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Interview with Ragnar Tørnquist re: Dreamfall Chapters & its Music

September 9, 2014 | | 1 Comment Share thison Facebook Interview with Ragnar Tørnquist re: Dreamfall Chapters & its Musicon Twitter

A little over a week ago, OSV ran a story regarding Red Thread Games, the studio behind the upcoming Dreamfall Chapters, and a fan-requested music submission contest they had put together. We posted this article based on incomplete information; it didn’t take long before a storm hit our comments section, some sharply criticizing our site, others doubling down in an ill opinion of Red Thread Games.

Now, we at OSV generally don’t hold Masters or PhDs in Communication or Journalism, but we do pride ourselves on getting the story straight, even if that means having to give it a second go. It’s within that spirit that we now present to you our interview with Ragnar Tørnquist, director of Dreamfall Chapters and founder of Red Thread Games. I urge you to read it, especially if you were disappointed by the music contest’s existence and/or cancellation and all the rumors floating around it. We hope to set everything straight in this interview.

OSV: Ragnar, we want to start by thanking you for taking the time to talk to us about Dreamfall Chapters.

Ragnar Tørnquist: Of course! Always happy to discuss.

OSV: Now, Dreamfall Chapters is the third game in the Dreamfall / Longest Journey series. But as the name “Chapters” implies, this is going to be episodic content, not unlike the games we’ve seen from Telltale Games in the last few years. Is that right?

RT: That’s right. We’re naming the episodes “Books,” in fact. There will be five episodes in total, and we are looking to release “Book One” in the coming months.

OSV: We recently saw news that Dreamfall Chapters will be on PlayStation 4 as a console exclusive, but you’re doing a wide PC release as well, yes?

RT: We announced the PS4 version a few weeks ago at Gamescom, and you’re right about the PC release. It will be on Steam, GOG, Humble Bundle, and a number of other sites. It will be available on Windows, Apple OS, and Linux.

OSV: It’s great to see this resurgence in adventure games. About a decade ago, the genre was seemingly in a slump, but it’s made leaps and bounds in terms of popularity in the last few years. If nothing else, your very successful Kickstarter campaign speaks to that!

RT: Indeed! Last year our campaign brought in $1.5 million dollars, far exceeding our original goal. This has comprised roughly half of our final budget, with other funding sources — including a grant from the Norwegian government’s Norwegian Film Institute!

OSV: Now, this series has a pretty devoted following. How does it feel being at the helm of this project?

RT: When I was with Funcom, The Longest Journey and Dreamfall were both under my direction. They’re my babies, so to speak. So when we left Funcom to form Red Thread Games, being able to do this third project so many years later, and with fewer constraints, I’m not ashamed to admit how excited I am.

OSV: Being that we are a site that’s focused on game music, let’s talk about about the music for Dreamfall Chapters. Who’s writing, and what kind of music can we expect in the game?

RT: Our lead composer is Simon Poole. I’ve worked with Simon plenty during my years at Funcom. He wrote some of the music for Dreamfall, as well as the MMORPG The Secret World. Simon is taking the music in a different direction than some of our previous titles, and perhaps in a way you wouldn’t expect. This soundtrack will be less orchestral. I would describe it as, at times, ambient and minimalist, but still strong enough music that a player would want to listen in. This is very important to me: the audio is half the game, and we want to really use the music to help draw the gamers into the experience of Dreamfall Chapters.

OSV: I [Patrick] recall that on Dreamfall the head composer was a man with the last name of Willett, and he had done more orchestral work… and there was also a band called “Magnet” that did some songs for that game…

RT: Yes, Leon Willett was our composer for the second title, and Magnet was a Norwegian band with whom we worked very closely. We wanted to make sure those songs weren’t just some trivial, background part of the game. We wanted them integrated properly into the title, and I think we did well. With Dreamfall Chapters, we will also have a key performer like we did with our last title…

OSV: Can you tell us who it is?

RT: [Laughs!] Sadly, no, we’re not ready to reveal it at this time. I think the gamers will enjoy the music, though.

OSV: Okay, let’s get to the gritty part. Before I [Patrick] even give you the chance to reply to this, let me say this: last week we posted a short article about a fan music contest, wherein fans could submit music that could potentially get in the game; however, they wouldn’t be paid for it. We ran this story in good faith based on information we got from musicians who were, at first, interested in submitting work, but then felt disheartened that it was essentially an “unpaid gig.” However, we did not have all of the information, and the end result, though it was not our intent, was that Red Thread Games was cast in a bad light. We want to apologize for any misinformation we spread, and obviously, we pulled that article down, so consider the article retracted.

RT: Let me say that I find it very refreshing to hear both a heartfelt apology and a desire to get to the truth! If only it were always this way!

