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Week of the Phoenix: Phoenix Online Studios – The Interview, Part 2 of 3

Posted on March 6, 2013 AT 01:40pm

The Week of the Phoenix continues with part two of the three part interview with Cesar Bittar and Katie Hallahan of Phoenix Online Studios. Did you miss the first part? Catch up here! Otherwise, read on!

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

DN: I’ve heard that The Silver Lining took approximately ten years to produce including the myriad of legal issues versus Cognition only taking about ten months. In a nutshell, why did TSL take so long, and Cognition move along so much more quickly?

CB: Basically, because we learned what to do and what not to do while working on TSL for ten years, and we appiled all that knowledge and managed to make Cognition happen in ten months. Also, obviously, Cognition has a fully paid team. Aside from the money that we got from Kickstarter, we’ve invested money into it. And so, we were able to maintain a full-time team working on it for that all that period of time. TSL took longest because we were experimenting, and we didn’t know how to make a game. We had no idea how to make a game.

DN: Unfortunately, I haven’t yet had a chance to play it, but I’m looking forward to giving it a try. Especially with what I’ve gone through with Cognition. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve played thus far and would like to see how you got started.

CB: It’s good! It can sometimes be a little rough around the edges, but it’s good. We learned a lot from it. Towards the later episodes it gets better and better. We actually took a lot of feedback from the first one or two episodes.

DN: So that means episode five will be fantastic, right?

CB: Hopefully!

KH: Fingers crossed, yeah!

DN: Aside from just what you’ve learned from what you’ve learned during the last few years, how heavily do you rely upon the user’s feedback in improving your games?

KH: I’d say a decent amount. We definitely pay a lot of attention to our forums and we post up something after every episode. ‘Hey, give us your feedback! What’d you like? What didn’t you like?’ We pay a lot of attention to that, especially if we’re trying out something new. Like in episodes three and four of the Silver Lining, for example, we had a couple ‘light action’ sequences, so we were particularly interested in getting a lot of feedback on those to see if people liked them and if we executed them pretty well, and generally people did like them, which is why we have similar things in Cognition because those got a good reaction. And also, paying to reviews of  course, and what people seem to consistently say they enjoyed or what they consistently think could use some extra work.

DN: I’ve noticed myself that some of the things I might have criticized in the first episode have been improved upon in the second. It’s good to see that forward motion.

CB: We do hear what you guys say! We read every review out there.

DN: That’s wonderful to know, because sometimes it doesn’t feel like the people making the games are actually really listening.

DN: Okay, now, I have a question from one of our other writers… This isn’t really a serious question, but I am going to ask it anyway, just for him. He wanted to know: Were you formally Marvel Girl Online and will you one day be Dark Phoenix Online?

*raucous laughter*

KH: I’ll have to think of a good fun way to answer that!

DN: Well, I’ll let you think on that one a little bit, but let me ask you a related question: Why a Phoenix? What ashes are you rising from?

CB: The original idea is that we wanted to revive Sierra properties, like with The Silver Lining with King’s Quest. But also, it became a prophetic name as we kept getting shot down by big companies and returning from that. I think it’s a very fitting name and there was a time that we thought about changing it to keep legal entities separate, but I’m happy that we kept the name because it has meant a lot to us.

DN: What are your upcoming projects, aside from the next two episodes of Cognition and Moebius with Jane Jensen, is there anything else on your plate?

CB: We have a few ideas. Nothing formalized yet. There’s this game called ‘The Endless Forest’. We want to go back to our TSL community and maybe together with TSL 5, we’ll release this game. It’s interesting because The Endless Forest is part of what used to be the bigger King’s Quest 9, when it was huge and nine chapters and impossible to make. It used to have a section where Alexander and Rosella would visit this place called The Endless Forest and there was a city called Stratos, which was the City of Time. A lot of those ideas are really interesting, and we never really used them on what became The Silver Lining, so that might be our next project if we agree to it any nothing else comes along. We might do a Kickstarter for it, actually. There’s another project that I’d love to pieces that’s been in my head for a long, long time. Someday, sometime, it’ll happen. It’s called ‘[Corridor Nine]‘ and it’s a sci-fi story about questioning the power of the soul. It basically asks the question of ‘what is the soul’, and it’s sort of a debate between science of the disputed soul, and it’s a sci-fi thriller at the same time. Those are my two person favorites that I’d like to get done eventually. Who knows, GDC is around the corner and a lot happens during those trade shows.

DN: Anything come to mind for you, Katie?

