In the golden era of adventure games, LucasArts and Sierra Interactive owned the top tier of point-and-click titles. But it was in the second tier that we had some of our fondest memories. It’s here where Simon the Sorcerer resided: a Pythonesque take on swords and sorcery, with the legendary Chris Barrie taking on voice duties.
There’s something of an adventure game resurgence going on, as Monkey Island returns with Ron Gilbert at the helm. It’s a perfect time, then, nearly thirty years after the original, for Simon the Sorcerer to make its return. Developed by Smallthing Studios, Simon the Sorcerer Origins is picking up the baton from where Adventure Soft left off.
We had so many questions about what it might be like to take on a legacy series, and how you can reproduce something that is coming on for thirty years old. Lucky, then, that we had a chance to interview its game director and thrust the questions into their hands.
Hi, could you please introduce yourself and your role on Simon the Sorcerer Origins?
I am the Game Director and Designer of Simon the Sorcerer Origins, together with another good collaborator of ours.
My story as a developer begins 33 years ago (my God, a geological era ago, thinking about it) on Commodore64 and Amiga, as a graphic and game designer, starting to work in the first Italian software house while still studying design. Subsequently, my path as a developer expanded and evolved again: I created Light Shock Software by making titles such as Pray For Death, the award-winning Fightin’ Spirit for Amiga and Black Viper, and later I worked and created A and AA titles for companies such as Ubisoft, Microids, Sony, Disney, 505Games and several others. I have almost always dealt with narrative titles and I have made some point and click adventures such as Martin Mystere Operation Dorian Gray and Diabolik Original Sin, which achieved great success on PC.
With my productions, I have received several awards, some I would never have imagined, both at Italian and international level. I have produced over 40 titles, of various types and sizes. I also love smaller and extremely original productions: they give a great breath to creativity and allow total control.
Could you give us a quick rundown of the game?
Simon The Sorcerer Origins is set a few weeks before the first episode, released in early 1993. There will therefore be an ever-young Simon, practically the one from the first episode. Our game unexpectedly but perfectly fitted with the events of episode 1. Yes, he will find himself entangled in a spiral of situations that will actually start the story of the saga, motivating aspects that in reality had not been well defined.
There will be everything that made this adventure one of a kind: that fairytale flavor, quotes, very subtle links to the first episode, sour comedy, nostalgia and yes, even a few tears. It will be a very intense title, for everyone.
We’ve got extremely fond memories of the original Simon the Sorcerers on Amiga and PC. How have you managed to capture or retain the spirit of the originals?
‘Origins’ was born out of passion and love for the saga: therefore, the study and pre-production was not focused mainly on the commercial operation. We had a great idea that we presented to Mike Woodroffe (original author of the saga), who was amazed and excited. This thing filled us with emotion and we felt honored and a duty to give a passionate rebirth to the saga.
From there, the research focused on Simon’s study on a psychological level: why was such a small boy already so pedantic and acidic in his way of speaking? Also, his character, possible conflicts with his parents, the study of a credible and intense background were all discussed.
And then the study of the characters, of the environments, of the sagas mentioned in the first episode, of the references. It was a long and intense period of research, aimed at grasping the essence, the soul of the saga and to imagine how it could have been today.
Do you feel any kind of responsibility or burden to fans of the series?
Every morning, every hour that we add a piece to ‘Origins’, we feel obliged to the fans and the creators of the saga. We feel honored and responsible for what we are doing, even more so knowing that we have had the opportunity to create a prequel, to be placed on the shelf with the Simon The Sorcerer box.
Each staff member is experiencing the development with a strong intensity. Some of our guys have been moved by reading the messages received from the fans.
This passion, emotionality, shared by each member of the staff has created a strong synergy in the work and the narrative objectives we want to achieve.
What was the idea behind an origin story for Simon? You must have been tempted with a true sequel for example?
We immediately started with the idea of a prequel. We had a good idea which hooked on some focal points of the first episode and MAMMA MIA! (note: Italian expression to say ‘WOW!’) the player will find some connections that they would never have thought of. Obviously, new users who have never played the saga will experience an intense story anyway.
It seemed to us at the time that it was the best way to bring Simon back with a renewed style, but with an original flavor and feeling.
Will we meet many characters from the original games?
Absolutely, yes. There will be new characters and many from the first episode, who we will ‘meet again for the first time’.
Is this a reboot for the character, or is this very much a continuation of the same Simon?
It is the Simon of the first episode. It will be him. We are also trying to involve the same voice actors from the original (we hope). It will be more complete, explored more deeply. Many will not stand him: Simon will be a hateful, direct, acid boy but with a good soul and a great desire for redemption.
