Adventure Game Hotspot


Eva-Ramona Rohleder interview – A Twisted Tale

Eva-Ramona Rohleder interview – A Twisted Tale
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I often wish I’d gone to Cologne last year, where there were two opportunities to meet Eva-Ramona Rohleder, a.k.a. Voodoo Bembel, the German developer of A Twisted Tale. The first was at Indie Game Fest in June, and later at gamescom in August, where she was showing off the demo of her game. I’d spoken to her about the game privately online, but she’s so delightful to talk to that I would have loved to meet her in person. After backing her Kickstarter in June 2022, I volunteered to test her game, and she asked me to proofread the script as well. That makes me far too biased to review her game objectively, of course, so instead I’m pleased to be able to share my recent interview with Eva about being a solo dev, her Kickstarter campaign, and of course her love for adventure games and storytelling. Just in time for the release of A Twisted Tale’s first chapter! I wasn’t quite able to get Eva to reveal all the twists in her tale, but read on to learn more about this talented indie creator and her impressive game-making debut. 

Hello Eva. Thank you for allowing me to pull you away from the stressful final stage of getting your game ready for release. I can imagine it's a hectic time, so let's get started! First, please tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Eva-Ramona Rohleder exactly?

Hello, thank you very much for inviting me to this interview.

Well, I'm Eva. I was born in 1988 and I'm from Frankfurt am Main, Germany. I had my first PC when I was six years old. Back then it was still running MS-DOS and I couldn't read or write properly, but of course I knew how to install and start games. I grew up playing a lot of point-and-click adventure games (even though we had Nintendo consoles and SEGA, which I loved very much) and it really influenced my taste in games. Even before I had my own PC, I used to sit next to my father with his. That's why I like to say that I'm an “original nerd.”

When did you realise you wanted to tell your own story? What sparked that desire to go from gamer to developer?

Eva-Ramona Rohleder proudly shows off A Twisted Tale at gamescom

I definitely had a lot of time as a child and an affinity for riddles and good stories. That made me very attached to point-and-clicks.

I wrote a lot of stories in my youth. I even took part in writing competitions and also wrote for games magazines (offline at the time) as a freelancer. At the same time, I also enjoyed trying out all sorts of things on the PC. I made mods for The Elder Scrolls, built websites, and loved looking into files to see how I could manipulate things. 

At some point as an adult, I started to miss the old point-and-click adventures more and more. Stories that are told over a long period of time, with more than one plot twist. I missed the charm of the 90s in the newer adventure games. I like to draw and when I tried out a new style, I suddenly saw the face of my protagonist (without realising at the time that it would be her) and the thought occurred to me: that looks like something from a 90s point-and-click adventure game. And then: why don't you just build one yourself? 

And then everything took its course. I had the story in my head very quickly. I wanted the individual worlds of the point-and-click adventures to be linked together and I incorporated this part into the story of A Twisted Tale as an important feature. 

What can you tell us about this lead character whose face you envisioned long before you started your game? 

Well, the story is about Vio, the female protagonist. Vio is a person like you and me, so she comes from "our" world and works in a small café. She finishes work, tidies up and suddenly discovers a kind of Rubik's Cube. She hasn't seen anything this old for ages, so she picks it up and suddenly a portal opens up. It pulls her and the cube into itself and spits them out somewhere else. 

This is not "our" world, but a strangely twisted one: a city in the clouds with characters who are very unique, a bit on the eccentric side, and turn the normalities of our real world upside down. Vio is not quite sure whether what she is experiencing can be attributed to reality or whether she is just dreaming. But either way, she wants to go home again. And because it's a point-and-click adventure game, it's not so easy for her to do so. 

On her journey, she will find herself in different worlds with very different settings and characters and their little stories. But there are also recurring characters and a story that is told across all worlds. And of course we find out what the cube and the portal are all about in the course of the adventure. 

You mentioned your love for 90s adventure games. Is this very apparent in A Twisted Tale, or did you go about it in a more subtle way? 

