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Week of the Phoenix: Phoenix Online Studios – The Interview, Part 1 of 3

By
Posted on March 4, 2013 AT 01:35pm

[UPDATE: I've trimmed some of the tail end of this part, and will place it into Part Two. I realized that there was just far too much text to expect someone to read in a single sitting! Apologies if you end up reading the trimmed portion twice!]

This week is the week of the Phoenix. Allow me to explain. Recently, I had the chance to talk to two of the creative forces at Phoenix Online Studios, and had a most wonder interview. We had a fantastic, nearly hour long interview. Since that is a lot of text to digest at once, I’ve decided to dedicate this entire week to giving you the interview in delicious, bite-size pieces, as well as some additional insight into the works of Phoenix Online Studios.

I spoke to Cesar Bittar [CEO and Director] and Katie Hallahan [PR Director, Designer, and Jill-of-Many-Trades], and some fantastic things came to light. Without further ado, let’s begin!

[Reference Key for ease of reading -- DN: DigitalNoob (That's us!), CB: Cesar Bittar, KH: Katie Hallahan]

DN: First of all, I’d really like to thank both of you for taking time out because I know you’re both pretty busy. Even if it is a holiday, I’m sure you’re working on something.

KH: *laughs* We don’t have holidays. We have too much too do!

DN: Okay, so… My first question: Cognition, Season Two. Possible or definite?

CB: Possible. It’s really up to how the rest of the season performs and how people continue to warm up the season. We have ideas. We’re definitely leaving a thread open on where we want to go if we decided to do a season two and it has do with the whole Psion ability that Erica has and the fact that there might be other people out there that also have some sort of abilities. We definitely have an idea of where we want to go, but it really comes down to how well season one ends up doing once it’s all said and done.

DN: The choices the player makes often have an effect on how the chapter plays out. If there is a season two, do you think that you’ll make it so that the player’s choices will come into play in subsequent episodes?

KH: Like the choices from season one?

DN: Not necessarily just season one. Let’s say that in season two, episode one, you make some sort of a choice and someone starts treating you a little differently in that episode. Would that, perhaps, come into play later on in season two as well?

KH: Ah, okay. I kept wondering if you were talking about episode-to-episode or season-to-season. I think we’d like to certainly build up to being able to carry over decisions more, because obviously it’s a really cool feature, and it’s getting much more popular in games these days as well. It’s just kind of a matter of getting our tools and our programming up to that level.

CB: We currently are not. We had to make the choice when we decided to make the game whether ‘are we going to be able to carry the decisions from episode to episode?’ That currently has not happened. So, the decisions are maintained within one episode, and it all merges towards the end. And, like Katie said, we definitely want to be able to do a little bit more of that as we improve with our tools. Hopefully in season two, we should be able to do more.

DN: How many of the locations in Cognition are based upon real places? I do know that the Berklee College of Music is a real school in Boston.

KH: Yep! Berklee College is real and the old South Meeting Hall from the end of episode one is a real place. The Mount Auburn Cemetery which is in the beginning of episode one is based on a real location as well. Of course, we take liberties with all of them!

CB: Berklee and the Old South Meeting House… Katie went out and took photos and so we kept those ones really close. The Mount Auburn Cemetery is more ‘inspired by’.

KH: The outside, the gate, is actually a pretty accurate recreation of what that looks like, but the inside — the tomb square where she goes, and the graveyard she visits later on are more of what Romano came up with.

DN: I actually had been kind of curious how closely it represented the places they were based on. And regarding Berklee: I liked the little touch of when you’re in the dean’s office that he has the Berklee webpage up on his computer.

KH: *laughs* yeah. When I saw someone put that in, I was like ‘Oh, cool!’

DN: I’ve read there have been some criticisms about you guys playing it a bit ‘fast and loose’ with FBI and police protocol at times. Has there been much research as to how murder cases are really handled by the FBI and the police?

KH: I’d say kind of a minimal amount. I mean, it IS a game, so it’s not going to adhere to, you know, strict policy and the actual steps that real police and FBI investigations take. If you do that, you’re going to get bogged down in all kinds of minutiae. It’d be interesting, but it’s not really that fun to play.

CB: Yeah. We consciously decided to go more for a pop approach than an actual realistic approach how investigations happen. There was one point where we had Erica pick up items using a bag and not touching them, but it just didn’t feel good, it just wasn’t fun. And so we decided to go with the pop approach and base it really more on the Cognition power. Obviously the FBI stories are important to the story that we’re saying, but again, it wasn’t fun, as Katie said.

DN: That’s always something you need to keep in mind!

DN: One thing that I’ve noticed between episodes one and episode two is that agent reed’s Boston accent improved somewhat. was each episode recorded one by one, or did you record several at once.

