[ENGLISH] Interview with Didier Chanfray - Part 3 : LBA 3

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Twinsen Threepwood
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Didier Chanfray, designer of Twinsen and owner of the LBA’s licence.

Note : Original version (French) here

We finally arrive to the last part 3 of our interview with Didier Chanfray, concerning the much hoped Little Big Adventure 3! If you want to go back, you can take these passages: Part 1 and Part 2.

To accompany this discussion, we bring you sketches imagined by Didier Chanfray (and friends) for the game and which he graciously entrusted to us. While some are already known, others are completely new: we have the honor to share with you [g]a complete story board that will present a crucial scene from LBA 3[/g]! This story board will give you a glimpse of a whole new threat, and an adventure of great ... planetary proportions! You are free to not click on the illustrations and sketches to avoid spoils.

A HUGE thank you to Didier Chanfray, for allowing us to share this major new document, as well as all these others materials!

> 23 years of endless waiting!

[GF]: We finally arrive to the 3rd and last part of the interview, so I'm going without a net! Today is 2020: has it become taboo to tell you (and Frederick) about Little Big Adventure 3?
Didier Chanfray: (Smiling) No, it's not taboo… maybe a bit anyway… (laughs)

Drawing dating from a 2007 study and produced by another member of Team LBA 2: Paul-Henri Michaud. Arthur, son of Twinsen and Zoe, at the center of the story and playable in LBA 3!

> The return of the Raynal / Chanfray duo. Objective: to agree

Released in 2017, 2Dark brought back together the Raynal / Chanfray duo

[GF]: In 2017, your duo re-formed around the 2Dark game project. During this period, you had participated in a very special LBA stream, organized by the speedrunner called "Freeman". During this stream, we heard you mark a point of disagreement between you about the size to be allocated for the future LBA 3 project. Frédérick Raynal seemed rather up for a big AAA, while you seemed to want to opt for a "good AA". 3 years after this talk, how the the LBA 3 project is going? Did you manage to agree?
Yes, it was very cool to have a little contribution for 2 Dark. I mainly worked on the “preprod” in order to study the conception of the level design for the psychiatric hospital and the fun fair. I drew up the intro storyboard, and brought some graphic ideas representing the 70's, a period that I know well (laughs). To come back to your question about the cost of producing LBA 3 and the economic dimension it should have ...

Twinsen praying for 20 years to the god Dark Monk to get LBA 3

(Pensive) ... For me, it's a matter of common sense. You should never spend more than you can earn. We have to face the obvious: LBA is not GTA. It’s a nice license, but the game does not have this level of notoriety.
Based on this observation, if you are rational and you calculate as a good manager of what to spend, yes, it is better to even make a good A (simple A) than a bad AAA.

Sketch of a Quetch monk, a caste never seen before in the LBA’s universe

This monastic temple is reminiscent of Tibetan architecture

> The art and manner of creating LBA 3

[GF]: From the way you created the game, and if we refer from what you described to us today, LBA games seem more like projects who are done with small and close teams, with a very micro approach to technology and development, than a big AAA team. Is Lba compatible with the creative process of a Triple A?
The important thing is elsewhere. What matters, is to have, at some point a conjunction, favorable elements that allow us to be able to start preproduction. This “preprod” phase is decisive, for the success of the project : you don't need to be 50 to start. How to organize the rest of the production ? Many or not many, is another thing for me! It will mostly depend on who we do it with. But frankly, I don't see Activision offering me a team of 200 people to do LBA3… We can always dream! (to laugh)

Image taken from the very nice intro of LBA 2. Does it help to imagine what LBA3 could be?

[GF]: Since the 2010s, the market has changed strongly, with the advent of casual gaming, which some people - rightly or wrongly - contrast with hardcore gamers. In general, games today tend to be inclusive for all gamer profiles and to promote accessibility.
Now, and we talked about it today, LBA comes from a tradition of games where the player had to fend by himself with minimal guidance. If LBA3 happens one ay, what pattern would it fit? In the end, what would LBA 3 look like?

I don't know if we can talk about a tradition for video games : it's so recent as an activity that personally, I'm still in the exploratory phase. It seems to me that there is still a lot to be invented. But you're right, we don't do JVs like we did in the 90s. On the one hand, because technology has evolved considerably and has also become very much democratized. On the other hand, because our model of society based on the market economy has transformed this stammering activity (which was not taken seriously for a long time) into a real industry by simply responding to the growing demand and more and more varied audience.
So it's true : categories of players have appeared, genres have been born, and uses too… From my point of view, we are in a technological sector of activity just like aviation or the automobile. So there will still be a lot of inventions and innovations in the decades to come. Look at the mouths of the first planes (laughter)… And yet they were flying. It's like us, we were already having fun on Galaxian or Donkey Kong.

