For LudoNarraCon (LNC) weekend, we had the pleasure of interviewing Die Gute Fabrik‘s Narrative Lead, Hannah Nicklin and Creative Lead, Nils Deneken. After our review of the demo release, we are excited to see this game live on Steam in 2019. Hannah and Nils discussed with us the process of creating the game, what they accomplish first, and how to shape the narrative with all of the characters in MUTAZIONE.
1. How long did the process take to complete MUTAZIONE? (As of today, or if unfinished/almost ready for release as of finishing the project.)
“The MUTAZIONE Creative Process”
(Hannah Nicklin): Mutazione has been a slow burner of a project in some senses. While we’ve only been in full production mode for the past three years or so. The game has been on the mind of Creative Lead, Nils Deneken for over a decade. The Danish/European games community is lucky to be able to access a number of public grants, which meant that the game was concepted over the years in bursts corresponding to DFI and Creative EU grants, before being supported by the incredibly smart folks at Sony’s Strategic Content team.
So the world of Mutazione has been developed over the past decade. There are sketchbooks of drawings dating back to Nils’ university years. He’s now a father of 2 children (and two kittens). When Nils talks about where the idea for the weird and wonderful world and its inhabitants came from he often points to a very early concept image, a ‘group photo’ of the community. That’s what’s so interesting for me about writing for the game. The richness of the world is a real gift, and the ensemble cast is so central to the storytelling. This is not a hero’s tale, this is a story about a whole community.
2. How did the concept of MUTAZIONE begin? With a description such as “A mutant soap opera” how did you build upon that to create the marvelous story we play today? Did the premise always involve mutants and humans, or did it change over the course of the creative design?
What Does “A Mutant Soap Opera” Mean?
(Hannah): It’s cool that you’re intrigued by our tagline! We’ve been working really hard to try and figure out how to talk about Mutazione in public. The advantages of a rich world and ensemble cast in playing the game can sometimes be hard to communicate in a single message. That’s when we went back to basics: the game has always been influenced in writing and plotting by the soap opera form. Although there sometimes can be a negative reaction to the form (because it’s often associated with low quality or low concerns; not unrelated to the fact it’s also often considered a ‘feminine’ form) we thought the ‘mutant’ angle points at how it’s the ensemble cast storytelling with a fantastic twist. Think Twin Peaks, think Star Trek DS9, these are formal soap operas, but with a twist that leavens them.
The Narrative Of MUTAZIONE Showcases The Environment
When I came to the game about 3 years ago the story was extremely fully-formed. All the character art was complete and a large part of the animation. The world and characters were so solid in Nils’ head so early (always a mix of humans and mutants and with an incredibly rich century-long backstory). Instead, much of the development has been on the storytelling and gameplay; finding the way to make real what had been imagined. I’ve done a lot of work on pacing and character voices.
Nils and the programming team Oscar and Morten (plus many others who have helped us out through the years) are working hard to realise the rich, lush environment and the magical musical gardening at the heart of the game. And Alessandro and Doug are still perfecting the complex generative music which underlies all of it.
3. With the narrative being such a high aspect of any narrative game (especially this one); [Hannah] how did the creative process go? How were you able to give each character [mutant or human] a distinct voice and shape them into these wonderful characters we play today?
The Process Of MUTAZIONE‘s Narrative
(Hannah): I’ve worked really hard to give each character a distinctive voice. I come from a theatre/playwriting background and a lot of that training is really relevant. The idea is you should know who’s talking without even seeing them. That’s about cadence, expressions, lexicon, era they were brought up in, accents, all of these things. The characters were very vividly drawn when I came to them, and I have worked to vary the characterisation; to make some of them a little more complex, and retain the delightful cartoonishness of others.
One of the really great things about writing for an ensemble cast is that there are rarely goodies and baddies. Instead, all of the characters are capable of both darkness and light. This is much closer to how we all live; how we deal with trauma and conflict, and how you cannot ever fully exorcise darkness; instead, we have to do the difficult but necessary work together as communities to resolve it. At this point, I feel like I should say there are also lots of good jokes. Hopefully, you’ll laugh more than you’ll cry!
4. It is very rare when a game (a demo version) gets a 5/5. After playing the demo for MUTAZIONE, this game is easily a 5/5 for us. With that being said, how did the creative process go for [Nils Deneken]? Everything seems to flow effortlessly throughout the demo – what do you begin with when looking at a game? (Do you focus on the music first, graphics, how the game will be played, etc.?)
Is There A Method To The Creative Madness Process?
Hannah: Well, thank you very much! All development processes are a constant tug-of-war between getting-it-done and getting-it-good. And though it’s certainly not viable for all projects to have this kind of lead time, the vision for Mutazione has been very clear. It’s something very strong to hold on to while you do all the necessary workaround gameplay, gamefeel, puzzles, gardening, music, writing, etc. In every creative project, I have ever worked on each began with something different; a mechanic, a piece of procedural generation, an art style, a universe, a character, a piece of music; but they’ve all of them had an anchor around which you build. It’s hard to answer ‘what do you begin with,’ because there’s no one thing, instead it’s about finding that anchor – the thing that you want to build around.
Mutazione started with a world, and this ensemble cast, but it’s a work held and passed between so many hands. I’m almost not so interested in it as a thing that began, but instead, something built by the labour of many hands, all of them holding it carefully and asking ‘how can we do our best for this?’ Also, don’t get us started on all the things we’ve cut. Hopefully one day we’ll have an opportunity to return to the universe of Mutazione and revive some of those ideas… after we’ve all had a really good holiday, that is.
An Effortless MUTAZIONE Begins With…
(Nils Deneken): Thank you for describing the flow of the game as effortless, since that’s something we’re really trying hard to accomplish (and is not an easy process at all). What comes first when thinking about Mutazione? I usually get inspired by music before thinking about pictures. And the process of Mutazione started out like that as well. Inspired by different kinds of music (often in the form of mixed tapes), images and worlds form in my head, which I then try to bring to paper in the form of concept art.
From there, different places, characters, scenes, and story snippets emerge, from which the game world takes form. So, the game world and character concepts are the first things for me to emerge from this process. I’d like to see this world with its characters come to life because it exists as a pretty clear idea in my head. I want to be able to move around in it and eventually share this with others. Luckily I was able to find amazing people to help me with that, make this world come alive and have them bring their own ideas into the game, which just makes it richer and gives it more depth.
The Vision Is Still The Same From The Beginning
For example, pretty early in the conceptual phase, I showed some of the artwork and ideas to Douglas, who was immediately inspired. By talking to him, we soon found out what the core gameplay loop of Mutazione should be. At this point, we came up with the idea of the musical gardens, which Doug and Alessandro spend a lot of time designing.
The whole process has taken quite a while, and the gameplay has changed a bit through that as well. But the core of the game world, the characters, and the atmosphere that we were going for are still at the centre of it.