CB: We record them one by one, which allows us to do pick ups for the previous episodes. I think that the fact that Erica sounds better in episode two might have to do with the fact that Katie was there to help record for part of episode two.

KH: Yeah, I was like ‘keep dropping the g’s off of these and turn these r’s into a’s a little more!’

DN: There’s some interesting ways that Boston people pronounce certain words, like ‘chowder’.

KH: …which clearly has an ‘a-h’ at the end of it. *laughs*

DN: Yeah, exactly!

KH: Obviously!

DN: And, speaking of the voices, how did you decide upon who got to voice each of the characters?

CB: We did some casting in February of last year for the full season, and that’s how we got most of the characters. we actually didn’t find our Erica in that. Erica we stumbled upon — I don’t remember why or how — I had taken a look at Jane Jensen’s step-daughter’s reel, and when I listened to it I was like ‘Wow, she would make a really cool Erica!’ and I passed it on to Katie. Katie felt the same way. There was a little bit of back and forth because we had another actress that was going to play Erica, but at the end of the day we just decided to go with Raleigh and I think that was the best decision that we could have made.

DN: That really helps set the record straight, because I’m sure there’s a good number of people who thought that she only became involved because she happened to be Jane Jensen’s step-daughter.

CB: Nope, not really! It was because we were looking for somebody, well, I personally was looking for somebody who sounded a lot like Olivia Dunham from Fringe. And she had that voice. She had the perfect voice for it. Aside from being related, and us looking at it maybe because they are related, it didn’t come down to ‘Oh, because you’re the step-daughter of Jane, you’ll play the role.’ She was just perfect for it. She is the only actor that has not recorded directly in Sacramento, so it makes it more difficult for us to do it, but we just wanted her so much that we decided to go with the whole ‘Let’s do it over Skype, and you record in the studio in L.A. with our our music guy, who is over there. And we are here in Sacramento and will listen to you and direct you.’ Yeah.

DN: It’s good to know that there was no nepotism there. Kind of keeping with the Raleigh thing… She has her group ‘The Scarlet Furies’, and you kind of had the Easter Egg of having music from The Scarlet Furies in Cognition. Are there any other Easter Eggs?

KH: Umm… Hm. None quite like that one. There’s a bit of an Easter Egg in Episode Two–but it’s mostly just a joke for people who frequent our forums–which is in the little stress ball that Sully has on his desk. But, none that are quite the same sort of kind of little Easter Egg that that one was.

CB: In Episode One we have a few nods to Sierra, and actually in Episode Two we also have a few. Like, if you notice what we named the spray cans in Episode One, that’s a big nod to Sierra. There’s a lot of Gabriel Knight little things that are spread all over the place.

KH: Yeah, if you take a close look at the dean’s financial records, a couple names might stick out.

DN: Hm, I feel like I need to go back through.

CB: Even the way we set up the map was directly taken from Gabriel Knight.

DN: I thought it had kind of a familiar feel to it! I also had noticed that even some of the names that you run across on the cases, like the last name ‘Williams’, and another one, last name ‘Jensen’, and I’m sure that wasn’t just a coincidence.

*both Katie and Cez laugh* 

KH: It kind of was, actually!

CB: It *is* a coincidence!

KH: The Jensen one was actually the name of one of our backers who donated at a level to get his name in the game. So, that was where that came from.

CB: The same with the Williams one, I think.

DN: Kind of a fortuitous coincidence, I guess.

Both KH and CB: Yeah!

DN: Your previous project… Well, technically previous, since you’re still working on it, The Silver Lining, I know that it’s a re-visitation of the classic King’s Quest series. Are there any other classic adventure game series that you would like to, or plan to, revisit?

CB: Not at the moment, no. Obviously, I would love to revisit something like Gabriel Knight, or any of the Sierra Space Quest, or King’s Quest, in an official way. But, that has to go through Activision, who has the licenses to the games and all that. In the meanwhile, we’re doing our thing with Cognition and we’re doing jane Jensen’s moebius, and we have other plans for other things that may materialize in the future. I would love to, don’t get me wrong, we’ve been trying to get those licenses for a long while.

DN: Perhaps with Ms. Jensen, you might have a little bit of an easier time with something like Gabriel Knight.

CB: Yeah!

 

[End part 1]

 

Part two will be coming on Wednesday, part three on Friday! In the meanwhile, check out Phoenix Online Studios’ website and vote up Cognition on Steam Greenlight! Or pick up a copy of Cognition Episode 1 for iPad [just $3.99]!

Bryan Todd [aka DieselBT] -- This is where I'm supposed to say something clever about myself. Let's pretend I did, and it conveniently mentions all of my top interests, such as anime, video games, crazy gadgets, electronic music, voice acting, sound editing, and countless other ridiculously fascinating topics. I also like to write stuff about things, which is why I'm here.

...That, and I like your shirt.


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