There are surprisingly few Christmas-themed games. Perhaps the prospect was simply too daunting following the release of the superlative Christmas Quest freeware trilogy co-designed by me and the staff of Adventure Gamers during my time there as editor. No? Okay, maybe not. Nevertheless, there’s a void there just waiting to be filled, and this year there’s not one but two new (or new-ish) Yuletide offerings to choose from. The first to arrive – and recently updated in improved form – is Watch Over Christmas, a charmingly hand-painted point-and-click adventure from Dionous Games that is sure to leave you feeling as jolly as ol’ St. Nick himself. With the real Christmas just around the corner, there is no better time for a little chat with one of the studio’s founders, Chris Tikkos.
Hi, Chris. Welcome to the Adventure Game Hotspot! Are you busy getting ready for Christmas?
Thanks so much for having me! I’m indeed busy getting ready for Christmas and loving it so far; the house is already decorated, the tree is lit up and the presents are bought!
Do you have any favourite Christmas traditions that you cherish about the season?
Christmas is always a special time of year and the many traditions that exist make it a magical celebration. But beyond that, what make it one of the most important holidays are the people that we get to spend it with – our loved ones! So, being able to be with all my loved ones at the same holiday table and exchanging gifts is a priceless tradition in itself.
You’ve certainly made it easier for everyone else to get into the holiday spirit with your latest game, Watch Over Christmas. Please tell us more about the game.
The night before Christmas the unexpected happened…. Santa has been kidnapped by the evil spirit Krampus! Our protagonist, a 12-year-old boy, Cisco, will embark on a quest to rescue Santa and save Christmas. With the help of Kosmos, his teddy bear – who is actually the embodied spirit of Christmas – Cisco will find himself on an adventure full of exploration (more than 70 hand-drawn locations), challenging puzzles and mini-games.
Watch Over Christmas is a fantasy tale that takes you on one of the greatest childhood adventure dreams… to save Santa! Therefore, you get the chance to meet him in person! But before you do that, through your quest, you’ll meet several known, and unknown, characters. Just to name a few: the great all-knowing one La Befana, Jack Frost himself, your rival Krampus, and many other quirky characters such as talking mushrooms, a unicorn, a humanoid mandrake, and of course Christmas elves.
The game is designed with all the elements of classic point-and-click adventure games with a modern twist, offering a gaming experience suitable for the whole family. Mostly, however, it is addressed to adults, who through the natural process called “growing up” have not lost contact with their inner child.
You originally released the game late last year, but you weren’t able to implement all the features you wanted at that time, which you’ve since addressed in a major update. What’s different about the new version?
The most important feature that we implemented in this year’s major update is the introduction of voiceovers. It was always the intention to include them at some point, we just needed the time to make sure that the end result would justify the effort and the investment made. It’s definitely a different experience now!
What’s so special about Cisco that makes him the perfect hero to save Christmas?
Well, one can certainly wonder how a 12-year-old boy can deal with an ancient and evil spirit like Krampus. Strange or clichéd as it may sound, the answer is simple. Only a child can save Christmas. So, this holiday season we ask adults to “believe in magic and save Santa.” That’s the tagline of the game, by the way.
What made you decide to do a Christmas game?
It was primarily the lack of commercial Christmas-themed adventure games in the market, so there was an empty spot to fill in there. We also thought that, while making a seasonal game is a tricky decision due to sales being concentrated around the particular holiday, we will have a good chance that the game will be revisited or discovered by players every year. With all the games flooding the market nowadays, we’d like to have a game that would be a reference point for adventure gamers, something like your favorite Christmas movie!
Are there any holiday specials that inspired you in the design of Watch Over Christmas?
Apart from all the classic adventure games that have influenced almost all of today’s indie developers, Watch Over Christmas was inspired by several other “specials,” Christmas and otherwise. Such influences are: Tim Burton (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice, etc.), Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Gremlins), Steven Spielberg’s unique narrative when it comes to family films, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and a few others. Also, the narrator’s lines in the opening and the finale of the game are influenced by a poem called “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”
How about folklore? Every culture has its own unique spin on the Santa Claus myth… I mean, Santa Claus story. (Never mind me, kids!) Are there any local folktale elements in your game that others may not be as familiar with?
