Kheops Studio Interview

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Kheops Studio is quickly becoming respected among many adventure game purists, thanks to titles such as Echo: Secrets of the Lost Cavern and Voyage: Inspired by Jules Verne. The company recently released a game based on Leonardo Da Vinci (The Secrets of Da Vinci) and are currently working on a puzzle game (an updated version of the 1997 title Safecracker) and an adventure game (set in the Treasure Island universe). With all of the activity going on within the company, I had the opportunity to ask some questions to Benoit Hozjan, co-founder of the company.

To start things off, tell us a little about yourself and Kheops Studio.

I’m Benoit Hozjan, co-founder and Managing Director of Kheops Studio. We are a video game developer based in¬†Paris. Most of us were previously employees of Cryo Interactive and we are specialized in adventure games.

You guys recently completed work on Safecracker for The Adventure Company. Is this related to the 1997 game of the same name in any way?

Dreamcatcher contacted us early this year; they sent us the old Safecracker (1997) and asked us if we could develop such a game. We have made a proposal and they have accepted. Even if it is not a sequel you can find the same spirit within the new title.

While we’re still on the topic of Safecracker, tell us a little bit more about the game. How involved are the different puzzles, and how big is the game as a whole?

You are hired to find the will and testament of a dead rich man because his own family was unable to find it. The last passion of the old man was to collect and create safes… so he has decided to hide his last will inside one of them. Of course, you will have to open ALL of them! Some of them are classical safes, sometimes they’re broken, and other surprises will pop up along the way. We hope we have found a good balance between logical, mathematical, classical, twist (for the styles of the safe puzzles). You have 35 different safes to open inside a 30 room mansion. The difficulty goes from easy to hard but we are sure that we will have as many people saying it was too easy than people saying it was too difficult. From our point of view the levels are not very hard, even the 3 more difficult puzzles can be done in few seconds or minutes ūüėČ

How is Safecracker different in comparison to your other recently released titles?

We consider this game to be a puzzle game, meaning there isn’t as much plot compared to our previous games. We will certainly continue to develop both categories of games (‘puzzle’ and ‘adventure’).

One thing I noticed is that some of your titles released by The Adventure Company in the UShave had their names altered in some way. What do you think of this, do you think it impacts the recognition of your titles at all?

It’s certainly easy to identify a game by a unique name worldwide … but the local marketing decides the title to use for each territory.

What kind of balancing goes into the puzzles Kheops puts into their games? Have you guys ever completely cut out a puzzle from a title because it was deemed too difficult?

It is possible to tune the difficulty of a puzzle during the course of development; if we consider it too easy or too difficult then we find a way to modify it accordingly. We decide to cut out a puzzle if :

1) It is too difficult
2) You can solve it without strategy
3) It is not well enough integrated

And yes, there have been times when we have cut out a puzzle from a game.

How big is the average team that works on each one of your games?

The average team is around 15 people.

One element that typically separates your titles from other adventure games is that they are more historically accurate, and can even offer some educational value at times. How much research goes into the background of each game, and do you often base game locations on real world areas?

We strongly believe that it is possible to learn something without constraint by playing some video games. Of course when developing a title we need plenty of time and sometimes the help of an expert because we prefer to build something accurate. Coherence is also an important point for us, first to be honest with the player (about the background facts), and also because it’s always a good satisfaction as a player to discover that every element in a game makes sense. Every element is important in our games, whether it’s a clue for a future puzzle, or whether it’s a joke, a reference, or a tribute. Sometimes you have to play the game twice or more to really see every element.

The last title from you guys was The Secrets of Da Vinci. How was the game received by critics and players alike?

We have had very good feedback by critics and players. It’s was ‘touchy’ to develop a game on Da Vinci but finally, everybody has seen that it was a realistic game and focused on the facts.

This (The Secrets of Da Vinci) was your first title to be published by a company other than The Adventure Company (Tri Synergy published in North America). What was it like working with Tri Synergy, and were you happy with the experience?

We had signed with a French producing company ‘Elektrogames’ and with a French publisher ‘Nobilis’ for worldwide distribution. So we didn’t sign directly with Tri Synergy for this title. It’s too early to analyze North American distribution at this point in time. The only downside that I can think of right now would have to be the delay between the European and North American launch. We had finished the game in early February 2006, and it was launched late April in¬†Europe¬†but not until June in NA. In¬†Europe¬†it came out before the game and the movie based on the popular novel (The Da Vinci Code), but the NA launch coincided.

Why did Kheops choose to base a game on Da Vinci, and what steps were taken to make sure it felt authentic?

The authors of this game (who also did ECHO) came up with this idea in early summer 2005, when they visited the ‘Clos Luce’ (the place where Da Vinci died) and they decided it would a good place to set a game in. Leonardo Da Vinci was also a good background for an adventure game, like Jules Verne! To be authentic, it was important for us to have approval from the owners of the ‘Clos Luce’ which is nowadays a museum you can visit. Some of the puzzles are also based on authentic Da Vinci mechanisms.

Voyage was an open ended adventure game in the sense that players could manage their intelligence level to understand more about the game world, and buy and sell items using currency. Will future Kheops titles incorporate some of these open ended elements, or are they going to be exclusive to Voyage?

That’s an open question! ūüėČ Every game is a new adventure in which we develop specific interfaces and also keep some other elements from previous games. For ‘Treasure Island’ for instance, you will have an inventory very close to Voyage’s inventory system and also a new interface with an ‘educational’ value.

Are there any themes that Kheops would like to continue exploring in future titles (such as more works of Jules Verne)?

Many games have already been developed on Jules Verne novels, but next title will be based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel (Treasure Island).

Your next adventure title in development doesn’t currently have an English title. What details can you give us on the game at this time?

It will be a sequel to “Treasure Island”; you will play as Jim (Hawkins).

Where does the adventure genre go from here? Do you think it still has the potential to regain the audience that it had a few years ago?

It will be difficult because now there are lots of different platforms and lots of game categories. We need some blockbusters to see publishers more confident to finance adventure games. With more sales, we will have bigger budgets … and maybe more blockbusters! ūüėČ We typically develop games with tighter budgets compared to some of the other adventure game developers out there and we hope to have a bigger budget one day.

Has Kheops ever considered consoles for any of their titles? Do you think any of the consoles, current or next generation, offer good potential for adventure games?

Our games are not formatted for consoles; consoles are more action/adventure oriented. We are seriously looking into the Nintendo DS and the coming Nintendo Wii. I don’t know right now if it will be easy for a developer such as Kheops Studio to find a publisher to follow us on these platforms … we will see!

Is there anything else you would like to say about Kheops or its titles?

We hope that the adventure community will continue to support our work, and we will continue to read forums to take see what players expect from our games. We also have an online survey on our website to collect information, thanks to those who continue to fill it. Our next title should be appreciated by ‘Return to¬†Mysterious¬†Island’ fans; it will be a fresh title with some interesting surprises that players will discover. Thank you for your interest in our work.

For more information on Kheops Studio, visit their website at http://www.kheopsstudio.fr/site/index.php?lang=2.

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