11-11: Memories Retold hands-on and interview – This is not the sort of project we expect to make huge amounts of money
GameCentral talks to the producer of Bandai Namcos new WWI drama, about moving games beyond entertainment and the influence of Hideo Kojima.
The 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War takes place next week and despite what you might imagine there is a video game to reflect that fact. Not Battlefield 1 or any kind of action or strategy game but a serious, story-driven title published by Bandai Namco and co-developed by Aardman Animations. We cant review 11-11: Memories Untold until next week but we were recently able to preview the game during a press event at the Imperial War Museum in London and speak at length to producer Lionel Lovisa.
We had already played 11-11 briefly at Gamescom and before that interviewed voice actor Elijah Wood about his role in the game. But rather than the subject matter or the Hollywood cast the most immediately arresting thing about 11-11 is its art style. Rather than being photorealistic the game uses a painterly style inspired by impressionism, which gives the game a look and feel quite unlike anything else.
There are still normal 3D models underneath the virtual brush strokes, but everything looks as if youre walking through a living painting thats constantly being painted and repainted around you. It looks beautiful, but the reasons for using the style are manifold, as Lovisa explained…
We wanted to try to make sure that people got what the game was straight away, that they didnt think it would be an action game. If it had been realistic then, first of all, itd be too expensive to make on our budget and secondly everyone would start comparing it to other games and I dont think wed reach the people we want to reach. You want to make it seem interesting to more than just hardcore gamers. I want to be able to show it to school kids and to have older people interested in it.
We also wanted the art style to have a meaning. Our initial idea was either cubism or impressionism, because they were painting styles that were contemporary at the time. But cubism is used by a lot of people in the video games industry and the problem is the low poly look can be a bit too cute and charming, and we obviously did not want that.
I wanted to make it abstract so I didnt have to see blood and people cut in pieces. But I also dont want to make it look childish and not impactful, adds Lovisa, who is keen to ensure the game can be shown in schools. It was a huge challenge. If you were looking at the game nine months ago or even less… it looked really bad. It was a big technical challenge to get it working properly.
The story of the game is split between two characters: Canadian photographer Harry, played by Wood, and German engineer Kurt, played by Emmy-nominated actor Sebastian Koch. Harry joins the war essentially to impress his girlfriend, with no real concept of what he is getting himself into, while the older Kurt is fully aware of the realities of the frontline but is driven by a need to discover the fate of his son.
The game plays like any third person adventure, with some broad similarities with Life Is Strange and Telltale Games The Walking Dead. At Gamescom we played a short section where youre trying to advance through No Mans Land, which was genuinely harrowing but never actually involved firing a gun – something the game tries to maintain through the entire story.
There are other action scenes though, with both characters making friends with animals they meet in the trenches. Kurts cat accidentally distracts some Australian soldiers at one point, while Harry manages to train a pigeon to fly on his command. This allows you to not only control it during a flight sim style sequence but also use it to collect distant object in what seem to be a set of simplified puzzles.
One of the most interesting moments though is the build-up at the start of the game, where both Harry and Kurt decide to join the war for their various reasons and the focus switches between controlling each one of them until both end up signing up at exactly the same point in the plot. Its all very cleverly orchestrated and suggests a game that is determined to innovate in how it tells a story as well as just what the story is about.
Bandai Namco is a huge anime and video games company. We basically make most of our business around Japanese franchises, says Lovisa. But the goal for us is to expand and to be more global, and to be able to push games that appeal to all markets. So we have one branch that is publishing games like Man Of Medan and another that is doing distribution for games like The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077. But we also want to produce and create our own licences and push games that can be the best of their type in the market.
Whats interesting about this approach is that Bandai Namco arent trying to make Western equivalents of their Japanese output, which might have seemed the obvious approach. Man Of Medan is part of an anthology series of horror games, by the creators of Until Dawn, and together with the recently announced Twin Mirror is also primarily story-based.
We didnt really say, OK, lets create a Western game, says Lovisa. When we thought of a concept, we thought, Usually when youre a big publisher youre criticised for milking your franchises and only doing cash grabs. But when we saw this project we thought, OK, this is not the sort of project we expect to make huge amounts of money. This is a great project to show that video games can be more than just basic action and that its not only a medium for a small amount of people; it can be culturally important and have a serious meaning.
Lovisa is particularly passionate on this subject and the idea that games do not have to be seen purely as entertainment. Despite what you might imagine from his thick French accent, he spent 10 years working in Japan under Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima and that led to him forming a very different view of video game storytelling to many developers.
At the time I was young and I had a lot of questions and I asked him [Kojima] how do you make sure you go from a 70 Metacritic to a 90 Metacritic? And he said, I dont give a shit about the Metacritic. But I have one thing thats important for all the things I do: I want when someone finishes one of my games that he gets something from it.
Its the same for a movie, its the same for a book. A good book is a book that you enjoy reading, a great book is a book that once you finish it you get something from it and you become a different person from reading it. And this is what we are trying to do with 11-11, so that when you finish it, it will hopefully make you think.
Perhaps the biggest question about the game is who exactly will buy and play it. A First World War game with no shooting does not seem an easy sell to ordinary gamers, but Lovisa is optimistic it will find its audience.
We were surprised how people who we believed would not be interested did like the game and found it interesting because of the ideas behind it. We did a global marketing analysis and you see today you have a huge amount of people that like this kind of game because they played things like Firewatch and they already know that video games are not only about action.
People also want to play video games to feel something and be moved by the story and be moved by the sound. The danger is you have a whole new generation that believes war is fun. And thats why you cannot shoot anybody in our game. Then you get a chance to see what it was really like. War is like a machine that drags everybody into it, once it starts it cannot be stopped. It doesnt make any sense and the reason for it starting are often just silly.
Lovisas passion for the project is obvious and its interesting that Bandai Namco already seem to have accepted that the game will never be a massive seller, and yet there are already whispers of making the Memories Retold subtitle an ongoing brand – although subsequent games will not necessarily all be related to war.
We dont really care about the success of this one. But we will see, he says. Weve tried to expand what a video game can be on a cultural level, to make it more than just a product of fun and try to push the younger generation into something serious using a medium they already love.
If you ask me what I would do as the producer of the franchise I would go in a completely different direction. If you want to make another game that is talking about a very important matter I would want to use an art style that enhanced the meaning of it and was relevant to the period its set in. Or if you make a game about blind people we might not put anything on the screen at all.
Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Digixart and Aardman Animations
Release Date: 9th November 2018
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