Dreamfall Impressions - E3 2004

We revisit with April Ryan and her new companions in the follow-up to the acclaimed adventure, The Longest Journey.

We were on hand at E3 and took an up-close look at Dreamfall, the follow-up to Funcom's award-winning adventure game, The Longest Journey. The new game will take place some ten years after the previous game, and it will feature three different playable characters. Like in the original game, Dreamfall will include multiple worlds, including the world of Stark, a futuristic world of technology; Arcadia, a world of medieval fantasy; and an all-new world known as The Winter, which is persistently blanketed in snow.

The game's primary protagonist will be Zoe Castillo, a 20-year-old female who lives in Stark, the world of advanced, futuristic technology. Having just dropped out of university, Zoe leads a somewhat aimless life until she becomes embroiled in events that threaten the well-being of her home world and that of other worlds as well. Her story is not unlike that of April Ryan's, the heroine of the original game, who sacrificed much to save the worlds of Stark and Arcadia. Funcom writer Ragnar Tornquist remained vague about April's exact role in the game (she's confirmed to be a playable character), but he did suggest that April's formerly innocent demeanor will have changed in the new game, since "saving the world without even being thanked can make a person...bitter." The game's third character will be Kiam, a swordsman of Arcadia, soldier of fortune, and something of an antihero.

As we saw, Dreamfall will be an action-adventure game (rather than a traditional adventure game, like The Longest Journey was). We watched Zoe make her way through several different areas, solving puzzles in conventional and unconventional ways. For instance, in one area, Zoe was trapped in a subterranean basement behind a locked door. Rather than scour the debris on the ground for hours in search of a key, she walked up to the door and kicked it down. In another area--a dank cave that led up to a gigantic water wheel--we watched Zoe carefully sneak around a pudgy monster to leap onto the spinning wheel, which carried her to the top. Though the game will definitely have action elements, it will require very little in the way of fast reflexes--the action of leaping onto the wheel was automatic, for instance. In the case of both the monster and the wheel, Tornquist demonstrated something called the "focus field," a straight beam of light that radiated from Zoe's field of vision that highlighted any characters or objects it fell upon. When any characters or objects are highlighted by the focus field, they may be interacted with immediately--the PC version of the game will also support full-on point-and-click mouse control, but Tornquist actually showed us the game using, of all things, an Xbox controller. As Tornquist explained, Funcom does intend to bring the game to consoles, and in consideration of Microsoft's recently unveiled XNA cross-platform development tools, the studio will attempt to make the game very console-friendly. The focus field will be Funcom's attempt to bridge the gap between the direct control of a console pad's thumbsticks and the point-and-click selection of a mouse--and it seems promising indeed.

In addition to having a streamlined control setup, Dreamfall will also have a highly streamlined interface, with no icons or menus onscreen. If an item or character can be interacted with, this fact will be fairly obvious. The game will have over 50 speaking characters, including a few returning characters from the previous game. Interestingly, your interaction with other characters will vary depending on which character you're playing. For instance, Zoe begins her adventuring career as a very inexperienced character, and though she's studied a bit of martial arts at the gym, she isn't half the fighter that Kiam, a soldier by trade, is. Likewise, the more well-traveled Kiam and April may know mystic languages that Zoe doesn't, so they may have more dialogue options.

What we've seen of Dreamfall seemed extremely impressive. The game is powered by all-new technology in the form of a German-developed graphics engine called "Shark 3D," which will power both Dreamfall and other upcoming games from Funcom. The engine makes use of sophisticated lighting and dynamic shadow features, detailed skeletal and facial animations on characters, and bump maps and environment maps all over the game's different worlds. The game already looks very promising, but it won't be available until next year.

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