GRAY MATTER: Game designer Dinga Bakaba of Wizarbox interviewed by Nico Sels, webmaster of cort-x.fwheel.net, in September 2009

Dinga Bakaba

1) To begin with: a question that's on everyone's mind: what's the status of the game?

It's cruising to completion. We are currently pretty near to Beta phase, and are working on implementing the last assets, the debugging, and the fine tuning.

I know there has been some growing concern in the community, but as I have been saying, "no news is good news"… I would really want everybody to know that we are working here, working hard.

Just wait for the game, play it, and hopefully enjoy it.

2) Have you played any of the Gabriel Knight games and has that been influencing the production of Gray Matter?

I played Sins of the Fathers, as well as briefly Blood of the Sacred. It has had some influence indeed as what was striking in those games was the overall feeling, atmosphere and to sum it up: personality. In Gray Matter we tried to convey the same feelings of mystery even if Gray Matter has an atmosphere of its own.

That's what we really worked on, giving it a unique feel, a unique look, in order to do justice to its story and characters. Giving Gray Matter as strong a strong personality is the lesson I learned from Gabriel Knight.

3) Will the game be entirely linear or non-linear?

Good one. The game is linear in its story, but not totally linear in its gameplay. Basically, whereas you won't find alternate endings or branching storylines in Gray Matter, within each chapter you have several objectives which you have to complete in order to advance to the next one, and you are pretty free to complete those in any order that you want.

4) What do you find personally most motivational about working on Gray Matter?

Working with one of the great names in the industry such as Jane is obviously the top one motivation as far as I'm concerned. Or rather should I say that working on Jane's game was my motivation but working WITH her is the actual REWARD. She is a great person to work with, and we managed to establish a relation based on trust and exchange.

Working on a point and click game is another one, as it was a genre that I have been enjoying deeply for some time now, and it's a pleasure to be part of its comeback these years.

On a personal side, it's also great to take a project in an existing state, then add your touch and your sensibility to it. I had a really great time immersing myself in Sam and David's world, and then try to convey this vision with the team members. It was a challenge, but a really rewarding one.

5) Exactly what audience will this game be for?

Those who enjoy a good, mature story. It isn't as dark as those of Gabriel Knight games, and might as such be enjoyable by a broader audience. Still, I personally think that the game is oriented toward average gamers rather than casual gamers. But the latter can still get on as the riddles and puzzles are logical and don't require extensive point and click experience, but it is to be noted that those aren't totally easy either.

If you are speaking of age rating, I guess it will be teen rated as there are a few mature themes in the game.

6) What type of games do you like playing yourself? What do YOU look for in a game?

I play almost all sorts of games, really, and I'm rather a good public and like what I play. But as a designer, I'm struck by the common disease of analyzing every single aspect of a game.

So the only games that I can play like actual games and not just study material are those who suck me into their world, in which I can enter and be "in the zone", forgetting that I'm a designer and must focus on this or that flawed gameplay mechanic or graphic glitch.

It can happen with games where the story is really engaging and well told, or in twitch action games. The only thing I ask for is to be drawn in. That's where the adventure game genre comes into play…

Apart from adventures (Hand of Fate being my all time favorite), among my favorite games of all time are Another World/Out of This World, the Street Fighter series, Tetris, Braid, flOwer and Fallout. Pretty diverse heh?

7) What was the biggest challenge the team had to face adapting Jane's story to a videogame?

This might not be a surprise but it's the scope, the sheer volume, and the plethora of specific situations requiring specific gameplay elements or interface. It's really heart tearing to have to cut here, modify there, but as mind blowing as it is to imagine what a game like that would play and look like without any cuts, it's actually an even more interesting challenge to adapt her story while trying to stay realistic and focused.

Jane worked with us at all times to overcome these difficulties, and it is obvious that she had to deal with these things in the past considering how well it went.

8) What makes this game different from others on the market?

It is a classic point & click game gameplay-wise except for some little surprises I can't obviously spoil, but as far as what you will remember it for, I bet it's for its story, its likeable characters, its mature not all fantastic nor all realistic tone, and its art style. What you can rightfully expect for a Jane Jensen game…

9) What does a typical working day look like for you?

Long, laborious and underpaid? Just kidding, Wizarbox is a cool place to work at. About my day, it usually starts by reading the industry news, and after that, well… It really depends. In my blog entry I talked a bit about the design process, but we are much more advanced in production now. So these days it's mostly managing the bug reports, answering questions from co-workers in-house or abroad, and taking some of the last design decisions, and testing myself... Some days are calm and smooth, others really busy, almost frenetic, and even transform into nights for the milestone crunch times. Yes guys, we are working hard, that's what I said from the beginning!

10) Are there plans for a Gray Matter sequel yet? ;-)

I hope so. The characters totally deserve a second adventure together, and I so want to see more of that cool Daedalus Club thing… But for now, let's all, you and us, make this first game a success, and then we will see, right?

September 2009