Ivar, from Turbo Tape Games, was kind enough to answer our questions about the Astonishing Game. The Astonishing Game is a strategic board-game that takes place in The Astonishing setting.
How did you get in touch with Dream Theater for this project?
The connection happened through a mutual friend of ours, the now late Jory Prum. He was an American living in Norway who worked with audio on a great number of international games. Jory knew of Turbo Tape Games (TTG) working with the lead singer and writer of the Norwegian band Immortal when they created the game « UHR:Warlords », and when mentioning this to Dream Theater the ball was rolling.
How did you work with the group? Did they give you early ideas/artwork or were you approached when the album was finished?
We in TTG got early access to the album so we were fortunate enough to start working with the content before it was officially released. Prior to signing we also got a synopsis from John P which detailed the storyline of the album and gave a solid description of the setting so we knew early what we were getting ourselves into. We were very intrigued with the setting for The Astonishing, and really did want to work with this futuristic setting where the arts had been stereotyped and « archived » by the government (replaced by the NOMAC sound-robots), and where creative forces fought to bring it back into society. The whole drama of how Gabriel and the Ravenskill Militia rise up against the forces of the Greater Northern Empire of the Americas (G.N.E.A.) fits itself perfectly to the storytelling we could and would do through our game.
Were you free to do whatever you wanted or were they specific on what they really wanted?
From the get-go this was a dialogue between Dream Theater and us : we were very specific in the type of game we know how to do well, that is to say a digital tactical board-game with story elements woven into between matches, and this seemed to fit very well with what Dream Theater thought would work well for their mature audience, whom we believe would appreciate a « thinking men game », or « thinking women game » for that matter.
We did request one thing from Dream Theater, which John accepted with a smile, and that was to make the game fully non-violent. As our game has all the pawns animated, we wanted the game to be truly pacifistic in nature. In the fight of the arts vs government we should not have violence, which too many computer games do, so rather than having the pawns on the board game doing physical damage to each other, units are demotivating other units to give up their cause. So units are removing morale instead of life. The Ravenskill Militia side of the game are using arts to demoralise opponents, so the beauty of songs, dance, art etc demotivates the opposing forces, and the forces of G.N.E.A. use either computerised sound from NOMACS (the sound robots that you see on the cover for the album), the threat of suppression from units like judges, politicians and nobles or the threat of violence from Guardsmen to demotivate opposing units to give up. We were really happy with this design as it fits well to the whole setting of the game.
Will we find all the characters from the album and if so, will they have special powers and special quotes?
Yes, all the main characters from the story-line are present in the game. They do have special quotes as the whole series of matches are woven together with a narrative that tells the unfolding story of Gabriel and his rise. The story has different outcome depending on which side you choose to play in each conflict. The side you decide to represent in each match will also affect the story being told after the match.
Can you tell us more about the different stages? How many different stages/arena will there be?
There are six stages of the game. In the earlier stages you will have fewer different units you can summon into the game, to help understanding the mechanics of the game. So with reference to chess you would start the first stage with just pawns and towers. We then gradually introduce more units to the game, in addition to adding the special abilities from the characters into the mix.
Note that each of the six stages include not only six different visual boards, each board also comes with a unique set of placement of the Power Tiles. Power Tiles are tiles on the board that give additional Power in the following round, so these tiles hold great tactical importance during the game, as your Power is what determines how many and which units you can summon, how far you can move your units and what other actions you may perform.
Will you stick to the story while adding other elements (representing the battle at Heaven’s Cove for example) or will it be completely different (you said that the first screenshot was before the story of the album)?
Yes, we originally discussed telling the story of how the setting of G.N.E.A. Vs Ravenskill came to be, like the prequel to the story of the album. We felt this would be a great canvas for the album itself. We however found that it would be better to go straight to the matter, and tell the story of the album as we could then put more of the music into the game, and go straight into the drama of the story-line. If the game is a big success we would love looking into making such a prequel to the story of the album in the future.
Do you have any idea of the price of the game? We know that two levels will be free but what about the rest?
We will announce the price closer to launch, but can say that it will be between $5 and $10. The Lite Version, which is free, will include the first match so that new players will have an easy time, and the second match will probably be a bit deeper in the story-line so that players are getting to be familiar with more units.
Note that a very entertaining element to the game is the ability to play versus other players (PvP). This works in two fashions, you can either « pass and play » on the same device, so you can effectively play versus a friend on a shared device (great when travelling or waiting and you want to play with a friend). Or you can play over the Internet, which opens up to a greater variety of games since there is such a pool of other players to play with.
Now, with the Lite Version you can enjoy all of the pass-and-play multiplayer without paying, but you need to buy the full version of the game to challenge others for online play. Note that you can still receive (and play) matches with the Lite Version, but you cannot set up your own matches.
For those that buy the game and like to dabble with online play, we will also have a ranking system similar to chess. This truely increases the game’s longevity, as we deem the levels and story-line of the game to be more of a « learning to play » the mechanics of the game while enjoying the story of The Astonishing.
Are we going to have instrumental versions, 8 bit versions or the CD version?
There will be both instrumental versions as well as CD versions. It would be fun to have 8 bit versions of some of the songs in the game for the credits or somewhere clever. If any of the fans reading this would like to undertake this, that is writing some of the songs into 8-bit versions, we will definitely try to see if we can get it into the game, as … yeah that would be really cool. Now, the focus will always be on the Dream Theater produced music of the album, but the 8-bit version suggestion is/was really cute. Anyone up for it?
Are you planning to do specific events in relation with Dream Theater (competitions before a concert, opportunities to play against the members…),
We are discussing several opportunities and are very much looking forward to what we are and will be doing once we are closer to the launch.
What have you planned for the future? Another collaboration with the band, with other bands or a different game?
We, at TTG have a special fondness for bands/song-writers that weaves their music into story-telling which is how this agreement with Dream Theater came to be. In our next game we are taking a bit of a different route though, as we in TTG have the concept and are interfacing with a band to support (and influence) the new project with music, in this case it will be a game based on Northern Mythology, and though the agreement is not written and it’s still early, we are interfacing with the most famous acts from the Norwegian Black- and Viking metal scene.
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Thanks to Ivar Frølich, at Turbo Tape Games for the interview and the special bonus😉