Sinking Island
 
Interview with Benoit Sokal 
by Danyboy and Ugur Sener
September 16, 2007

 

The Story:

An eccentric billionaire named Walter Jones has had an enormous Tower built upon a heavenly atoll, the Tower being more that 200 meters high and meant to be a luxury hotel for the Jet Set. This architectural madness is built entirely in the “art deco” style, which Jones particularly appreciates.

Before its official opening, ten people are reunited on the island, each one brought by different reasons and motives. It is at this moment that Walter Jones is found dead, lying next to his wheelchair.

An investigator, a specialist in complex cases, is sent to the scene. He will have to elucidate the crime and find out the guilty party. All 10 people have a motive for wanting the death of the construction magnate, but one is guilty.

During the 3 days that the investigation lasts, the tower, too heavy for its coral foundation, will slowly but surely sink into the ocean. With it, Walter Jones and the precious clues...

 

Introduction:

I have been doing some research on the internet on how Mr. Sokal came to the place he is today - a well-respected and popular PC adventure game developer. It appears it's been quite a journey for him! At only twenty years old he began creating his favorite character, Inspector Canardo. A very atypical hero, Inspector Canardo is a duck who is disillusioned with everything in his animal world. This character became wildly popular, and his adventures were translated into ten languages. Mr. Sokal and Inspector Canardo were an important part of the great surge in the popularity of comics in Europe in the 1980's.

Mr. Sokal liked to push the limits of his creativity, and as computers made their way into the everyday world, they were a natural fit for him. After being one of the first creators to color his characters with the aid of the computer, he discovered 3D in 1996. After investing almost four years in it's development, he launched the still popular Amerzone adventure game for the PC in 1999. There was no stopping him after that, and in 2002, he released the Adventure Game of the Year in the United States - Syberia 1. He also received awards for this amazing game in France. As I read in one on-line biography, Benoit Sokal is the very soul of Syberia. He was involved with every aspect of this game including design, graphics and dialogue.

In April 2004, the long awaited and much anticipated Syberia 2 was released. This adventure game did not disappoint fans hungry for the continued adventures of Kate Walker and her cohorts in the land of Syberia. The mysteries were solved, and this particular adventure ended - much too soon for many fans!

In April 2006, Benoît Sokal released Paradise. This game places players in the role of Ann Smith, a young woman suffering from amnesia, who is struggling to make her way home and to avoid the conflict surrounding her. To discover her true identity, she must escort a strange black leopard back to the land where it was born. The player follows Ann on her journey as she finds clues to her identity and unravels the truth behind her mysterious past.

 

The Questions:

How do you think your approach to designing video games has evolved over time?

In most aspects, I'm quicker than I used to be because I now have more experience. But at the same time I'm obliged to - and I want to - follow the evolution of the games and do even better. In any case, I remain, before anything else, a story teller.

In creating an adventure game, what are the elements that are most important to you? To which areas do you divert the bulk of your efforts?

First and foremost, always the story. It's because of the story that everything else falls into place. Even though I supervise and produce all the graphics work, the story is still my "signature" after all.

Can you describe the game's overall atmosphere?

It is a police investigation, therefore, the atmosphere is rather dark. You will encounter characters with no conscience for whom money is the only meaning in their lives. Graphically, the surroundings are twilit. A storm starts as soon as the hero arrives on the island, and the lighting is very important to the mood of the story.

Not a lot has been said about the story in Sinking Island. Is it possible for you at this point to share a few more details?

I wanted to recognize the basic rules of a classic police investigation. That is to say a story such as "Clue" where we investigate who was murdered, where, how and why. Of course, what I really enjoy as a scriptwriter is to blur the track of the real killer and to make the player believe the opposite of the truth.

Do you always stick with the story that you wrote or are you willing to consider changes after receiving suggestions from your team?

I'm always open to suggestions, but I never forget that the story is the heart of my profession and my "savoir faire". Let's just say it is a form of gentle dictatorship!

Who is Jack Norm, and what is his background?

Jack Norm is a private investigator who used to be a police officer. As many cops do, he had a tumultuous personal life. He is divorced with a daughter. He is a very quiet guy who will always prefer to use his brain instead of his brawn. However, if he is in a tight place, he can become a man of action.

Syberia 1, Syberia 2 and Paradise had a female as the main character. Is it different for you to approach a game with a man as a main character?

