Post Script

In­ter­view: Dan Pinch­beck, de­signer, and Jes­sica Curry, com­poser

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Writer and de­signer Dan Pinch­beck and com­poser Jes­sica Curry head up a small team in Brighton that punches well above its weight. The Chi­nese Room makes games that look like the work of hun­dreds and ex­hibit an un­com­mon sym­bio­sis be­tween story and mu­sic – a prod­uct, no doubt, of the mar­ried cou­ple’s close work­ing re­la­tion­ship. Here, we risk spoil­ers to delve deeper into the cre­ation process and mean­ing be­hind the game.

While you’ve handed play­ers the choice over how much of the game they see, are you com­fort­able that some might choose to ig­nore large parts of the story?

Dan Pinch­beck Yes, be­cause the al­ter­na­tive would be forc­ing them down pipes. That was the trade-off. If we want peo­ple to find ev­ery­thing, if that’s im­por­tant, then you have to start herd­ing them. And then it’s not an open-world, non­lin­ear drama – you’ve lost that part of it. What’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing is that as soon as you say, ‘We’re not go­ing to hurt peo­ple and it’s go­ing to be OK if peo­ple miss stuff,’ it’s ac­tu­ally weirdly lib­er­at­ing. At that point you’re not say­ing it’s crit­i­cally im­por­tant for the player to dis­cover 75 or 85 per cent of the story, you’re say­ing what’s re­ally im­por­tant is this is a re­ally en­gag­ing world to be in and the world sup­ports how­ever you want to go through it – not just the story but all the as­pects of the de­sign, the au­dio and the mu­sic.

The camp­site is a won­der­ful evo­ca­tion of Bri­tish hol­i­days, but your place­ment of the main road that passes it prac­ti­cally dares play­ers to skip it.

DP The camp­site is an in­ter­est­ing one, be­cause it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily progress the main story. But it quite sig­nif­i­cantly changes your un­der­stand­ing of some of the char­ac­ters. Even though you es­sen­tially get the same frag­ments of story, if you don’t camp you’re prob­a­bly go­ing to have a very dif­fer­ent take on the events at this stage. And that’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing to me as well. You can ei­ther play through one kind of game, or you can play it as six dis­tinct episodes. It re­ally works as a TV minis­eries, each episode fo­cus­ing more strongly on a par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter. If you take any one of those episodes out, you’ll still get the gist of the whole story, but it’s about your un­der­stand­ing of that char­ac­ter and their re­la­tion­ship to ev­ery­one else.

How chal­leng­ing was the writ­ing as­pect?

DP It’s been re­ally in­ter­est­ing. Par­tic­u­larly with the cen­tral char­ac­ters of Stephen and Kate, who have an in­cred­i­bly mixed re­sponse from play­ers. I gen­uinely be­lieve it’s about which scenes you’ve found, and that’s so ex­cit­ing as a de­signer and a writer – that all it takes is that one scene. Take Wendy: she’s ei­ther a hor­ri­ble old racist or she’s quite a kind-hearted per­son and it’s not any­thing to do with skin colour that makes her re­act the way she does. To be able to com­pletely change the way you feel about a char­ac­ter just on the ba­sis of whether or not you’ve dis­cov­ered a scene is ex­cite­ment. That’s games. That’s what you can’t do with other stuff. Jes­sica Curry It goes back to the power of the do­mes­tic. It’s so un­der-ex­plored in so many videogames. Rap­ture works re­ally well be­cause it tells hu­man sto­ries on a small-scale level. That’s what I want to ex­pe­ri­ence in the books I read, the films I watch – they’re the things I en­joy ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, and that’s why I re­ally like Rap­ture. It has very hu­man, in­ti­mate mo­ments we can re­late to. We can put our­selves into those scenes.

What mo­ments par­tic­u­larly stand out for you?

DP One of my favourite scenes in the game is where Stephen’s try­ing start his car and he’s just sit­ting there scream­ing at it. There’s some­thing about that which re­ally works. You kind of go, ‘Ac­tu­ally, that’s the kind of thing that would hap­pen, isn’t it?’ The world is end­ing and all you’re try­ing to do is get to your bunker and your bloody car won’t start. It’s some­thing which is re­ally or­di­nary and quite bor­ing, but ac­tu­ally un­der those cir­cum­stances it’s lit­er­ally the worst thing that can hap­pen at that mo­ment. Like Jess said, it’s about the do­mes­tic. Life isn’t about su­per mu­tants and these huge events, it’s about get­ting to the shops, or wor­ry­ing about whether your mum’s all right.

The game wouldn’t have the same im­pact with­out the col­lo­quial di­a­logue that per­me­ates it, but were you ever wor­ried that could limit the game’s ap­peal?

JC I think if you set some­thing in a cer­tain place you have to be true to it. We’ve had times where we put some­thing into the game that wasn’t the right thing – such as the wrong kind of tele­phone – and im­me­di­ately your brain goes, ‘I don’t be­lieve it any more.’

Rap­ture is beau­ti­ful, but that fi­delity makes reused as­sets stand out a lit­tle more. Does that bother you?

JC We have to be re­al­is­tic: five artists made this game, three of them straight out of univer­sity. We’re a team of fewer than ten peo­ple, so there will be com­pro­mises. DP The other thing there is, we bumped up against the size of the tex­ture mem­ory avail­able. It’s one big level, and nor­mally you get more di­ver­sity by break­ing [a game] up into smaller lev­els, then you can load it [as re­quired]. There are al­ways in­stances where it would be lovely if we had just one more cup, one more build­ing or one more car, but ob­vi­ously when it’s one gi­ant world you don’t have any load­ing screens, and you’ve just got a fi­nite amount of stuff you can crow­bar into it.

“It re­ally works as a TV minis­eries, each episode fo­cus­ing more strongly on a par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter”

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