Will the Temple of Bû be there again? Will casual gamers survive it?

In 1993 for LBA1, we wanted to make a relatively accessible game, aimed for a mixed audience (female / male). It might seem paradoxical when you know the difficulty of the game, but back then, it was the norm! If you analyze the mechanics of the game a bit, it sometimes looks like an RPG for noobs.
We have had quite a few testimonials from players, what you might call casuals, who told us that this was one of the few games they had managed to complete. For us, finishing the game was fundamental. It means a lot; that means the player went above and beyond to get there (laughs)… So he was damn motivated! This is the basis of game design: player motivation.

So what would LBA3 looks like? Huge question! And on which machine? I prefer to talk first about the feelings we would like to see in the game: freedom, love, tolerance, courage, etc. Patience… (laughs) No, for patience, we can certainly improve things in the gameplay anyway! For me, LBA is like a big spool that you can unwind, you pull the thread and the ideas come. I've been pulling the string to see if it works, and it works!

The Sendells are in the heart of the plot which has always been thought of as a trilogy

On an editorial side, it's still an Action / Adventure game with a twisty storyline, sweet dialogues and a symphonic soundtrack that transports you into the universe just by closing your eyes. We could consider it on PC and consoles for the sake of profitability.
On the target audience, for me in any case, and for Fred too I think, it's still a bit the same mixed target as for LBA1 in a certain way (probably by lowering the general difficulty level a little): a fairly large audience loving a certain form of progressive dexterity, but also solid playful mechanics that are easily identifiable. If I dare to compare, a bit like Zelda, where you still need 5 fingers on each hand and a fair amount of dexterity to pull yourself out in the end.

So yes, personally, I see it as a real Action / Adventure video game, with a user experience reviewed and corrected in line with our times.

Exclusive with this interview, a storyboard (Unpublished): to face an unprecedented cataclysm as well as a new enemy army from the depths of Twinsun, the inhabitants join the Emerald Moon in order to board an arch allowing them to then flee into space !

When we started LBA1, we didn't know we were going to do LBA2. But when we finished LBA2, Fred said: “If there is a 3, that would be the last episode of the trilogy”… We were getting fed up with LBA (laughs)… Fred had even found a name: The Genesis of the Stellar Entity. This latest episode would tell the story of the cataclysmic process of mutation that the planet Twinsun must undergo to release the extraordinary power of the Sendells necessary for the balance of the universe. This irreversible natural process is not without danger for its inhabitants, it will therefore be necessary to find solutions to temporarily secure the population at the height of the cataclysm.

The melting of Hamalayi will trigger a cataclysm on Twinsun. A threat reminiscent of our own melting ice on Earth

Sketch of a house flooded by melting ice

Of course, our friend FunFrock wouldn't be far away, trying one last time to take advantage of the chaotic situation to take power. A bullshit we also said was that during this episode we learn that FunFrock is Twinsen's father (laughs). A gameplay idea had been validated between us, it is to be able to play alternately with 3 characters: Twinsen, Zoe, and their son Arthur.
”There is a frame, just pull the thread from the spool ...”

The flood seen in LBA 2 was just a prelude!

> How to finance the game?

The crowdfunding site Kickstarter allowed the return of many unexpected games

[GF]: I would like us to talk a bit about the solutions that could be considered to make the launch of the LBA 3 project successful. Today, it is quite funny to see that a good number of licenses from the 90s and 2000s - including hopes of a follow-up had been raised to the rank of Holy Grail - finally managed to come back against all expectations and this, thanks to various financing solutions. We can state for example Syberia 3 or Shenmue III.

So we see these games, often accompanied by their original creators, come back with projects or prototypes that they then submit to crowdfunding, partial or total. Could LBA 3 be inspired by this movement?

The success of LBA's 2019 music re-orchestration project with Philippe Vachey shows that fans can answer the call!

Regarding Shenmue III and Syberia 3, it's good enough that we were able to fund them this way, but I'm not sure the games were commercial successes. Often, we forget that the production budget alone is not enough to market a game, you have to add as much as the dev for marketing, this is a rule of thumb.

Kickstarter also helped fund an LBA symphonic music project!

Regarding the LBA symphony, I wanted to warmly thank the more than 900 donors: we went beyond our expectations by raising € 65,000. Wayo records organized the Kickstarter very well, which is critical to achieving the goal. They brought good conditions to Philippe for the recording. I had the chance to listen to the recently finished mixed album and it was just magical !! I think we'll hear about it.

The giant cable car built by Baldino ...

... will be directly linked to the Emerald Moon!