Yes, but in the case of a police investigation a man was more appropriate, without being discriminatory of course! And I didn't want all of my games to automatically have a woman as the main character.

How will the investigator become involved with the case?

He is called to the rescue by his old friend Reeves because Reeves has broken one of his legs and can't move around very well on Sagorah Island where the action takes place. At first Reeves thought the crime was a simple accident and that Norm will only have to make some simple observations.

What can you tell us about the people that arrive at the island just before the opening? Can you provide any details about their personalities and their motivations?

Not for now…. but little by little, some details will be revealed on our website.

Will interaction with the ten guests at the island play an important role in the game?

I'm not sure that I understand the question, but I would say yes, of course. Especially considering that the conversations with each of the individuals will make the investigation shape up.

From what I was able to read about him, it looked like our victim, Walter Jones, is a very dark and mysterious guy. Since he has already died, will we learn more about his personality during the gameplay?

He was a powerful multi-millionaire who built himself and his business with very unscrupulous business practices. Very often people like Walter Jones are very alone.

In Syberia, Oscar was Kate’s sidekick; in Paradise, the leopard was Ana’s sidekick. Will Jack Norm have his own sidekick in Sinking Island?

No.

We will have three days to solve the crime. Does this mean that parts of the game will be time sequenced? Will the gameplay be linear?

The game consists of an innovative principal of consecutive "mandates" that we need to solve to make the investigation go forward. As each "mandate" is solved, it triggers the opening of one or more other mandates that we can solve in the order we want. There is only one end to the story.

In Sinking Island, we already know that the game will take place on an island. Does that mean we will be in the same surroundings and our locations will be more limited?

The game is split between exterior scenes, the hotel/tower which is gigantic.

In French the title of your next game is Île Noyée. In 1993 one of your comic books with Inspector Canardo was published under the same name. Any links between those two?

There is a small link. I kept the idea of the water raising or could it be the tower that is sinking.

In your games, the graphics and the scenery are always fantastic. One scene comes to my mind right now. Kate is walking in the woods along the river with snow falling on her. I almost felt the snow falling on my face while playing. Will we have some memorable scenes like that in Sinking Island?

I hope so. We worked very hard on the graphics. All the scenes are now animated - the waves breaking on the shore, the wind blowing in the coconut trees and the sand flying in the air.

All of your games have had such beautiful music. Who is doing the music in Sinking Island and what should we expect to hear this time.

We worked effectively with the Bande Annonce studio.

Will players have access to any special equipment to help with the recovery and analysis of the clues?

Yes, one of the key elements in the game is the PDA, but in this case it's called the PPA for Police Personal Assistant. It's a tool that permits a lot of interplay.

Can you give us an overview of the game's interface? How will the players interact with the environment?

It's a mix between the simple point and click interface and the part that takes place on the PPA. The player will go from one type to another very often.

What can you tell us about the differences between the PC and Nintendo DS adaptations of the Sinking Island? Are you planning to release the game on other platforms?

The interface has been optimized to stick with the Nintendo DS. We are also thinking about making a Wii version of the game.

What are some of the challenges players will be facing?

The challenge will be to find out who is guilty and how the crime has been committed. And to do that players will need to find some factual elements, analyze them, question the witnesses, compare the statements, take some pictures and take some finger prints.

What kind of puzzles are we going to be challenged with in Sinking Island?

A lot of gameplay puzzles which will be specific to the PPA.

The White Birds Web site informs us that the Sinking Island is intended to be the first game in a series. What can you tell us about the future phases of the project?

My desire is to make Jack Norm solve other crimes if it is possible once a year. I already have started working on the second one that will be called "Meurtre en scene."

Any last comments you want to share with us before ending the interview?

I hope that adventure gamers will be positively surprised by "Sinking Island." We tried very hard to create an innovative game, and I hope that is what will happen.

 

Official website:

White Birds Production

Daniel (aka danyboy) and Ugur Sener from Adventure Lantern

Mr. Sokal, thank you very much for the time you have spent answering our questions and letting us know a bit more about your game. Good luck with Sinking Island.

A special thank you to Alexandre Leroy and Sandrine Loegel from Micro Application. Thanks Draclvr, Ghostlady, Fairygdmther, LadyK and all of those who helped me with this interview.

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