Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams not only brings originality to a genre in dire need of change, but it’s also a breath of fresh air for a promising franchise thanks to the team at Black Forest Games. There is a sense of honor in being able to play a game that was built with true passion by developers who want to make a great game for others to enjoy. And they succeeded. Furthermore, the amazing soundtrack by Chris Huelsbeck and Fabian Del Priore wouldn’t be quite the same without the participation of SID-metal band Machinae Supremacy.
I had the opportunity to interview Jean-Marc Haessig, Creative Director of Black Forest Games and Robert Stjärnström, lead singer of Machinae Supremacy. If you haven’t purchased the game yet and you need a little more convincing, this may help. The interviews were conducted separately, both can be found below:
An interview with Jean-Marc Haessig, Creative Director of Black Forest Games.
*Can you give us a brief history lesson on the fall of Spellbound Entertainment and the rise of Black Forest Games? How were you able to retain the intellectual property of Giana Sisters?
Jean-Marc Haessig: Black Forest Games was founded by the key developers and the management of the now defunct Spellbound Entertainment. After Spellbound went belly-up, the management team as well as the key developers decided to move on with a company of their own and took over all Spellbound assets, including the IPs. 40 of the former team of 65 immediately decided to follow us on this new journey and we can proudly say that the studio is owned by gamers again.
*Armin Gessert recently passed away in 2009 and I would like to express my condolences. Was he involved or aware of the plans to bring Giana into 3D with Twisted Dreams? Did he have any further plans or ideas for the Giana franchise beyond Giana Sisters DS?
Jean-Marc Haessig: Armin’s death was a real shock for us. He and I founded Spellbound almost 20 years ago and he always made sure that our vision for the company was executed. He also pushed for Giana Sisters on Nintendo DS. It was his vision to reanimate the brand that had been dormant for so long. So you can say – GSTD is one thing we are doing to honor his legacy. He would have loved the game, his spirit and attention to detail is still alive in this company and we all follow his example.
*Twisted Dreams takes Giana into an entirely new direction that separates it from being solely compared to a Super Mario game, unlike the situation with the original Giana Sisters, was it the intention of the team to avoid that sort of hostility this time around?
Jean-Marc Haessig: For our new Giana game, we really wanted to bring something fresh and new. Doing another clone wasn’t an option. I started by thinking about what makes Giana outstanding and different from Super Mario Brothers. Her transformation into the punkie girl was really defining, and I was thinking that expanding that concept would be great, having not only her transforming, but her whole dream, with even more impact on the gameplay. We started prototyping the environment morphing and thinking about switching Giana’s abilities, the enemies and the obstacles.
With the first playable [demo], we realized that it turned out being really fun. It was also exciting to explore a little further the meaning of Giana’s experience. Giana is a teenage girl who is trapped in a twisted dream; she can transform her dream because she is in a stage of her life that implies transformation, with inner conflicts between rage and self-confidence.
Giana has to go through a haunting dream that tries to keep her in her childhood, while she wants to grow up. In one layer of her mind, the dream tries to remind her how scared she was from monsters lurking in the darkness, but getting wiser, she now is much more amused by them and lightly jumps and twirls over her demons. In the other layer, she is overwhelmed by candies and plushies in the bright princess world she used to love so much, but really, she can’t stand that anymore and goes on a rampage!
*Original composer Chris Huelsbeck returns to the series after an absence from Giana Sisters DS, how did you get him involved?
Jean-Marc Haessig: As a member of the original Giana Team, we wanted to have Chris on board. So we approached him with our ideas and a prototype. When he agreed to work with us we were really happy. Chris was very involved from the early days on. Chris, Fabian and Machinae Supremacy produced all the tunes with Giana roots in mind and added this retro-nostalgic tint to every track.
*How did the SID-metal band Machinae Supremacy get involved in the project? And was it planned from the start to have the music style change when “Punk Giana” appears?
Jean-Marc Haessig: Some people in our team were fans of MaSu. When it was clear that the music would be transformed as well, Machinae Supremacy was the logical choice to consider. Their 2001 interpretation of a metal Giana tune just fits perfect to her punky side. We asked Chris to check with them, they said yes – and we were happy to have them join the project.
A photo of Jean-Marc Haessig.
*This was a Kickstarter success story. Why did you choose to go with Kickstarter and how were your expectations of its success? You appeared to reach your goal during the final 24 hours. Would this game have been made if the Kickstarter had failed? How long has the game been in development?
