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Last year Syberia took the adventure genre and brightened up every old-school adventurer's day with its firm story-telling, integrated puzzles, and smooth visuals.  It was almost a certainty that we'd see a sequel.  Syberia 2 is slated for release later this year and we got a chance to pick the mind of the designer of the project, Benoît Sokal (also behind the first game) about Syberia 2 and a myriad of other topics, including cloning.  Thanks for your time, Mr. Sokal!

 

Related Links:

Review: Syberia (PC)

Preview: Syberia 2 (PC)

 

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Benoît Sokal (Syberia 2)

 

Please provide a brief autobiography, including your education, involvement in gaming and writing, and how involved you are with Syberia 2.

I’ll just cut & paste a segment of a biography that was written for me…

 

Benoît Sokal (b. 1954) is regarded today as one of Europe’s comic strip pioneers. After graduating from St. Luc School in Brussels at the age of 20, he took part in the comic strip boom of the 80’s and participated in the success of a few magazines.

 

Eager to extend the horizons of his creativity, he adapted quite naturally to computers. He was among the first to colorize his drawings with a computer. He discovered 3D graphics in 1996 and got involved in the "L’Amerzone" project,,,, (Pixel-INA Award recipient in the game category at the Imagina 99 festival). His publishing house Casterman and the French video games publisher Microïds supported him in this endeavor. Benoît Sokal was certainly the first comic strip author to envision, carry out and supervise the production of a video game in its entirety. As a matter of fact, he devoted 4 years to the project. "Le testament de l’explorateur" (November 99), a collection of astonishing unpublished drawings, took us back to the captivating imaginary world of Amerzone.

 

In 2001, he returned to directing with a new title, "Syberia", published and produced by Microïds. Just like L’Amerzone, its success was immediate and international. Syberia collected awards worldwide. More than any other author, Benoît Sokal took part in all the stages of the game’s production - directing, graphics, and dialogues - this time in an international production, mainly carried out in Quebec by Microïds Canadian team.

 

How draining has the development process been for Syberia 2?

Well the development process has run a lot smoother than it did with the first episode of Syberia. We’re working with about 90% of the same team that developed Syberia and the experience they gained is now evident.

 

Are there such things as "eternal themes" – themes that consistently appear in novels, games, movies and poetry although the story may be different? Or are themes are themes constantly being invented?

 

Obviously they are eternal themes. In all forms of artistic expressions the same themes are recurrent. We’ve reached a point where we can’t invent new themes but only new ways of exploring these themes…

 

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The critical response to Syberia was very good. How satisfied were you with Syberia when it shipped?

As most game developers are, we were satisfied with the status of Syberia when it shipped but to be honest, everyone thought we could still tweak this or that… This is why there are some business men in the company… We would never stop working on our games if we didn’t have the financial guys establishing milestones and deadlines!

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Telling stories in trilogies has always been popular. Do you envision a third installment of Syberia?

No. Syberia II will be last chapter of this story. Syberia is one complete story that has been separated in two episodes. This game is just the continuity of the story.

 

How different is writing a novel from creating an adventure game?

In fact both experiences are pretty much similar with a few differences here and there.

 

The first major difference is the fact that to create a game, you have to work with a complete team. This is something I haven’t been doing for the first 25 years of my professional life. I was used to work alone, writing and sketching my stories… (Not to mention I’m 20-year older than every member of the dev team!!!)

 

I also had to learn the basics and constraints of programming, integration and animation but for the most part, it’s all about the story and I think my background is pretty solid in that specific department.

 

When did you first come up with the idea of Syberia? (And where were you at the time?)

Syberia isn’t an idea that just popped up while I was walking in the street. It’s a story that I’ve built in my head over the course of the years. Everything from my family history to the news on TV, to the papers I’m reading has been an inspiration for me.

 

For example, I was watching a TV document about mammoths and how they disappeared a few thousands years ago and I just began to research on the subject. So that you know, I’ve always been obsessed by animals…

 

In fact I’ve done some research for over a year to build the story and the characters of Syberia.

 

Adventure games in North America have virtually vanished (or changed form) but have remained relatively popular in Europe. Why? Is there a difference between European and North American gamers?

