Artifex Mundi are well known for their Hidden Object adventures, but like anything, variety is the key to a good life and with that in mind we are seeing the team branch out on a point-and-click journey with the stunning looking Irony Curtain. With a PC release just having taken place, and a launch on Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch lined up for later in the summer, it felt like a great time to have a little chat with one of the team in order to get a more in-depth look at what makes Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love so special. They were certainly up for revealing more…
Hi. Please introduce yourself – what is your role at Artifex Mundi and on Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love?
Hi, I’m Piotr Sulek. I’m a game designer at Artifex Mundi. I’m also the creative director of Irony Curtain and responsible for the gameplay and writing. The other creative director on our team is Paweł Kurowski, who came up with the whole world and idea for the game.
So, sell it to us… why should gamers buy Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love?
Irony Curtain is a classical point and click adventure game that will sweep you right into the times of the Cold War and into a fictional totalitarian regime – Matryoshka. The player has an unique chance to experience the absurdities of the daily life in a cold War era communist country. The situations, items and places are for the most part what we remember from before 1989 or what we heard from our parents and grandparents with a touch of exaggeration. We could say that the game is very real in the sense that it depicts the spirit of the era (even though it’s seen through a satirical lense).
Artifex Mundi are synonymous with the hidden object adventure games, so why the decision to create Irony Curtain as a pure point-and-click experience? Are there any influences in the gameplay from the likes of the classic Monkey Island or can gamers expect a more modern feel to proceedings?
Classics such as Monkey Island, Grim Fandango or Simon the Sorcerer are huge influences on the humour and spirit of the game as those games are very dear to our hearts as players first and foremost. While working on the plot and dialogues I constantly kept checking whether the gameplay was funny and light, the actions or their results – surprising, the story and the characters distinct enough. The biggest change from the classic games of the genre are our more intuitive control system which makes the gameplay smoother, the action is faster-paced and a hint system built into the game world in a way that doesn’t break immersion (instead of searching for walkthroughs on the internet).
Many point-and-click games over the years have had all sorts of inventory-based puzzles to solve, but will those in Irony Curtain see logical solutions prevail or is it going to be more about thinking outside the box?
The actions that we undertake in the Irony Curtain are often surprising and bizarre, but they are logical for the world we are presenting. Finding unusual uses of objects is pleasant only if there is a sensible justification for using them and we adhered to that rule. So I feel there is a healthy mix of puzzle variety. Some are straight forward and make sense right away while others require you to really understand the idea of how this fictional world of ours works.
Funnily enough, at the prototype stage, we realized that for the player the most difficult challenge often was getting them to think of the simplest solutions – for example, when the players were to make the guard behind the open door not see what they were doing in the room they tried everything from blocking the entrance, giving him various items, snitching on him, convincing him to go, gluing his eyes, threatening with weapons, etc. … and the solution was simply to close the door.
Also, a major reason why the inventory / item combining game mechanic suited the setting so well is because it’s steeped in a lot of truth. During communist times, access to various products, necessities and services fluctuated constantly. So to have some sense of stability and comfort, people naturally became more resourceful – they became a nation of “MacGyvers” as we like to call it. Coming up with makeshift, DIY products to get the job done, figuring out ways to repeatedly repair items that could not be replaced or how to create dishes with with key ingredients missing using odd by logical substitutes.
Why does it have a narrative focusing on a communist Eastern European nation with a tyrannical leader at the helm (Don’t worry, he won’t see this! ;))? Was it important to ensure there’s enough humour to counterbalance the dark undertones?
Yeah, hopefully Western media doesn’t reach behind the iron curtain :D. Since the very beginning of creating the game we’ve had this idea: “Let’s show people how strange some things were in Eastern Europe a few decades ago”, so it had to take place in circumstances similar to those of the Eastern Bloc countries. Matryoshka is not based on one specific country, but rather a collection of common denominators from all the former Soviet states.
As for humor, comedy was an important way to make these times accessible in a game, but it was also inspired by reality. During the Soviet rule, people in Poland and other communist countries did the same: they fought the gray and grim everyday life with satire and jokes. Open criticism was not really a good idea for a long time so by ridiculing the system indirectly, people took away its legitimacy, its power and its fearful grip over people little by little.
In the game’s full title, the word Matryoshka is used; that of Russian doll. Does that hint at an adventure that’s got multiple layers to its story?
Finally someone sees it! Thank you! 🙂 Matryoshka is like an ogre, onion, cake or ogre cake …. it has layers. We used the nesting doll as the emblem of Matryoshka because firstly it’s quite commonly associated with this region of the world – these dolls can be bought in most souvenir shops in Eastern Europe. From Moscow, to Prague, Budapest and beyond. And secondly, the story we present does in fact reveal its layers to the player leading them to the very heart of the story. There is a reason why Evan, quite frankly a very bad journalist and bit of a bumbling fool, gets sucked into this grand espionage game between two superpowers.
Could you tell us about the types of mini-games included and whether they’ll be familiar to those of us who have played a raft of Artifex titles already?
The majority of mini-games were created completely from scratch for Irony Curtain because we wanted them to support the Matryoshkan realities in the best possible way, instead of artificially matching the earlier mechanics to a new story from earlier Artifex titles. The games are really a total mixture. Some are time based. Some on reactions. Others a little more… unique. 😀
How long would you suggest it would take the average gamer to play through Irony Curtain, and is there enough replayability to encourage multiple playthroughs?
