11-11: Memories Retold – A Talk With Aardman Animations on Their New Game
With the recent closure of Telltale Games, one of the biggest studios in the narrative adventure genre, it's easy to assume that narrative adventure type games have run their course. But that is far from the truth. With studios like Supermassive Games continuing their brand of narrative horror with The Dark Pictures Anthology, and the continued success of the Life is Strange series, there's life left in the genre yet.
Much more life. And that's why one of the most venerable and recognisable studios in any medium, Aardman Animations, have decided to step forward with their own brand of narrative adventure. Their new game 11-11: Memories Retold is being made in cooperation with DigixArt Studio, who wish to bring to life a brand new wartime tale, rendered with oil painting-like visuals.
Simply looking at the game evokes nostalgia for times we've never had and the soft shading of the characters and environments are incredibly striking compared to traditional 3D rendering. It all sets up a game that looks incredibly memorable, and it just needs a narrative to match.
To find out more about 11-11: Memories Retold, I sat down with Bram Ttwheam and George Rowe from Aardman Animations to talk about the game in more detail and find out what players should be looking forward to.
How did 11-11: Memories Retold come to be?
GR: "One of our creative directors, Jake, was at the Games for Change conference and met the director of our co-production studios DigixArt, and they started talking about how great it would be if his company and Aardman made a game together, and we just started kicking around this idea. He had the skeleton of this World War 1 story in his head, and we started developing that with him. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to get into game development. Aardman's very passionate about great storytelling and great characters, and that is what is game had."
GR: "I think that the art style, we're known for stop motion, but I think there's always a bit of that hand-crafted nature to what we try to do, and I think that comes across in this too."
BT: "Yeah, that's definitely one of the goals of the art style in this instance, as it's something you don't often see in games."
Is there a pressure to make it distinctly Aardman, and chase the iconic house style?
BT: "This is a departure from our classic style, but it's a question of whether it fits with our three main tenets; story, characters and hand-crafted feel. As long as it fits into those categories and it seems like an appropriate subject for us to tackle."
GR: "Of course we're known for our stop-motion look, but have a large CG department who do a lot of work for commercials and shorts, and they do a whole range of different styles. In the future, we would like to do an Aardman style game, but with this, it still aligns with those three main values."
Tell us about the narrative of 11-11: Memories Retold.
GR: "It's a game about two characters in WW1 who have gone to war for different reasons. Harry is a photographer from Canada who feels trapped in his tedious life and is sold the dream of adventure at war by a charming recruiter. Then there's Kurt in Germany who is an older engineer, who hears that his son who is serving on the frontlines has gone missing in action, so he decides to join up to find out what has happened. Even though they're on different sides they form an unlikely friendship, and that develops and causes complications throughout the story. Even though it's a game set during the war, it's not about war, it's a human story about friendship and how war affects people."
Does it educate players on the war?
GR: "Well, it is a fictional story. It does feature real battles and real events, but it is a fictional story. There is a layer of collectibles that are related to WW1, which will teach players about the war, but that's only there if players are interested in it."
Is it a departure for Aardman to be tackling this heavier subject matter?
GR: "Yeah, it's certainly a heavy theme, but then you look at any Aardman stories, you have to balance the light and the dark."
BT: "Even in Chicken Run, without wanting to trivialise things, is essentially about a prison camp, or a concentration camp."
GR: "Yeah, absolutely, Chicken Run is essentially a war drama."
Is 11-11: Memories Retold just the beginning of Aardman in video games?
BT: "Hopefully. Hopefully."
GR: "Yeah, our next big goal is to maybe do a sequel, but we'd really like to do an Aardman style game, which you can look at and identify as an Aardman game. We certainly hope that this opens the doors to making more Aardman games."
Even though it's a video game, are you still handcrafting models or other artwork?
BT: "We did concept art, which is quite interesting for this, as it wasn't just environments, it was actually the look. We managed to achieve that oil painting style, which is obviously what we wanted to replicate. So as well as looking at the lighting, we had to look at things like the brushwork and how an artist would paint the world."
GR: "Did we make any real oil paintings? One of our concept artists is a master oil painter."
BT: "No, he didn't do any… But he could've."
GR: "Ah. We'll say he did. He did loads of real oil paintings."
How are you ensuring historical accuracy?
GR: "We worked with two military historians, a British and a German military historian, to bring that sort of balanced view to the game. They would advise on what soldiers would've been doing, wearing, thinking at the time. We tried to make that as authentic as possible. There are a few areas where we bend the truth a little bit, but it's for story or gameplay purposes."
BT: "It's told as a recollection, so things are slightly exaggerated."
GR: "It's supposed to be a subjective take, it's two personal stories. You'll know these events are being seen differently when you look at them from two separate points of view."
Has it been difficult bringing that balance to both sides?
GR: "WW1 is such a weird conflict, it didn't really start for any good reason, there wasn't any great resolution to it. That was what was really interesting, it's a story about the grey areas, there's not a right and a wrong. There are no decisions which ask you to do the good or the evil thing, they're just choices. People just have to make choices, especially in a horrendous event like war."
What sort of choices will players be making in 11-11: Memories Retold?
GR: "I don't want to give away too much, but some of the choices you make influence the events in the story but also influence how your character will feel about the story. So hopefully people will experience regret, and it will intrigue them to replay and see how things might play out. We definitely want to bring that grey morality into the game."
Thank you for your time!
11-11: Memories Retold is out November 9th, 2018 for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and promises to change the way we see war.