Jean-Marc Haessig: As an indie developer you always wrestle with your funds. Traditionally publishers took over the role of a financer for your project, and not only that, but also provided distribution and marketing. You may bristle with ideas for games, but you simply lack the money to realize them. That came with a price, though. Part of the deal often was to surrender your brand or IP to the publisher, on top of receiving only a small margin of the revenue. By turning to platforms like Kickstarter, Indies get the opportunity to get the necessary funds and promotion for your game and still maintain your independence. Digital distribution platforms help selling the game.
Still, before Tim Schafer’s tremendous success, we wouldn’t have thought of crowd funding as an option. That changed significantly since then. Crowd funding became a real option to fund a project. Of course it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. Over a long period throughout the campaign, we weren’t sure we’d really achieve our goals. And it bound a significant part of our resources to the campaign.
We worked on Giana seven months before running out of money, which caused Spellbound to close. When we decided to finish the game under Black Forest Games, we had to add a little more money in order to hit our goals with the game. Kickstarter was definitely exactly what we needed to do so and the excellent feedback from the backers gave us energy to accomplish the work in time!
*How did the idea originate to have Giana’s alter ego appear in a whole different realm of existence? Does Giana actually transport between worlds or does she have two personalities that see the world from different perspectives? I know this has been asked a lot, but does Giana even have a real sister named Maria?
Jean-Marc Haessig: Giana is a teenage girl who is trapped in a twisted dream. The idea of transforming her dream reflects a stage of her life that implies transformation, with all the inner conflicts between rage and self-confidence.
This haunting dream tries to keep her in her childhood, while she desperately wants to grow up. In one layer of her mind, the dream tries to remind her how scared she was from monsters lurking in the darkness. Getting wiser, she is now much more able to keep her composure and rather amused than frightened by it. Which in turn let’s her jump and twirl lightly over her demons. The other layer overwhelms her with candies and plushies in that bright “princessy” world she used to love so much. Now, however, she can’t stand that anymore and goes on a rampage!
That’s Giana, the character with two facets you play in the game. Her sister is named Maria. She has been captured and eaten alive by the big dragon Gurglewocky – and Giana sets out to rescue her sister.
*Giana Sisters DS seemed to be one of the most underrated and under-appreciated platformers due to it being hard to obtain a copy of the game. It finally saw a quiet release in the US last year, only available at online retailers such as Walmart and Amazon.com. Can we expect to see Twisted Dreams available in more countries and will it see a PSN/XBLA release in the United States?
Jean-Marc Haessig: GSTD will be released world-wide in as many countries as possible. As for now we have released it on Steam, GOG.com and GamersGate – but you can expect it to be released on additional distribution platforms. The same will be true for the PSN and XBLA versions that will be released in early 2013 and all the subsequent releases on other games platforms.
*What’s next for Black Forest Games? Any plans for DLC or a new Giana game later down the line?
Jean-Marc Haessig: Sure we are thinking of a sequel, we have a bunch of concepts that didn’t make it into the current game and some new cool ideas to twist Giana’s dreams even more! But first we intend to deliver the stretch goal content from the Kickstarter campaign as DLC in the near future. For now we concentrate to get Giana on PSN and XBLA.
*What is your favorite version of the original Great Giana Sisters? Most people played it on C64, but I personally grew up with the Atari ST version and loved how the music sounded on it, although the lack of a scrolling screen was a bummer. The Amiga version was the best overall, I think. Any chance we can get an unlockable port of that version on Twisted Dreams for PSN/XBLA?
Jean-Marc Haessig: You could ask that question to every member of our team and they would give you a different answer. I have to admit I never owned a C64 and Atari ST! I started with a CPC464 from Amstrad and then I moved to an Amiga. That was the version I discovered and enjoyed, and it had one of the few soundtracks that never left my mind. That happened with three games at that time: The Faery Tale Adventure, Nemesis the Warlock and The Great Giana Sisters! But I’m afraid we won’t be able to offer the original game because, while we hold the rights to the brand itself, we don’t hold the publishing rights for the original game.
*Thank you very much for your time, Jean-Marc. I am very excited to see what you’ve got in store for us in the future.
Custom logo using classic Giana Sisters assets by Jared Thomson.
An interview with Robert Stjärnström, lead singer of Machinae Supremacy.
