[ENGLISH] Interview with Didier Chanfray - Part 2 : LBA 2

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Twinsen Threepwood
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Note : Original article in french here


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

Second part of the interview with Didier Chanfray, which will focus on the period 1994-1997 and the transition leading to a whole new major project: Little Big Adventure 2.
Switching to real-time environments, increased team and budget, new technological and playful ambitions: Adeline and Twinsen continue their ascent to aim for the stars!

>A planned and methodical transition

[GF] : After the success of LBA 1, Little Big Adventure 2 was released in 1997, 3 years after the first episode. But in the meantime, you've also released Time Commando (1996)!
Didier Chanfray: Indeed. It was necessary to maintain a continuous economic activity between the projects, and therefore, to release games. The alternation between LBA, Time Commando and LBA2 was organized for this. The reason was simple: we weren't working with casual workers, but with permanent employees, who had to be kept in business through intermediate projects using the technology we had made. And of course, we needed a cool idea that could kicks us off! Time Commando used a lot of technology from Little Big Adventure, despite their lack of resemblance.

The Game Time Commando™ game allowed the player to travel through the ages

We wanted to make a pushy action game in which we could use as many weapons as possible, hence the idea of going through eras from prehistoric times to the present day and even into the wars of the future.
Then we were cool about on the number of weapons available (laughs)!
Our main constraint was to do the game in 8 to 10 months, with 10 to 12 people : the rest of the team, around 4 to 5 people, being on the pre-production (script / new techno…) of LBA2.
This idea resulting from our brainstorming was quickly adopted. Frédérick had a "commando" type vision for the game, seen from above with a vertical scrolling, but I came up with something different, by retaining the idea of a sequence shot where the action would be continuous, just like with scrolling.
I imagined a more cinematic way of directing by accompanying my proposal with storyboards. Once Fred gave his approval, we continued to move in that direction.

To Cross the eras, but also universes with this well-hidden easter egg bringing together Twinsen and the Time Traveler in LBA 2.

Time Commando certainly has quite a few flaws, but we could still make a game like this today, while fixing the problems known at this time. I am thinking in particular of the reading of datas, who could only come from the CD-ROM, which led to particular constraints. Still, the visual impact was quite good. The game worked well in Asia, distributed by Virgin I think, often being sold in bundles (graphics card / CD-ROM reader…). There, the players liked the historical side. He had a pretty Arcade style, with a lot of action. Today, we could do a Time Commando 2 where, for example, we could go through other wars in the history of mankind: we can say that there is no shortage of choices on that side. This game also allowed us to deal with eras that were still little highlighted at the time, such as the Romans, the Incas, the First World War, the war in Lebanon, etc.

> The advent of LBA 2

Illustration of the second episode

[GF] : And then, following this project comes the Little Big Adventure 2 project!
Yes ! We had a mini-team that had started working on preproduction during the dev of Time Co. There had been some changes though. For the 1st, concerning the scenario, we had worked with Jean-Jacques Poncet, who had taken care of the dialogues and who had slipped some beautiful visionary lines, such as those about Star Wars (the Grobo, who is waiting for a new episode of the series). Then for LBA 2, we worked with Marc Albinet on the script. He was responsible for shaping the script, writing the dialogues (it's important to be able to give a certain coherence to a somewhat crazy universe)… For the scenes outside the world, we had decided to change the technique, and use the real time 3D. It was a little different approach to the first one, and it still required a big overhaul.

The lore has grown considerably with the arrival of 4 new races and their mythology

Regarding the ingredients of the universe, we very quickly put on the table that we wanted new characters and new places to explore. This happened in a very natural way. And of course, we wanted to keep our “friend” FunFrock, as the main antagonist. We quickly posed the idea of the Moon and its reactor, the idea that it would crash into our beautiful planet Twinsun, in case of defeat; the idea of falsy-nice extra-twisunian, coming in peace, etc. These elements came naturally with the new layout of the game and its level design, which we were in the process of creation.

The Real-time 3D allowed sometimes vertiginous viewing angles!

For this project, we also aimed to initiate a big change in technology. We took advantage of the development of Time Commando in order to see what could work with our tools for LBA2, and what could not. At the same time, a part of the team had already started working on 3D graphics, in order to gain a modeled overview LBA2’s world.

