Secret Files - Tunguska
Planned release date Germany.: 2Q2006
Developer: Animation Arts/Fusionsphere Systems
A preview by MaryScots 22nd August 2005
At Games Convention 2005 I met Lead-Designer Jörg Beilschmidt, Lead-Artist Marco Zeugner and Lead-Programmer Martin Mayer who allowed me to take a first look at their adventure-debut Secret Files Tunguska. It became my personal insiders tip of this years GC so read on to learn more about the game and my impressions of it.
On 30th June 1908 an explosion as powerful as 2,000 Hiroshima bombs made over 6,000 km² of pinewood in Central-Siberias Tunguska region scatter like a bunch of matches. The sonic wave stretched to a radius of 1,000 km. Although eye-witnesses reported to have seen a long object which fell from the sky shining in a bluish-white light and a light-column of approximately 20 km height being followed by a black, mushroom-like cloud, several scientific theories and expeditions could not determine what really happened there until today. All over the internet you can find the most preposterous speculations ranging from a possible gas-explosion via the crash of an extraterrestrial spaceship to a journal entry (German only) made up by its author as if written by Nobel prize winner Marie Curie. If that isnt the stuff for a thrilling adventure game I dont know what else could be!
This was what the developers of Animation Arts and Fusionsphere Systems thought as well and now they gear up to surprise us with a first-class adventure game in 2006. From a 3rd person perspective we take over the parts of Nina Kalenkow, a young woman born in Russia but living in Germany and also that of her good friend Max Gruber. One beautiful Sunday morning Nina is looking forward to meeting her father Wladimir whom she has not seen for quite some time but he does not show up. A strange message, a trip having allegedly been arranged on short notice, a mysterious email and a cop unwilling to cooperate is everything Nina can work with to find out more about her genitors disappearance. On her quest she will have to deal with some obscure characters and travel to the remotest corners of the world including Tunguska, of course.
The first aspects to be noticed in a game are by their very nature ;-) the visiuals and I have to say: These are so not average! - in fact, they are breathtaking. Only a small number of completed games could impress me the way those few scenes did that I was allowed to admire in the pre-alpha demo produced especially for this years Games Convention. I can think of no other adventure game in which the mo-cap animated 3D-characters fit into the pre-rendered and very detailed 2D-backgrounds as smoothly and naturally as is the case here. The same devotion to detail shows in the facial animation. Small but essential animations in the environments make the locations come to life and almost photo-realistic textures make you want to reach out with your hand to feel whether the wood of a garage door is really as weathered or the moss on the shingles is as dry as it seems to be. The 3D-engine enables the developers to bring life and visual depth into the backgrounds by the use of 3D-animation of weather-/environment and light-/shadow effects which look incredibly real. Lightning flashes in the cloudy Irish sky over an old pub, rain patters on the walkways and into the adjoining waters all of this spatially expanding into the distance the likes I have not seen before. Another example are the landscape and slowly gliding clouds which "fly" by the moving train without giving the impression of a film running in the background. Of course, you dont only see the animations you can also hear them. All sounds have been recorded from real sources. So please, commemorate the poor guy who was soaking wet in the rain for two hours while recording the sounds of it. Now thats what I call dedication! Cinematic cut-scenes and short automatic sequences when first entering a new location account for more highlights. The likewise animated background of the main menu will show us how far we have proceeded in the game and depicts Ninas current whereabouts.
Jörg Beilschmidt explained that a lot of research was done about what the biggest problems in puzzle-solving usually are. He wants to effectively prevent the player from looking up solutions in a walkthrough. Puzzles shall be worked into the story in a logical way and pixel-hunting for hotspots shall be avoided by a) not designing them too small and b) making clear by comments we get when mouse-clicking on them what if anything we can possibly do. If the need arises we can still press the spacebar in the otherwise fully mouse-controlled game in order to make a small magnifying glass show us the exact position of a hotspot. Moreover, the constantly visibly inventory at the bottom of the screen helps us keep track of the collected items. By smaller side-quests relating to the background of NPCs he wants to bring more variety into the gameplay and keep boredom at bay while the abandonment of action-quests, timed sequences and Game Over by death shall prevent possible frustration of the players. Those who neither favour machine puzzles nor endless study of documents may take a deep breath of relief now as the main focus will be put on inventory-based puzzles and tasks arising from the locations. In addition we will control both Nina and sometimes Max during the course of the game and not always separately but betimes we have to switch between the two when the only way to overcome an obstacle is interaction of the two characters. Last but not least, Susanna Mittermaier, press spokeswoman for KOCH Media, announced professional voice-acting. What more can we ask for?! :-)
My conclusion: If the likeable and dedicated team manages to realise everything the way they planned we can look forward to 25+ hours of the finest in adventure-gaming!