It was important to me from the outset that the game had its own identity, story and characters, despite the references to genre classics. Although there is an antique shop in Chapter One (and the current demo) that is full of artefacts from classic point-and-click adventures, this is an exception. You may find a leather jacket left behind in an adventure chapter, or a mug of grog, but these are small details that may appear sporadically in the game. 

Even if the existence of all point-and-click adventures has a meaning in the story of A Twisted Tale and is considered a given, the world of A Twisted Tale stands on its own. Above all, the feel of the game is reminiscent of the 90s: frame-by-frame animations, drawn backgrounds, the quirky humour and the not-so-predictable puzzles. A story that has time to be told, an inventory crammed full of junk without you being able to immediately guess what is needed next. It was important to me that it evokes the feeling of the old days when we played the great classics, without trying to copy anything or be a rip-off of an old game. It should have its own charm, its own jokes, characters, and running gags, and I'm pleased that the playtesters have given me exactly this feedback.

The Steam page of A Twisted Tale mentions seven separate chapters released over time. That’s quite the ambitious project! Can you elaborate on this decision to go episodic? 

Eva: Well, I wanted to tell a really extensive story in a game with a really long playtime, as we know it from the classics of the 90s. But that also means a lot of text, a lot of translation and, above all, many hours of voice-over (in German and English). In short: a lot of money. I realised that the Kickstarter alone would not be able to cover the costs of such an extensive game. At the same time, I didn't want to keep people waiting forever. I'm a solo dev, so the development of the game is taking a while. So I thought a good solution would be to release the chapters individually. That way one chapter can fund the next and at the same time people can start playing and not have to wait forever. 

Additionally, players can participate more actively in the game development. I like to Twitch when I start a chapter because I love it when the community contributes their ideas. This is much easier if the community already knows and has played the game piece by piece. 

I think we can safely say your Kickstarter was a complete success: Over 800 backers got it almost 180% funded! That shows a lot of confidence in you and your game. 

I was very nervous about the Kickstarter campaign. I had read everywhere that it was important to have lots of newsletter subscribers; fans on social media wouldn't contribute much. In the end, it was the other way round for me – fortunately, because I admittedly didn't have many newsletter subscribers. I'm often asked by other devs who are about to do a Kickstarter what tactics helped me, and I always answer the truth: I had no tactics. I've always tried to be as transparent as possible; I've never hidden how nervous I am, how much working on the game means to me, but also that it's all new to me. In return, I received incredible support, not only through financial contributions on Kickstarter. I've met incredibly great and lovely people who are just as much adventure game fans as I am, who have been really wonderful companions on this journey.

For me, that is the best result of the Kickstarter campaign: that I have met these people (albeit mainly digitally) and that we have created a small but wonderful community. 

You opened a personal Discord channel for your backers, right? 

Yes, I created a Discord channel that is still active today and has grown very close to my heart. It's not just about A Twisted Tale; we also write about other adventure games, other interesting Kickstarter campaigns and completely different things. It's a really lovely group and we're always happy to meet new adventure game friends. 

It sounds great to have so much support. Particularly when you are a solo dev, which is something I find mind-blowing! You write, you draw, you program, and you publish! And probably dozens of other tasks I’m not even aware of. Could you perhaps describe a typical workday for you? 

I use my free time for A Twisted Tale. This usually means that I work on it in the evenings and at night. In the first phase I create a lot of graphics, then comes the phase in which I assemble everything in the engine, then when I optimise or adapt a lot of things with [the game programming language] Lua. I always do what I have to do at the moment, and sometimes there are graphics evenings in between because something is still missing or needs to be optimised. At the same time, I try to check Twitter, Discord and my email inbox every day to stay in active communication with the community. This can quickly become fatal if I neglect Twitter because I get so many notifications and private messages. However, it's sometimes no longer possible to reply to everyone all the time, even if I really try. But ultimately, developing the game is the priority and even though I'm a night owl, I have to sleep at some point. At least a little. 

Are you really building the game from scratch to finish all by yourself, or do you get help here and there? 