*Back in 2001, Machinae Supremacy was just getting started and released a SID-metal remix of The Great Giana Sisters theme music. This song contributed to the band’s initial success, right? Now, more than 10 years later, Machinae Supremacy is very successful and it seems like you are returning the favor of success back to the very game that essentially got you started.
Robert Stjärnström: Yes, we did a few things very right in the beginning and the Giana cover was one such lucky accident that went viral (in an era before that word existed, really).
*Can you give us a little background on how Black Forest Games approached you to work on the game’s music?
Robert Stjärnström: Actually Chris [Huelsbeck] was the one who made contact. I believe both Black Forest Games and Chris realized as they were making this game, the 25 year anniversary of the original classic, that Machinae Supremacy’s cover – being as famous as it has become – was now a part of the Giana Sisters legacy. This game needed Machinae Supremacy in the same way it needed Chris Huelsbeck to be complete. Especially with regards to the “punk” Giana concept which demanded a rawer side to the in-game atmosphere.
*Had Chris Huelsbeck heard your remix during the years leading up to this new game and did he ever make any comment as to whether he liked it?
Robert Stjärnström: Yes. He first contacted us asking if he could use our version on one of his albums. We’ve had some contact on and off over the years. Very friendly guy.
*What was it like working with the great Chris Huelsbeck?
Robert Stjärnström: It’s been a very smooth and professional process. We’ve collaborated over FTP and Skype and had video chats discussing the finer details of the soundtrack as well as the business arrangement.
*How many tracks did you produce for the game? Was every song intended to represent Punk Giana’s persona?
Robert Stjärnström: On top of the original cover we made (which we decided we’d use in the game as one of the in-game tracks) we had done the “metal layer” as we call it, that represent Punk Giana, of 6 tracks, and on the main theme we’ve done the guitars.
Machinae Supremacy lead singer Robert Stjärnström, front.
*Chris Huelsbeck and Giana Sisters DS composer Fabian Del Priore also worked on the soundtrack. How was the creation process? Did MaSu write any new music for the game or was it a process of arranging the music into metal?
Robert Stjärnström: We were asked if we wanted to write any songs from scratch but we figured we’d stick with the formula that was presented to just like 10+ years ago, have Chris create the originals and we do our work over on them. He’s a master at game melodies, obviously, so why not let him do his magic? We are credited as “Metal Score” I believe, but in all fairness there ARE occasional melodies here and there on the metal layers that were not in Chris’ originals.
*Will the MaSu tracks be made available for download on the MaSu site like your previous game soundtrack Jets ‘N’ Guns? Or will fans who did not preorder Twisted Dreams be able to purchase the soundtrack later?
Robert Stjärnström: There are no plans to make it a free download as of yet. I believe the songs might become part of an anthology album later on, but I do not know for certain. We are not the sole owners of this material so we can’t (won’t) just do as we please with it. [Editor's note: Since the interview, MaSu has released a free stream of their portion of the soundtrack on SoundCloud.]
*Did you happen to play Giana Sisters DS and what did you think of it?
Robert Stjärnström: Actually I never did, but if the iPhone version is the same [Editor's note: Yes, Robert, it is more or less the same.] then yes, I liked it. It was, however, pretty bleak compared to Twisted Dreams, which is absolutely epic.
*Newcomers to your music might not be aware of the device you use to produce the Commodore 64 sounds in your songs. (It’s called the SidStation, a synthesizer utilizing the C64′s sound chip.) Was the SidStation used extensively for Twisted Dreams? How many SidStations does MaSu have anyway?
Robert Stjärnström: Not extensively, no. We have only one. But we also have this awesome virtual instrument called Plogue Chipsounds which perfectly mimics the SID in many ways.
*The SidStation offers an iconic sound for MaSu, is it a tool that you feel you’ve mastered or are you still learning how to use it after all these years? Are there plans to ever stop using it? (Please don’t stop!)
Robert Stjärnström: We won’t stop using it. And no, we have not mastered it, but I believe the technology isn’t what matters or limits us here, but rather finding new musical ways to use it so it doesn’t always sound like the same idea. We try to reinvent what kind of melodies and effects we produce with to keep it interesting. Having said that, there are some classic uses that always work, of course, as the basic but well-timed arp-chord strike at just the right moment.
*Thank you Robert for your time! Machinae Supremacy just released their latest album, Rise of a Digital Nation, and they’ve released it online where you can stream it in its entirety and purchase a physical copy. Help support great music by gamers for gamers.
Robert Stjärnström: Thanks, rock on!
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