It’s true that almost every culture has its own unique, sometimes quirky, customs and folklore about Christmas. So we borrowed quite a bit from the various folklore around the world to create a unique Christmassy story. For example, La Befana is a widespread Italian folklore, having originated in Rome. Krampus is a Central and Eastern Alpine folk figure of Europe and his legend in particular is part of a centuries-old Christmas tradition in Germany. Jack Frost is an Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian winter custom. Yule Forest is a Swedish winter tradition based on customs derived from mythology and religions over the centuries. These are among the most basic ones that can be distinguished in the game. Of course, there are also several smaller, less distinctive ones.
Obviously Christmas Quest was a major influence on you (wait, it wasn’t?), but what other games made an impact on you as developers over the years?
Who hasn’t played the Christmas Quest trilogy! As game designers, we are inspired by the classics of the golden era of point-and-click adventure games. Apart from the LucasArts and Sierra schools of adventure game design, which are the biggest influences as expected (to name a couple of such games: Day of the Tentacle and Leisure Suit Larry 7, which inspired us for the verb context menu), adventures like Toonstruck influenced us on puzzle design; there is even a Zork-inspired puzzle in the game!
As with several other games of late, Watch Over Christmas is so gorgeous and polished-looking that I’d have never guessed this was your first game. Just who are you guys and how did you come to be making games together?
Dionous started as a team of two persons, myself and Stratos Trogkanis (Dionous practically means ‘2 minds’ in Greek!). We have been friends since high school and we share the same passion for adventure games. As a hobbyist programmer myself, and Stratos, who is into game design, narrative and art direction, it was a only a matter of time before we went on to design our own adventure game. We knew that we wanted to make a polished product that could stand out, therefore we gathered a group of local talented artists to assist with the graphics and this turned out to work pretty well in the end!
It certainly did. Now, Dionous is not just a developer, but a fledgling publisher whose first game was Not Another Weekend. What made you get into publishing as well?
As adventure game enthusiasts we were not happy to see a number of quality efforts made by talented developers not being published mainly due to lack of resources and funding. So apart from a business opportunity, it was the honest desire to assist devs who needed a push to complete and publish their games.
What do you look for in a prospective game to publish, and what made Not Another Weekend the right choice for your first?
It would be common to say that we are looking for quality titles with an interesting story to tell, but the most important thing is to have fun games; games that you want to keep playing until the end. Not Another Weekend is a perfect example; we really got hooked when we first played it, mainly due to its humour, dark plot, crazy situations/characters, and great puzzles. The devs really got the recipe right there, and we are grateful that they trusted us with the publishing. In addition, Not Another Weekend uses the same engine we are specializing in (Visionaire Studio) so we could offer extensive technical support, which sped up the publishing process.
What role do you play in producing the games you publish?
As publishers we offer all the expected services to our clients; personally I’m more involved in technical assistance and in the marketing process.
Do you have any other games lined up for publishing?
Yes, we are currently working on a special edition for a previously released adventure game; we are also in discussions for publishing new titles. More news about that in the following months!
And how about as developers? With Watch Over Christmas behind you, what’s next for Dionous?
A major milestone for us as developers was the recent porting and release of Watch Over Christmas to all major consoles (Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and Series X|S, PS4 and PS5). This allows us to concentrate on new and more ambitious projects. We are currently assessing various ideas for a new adventure game, and we are really eager to start the development of a new title!
Before we wrap, I’m going to put you on the spot: top five Christmas movies.
That’s a nice one! In no particular order of preference:
- Home Alone
- The Nightmare Before Christmas
- Die Hard (Oh, yes! A controversial one, but still a Christmas movie!)
Thanks very much for this, Chris. I appreciate you taking the time. All the best to you and your team in the holiday season, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store in the new year and beyond!