Eva is personally responsible for nearly every aspect of A Twisted Tale, including its painstaking frame-by-frame animation

I get support with the sound effects, the music and the cutscene animations. I draw all the in-game animations, but the two intro cutscenes were drawn entirely by one animator. Without this help, development of the game would have taken much longer, as all the animations, including those for the intro and cutscenes, are drawn in frame-by-frame style. 

It must have been nerve-wracking, handing over your brainchild to get that necessary end user feedback. How did you go about finding reliable playtesters? 

I have great respect for this step. It's one thing to come up with puzzles, plan and build an adventure game, but quite another to have someone else actually play it. I'd never built a game before, let alone a point-and-click adventure – so I was really nervous. 

I had formed a very small group of playtesters when the game was ready (still missing small animations and without voice acting). You could count the number of testers on one hand and they were mostly other indie point-and-click devs, who I have learnt to appreciate very much and whose opinion was and is important to me. 

When I got their feedback, it heartened me enormously and gave me the courage to give it out to a larger group of playtesters, especially people who are not necessarily indie devs themselves. In other words, people with a predominantly gamer's point of view. I decided to ask my Kickstarter backers and created a form where people could get in touch. It was important to me to have a balanced number of people who were very experienced in point-and-click adventure games and others who hadn't played many of these games. Both language variants also had to be tested. They were given access to the game via Steam and a separate area in Discord so that they could communicate with each other and with me.

How did it feel working with the playtesters? Did the game change a lot during that process? 

Although I had been really nervous and unsure, this phase really strengthened me. It was incredibly rewarding to receive feedback from the players. Not only because they are really good at finding bugs, but also because they each have their own view of things, their own approaches and styles of play. At the same time, I've grown very fond of them. They have had a really massive influence on the final development of the game and have also influenced me in the development of the upcoming chapter, even though they may not realise it. 

Nevertheless, I didn't change the basic mechanics or puzzles of the game. The voice acting was also already complete when they tested it. But they influenced the menus, the achievements on Steam and many other subtleties that you can't name individually – and of course they have tracked down many, many bugs. 

Can you guarantee a completely finished, full game in the end? And how will this work practically for people who want to buy it? 

There is never a 100% guarantee. But my heart is completely attached to A Twisted Tale. I work on this game every evening and night and it's a lot of fun. I'm already itching to finish Chapter Two and I really want to tell this story. It's incredibly rewarding for me and I'm really putting my heart and soul and every bit of free time I have into finishing this game.

In practical terms, the following chapters will be released as DLC. So you can easily find every chapter that belongs to A Twisted Tale directly.

Now that Chapter One is released, I’m sure you’re dying to continue Vio’s story in Chapter Two. My impatient side can’t help but ask: can I persuade you to lift the veil a bit about your plans there? Keeping it spoiler-free, of course! 

Be sure to check out Eva's demo of A Twisted Tale – Can YOU find all its hidden references?

The question is, of course, where does the spoiler start? Vio will experience more than in the first chapter, and the puzzles will be a bit more elaborate without being too difficult. And I can announce that both Depressive Death and the Voodoo Woman finally make an appearance. 

Depressive Death in particular is a character who will play an even more important role and will "accompany" Vio from Chapter Two until the end of the game. As the deuteragonist, he will have a massive influence on the story and also on Vio in the game. Even though he really has no intention of doing so, as he is currently going through a kind of midlife crisis. Or as he would say: "Existential crisis – because you can't call it life." I already love this character, especially because Tom Vogt (in German) and Andrew James Spooner (in English) voice him brilliantly.

The Voodoo Woman will be able to answer Vio's questions that were not asked and answered in Chapter One. In the German version, she has the voice of Karin Buchali, who voiced the Voodoo Lady in The Curse of Monkey Island. The setting of the next chapter will go well with the Voodoo Woman. It will be a completely different environment to Chapter One and the story will pick up speed. I'm really looking forward to it, including the recordings with the voice actors.

As am I! Thank you, Eva, for giving this interview. Good luck with the reception of Chapter One in the wider adventure game community, and with the further development of Chapter Two of A Twisted Tale.

Thank you very much for the interview; it was a real pleasure!


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