Sofie and the Werewolf – it’s all about good choices

It was the best of times, it was … This is another and hopefully the last part of the tale of “how to screw things up”. I’ve written about ClashBall Championship and how The Engine was dead in the water (the latter I’ve mentioned several times as the experience may not have been delightful, but it was none the less valuable). Sofie and the Werewolf was an excellent idea for a great game. The idea was that it should launch the company via relevance and great design. Not a bad idea. But a bad idea. I’ll explain later. But lets talk about the game first.

About Sofie and the Werewolf

A hotel room raided, scared children, and a crazed vagabond gibbering about a terrible monster—and all of it happening during the last two full moons. Something is going on in the small town of … eh … Lakeview1No name for the town in English, but Lakeview is close to the Danish Søkøbing..

Story

In Sofie and the Werewolf you control the girl Sofie and her friends, Fatima and Niels, in a fantastic world in a town a lot less fantastic. In this plain old boring town lives ordinary people with ordinary problems. But just around the corner drama awaits! There have been some sort of racket at the hotel, also, some kids and a vagabond claim to have seen a monster in the woods. These extraordinary things both occurred on nights when the moon was full—and it just so happens that the town festival coincides with the next full moon. Niels overhears talk and stories about the monster and conveys these to Sofie and Fatima. So of cause they want to know what is going on in their home town!

I might just spoil the plot here, but the Werewolf is the French cook that started working at the hotel a few months back. It’s a tragedy of course—the poor guy—but everything that ends well, is well in the end. And they all become great friends and eat ice cream and stuff. Beside the main story, which unfolds in a fairly open world, there are many sidequests and minigames. The game is basically an RPG for children.

Goals

Save the cook and save the town. That’s the main one.

Sidequests and Minigames

You need influence, believability, and respect in the game. Yeah, it sounds like Sofie’s almost gang related but, rather, the idea was to empower children—and especially girls. This was back in 2006, remember. Not that things have changed all that much. So, if Sofie wants to get anywhere in life and especially in the game, she needs to gain the respect of the people in the town and make them think of her as a trustworthy person. Believability and respect are actual stats in the game, necessary if you want to get anything done—and you lose them if you do stupid and immoral things. Yup! We believe in morality!

The minigames can be anything from helping a neighbour hanging clothes up to dry, to moving the lawn, to shopping2Terrible, boring sounding minigames, actually, but I think we thought of them as small puzzle-type games or the like that could potentially be fun to play.. You can shop for stuff like clothes, and dress Sofie however you want. And if you’re respected by the shop owner, you’ll save some money.

A sidequest could be finding a treasure map leading the trio to the small island with the old and creepy lighthouse.

Game Design

Decisions (interesting, moral, and open world)

The basis of the game was: a game for children that wasn’t condescending, that contained many good choices, that dared to take up difficult subjects (racism, unemployment, etc.), that scared children without scarring them, and was fantastic and set their imagination ablaze. Like Harry Potter, which was a major inspiration at the time.

We didn’t really get that far with the game design to be honest. We had a lot of ideas—among others that the interface should contain Sofie’s mobile phone, so she could take it out to send messages, look at a map, receive calls, etc., how the town was laid out, the surrounding area, the character design and so on. Also, we knew that the game had to primarily be about good choices.

Art direction

We were going for something with a bit of melancholy, a cosy decay, soft colours, not crazy-strong-children-games-from-Japan-colours. Well, actually our inspiration for the look of the backgrounds did come from Naruto in the beginning. And the general inspiration came from a combination of Studio Ghibli and Aardman Animations (we watched the Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Spirited Away). So Japan did play quite an important role in the beginning.

Spirited Away has such an amazing style and ambience that it’s understandable that many have been inspired by it. We wanted to make something that drew the player in; a fantastical world with adventure and a little danger. But also peace and quiet, and family and friends. And everyday normal stuff that you could change and make better. I think that played a major part in what we wanted the game to be.

Target Audience

Children, primarily girls, in the age of 8-13 and their parents. We wanted the kids to have fun, play together (not multiplayer but sitting next to each other and experience the game together), and learn something. And hopefully the parents would take some part in that as well. The game was designed to raise questions that the kid may need an adult to explain or talk about. But first and foremost it was about having fun.

What Went Wrong?

Scope

We already had a great idea for a game, ClashBall Championship, but we wanted to make the right game! We wanted to make the game that was right for the time, that was able to do more than just entertain, that was just right if (when) we wanted to apply for EU subsidies, etc. And it was the right game!

Just not for us. It was too big of a project for us to realistically complete. We should have made CBC instead—and we did realize that but too late.

Investors

Yup. Investors. Yup, yup. Well, it seemed at a time that we were fairly close to being funded, but then suddenly we weren’t. It coincided with when another game developer, Runestone, was practically shut down by the same investment agency. They drove Runestone into the ground and then refused working with risky business like game development. So they kindly bade us adieu.

The thing about the investment agency was that they were a public agency. Their purpose was to take risks and help innovation, but they didn’t want to take risks any more. They were on the receiving end of some severely bad weather not long after, when it became known that they didn’t live up to their stated purpose. Ha ha ha! In your face! Sorry … Today they have merged with other investment agencies—and they have learned their lesson.

The thing that annoyed me most at the time was that they really liked our game. They really thought it could have become a great game (product). And I think they were right, if we could’ve managed to actually make the game. But with a solid investment of about 5.000.000 DKK I think it may have been possible, possibly. Perhaps.

What now?

Nothing now. Not concerning Sofie and the Werewolf at least. That’s alright. I’m fine with that. It was a great project with a lot of good ideas, but it was a product of its time (waaay back in 2006).

The entire process was amazing and taught us a lot—well, it taught me a lot, I can’t speak for the rest. We may not have gotten the game out there and we even had to shot down The Engine after a couple of years, but it was so much fun and worth all the headaches. And today some of our old crew is out and about making cool stuff 🙂 Like the amazing illustrator and animator, Kristine K Hansen (kris’Crash/tigr3ss), who made characters, animations, and effects for the Random Dragon game Dumb as Wizards,  and Rune S. Johansen, who’s working for Unity and have made Eye of the Temple, and Lasse S. Pallesen who made Bouncy Flame for iOS with his sister in RedKeyBlueKey (it was quite successful back 2011 but is not available right now, as far as I know), and Kristian Hverring (KRiSHVE), who travels around the globe making sound and music for many projects, and Anders V. Pedersen, who’s “Game Master” at Grenå HTX and GameIT, etc.

City square statue

I mentioned in the beginning that I’ve written quite a lot about how The Engine blew up in our faces—or rather stalled completely. It may seem negative, but it’s important to remember that that kind of experience is invaluable. We had oodles of fun and learned so much. This experience is from a while back but is still very relevant and I’m glad that I’ve had it.

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