[GF]: Could we consider a Kickstarter in order to finance the creation of a prototype for LBA 3, which could then be presented to publishers?
We still have to tell ourselves that people prefer to back a product that is going to come out rather than a prototype : that's quite normal. I had the opportunity to study with crowdfunding specialists the amount that we could hope to raise, taking into account a lot of parameters, and in particular the notoriety of the license. If I launched a kickstarter to fund the LBA 3 game, we could raise a maximum of between $ 600,000 and $ 800,000… which is good, but not enough for a production. It would just pay us for the prototype. It's still an interesting result that shows publishers the potential of the game. We are of course on a “simple A” pattern for a production of a game.

A giant worm reminiscent of Dune's "Sandworms"

Even without knowing what techno we will be developing the game with, but knowing overall where we would like to go in terms of ambition (staying measured), I estimate the dev budget to be around $ 2.5M. To that, it will be necessary to add the same sum in communication, therefore 5 M $ in total. To date, a French publisher has offered me 1.5 M for development, it's too fair to want to reach a certain level of quality, but we are starting to get closer.

An Ant Guard, the new enemy race of LBA3 from the depths of Twinsun

[GF]: Another possible solution: could we consider a Kickstarter to make a remake of LBA 1/2 so that the sales can then be used to finance part of LBA 3? The idea would be to be able to restart the machine!
Another more economical idea to revive the machine without necessarily doing LBA3 would be to license a studio to do a spin-off. An episode taking place between LBA1 and LBA2, or even before the 1st… It doesn't matter! By using an existing engine, Unity for example. I see a lot of very interesting things among dev fans and art fans. I like the idea of appropriation of the universe by a fan who would like to bring his eyes and creativity to the license. The cost of production could be more measured by limiting the playing area to explore and the number of characters encountered in the episode.

The Dino-Fly seems to be in trouble again…

What is certain is, that I am not going to set up a JV studio to develop LBA3. I've passed the age (laughs) and I've already given. So the idea is to entrust the development to a third party studio with a few good titles. This studio obviously has a well-established production line, with certainly some proprietary tools that make the difference. The risk of using commercial engines without modifications is to be drowned in the mass in terms of gaming experience especially. It's true that with graphics you can make a bit of a difference, but that's not enough. Believe me, R&D is always the focus of a successful JV studio.

> A fervent and impatient fan community!

“The Magical Ball Network” site: THE temple of the community of LBA fans around the world!

[GF]: The fan community has often shown that they want to get involved in supporting you in this project. Ultimately, today, in 2020, what could we do to help you finally get there?
Already, I want to thank all the fans who are still here after so many years. A lot of times we talk about it with Fred, Seb, Yael, Phil, and other former colleagues, and it's still a mystery to us that we touched people's hearts so hard.

We've all seen other great productions, but LBA will definitely stand out. An event is taking shape for the 26th anniversary of LBA1 organized, among others, by one of the kings of the LBA1 speed runner: our friend Gravel Freeman!

We look forward to participating with Fred. How not to also talk about the Magicball Network community, which has never stopped feeding the universe with inventions, extensions of the scenario, and other assumptions? They never stopped believing in it, despite some legitimate spleen. I'm not sure what more you could do, it's already huge.

I really hope to be able to tell you one day that your wait has not been in vain by releasing a suite that meets your expectations, but especially not a suite at a discount.

Logo of the Swedish studio Might and Delight, to which Didier Chanfray would like to entrust the LBA 3 project

[GF]: Are there any studios or games that could feed this choice or a future direction for LBA 3?
There are some really good studios in Europe, one of which I particularly like : [g]Might and Delight[/g]. They are in Stockholm. I really like their games (Pid™, Shelter™, Book of Travel™…).
They make very dreamlike games, and I especially like the vision of LBA's Creative Director Jakob Tuchten.

Book of Travels™ (2020), by studio Might and Delight

Jakob sent me some wonderful drawings of his interpretation of LBA. They don't know it yet, but they're the ones I would like to entrust the creation of LBA3 to (laughs).

Jakob Tuchten, Artistic Director at Might and Delight

[GF]: So the door is not closed!
No, the door is not closed, but let's be realistic: it is not open as we speak either. For our part, Fred and I, are motivated and ready to invest in a pre-prod to give a framework and rough out the contours of the game with a partner studio. It's also true that we would like to have operational tasks in the development of the prototype, because we don't like to sit idly by (laughs).

"The keys of the universe": who to entrust them to ?!

The return of all these wonderful characters? We believe in !

[GF]: Didier Chanfray, thank you!

Interview conducted on 07/30/2020.

ImageTo read : Find out more about Didier Chanfray's solo career: the big interview with Grospixels (french)

ImageTo read : Review for the Didier Chanfray's very first game: Renaud Marche à l'Ombre (French)