Game of Thrones Interview – Going Behind Influences, Story and the Iron Throne With Cyanide Studios
Written Sunday, April 29, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Game of Thrones has become a huge TV phenomenon thanks to the hit HBO show, which in remaining faithful to the original literature, weaves a compelling tale as rival houses compete for Westeros' Iron Throne. Violent and resolutely adult, each and every episode is one hell of a ride. In our humble opinions, it's probably the best thing on TV right now.
It's no wonder that developer Cyanide was keen to obtain the license to use the HBO TV show's music, look and style then, having commenced development on the game three years ago before it had even aired. Originally, Game of Thrones was a game based solely on the books, but now it's based on both the TV show and George RR Martin's epic tomes, with the author on board as collaborator.
Having been screened an extended look at some the Game of Thrones' RPG, we had an opportunity to talk about the game with Lead Designer, Sylvain Sechi and Project Manager and Art Director, Thomas Veauclin, who are both clearly passionate about the project. We chat about their influences, the books, the TV show and of course, the game. Read our Game of Thrones preview for our first impressions.
Development on Game of Thrones started before the HBO TV show aired, so the books were the sole inspiration for the game up until that point. How difficult was it to go back through the entire game and integrate the key aspects from the show?
Sylvain Sechi – It was actually quite easy because since we're very faithful to the books and the show is very faithful, every media blends into that one universe. It's not like the books have a very different vision of the universe to the game or the TV show. We don't have three different visions of something. We're all very close in terms of respect towards the universe of A Song of Ice and Fire, so it was more a question of what stuff we should take from the TV show to put into the game and what are the things we shouldn't do.
For example the throne room is not exactly the same as the TV show, but it's quite close as it's been made to look how it's described in the book. It has the look and feel, but it's not exactly the same. We asked ourselves, what are the key elements, visually? What are the key elements from the show that people will want to see? Top of the list was the characters, because Game of Thrones is more about characters than places. The characters are the heroes, their House is part of that hero and the likenesses of the characters and the sigils are important. We got the actors and their voices, as we felt that was important.
And music is also a very important part of the story for two reasons. Firstly, it's really good music, and secondly when you hear it, you're immediately immersed into the Game of Thrones universe and we really wanted that for the game. We set out to make a very immersive game and music is a big part of that. Obviously the Iron Throne is an element that we replaced with the HBO version. It's Game of Thrones after all, and the HBO version of the Iron Throne has become something of an icon.
Basically that's all. We didn't have to redo loads of stuff. Everything we had made, the story and the characters we had created are coherent with both the TV show and the books, so we didn't have to change anything for that. The environments are a bit different, like the Wall is a bit different to the TV show version, but not enough to be shocking and it's still very respectful. So for us, it wasn't a problem.
Was George RR Martin on board from the very beginning of development three years ago on Game of Thrones or did he join later down the line?
SS: He was there from the start. He doesn't actually own the license now that it's really big, but back then it was only him and his assistant handling all the stuff involving licensing and so on. So at the very beginning when we tried to make a deal for the IP, he wanted to know – and this is one of the reasons he chose us, actually – was what are your projects, what do you want to do with the game, what is your vision, are you fans of my work? So, he was really present at the beginning, mostly with story stuff and feedback on a lot of the artwork.
Has Martin played the game at all or has he yet to try it out?
SS: I'm not sure he's played the whole game from beginning to end, because it's a bit difficult to do that during development. But he actually read the entire story and every dialogue that has been created and he reviewed the dialogue of his own characters that he had created, as it's very important that they talk in exactly the same way they do in the books. The same style, same expressions, same coherence... Can this character really answer these kind of questions, for instance. We'd write it perfectly to make it all fit together and he was always involved with that.
Thomas Veauclin: We called George RR Martin for the first time about seven years ago. It's not a recent thing and three years ago isn't the exact time when we first contacted Martin. We were fans years ago and at Cyanide we played the board game during our lunch breaks just for fun.
SS: We had fights over the board game! It's just like Game of Thrones with all the politics and so on. It's a good game for losing friends.
Was there anything that you had to invent specifically for the game or was everything you needed in George RR Martin's fiction?
SS: On a couple of very specific occasions – I don't want to spoil it – we were doing some very special stuff with magic, but how to approach these kinds of characters that are very basically described in the books, we'd ask a lot of questions to make sure they were right. So, we'd talk about these kind of things with Martin, discuss it at length and then make certain decisions to flesh out these characters. What's good is that I think he also now sees that as definitive, so he will add it to the future books to ensure that the universe remains coherent between the books and the game. There are no big things, but I'd say the red priests were the biggest thing, because there aren't loads of details on the red priests until book five, which at the time he hadn't even written yet. He gave us loads of details about them.
And the game will simply chart events during the time period covered in the first book and the first season of the show? There won't be any spoilers?
SS: As fans, we're very careful about spoilers. There are almost no spoilers in the game and it focuses on events from the first books, although it gives a couple of hints, but there are no spoilers for what's coming next.
As far as the game's conclusion then, can we expect a resolute ending or will it be a cliffhanger for the next chapter?
SS: No. It'll be the end of the game. It was very important for us to create the game that's the kind we like. You create your product, enjoy it from the beginning to the end in one shot. I really hate the end of The Matrix Reloaded where it ends with 'to be continued'. That's not an end! I want a finished product! And so it was very important for us to create a game that has a beginning and has a fixed end. In storytelling terms, there's no plans for a second game, although obviously we're thinking about another one in the same way that it's one book, one TV season, one game. We could go on – not forever – but for at least seven books, seven TV seasons, seven games. But otherwise, it's a real standalone spin-off. George RR Martin actually wrote three spin-offs that happen in the Game of Thrones universe that are really interesting and have the same kind of vision we have for our story.
In terms of the RPG genre then, what other games have you drawn from as influences?
SS: It's often cited by the press, but not Dragon Age. That's not the reason we started working on the game. From a story point of view, a big reference is definitely Planescape: Torment, and from a gameplay perspective it's more The Knights of the Old Republic or Baldur's Gate. Also, during development Heavy Rain was released and we're huge fans of that game, although we actually think that an RPG by definition is flowing. But we liked Heavy Rain for its mature content and its compelling story. It was too late in development to have an impact on the game, but it's the kind of thing we like and storytelling is at the core of Game of Thrones.
You'd surely be open to the possibility of a Game of Thrones sequel then?
SS: We are more than open and would love to do a sequel, but as always, it'll be a business decision more than a design decision. If we can do it we would, as we have so many ideas already!
The success of the TV show must be a huge blessing for the game too...
SS: Yes! It's really been a blessing, and we've really been lucky with that because as soon as rumours came out, we knew had the chance to use it. Actually, when we found out that it'd be an HBO show, we were really happy and relieved, because we knew it would be a high quality show.
TV: But that big success also brought a lot of stress!
SS: Yes! Because we knew we had to live up to the same standards. We knew it would be a great TV show before it was picked up by HBO, and a bad show would have actually decreased the value of the IP. When we knew that HBO were working with George RR Martin, we were relieved. We have to appeal to two sets of fans, but since we're respectful to the IP, we didn't have to change too much.
Game of Thrones is coming in June 2012.