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New Q&A With Terry Dowling - Writer of Schizm

by Rainier on April 1, 2002 @ 7:36 p.m. PST

Today we have a small interview with Terry Dowling, the man behind Project3 and Mindscape's Schizm: Mysterious Journey. Slates for release somewhere this summer. If you never heard of the game let me put it briefly. ’Schizm: Mysterious Journey’ is a non-violent single-player innovation in the adventure game genre, with fascinating non-linear game play and stunning 3D graphics. Written by the highly acclaimed science fiction writer Terry Dowling and developed in Poland by LK Avalon, ‘Schizm: Mysterious Journey’ will literally keep you playing for hours on end, in this massive double DVD-Rom or 5 CD-Rom release.

Q) What was your inspiration for your contribution to the game?

A) Inspiration came very much from the existing game design itself, the visual material already in place - the balloon fields, the floating cities, the exotic domains - and knowing that here was a largely deserted world to explore, needing only a suitable central mystery to create sufficient dramatic tension, a mystery that was worth solving. I came to the game relatively late and simply reacted to what was there. The Mary Celeste connection came early. Making virtue of necessity, it suited the ‘empty landscape’ situation perfectly.

Some reviewers have found that the storyline recalls a particular Star Trek episode, but forget that Star Trek borrowed shamelessly from the standard genre ideas of the 40s and 50s. So I’m more aware of the ‘first contact’ story ideas of Murray Leinster, Eric Frank Russell, Henry Kuttner, Poul Anderson, Clifford Simak, authors like that. So while I know the original Start Trek universe well, I don’t see their storylines as particularly original. As with Star Wars, it was the dynamics of presentation that were new, not the narrative ideas.

Q) So which previous books, or films for that matter, did influence the development of Schizm?

A) From a narrative viewpoint, it was more to do with reproducing a particular tone and mood than having clear influences I can easily name. Since I’ve mentioned Star Trek, you may remember how the original series used a sustained oscillating tone to create the mood of an alien world. You can always hear it there in the background. That’s how it’s been for me with Schizm. It’s more about capturing a feel than identifying particular works. So, without knowing especially why, I could say Solaris, Forbidden Planet, Dune.

Q) Talk us through Schizm. What’s it about?

A) It’s very much a traditional First Contact adventure. In 2083, Earth has located Argilus, a world in a distant star system, but has found all its inhabitants missing. It’s just like finding that brigantine, the Mary Celeste, in [1823]. There are signs of recent habitation everywhere, meals unfinished, machinery running, but no people. The planet is quarantined and three science teams are sent to different locations on its surface to carry out research - nearly a hundred trained science personnel. But one by one they start disappearing too, leaving behind mission logs giving clues and theories, but no firm answers.

Our story opens with a supply ship arriving and trying to make contact with these science bases without success. When the vessel is suddenly disabled, the crew - Sam Mainey and Hannah Grant - have to eject in escape pods, intending to rendezvous on the surface below. Sam lands in a vast balloon field above the largest continent, Hannah on a rather amazing floating city adrift on the ocean. In order to rendezvous at Base One, they have to learn how to understand and operate the alien technology. Now and then they find mission logs left behind by the missing scientists, and start catching brief glimpses of some of these scientists. These ‘ghosts’ seem to be trying to help Sam and Hannah figure it all out. The story develops from there.

Q) Of all the games you could have written for, why choose Schizm?

A) In a way it chose me. I was stuck on a timed puzzle in Reah, the Detalion team’s first game for L.K.Avalon and the now-defunct Project 2 Interactive. I emailed its developer, Maciej Miasik, introducing myself and asking for his assistance. Maciej checked out the fiction at my homesite, and replied with both the puzzle solution and an invitation to devise a story and name for their new game. The two protagonists idea was already firmly in place and, since the characters couldn’t feasibly be visible to each other, I came up with the ‘schism’ idea and the story to carry it. But a large part of the gameworld already existed. I had to fit a story around existing material, which was a real pleasure.

Q) What do you think the game’s strengths are?

A) First and foremost, delivering the experience of being on a living alien world. Being there. Riven achieved this splendidly; Schizm does as well, not just with the visuals, but also the sound and music. The Schizm soundscape and music score are some of the best I’ve found in a game world. Others have said it, but there are places on Argilus you just wish to go back to so you can hang out a while. The two protagonist angle is very effective too. You get stuck as Sam, you switch to the other character, Hannah, and between them you learn the world. The game navigation, transitions and visuals all worked flawessly on my system, no glitches or bugs at all. So for me it truly was a good experience. But you have to remember that this is the kind of game I like to play. I’ve mentioned Riven; I could add Morpheus, Amber, Lighthouse, Temujin, The Blackstone Chronicles, Grim Fandango, all favourites for similar reasons: powerful and memorable settings with good stories.

Q) Do you know if there are plans for a sequel and, if so, would you consider working on it?

A) Yes indeed. We’re in discussion on that right now, and I’ve turned in a story outline everyone seems to like. With Schizm, the story had to fit an existing gameworld, set programming constrictions and so on. This time the story will determine that design far more. I can’t wait to see what the Detalion team will come up with. They’re just amazing.

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