KH: There was another product that I did an outline for a while ago, the working title for it was ‘Mirror Wraith’, which was about these two sisters and they were basically facing off against these malicious ghosts and kind of discovering their own magic powers. I liked the idea for it and I’ve given more thought to it and I’d kind of like to make that it to sort of a Young Adult Paranormal thing. So, maybe aimed at a slightly younger crowd, like the Vampire Diaries demographic.

DN: To be honest, that’s a demographic that hasn’t been explored with adventure gaming.

KH: Yeah, that’s kind of what I’ve been thinking. Obviously a lot of other forms of media have been popular, especially lately; books and TV shows and the kind of movies that are coming out that are hitting it big right now. So, I think it would be interesting to try to find a way to have a game that appeals to that group. As a general genre for reading material and TV shows, that’s also stuff I enjoy watching, so it’ll be fun to try to take that on and see if it works out.

DN: I’ll definitely be on the look out for any of these projects to come to fruition. But, regarding Cognition: Will there be any more comics, or any other products? Collector’s figures, novels, anything like that?

CB: I think that for the time being, for this season–at least what is left of it–we’re only releasing the final two episodes and then wrapping it up. There will be probably a second soundtrack once we wrap up with episodes three and four. Aside from that, if anything, like a comic or anything else, it would probably be for the second season.

DN: Do you think there will be comics for your other projects once that they come out?

KH: I think it would depend on the project and if it lent itself to that. Having the little prequel comic worked really well for this because of the style that we went with. And we had Romano’s art, which is beautiful. I’d say maybe, but it would depend on what kind of style and what kind of approach we were going for with a different project.

DN: Speaking of the style, how did arrive to the conclusion that you wanted to the 2D/3D hybrid?

CB: To start with, Cognition was sort of passed down to us and Romano had already started working on the art. We loved the art. It really fit in for the project and it was beautiful, and that was why we wanted to jump into this project and do it. but, we are a 3D house. The Silver Lining, it was all fully 3D, and trying to do 2D animations really didn’t work for us. It would’ve been something we have had to learn and we didn’t really want to do that. We wanted to stay in the 3D realm of things, so that’s how we decided to start experimenting with 3D models and 2D backgrounds. We also really didn’t want to turn Romano’s work into 3D, either, so we had to compromise.

DN: Looks like it worked out pretty well! Next thing down the line… How did Jane Jensen actually become involved with Phoenix Online Studios?

KH: I like to say the short way is that Cez stalked her until she gave in but… there’s a longer version of that! *laughs*

CB: Yeahhhh… *also laughs* I’m a big fan of Jane Jensen. I cannot hide that I’m probably one of her biggest fans. And so, I always had wanted to get in touch with her to see we could one day do something together. And we talked about Gabriel Knight, my love of it, and all that. So, when we started doing this project, I thought it was the perfect situation for it. We had previous visited her, we visited her on her farm. Katie, myself, and two other directors went to her farm to sit down and talk to her. We had agreed that once we had a project that we could work on, we would do it. So, we came to her with Cognition and she thought that it was fitting, so we decided to go with that. That sort of lead also into what she eventually did for Moebius. I think it’s been a great relationship we’ve had.

DN: During the release party livechat for episode two, you had mentioned that Ms. Jensen had been acting as a mentor for you as you worked on Cognition. What exactly was the extent of her mentoring?

KH: She acted as our consultant. She read through all of the early plot outlines that were just sketching out what the full season of the four episodes would be. And giving us some feedback on that. For example, we had two different storylines going at first, one of which was Erica’s powers, and the other was sort of these killings based on Shakespeare plays. She gave us wise advice to narrow it down and pick just one of the two and go with that, which was a very good call, because it would have been trying to do way too much in the first game if we’d gone with both. She does passes on all of the outlines that are for each individual episode and and editing pass on the script. She has good advice on where to trim things out or explain more so they’re more clear to us or to her and just in general. And getting rid of some of the lines that are maybe not so necessary and adding some other good ones here and there.

DN: On the opposite side of things, how closely involved is Phoenix Online Studios going be with the creation of Moebius?

CB: We’re fully involved. We’re developing the game from the ground up. So, we’re doing all the art, we’re doing all the programming. Jane is doing the design and Robert Holmes, her husband, is doing the music. Aside from that everything else is being done by us.

DN: Is there any proposed release date for Moebius quite yet, or is it a little too soon to say?

CB: It’s a little too soon to say. That’s a question you should ask Jane.

DN: Hm, okay. Perhaps I will!


[End Part 2]


Part three will be coming on Friday! Don’t forget to check out Phoenix Online Studios’ website and vote up Cognition on Steam Greenlight! You can also pick up a copy of Cognition Episode 1 for iPad for 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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