Daedalic Entertainment Lead Game Designer chats with Fanatical
It's amazing how everyday objects can inspire the vision to create a video game, or series of games in this particular case. One of the popular point and click genre franchises of recent times was in fact created off the back of a real-life dilemma, over a unstable shelf and untidy flat.
The Deponia franchise is equally one-third epic steampunk adventure, one-third absurd slapstick cartoon and one-third ambiguous melodrama. In a freaky colourful cartoon world, players follow the journey of chaotic antihero Rufus across the planet-sized junkyard called Deponia.
His goal - Elysium, the city in the clouds, presumed to be inaccessible. This loner’s lightheaded ego trip turns into a wacky odyssey of epic proportions when the beautiful Elysian Goal appears, whereby the fate of the whole planet suddenly lies in the imaginable worst hands: In the clumsy hands of the continuously self-overestimating egomaniac Rufus.
In the game’s heart lies maybe the most absurd romance in gaming history because Rufus falls head over heels with Goal, who is engaged to his Elysian doppelganger Cletus. Cletus would sell his own grandmother if it would secure his return to Elysium and uncaringly accepts the imminent detonation of Deponia… but wouldn’t Rufus do the same for a happy end with Goal?
Chased by the sinister forces of the ‘Organon’, soon a race for the last cable boat to Elysium breaks out and with it an adventure full of dangers, mix-ups, surprising twists and tons of black humor. On this rapid odyssey, Rufus has to launch crazy gadgets, struggle with oddball characters and repeatedly find absurd solutions for bizarre problems by ‘MacGyvering’ with his tightly packed inventory of scrap – only to be confronted with a question of conscience of mere superhuman proportions... does he prefer to waste away on Deponia as a hero, or to hustle a happy end with an inexcusable misdeed?
Speaking to Fanatical, Deponia Lead Game Designer and Writer Jan ‘Poki’ Müller-Michaelis talked about the longstanding comical point and click adventure franchise, inspirations and the creation of an exciting junkyard world.
“The core of each story is always a philosophical dilemma; two antagonist forces that tear at the protagonist, two extremes in between which the protagonist is trapped,” says Jan. “This area of conflict surrounds the main characters on all levels – it can be found in their (torn) hearts, in the compositions of their friends and foes, in the concrete conflict which they blunder into and ultimately in the structure of the game’s world itself.
“In Deponia, this dilemma is so fundamental that it may be difficult to grasp. In simple words the problem could be reduced to the following question: Don’t you have to quit once you realize that you can’t go on forever and that the concept of perfection doesn’t exist?
“This question may sound aloof but maybe it becomes more concrete once we track it to the moment when I had the idea for Deponia. I sat in my flat, which I’d inhabited since my studies and stared at a broken shelf.
“One board was missing so that the upper books were only holding by those underneath them, this made me sad, and I thought about the tidy flats of my friends that had already founded families and wondered why I hadn’t succeeded in arranging my flat – or my life even.
“The explanation that I found was that I was in a stage of constant change. Almost daily, I developed further in some way, learned new things and grew along with my tasks. It was impossible for me to put my pen down and stop.
“I wanted a blue vintage shelf in my flat, so I refused to furnish my flat because I was still in a period of transition. In my head I defended that part of me: Putting 100% of your energy into pursuing your dreams automatically means putting 0% into settling down and re-furnishing the flat, right? But then I had doubts about my decision.
“How long would I want to continue pursuing my dreams? Forever, actually! So would I ever be able to make the decision to pause in order to buy a new shelf?
“It was there that I had the dilemma that I could build his game around. The first thing I did was to transfer the setup of this conflict into a unique world. The flat with the crooked shelf was inflated to planet size.
“A global garbage dump where everything in it makes you want to get away – Deponia. And somewhere in the sky above the unreachable ideal: An abstract place of perfection – Elysium. There was a second aspect that played an almost equally large role for the idea of a planetary junkyard: Deponia should be the perfect adventure game.
“As a setting, I needed something original, which at the same time would be accessible, likeable and inspiring such as the Caribbean of Monkey Island or the insane asylum of Edna & Harvey: The Breakout. And what would be a better playground for adventure fans than a global junkyard?”
As briefly mentioned above, Jan sought inspiration from the likes of the Monkey Island series to bring Deponia to life. We asked if there are any other franchises from yesteryear that have helped shape the world of Deponia and its colorful characters.
“In a way, all of them,” says Jan. “Gameplay-wise, Deponia is deeply dedicated to the wild and wacky slapstick seemingly inherent to adventure game logic, especially the absurdity of combining inventory items and the 4th wall breaking humor ensuing if you embrace each action of the player as part of your story.
“Adventures such as the classic Lucas Arts games Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle proved the ability of the point and click genre to tell interesting stories through gameplay. There is an interesting schizophrenia taking place, that is making the player laugh about his avatar while at the same time making him feel responsible for its actions.
“Uniformly, the Daedalic writing staff always felt it to be a tragedy that all the big players stopped contributing to the genre at a time, where they really got the knack of evolving adventure games into a new form of interactive prose, able to tell stories as ambitious as any other form of literature, maybe even in a more ambitious way due to the mighty power of interactivity.
I especially embarked on a mission to take on this next step of evolution, picking up the thread right where it was dropped back in the mid 90s.”
Point and click has been a long-serving genre in the games industry, but what is it about this genre that gamers and developers find so engaging?
“As for the question why gamers like the genre, they can definitely answer it best,” says Jan. “One argument would be, that adventure games are one of the most laid back types of escapism you could possibly have: Like a book you can consume it in your own pace, like a movie it’s providing you with visuals and audio.
“Also, the fascination and appeal of interactive storytelling is not very hard to explain. It’s like the current step on the ladder to Star Trek’s holodeck, where Picard’s Crew is able to become an actual part of a narrative rather than merely consume it as an audience.
“From a developer’s perspective, the adventure game or point and click genre surely provides the possibility to tell stories as immersive as possible, while giving players the chance to engage and control the world they are diving into. That’s why many of the most acclaimed storytelling games are point and click adventures.”
With four ‘Very Positive’ Steam rated games in the Deponia series, it’s clear to see that players have enjoyed their quirky journey across the junk-filled planet. We asked Jan about any big features that Daedalic decided to change within the Deponia games and, if the dev team had the chance, would they change anything about the games now?
“All in all, we kept very close to the formula we started out with,” says Jan. “During production of the series, though, our ability to make the gameplay follow the story more closely rose with each part, so there is an evolution on the content side. One thing we would change: The fourth installment has too few ‘Poki-Songs’ (being a game about an overconfident egomaniac, I chose to sing a stanza of the summarizing theme song between each pair of chapters).
“Being a time travel story, the unorthodox story structure made it hard to make the chapter transitions in the same way as the first three parts. That was a mistake, I should have tried harder!”
Enjoy the complete series from start to finish with the Deponia Complete Bundle for a limited time only!