I think so. The cultural difference can also be noticed in the movie industry. In the music industry also.

 

Is Oscar the automaton modeled on anyone (or anything) in particular?

No. There is no character in Syberia that have been modeled on somebody in particular. But they are still highly symbolic and they all represent real-life stereotypes.

 

How extensively were you involved with Syberia’s puzzles?

I’ve been involved in every singular aspect of the game. From programming to integration, from dialogues to puzzles… But I haven’t been the one designing the puzzles. We have a design team that is working on the puzzles and their integration in the storyline. They submit their ideas to me and we all work together on making them better and on making sure they are in line with the direction the story is taking.

 

Can we expect similar puzzles in Syberia 2?

In terms of gameplay, we are focusing on integrating the puzzles into the storyline. It’s a challenge we faced in the first game and we want to succeed even better with Syberia II. The puzzles need to make sense with the story. We don’t want to make a puzzle-game. We want to have a strong storyline featuring interesting puzzles and dilemmas.

 

So the difficulty of the puzzles will probably be the same with maybe a few tougher ones…

 

Who is your favorite writer and why?

Jules Verne, Stevenson and Hemingway are all very important writers to me because they are all adventure writers.

 

Could Syberia use a 3D graphics engine? Is there something integral about hand-painted scenes that a 3D world can’t convey?

In fact Syberia is using a 3D graphic engine for the in-game characters integration, the menus and other features. I guess your question refers to the fact that the environments are pre-rendered and are perceived as 2D backgrounds.

 

In fact, every scene is a 3D environment on which we are applying a pre-rendered background. If we didn’t have that 3D environment (created with a 3d graphics engine), the characters couldn’t walk, couldn’t hit chairs or tables…

 

As for the second question, there is definitively some things that 3D can do compared to painting. The main things being the textures…

 

With current cloning techniques could mammoths be brought back from extinction?

Wow! This is the first time I have to respond to this question… Honestly, I don’t know. I’m really not a clone or DNA expert and couldn’t answer this without taking a chance to look like an idiot!!!

 

Kate Walker is probably gaming’s strongest female character. Is this because gamers can relate to her on some level?

Well I think you are right. When we worked on developing Kate’s character we really took a decision to build a strong female character, a character that wouldn’t rely on her physical attributes to achieve her goals, a character that wouldn’t use her boobs and but to make her way into the story. We took this decision because in real life this isn’t how things work.

 

The stereotypical and actual professional women inspired us. In these days, women are ambitious; they want to reach the objectives they fixed themselves, sometimes even if it means personal sacrifices…

 

I think women can relate to Kate pretty easily. And I think men recognize in Kate the women they are living or working with every day.

 

What new characters can we expect in Syberia 2?

Obviously Kate and Hans will have major roles in the evolution of Syberia II’s story. The automaton Oscar will also be accompanying them in their journey. Aside from these three, the player will discover a whole cast of new characters.

 

We’ll have more characters in Syberia II than in the first game. One reason for that is our desire to make the game more interactive. We can talk about 25 human characters and 10 animals.

 

In the first chapter some locations were a bit "dead" and lacked some human presence… We want to avoid that in Syberia II – at least in the first location, Romansbourg, the last city visited by the traveling trio.

 

Some of the characters will have some weird attitudes… Others will be straight up. One cool thing though is that Kate will have to deal with a new type of characters, animals. Some of them pretty wild…

 

More information on characters will be made available in the next few weeks.

 

Most games feature distinct good guys and bad guys that play off each other to move the story forward, yet Syberia managed to avoid this. Kate Walker is essentially good, but there is no specific bad guy she has to defeat. Will we see Kate challenge a specific evil threat in Syberia 2?

This is a notion we added in Syberia 2. I wouldn’t talk about enemies or an evil threat but Kate will definitively have to overcome a few obstacles to reach her goal in this second chapter of the Syberia story.

 

It will not take the form of physical battles or conflict but Kate will have to deal with some characters that we could classified in the "bad guy" category.

 

What do gamers always have to keep in mind while playing games?

Don’t forget to turn your computer off and get outside to take some fresh air!!!

 

(April 12, 2003)

 

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