Exclusive: Michele Böhm Talks Return to Castlerama, the Game's Realistic Graphics, and More
Codenrama's Return to Castlerama is set to launch on iOS devices on June 20th, blending beautiful art with supernatural elements for a chilling and horrifying experience. We chatted with co-creator Michele Böhm about the game's realistic graphics, why horror fans will want to pick it up, and more.
AMANDA DYAR: First off, can you tell us how you became co-founder of Codenrama?
MICHELE BÖHM: Codenrama is the name of the lab I've had for more than 20 years now, doing research in computer vision.
AMANDA DYAR: Obviously your parents were very influential in your career choices with your mother being a painter and your father being a computer scientist. In what ways did they help/encourage you in expressing your own creativity?
MICHELE: I actually started as a computer artist – I was a pioneer in Italy – and many say my calling to computer art stems from the fact that my mother is a talented painter, while my father is an internationally renowned computer scientist. People used to call me "the son of the theorem" because my father is the inventor of a very well-known founding theorem in that field.
Anyway, I started off producing art, much of it together with my best friend, Marco Tecce, under the name Crudelity Stoffe, and our works were exhibited across Europe a lot and also shown on TV. I'm especially proud of having exhibited at the Beaubourg in Paris and at Milan’s Museum of Science and Technology.
But then Marco and I found our work took us in different directions (we are still best friends) - and I turned to research in computer vision, keeping the name Crudelity Stoffe.
AMANDA: Tell us about Return to Castlerama and your involvement with the game.
MICHELE: While I was teaching at the University of Rome, through some pupils of mine, I met Francesco Palenga, a talented young man, very skilled in 3D modeling, and he started working with me on my research projects. That was in early 2006, and not long after that I changed the name of my company to Codenrama.
Actually, the idea of the game stems from an idea of Francesco's, and the bulk of the actual modeling work and game design is his, too. I closely managed the project in terms of content and look and brought in other brilliant people to help with the project that kept becoming larger and larger. And, ultimately, what made this project possible is the rather deep understanding of technology, software, real time and imaging that I’ve developed in all these years.
AMANDA: Return to Castlerama draws from real and imaginary elements with some of the environments being inspired by real-life towns, such as Assisi, Italy. What can you tell us about this, and what were some of your main inspirations for the game's captivating artwork?
MICHELE: During the summer of 2011, Francesco and I spent quite some time traveling, mostly across central Italy, taking pictures and videos to capture the sights and the atmospheres, details and all. Those images were then re-worked and inserted in the game, with the addition of a "fantasy" flavor.
AMANDA: Return to Castlerama almost resembles a 3D painting that has been brought to life before our very eyes. Gamers are not used to seeing such an extreme amount of intricate detail in an iOS title. How do you think this is going to help it stand out against other mobile gaming titles out there?
MICHELE: I am convinced that the beauty and credibility of the world the gamer moves in adds quite a lot of pleasure and fun to the gaming experience. This is why we believe that the huge effort of bringing photorealism (and free-roaming!) to a mobile game setting is definitely worthwhile.
AMANDA Let's talk about the horror elements of Return to Castlerama. Players will be able to embark on a supernatural adventure that involves lifting an evil curse, all while fighting an array of enemies which includes zombies and dragons. Besides this, what are some other selling points of the game that would make a horror fan want to pick it up?
MICHELE: There are a few horror elements disseminated throughout the game, but I won't list them because I don't want to spoil the surprises. A little gore is also included, all of which made us rate the game 12+.
Selling points as we see them are not only the varied gameplay, including all sorts of challenges for the player – FPS, riddles, puzzles, even card games, on top of the adventure-type enigmas one has to solve to proceed – but also the beauty and atmosphere of the setting that make the gaming experience very special.
Also, we've added other elements that we feel give value to the game: There are Dagmar’s Tarot cards, little masterpieces of collectible 2D art that are scattered across the whole scenery and are also key to completing the game, as well as the book, also scattered in the form of scrolls across the whole game world. The book is a collection of writings narrating in a peculiar style the saga behind the game.
AMANDA: Return to Castlerama will be the first act of a three-part fantasy game set in the Gorendal Valley. Can you tell us about anything about the next two acts coming up?
MICHELE: Well, I can't tell you too much about the following two acts of the saga, again, in order not to spoil the story. The First Act has its own closure, naturally, but there's also a small hook to the following episodes, which will see the continuation of the story in a wider perspective.
AMANDA: Is there a possibility of Return to Castlerama coming to PC or consoles?
MICHELE: To develop the game we used Unreal Technology, which provides a portable platform, meaning that the idea is not too far-fetched. In fact we are planning to port the game to Android in response to popular demand. The porting is actually not straightforward though, and with higher performance platforms, such as Mac and PC and consoles, there's the extra challenge of upgrading visuals and animation to take full advantage of the extra power and resources available on those platforms. You must keep in mind we had quite a lot of compromising to do in our striving for rich photorealism and character animation in order to optimize performance and stability on iPhone, iPod and iPad despite the limited resources available on those small devices. We also made our app universal: You buy it on your iPhone, and the same app runs also on any other iPad or iPod you have, if it's in the list of supported devices (iPhone 4S and up, iPad 2 and up, iPod 5th gen.).
In the game the player takes the role of a young man called David, who must overcome zombies, a dragon and other monsters, as well as solving puzzles, riddles, and card games, in his quest to save the village of Castlerama and the surrounding Gorendal Valley from the curse of the evil Artaserses. To learn more, visit the official Return to Castlerama website.
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