The rendering of interiors in 2D has also been significantly improved

[GF] : Indeed, we can see that in this second part : you succeeded in improving all the rendering technologies of the first opus!
Whether it is the interiors, the modeling and animation of the characters, the management of physics ...

Absolutely! It's cool. The animations were better because, this time, I had real animators (laughs)

Sketch of the inside of the flying saucers

[GF] : A question that many may have asked then or since: why did LBA2 never have a console release?
Several reasons for LBA2. First of all, from my point of view, LBA is not designed as a console game, and the average sales results for the LBA1’s release on PS1, a few years after the PC version (around 96/97), confirmed it to me.
Perhaps, also, that in 1997, LBA2 no longer had the same publisher, depending on the territory. Even though Electronic Arts was, I believe, still a publisher in Europe, it was Activision this time that funded the game. It was probably quite tricky to divide it all between publishers. Then, technically speaking, it was quite complicated to make a portage. The CPU constraints of the console were strong, the graphics rendering of LBA2 was not at all the same, and there could be some issues playing with the PlayStation pad as well.

Sketch of an extra-terrestrial, inspired by a famous brand of sausage!

> A game that suffered from a lack of posterity: the SEGA transition

[GF] : Another question concerning the technology of the game: why was LBA2 not able to benefit from a post update to improve its rendering with the benefit of 3D accelerator cards?
In the meantime, the whole team has moved on to Sega! So no more updating possible: Sega did not buy out the company Adeline, but was committed to taking over the entire team to create a Sega studio in Europe. The commercial exploitation rights of the Adeline games remained with the Delphine group. (GF’s note: Following this takeover, Adeline Software changes its name and becomes No Cliché).

One of the most beautiful CG shots in the game

We don't remember it anymore, but it was a very difficult economic time that foreshadowed the bursting of the internet bubble : it was going to hurt!
Despite the success of the first part (after all 850,000 “full price” sales), things remained very tight economically speaking for LBA2. After that, Paul (ABR: Paul de Senneville, President and producer of Adeline and Delphine Software), as a savvy businessman, preferred to seize the hand extended by Sega at the right time. There was a severe crisis looming, and there we had a great opportunity.

Miyake San, CEO Sega Europe, visited us regularly since we made Alone in the Dark. And so one day, around 1998, he came back to see us, shortly after finishing LBA2, and there he suggested that we create a studio to work on a new console: the Dreamcast, which was still called the Katana at this time. An offer like this cannot be refused! We had worked for a publisher, Infogrames, we had developed independently at Adeline, and now, we were going to a manufacturer! We were going to change of level, that's clear!

To finish, if I come back to the economic context, the reality was there: we were starting to suffer. To pass the milestone, we had to part with half the team. LBA2 cost 1.3m euros at the time, so you have to imagine the ratio now… It was still a big budget at the time, and so things just happened.

The game Toy Commander™ will be released on Dreamcast and will also have a sequel!

In hindsight, when you know the outcome of the Sony / Sega war, you might think that we didn't make the right choice; It is not false ! (laughs) Nevertheless, personally, I do not regret anything. I have learned a lot from my Sega experience. We had a lot of communication within the group. The professional challenge to be met was extremely motivating. We had to be ready for DAY ONE, to be among the 10 games available for the European release of the console; we had 20 months ahead of us from zero : a hell of a challenge. Their request was to make a "multiplayer action game for boys": Sega's pitch! (laughs) Can you imagine? We rarely have such carte blanche in a career!

An avant-garde game

Shot from a CG in space

[GF] : Let's come back to LBA2 a bit. Even if it is difficult to affix a label today to a game from another era: given the size of the game, its components and its budget, could not we say that LBA2 had all the characteristics of an AA game (double A)?
(pensive) Yeah, you could say that. There were still games with much larger budgets back then. However, we can ask ourselves the question of the ratio between generating money and the cost of a game ... In absolute terms, it doesn't matter: you can very well put in the means and know a failure.

