Narrative-driven experiences have become a popular style of video game storytelling this generation, with games like Firewatch, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and What Remains of Edith Finch all receiving player and pundit acclaim. They may not have the same amount of meat on the bone as a big budget open-world title, but what they do deliver is a short and engaging narrative experience that will stick with you long after you’ve rolled the credits.
Oslo-based developer Red Thread Games is hoping their impending title Draugen will join the ever-growing list of games that have left their mark on the player. We caught up with one of the game’s designers and writers Ragnar Tørnquist to talk all about the mystery game ahead of its May 29 release.
WellPlayed: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us about Draugen. In your own words, what exactly is Draugen?
Ragnar Tørnquist: It’s a first-person fjord noir mystery set in a remote coastal village in Norway, in 1923. You play an American traveller, Edward Harden, who’s searching for his missing sister. Edward is accompanied by a young woman, Alice, who acts as a sort of Watson to his Sherlock – she’s a big part of the story and the game mechanics.
WP: When did development of Draugen begin? How did the concept come about?
RT: We actually started working on Draugen all the way back in 2013, while the team was developing Dreamfall Chapters. At that time, the game was more horror-focused, and you were completely alone in the world; there was no companion character. Over the years, as the concept and story changed and evolved, we decided to move away from outright horror into more psychological suspense, and to add the companion character, Lissie – something that changed the game completely, and for the better. The current version of Draugen only began development in August of last year, so while the game’s been gestating for many years, the actual production phase has been quite short.
WP: What made you choose the 1920s time period?
RT: It’s such a wonderful time period, a transition point between the old world and the modern world; much about the 20s is very recognisable to us, and yet it’s quite exotic and romantic – there were still mysteries in the world at that point. We hadn’t been everywhere, and you could really disappear off the map. The game is about this transition, about a community that’s been left behind, and, playing an American, you explore this alien setting that feels like a relic of the previous century.
WP: Norway seems like an ideal setting given the studio is based in Oslo. Are any of the game’s locations inspired by real places in Norway? The scenery looks beautiful by the way.
RT: The locations are definitely inspired by, and drawn from, real places. It’s even possible to visit the place where our (fictional) town of Graavik is located – though you won’t find the beautiful wooden church or the specific locations from the game, of course. The team has done a lot of research to make sure everything feels real: from geometry and geography to flora and weather. Western Norway is stunningly beautiful, and we felt it was our responsibility to portray it as accurately as possible.
The world of Draugen is both idyllic and mysterious
WP: Draugen looks like it’s telling a very personal tale. What sort of themes are you exploring in Draugen?
RT: It is a game about one man’s psyche; an unreliable narrator whose perception of the world has been affected by his decades long isolation. We explore themes of loneliness and isolation, love and obsession, and how small communities can fester and rot from the inside.
WP: It appears that Edward’s relationship with his young ward Lissie will be central to the game’s story. Is his grip on reality dependant on his relationship with Lissie?
RT: Lissie is the one who gets Edward up in the morning, who pushes him out of his comfort zone – without her, he’d never leave his study – and who engages with the world. She’s the extrovert; Edward’s the introvert, and it’s a miracle they get along. Their odd relationship is central to the game’s story and the game mechanics.
WP: Do we get to play as Lissie at all during the game?
RT: No. You’re always playing as Edward.
WP: How long can we expect the campaign to last?
RT: We don’t like to give any sort of estimate, because different people play at different speeds, and there’s a lot of room for wandering about and exploring the world. But it’s not a big game, and it can be finished in a couple of evenings. Think Firewatch and What Remains of Edith Finch in terms of length.
WP: What sort of gameplay can players expect? Will there be puzzle solving? Or will it be a story-driven experience like Firewatch?
RT: There aren’t many puzzles to speak of, and the game is – intentionally – quite easy. It’s all about the narrative and the experience, and definitely closer to Firewatch than traditional adventure games.
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore”
WP: Draugen looks somewhat similar to your previous game Dreamfall Chapters. Do the two share any similarities? Is there anything you wanted to improve upon in Draugen?
RT: Aside from being narrative-and-character driven, they’re fundamentally different games – we wanted to do something we’d never done before, something more grounded, more personal. We do think players who enjoyed Dreamfall will probably like Draugen, but we also think it will appeal to a larger audience of players who want a good story.
WP: You took Dreamfall Chapters to Kickstarter and raised almost double your asking goal. Did you ever consider doing a Kickstarter for Draugen?
RT: We did, at first, and then we saw how much work it was to not only run a Kickstarter campaign, but to fulfil all the promises and to keep in close contact with backers afterwards – and we decided that it wasn’t the right time.
WP: Draugen is initially launching on PC with a console release coming later in the year. When are you aiming to have the console release ready?
RT: Sometime later this year! Right now we’re focused on getting the PC version out, but as soon as that’s done, we’ll be able to put more resources on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions.
WP: Single-player games are considered a bigger risk now given the popularity of online multiplayer games. Why did you decide to make another single-player game?
RT: Single-player games are doing great! As long as you’re not dependent on selling millions of copies, there’s a huge market for narrative-driven, single-player games aimed at an audience that appreciates what we do and are looking for something different. People always want a good story, and there’s a demand for smaller, snack-sized games that do story, characters, setting well – and that touch on subjects and themes that bigger games can’t or won’t. We plan to continue to make single-player games for years to come!
WP: Thank you for your time. Good luck with Draugen’s release, we can’t wait to play it!
RT: Thank you!
Draugen launches on PC on May 29 via Steam and GOG.