Wednesday, February 7

Interview with Josef Wiesner on Old Man's Journey

Recently announced for the Nintendo Switch, Old Man’s Journey is a critically-acclaimed puzzle adventure that aims to tell an emotionally-powerful story through gorgeous hand-drawn art style. I was able to get some time with the producer in charge of the port of the game for Switch, Josef Wiesner to discuss the upcoming release.

As always we'll start with the basics, what would you say is the "elevator pitch" for Old Man's Journey?

JW: Old Man’s Journey is a soul-searching puzzle adventure which takes place in gorgeously whimsical landscapes, all of them in hand-drawn art. It is a deeply emotional game where you play an old man who recaps his decisions, losses and hopes in life. Old Man’s Journey is a visual narrative about life’s precious moments, broken dreams, and changed plans.

Any harm in sharing what it is in the letter that appears to set the main character's journey?

JW: The letter has a very important message for the old man. A rather consequential one that let’s him give up his reclusiveness. The more you play the game the more you will get to know what the content of the letter might be.

Looking over the trailer it seems to be pointing to there being many memories, some looking quite powerful, that are hit upon along the way. What range of emotions do these memories prompt? I'm assuming it is a mix of both good and bad?

JW: You are assuming right. Our game and the journey in it tries to capture the whole range of human emotions. Happiness, joy, hope but also sadness, loneliness and regret. We think that in games some feelings are often neglected or left out. But they are part of the human emotional landscape and are important too. We wanted to emphasise on them as much as on the positive ones.

Moving away from the exceptional art style and the aspects of the story how would you characterize the general gameplay itself?

JW: Old Man’s Journey is a light-hearted puzzle adventure game. There is this core mechanic of shaping the environment which feels somehow like playing around in a sandbox. It is very playful and satisfactory in itself.

It's pretty impressive how many awards the game has been given. Which aspects of the game would you say are most commonly cited?

JW: Definitely the art-style is the part of the game it is most credited for. Everything in-game is hand-drawn. That approach shines through and gives the game its distinct visual flavour that people seem to appreciate.

Looking over your back catalog a strong artistic style seems to be a common thread. Is that part of your studio's central philosophy?

JW: A strong artistic style is definitely important to us. But I think there are more important things in our games and the art-style just builds on that and tries to amplify what we want to achieve. Like originality, simplicity, refined game mechanics and rich interactivity.

If Old Man's Journey finds success on Switch what are the odds of your other critically-acclaimed title, Secrets of Raetikon, coming over?

JW: That is a topic that comes up in regular intervals at the studio. We are really proud of our back catalogue and it would be great to bring some of them over on current-gen systems. But there are factors that make it quite difficult to to so. First and foremost there are technical issues because the engines we used for And Yet It Moves, Chasing Aurora and Secrets of Rætikon don’t support current platforms, which makes it very costly to port them over. But there are also other factors that make it a questionable endeavour and we always came to the decision to rather focus on the task at hand.

But we often think about our old game and who knows? Maybe it will happen sometime. We would love to.

I'm a bit intrigued by what I assume is your dabbling in the VR realm with CHESTO. What was your takeaway on that style? Given the motion controls of the Switch is this something that could potentially get ported?

JW: Actually CHESTO - At the Checkout is not a VR experience. We thought about bringing it to VR but then we’ve sticked to traditional gaming systems. It is available on MAC, Linux and Windows. Chesto is one of our more experimental stuff, our first #altgame. Felix developed it together with Josef Who?, one of our studio alumni who has been accompanying Broken Rules since the studio's founding times. He is also working as the producer for Old Man’s Journey  on the Nintendo Switch. But the Switch is still lacking #altgames so maybe we should try and start a trend? :)

Having worked with a Nintendo system before with the Wii U what would you say has changed from that platform to the Switch in terms of both Nintendo's general and software support?

JW: Generally I’d wager that it has never been easier to develop for a Nintendo platform. Their current hybrid console is a joy to work with, the tools are better than they have ever been and Nintendo has shown themselves as supportive and responsive. We are long standing fans of their consoles and had an overall good working experience with them ever since our debut game And Yet It Moves came to WiiWare in 2010. Right now Nintendo Switch is becoming the platform for indie games and we hope this trend will continue. It seems to be the perfect home for our old man and maybe even for our future games - who knows?

Now that you're a few successful titles in what is your overall view of the indie developer ecosystem across the board? Do you think among the platforms Nintendo is making a greater effort to appeal to indies?

JW: Nintendo is offering an ecosystem that is quite sustainable for indies right now. But it is hard to compare the various ecosystems because each of them has different audiences, user experiences and expectations. The difficulty they all share is to get visibility with a good store placement. Curation, featuring and visibility is more key than ever.

Just because it seems like a cool idea and I've love to see it become "a thing" elsewhere what is zamSpielen?

JW: zamSpielen is an event series we’ve established in 2010 in Vienna together with Josef Who? and Matthias Menrath. It is hard to sum in just a few words because over the years it has transformed into quite a few things. The core idea of zamSpielen is to bring people together and use the medium “games” to establish social interactions in different forms among its guests. There are local multiplayer parties, club nights, gaming cafès, game cinema evenings and things like that. There is even a live gaming VJ-team called The Game Boys that has performed in clubs in Vienna and Copenhagen. The events are always free of charge and donation based and we cater to people from all ages and types - often they aren’t normally into games that much. And so far, it has been really great! The visitors generally enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and the low access barrier. And we’re happy to see our point proven every time: games really do have the power to bring people together!

What's next on the agenda for Broken Rules?

JW: Oh, it will be an interesting year. Right now, most of our energy is focused on bringing the best version of Old Man’s Journey to Nintendo Switch and updating it on the other platforms. We will be traveling a bit more this year and also relocating to another office space, which both eats up some of or otherwise working time.

But we are always experimenting with new ideas for possible future titles. We’re sure one of them will come to fruition at some point, but right now we’re just as expectant as anyone else. :)

I want to thank Josef for taking the time to answer my questions. Old Man’s Journey will arrive on the Nintendo Switch eShop February 20th in most regions!

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