It should take about 10 hours to complete the game. The story we show has one start and one ending, although certain actions and dialogues in the game can be executed in various ways, especially since some puzzles have multiple solutions.
One thing I have always adored about games from Artifex Mundi is the hand-drawn artwork and initial impressions are that Irony Curtain delivers a variety of great backdrops to suit proceedings. How have the visuals progressed since the early days of its development and why have you chosen to use a form of stop-motion for the animation?
So far, our games have presented quite a repetitive style – realistic, hand-painted graphics with a lot of small details. When thinking about Irony Curtain, one of the things that was important to us from the very beginning was to do something completely different. The game is about the grim times of communism, but it was still supposed to be a fun point-and-click, so we decided that strongly stylized cartoon graphics would be perfect for a satirical game. This graphic concept was therefore a starting point for us, which then defined the visual direction of the project. This was followed by decisions regarding animated characters – the time-lapse technique gives the characters a unique character and fits well with the cartoony art style. Then Vladimir Borokhov – a very experienced animator – joined our team. And since he used to animated children’s fairy tales in the times of real communism he was able to perfectly highlight the spirit of those years with his style.
The audio within an experience is vitally important in order to captivate the audience, and with the soundtrack in the safe hands of Arkadiusz Reikowski and Peter McConnell, how difficult has it been to ensure the voiceovers matched up with the quirky characters of Matryoshka as well?
Arkadiusz Reikowski and Peter MCConnell did a really great job with Irony Curtain. Their music not only perfectly accompanies what is happening on-screen and builds a sensational mood, but it is also very melodic and catchy – as it often was with songs from classic adventure games. It is also worth mentioning that among the composers there is also a third person – Emil Bernard Wojtacki, the composer of the Matryoshkan anthem, which we can hear in the game playing from a gramophone record.
OMUK London is responsible for the implementation of VO – they’re a very experienced studio with such titles as Horizon Zero Down, Game of Thrones, Broken Sword 5 and Deponia in their portfolio. We watched the actors recording dialogues to Irony Curtain live, so we can assure you that VO in our game is not only top quality, but also that they were made with great commitment and constant bursts of laughter from the voice actors and record makers. The amount of positive energy in the recording for each character translated into very distinctive and funny voices.
Irony Curtain is full of Easter eggs and I can’t wait to uncover them all, but could you provide us with an idea of what to look out for? Which is your own personal favourite that has been included?
There is a lot of easter eggs and various references to culture and history. An attentive player will find various graphic details referring popular games, movies or books. Most numbers or dates appearing in the game are not random and carry a hidden meaning. Such references can also be found in the dialogues, the appearance of characters and buildings, etc. Most of the names and names of the characters are also not accidental and are mock-equivalents of various historical and pop culture figures. There’s really a lot of it. An example from the production stage: the artist presents the design of one of the objects he has just drawn (all items in the game can be examined up close) and says “I hid 7 Easter eggs here.”; I look at it and say, “Okay, I think I recognize a few, but are there really seven?” He says, “Do you see the island looking pattern?” I rub my eyes … no no, I do not. The artist, surprised by my lack of perceptiveness, replies, “Well, the arrangement of these patches reflects the layout of the islands in Monkey Island!”
In terms of Xbox achievements, will there be any quirky ones that’ll test those who look to obtain the full 1000 Gamerscore, or will simply the completion of the game garner them all?
It’s not enough to simply play the game, because some achievements are missable. However, we decided that since the game presents one, finite story, we prefer to allow players to get all the achievements in a single pass than to force them to repeat the same actions and dialogues.
We’ve seen Artifex Mundi branch out with My Brother Rabbit and now Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love, but what’s next? Could you tell us about any further projects that are in the pipeline?
While we are known for Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure games (HOPAs) we’re now pushing to diversify. We have a lot of talented and creative people here who want to to try new things so it’s in our best interest to try branch out and not keep doing the same thing if we want to keep that creativity and drive.
We’ve got multiple projects up our sleeves right now in various states of development. Some are early ideas and odd prototypes. Others are deep in production with plans to release soon. All unique to what Artifex normally does in terms of genre. But that’s about all we’re allowed to say right now. Sorry! 😀
And finally, the leader of Matryoshka is obviously everyone’s favourite, but aside from him… Trump or Putin? 😉
The Leader represents a archetypical tyrant directing a totalitarian state. He is the embodiment and a mixture of many other leaders past and present. So his features, manner of speaking or appearance will probably give different players associations with different characters. When we presented the game at Cologne and Seattle at game expos the range of associations made by the players in regard to the Leader depended largely on their country of origin. I am very happy about that because it makes the story we present more universal and can be applied to different political systems, times or places. Due to this the game will not be outdated soon and will be understandable and engaging for the players for many years.
Massive thanks for taking the time to answer our questions and we look forward to seeing Irony Curtain launch soon!
Thank you so much for wanting to talk to us! We’re looking forward to getting that our game out on Xbox in the next couple weeks.
Huge thanks go out to Piotr for taking the time out of what must be a hugely busy schedule to answer our questions. We wanted to get a further insight into the release of Irony Curtain and I hope you agree that is exactly what has been done.
If you wish to see how all this plays out for yourself then Irony Curtain is now available on Steam, with an Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch launch planned for sometime around the end of June 2019. We’ll of course keep you fully informed as to when it hits the Xbox Store.