It was always going to be a challenge finding an art style for Simon the Sorcerer Origins, considering the originals’ pixel art wouldn’t necessarily have worked. What made you land on this colourful, almost cartoon-like art style?
The Simon The Sorcerer saga has never had unique stylistic guidelines. Each title has been dressed in a different style based only on the era in which it was released. This is not a criticism, the first two episodes in particular were stylistically splendid, but children of the era in which they lived. We didn’t want to disturb them, we wanted new emotions.
We thought about how Simon would be today and it seemed natural to us, together with our artists, in particular our Lead Artist (capable of interpreting a multitude of styles), to give Simon a cartoon style, with a warm, pictorial style, nostalgic, which pays homage to an atmosphere from the past. It seemed like a natural extension and correct reinterpretation of the first two episodes.
The music in the trailer is fantastic – it’s very John Williams-esque. Can we expect that quality throughout the game?
Music is a point on which we are giving a lot of attention and trying to achieve great quality. It was an important point of the first two episodes. There will be new pieces, classic pieces from the original saga (first episode) and, if we can (we hope), a big surprise.
Simon the Sorcerer was developed by a British studio and there is some very dry, laconic Britishness to its humour. Being an Italian studio, it must be a challenge to channel that, or find your own approach to humour within the Simon the Sorcerer universe. How have you gone about it?
Yes, it is a great challenge but one we knew we had to face and that we accepted with the right attention. It is one of the aspects that we have studied since the beginning, analysing in depth episode one, its comedy and the references to fairy tales, to ‘Monty Python’, and to the many comic ideas that were the pivot to the narration of the early 90s.
Many of us, like me, are seniors who lived through that period and in Italy many comic productions of the time became a well-known and loved cult. This helped us a lot.
We also have a lot of attention in this regard and the translation in both English and German, we want it to be done by professionals who will know how to transfer the right balance.
The Escapist recently put out a video saying ‘adventure games never died, they just stopped being good’. Is that an opinion you share? Do you feel Simon the Sorcerer will buck that trend?
I think we live in the era of democratic-gaming, I often say so. Any video game is welcome if it is enveloping. And by ‘enveloping’ I mean that tight, warm embrace generated by curiosity stemming from the title, style, atmosphere, ease of control, involvement, a single embrace that keeps the user connected.
There are no genres that are dead today, just see how retro-gaming coexists with today’s products, sometimes undermining them from the sales throne.
Simon The Sorcerer Origins we think, without too many pretensions, that it will be a very unique title of its kind. Although based on the world of point and click adventure, it will combine original conditions, a narrative recited in game and a direct, natural control system.
We want it to be an enveloping title. If it will drive the adventure genre, I don’t know but well, we will be honored.
What challenges are there in bringing a traditionally mouse-driven adventure game like Simon the Sorcerer to console?
There is a reinterpretation of the controls that must be very well calibrated.
You have many functions that you must necessarily move from icons, easily operated by mouse, to buttons. But you can’t make the pad use too many buttons, otherwise you risk making the controls confusing.
In our case, we want the feeling to be very similar to PC and Mac, and we have thought of a very intuitive system, always with a pointer. We’re working on it.
Has the community had an impact on the game’s development? Do you plan to share more of it with that community?
At the moment we are working closed, protected and very quiet, with few external influences and also few or no contamination from other adventures. We have a clear idea of what we want to achieve.
At the moment we are in a very hot phase of development, where we are combining many pieces and then moving on to directing and effects making. When we are in the final phase, it is very likely that in the fan community and beyond we will have someone play the game in our locations for feedback. We are evaluating.
Is there any chance of Chris Barrie returning in the voice cast of Simon the Sorcerer Origins?
We hope so! We are talking about it. And we are already very close to involving Erik Borner for the German voices. He will also depend on our publisher, but we are working to make this happen.
What’s the weirdest item that you get to put in your inventory?
Ha ha I’ll be absurd and go for Chippy dog in the hat! There are some really absurd ones that Simon can also create with combinations and magic, but there will be in particular a very, very original aspect that will affect the inventory, the objects and the way to play.
And finally, any chance of an Amiga release? 😉
As Amiga lovers, as I sometimes write replying to the Commodore or Amiga communities, if in the company I am not able to do it, I will make it privately! Seriously, I’d love to, but we’ll have to assess the conditions. It would be exciting to make a conversion for AGA or even ECS. Exciting!
Many thanks to Smallthing Studios for inviting us in to ask questions about Simon the Sorcerer Origins. It’s currently scheduled for launch on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch and PC (via Steam) come Early 2023, and we’re hoping that it’s still got the magic of the originals.