non-sequel, pure adventure game with absolutely no marketing. And I'm really happy that people have demanded a sequel, so no worries there. Of course I don't regret working on TLJ!
You have stated that you don't like to post on public Internet forums and I think your posting on the JA Forum is a textbook example of how celebrities like yourself bring out the best and the worst in people. What is it about Internet forums that encourage people to say things that they would never think of saying in person?
First off: George Clooney is a celebrity. I'm a non-celebrity.
Lots of people have said this much better than I ever will: The Internet gives the illusion of anonymity and impersonality. It's easy to attack someone when that person is just a name and a few paragraphs of text. If people met me, they'd find that I'm a friendly, easy-going, approachable guy. Of course, I also like heated discussions, sarcasm, and smart-arsed comments, and I never shy away from controversy, so that might have something to do with it.
In a previous interview with JA, you said that you envisioned a future of Longest Journey spin-offs, television shows and novels. Do you still entertain such hopes?
I always entertain such hopes! The games are more important than any spin-offs or merchandising, however. Before we attempt to move TLJ into another medium – and we will – we need to focus on the games. Personally, I think our plans for the saga will make TLJ an exciting prospect for all kinds of merchandising and spin-offs, so Keep Watching This Space (or the official site, actually…but you know what I mean).
You also stated, in the same interview, that storylines were ready for both a sequel and a prequel to The Longest Journey. Have you fleshed out these storylines any more since the original release of TLJ?
Yes and no.
As time passes and I grow older and, one hopes, wiser, I learn more about writing and storytelling. This, inevitably, has altered my vision for the TLJ saga. There are also lots of different stories that we can choose to focus on. What happens to April right after the end of the first game, for example – or ten, twenty, fifty years later? What happened elsewhere while April was on her long journey? What happened before the first game even began? Ten years, a hundred years, a thousand years ago? I have preferences regarding which stories I want us to explore, which characters I want to focus on, but those preferences change with time.
That said, I think I'm relatively confident about where the next few games will begin and end, who the protagonists are, what the themes are, and the general outline of the plot.
You seem to be an individual who is neither afraid to face his critics nor speak his mind. While I find this commendable, do you think it has hurt your career any in an industry where individualism is often not encouraged?
I didn't get that memo! I thought this industry actually encouraged individualism. (At least, that's the way it is where I work.) I'm still fortunate enough to be able to contribute to great games and tell (hopefully) intriguing stories, so I guess my outspokenness hasn't hurt me any…yet.
What does the future hold for Ragnar Tornquist?
Plenty of booze, warm beaches and frivolous women, a wagonload of doubloons, and possibly a run for public office.
Before any of that, however, I plan to complete two or three games, and then call it quits for a while. I love games, but life's short, and I want to try my hand at different things before I get old and curmudgeonly.
I'll always be telling stories, however. That's the only thing I know how to do.