Another draft of the creations of the alien races

[GF] : Did LBA2 have any major influences in terms of artistic direction (AD)?
The major influences were posed since the first one in terms of AD, but indeed, the improvement of the engine’s performance and the change of technology for the outdoor stages in the game, forced us to revise some graphics, especially for the sets. Regarding the new characters (the Knartas, Blafards, Sups and Mosquibees) (GF : french names of the extra terrestrial races), I had a lot of fun to image them, but for me, it's in the same artistic vein as LBA1, with a little more polygons (laughs).

> LBA 2 today on our machines: a possibility?

[GF]: Why hasn't the game seen adaptations to tablets like the 1st? This portage had been mentioned for a while.
LBA2 is a too different game from the first one to be simply port to mobile. The cost of adaptation is high, compared to its estimated profitability. It must also be recognized that mobile is not a well suited medium for this kind of adventure / action game. Personally, I play a lot on mobile, but mostly on hyper-casual games in general : “One touch” / “bus shelters”, as I call them.

[GF]: And what about a Switch port?
Indeed, on Switch, maybe it makes more sense for this type of game. I can see quite well the interface’s work to be done and which could be quite good. But here we are in retrogaming : a niche market and, if you add to that the extravagant royalties to pay Nintendo, you realize that the economic model is not very viable. Recently, a French publisher offered it to me, but without really giving me a budget to do so. It's also true that I'm a little tired of releasing yet another version : I'm afraid the fans will get bored. I would prefer to have a spin-off type project while waiting for the sequel.

No Cliché will disappear with the Dreamcast. It will have contributed to the release of Toy Commander™ and Toy Racer™, but not the "Agharta™" project, which will be canceled.

[GF]: Following Sega's difficulties, No Cliché has been closed. From then on, you were no longer in possession of the Little Big Adventure license - which may explain the game's long silence for years. Today, the license has become your property. Can you go back to the journey that led to this takeover?
Well, that's exactly it. After SEGA, I worked again for the group Delphine on Moto Racer for Game Boy Advance, a series of which I am a huge fan. Then came the creation of my company in 2004, Little Worlds Studio, which lasted for several years. A great human adventure. But from 2011, I found myself, after a while, in the situation where I could not see myself finding a way out of the service agreement where, how to say ... after having chained dozens of products from second zone, I was seriously starting to turn in circles! (laughs)

> Didier Chanfray, new guardian of the Temple of Sendell

[GF] : So there was a time when you said “stop” and decided to take action to get the Little Big Adventure license back?
At that time, in 2011, I decided to rebuild a compagny, where I will be alone and where I will propose 3 activities: first, a game design and prototyping advice component; then a training component. A lot of schools asked me for DG / AG workshops; and finally, a third part where I said to myself that I could perhaps buy the LBA license to make a mobile version of it while waiting for better days! At the same time, Guillaume Rambourg, unconditional fan of LBA (now DG Riot Games Europe) also gave me the idea of the GOG portal, but for that, it was necessary to buy back the rights to LBA.

[GF]: Who held it at the time?
Well, that was the producer, Paul de Senneville. I contacted him, and I was able to redeem it from him. I thank him very much in passing : firstly, because a lot of people had visited Paul about this subject, and also, because I was not rolling in dough. But he accepted my offer, which was certainly below what some have already offered him.
So I, then, released the LBA1 & 2 and Time Co games on GOG and started the iOS / Android mobile port of LBA1 with DotEmu.

A “final” that recalls another!

[GF]: To end this “LBA2” part, I wanted to ask you a somewhat humorous question. Did you know that Final Fantasy VII, released the same year as LBA2, had the same final meteor scene? Coincidence or coincidence?
Regarding the end of FF VII, it is a pure coincidence. The blow of the cataclysm is quite classic and very coded in definitive : it plays on an universal ancestral fear, somekind of collective memory coming from the bottom of the ages, a bit like the Gauls. But you see, the Japanese too! A devastating asteroid drop has already happened and is likely to happen again. This fear is paradoxical since we were born out of this stellar chaos, and, to me, that's kind of what LBA is trying to tell.

Continuation and end of this interview, which will concern a game that all fans have been waiting for more than 20 years: Little Big Adventure ... 3! To read in the third and final part

ImageTo read : reviews about Little Big Adventure 2 / LBA2 (french)
ImageTo read : Little Big Aventure 2 (LBA 2), The Test ! (french)