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How does a 20-year-old adventure game franchise survive and adapt for the modern age? Syberia, a series that launched during the early 2000s adventure game dark age, managed to hang on and expand into the modern era. Originally released earlier this year, Syberia: The World Before launches on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S on November 15.
Adventure games evolved in the modern era thanks to the adaptations of developers such as Telltale. Most adventure games can be split between those that resemble the original adventure games of the ’80s and ’90s, such as Ron Gilbert’s Return to Monkey Island, and those that incorporate built-in choice mechanics like titles from Telltale or Supermassive. In those respects, Syberia, which appears very similar to how the first game launched in 2002, is a bit of an outlier.
GamesBeat spoke with Lucas Lagravette, the director of Syberia: The World Before, on the series’ long-running history and survival in the modern video games market. Here is an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: With regard to The World Before, what was it like adapting that franchise, that story and that gameplay for a modern audience?
Lucas Lagravette: As you know, when we started working on the third episode, it was all the beginning of the Telltale mania, if I can say so. It was a revival of point and click, but in a different way. We wanted to be part of that. On The World Before, with the experience of what we tried to make on the third episode — there were other games that arrived, games like the ones from Quantic Dream, or even Supermassive games. Until Dawn was a great reference for us regarding the controls of the game, actually.
GamesBeat: So that was the kind of gameplay that you worked out for [Syberia: The World Before]? Because it’s not exactly the same as the original point-and-click style, but it still has that point-and-click feel to it.
Lagravette: Yeah, exactly. It was really important for us that the fourth episode was fully playable with only a mouse. But also it was a great challenge also to make it entirely playable with a controller. For our level design team, it was like designing every level twice. It had to work with a mouse and it had to work with a controller. We also had the puzzle dimension, which is not something many modern adventure games or narrative-driven games do. That’s our thing.
GamesBeat: How do you think Syberia, and also the adventure game genre generally, has changed since the first Syberia came out in 2002?
Lagravette: The modern formula is more of the story-driven triple-A narrative immersive game, like Quantic Dream, or even Supermassive. That’s one direction point and click took. You also have the very old-school style – I say this in a positive way – like what they’ve done with the last Monkey Island, which is really intended for hardcore fans of the series. I guess we’re trying to be in between those two shores.
GamesBeat: What ways do you think adventure gaming has stayed the same since that turn of the millennium era?
Lagravette: The triple-A games, maybe they put the puzzles and riddles aside a bit to do more action-oriented sequences. Even though they’re very simple to play. Very action-oriented. We tried to keep the puzzle dimension, which for us is a pillar of the gameplay of Syberia. But once again, being inspired by more modern games doing puzzles. The Room [the video game series] is one of our references. It’s not the only one, but it’s one of our references for the puzzle sequences.
GamesBeat: Now that you’ve done The World Before, what was it like continuing Kate’s story?
Lagravette: When I played the first two games, just before my interview for my internship for Syberia 3, it was 10 years after they were released. I was amazed by how modern the treatment of Kate and her psychological evolution was. I really wanted us to go forward with that. It matched with Benoit Sokal’s vision of The World Before, which was very much about Dana Roze [the deuteragonist of The World Before] and the way her story connected with his own story and his family’s story. We thought it was really interesting to have Kate asking questions about herself, who she is, and why she’s running. In the third one Benoit found that formula that I thought was amazing, to say that Kate was acting like a traveler without a destination. It’s something we wanted to ask about in the fourth game, and how we could connect that with the exploration of Dana’s story in the past.
GamesBeat: Was Dana inspired by any real people? I was reminded of several while I was playing.
Lagravette: Actually, it’s inspired by Benoit’s own family story. I think his grandfather was selling art in Vienna when the Second World War and the fascists arose. He had to run away. That was what Benoit wanted to talk about.
GamesBeat: What do you think it is about Kate Walker that has kept her around for as long as she has? What do you think it is about her that resonates with gamers?
Lagravette: Kate Walker’s story could be summarized as an emancipation, I guess. She was alienated within her job, with her friends, with her family, with New York. Her life was a bit too much, I guess, for her. When she had this opportunity to set herself free, she didn’t ask permission for it. You can see in the first game how everyone doesn’t understand what’s going on with her. She’s like, okay, but that’s too bad. I’m still going to do it. I’m still going to leave. I guess it’s something that still resonates very much today. It’s something I can admire.
GamesBeat: Do you think the gameplay would change in any way in the future? We’re in the post-Telltale era of adventure games now. Do you think the gameplay is going to become more modern, or is it going to go back to the nostalgia trips, like you said? Or will you be trying to maintain a balance?
Lagravette: I guess balance will always be — we saw it with Syberia 3. We tried things and we’d gone too far, I think, for the fans in some aspects. I hope we can identify some points that are non-negotiable to the fans, like point-and-click. I think it will be very hard to have a Syberia without point-and-click. But you can invent more modern ways of doing point and click. I hope that’s what we’ve accomplished with The World Before. If we do a sequel, we’ll continue this evolution.
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