So basically, the story behind the contest goes like this. We have an incredibly devoted, interactive, and vocal fan base. We’ve done multiple contests of this kind before. Most recently, we had an art contest, where fans could get artwork they created as assets into the game. After this contest was finished, we launched the same basic concept of a contest, but this time it was for music. It’s important to note here that these contests were not thought up by me or anyone else at Red Thread: the fans proposed them and we agreed to officially run them!

Up until last week, it was never a problem. But then, after we announced the music contest, it spread like wildfire on the Internet that we didn’t have any music and we were trying to get free assets to finish our game and other such nonsense. Simon has basically finished the soundtrack for Dreamfall Chapters, and we need no additional music. Again, we were offering it as an opportunity for fans to leave a permanent mark on a series that they love.

OSV: You were one of the people to leave a comment on our now-retracted post, and in it one of the things you mentioned was that by the time we’re run our article, the contest had already been canceled. Two questions: first, can you clarify for our readers that Original Sound Version is not the reason the contest was canceled? And secondly, if we can be so bold to ask, why *did* you ultimately choose to cancel this contest?

RT: So yes, absolutely, you guys definitely didn’t affect that decision, as it was already made before your post went up. That being said, the reason why we canceled the competition…

As you said, a lot of misinformation had gotten out, and there was some bitterness and misunderstanding. And the result was … it created a lot of opposition in the game audio community against us, and this resulted in a lot of ruined collaborations and things like that.

I don’t like backtracking on things where I feel we were not in the wrong; I don’t think we did anything wrong! We did not ask our fans to create our soundtrack for free. We really wanted to give our fans the chance to put their stamp on the game. It was just distracting, and too hard to deal with. Some or RTG’s staff were getting individual feedback, and there were people saying “oh, don’t work with Red Thread.”

So after that, it was just so frustrating, our conclusion was “okay, that got blown completely out of proportion, so let’s just put an end to it and not attempt anything like that again.”

OSV: But there’s a silver lining, yes?

RT: The great thing is that the fans have now arranged their own competition to create their own soundtrack. It’s got nothing to do with us; it’s not official. But it’s something they want to do, and they’re going to do this project and make their own custom files to make a modified version of the game, and again, we’re not collaborating with them, but we’re very happy that they’re continuing it.

OSV: Has anyone considered the idea of, after Dreamfall Chapters is released, the fans could instead of putting original music out, work together on some kind of Remix EP that could then be included as a free digital download bonus for people who own the game? Doing arrangements of Simon’s music, or music of the as-yet-unknown performed, could be a great and fun thing for hobbyists and people bordering on amateur and professional.

RT: We’d be more than happy to do something like that. At the end of the day, it’s all about our fans, the community, the people who backed us — and we want to inspire and empower them within the boundaries of the world we’ve created.

OSV: We wanted to share one other thing before we drop the topic of the music competition. Before we pulled our past article, we got a surprisingly moderate and nuanced comment from Mass Effect series composer Sam Hulick. He said:

Are we really sure the people this contest was directed towards are pros? Why would anyone assume that? How do we know they’re not just hobbyists? We can’t forget that many of the arts are just hobbies for some, and they never expect to make a dime from their music/art/writing/etc.

Still, I would passionately argue against anyone who entertains the idea of having a music career participate in something like this. […] RTG didn’t frame the contest as “GET EXPOSURE, YOUR CAREER WILL PROBABLY SKYROCKET!” I would have a huge problem with that. The “exposure” reward is total BS. Anyone can get exposure via social media. […] I’m all for raising the “pro creatives deserve fair pay” pitchforks to help others and to help educate, but this is the wrong situation to do that IMO.

What is your reaction to Sam’s stance on the contest and the hobbyist / pro distinction?

RT: I’d have to say, that’s all very true! And I appreciate his insight!

OSV: Anything else you wanted to share before we close out?

RT: I just have to say I’m happy that we’re able to get our stories straight, and as I said before, how rare it is that a website worked this hard to correct a mis-statement, so thank you very much! And of course, we hope everyone gets an opportunity to check out Dreamfall Chapters, and for your readers especially, we hope they enjoy the soundtrack alongside the game.

Our thanks again to Ragnar and all of Red Thread Games for the opportunity to conduct this interview. If it wasn’t made clear in the interview (or in case you skimmed over it), we have retracted and pulled down the original article about the now-canceled music contest because of the very angry and negative responses it got, which themselves often had more misinformation within them. On behalf of the managing editors Michael and Brenna, and indeed on behalf of all the OSV crew, I [Patrick] can say that it saddened us to see that we’d made a mistake, and that we were part of a misunderstanding that caused a fair bit of pain to the devoted Dreamfall community. We’re only too happy that Mr. Tørnquist took the time, with us, to rectify the situation. Now then, onward to more music and brighter days!

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