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Interview: Orwell – Art Director Melanie Taylor on their successful „privacy invasion thriller“

At this year’s gamescom we had the opportunity to take a look at Orwell, the highly successful „detective-data-mining-story and point’n’click-and-textadventure“. Furthermore, we talked to Art Director Melanie Taylor about the setting, the studio’s aim, difficulties during development and the game’s future.

If you want to read our review on the first episodes of Orwell, you can check that out here (in German). You can watch the German interview in full length at the end of this article.

The final episode of Orwell was released on 17 November 2016.

What is Orwell about?

Orwell is about data spying. The player plays himself and the government asks him to investigate an attack that is suspected to be a terrorist attack. The player is supposed to find out whether a certain person, that was seen at the place shortly before the attack, is responsible for it. This is the beginning – various pictures of security cameras and then the explosion that shows the player what happened. On these pictures there is a woman that has allegedly something to do with the bombing. The player is assigned to find information about her. First, these information are found on various websites and online profiles. Later it is getting more private as the player can wiretap phone calls and read chats.

Basically, Orwell is about not only her story but her friend’s story as well. The further one plays the more information one gains about these people, find out what kind of lives they live and discover very personal things.

Is the name a reference to George Orwell?

Yes, definitely. We wanted the player to instantly know what the game is about. In the beginning we wondered whether this is too obvious, but the good thing about it is that it means something to everyone, everyone associates Big Brother with it. But once somebody plays the game the player notices that it is about more than Big Brother. 1984 was about surveillance and how citizens were oppressed by the government. In Orwell the player takes the role of the controller and gets to know the other side. The main topics are surveillance, but also privacy. The question is how far one can invade a person’s privacy and monitor them while, on the other hand, guaranteeing security for the population.

Especially nowadays there is increased fear of those attacks or rampages and people desire this security, but also do not want to relinquish privacy. Orwell questions how far you can go.

Orwell

So Orwell is pretty socio-critical. Is that what you wanted to do from the beginning? Or what was your inspiration?

Initially we wanted to create a game that works via an interface purely. It is an interesting way to tell a story, because this story is only told in pieces and the player has to complete the puzzle.

When we developed the idea Her story wasn’t out yet. This game shows a very interesting way of telling a story and letting the players find out on their own. Orwell is more mechanic-driven with direct interaction. It is a mix of mechanic and story. It has often been compared to Papers, Please, that is very mechanical, but still asks moral questions. The player can decide whether he is on the government’s side or on the population’s side. That’s the similarity between Orwell and Papers, Please.

Can you describe Orwell as a textadventure or which genre would fit most likely?

That’s actually really hard to determine. We named it a “privacy invasion thriller”, which is basically a new genre. I think Papers, Please was often named a “document thriller” – Orwell is hard to classify. The game has elements of a textadventure, but only because it has a lot of text. An adventure is a game where you follow a story and solve puzzles. This is not the case in Orwell. There is no game over, the player can make decisions any time and no matter what the player decides, the game will go on, but the story changes.

Some elements are detective work and you maybe could label them as puzzles, but it is no classical adventure where you have to open doors, combine etc, there are differences.

How much text did you use? Is that measurable, in Word pages, for instance?

Yes, our writer Daniel probably knows that better than I do. It was definitely a lot of text. There are not only websites, news articles or online profiles, but dialogues as well. Your supervisor, Symes, also talks to you a lot and guides you through the level. He has a lot of text as well.

It is a game where you have to embark on reading in order to enjoy it. Those who embark on it actually stick to it.

Orwell

For how long have you been working on the game?

About two years. When we founded our studio, we did some commissioned work as well and various other things. We started working on the game full-time in 2015. Initially we planned on developing it for one year, but of course it took us longer. But it was worth it.

It was difficult to work out the mechanics, to balance it and for players to enjoy it and have an impact. That was important for us. We did not want players to feel like they are swimming through a linear level, but can interact and decide.

In how far can the player influence the story or the ending?

The further one plays the greater the consequences of the decisions. We wanted to show the player that he can influence things. That starts with trivialities – the player notices that adding information to the system alters the story. Characters start talking about something, cannot do certain things, encounter restrictions. The player himself becomes the observer at this point.

Overall, the player is the superior chess player and can decide somebody’s fate and the player’s actions become increasingly important. The further you go the more crucial it is what you pass on to “Orwell”.

How about your game’s future? Is there already a release date and do you know on which platforms it will be released?

We aim for a release at the end of 2016 and work very hard to achieve that. First we will release it on Steam, for PC. We consider releasing it on Mac as well and maybe tablets. Orwell is suitable for tablets, because one has to read a lot – not so suitable for smartphones, though. However, you could play on the train or on your way. But first, there will be only the PC version.

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